Whew. Whatta year, amirite?! Yes, new music may have been a bit lacking, but fortunately the one constant that remains is that there's a shit-ton of great live music coming through NYC year-round. When I moved to Williamsburg in '08, I did so almost entirely because of the proximity to so many music venues; nearly 6 years later, that remains my biggest motivation for sticking around.
In fact, my show-going affliction reached new heights this year - I did a rough count last week, and if I wind up going to the New Mastersounds afterparty following the Phish show on December 29th, I will have seen a robust *98* distinct concerts in 2013. According to Jalepzerz' / MeatBox archives, that's a personal record (although I've eclipsed 90 shows in several other years), and as proof, I uploaded literally hundreds of videos to my YouTube channel, effectively documenting my own crime spree.
So, here I sit on Christmas Eve, workin' on my final post of the year for this blog; a post that focuses solely on the highlights of my showgoing for the year. In 4 evenings, Phish NYE Run starts, and if some notable, epic shit goes down, several of these lists could be (at the very least) a bit out of whack and (at most) completely irrelevant. I welcome that. :->
See you in the new year, everyone!
Best Live Show of the Year - Phish at Hampton Coliseum, 10/20/13
Top 10 Phish shows I personally attended this year:
10.) 10/25/13 DCU 9.) 11/1/13 AC 8.) 8/4/13 BGCA 7.) 11/2/13 AC 6.) 7/6/13 SPAC (fuck off, I loved this damn show) 5.) 10/19/13 Hampton 4.) 7/14/13 Merriweather 3.) 10/27/13 Hartford 2.) 10/26/13 DCU 1.) 10/20/13 Hampton
The best three non-Phish arena shows I saw in 2013:
16.) Split Open and Melt at SPAC, July 6 15.) Rock and Roll at BGCA, August 3 14.) Crosseyed and Painless at Holmdel, July 10 13.) Twist > Under Pressure at AC, November 1 12.) Theme from the Bottom > Shaft theme at AC, November 2 11.) Drowned at Worcester, October 26 10.) Harry Hood at Merriweather 9.) Runaway Jim at BGCA, August 4 8.) Stash at Merriweather, July 14 7.) Carini at SPAC, July 6 6.) Carini at AC, October 31 5.) Golden Age at Hartford, October 27 4.) Piper > Taking Care of Business at Hampton, October 20 (yup, this is cheating) 3.) Light at Merriweather, July 14 2.) Seven Below at BGCA, August 2 (in spite of the butchered composed section) 1.) Carini at Hampton, October 18
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.
While the rest of Sigur Ros' message hinted at the lengths to which the band had gone to create a stunning spectacle, words really can't do this show justice. This was a painstakingly crafted and executed concert, complete with plenty of bells and whistles, accompanied by what's probably the most purely beautiful musical performance I've ever witnessed. Let's talk about it, shall we?
Sigur Ros began the show performing behind a large curtain, which enveloped the entire stage (see top picture below). Starkly backlit by a bevy of white lights, the shadowy figures visible through the curtain creepily shifted size from tiny to massive, with frontman Jonsi's bowed guitar strokes appearing particularly violent and menacing.
Dramatically, the curtain dropped after a few songs, revealing the band and several backing musicians (including string and horns sections), as well as a large projection screen and an incredible array of lights probably only matched by those at a Phish show. [Shout out to CK5, breh.]
The set itself was insanely great, providing the perfect soundtrack to the contemplative state of mind in which I found myself after a weekend of epic fun and debauchery. The band's performance lived up to the spectacle, and they managed to pull off something that was way grander than a typical rock show, while not allowing the pomp to dominate the moment. And while it's unlikely that any show at MSG could ever be considered "intimate," Sigur Ros' expert mastery of sound and dynamics made things seem cozier than they likely should've.
As per ushe, Brooklyn Vegan has some great pictures and the setlist; go here to check them out.
I, for one, think this was a fine year for music. I've been called out for giving out too many B+'s amongst my album grades over the last few months, but, if you think about it, it makes sense: at this point, I'm not going out of my way to listen to albums I think are going to be horrible. There are at least, what, 40-50 acts every year that are going to put out albums that I'm going to listen very closely to just based on my previous history enjoying the work of said acts; the rest of the stuff I end up hearing is based on either a (well-informed, I'd like to think) hunch or ideas from friends (usually Beafvy and Bricer). Again, it's not like I'm going around listening to the new Danielson or Grizzly Bear or Best Coast or Vivian Girls or whatever just so I can write something snarky and rubber stamp a "D-" on that garbage. Believe it or not, my time is actually worth more than that.
When 2012 was all said and done, I heard nearly 80 albums, with the final one being the EP Mogwai sneakily released this morning (spoiler alert: it's not worth spending actual money on). The majority of the albums listed below reached double digits in my play count on iTunes.
So, here's the list, unadorned by such frivolities as relevant information about the albums, cover art, or helpful links that would make it easier to locate the individual album reviews, wherever they may be on this site. [EDIT: fixed that.] I'd love to dress this post up and make it a little less bare-bones, but I'll be heading towards JFK in a few short hours, so yer on yer own.
So that's it for now, and I'll check in with y'all before Phish's upcoming 4-night run at MSG (unofficially titled "Four Bros, Four Shows"). HAPPY HOLIDAYS!
Swans - We Rose From Your Bed With the Sun in Our Head -- If you've never seen Swans live, words really can't describe what you're missing - it's really not just about the music. As such, a live document like We Rose From Your Bed... should, hypothetically, fall flat on its ass, for a few reasons:
2.) Plenty of bands play 'loud.' Yet very few (honestly, which others? Mogwai? Sigur Ros? Dark Side / Wish You Were Here-era Floyd?) use their mastery of dynamics and volume to such an advantage as Swans. A large part of Swans' effectiveness in the live setting is that, anywhere you stand in the room, it is going to be unpleasantly loud, and in order to "shut it off," you actually have to physically leave the room (or, as in my case, hide in the basement at Bowery Ballroom for awhile to catch your bearings).
3.) The Swans live show is truly a spectacle, grand on all scales, with a stage layout that includes a six member band, plenty of Marshall stacks, a lap steel, and an eleborate percussion setup. So even before the band actually takes to the stage, spectators come to understand that they're in for something unusual, and again, I know I'm being redundant here, but, y'know, you just can't press that to wax.
4.) It's tough for me to explain how chilling it is to watch a grown man slap the shit out of himself onstage, but there it is.
Anyway, We Rose From Your Bed is largely an unnecessary release, since it's comprised mainly of tracks from Swans' two recent post-reunion albums. The material is strong, to be sure, but that's really all that saves it from being pointless.
Guided by Voices - Class Clown Spots a UFO -- Probably the best of GbV's three - count 'em, three - full album releases in 2012. Both hookier and heavier than predecessor Let's Go Eat the Factory, with less tuneless, tossed-off junk polluting the flow. As someone who has listened to the very vast majority of Robert Pollard's releases, it amazes me that he's apparently able to just turn the "good song faucet" on again after putting out a steady stream of utter garbage (a handful of Boston Spaceships songs notwithstanding) from, oh, about 2007 thru last year. Once again, welcome back, Uncle Bob!
Best songs: "Keep It in Motion," "Tyson's High School," "No Transmission," "Jon the Crocodile," "All of This Will Go," "Billy Wire," "Roll of the Dice, Kick in the Head."
Sigur Ros - Valtari -- When discussing Sigur Ros' recorded output, detractors can say 'it all sounds the same.' Well, this album (more than any other Sigur Ros release) sounds the sameyist.