personalized expeditions in music from a musician who doesn't matter


Posted by r on December 6, 2013

ps – I haven’t forgotten about trackers. I have a few more words about that coming soon, at long last.

Top-of-2013 lists are coming in, as always, and making me feel more than ever that the world hears with ears very different from mine. I listened to that Chvrches album a couple times this year and scratched my head at all the hype, since it just seemed like a pedestrian, not-even-particularly-convincing retro-80s effort from end to end. The Arctic Monkeys album on “everyone’s” list was much more boring still (Squeeze at their least enthusiastic meets Nickelback, anyone?); Arcade Fire can go back in time to 2004 and fuck themselves with particularly dull and pretentious swords; etc.

So, without any attempt at ranking, here are some things I thought were worthy of re-mentioning as things that were released in 2013 and should probably be remembered longer than that. Some of them may even be things you haven’t heard of, particularly if you make a habit of ignoring my Twitter output, which is probably wise. note: this not-really-a-best-of list was courtesy the top of my head; I reserve the right to amend, if I think of anything else I’ll post again.

Not-quite-albums, because ain’t nobody got time for that, or so The Kids say
I’ve been telling you thankless fuckers for years to go listen to The European already. His 2013 EP Anti-Patterns #1— supposedly the first in a series– is largely a support single for “Waves on Waves” with a few added tracks and remixes. Even if you’re not into remixes, solely based on the absolute, undeniable perfection that is “Waves on Waves,” you should give Simon Break your money. Buy his fucking previous album too while you’re at it, and here’s why, or just fucking DO IT and thank me later.

And despite all of the above, my favorite song of the year is not “Waves on Waves.” By a rat’s hair, that “honor” goes to another British act, the venerable Wolfhounds. “Cheer Up” has been my classic jangle-guitar-pop jam for the whole damn year.

The Dead Milkmen put out a strong, intriguing comeback effort a few years back with The King in Yellow, but it’s nothing compared to the absolutely vicious 7″s they’ve been putting out this year (and last). If you know them only from Beelzebubba (a masterpiece though it may be), be prepared for some winning surprises… unless you’re not man enough to handle the rock. Or Milkman enough, maybe? Sorry, yeah… sorry.

The brilliantly-named Boaconstructor put on one of the best sets I web-spied on at various 8Static Philly events this year, and his Fuck Videogames EP (Bandcamp link) satisfies and astounds even as it leaves one wanting more. Yes, it’s Gameboy dubstep. So what? It’s fucking great.

Some actual albums from 2013
Full disclosure: I appear, for 84 seconds out of a total 7 hours 19 minutes, as a guest guitarist on Samuel Locke Ward‘s 12-album THE LAME YEARS project. Yes, I said “12 albums.” Yes, they all came out in 2013 – one album each, released like clockwork on the first day of each month this year. No, we’re not talking 5-track “albums” or a shitton of filler – these are each old-school-length “proper albums,” an average of 14.9 songs per volume. And while the results are, given the insane timeframe for creation, predictably hit and miss (and his recorded voice is perhaps an acquired taste)… when Iowa home recordist SLW is on, he’s on.

My favorite LAME YEARS record overall is volume 5 (May 2013), Garbage for Dinner, which ends with “Young Juggalos in Love,” a track that I think legitimately stands with the historic best of melodic lo-fi and power-pop. In 2014, SLW will be culling the best 14-15 songs from the 2013 LAME YEARS as a properly-pressed best-of. Having listened to most of these albums in full, I can tell you the best 14-15 songs out of these 179 will be one doozy of a record. Hell, even with the occasional dogs in the pack, I can barely pick my 15 favorites.

In post-Silkworm-related projects, everyone’s gonna be talking about the new Bottomless Pit album, which was definitely my favorite of theirs so far. Joel RL PhelpsGala ought to merit a bit of discussion too. It’s not quite as well-recorded nor quite up to the garage-rock torque of Blackbird (an older JRLP album which I only fell in love with this year, actually, by pure accident). But it’s still good as grownup, naked, straightforward depresso-rock albums go. Maybe it won’t blow your mind, but it should be perfectly capable of at least half-breaking your heart. The last third, starting with the chilling, Louvin-Brothers-suitable “University Girl,” is real solid.

I’ve liked Minneapolis’ STNNNG for a long time, and why shouldn’t I? They are keeping the Albini-rock dream alive like few others these days. Their latest effort Empire Inward is– should you buy it on wax, anyway– the other no-bullshit, all-analog-signal-path rock LP that came out in 2013. Perhaps understandably, as human nature / mass media goes, it got a lot less attention than MBV’s similar labor of analog(ue) love… even though K. Shields has yet to bother proving his claims about mbv‘s all-analogness, while STNNNG has the ticket stubs from their self-funded flight to Abbey Road to show for it. Aaaanyway, the eight tracks / 28 minutes of Inward are here and gone before you’ve had a chance to fully process the extent of your rock pulverization. You’ll want to go back for repeat listenings (louder each time, plz) to make sure you’ve let this album sufficiently kick the shit out of you.

And Momus is one of those guys I’ve never felt fully comfortable recommending; talented, yes, but too coy, Wilde-esque, in love with irony and/or himself. But his latest, Bambi, which I don’t think anyone even noticed, is a very different thing from the twee-synth-addled Momus of the late 90s / early 00s. I popped it open as a curious, “where are they now?” sort of thing and was surprised to find one hell of an album. Think mid-80s Tom Waits, or maybe Micachu, or the least-douchebaggy moments of Xiu Xiu, or just a bunch of beautiful, brilliantly disturbing textures built from “prepared” guitars, or just go listen to it on Spfy or something already.

Stuff that isn’t from 2013 but which I discovered way late and want to mention anyway
When I bought the above-mentioned STNNNG record from Modern Radio Records in Minneapolis, Tom from MRR also sent along a few assorted things from the label’s back catalog. One was the 2001 debut album from a seemingly forgotten band called The Vets. From the moment I put it in, it absolutely blew me away, and I immediately ordered the Vets’ 2004 second album from MRR – it was just as good or better. I haven’t repeat-listened to ANY rock album in years, but I am sure I’ve put at least 20 spins apiece on these two obscurities and I’m not bored yet. You can buy both albums for a mere $5 apiece from MRR; if you have ANY love at all for guitar-based post-rock / math rock from Back in the Day, you should. This shit is unavailable anywhere else… and who knows how much longer it will be available for purchase. The second album is decidedly more challenging stuff than the first from a technical standpoint, but for $10 total, completing your Vets discog off the bat is a total no-brainer.

Stuff I found through performances on The Chris Gethard Show
Somehow, TCGS consistently seems to book incredible or at least interesting music acts on their no-budget public access show, one of the things I suspect I will really miss when the show makes the attempted move to Comedy Central in the spring. These two artists are related only by having been on TCGS, and they’re hardly the only ones I’ve gone out and listened to after the show.

With their most recent and quite enjoyable EP (Bandcamp link), Moisture proves that even though it sounds like a bad idea at first (and hell, it probably is a bad idea), it may be much easier to revisit / enjoyably improve upon early grunge formulas than it is to revisit / improve upon 80s synthpop… pay attention, Chvrches and The Knife and all you other boring, overrated turds of laptop bands with hardons for VSTis. Also, Moisture’s bassist ridicu-rocks a mean sweater with shorts.

I know very little about Marc Ribot save for his generalized rep and his guitar work on my favorite Tom Waits records, but the latest from his power trio Ceramic Dog is an often fun / pleasant surprise with a distinct (and sometimes, slightly / naively oppressive-preachy) 80s-indie vibe to it. As I get older and more scared about everything ever, I like records that prove you can still earnestly and hungrily rock out at 60+ even if you aren’t exclusively signed to Wal-Mart; Your Turn is definitely one such record.

Stuff everyone else will recommend too so I’ll put it all together at the end:
NIN’s Hesitation Marks was pretty decent, a perhaps-predictably impressive effort from a production standpoint but with still-troubling, also-perhaps-predictable weaknesses in songwriting and surprisingly lousy choices in album sequencing. The album midpoint, particularly the gorgeous faux-Bollywood nuclear-meltdown ending of “Disappointed” and the controversial / wonderful “Everything,” stuck with me longest. It’s his best since The Fragile, but I don’t know how much that really says.

My Bloody Valentine‘s comeback in the form of mbv, which at the time was the closest thing the Internet may have experienced yet to SURPRISE BUTTSECKS en masse, is another kind of comeback story. No, it’s not a perfect album; the opening 1-2 of “she found now” and “only tomorrow” don’t wear as well as they ought with subsequent listens, and “new you”– probably what a genre-jingle artist would come up with if a national ad agency asked them to clone MBV instead of “Float On” for once– was damn near a total buzzkill from the first needledrop. But those last three tracks… holy fuck. Or, at least, holy fuck if you’ve got the volume knob where it’s supposed to be.

I liked Speedy Ortiz‘s cleaner-sounding 2012 EP Sports more in theory; 2013’s Major Arcana turns up the vague practice-amp chuzz in a way that I find kind of disappointing as a guitarist / tone snob, but even then there’s no denying that it is a killer album with consistently brilliant songwriting that somehow escapes being an icky retro-90s guilty pleasure despite its totally obvious point of origin for anyone over 30.

It’s uhhh no secret that I am a huge Tim and Eric fan, to say nothing of my appreciation of 70s yacht rock, so the first Heidecker and Wood album should have pleased me. It didn’t, but the new Some Things Never Stay the Same bears earmarks of a much more fruitful (and obviously much more laborious) union between these two very talented individuals, and succeeds spectacularly where the debut somehow failed. I don’t even mind the occasional dips out of the primarily-targeted 70s into early-80s pastiche (“This Is Life”), because they’re damned good too.


  1. Thanks for the kind words! Funnily enough Dave Callahan from The Wolfhounds is an old friend of mine…small world…

    • r said

      As always, deserved, and I’m shocked to see you turn up here! Small world indeed. I seem to recall I first bumped into the Wolfhounds track as a result of a totally unrelated retweet you issued from David Janes, who of course did the video for “Cheer Up” / provided my first Wolfhounds exposure when I started digging through his website. I’d never heard the Wolfhounds’ name here in the perpetually-ignorant States, but I have absolutely loved getting acquainted with a bit of their back catalog this year.

      If I get lucky enough to have you read this reply, someday I’d really like do an interview with you which I can almost certainly promise you no one will ever read. If you’re up to it, let’s time it for the release of Anti-Patterns #2 for maximum promotional impact!!!

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