Sunday, December 08, 2013

A year in music

The following is a list of music I listened to over and over again in 2013. None of it was stuff I was pressured to listen to because I am very opinionated about music and some of my income is from writing about music. This is strictly the music I held in the highest regard over the last twelve months.

(I have created a Spotify playlist for your enjoyment if you'd like to check out these records.)

The Best Records I Heard This Year

Crash Of Rhinos, Knots
They have a silly name, but Knots is, hands down, one of the best records I’ve heard this year. Imagine Hot Water Music backed by Rat Scabies from the Damned spending time hanging out with . . . And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead.

Suede, Bloodsports
When Suede reformed a couple of years ago for shows, the word was they wouldn’t put out new material unless it was worthy. Well, this is their best record since 1996’s Coming Up. Like Coming Up, this feels more like a singles compilation of great British pop-rock that screams for repeat listens.

Deafheaven, Sunbather
When I heard Sunbather, I became that guy who won’t stop recommending it to people. I’ve never compared a band to Carcass and the Cocteau Twins before, but somehow, this collection of blast beats, shimmering guitars, and demonic screams is a treasure.

Rika, How To Draw a River, Step By Step
A fantastic Austrian band that I would have never heard of if it weren’t for Keith Latinen at Count Your Lucky Stars Records. Recalling Midlake, Low, and Ida, this record is perfect for a rainy day or a quiet morning with the sun slowly rising.

The Dillinger Escape Plan, One of Us is the Killer
While I enjoyed many tracks from the band’s previous record, Option Paralysis, One of Us is the Killer is more of a return to form for this band. An assault on the senses, in the best kind of way.

Dream Theater, self-titled
Dream Theater’s second record with Mike Mangini on drums sounds more akin to ’97’s Falling Into Infinity. Meaning, there are far less songs over seven minutes in length, and there is very little room for repetitive noodling. The mix is up in your face, giving a chance for everyone (especially Mangini) a chance to shine. And the string section on the closing track plays one of the finest melody lines I’ve heard all year.

Placebo, Loud Like Love
Placebo doesn’t do anything technically new here, but this record is one of the strongest records they’ve released in a few years. Way better than Battle for the Sun.

Bruno Mars, Unorthodox Jukebox
Take a compilation of some of the best Top 40 hits of the 80s and re-record them with even more overtly sexual lyrics and references to drugs. That might sound horrible, but Bruno Mars pays homage to the Police, Lionel Richie, and Michael Jackson in a very enjoyable way.

Into It. Over It, Intersections
Evan Weiss delivers a second proper LP as Into It. Over It that is more akin to his mammoth 52 Weeks collection. Great for early mornings or late nights when you think life seems so overbearing and confusing.

Sharks, Selfhood
Great jangle pop-punk from an English band that sadly called it quits this year. A band I recommended to those who wouldn’t venture so far as to listen to say, Lagwagon, but would listen to the Smiths in a heartbeat.

RVIVR, The Beauty Between
Latterman was a very energetic band that married caffeinated pop-punk with gruffy post-hardcore. Yet the band’s offshoots have produced even better material, like Iron Chic, Bridge and Tunnel, and RVIVR. Sequenced like a big song with multiple movements, The Beauty Between is most excellent, especially “Wrong Way/One Way.” 

Hello, Old Friends

Pearl Jam
There was never a time when I shed all of my fandom and appreciation of Pearl Jam. No matter how many Creed and Nickelback CDs I stocked while in college, the holy trinity of Ten, Vs., and Vitalogy never lost its luster. The thing is, I had a hard time getting over the fact that they tossed a technically accomplished drummer for one that appeared to be way less accomplished . . . back in 1994. Then they got a great drummer who opted to play his own way on the old material, eschewing a certain kind of flair in the process. Well, when the Twenty documentary came out, I tried to dig into the years I didn’t pay very close attention to the band. Binaural, Riot Act, Pearl Jam, and Backspacer have a wealth of goodies on them, but I doubt I would have truly loved them when they originally came out. With this year’s Lightning Bolt, I had very high regard for this record as well as the band’s entire catalog. The band has always sounded like the bands I loved in middle school and high school – it just took me many years to understand that.

Kings of Leon
When Kings of Leon first came onto my radar, I did not understand what was to love about this Strokes/Lynyrd Skynyrd hybrid. “Molly’s Chambers” sounded like a basic song hung up on the second fret of the E string. I heard great things about their second record from reliable sources, but I never investigated it beyond “The Bucket.” Then the band committed the sin of dressing like fashion models in hipster clothes. This reeked of the feared selling out, yet there was this added atmosphere to their music that was clearly attributed to U2’s influence on them. I didn’t care what people said about the U2 overtones as U2 is one of my favorite bands of all time. I enjoyed Only By the Night, but had not checked out anything since then. Watching their Storytellers episode of Palladia one afternoon, I was struck by how I liked all of the songs I had never heard before. This year’s Mechanical Bull is quite a joy even though it’s exactly what you’d expect from this band by now.

Catching Up On One of the Best Records Released in 2012

Everyone Everywhere, self-titled
Evan Weiss praised the hell out of this band in 2012, but I didn’t get around to giving them a fair shake until this year. This Philly-based band has two self-titled records to their name. While their first record is good, their second is a marvel. Smart emo rock that doesn’t sound like Cap’n Jazz or Sunny Day Real Estate with an unbelievably tight drummer to boot. 

Thank Jenny Hansen For This

Supertramp, Breakfast in America
Until this year, the most I knew about Supertramp was its two songs featured in Magnolia. The name of the band still sounds like a goof, but oh my, Breakfast in America is a stunner of a record. I was inclined to check this out after repeat early morning listens to “Take the Long Way Home” by my lovely girlfriend, Jenny. Expertly produced pop rock that still sounds fresh in 2013.

Boy Band Song That Is Better Than You Might Think

One Direction, “Little Black Dress”
Steven Hyden is one of my favorite pop culture/music writers. I’ve followed him loosely since he left the A.V. Club to become a staff writer at Grantland. When he praised this deep cut on the latest One Direction record as a Cheap Trick-esque song that garage rock bands need to “cover it immediately,” I was intrigued. Hyden doesn’t come across as a writer who praises things that are so terrible that it’s good. He genuinely praises something no matter uncool it might be to cynical and unhappy people under the age of 40. So it’s very safe to say that if “Little Black Dress” came out in 1982 on the heels of the Rubinoos and Utopia, it would be on a Rhino “Poptopia” compilation.

Great Songs On Albums That Didn’t Make the Albums Cut

Their / They’re / There, “Concession Speech Writer”
Evan Weiss (Yes, there’s that name again) has a side project with Mike Kinsella from Cap’n Jazz/American Football/Owen. They put out two EPs this year and they are worth your time if you like any of the bands these guys are involved with.

Killswitch Engage, “In Due Time”
At this point in their career, KSE seems to recycle riffs from their earlier albums. Reunited with their original singer Jesse Leach, the band made a much better record than their previous one. This tune might crib a lot from “Rose of Sharyn,” but Leach’s delivery and lyrics are most exceptional.

Coheed and Cambria, “Dark Side of Me”
Coheed and Cambria released the second half of their Afterman series in 2013 and this was its lead single. A slow, somber number with one hell of a great chorus.

Low, “Just Make It Stop”
I know a lot of people who love Low. I enjoy them to an extent but I can’t really bring myself to listen to one of their records repeatedly. However, a song like “Just Make It Stop” is something I can listen to over and over again this year.

Editors, “A Ton of Love”
Bouncing back from an unfortunate detour with synth-rock, Editors continues to grow and make satisfying music. With understandable comparisons to Echo & the Bunnymen and the Psychedelic Furs on “A Ton of Love,” I quite enjoyed this more than any other tune on the album it came with.

Balance and Composure, “Reflection”
I’m not going to lie: I saw Balance and Composure earlier this year and found them dull and boring. I was at the show to see the mighty Jealous Sound, so I wasn’t in the mood for the pretty-boy dreary sludge of B&C. Yet when a friend posted this tune on my Facebook wall asking for my opinion, I was struck by how good it was, even it sounded a lot (and I mean, a lot) like Cave-In circa Jupiter.

Marquis Toliver, “Control”
Jenny and I wake up to NPR every morning. More often than not, if they have a musical guest on, it’s somebody up my alley. Marquis Toliver has a very interesting story of being a classically-trained violinist with a pop R&B sound. Strings are all over his record and its lead single is a great stepping off point.

Stagnant Pools, “Dead Sailors”
The National might be cooler to praise openly, but I find the longer I listen to them, the more I feel drained by them. Stagnant Pools has a similar dour drone, but on a bracing song like “Dead Sailors,” I can get a lot of mileage out of them.

Best shows

Ken Stringfellow, Club Dada, March 8th  
There’s some great mojo about Club Dada. The most fun I’ve ever had playing a show was there (a thrown-together band doing Rolling Stones covers), the best show I saw last year was there (Converge/Torche), and now I can add this. I’ve appreciated Ken’s solo work over the years, but his stuff with the Posies is always worth revisiting. Playing to ten people without a microphone, he played his heart out, sang his voice off, and pounded on his keyboard and guitar. Just a powerful show as a whole, and one where I could talk to Ken before and after it like a normal human being.

Ash, House of Blues Cambridge Room, March 10th  
Seeing Ash play to 40 people in Dallas was a whole lot easier than seeing them at a festival in England. With a great career-spanning set opening for the View, I was over the moon to finally see this great band. And I truly hope to see them again when they come back to Dallas in February. 

Blake Schwarzenbach, Three Links, June 18th
I don’t know what the deal was, but there was something moving about seeing frontmen from bands I love play solo shows. Blake played a lot of great new material from his .forgetters project yet also played Jawbreaker’s “Chemistry.” And as much as people want to paint him as this mythic figure, I found him to be a very charming, down-to-earth guy who’s incredibly well-read and sharply funny.