Obviously “best” is in quotes because all this stuff is completely subjective. But here are some records that I enjoyed the hell out of this year.
Click here for a spotify playlist of some of these songs (not all are on spotify) and some bonus content.
- Run the Jewels. Side 1 (or the first half, for you non-vinyl-listeners) is nearly perfect. Jaime’s production is the best in the game, and his and Mike’s flows complement one another perfectly. You don’t even have to torrent this one: click the link up there for a free download.
- Beastmilk, Climax. Most stuff being billed as post-punk sounds uninspired and derivative. But Beastmilk uses Joy Division and their ilk as a jumping-off point, not as a template. “Climax” recalls that golden era of post-punk but takes you places you never dreamed it would go. Kurt Ballou’s outstanding production doesn’t hurt either.
- Arbouretum, Coming Out of the Fog. Lungfish casts an awfully long shadow, especially on Baltimore bands like Wilderness and Arbouretum. The latter tempers their Lungfish influences with folk — Richard Thompson looms large, and the band did an EP of Gordon Lightfoot covers. At their best, Arbouretum melds these influences together, resulting in a heavy slurry imbued with melody and emotion. I dig it.
- Roomrunner, Ideal Cities. HEY DO YOU LIKE NIRVANA? Who cares. I don’t (care, or like Nirvana). But I love this fucking record. It’s pretty and fucked up and catchy and ugly in a way that precious few records are. Rmrnr are also smart and funny they don’t give a fuck what anyone outside of Ballmer thinks, and I respect that a lot. They’ve already recorded some new material with J. Robbins that’s going to kick your face in and get stuck in your brain pan for most of 2014, so get ready for that.
- Lorde, Pure Heroine. Why hasn’t “Tennis Court” been released as a single yet? It’s clearly the best song on the record. Get it together, record label.
- Kvelertak, Meir. Heavy metal anthems meet blastbeats. It shouldn’t work, and frankly, sometimes it doesn’t. But when it does come together, like on “Evig Vandrar,” it’s like a punch right in the adrenal gland. And mostly I could do without the black metal influence — all the balls of the song disappear as soon as the blastbeats begin — but if that’s what it takes for me to get my modern hard-rock jams, I’ll make do.
- Sky Ferreira, Night Time, My Time. I actually don’t care much for this record, but it made the list on the strength of two songs: “Nobody Asked Me” and “I Blame Myself.” The two standout tracks are very different: the former a strident power-pop banger, the latter an understated, self-incriminating synth pop gem. Both have irresistible hooks and are good enough to carry the rest of the unremarkable album on their coattails.
- Nails, Abandon All Life. Another Kurt Ballou production job, another entry on my year-end best-of list. Coincidence? Probably not. I didn’t think there was anywhere to go after “Unsilent Death,” frankly, but these guys proved me wrong. It’s heavier, louder, nastier, and gnarlier. Where could they possibly go from here? (Yes, that’s a challenge.)
- Coliseum, Sister Faith. I haven’t always been a Coliseum fan. Their early stuff didn’t do it for me, but clearly something changed.(Me? Them? Probably me.) Did you ever listen to that last Laughing Hyenas record on Touch & Go? Attach jumper cables to that record and you’ll get an idea of what ”Sister Faith” sounds like. It rocks hard but sports melody and dynamics — in other words, there are actual songs. Also it’s spooky. Heavy, hooky, spooky. HHS.
- Polvo, Siberia. Don’t call it a comeback — or do, I don’t care. It’s technically a comeback, since the band was broken up for about 10 years. But unlike some bands that aren’t content to relive their former glory, Polvo are making some of the best music of their career, and some of the best non-hyphenated “rock” music, period. It’s vital and insistent and deeply, deeply weird. Get into it.
- Linda Thompson, Won’t Be Long Now. Discovering Richard and Linda Thompson was one of the coolest things about my musical 2013. I listened to “I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight” dozens of times and delved deep into Richard’s back catalog. But I didn’t even realize Linda had released a record this year until I saw it on someone else’s year-end list. I’ve listened to almost nothing else since then, though. This woman is at the absolute top of her game and we’re lucky that she deigns to record these songs for us.
- Tegan and Sara, Heartthrob. The last T&S record I cared about was “The Con” — I’ve probably listened to “Back in Your Head” a hundred thousand times. Maybe more. But I hadn’t really paid attention since them. I saw this one on someone’s best-of-2013 list and thought I’d check it out and what the fuck, they’re like a dance-pop band now?? The bulk of the album was produced by that Greg Kurstin guy who’s done a bunch of stuff with P!nk and Kelly Clarkson I guess? Anyway, I haven’t spent a ton of time with this record yet, but it warrants inclusion on the strength of “Closer” alone. Talk about a fucking hook.
- Weekend Nachos, Still. After the Thompsons, these guys are my most pleasant musical surprise discovery of 2013. They’re been around a while, but I never checked them out because of their criminally stupid name. Turns out I was missing out on some phenomenal hardcore, delivered with conviction and caustic humor.
- Hundred Visions, Permanent Basement. Discovered these guys at TotalFest in Missoula. They feature massive pop hooks with actual hi-fi production — neither of which is especially popular in contemporary garage rock. They’ve still got the requisite snottiness, though — I watched the guitar player throw beer cans at Red Fang when those guys played the main stage.
- Survival Knife. There’s no album to list, just a coupla 7”es. But they’re good enough that you’re gonna wanna track ‘em down. In case you don’t know, Survival Knife is Justin from Unwound’s new thing. Don’t come in expecting Unwound, though: SK is way more straight-ahead than something like “Leaves Turn”: it’s punk rock, heavy on the rock. “Name That Tune” all but quotes the riff from Black Flag’s “Drinking and Driving” — maybe that’s the joke?
- Joanna Gruesome, Weird Sister. Although the approach is very different from Roomrunner, Joanna Gruesome also melds pretty with ugly in extremely satisfying ways. Picture ’90s indie rock as played by 20-year-old kids from Wales might sound like and you’ll be most of the way there.
- Mutoid Man, Helium Head. Based on Steve Brodsky’s (excellent) solo output, I assumed it was the other guys in Cave In who brought the heavy. So imagine my surprise when his new band, a collaboration with the talented and well-traveled Ben Koller (Converge, All Pigs Must Die) was balls-out heavy and hook-laden, just like the best Cave In stuff? Like everything else Brodsky touches, it’s awesome.
- Power Trip, Manifest Decimation. Period-correct and pitch-perfect classic thrash metal. Loud, fast, and scooped, with way too much reverb and drums that sound like giant garbage cans (think Kreator’s “Pleasure to Kill”). Scratches a very specific itch for this guy, who grew up on Teutonic and Bay Area thrash. “OOOOH!”
- Queens of the Stone Age, … Like Clockwork. Josh & co. lost me after “Rated R.” I liked the slower, groovier, hookier stuff, and he/they seemed determined to follow a balls-out rock path. Plus those skits. Those stupid fucking skits. Unless you’re Kool Keith, leave out the fucking skits. Anyway, someone prevailed upon me to listen to the new one, and I’ll be damned if it didn’t get under my skin. The songs seem more thoughtful and deliberate, and the weird hooks are plentiful. You lost me for a while, Homme, but you found me again.
- Bl’ast, Blood. I interned at Billboard one summer and they let me take home all the punk and metal records they got sent. One of those records was Bl’ast’s debut LP, “Power of Expression.” I had never, ever heard anything like it. (I hadn’t yet discovered Black Flag, which probably would have explained a lot.) The seemingly atonal riffs didn’t make sense to me, and the constantly shifting meter and rhythm made me feel seasick. But it was delivered with such conviction that I kept coming back to it, and it my brain eventually evolved to understand it. The follow-up, “It’s in My Blood,” never hit me the way the debut did, and seeing them in the early ’90s was a big letdown. So I’m as surprised as you are that “Blood,” a “lost” Bl’ast record, is on my best-of list in the year of our lord 2013. (Many have surmised that the record wasn’t actually lost and remixed, but that it was actually re-recorded to get out from under a draconian SST Records contract. Be that as it may.) “Blood” has the visceral impact and intrinsic weirdness of “Power,” and whether it’s new or old or whatever, who cares, it kicks my ass and makes me want to break stuff, which is all I ever want from a hardcore record.
That’s it, I guess. I hope you enjoyed reading this, or discovered something new. I learn a lot from others’ year-end lists and hope to return the favor.
A very kind writeup from our friend Erik, who picked up exactly what we were puttin’ down. Thanks, man.
2013 Favorites: #11 Snailface - Snailface IV
Ah, Snailface. The tongue in cheek but love in their hearts side project of current and former members of Kowloon Walled City, Snailface convene every few years to record something that makes them happy. This time around, they made an album about camping and its perils, in a glorious pastiche of late 70s and early 80s Album-Oriented Radio stalwarts. Do you like .38 Special and Billy Squier and Kansas and Supertramp and The Cars? Do you long to hear not one but two songs about Christopher McCandless, the young man who died alone in the Alaskan wilderness? Do you wonder why I’m asking you all these questions? Do you drink deer blood from a can?
YES. YES. YES. YES.
2013 Favorites - Top 5 Tracks
#4. Snailface - “In Herzog’s Headphones”
This is likely not the first song about Timothy Treadwell, aka The Grizzly Man, but it may be the first one that pairs his death with a tune that sounds like a The Cars covering a mid-80s .38 Special song. But more than just being about him, “In Herzog’s Headphones” is sung from Treadwell’s point of view, a love song to the bears that killed him. It’s devastatingly funny, and the tacked on one line apology to Amie Huguenard (Treadwell’s girlfriend who shared his grisly fate) is the cruelest laugh on an album full of them.
Very kind words! Thank you, Erik.
Made bagels this weekend. Followed the basic Peter Reinhart recipe, and they came out great!
Scanning large-format flyers on an 8.5x11 scanner sucks dicks.
Some SOMA and Tenderloin shots
Another installment in the “Ian’s Lost Bands” series. LORD GOD BIRD was an amazingly fun band I did for a short time with Nate Daly (ex-Giant Haystacks, loads of other punk and noise bands) and Jason Pace (ex-KWC guitarist). Scott Evans of KWC/Antisleep recorded these jams in our practice space at Dirty Dave’s in East Oakland.
Heavily influenced by Circle, Hawkwind, and second-rate sci-fi. Someone should put this shit on bandcamp, man.
WOW. I thought this stuff had been lost forever.
The Hills Have Eyes was a band I played in some (10?) years ago with Ryan Henry and Matt Butler. This song, which Ryan wrote and sang, is my favorite thing we ever did.