Yeah, this one's not even close. After being fortunate enough to attend 12 shows during Summer Tour, then 9 of 12 shows on Phish's Fall Tour (and couch touring the other three), I have to say that these sonsabitches haven't performed / improvised at this level since the legendary Fall Tour '97 / NYE Run '97 / Island Tour '98 era. With '13 NYE Run just 5 days away, we can only hope that they deliver something close to what went down from late October thru early November. STOKED BRAH.
In Russian Circles' sonic arsenal, the atmospherics are the glue that binds their whole bag of tricks together. Curtis, formerly of Secret Machines (and a touring member of Interpol), has helmed the last three (excellent) Russian Circles albums, helping to shape the band's evocative, dramatic music into something that's entirely lyrical despite being totally wordless.
This one's kinda a dark horse. It's loud and fast, which will help you keep the RPMS up. But the fact that it's scary as fuck will want to make you outrun it like it's a relentless methed-up boogeyman who's looking to get some tail. (Yours.)
1.) SONG OF THE YEAR: Palma Violets - "Last of the Summer Wine"
Just like countless other great rock n' roll songs, this one's greater than the sum of its parts. Yeah, the intro's too long on this song. And so's the outro. The lyrics are moronic. (The "official" video is absolute garbage - see above.) And the chord progression isn't exactly original but... there's just somethin' about the classic guitar tone and the finesse they play the lick with and the sweet, sweet melody that slays me every time.
"How bad did this year suck?" you ask. Well, it sucked so bad that I had to change the rules to where live albums are disqualified just to keep an archival live release from being my Album of the Year. Why did I feel the need to even bother tweaking the formula? I DON'T FUCKING KNOW!!!!! So, I guess, congrats to Phish for having the year's best release overall. Huzzah!
Anyway, let's have at it, shall we........
1.) ALBUM OF THE YEAR - Deafheaven - Sunbather
A gorgeous, terrifying, exhausting album - casual listening this is not. While retaining the unrelenting brutality of black metal as the musical underpinning, Sunbather adds gorgeous, melodic guitar lines reminiscent of Explosions in the Sky, ratcheting up the drama with a keen Mogwai-esque understanding of how to manipulate quiet / loud dynamics.
2.)Ceramic Dog - Your Turn
This is a helluva album, and it's also a helluva unexpected album. It's incredibly rare that a musician who has attained Marc Ribot's level of success and renown in the jazz world chooses to express himself artistically in a manner that's as angry, ornery, and loud as Your Turn, but it's not simply experimenting with a mode of expression that's a triumph here; it's that the album is a smashing success. Your Turn takes its detours down several stylistc alleys (heavy blues / hard rock, grunge, distorted fusion jams reminiscent of late-period Hendrix, and even a cacophonous, distortion-heavy update of a classic jazz tune) while streamlining the more freeform, scattershot approach taken on the trio's more noodly previous album, Party Intellectuals.
Ribot's tone on Your Turn is furious, his desire to rock is unwaveringly unapologetic, and the music's heavy grooves are arresting. So, listen to this if you like great music, otherwise feel free to go fuck yourself.
3.) Jimi Hendrix - People, Hell and Angels
If you're skeptical of yet another posthumous Hendrix release, you should be; the list of "archival" stuff that's been pinched off in the 43 years since Hendrix' death is littered with shoddy quality bootleg material and inessential, often redundant crap, the sheer quantity of which greatly outpaces the (occasionally transcendent) worthwhile stuff by a large margin. Sure, I'm definitely a sucker for unreleased / archival stuff, but this release works surprisingly well on its own as a cohesive album. Comprised mostly of material Hendrix was working on as a follow up to Electric Ladyland, People, Hell and Angels allows the listener a rare glimpse at what might have been had Hendrix' appetite for heroin and pills been less fiendish.
4.) Palma Violets - 180
Earlier this year, Palma Violets were apparently the subject of the creepy-ass UK music press' embarrassing crush; of course, if you're actually regularly reading the NME you've likely already lost the battle. Regardless, this album is a real success, incorporating classic chord progressions, strong melodies, and a warm, inviting garagey sound into their sonic stew. Where many indie acts seem to be self-consciously stuck playing small ball, 180 is unafraid to swing for the fences, evoking the work of several of music's heavy hitters (J&MC, Stone Roses, Velvets, even Springsteen) without being dominated by their influences.
5.)The Men - New Moon
The Men are a band that's seemingly always in the middle of significant stylistic flux, and growing pains are to be expected as a side effect of significant experimentation. New Moon sees them attempting to situate their music on an AM AOR station circa 1976. But for all the genre hopping that they've done over the course of their relatively brief career, to their credit these guys seem like real students (and practitioners) of "what makes rock music great," instead of simply hipster dilettantes.
BOAT fits their reputation as an underdoggish, scrappy act so well that it can be easy to underestimate their awesomeness. Don't look now, but this is their *sixth* release of endearingly hooky, deceptively rockin' tunes. In the indie rock (or, as BOAT refers to themselves, "sloppy pop") world, there are fewer sure bets at this point than BOAT.
After a brief-yet-satisfying dalliance with "hi-fi" recording techniques on 2011's Dress Like Your Idols,Pretend to Be Brave finds the band returning to the "mid-fi" territory that suited them so well on 2009's excellent Setting the Paces. Thematically, the songs hearken back to the self-deprecating, bashful lyrics of Setting the Paces as well, often taking the subject matter even further in the direction of self-doubt: "White Flag" and "Grind Like Gears" are arguably the most despondent songs they've ever released, while "Inside the Aquarium" graphically details a friend's nearly deadly car accident, eventually resolving with the rationalization that "you cried when you realized it was good just to be alive." "Rock You Like a Hurricane," that ain't.
As on their previous material, it's the moments in which BOAT frontman D. Crane transcends his malaise that are ultimately the most rewarding. "Hating the Criminal," "Interstellar Helen Keller" and the title track are just good ol' fashioned grin-inducing rock and roll songs, and it's as much Crane's ability to craft keen hooks as it is his background as a school teacher that make him an apt comparison for Robert Pollard. However, for all his epic peaks, Pollard has rarely released an album as streamlined and filler-free as either Setting the Paces or Pretend to Be Brave.
Ultimately, Crane's songs come from a perspective with which much of his audience, as 30 somethings nagged by uncertainty, occasional feelings of helplessness, and the creep of inadequacy, can identify. BOAT's songs aren't about Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll; they're about the dread of looming personal debts, losing touch with old friends, and perseverence. And, at their best, it's BOAT's ability to convincingly reach the conclusion that, in spite of everything, there's light at the end of the tunnel, that makes their work so valuable.
With 2013 1/3 over, it's list time. The title of this post is a tad misleading; if this list comprised all of my favorite songs from this year, it would have more GbV / Thermals / Hendrix / The Men / etc. songs. Instead it's more like "one good song from each of the albums / EPs I've enjoyed most this year, plus the Roomrunner single." So, presented in no particular order, here's that.
Although there haven't really been any essential albums thus far in '13 (sorry, I'm not drinking the mbv Kool Aid just yet), that could change shortly. Each of the next several Tuesdays has at least one album by a me-approved artist scheduled to drop. Let's talk about that, shall we?
Feb 26 (that's tomorrow!) - Atoms for Peace, Amok
This is the first album by Thom Yorke's "other" act (pictured above). Basically it's pretty much widely accepted that Atoms for Peace is the full-band representation of Yorke's 2006 solo album, Eraser. Eraser was OK, but when I saw Atoms for Peace live in April '10, they really improved on the skeletal Eraser tracks, filling them out with melody, feeling, and (perhaps most importantly) a capable rhythm section.
According to the reviews I've read, Amok is closer to Eraser than an album with full instrumentation should be, which is a shame. If I had to guess, I'd imagine that Amok will be a snoozer, but I'd love for Mr. Yorke and company to prove me wrong.
also out February 26: Mogwai, Les Revenants
The good: last time Mogwai did a full soundtrack for a film was 2006, when their music accompanied the movie about French soccer legend Zidane, and that album featured some decent tracks. This time around, Mogwai is soundtracking a French TV series about zombies, which one would think would be the perfect source material for the band's fuzzed out post rock.
The bad: late last year, Mogwai put out a teaser EP featuring a couple of tracks from the album, and it was the worst non-remix-centric release of the band's career. Hmmmm.
On their fifth studio effort, the men of BOAT will forge ahead in their makeshift, self-styled "sloppy pop" watercraft, bringing hooky, GbV-influenced tunes to the masses. Huzzah! For pre-album release promotional purposes, they asked a bunch of their friends / favorite bands to cover songs from Pretend to Be Brave, and you'll find those songs, as well as first single "Inside an Aquarium" at their Soundcloud page.
March 19 - Marnie Stern, The Chronicles of Marnia
While Marnie Stern's hyper-caffeinated guitar histrionics have always been highly entertaining, I felt that her most recent album, 2010's Marnie Stern, was the first thing she's done where the songwriting matched her obvious talents. In the past, Marnie has relied upon drummer extraordinaire Zach Hill for help with song arrangement (not to mention street cred), but he's got his hands full with his dangerously overrated Death Grips project for now. But fear not, you can't do much better for a substitute than Oneida's Kid Millions, who handles The Chronicles of Marnia's beats.
March 19 - Thalia Zedek Band, Via
This is a big year for Ms. Zedek, as Matador recently announced that they will be reiussing the long out of print debut album from her highly influential '90s project, Come. But before that happens in early May, Zedek's solo act will release their new joint, Via, on Thrill Jockey. I've enjoyed each of her previous solo outings, and I'd expect that this one would be as textured and melodically mournful as her previous work.
Chatted with the singer / guitarist and the drummer from BOAT for awhile. Good dudes. Their recent tour has consisted of about 9 or 10 dates, and they recorded a Daytrotter session last weekend after their Brooklyn show. [Full disclosure: I missed the Brooklyn show last weekend due to a Costa Rica trip, which was awesome.] This would be the final show of the tour.
Said BOAT dudes mentioned that they needed to locate a store that would sell them a pair of scissors. Having attended two different awesome BOAT Arts N Crafts Nites (macaroni shakers were handed out at their Cake Shop show, and '88 Mets masks handed out at their Bell House show -- I still have both of those items somewhere, heheheh), I was curious what they had in store for us on this night.
Not going to slag off either of the opening bands, but let's just say they weren't exactly my cups of tea.
BOAT took the stage at about 9 PM or so. I've made this comparison in the past, but back when GbV first attained some level of national notoriety, audiences were expecting like a weirdo-folk hippie commune to show up and perform the music (understandable, considering some of the weird-assshit that's on Bee Thousand). Instead, legendarily, GbV showed up with an insanely loud, arena-ready 2-guitar attack up in this bitch, knocking the assembled audience out of their fucking socks. A similar thing could have been said for BOAT's live show a couple years ago, especially considering the first time I saw them live it was after hearing their weirdest, scrappiest album, Let's Drag Our Feet, and I half expected the band to consist of a ragtag bunch of acoustic-toting, xylophone-tapping nut-jobs, which was fortunately not the case. For the record, BOAT's live show these days is basically an awesome power-poppy deal, way louder, funner and more rockin' than 99% of today's (or any time's, for that matter) indie poppers.
The set was EXCELLENT. I was pretty liquid after a few pints and and a vodky Red Bull, so for much of the evening I was basically rocking out and shouting along. Apologies to anyone that overheard me screaming the lyrics totes off key an' shit. It happens.
The evening's "arts and crafts" consisted of a massive cut-out head and word balloon announcing that this was BOAT's New York Record Release show (they were selling their new album, Dress Like Your Idols, on vinyl at the merch table). Also there was a huge cut-out picture of a plate of nachos, and an another accompanying word balloon announcing "BOAT GOES THRU YOU LIKE A PLATE OF NACHOS!" or something similar, hahaha. Apparently they weren't allowed to hang these items on the walls around the stage due to potentially causing a "fire hazard," so instead the band held them up at different points during the show.
The set was EXCELLENT. (Yes, I realize I said that earlier, but it begs repeating.) Nothing from the first album (I was considering being a bastard and requesting "Lanterns and Laughing Ladies" throughout the set, but fortunately refrained), but a few each from Let's Drag Our Feet and '09's excellent Setting the Paces, with the rest coming from Dress Like Your Idols. For the encore, the band gave us the choice: "do you want to hear one of our songs, or one of someone else's?" The overwhelming response was "SURPRISE US!" so they whipped out their excellent "Interstate 5."
So yup, friggin' awesome all around. Check the setlist below, and further below check a pic of the shirt I bought (one for me, one for my bro Beafvy). RAWK.