Feb 13, 2013
1. Yo La Tengo - Fade (Matador)
This one surprised me quite a bit, YLT trims the fat and releases one of their tightest, most consistent albums in years. Bringing in Tortoise's John McEntire to helm the boards was a masterstroke, his touches are subtle but enough to breathe life into these 10 tunes. The book-end "epics" are justifiably getting a lot of attention, but the sweet ("Is That Enough") and the playful ("Two Trains") are the not-so-secret heart of their best album in years.
2. Parquet Courts - Light Up Gold (What's Your Rupture?)
From 90s stalwarts to a band that just sounds like they should've been 90s stalwarts. The name-checking is easy with these guys - Pavement, Wire, The Fall, Yummy Fur - but less easy is figuring out exactly how they managed to swirl it all into such an engaging, original creation. They play the coy, slacking stoners well, but they're much smarter than that. A great early year surprise.
3. Widowspeak - Almanac (Captured Tracks)
Another surprise, though I already had this duo on my radar. But with their second album they live up to the title by swirling all sorts of American music influences (folk, girl-group pop, indie rock, blues) and idioms into one tidy package. The cover may make you think this is all old-timey "folk" ala Mumford & Sons, but this is quite a bit more interesting than all that - as any one of the electric guitar lines will tell you.
4. The Joy Formidable - Wolf's Law (Atlantic)
I had really high hopes for this band's latest album and, although they didn't quite live up to them, this is still good enough to keep these guys as my favorite alt-rock band going right now (not that there is a lot of tough competition... but still). Anyway, this is filled to the brim with alt-rock gems that recall 1995 while reaching out to the cheap seats at the back of the arena - big hooks, even bigger guitar solos. My only complaint is that everything seems to be a little too smooth and precise, it wouldn't hurt to loosen up a little bit.
5. Ducktails - The Flower Lane (Domino)
Opinions seem to be pretty split on this one, but I really like the cleaner production and smoother sounds. I will miss some of the guitar experimentation of the early bedroom experiments, but I really like the collaborative vibe (especially the help of Msrs. Ford + Lopatin) and yacht-rock vibe that lands somewhere between recent Destroyer, Loggins & Messina, and Real Estate.
6. Mountains - Centralia (Thrill Jockey)
This ambient drone duo from Brooklyn made me a fan with 2011's Air Museum, but this one ups the ante nicely. Things chug along as expected over the course of the first four tracks, but the epic 20-minute centerpiece "Propeller" blooms into a life of its own. One of the first mandatory musical journeys of 2013. When the power chords unexpectedly kick in on "Llana" - it's all icing on the cake.
7. Voivod - Target Planet Earth (Century Media)
For their first album without the influence of the sorely missed Piggy, not to mention their first with Blacky back in the fold since forever, Voivod renews their mission statement and reminds us all just how damn progressive they were in the first place. This sounds nothing like any of the current trends in metal and is all the better for it, just Voivod doing what they do best.
8. The Night Marchers - Allez Allez (Swami)
Or, just the latest of John Reis' four hundred bands. Pretty much what you might expect from Reis at this point - loud, dumb and mean garage rock full of snot, piss and vinegar. The hooks and lyrical barbs are as sharp as ever, and none of these songs overstay their welcome. John Reis deserves a goddamn lifetime achievement award in rock and roll at this point.
9. Arbouretum - Coming Out of the Fog (Thrill Jockey)
A new discovery for me, one that I'm surprised I didn't come across earlier given how many of my boxes it ticks. Still, better late than never. Dave Heumann's stellar guitar playing hit me right off the bad, though it took me a few songs to warm up to his voice. But once it did, I came to grips with the sort of Richard Thompson fronts Crazy Horse vibe they've got going on and connected deeply.
10. California X - California X (Don Giovani) / Holy Grail - Ride the Void (Prostethetic)
Yeah, I'm tossing two albums here in the end, but they do sort of make sense together. Neither one of these bands is doing anything new or groundbreaking, but each one hones in on their target well and delivers a fun listen. The former brings Dinosaur Jr worship to the nth degree, while the latter brings a slightly modern twist to classic, thrash-influenced heavy metal. Either way, they represent bygone eras I'm more than happy to get lost in all over again.