Dec 16, 2014

Five Things Making Me Excited Right Now

The past few weeks of work and life have been frustrating, stressful and trying at times, but it's nice to just sit back and be thankful for everything that is going well. To that end, here's a quick list of five things that are keeping me excited right now.

1. The new D'Angelo record is a real thing.

2. The Best Show is back.

3. End of year list season is upon us.

4. I managed to complete my own best of 2013 lists before 2014 ends.

5. I still get to trawl my way through this. And this. And this.

Dec 14, 2014

2013 Year In Review Part VI: The Albums

Well, even though I started much later, at least I'm wrapping up my best of 2013 before 2014 officially ends. I certainly intend to have my 2014 wrap-up posted in January. One minor change this year, I've decided to bump my favorite albums list up to 75 from 50. That number felt better, considering the number of albums I heard over the course of 2013 was in the hundreds. So without further ado, the 75 favorite albums of 2013:

75. Airbag - The Greatest Show On Earth (Karisma)
74. The 1975 - The 1975 (Polydor)
73. Moss - Horrible Night (Rise Above)
72. Shooting Guns - Brotherhood of the Ram (Teargas Recording Tree)
71. Beastmilk - Climax (Svart)
70. Ashley Monroe - Like A Rose (Warner Bros. Nashville)
69. Horisont - Time Warriors (Metal Blade)
68. Robert Pollard - Blazing Gentleman (Guided By Voices, Inc.)
67. Atlantean Kodex - The White Goddess (Van)
66. Purson - The Circle and the Blue Door (Rise Above)
65. Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady (Wondaland Arts Society/Bad Boy)
64. Body/Head - Coming Apart (Matador)
63. Lycus - Tempest (20 Buck Spin)
62. Windhand - Soma (Relapse)
61. Superchunk - I Hate Music (Merge)
60. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels (Fool's Gold)
59. Church of Misery - Thy Kingdom Scum (Rise Above)
58. Locrian - Return to Annihilation (Relapse)
57. Savages - Silence Yourself (Matador)
56. Altar of Plagues - Teethed Glory & Injury (Profound Lore)
55. Voivod - Target Earth (Century Media)
54. Yo La Tengo - Fade (Matador)
53. Mountains - Centralia (Thrill Jockey)
52. David Bowie - The Next Day (Columbia)
51. Widowspeak - Almanac (Captured Tracks)
50. Touche Amore - Is Survived By (Deathwish)
49. In Solitude - Sister (Metal Blade)
48. Earthless - From the Ages (Tee Pee)
47. Bill Callahan - Dream River (Drag City)
46. Causa Sui - Euporie Tide (El Paraiso)
45. Prodigy x Alchemist - Albert Einstein (Infamous)
44. Androidmonk - Androidmonk (Self-released)
43. Vista Chino - Peace (Napalm)
42. KEN Mode - Entrench (Season of Mist)
41. Satan - Life Sentence (Listenable)
40. Cultes des Ghoules - Henbane (Hells Headbangers)
39. Kadavar - Abra Kadavar (Nuclear Blast)
38. Woe - Withdrawal (Candlelight)
37. Vhol - Vhol (Profound Lore)
36. Thee Oh Sees - Floating Coffin (Castle Face)
35. Chelsea Light Moving - Chelsea Light Moving (Matador)
34. The Men - New Moon (Sacred Bones)
33. Follakzoid - II (Sacred Bones)
32. Oranssi Pazuzu - Valonielu (Svart)
31. Inquisition - Obscure Verses for the Multiverse (Season of Mist)
30. Lee Ranaldo & The Dust - Last Night on Earth (Matador)
29. Fuzz - Fuzz (In the Red)
28. Agrimonia - Rites of Separation (Southern Lord)
27. Ensemble Pearl - Ensemble Pearl (Drag City)
26. Wolf People - Fain (Jagjaguwar)
25. The Appleseed Cast - Illumination Ritual (Graveface)
24. Chance the Rapper - Acid Rap (Self-released)
23. Wormed - Exodromos (Willowtip)
22. Phosporescent - Muchacho (Dead Oceans)
21. My Bloody Valentine - m b v (m b v)

20. Laura Marling - Once I Was an Eagle (Virgin)
Despite her ever widening scope and vision, Laura Marling's fourth, and to date best, album succeeded mostly by stripping back to a more minimal approach. Once I Was an Eagle was recorded over 10 days at producer Ethan Johns' country estate, without a backing band and with very little to back Laura's vocals and guitar work. It's this simplicity that makes this record, for me, her most intense and intensely personal. I've always been a fan, but this is the first time an album of hers caught up to her vision.

19. Kvelertak - Meir (Roadrunner)
While a lot of fans of Kvelertak's 2010 self-titled debut seemed to be a little disappointed by their sophomore full-length, I found to actually be an even more full-formed expression of the band's wide-ranging sound. Converge's Kurt Ballou provides another one of his excellent production jobs, breathing life and vitality into Kvelertak's sound. Whether cranking out AC/DC chant along anthems, prog-tinged epics, nasty riffs with big pop hooks or old-school thrash, Kvelertak deftly distills forty years of heavy rock history into one fierce album.

18. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City (XL)
By more or less regurgitating the blog buzz world music indie pop of their first record on 2010's Contra, Vampire Weekend managed to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. But it is with their surprisingly mature third album, Modern Vampires of the City, that the band stakes a big claim for being a band in it for the long haul. By mature, I don't mean reflective acoustic ballads with "serious" lyrics, I mean expanding their sound in bold new directions without sacrificing the charm that made their first two records so contagious.  It's a confident record from a invigorated band, leading 43 minutes of the most enjoyable indie rock I heard all year.

17. SubRosa - More Constant Than the Gods (Profound Lore)
Let's face it, there hasn't often been lots of great music coming out of Salt Lake City, at least nothing worth getting excited about. But SLC doom band SubRosa started turning heads with their 2011 second album, No Help for the Mighty Ones, thanks to their unique vocals and the addition of violins to their huge sound. Third album, More Constant Than the Gods, however, pushes things to even more epic lengths. It's an extremely dynamic album, both noisy and melodic, taking full advantage of the band's unique make-up and triple vocalist attack. One of the more genuinely engaging and moving metal albums of 2013.

16. Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso UFO - In Search of the Lost Divine Arc (Important)
The Melting Paraiso UFO is the longest running of the Acid Mothers Temple guises, not to mention the most prolific. So prolific and dependable, that the band quietly became one of those bands that its dedicated group of fans followed faithfully, but never seems to get much attention outside of that base. Which is a shame, since Kawabata Makoto and his group are still, twenty years on, releasing some of the most interesting music. Moving away from the Miles Davis homage of their 2012 album, this finds Acid Mothers Temple moving about as far into metal territory as they are wont to get, while still keeping the requisite psychedelic weirdness and guitar insanity. If you haven't checked in on these guys for awhile, now might be a good time to do so.

15. The Besnard Lakes - Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO (Jagjaguwar)
The Besnard Lakes are one of those steadfastly stubborn, thank your favorite deity of choice, bands that refuse to think of the album as anything less than a guided trip through a mesmerizing musical experience. There's a reason that names like Roger Waters and Brian Wilson constantly pop up in reference to this band, and not just because of their epic guitar-laden compositions or their gorgeous vocal harmonies. Their fourth record is the most grandiose yet, filled with the slow-moving, anthemic orchestral rock pieces that are their stock in trade. To my ears, this is a good as they've ever been.

14. Portal - Vexovoid (Profound Lore)
Vexovoid was my first exposure to these Australian death metal weirdos. Though I'd long been reading their name in reference to other death metal experimenters, I'd yet to experience it for myself. And, truth be told, when I first played through Vexovoid, I wasn't sure that I got it. Their sound, even for a genre as bent towards complexity as death metal can already be, was absurdly dense and overwhelming. Even at a brief 35 minutes, there were no easy toeholds. But I couldn't ignore the record and the way it had burned itself into my brain. I kept returning time and time again, each listen revealing some new layer or development. Eventually I was completely lost in their world and didn't care if I ever found my way out. Funny to think that quite a few people seem to rate this as one of their lesser albums.

13. Chris Forsyth - Solar Motel (Paradise of Bachelors)
While I do have a working turntable and I'm happy to grab used vinyl from time to time, I rarely ever purchase new music on vinyl. The price is usually prohibitive and, truth be told, I'm still a CD kind of guy. But Solar Motel was one of the few pieces of new vinyl I picked up in 2013, though I'm still not quite certain what made me pull the trigger. I'm glad I did it this way, because this feels like an album specifically designed to be heard on vinyl. Solar Motel is a four-part suite of instrumental guitar-led  rock that, to my ears, sounds like 1977 era Grateful Dead jamming out endlessly on the instrumental sections of Television's "Marquee Moon". Forsyth himself is the clear star of the record, wrenching as he does all manner of intense and highly melodic noise out of his guitar, but the rest of his group (later called out as The Solar Motel Band) fill in the edges nicely, giving the proceedings an otherworldly psychedelic feel.

12. Beyonce - Beyonce (Columbia)
This is a perfect example of why I like to wait until the calendar year is truly up before I start cranking out my lists. Beyonce's sneak attack with the December 13th surprise release of her fifth album had critics and amateur listmakers everywhere either scrambling to add her to their list of scratching their heads over how to justify her inclusion in their 2014 lists. I can't say I blame them though, nobody wants to look like they're not giving Beyonce her proper dues. And deserved those dues are, this is easily the greatest album Beyonce has pulled together so far. Yeah, there is virtually an entire record label's roster worth of guest stars, producers and co-writers, but this is decidedly Bey's show. She is more self-assured and confident in her vision than ever before, reflected in the album's lyrics and general tone. Beyonce doesn't care about the divisions between urban R&B, mainstream pop, and nu-hipster R&B - she blows those divisions out of the water in service of her own intense vision.

11. Deafheaven - Sunbather (Deathwish)
Or, the most divisive metal album of the decade. Of course, to half the people that hated this record (and half the people that absolutely loved it), just calling this metal is much of the problem. Much like French band Alcest, Deafheaven only uses black metal as one of their handful of musical launching pads. This could've just as easily, and retrospectively was, been tagged as "post-metal" or "shoegaze", apt descriptors both. Most of the record is built around guitarist Kerry McCoy's hauntingly intense and ethereally beautiful cascading guitar lines, generating a cosmic fog that drew in many a My Bloody Valentine fan. But then George Clarke's shrieked black metal vocals kick in and up the intensity to, for many, uncomfortable levels. They were a stumbling block for many, seemingly at extreme odds with the gorgeous guitar latticework, but for me this duality was the beating heart of what made Sunbather so intensely emotional.

10. Carcass - Surgical Steel (Nuclear Blast)
From their 1987 demo tape to the release of the once fittingly titled Swansong in 1996, Liverpool's Carcass tore through the metal universe, becoming standard bearers in multiple genres, whether the early grindgore of Reek of Putrefaction or the melodic death metal perfection of 1993's Heartwork. When they stepped off the stage after Swansong, the band's legendary reputation was carved in flesh and no one really expected to hear from them again. But a 2007 reunion tour kept rolling, turning into a full-time gig by 2012 and leading to the unexpected release of Surgical Steel after a 17-year gap since Swansong. And, well, damn. The legends returned to show all the upstarts how death metal is done. Jeff Walker's lyrics are as gut-splittingly clever as ever, Bill Steer's guitar playing is absolutely flesh-tearing, and the drumming from Dan Wilding keeps everything from running off the rails. A more than welcome reunion.

9. Parquet Courts - Light Up Gold (What's Your Rupture?)
I try not to be one of those guys that spends an inordinate amount of time claiming that the old days were better when it comes to music (I spend the vast majority of my listening time chasing down new sounds), but sometimes it's interesting to note how my tastes change in relation to what's going on in the world. If you've followed my lists with any attention to detail over the past decade plus, you'd be able to trace the noticeable decline in albums on my lists that would be typically classified as "indie rock". Sure, they're still there, but not in as great of numbers. A lot of this is down to my expanding and ever-evolving tastes, but I think I can genuinely say that indie rock has grown increasingly boring over the last decade. But it is bands like Parquet Courts that remind me what I ever saw there in the first place - snarky vocals, highly melodic and knotty guitar lines, dog-eared production, meaninglessly vague lyrics. These are all present on Light Up Gold, but what really nails it for me is the tight guitar playing - I hear a lot of Television influence here, never a bad thing. As fun as the punkier songs might be, I could get lost in their guitar lines for hours. It's a tantalizing mix.

8. Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats - Mind Control (Rise Above)
Although it only placed at #20 on my best albums of 2011 list, Uncle Acid's second record, Blood Lust, ended up having a profound effect on my musical tastes. I loved the thought of the Beatles and Black Sabbath recording an album direct to VHS amidst a huge pile of mushrooms, acid and naked motorcycle girls - the nearest visualization I can give to what I hear when I listen to it. So I was very highly anticipating this album. Befitting a band with an ever increasing buzz, this album is produced a lot more cleanly and there is an increased focus on songwriting, but they never once sacrifice the vibe or tone. The songs are as dark and depraved as ever, but the hooks are even bigger and more sinister. They put on one hell of a live show too.

7. Haim - Days Are Gone (Columbia)
I'll admit, I had plenty of reasons for avoiding Haim when they first started getting buzz a few years ago for their first few singles. I won't say they are good reasons, but I have to set my limits somewhere. The first problem was the aesthetic, they looked like the "indie" girls populating every TV show and ad for the past four years. Plus the whole, "three sisters from California" thing just struck me as industry kids getting the lucky press (I told you they weren't good reasons!). But eventually "Forever" wormed it's way into my ears, despite my best attempts at avoidance. And, that was it, I was hooked. Who cares about the fashion sense, these girls have amazing ears for great pop music. The entire album scans like an hour spent listening to the past four decades of pop music smashed together in the ultimate rock block. I get the Fleetwood Mac comparisons, I'm just as guilty and they make total sense. But that sells Haim really short, there are influences from all over the map buried in their sound. Genre classifications be damned, this is the best pop music I heard all year.

6. Endless Boogie - Long Island (No Quarter)
Pretty much the most appropriately named band ever. And Long Island is a pretty appropriate name for one of their albums, as this one clocks in at 80 minutes and damn near the limit for a CD. Which, from most bands, is overkill and completely unnecessary. But not when you get this foursome in a room together, jamming out the kind of extended twin-guitar laden stoner rock grooves that Paul Major excel in. I liked 2010's Full House Head well enough, but Long Island gave me more and more of what I loved about that record. This isn't music for everyone, but if stoned and fried amp guitar grooves are you thing, well, get your endless boogie on.

5. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories (Columbia)
Hard to believe, but it was eight long years between albums for the French house robot duo. But they bounced back tremendously well from 2005's relatively disappointing Human After All with a rapturously received killer live tour (and subsequent live album) and an ever growing profile that had the crowds at Coachella (and beyond, thanks to the YouTube clip) positively salivating over the brief, Nile Rodgers enhanced clip for "Get Lucky". A song which ended up taking over the summer and ruling radio playlists for a long time after. But by my count, "Get Lucky", as wonderful a slice of pop heaven as it is, is probably the only the fifth or sixth best track on this behemoth. The guest stars raised some eyebrows ahead of time, but Daft Punk knew the perfect ways to wrap Panda Bear, Paul Williams and Julian Casablancas into their distinct take on pop, dance, house, funk and beyond. A true journey, in ever sense of the word.

4. Anciients - Heart of Oak (Season of Mist)
Everything about Vancouver prog-metal band Anciients is about excess. The unnecessary extra 'i' in the band name, the multiple singers, the epic guitar solos, the tracks all clocking in at least 6 minutes long - many of them edging close to 10 minutes. But, to my ears, this is the best kind of excess. The songs are most definitely prog, with twists and turns aplenty, but Anciients never skimps on the huge riffs or highly melodic solos. The problem with many prog-metal bands is that they focus on the "prog" to the detriment of the "metal" - no such problem here. Their wide reach and range recalls, at times, the influence of bands like YOB and Neurosis, but Anciients keeps their sound pretty firmly planted in the prog world. It's a heady debut and I can't wait to hear what comes next.

3. Paramore - Paramore (Fueled By Ramen/Atlantic)
I've been a big fan of Paramore since their 2005 sophomore record, Riot!, but even that couldn't have prepared me for where they'd take things with their self-titled fourth album, and effective major label debut. Paramore, the record, is an epic sounding pop album, in the tradition of what used to pass for the kind of pop "event" albums that used to pop up every 3 or 4 months (whereas, now, we're lucky if we get two a year). Think Madonna, Def Leppard, Michael Jackson - big names, sure, but the influences of each are felt throughout. After an acrimonious split with the two founding Farro brothers, Hayley Williams, Jeremy Davis and Taylor York moved forward as a trio and reintroduced the band to the world as a arena-ready pop band. Big guitars, crisp production, a prom-worthy ballad, it's all here. And, most importantly, it's tremendously fun and packed with earworms. They never went away, so we can't call this a comeback, but it's a hell of a restatement of purpose.

2. Inter Arma -  Sky Burial (Relapse)
Much like Anciients, Inter Arma are another young, though this is the band's second full-length release, metal band unafraid to stretch their music out and pull in a variety of influences. Though instead of drawing heavily on the progressive rock tradition, Virginia's Inter Arma traces multiple threads from various styles of modern metal - sludge, southern, post-metal, black metal, to name a few - while also treading through the fertile waters of classic rock and heavy metal (think Pink Floyd, Pentagram, Led Zeppelin, Enslaved). This all could have been a mess, especially considering the piecemeal way that Inter Arma constructs their epics, but it is all incredibly engaging. Classic rock solos emerge out of black metal tremolos, while stoner rock grooves stumble into the heart of multi-suite prog epics. It's the sound of music fans joyfully tearing through 40 years of heavy rock in 67 thrilling minutes.

1. Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories) (KScope)
Speaking of prog, the arguable modern-day master of the progressive rock scene dropped his best ever album and taught a masterclass on how indeed stellar progressive rock can be done in 2013. It's fair to say that Wilson has immersed himself even more fully into the classic prog rock canon over the past few years than ever before. Besides his usual production and collaborative projects, Wilson has continued to remix a plethora of classic prog albums from the likes of Jethro Tull, Yes, Gentle Giant and King Crimson. The attention to detail shows here, in spades. Six songs in fifty-four minutes, this easily stands up with the pillars of the genre - superbly arranged compositions that ebb and flow beautifully, perfectly flavored with Wilson's mellotron and Guthrie Govan's excellent lead guitar work. To my ears, the best record of 2013 and easily the best progressive rock record of the previous half-decade. This guy's genius seems to know no bounds.

Nov 28, 2014

2013 Year In Review Part V: The Singles

Continuing with the 2013 wrap-up, here are my favorite 100 singles of said year.

100. "Graceless" - The National
99. "Down the Deep River" - Okkervil River
98. "Whoa" - Earl Sweatshirt f. Tyler, the Creator
97. "Entertainment!" - Phoenix
96. "Story of My Life" - One Direction
95. "Lord Summerisle" - Blood Ceremony
94. "Bugs Don't Buzz" - Majical Cloudz
93. "Lecce, Leaving" - Lee Ranaldo & The Dust
92. "Wake Me Up" - Avicii f. Aloe Blacc
91. "F For You" - Disclosure
90. "God is Dead?" - Black Sabbath
89. "The Oil Slick" - Frightened Rabbit
88. "Versace" - Migos
87. "Fall Back" - Factory Floor
86. "Hannah Hunt" - Vampire Weekend
85. "The Long Road Home" - Inter Arma
84. "A Body Shrouded" - Altar of Plagues
83. "Berzerk" - Eminem
82. "Where Are We Now" - David Bowie
81. "Strandbar (disko)" - Todd Terje
80. "Hesperus" - Wold People
79. "Vino Verso" - Oranssi Pazuzu
78. "Royals" - Lorde
77. "Hush Hush" - Pistol Annies
76. "Days Are Gone" - Haim
75. "She Will" - Savages
74. "Orchard" - Windhand
73. "It Starts and Ends With You" - Suede
72. "Hood Pope" - A$AP Ferg
71. "Diane Young" - Vampire Weekend
70. "Nobody Asked Me (If I Was OK)" - Sky Ferreria
69. "Pink Slips" - Okkervil River
68. "I Appear Missing" - Queens of the Stone Age
67. "The Only Shrine I've Seen" - Darkside
66. "Brighter!" - Cass McCombs f. Karen Black
65. "Come Walk With Me" - M.I.A.
64. "Reflektor" - Arcade Fire
63. "Brainfreeze" - Fuck Buttons
62. "Pretty Boy (Peaking Lights Remix)" - Young Galaxy
61. "Sleeper" - Ty Segall
60. "Pallid Hands" - In Solitude
59. "PrimeTime" - Janelle Monae f. Miguel
58. "My Number" - Foals
57. "Shabba" - A$AP Ferg f. A$AP Rocky
56. "I Wanna Be Yours" - Arctic Monkeys
55. "All You're Waiting For" - Classixx f. Nancy Whang
54. "Song For Zula" - Phosphorescent
53. "86" - Dawn Richard
52. "Hello Stranger" - Julia Holter
51. "Kush Coma" - Danny Brown
50. "Come Back Haunted" - Nine Inch Nails
49. "Monomania" - Deerhunter
48. "Dance Apocalyptic" - Janelle Monae
47. "Ohm" - Yo La Tengo
46. "Goldtone" - Kurt Vile
45. "Do I Wanna Know?" - Arctic Monkeys
44. "Full of Fire" - The Knife
43. "The Mother We Share" - Chvrches
42. "Merry Go 'Round" - Kacey Musgraves
41. "So Far..." - Eminem
40. "Captive Bolt Pistol" - Carcass
39. "Chain Smoker" - Chance the Rapper
38. "#Beautiful" - Mariah Carey f. Miguel
37. "Avocado Baby" - Los Campesinos
36. "Bound 2" - Kanye West
35. "Waking On A Pretty Day" - Kurt Vile
34. "Elephant" - Jason Isbell
33. "Me and You and Jackie Mittoo" - Superchunk
32. "Banana Clipper" - Run the Jewels f. Big Boi
31. "I Blame Myself" - Sky Ferreria
30. "Falling" - Haim
29. "Karate Chop" - Future f. Casino
28. "Rival Dealer" - Burial
27. "Love is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Mix by James Murphy)" - David Bowie
26. "Need U (100%)" - Duke Damont f. A*M*E
25. "Partition" - Beyonce
24. "Small Plane" - Bill Callahan
23. "Dream House" - Deafheaven
22. "Weight" - Mikal Cronin
21. "Feds Watching" - 2 Chainz
20. "Q.U.E.E.N." - Janelle Monae f. Erykah Badu
19. "Wrecking Ball" - Miley Cyrus
18. "Leave No Cross Unturned" - Darkthrone
17. "Bugati" - Ace Hood f. Future & Rick Ross
16. "Nosetalgia" - Pusha T & Kendrick Lamar
15. "XO" - Beyonce
14. "Toe Cutter - Thumb Buster" - Thee Oh Sees
13. "Follow Your Arrow" - Kacey Musgraves
12. "Roar" - Katy Perry
11. "Latch" - Discolsure

10. "Step" - Vampire Weekend
With their surprisingly solid third record, Vampire Weekend cemented their reputation as one of indie rock's more consistent acts right now. It was easy to think, even after 2010's Contra, that these guys might just be destined for flash-in-the-pan status. But Modern Vampires of the City showed a band growing in all the right ways, never more than on "Step", one of the album's two advance singles. It's a lush production making nice use of the harpsichord, a near ballad with a chorus not likely to leave your head anytime soon.

9. "Black Skinhead" - Kanye West
It took me a long time to crack the code to Yeezus, at least to fully enjoying it, but this was the song that finally helped me to find the way in. The production, with a little help from everyone's favorite helmeted robots, was noisy, unsettling and insidiously ingratiating, getting under your skin even when you didn't want it to. Lyrically, it is as messy as Yeezus is throughout, but Kanye sounds more ferocious and rabid than he ever has before. Even if Yeezus as a whole wasn't a success, credit to Kanye for spinning out.

8. "Get Lucky" - Daft Punk
The most inescapable tune of 2013, but at least it was a damn good one for once. The Nile Rodgers funk guitar is the icing on the cake, what hooked me from the first time I watched the commercial from Coachella in advance of the single's full release. In a year when Kanye went full-on abrasive and a young girl from Australia brought us her brand of goth-pop, it was nice to hear such an unabashedly joyous pop song all over the radio.

7. "Imagine It Was Us" - Jessie Ware
This was a later UK single that was appended to the end of the North American version of Devotion, but it ended up being one of my favorite tracks on her debut. While I liked "Wildest Moments" and "110%" well enough, this 80s synth-pop song was the one that fully won me over. The beat, courtesy of Julio Bashmore, thumps much harder than I anticipate and pairs nicely with Ware's sweaty delivery. For me, this was the album's liveliest track.

6. "Lanzarote" - Lindstrom & Todd Terje
Todd Terje has had quite a great few years, kicking off with 2012's fantastic "Inspector Norse" and it's parent It's the Arps EP. Continuing the lead-up to his long gestating debut studio album, he released the also fantastic single "Strandbar"and this brilliant collaboration with Hans-Peter Lindstrom. Lindstrom brings his climactic space-disco to the party and it pairs extremely well with Terje's melodic instincts. I'd love a full album-length collaboration between these two.

5. "Stoned and Starving" - Parquet Courts
"Stoned and Starving" was the longest track and statement of intent on Parquet Courts breakthrough second record, Light Up Gold. Stretching their slacker indie rock out with multiple guitar solos that allow the song to ebb and flow like waves washing across the floor of your local dive bar. There's a line here that can be traced through The Velvet Underground, Tom Verlaine and Pavement, that Parquet Courts have picked up and run with. But, true to their punk spirit, this is really just a song about being stoned and starving.

4. "Doin' It Right" - Daft Punk f. Panda Bear
In an album filled with some unexpected collaborations, pulling in Animal Collective's Noah Lennox (aka Panda Bear) was probably the most surprising. And, with some time and distance, arguably the most successful. Noah's chilled out vocals mesh really well with the groovy simplicity of one of the more minimal tracks on Random Access Memories. It adds a life-affirming, buoyant tone to the end of a diverse record, rounding things out on a hopeful note.

3. "New Slaves" - Kanye West
Like "Black Skinhead", Kanye West unleashed "New Slaves" on an unsuspecting SNL audience in advance of the album's full release. This is the even fiercer, less cohesive of the two - structured more as one of his trademark rants than a typical verse-chorus-verse rap song. West unleashes a tirade that (ridiculously enough) conflates his attempts to break into the high fashion world with the history of the black struggle in America. It feels personally intense and intensely personal, giving white America the most haunting version of Kanye West they could imagine. Even more so when he projected this on the side of a few buildings around the world in a PR stunt. The first truly punk rock moment Kanye has pulled off.

2. "Still Into You" - Paramore
After an acrimonious split (as detailed in several of the other songs on their self-titled fourth album) with the Farro brothers, the remaining founding members (Hayley Williams and Jeremy Davis) forged forward with the bands most unabashedly pop, and greatest, album yet. And "Still Into You" is their greatest album's greatest song, a sugar-sweet pop metal ballad that should have soundtracked a thousand proms. 

1. "The Wire" - Haim
When it came time to pick my favorite single of 2013, it was really a no-brainer. This was the song I played most throughout the year, the one I used to convert as many other people as possible to the cult of Haim. "The Wire" is textbook perfect pop as far as I'm concerned, a guided tour through the last forty years of popular music, from the folk influenced vocal melodies to the Fleetwood Mac polish and snap to the Mutt Lange arena guitar touches. Wonderful.

Nov 27, 2014

2013 Year In Review Part IV: The Live Albums

Now my ten favorite live releases of 2013...

10. Rush - Clockwork Angels Tour (Anthem/Roadrunner)
A new Rush live album is always cause for celebration, especially when the current album they are touring behind is as strong as Clockwork Angels was. In addition to the current album material, there are some really well-chosen dips into the band's 80s catalog.

9. The Smashing Pumpkins - Oceania Live in NYC (Universal)
As much as the Pumpkins Mk II frustrates the living hell out of me, Oceania was a decent album and this live document was probably as good as we could hope for from the band at this point. The back half is, naturally, my favorite, as they dip back into the classic catalog, but the new stuff doesn't sound half bad on stage either.

8. Fuzz - Live in San Francisco (Castle Face)
Ty Segall's band, Fuzz, was, like pretty much everything else he does, another thrilling entry in an increasingly impressive catalog. Thankfully, someone was smart enough to capture a live set recorded on Ty's birthday, the results we have here. As fuzzed out, chaotic and thrilling as you'd expect from anything with Segall's name on it.

7. Iron Maiden - Maiden England '88 (EMI)
An archival live release from the band's Seventh Tour of a Seventh Tour back in, well, 1988, this captures a killer live band at one of their several killer live peaks. The tracklist is basically a 1980s greatest hits package, which basically means the greatest of the band's greatest, although there are a few surprising detours.

6. Anathema - Untouchable (Kscope)
Considering their genesis as a doom band signed to Peaceville records, this band's evolution into a top-notch prog rock band has been pretty fascinating to hear, even if it alienated many of their early fans. This set was recorded during the tour for 2012's excellent Weather Systems album, when they were backed during a one-off in an ancient Roman theater by the Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra. It takes Weather Systems' already emotional rock to a whole new level.

5. Grateful Dead - Sunshine Daydream (Rhino)
This has always been a well regarded classic Dead performance, recorded on a sunny day in Oregon back in 1972, thanks to the bootleg tapes and the documentary film that was recorded of the day. But it's nice to have a nice and shiny official release to treasure, and what a day it must have been for Deadheads. The first set is a thrill, but it never gets better than the half hour "Dark Star" from the second set.

4. High On Fire - Spitting Fire Live Vol. 1 & 2 (E1)
Considering that I've been fortunate enough to catch them live twice, I can absolutely confirm that High On Fire slays live.  For those that have never seen them on stage, or for those fans like me that want to relive the intensity, the band finally released two discs of amazing live material (though the band's decision to issue them as two full-price separate discs still irks me) to help fill the void. The two discs span their entire career, reinforcing the idea that they haven't slowed down a bit and only continue to grow as a band.

3. Neil Young - Live at the Cellar Door (Reprise)
Seeing as how it seems increasingly unlikely that we will ever see the next volume in the Archives series (at least, probably not on any format we'll ever actually use), us Neil Young fans will have to content ourselves with these sporadic live releases. This pulls from six 1970 performances that Neil gave at Washington D.C.'s Cellar Door. This is solo Neil, so expect his trademark acoustic work, but the surprise here is the time he spends at the piano, reinventing a few of his well-known tracks.

2. Miles Davis Quintet - Live in Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 2 (Legacy)
Much like Bob Dylan's Bootleg Series, the one recently begun for Mile Davis is giving fans a fantastic look at live performances that might have otherwise stayed out of the hands of the less intense collector. This set features Miles' third great quintet (the "lost" band - Chick Corea, Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, Wayne Shorter) during a 1969 trip through Europe. It's a fascinating trip through a compelling period, as Miles was preparing to go even further in a rock fusion direction.

1. Goat - Live Ballroom Ritual (Rocket Recordings)
Fitting that my favorite record of 2012 would lead to my favorite live record of 2013. But, truth be told, I was always a little unsure about how well this Swedish experimental fusion band's sound would translate to the live stage, so it was great to hear that it worked even better than I could have imagined. This live ritual was captured on the eve of their Glastonbury performance in front of just over 1,000 rabid fans, understandably entranced by the sound whipped up by this intriguing group.

2013 Year In Review Part III: The Reissues/Compilations

Continuing on with the 2013 wrap-up, here are my favorite reissues and compilations of the year.

10. King Crimson - Red [2013 Reissue] (DGM)
I've been slowly dipping my toes into King Crimson, ever since someone uploaded three excellently curated discs to a message board I frequent a few years ago. Combine this with my love of all things Steven Wilson and I was thrilled to see the reissue of this record in a 2-disc version, complete with some bonus live material and a Steven Wilson remix of the entire record. This marked the end of the 70s era, as Robert Fripp would disband this version shortly after Red came out. I'm not well versed enough to know how this slots into their overall career arc, but it should a markedly different version of the band than I was used to hearing.

9. Thee Oh Sees - Singles Collection Vol. 3 (Castle Face)
As it says on the tin, this is volume three in the ongoing attempt to capture all of the singles, one-offs, covers and rarities from Thee Oh Sees, this time encompassing 2011-2013. The twenty minutes worth of live material at the end is the obvious highlight, but I also really fell for their Sonic Youth and Mr. Quintron covers, "Burning Spear" and "FBI2" respectively.

8. Rodan - Fifteen Quiet Years (Quarterstick)
Though I knew they also released an EP and a handful of other stray tracks, Rodan, for me, was always one of those bands that released one perfect record, Rusty in this case, before disappearing completely. So I was thankful for this chance to grab some of their scattered compilation appearances and Peel sessions, especially considering the bonus digital download of ten live tracks. Rodan played a key part in the development of a certain strain of 90s indie rock, leading as they did to bands like Shipping News, June of 44 and Rachel's, among others. This is a great chance to understand that the fuss extended well beyond just Rusty.

7. Rilo Kiley - Rkives (Little Record Company)
While it wasn't until 2014 when Jenny Lewis made it pretty much official, everyone had pretty much assumed that Rilo Kiley was gone for good before that. So those of us fans were really happy to hear about this posthumous collection of scraps and B-sides. Given the wide scope, this actually plays pretty damn well as some sort of "lost" Rilo Kiley record, weaving in their growth from a hushed indie rock band to the full-blown pop stars they aimed to become with their major label bow. I've loved all of Jenny's solo work enough not to be terribly brokenhearted, but I will miss her interactions with Blake Sennett. Still not sure about that Too $hort remix though.

6. Mad Season - Above [Deluxe Edition] (Columbia)
This was a seminal record for me back in college. And, no, that isn't hyperbole. I must have listened to this at least 200 times in the first six months after it was released. At the time I was a huge grunge guy and I loved how it bled out into blues lethargy and an almost jazz-like feel. A lot of people wrote this off as a Layne Staley vanity project, but each of the four members (five when you count Mark Lanegan's contributions) played a very important part. This reissue adds as bonus tracks the only other five songs they ever officially released (including a John Lennon cover) as well as an audio version of the Live at the Moore performance (which I originally owned on VHS, I was really hardcore about these dudes at one time).

5. Killing Joke - The Singles Collection 1979-2012 (Spinefarm)
Killing Joke were a weird band, a constantly evolving unit that was difficult to pin down and always fascinating to hear evolve. This 2-disc collection of their singles tries really hard to form a cohesive narrative. While I'm not sure it ever does, this band is so hard to distill, it does make for a great listen. From their earliest punk days to the goth-rock years to the synth-pop experiments to industrial, it's all here and accounted for. The best advice I can give is to just dive in with both feet and find out which eras appeal first.

4. The Smashing Pumpkins - The Aeroplane Flies High [Reissue] (EMI)
As a longtime Smashing Pumpkins fan, though let's not talk about whatever that current incarnation is, I've been a huge fan of this extensive reissue campaign. I was really surprised to hear that they were even going all out with The Aeroplane Flies High, considering its original incarnation was itself a clearinghouse for B-sides and demos. But they managed to jam pack 6 discs with a whole boatload of MCIS era demos, live tracks and all manner of ephemera. Plus, a live DVD from France. The only drawback is that the box is nowhere near as cool as that 45 box that the original version came in.

3. Nirvana - In Utero [20th Anniversary Reissue] (DGC)
While not nearly as extensive or wide-reaching as the Smashing Pumpkins reissue campaign, mostly because Cobain was not nearly as obsessive about recording every stray thought as Billy Corgan was, this is still a really well done reissue of a seminal grunge era record. I loved this when it came out, most days I think this is actually my favorite Nirvana record, and it's nice to have the era's B-sides and demos all in one place.


2. Bob Dylan - The Bootleg Series Vol. 10: Another Self Portrait (1969-1971) (Columbia)
The years encompassed by the latest entry in the always excellent Bootleg Series were strange ones for Dylan, leading to two 1970 albums that weren't originally well received and marked an interesting turn in his career. These two discs do a great job of allowing us to reevaluate this era, while making the case that Dylan's songwriting was as strong as ever, even if it was branching out into unexpected directions. The alternate versions of the New Morning and Self Portrait tracks also make a case for those records being a lot better than you probably remember.

1. Various Artists - Purple Snow: Forecasting the Minneapolis Sound (Numero Group)
Leave it to the good folks at Numero Group to unearth another stellar collection of songs that highlight another unexpected corner of the musical universe - this time the rock, soul and funk hybrid that bubbled up in the 1970s and early 80s that paved the way for one Prince Rogers Nelson to take the world by storm. Admittedly, this type of music isn't something I reach for often, but I think that says something about how overjoyed I am whenever I listen to these tracks. The names aren't familiar, but there are some stone cold classic tunes buried within.