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.
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.
When discussing his compositional techniques and tendencies, Dan Friel seemingly hits the nail on the head in this interview:
"I love a lot of extreme, harsh music – that’s what got me into music, playing in noise and grindcore bands in high school – but at the same time, I’ve always loved very simple and purely melodic music. As a child, before I even remember listening to music to any great degree, my favorite music was the soundtrack to The Harder They Come with Jimmy Cliff [with Toots and] The Maytals, and that kind of stuff, and that’s pretty pure, major-key, beautiful pop music. ...I wanted those heavy, otherworldly textures that I got from listening to noise and psych and industrial stuff, and I wanted to learn how to write a simple, good, moving melody."
To those who appreciates Friel's solo work as well as that of his great, now-defunct (as of a year ago) noise-rock band Parts and Labor, that description highlights what Friel continues to do best: writing huge, arena-ready anthems that are swathed in his homemade, noisy, "heavy, otherworldly textures."
The inspiration for Total Folklore came from Friel's walks through NYC, which he describes as "a really weird, psychedelic experience... exciting and bizarre and soothing." This theme definitely translates throughout the record, no more evidently than on the album's first track, "Ulysses," a sprawling, 12+ minute behemoth which somehow manages to encapsulate the beauty, ugliness, weirdness, inspiration and grandeur of a trek through the city.
While "Ulysses" is clearly the album's focal point, the rest of Total Folklore cycles through tuneful, immediate tracks that wouldn't have sounded out of place on his also-great 2008 solo album, Ghost Town. Most notable are the manic, driving "Valedictorian" (and "Valedictorian"'s more slovenly nephew, "Scavengers") and last week's Song of the Week, the playfully pulsating "Thumper."
All in all, I think that the inspiration behind (and the execution of) Total Folklore is summed up best in a David Cross quote:
"In New York, you are constantly faced with this very urgent decision that you have to make, about every twenty minutes...you have to decide, immediately, you have to go 'Ohmigod. Do I look at the most beautiful woman in the world or the craziest guy in the world?'"
However, on Total Folklore, the listener doesn't have to choose, as you can sit back and enjoy Friel's awesome, fist-pump-worthy anthems while the swaths of static and feedback wash over you.
It's a shame that it took me so long, but the first thing I heard by Parts and Labor was their (excellent) final album, 2011's Constant Future. I was fortunate enough to be able to catch the band live four times total, including their final show ever at 285 Kent (at which I shot thesefourcrappyvideos). Also here's a review I wrote of P&L's Cake Shop show from 2011.
Of course, after hearing Constant Future I went back and dug as deeply as the internets would allow into P&L's immensely rewarding catalog, eventually branching out into Dan Friel's solo stuff (his Ghost Town album from 2008 is great, too), so I was glad to hear he'd be putting out a new album in '13. In fact, the first tracks from that new album, Total Folklore, were released on a 12" late last year, in time for one of them to score a Top 5 slot on my Best Songs of 2012 list.
For the uninitiated - Dan Friel's solo stuff fits right in with the Parts and Labor aesthetic of huge, arena-ready hooks played through equipment that's often homemade and noisy. In a recent Village Voice article, Friel described it as follows: [his archaic home recording setup] "...fits the aesthetic really well as far as using technology, getting to know it, and not trading up. The keyboard I've used is the keyboard I got when I was eight—the same one I always use. I like not making it about technology but making it just about what is available."
This show served as an album release show for Total Folklore, with most of the songs in the set being drawn from that. Friel performed several songs from the new album and a couple unreleased songs during the set, most of them solo, but a couple with violin accompaniment (see the "Valedictorian" video below) and some with horns. For the last two songs of the set, he was joined by a chorus of eight or so acoustic guitarists, four horn players, the violin, and a drummer... check 'em out:
So, my goal was to post reviews for every '12 album I heard (about 80 or so) before posting year-end lists, but that ain't gonna happen, so here you have the first part of the "Jaleppies," aka my year-end best-of lists. Part 2 will probably be published Wednesday morning and will consist of the year's best albums, and Part 3 will be random stuff. Enjoy! (Or don't! I don't care! I'll be in Puerto Rico beetches!)
[Note that in a few of the entries below, two songs have been combined into one single entry. You can probably figure out why, but just in case you can't, it's because the songs run together on the album and as such they sound dumb when played apart from one another. Thank you for your patience and understanding.]
1.) Fang Island - "Asunder" (edit)
2.) Lower Dens - "Lamb"
3.) Melvins - "We Are Doomed"
4.) Lower Dens - "Brains" > "Stem"
[Note - I shot this video]
5.) Dan Friel - "Valedictorian"
6.) Tame Impala - "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards"
7.) Torche - "Kicking"
8.) Guided by Voices - "Keep It in Motion" > "Tyson's High School"
9.) The Men - "Oscillation"
10.) Dum Dum Girls - "Mine Tonight"
11.) Beach House - "Myth"
12.) Raveonettes - "Young and Cold"
13.) The Men - "Turn it Around"
14.) Melvins - "The War on Wisdom"
15.) Baroness - "Green Theme"
16.) Two Gallants - "Willie"
17.) Sleigh Bells - "Comeback Kid"
18.) Mount Carmel - "Swaggs"
19.) Pelican - "Ataraxia" > "Lathe Biosas"
20.) Fang Island - "Chompers"
21.) Tame Impala - "Music to Walk Home By"
22.) Guided by Voices - "Hangover Child"
23.) Van Halen - "She's the Woman"
24.) Six Organs of Admittance - "Even if You Knew"
Just got back from the show, got comfy, and poured myself a TALLLLL Vodky / soda / splash'a cran. As such, I feel that bullet points are in order.
Hate to admit that just a short four weeks ago I still hadn't heard note one by Parts and Labor. Although, yes, I'm a bit late to the party on these guys, I'm already a full-fledged convert; at this point, their Constant Future is the best thing I've heard all year. Naturally, the next step was to see them live.
Got to Cake Shop way too early. Calendar said doors at 8, but I was prepared for the worst, which came to fruition when I was informed that the show wasn't going to get started until about quarter after 9. Well, I'll be goshdarned.
Went a few doors down from Cake Shop to Iggy's, a bar I really disenjoy. Last time I was there I got the distinct impression that I was the only person in the bar not on intense amphetamines, although an improbably awesome PBR special kept me glued to my barstool. This time, I walked in and they're playing Sublime (?!???!) and I wind up getting harassed by some drunk, coked-up 60 something dude about the goings-on in the NBA. For someone who was so eager to discuss the NBA, it was painfully obvious that he, in fact, didn't know shit about the NBA. I politely nodded as he spouted such gems as "man, I hope the Knicks play the Sixers in the first round!" Brutal, breh. Trying to break up the conversation, I ordered a second pint, but the bartender was so yipped up he forgot, leaving to my own devices for about 10 minutes. Ultimately, I went unserved.
Drank a bunch of pints at that crap bar Nice Guy Eddie's on Houston. Very uneventful except for an insanely hot bartender.
Finally stumbled into Cake Shop at about a quarter to ten. Was informed that I had missed the opening band, Hunters, which was just fine by me; four bands can be a tall order especially if three of them could potentially suck ass.
First band I saw was Zulu, and they were horrible. Just tuneless infantile thrashing about, which can be ok if your shouty guy sounds kind of intimidating. This guy, not so much; he sounded like he was scolding his loftmate for carelessly placing a chai latte on his back-up iPad. Whiny, monotonous and lame.
Had a few cans of Rock.
Escaped outside briefly for air only to be aggressively panhandled by a dude about my size (read: kinda terrifying) for a couple of bucks.
Next band, from the "dark hole of Cleveland" (their words, not mine, although I concur), was Puffy Areolas. They had kind of a proto-punk backbone filtered thru a more modern noisy presentation, which I obviously dug. The guitarist / singer guy spent most of his time rocking the f out in the first few rows of the audience (right where I was standing), which was great. Was disappointed to see they apparently didn't have any CDs for sale.
The crowd seemed at least a little into this deal, which was nice because these guys were playing their fucking tits off.
Drank some more Rocks at setbreak. Tried to weasel my way into a cheap shot-and-a-beer special, but the bartender wasn't having it. I'm sorry, but if the best you can do for a well shot and a can of beer is $10, you can go fly a kite, mister.
Parts and Labor was up next and they did NOT disappoint. Just great, noisy, at times anthemic and inspirational (um, "Hurricane," anyone?) lo-fi rock delivered by a bunch of dudes that seemed fucking ecstatic to be there. Man is this a good band!
The keyboard dude announced that this was their first show with their new (touring?) guitarist, who apparently 1.) has a pilots license and 2.) once skydived (skydove?) out of the plane used in Point Break. AWESOME!!! Oddly enough, the guitarist was mostly inaudible to me for the majority of the set, despite the fact that I was standing no more than eight or nine inches away from him the whole set.
In my brief review of their new album, I somehow foolishly neglected to mention that the drumming on Constant Future is just INSANE. I haven't been so unexpectedly blown away by a drummer at a live show since a Fucking Champs show a few yeas back. By my count I've seen about 25 shows so far this year (about 50-60 bands at least) and the only drummers I've seen who can even so much as hold this guy's jock are Kenny from Goes Cube and Harvey Milk's Kyle Spence. [OK, fine, and Austerity Program's drum machine.]
Setlist consisted of selections spanning Constant Future, Receivers, Mapmaker and Stay Afraid. Plenty of new songs but regrettably no "Fake Names" or "Constant Future" or "Bright White."
Hmmmm. Not sure how I can more avidly recommend these guys. Running out of nice things that I can say before this review turns into "cartoonish beejer" territory. Buy their records, see them live, and when you do, dance around like you're undergoing invisible electro shock treatment. I did!