Wednesday, January 8, 2014

WYMA Favorites of 2013 - John's List

As always, ranking these things is an exercise in futility - however, listening and relistening is always fun. I echo Scott and JD's sentiments that on another day, a completely different ranking might appear in my space. But in general, this is what I liked and how much I liked it. Another great year for music that unfortunately saw us lose some tremendous talents, real wellsprings of popular music. RIP Lou Reed, George Jones, Phil Everly, Phil Chevron, Richie Havens, Scott Miller...

1. Mount Moriah – Miracle Temple. Echoes of The Allman Brothers, with Heather McEntire’s lead vocals calling to mind the clarity and emotional weight of the vocals of Dolly Parton, made this my favorite album of 2013 from the moment I heard it. WYMA review here.

2. Perhapst – Revise Your Maps. John Moen, the drummer from The Decemberists, Boston Spaceships and co-conspirator with Elliott Smith and Stephen Malkmus, among others, has made an absolute masterpiece. Who knew he was such a good rock vocalist? WYMA review here. Listen or download "Willamette Valley Ballad" here.

3. Guided by Voices – English Little League. Robert Pollard gave the world six more stacks of tunes, and the best of the lot was this GbV release. It also featured a couple of great Tobin Sprout tunes, with some of his sweetest vocals ever. WYMA review here. Other Pollard entries: Circus Devils - When Machines Attack and My Mind Has Seen the White Trick; Teenage Guitar - Force Fields at Home; Robert Pollard - Blazing Gentlemen; and Robert Pollard - Honey Locust Honky Tonk.

4. Tommy Keene – Excitement at Your Feet. An album of covers, but what a collection of songs! Guided by Voices, The Who, Rolling Stones, Bee Gees… delightfully diverse set of original artists, all of whom share one characteristic with Keene – they could all write a hook. The best song on here is probably Roxy Music’s “Out of the Blue”. Of special note, Rob Brill is spectacular on the drums, which I’m told were recorded at Ardent Studios. All kinds of good omens – this was destined to be a great one from the outset. WYMA review here.

5. Richard Buckner – Surrounded. Buckner took a slightly different approach to this album, but with some of his best results ever. He's a literate guitar rocker with an understated, world-class sense of irony and humor and a voice that just seems to get better, stronger and more haunting with time. WYMA review here.

6. Duane Allman - Skydog. An expansive, comprehensive and entirely delightful retrospective of Duane Allman's work - early attempts to record with Gregg, work as a sideman to some of the best rock and soul musicians of the time, and of course the monumental country rock of the Allman Brothers - all done before the guy turned 27 years old. Gone too soon, but what a legacy he left. WYMA review here.

7. Will Courtney – A Century Behind. Courtney has made a great country record in the traditions of Texas troubadours like Nelson and Van Zandt, and California country rockers like Parsons and McGuinn. WYMA review here.

8. Wolf People – Fain. The juxtaposition of Jack Sharp's mellifluous vocals and the nearly savage guitar work throughout this record make this one of the most interesting rock records I've heard in some time. Wolf People claim inspiration from both British folk and metal traditions, and do both of them great honor. WYMA review here.

9. Future Primitives – Songs We Taught Ourselves. From South Africa by way of the world's garages comes the Future Primitives, playing all your favorite old garage rock anthems. As much history lesson as spectacularly simple rock album, Songs We Taught Ourselves celebrates everything that's good about guitar rock, with a simplicity and attention to detail that are impressive. Ramonesian! WYMA review here.

10. Bleached – Ride Your Heart. Every time I listened to this record, I liked it more. And that's still the case. The surf/punk backbeat, fast guitars and above all, the sisters' vocal harmonies are terrific. WYMA review here.

11. Beachwood Sparks – Desert Skies. Released late in the year (and recorded over 20 years ago), this previously unreleased debut album is the best thing we have ever heard from Beachwood Sparks. And that's saying something. Absolutely wonderful. WYMA post here.

12. Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott – Memories & Moments. One of the best country records of the last several years. O'Brien and Scott are multi-talented instrumentalists and singers who have provided hit songs to some of Nashville's best-known megastars. But I think they do their best work in settings like this - playing and singing their own music and reveling in the joy of helping one another make great music. WYMA review here.

13. Matthew J. Tow – The Way of Things. Former Brian Jonestown Massacre collaborator, Tow is an Australian psychedelic rocker who called to mind Davies, Lennon and Syd in places. WYMA review here. Here's the absolutely endearing, trippy "It's Gonna Be Alright":

14. Joanna Gruesome – Weird Sister. Quoting MacBeth in the album title, Joanna Gruesome is not avoiding unpopular topics, and seems to revel in an anti-establishment stance of sorts - titles like "Satan" and "Anti-Parent Cowboy Killers" might imply a desire to be left alone, right? Then again, they make irresistible music. Absolutely irresistible layered guitars and female vocals. WYMA review here.

15. Wilder Maker – Year of Endless Light. Gabriel Birnbaum's deep vocals sort of supply their own reverb and he takes the guitar on some wild flights... he's creative, literate and best of all, his music rocks as it rambles. WYMA review here.

16. Rodion G.A. – The Lost Tapes. An amazing kaleidoscope of sound, The Lost Tapes is a long-overdue release collecting the work of Romanian electronic rock pioneer Rodion Roșca. This is where I tell you how truly arbitrary my top 20 or so rankings are, because there are days on which this was my absolute favorite album that came out in 2013. WYMA review here. Rodion's story is inspirational - a case study in the dedication of those who make music for a living. But it's sad too - a creative career that was essentially destroyed by a totalitarian government.

17. Bob Dylan - Another Self Portrait. Even though it's technically not in the "Basement Tapes" series, this latest release of Dylan material from the vaults continues in that vein, letting us know that in any given year, something can probably be found in Dylan's suitcases that will surpass most of what's being released today. WYMA review here.

18. Boardwalk – Boardwalk. Slow, beautiful and striking, this debut from California duo Mike Edge and Amber Quintero is a keeper - best played nonstop on a sunny day. WYMA review here.

19. Diane Coffee – My Friend Fish. From the Foxygen collective comes drummer/vocalist Shaun Fleming, whose creative pastiche of fun rock, pop and soul influences made this one of the most enjoyable records of 2013. WYMA review here.

20. Mark Lanegan & Duke Garwood – Black Pudding. This is haunting. Sparse instrumentation and Garwood's slightly off-kilter acoustic guitar playing back Lanegan's completely arresting voice. As good as Lanegan is fronting a hard rock band, he may be even better in this format. WYMA review here.

21. William Tyler – Impossible Truth. Great acoustic guitar album in the tradition of John Fahey, Sandy Bull, Skip James... WYMA review here.

22. Foxygen – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic. Expanding on the Jagger meets Burdon meets Brian Jonestown Massacre, they worked with the great producer Richard Swift to make an album that reveals a little more with each listen. WYMA review here.

23. The Joy Formidable - Wolf's Law. Ritzy Bryan is a big-time rock vocalist, and has a rock band with a sound big enough to fill arenas. Not surprising to me that they were tapped to open for the Foo Fighters... they may be headlining their own arena tours if they keep making albums as good as this one. WYMA review here.

24. Boys Age – Fake Gold. There's nothing else quite like this... Mumbled Japanese vocals (at least I think they're Japanese), muddled rhythms, with the occasional guitar line rising above the jumble - in spite of these (or maybe because of them), this record was the biggest, most charming surprise of the year for me. Thanks to Gnar Tapes and Burger Records for giving Boys Age an outlet in America. WYMA review here.

25. Alberto Montero – Puerto Principe. Spanish singer/songwriter Montero has a great voice - not sure if he's double tracking the vocals on some of these, or found someone to sing with him but either way, the vocals are wonderful and a real highlight. On the title track, there are moments that remind me of The Beach Boys, and there are some more ethereal moments with acoustic and vocal that expose his songwriting ability. WYMA review here.

26. ASG – Blood Drive. Out of North Carolina, ASG's album Blood Drive features a vocal tour de force by Jason Shi and so much heavy guitar you could drown in it. Every time I listened, I liked this more. Shi's voice is a bit reminiscent of Layne Staley, which reminds of the true wisdom inherent in Butt-head's statement "all bands should be Alice In Chains". Hyperbole, sure, but like most wisdom it contains a grain of truth. B&B would love ASG. WYMA review here.

27. Big Star – Nothing Can Hurt Me Soundtrack. Like Dylan's Another Self Portrait, this album revealed that some of the best music released in any year might well be music that was not released when it was recorded, for whatever reason. These are alternate takes of Big Star songs that, in some cases, exceed the originals. At any rate, they give a fuller picture of Big Star's talent and the overall high quality of their music... and continue to fuel the question: why weren't these guys as big on the charts as they are in music geeks' hearts? WYMA review here.

28. Cuello – Mi Brazo Que Te Sobre. Another entry from Spain's BCore Disc - further evidence of the health and depth of Spain's music scene. Cuello is playing in the style of great indie rock like GbV. WYMA review here.

29. Don Cavalli – Temperamental. There's something special about this French rockabilly/soul artist and the joy with which he delivers his music - and the dizzying array of influences - that made this an album I kept coming back to. WYMA review here.

30. True Widow – Circumambulation. Almost impossibly heavy, this music might be expected to come from the bogs of the old world or the depths of the ocean, but no, it's from Dallas, Texas. Produced by Centro-matic drummer Matt Pence, who helped them get the massive sound they were looking for. WYMA review here.

31. Dub Club – Signs and Wonders in Dub, Bubble Dub and Foundation Come Again. Had you told me that at the end of 2013, I would be finding space in my top records list for not one, but three new reggae/dub platters, I'd have thought you were crazy. But here we are. Tom Chasteen and Tippa Lee, operating both a Los Angeles night club and a recording company, gathered an all star cast of Jamaica's greatest players, singers and DJ's for this massive project that was released in three parts by Stones Throw Records. Spectacular in every way. WYMA review here.

32. Andy Fitts – Smoky Wilds. Fitts' solo debut reflected the influences of musical companion David Bazan, and like Bazan, he writes and sings in a confessional and emotionally arresting style. WYMA review here.

33. Jack Cheshire – Long Mind Hotel. Jazz chops, a British folk sensibility and wonderful guitar work backed Cheshire's world-weary vocals, pulling together influences as disparate as Fairport Convention, Augustus Pablo and Echo and the Bunnymen. WYMA review here. Here is a newly-released video for "Into the Void", a terrific example of Jack's style:

34. James Younger – Feelin’ American. Absolutely irresistible guitar pop in the vein of The Strokes, Tom Petty or George Harrison. WYMA review here.

35. John Paul Keith – Memphis Circa 3AM. Keith, a former member of The V-Roys, has made his way across the state of Tennessee, having arrived at Memphis in the mood to make music that's almost British Invasion-catchy but with plenty of country and soul touches. WYMA post here.

36. Mirror Travel – Mexico. Austin guitar rock trio features a heavy shoegaze approach and wonderful drumming from Tiffanie Lanmon. WYMA review here.

37. Muuy Bien - This Is What Your Mind Imagines. Athens band makes their punk fast, loud and unapologetic. WYMA review here. The album cover shows a dude getting his face punched. Of course it does.

38. Yuck - Glow and Behold. Even though their band almost broke up and their previous lead vocalist left, Yuck managed to make a very listenable follow-up to their wonderful debut. Not so much a sophomore slump as a complete rebuild, yet their obvious talent shines through. WYMA post here. Highlight, to me, was the song "Middle Sea":

39. WL – Hold. Shoegaze, dreampop - from a power trio, featuring the ethereal vocals of Misty Mary. WYMA review here.

40. Lonnie Holley - Keeping a Record Of It. Featuring an outsider artist on lead vocals and members of Black Lips and Deerhunter creating music, this record is far from "easy" but very, very engaging. Holley's vocals are stark and arresting and his story even more so. WYMA review here.

41. The Blank Tapes - Vacation. The guitar chops and pop sense of The Blank Tapes' Matt Adams are impressive. On this album he's channeling Davies, but with generous doses of California sunshine and a bit of Brazilian influence, he's definitely following the sun. WYMA review here.

42. Love Language – Ruby Red. Stuart McLamb took his time with this one, and the attention to craft is apparent in pop/rock masterpieces like "Calm Down". Definitely catchy, but also definitely a grower. That isn't easy to do, and it's worth your time to check out how McLamb does it. WYMA review here.

43. Destroy This Place - Destroy This Place. A hard-rocking Detroit band that calls to mind some of your hardest-rocking SST albums (tapes, whatever you bought back then). WYMA review here.

44. Luxury Mane - Natural Beauty. The Semis' Billy Summer returns with a new identity but the same great guitar pop sense. WYMA review here.

45. Telekinesis – Dormarion. Michael Lerner's voice is perfect for power pop, and with the help of superstar producer Jim Eno, he's put together a terrific album that really highlights it. WYMA review here.

46. Sky Larkin - Motto. Great guitar rock with the strong vocals of Katie Harkin, I'd recommend this to anyone who likes The Breeders or maybe The Joy Formidable. WYMA review here.

47. Tropical Popsicle - Dawn of Delight. California psych from San Diego - strains of Syd, strains of Jesus & Mary Chain. Absolutely delightful. WYMA review here.

48. Belle Adair - The Brave and the Blue. Some very engaging folk rock in the vein of R.E.M., Big Star and early Wilco - this is one of several acts from Alabama that made it onto our radar this year. WYMA review here.

49. Pond - Hobo Rocket. Aussie stoner rock with heavy, yet simultaneously glammy and psychedelic guitars throughout. WYMA review here.

50. The South Side of Soul Street: The Minaret Soul Singles, 1967-76. This two-disc set gathered all the great soul music released on Florida's Minaret imprint. Proof, if such were needed, that great soul music was made south of Motown, and even south of Muscle Shoals... WYMA review here.

Honorable Mentions (I liked all of these but either heard them too late to really consider them, or just didn't have room!):

TRAAMS - Grin.
Bombino - Nomad.
The Heliocentrics - Thirteen Degrees of Reality.
Waxahatchee - Cerulean Salt.
Youth Lagoon - Wondrous Bughouse.

Left Lane Cruiser - Rock Them Back to Hell.
Pony Time - Go Find Your Own.
The Big Sweet - Bicycle Nights
Sebadoh - Defend Yourself.

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