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.
With significant rainfall in the forecast, this year's 4 Knots Festival seemed like an iffy proposition at best, but this was one day where I applaud the ineptitude of the world's meteorologists. Gorgeous day, maybe just a little warm, and picture perfect for enjoying a free festival with a solid lineup, just like this one.
J to Chambers (no service to Fulton? WTF?), and as I was running late, I heard Marnie Stern's music get increasingly louder as I approached. Marnie and her band were playing the "second" stage, and I walked up during the middle of personal fave "The Crippled Jazzer."
Of course, I'm a big fan of Marnie Stern's music, having just recently caught (and enjoyed) the tail end of her live set at Music Hall a couple months ago. Unfortunately, today her voice was totally blown out, transforming what would normally be spirited upper register yelps into tortured screams (check the video above, if you dare). I didn't stick around for terribly long, only seeing "The Crippled Jazzer," "Nothing Is Easy" and part of "Year of the Glad" before heading over to the main stage. Highlight for me was the kinda awesome instrumental coda to "The Crippled Jazzer," which gave former Parts and Labor drummer extraordinaire Joe Wong (Marnie's touring drummer) plenty of room to flex his chops while Marnie hammered her signature kamikaze leads over the top.
By the time I arrived at the main stage, The Men were already set up. It's possible I missed the first song or two of their set... I walked up just as they began their krauty C&W track "Country Song." That segued into my favorite song in their catalog, "Oscillation," which I'd never seen them perform live before. (See directly above this paragraph for my crappy iPhone video of "Oscillation," starring the backs of a lot of dudes' heads.)
As familiar as I am with their material (very), The Men are a band that manages to surprise me each time I see them. During their set at Don Pedro's on the eve of Hurricane Sandy, they eschewed the more contemplative aspects in their catalog, instead opting almost exclusively for straight-ahead grungy-ass punk. At the Sandy benefit at Vitus in December, they unexpectedly opened their set with several acoustic songs, and when they finally plugged in they played practically all new material. Their Bowery show in March found the band stretching out and playing a robust 70 minute set, while incorporating horns into several songs. And their show at Union Pool early last month featured such an energetic performance that I gained new appreciation for several of the songs from New Moon which I'd previously been iffy on. Anyway, the surprises at today's set were: 1.) said aforementioned "Oscillation" performance; 2.) Ben Greenberg spent the whole set on bass, after having migrated over to lead guitar for the last couple shows; and 3.) they actually played a cover, ending the set with an excellent horn-augmented version of The Stooges "I Wanna Be Your Dog" (see directly below for video).
The Men's set drew heavily from New Moon and Open Your Heart, with a couple new ones thrown in. As per ushe, the energy level onstage was incredible, and a small pit of kids opened up towards the front, featuring the occasional crowd surfer. Fuck yeah, awesome set, and you can bet your sweet patootie that I'll be keeping my ear to the ground re: any upcoming news from these guys. Here's an incomplete setlist:
? (not sure if they played anything before I showed up) "Country Song"> "Oscillation" "Turn It Around" "Open Your Heart" uhhhh not sure... "I Saw Her Face" new song - rockin and punky "Ex-Dreams" "I Wanna Be Your Dog" [Stooges cover]
The next band on the bill was Reigning Sound, who I'd never heard / heard of before today. I took this opportunity to find a bathroom and a reasonably uncrowded beer merchant, eventually making it back to the stage area midway through the band's set. These cats reminded me of a good bar band, with familiar-sounding American rock and roll tunes by the bushel load.
Kurt Vile and the Violators were the afternoon / early evening's final act, taking the stage a few hairs past 7. I was really looking forward to this set, having not seen Mr. Vile live since his January '10 set opening for Dinosaur Jr. at Music Hall of Williamsburg. I was disappointed to have missed out on him the last time he came through town in May in support of his solid new joint, Wakin on a Pretty Daze.
Fittingly, Vile opened his set with the title track (give or take a letter or two) from the newest album, immersing the assembled crowd in his undeniably chill vibes. Ahhhhhhhhhhh. The crowd took notice, and for the first time in the afternoon I began to smell pot smoke liberally wafting through the air. Vile and his Violators ambled their way through "Jesus Fever," "Was All Talk" and "KV Crimes" next.
A half hour or so into the set, decided to wander around the Seaport for a bit before opting to beat the crowd by heading back to the J early, back home before sundown. Not too shabby of a day, right there.
If you enjoyed 2011's Smoke Ring For My Halo (and you should've), you'll like this one. The immediate differences are the song lengths (Wakin's are longer) and the overall tone (Wakin is somewhat sunnier), but otherwise, you know what yer gettin' here - stoner / slacker poetry over a pleasant, hazy acoustic bedding. A perfect soundtrack for the ever-increasingly brief interlude between Winter and Summer, whatever that's called again.
Major Stars - Decibels of Gratitude
Not gonna lie, I haven't checked in on these guys since 2005's 4 (the last 6 minutes or so of "Song for Turner" make me wish the '90s had never ended), but apparently in the interim they've signed up someone to sing somewhat generic rock chick vocals over their usual grungy licks. It's not that these vocals are "bad," per se; the singing itself is perfectly serviceable. But a good rule of thumb for all good bands should be to actively avoid sounding like Alabama Shakes at all costs, and these vocals are a firm step in the wrong direction.
The Knife - Shaking the Habitual
The discussion around this record shouldn't be about whether or not this is one of the year's best records. Nononononono. Instead, people should be wondering if this sack of pretentious, incoherent dogshit is the most overrated record in the history of records. If you've even casually said that you "enjoy" this, please ask yourself, "why?" Is it the total lack of memorable melodies? Is it the obnoxiously bloated running time? Maybe you're a huge "fan" of the nineteen fucking minute track smack dab in the middle of this shitburger that contains ZERO actual notes of music?? FUCK!! For an act that's so oppressively "Euro," this album is as self-indulgent, gassy, and useless as June Shannon waiting in line for the chocolate wonderfall at Golden Corral.