Like many critics, I use the Lester Bangs Method when compiling
these year-end lists: What albums did I listen to the most,
which did I most look forward to hearing again, which of
these will I still be listening to years from now. With
that said, here are my favorite releases of 2015. Feel free
to agree or disagree, but maybe check out a few you haven't
1. Front Bottoms – Talon Of The Hawk
2. Savages – Silence Yourself
3. The Jeffrey Lewis & Peter Stampfel Band –
Hey Hey It’s….
4. Superchunk – I Hate Music
5. Kevin Devine & The Goddamn Band – Bubblegum
6. Ezra Furman – Day Of The Dog
7. Dismemberment Plan – Uncanney Valley
8. Thomas Wesley Stern – s/t
9. Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold
10. Wyldlife – The Time Has Come To Rock N Roll
11. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
12. The All-About – Suburban Heart
13. The Great American Novel - ? (The Frown Album)
14. Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana
15. Arctic Monkeys - AM
NJ Releases of 2013
1. The Front Bottoms – Talon Of The Hawk
2. Wyldlife – The Time Has Come To Rock And Roll
3. Night Birds – Born To Die In Suburbia
4. Thomas Wesley Stern – Thomas Wesley Stern
5. The Black Hollies – Somewhere Between Here &
6. Yo La Tengo - Fade
7. Lightning Jar – Summerworld
8. The Bongos – Phantom Train
9. Tri-State – Tri-State EP
10. Golden Furs – Strand
11. Rick Barry – This Post-Diluvian World
12. Yo La Tengo - Fade
13. The Defending Champions – Breakfast Of…
The Porchistas – Live
15. Bog Iron Bloom – Welcome To Bears
16. Speed The Plough – The Plough & The Stars
17. Perennial Reel – Silver Plane Crucifix
18. The Paper Jets – We Are All Strange
19. Wreaths – Home Spun
20. Quincy Mumford & The Reason Why – It’s
21. Screaming Females – Chalk Tape
22. Waking Lights – Week Nights
23. Karyn Kuhl – Living With The Dead
24. Khaled - Luci
25. Sink Tapes – How You Mean?
26. Modern Hut – Generic Treasure
27. All Sensory Void – Psychedelic Sid & The Recklessly
28. X-Men – Kid Blast EP
29. Tony Tedesco & Full Fathom Five – Full Fathom
30. Modern Chemistry – “Never Scared”
Didn’t I just do one of these lists, like, a few
weeks ago? Time keeps marching on, yet it seems to be marching
in double time and triple time. Another year has come to
an end, so it’s time for us “professional”
(ha!) music critics to publish those top 10 lists again.
Our fearless editor started an interesting discussion on
the interwebz not long ago about these things. In the olden
days, many critics’ lists focused on the more mainstream
records that received wide distribution. Because that was
mostly the only stuff a wide audience ever got a chance
to hear. With the advent of the Internet, streaming music,
bandcamp, and so on, more bands are able to get their music
out to more people. And so a lot of lists tend to include
bands that many haven’t ever heard of. Well, hopefully,
with their appearance on some of these lists, that will
change, and you’ll seek these out and become as enamored
with them as I am.
RVIVR (Photo by Paul Silver)
This year saw an increase of good music over past years,
in my opinion. There were some truly great records that
came out – too many to list here. I’ve struggled
to keep the size of this list under control, so I’ve
had to leave off some good stuff. So, dear reader, that
means that what’s contained below is extra special,
and really worthy of your time and your hard-earned dollars.
As usual, my list is based off the music I’ve reviewed
over the course of the past twelve months. And, as always,
the order has nothing to do with ranking and everything
to do with the order in which I reviewed the records.
GERMANO – “No Elephants” LP –
Germano’s simple, intimate soundscapes, this time
coupled with background sounds, samples, and ambient noises
to punctuate the music. Astoundingly gorgeous, lush music.
Wait, wasn’t this on my list last year? Well, yeah.
I reviewed it at the very end of last year, but it actually
was released early in 2013, so it makes my list twice.
LOW CULTURE – “Screens”
LP - The music in this album is the epitome of all that’s
good in the pop-punk world, with plenty of rapid-fire jangle,
sing-a-long choruses, and hooks galore. Not only does it
make my “top ten” list, it’s one of my
absolute favorites of the whole year.
BIG DICK – Self-titled LP –
Who knew a two-piece of bass and drums could make such cool,
melodic, yet noisy music? Loads of crunch yet full of hooks,
FEMALES – “Chalk Tape” EP –
Seven tracks of the most diverse music yet from this New
Jersey post-punk-grunge band, some of the songs are even
lighter and poppier than you might expect.
THE MANX – “Blood Chronicles”
EP – Some of the best gypsy-folk-punk you’ll
ever hear anywhere, from an incredibly energetic band.
RVIVR – “The Beauty Between”
LP – Melodic, edgy, soaring pop punk with a positive
message from some of the nicest people.
AND GRETCHEN – “Even Breaks”
LP – Some of the most original, unique stuff you’re
liable to hear, this blends stream of consciousness spoken
word, performance art, indie rock, folk/country and western,
and bluesy rock to create something completely mind bendingly
different and good.
RUMSPRINGER – “Stay Afloat”
LP – I usually don’t come out and say this in
these lists, but this is, hands down, my favorite release
of the year. Up-tempo wall-of guitar sounds are punctuated
with off-kilter rhythms and plenty of powerful pop sensibility.
It even contains a couple of the best songs of the year,
“Air Raid Curfew” and “Hindsight is 20/20,
Foresight is $200 an Hour.”
LIPSTICK HOMICIDE – “Out Utero”
LP – Lipstick Homicide are simply one of the finest
pop punk bands playing today. They’re fast, tight,
super melodic, and they’re downright nice people,
too. There is not a single bad track on this album, and
there’s not even one that’s just OK –
they’re all winners, all pop punk gold.
COMMUNITY SINGERS – “Night, Sleep,
Death” LP - Beautiful, quiet (mostly) acoustic music
with harmonized vocals fills this album, yet the genre is
hard to pin down. It’s got elements of folk, country,
and even gospel, but it isn’t any of those things.
What it is, though, is delicate, gorgeous, serious, and
humorous, all rolled together. What it is is an excellent
THE DISTRESSERS – “A Demonstration
of Intent” EP – The Distressers have an intense,
tight garage punk sound, and were one of my revelations
of this year’s Awesomefest in San Diego over Labor
Day weekend. This four-song CD was available during their
summer tour, and is a taste of what’s to come in their
debut full-length (coming soon, I hope).
FRENCH EXIT – “Guts and Black
Stuff” LP - French Exit is not your typical pop punk
band, blending in big Chicago-style sounds, courtesy of
Chicago transplant and front man Tim Stasica. The songs
take on an almost epic sound, yet remain eminently melodic.
OCTAGRAPE – “Red UFO”
LP – This is this San Diego band’s debut LP.
The sound this band puts out is heavy and pounding, lo fi
and distorted, yet lithe and nimble. It snarls at you and
bites at you, but isn’t plodding. It’s not particularly
fast, but it’s feline in its ability to dart around
you. And they put on one of the best live shows you’ll
So there you have it, my “top ten” for 2013.
If you’ve read my lists in years past, you’ll
realize that there’s never exactly ten. This year
I’m at a lucky thirteen recordings (up from twelve
last year). You can go check out my regular column to read
the more in-depth reviews, but rest assured, the above get
my very highest recommendation. Now that you’ve bought
all the holiday gifts for your friends and family, go out
and buy a few more gifts off the above list – this
time, for yourself.
Why the “Meh” EP by Skinny Genes is the
Best Pop Punk Release of the Year (in list form, as is the
fashion of the day).
1. My Prediction Came True. Back a few
years ago, I noted that whenever Azeem (aka Ace Hole, aka
the guy who was in the Steinways and also in House Boat)
wrote a song, it was a gem. Sure, it was only two or three
contributions over the course of as many albums, but hey,
if you’re batting a thousand, you’re batting
a thousand. I proposed he release an album of entirely his
own work, because the only thing better than 2 hits is 10
hits. I suppose we met in the middle at 5.
2. It successfully carries the “pure”
pop punk banner. What constitutes “pure”
pop punk (sometimes called “real” pop punk)
and what deserves to be shoveled along as mall punk, skate
rock, beardcore, etc. is a war that I have with no one in
particular. However, pure pop punk is one of my favorite
genres of music, so I’m fairly protective of it, and
when I hear it done right it brings joy to my heart. Do
you know how many times I drove to work this summer listening
to “Meh”? The answer is a gazillion minus the
day I called in sick. Each track has the traditional mix
of catchy, poppy melodies swirled together with the energy
and brevity of punk. Whether this perfect blend Is due to
Azeem recording all the parts himself, or just a mark of
a well-written, carefully-crafted project (or both) isn’t
really pertinent information. It’s the songs that
bounce around my head, zoom into my heart and guts, and
spill out of my mouth while I’m driving down the road
that matter most. Nothing watered down or all slicked up.
Nothing too cheesy pop or abrasively beardo. It’s
PURE pop punk!
3. It’s not Grath Madden. You’d
think after right-hand manning Grath’s bands for years,
the brief and intangible vogue that was the Steinways tribute
album, and a release on the same label, we’d get something
Grath-esque from Skinny Genes, but that’s not really
the case here. In terms of sound they both have good measures
of laser-guided guitars and drums that piston along with
a rudimentary charm. However, Azeem’s vocals are still
rooted in a youthful bray (another sign of pure pop punk),
even though his teenage years are long behind him. In terms
of structure, the Steinways songs were always full of detours
and dead ends. Glorious though they were, by the time you
crossed the bridge you were nowhere close to the beginning
again. Skinny Genes takes a different route. Songs loop
back to a chorus once in a while, but even still you march
directly from Point A to Point B. As if each song had a
purposeful destination, rather than a “let’s
just drive around and see where we end up” feeling,
which makes up the bulk of Madden’s catalog. (Note
to self: I listen to too much music while in the car). Each
song seems to end in a pointed, abrupt stop, as opposed
to the Steinways, who always seemed to end their songs in
some kind of shave-and-a-haircut fashion.
4. What else ya got? The Turkletons/Lipstick
Homocide split is really, really good. Possibly the best
work from both bands. The Murderburgers album is great.
The Zatopeks album came out, like, 30 seconds ago. There’s
probably a dozen more to nominate, but they all wind up
on a lower level of the podium. “Meh” wins by
5. The review! “Old Man Yells At
Cloud” pops off with a snotty diatribe about the boring
events of life we are forced to endure through social media
(excellent Simpsons ref as well). “Comfortably Dumb”
is classic pop punk/nerd rock. Bouncy and bright, inviting
all to sing along… about being a hopeless loser. “No
Service” brings it all together: The ranting, the
self-deprecation, the layered vocals, the punk rock chant
that embodies my generation and the scene that I’m
a part of, “I suck at being a grown-up!” Thankfully,
after shooting down his own self-esteem, Azeem has at least
one bullet leftover in the form of “Worst.”
Even when the track gets yelly it still works because the
screams are used as punctuation, rather than attempting
to use them as straight-up vocals. Finally, we get “Mansion
Apartment Shack House.” Skinny Genes had a heart at
one point, but now it’s in the coffin, and this song
put the final nail in it. The hearse is rolling into the
cemetery as the last chord fades out. Can’t wait to
listen to this again!
Download the Skinny Genes' Meh at skinnygenes.bandcamp.com/album/meh-7
Paring down a list of any year’s best releases to
a mere ten is a difficult and entirely subjective task.
One man’s trash is another’s treasure, and opinions
are like assholes. Inevitably, it draws forth criticism
as well as bitching and moaning as to what album or what
band was or was not included on any given list. Maybe that’s
exactly the point; to encourage debate and expose people
to albums and artists to which they may have never been
introduced. Maybe it’s just us music journalists trying
prove how “cool” or “in tune” we
are. Either way, it’s almost become a rite of passage
expected from any music writer. So, with all that in mind,
here’s my stab at it. Send all criticism to Jim. He
loves that stuff.
In no particular order:
– Serpents Unleashed – Skeletonwitch
keep up their string of exceptional blackened thrash masterpieces.
Ulcerate – Vermis – A truly
twisted and unique take on death metal that reveals new
insights on each successive listen.
Anciients – Heart of Oak –
This Canadian band’s debut is truly astounding. It’s
like Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest, and Mastodon
all rolled into one amazing package. Epic, progressive,
yet classic all at once. And this is just their debut. It’s
either all downhill from here or these guys will take over
Carcass – Surgical Steel –
Carcass makes a triumphant return with possibly their best
album ever, which is saying a lot considering that their
classic Heartwork redefined the entire genre when it first
Amon Amarth – Deceiver of the Gods –
Amon Amarth is the AC/DC of Viking metal, every album is
almost exactly the same and every album kicks fucking ass.
Every year we have a new Amon Amarth record is a good year.
Black Sabbath – 13 – I had my doubts
about this one before it came out, but by God, it’s
actually really fucking good, once you get past Brad Wilk’s
Alice in Chains – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here –
Another truly great record from AIC, and they had a lot
to live up to after the triumphant Black Gives Way to Blue
and they rose to the challenge.
Vista Chino – Peace – This
is the best Kyuss album since Sky Valley.
Jam – Lightning Bolt – I know it’s
not metal, but damnit, Pearl Jam just keeps putting out
one great record after another and Lightning Bolt is no
Gorguts – Colored Sands – This year
may go down as the Year of Triumphant Returns and Canadian
avant garde death metal pioneers Gorguts join the parade.
Coming off of a 12 year hiatus with a new lineup featuring
some of the brightest minds in prog (members of Dysrythmia
and Krallice), Luc Lemay and Co. deliver a wonderfully surreal
and mind blowing record.
Honorable mentions – Kvelertak –
Mier, HIM – Tears on Tape, The Black
Dahlia Murder – Everblack, Voivod –
Target Earth, Killswitch Engage – Disarm
the Descent, The Dillinger Escape Plan –
One of Us is Killer, The Ocean - Pelegial
Top 10 Songs of 2013:
Caitlin Rose – “I Was Cruel” from The
The Stand-In is great pop-country songwriting through-and-through,
and single “I Was Cruel,” though one of the
few songs on the record not written by Rose herself, encompasses
all of The Stand-In’s best qualities. Bittersweet
vocals, strong melodies and classic Americana instrumentation
make this an easy pick for one of the strongest singles
of the year.
9. Frightened Rabbit – “The Woodpile”
from Pedestrian Verse
Pedestrian Verse is by far the most muscular, confident
album in Frightened Rabbit’s cannon thus far. With
its screeching octave guitars and killer groove, this song
is just the right amounts of sinister and hooky.
Born Ruffians – “Permanent Hesitation”
With a sparkling, cheeky chorus and an infectious dance
groove, this is my favorite of many standout songs on the
surprisingly rewarding Birthmarks.
7. Tegan and Sara – “Closer”
Though this one is completely ubiquitous now, I still can’t
get enough of it. Everything about this song – the
hooks, the synths, the drums – is totally huge.
Laura Stevenson – “Runner” from Wheel
It’s no secret how much I love Laura Stevenson’s
dense, coming-of-age masterpiece Wheel, and the simple,
stinging chorus of “Runner” hasn’t fully
left my brain since the first time I heard it.
5. Arcade Fire – “Afterlife”
Though I will admit that Reflektor is a bit lofty and bloated,
this song is, to my ears, the most successful realization
of the dance-anthem this band has been shooting for since
4. Son Lux – “Lost it to Trying”
Insane, distorted baritone sax and gigantic wailing synths
make what would already be a beautiful song an entirely
different experience. “Lost it to Trying” has
a relentless, mechanized feel to it that makes it perhaps
the most unique song I’ve encountered this year.
Phosphorescent – “Song for Zula” from
“Song for Zula” is the standout track on Muchacho
because it deviates from Phosphorescent’s folkier
stylings and opts for a simple chord progression and an
even simpler violin loop. Instead, our attention is draw
to Matthew Houck’s truly incredible lyrics: “Some
say love is a burning thing / That it makes a fiery ring
/ I know love as a caging thing / Just a killer come to
call from some awful dream.”
This song just destroys me every time.
2. Jason Isbell – “Cover Me Up”
The best opening track is an opening track that functions
as a sort of mission statement for the album that will follow.
“Cover Me Up,” a beautiful love song written
from the newly-sober Isbell to his wife, is an outstanding
beginning to one of the most honest and clever folk albums
I’ve ever heard.
Frontier Ruckus – “Black Holes” from Eternity
The sprawling double album Eternity of Dimming is riddled
with images of the point in life when adulthood begins to
invade childhood, when sex begins to distract and when death
becomes something real. The album creates a world of late
childhood and early adolescence, dripping with twilight
images of a Midwestern suburb in the ‘90s. This incredible
vibe is best captured on “Black Holes,” in which
singer and wordsmith Matthew Milia uses the caverns of JC
Pennys and Kohls to explore his teenage memories just as
they grow out of reach.
2013: The Year Of Blurred Lines, Getting Lucky and Sweet
I started this year by releasing my band’s second
full length record, and will be ringing in 2014 by saying
goodbye to probably the most important musician to me, Lou
Reed. In between, many great records were released, some
by returning champions but mostly by great younger acts,
from the hard working DIY artists emerging to mainstream
audiences to the folks I hang at shows with and share drunk
Waxahatchee- Cerulean Salt
I must disclose that I went through a brutal, significant
breakup this year, and the only things I wanted to listen
to for months were Chet Baker, The Lemonheads, Big Star’s
Third Album, Joni Mitchell’s Blue and American Weekend,
the sweet but devastating lo-fi debut recording from Katie
Crutchfield aka Waxahatchee from Don Giovanni Records, truly
the people’s indie label. That being said, the minute
I got my hands on Cerulean Salts, which is kind of like
the alt-rock lovechild of 90’s J. Mascis and “Exile
In Guyville”-era Liz Phair, plus some of the sweet
guitar crunch that made The Breeders “Last Splash”
crossover onto the radio, it was destined to be my record
of the year.
Crutchfield traded the bedroom, lo-fi sound, for a spare,
dry but heavy indie rock sound that put some punch to her
soul bearing poetry. This record sees her grow as a songwriter,
getting a little less cute, a little more grown up and lyrically
severe. Unfortunately, there’s no Alternative Rock
radio format for Katie and the like, but there is definitely
a great response to this type of honesty and close to the
chest songwriting, and it gives the great feeling that the
age of irony is coming to a close.
Swearin’- Surfing Strange
This was almost a tie for number one with the two sisters
of my dearest affection, Swearin’ is co-fronted by
the aforementioned Katie Crutchfield’s twin sister,
Allison, with whom they played in P.S. Elliott for many
years, a lo-fi punk act not too unlike this now Philly-based
quartet. This record came late in the year and didn’t
get quite as many spins, though I will say this record is
so short and sweet, I listen to it twice every time, like
it’s it’s own side B. Allison sings and plays
guitar as does her co-songwriter Kyle Gilbride, the two
trade hard but soft, sweet but angsty punky tunes that hearken
to the good ol’ days of indie rock. These guys have
been tagged pop-punk, which seems odd but I bet there are
a few Jawbreaker albums in the band’s collection.
While their self titled was refreshingly simple, three
chord punk with twee melodies delivered with teenage kicks,
their sophomore effort shows an advance in their songwriting
thread, tossing in some piano, acoustic guitar and psychedelic
swirls. One of the things I love about this band, exemplified
in the Brooklyn-set love story “Dust In The Gold Sack”,
is that these guys aren’t afraid to be fun and sweet.
Unlike a lot of the more “mature”, more serious
indie rock bands, I see no reason why high school kids would
not go crazy for this band. They provide a fine soundtrack
for being young and in love, like many of the best records
Kurt Vile- Walking On A Pretty Daze
The long haired stoner prince of Philadelphia, Mr. Kurt
Vile has already been responsible for many, strong releases,
from the fuzziest of lo-fi “bedroom” record
to this year’s Daze, his most sonically realized and
lengthy endeavor to date. In the era of Johnny-cum-latelys,
Kurt’s consistent output since 2008, has made him
one of the absolute record geek favorites of his generation.
Coming off of the breakthrough Smoke Ring For My Halo, he
decided to get more ambitious, hiding less behind the minimalist
impulse to make one of these records, the whole record sounds
like going on a long walk, things getting a little weirder
as they go on. While it rarely gets heavier than it starts,
it has focus shifting qualities that resemble at times Sonic
Youth’s Daydream Nation and Husker Du’s Zen
Arcade, two classic long form indie journey-within type
works that one might modestly describe as epic. Loopy, similar
themes in the songs kind of hypnotize you and you lose your
place in the record, not unlike the second half of Daydream.
His Neil Young-ish drawl and sometimes Byrds-y jangle, not
to mention his flowing locks, paint him as more hippie-ish
as his contemporaries, and this record explores those qualities
thoroughly… he is the modern introvert, neither angry
nor joyous, he is simply writing about his walks.
My Bloody Valentine- m b v
If Kevin Shields is indie’s Brian Wilson, here is
his Smile. The long awaited follow up to 1991’s Loveless,
which seems to have left one of the biggest footprints in
terms of influence on other acts of any albums from the
decade. Like Smile or the other long awaited cacophony Guns
n’ Roses Chinese Democracy (which sucked way less
than critics said, just sayin’) this record was compiled
of recordings dating back to 1996, where Shields’
apparently suffered from writer’s block and the band
recorded an alleged two albums worth of material, that the
songwriter felt did not cut it.
The end product is a wholly creative and excellent album,
continuing the thread of Loveless, using loops, minimalisms
and Eno-isms, to make the year’s best intellectual
swirly sound collage. I actually considered making this
record a few slots down because it’s really annoying
to listen to. Unless you have bought the expensive vinyl
set, you have to listen to the tracks as individual Youtube
videos. Thanks, Kevin!! KEVIN!!
Lee Ranaldo and The Dust- Last Night On Earth
At this point, it’s pretty easy to understand who
won the Sonic Youth divorce. Thurston Moore still owns the
cool, and Kim Gordon is the best celebrity, but Lee and
his new band, The Dust, including SY drummer Steve Shelley,
are making the most wholly excellent records. Like last
year’s Between The Tides and Times, this is a collection
of jangly power-pop and pretty, evocative guitar-driven
psychedelia, shedding some of SY’s more transgressive
aspects for their more sublime, moody moments. This should
not be a surprise, Lee being SY’s own George Harrison,
their quiet Beatles, who seems to have spent his brief vacation
between bands to spend some time with his old 70s Neil Young
and Big Star records. Lee is likely the best guitarist of
the best 25 years, but never got to step into his own as
a songwriter and his recent efforts are endearing and ethereal,
kind of like if Dave Grohl had gotten into transcendental
meditation instead of becoming a big doofus. Lee has alway
been my favorite, he’s a nice guy and I’m looking
forward to a late in the game turn as a songwriter and bandleader.
As I chanted at many SY show: LEE! LEE! LEE!
The Men- New Moon
Ok so, upon the release of this record, two moments happened.
Firstly, a local band that came up playing Don Pedro’s
and Tommy’s Tavern stepped onstage as headliner at
the Bowery Ballroom, officially passing through from local
aspirant to serious business (a Village Voice cover story
followed) and secondly, the once art-core band that would
play unbearably loud, debuts their re-touched bar band lineup,
with co-frontman Mark Perro switching to electric piano,
a slide guitarist, harmonica and an occasional horn section
playing songs from a new record that evokes Neil Young (again,
clearly this is the year of the Horse), The Band, Big Star,
The Byrds and Exile-era Stones as well as the tight punky
pop songs that anchored their previous effort, Open Your
This record was recorded at a cabin in Big Indian, New
York in the Catskills mountains, and that relaxed, nature
surrounded vibe seeped it’s way onto the wax of this
one. The breezy, thoughtful nature of these tunes exhibit
songwriting chops that melt their way perfectly into a great,
neo-psych jam or two. Aside from being extremely nice guys,
these guys have spent the last few records tweaking their
own aesthetics and growing as a group in a way that one
cannot deny them at this point.
The Arcade Fire- Reflektor
Aside from Kanye West’s ham-handed attempt at art-pop
Yeezus (which this writer can’t make it more than
a few tracks into before retreating to Laura Nyro’s
back catalogue), this seemed to be the most polarizing record
of the year. The offensive thing here, seemed not to be
the record itself, which, with the addition of producer
James Murphy (the honch behind LCD Soundsystem and DFA record)
challenging them to take their epic rock to the dance floor,
with a result that would be impossible not to make Murphy
the Eno to Win Butler’s Bowie. Sitting aside records
like The Clash’s Combat Rock, Paul Simon’s Graceland,
U2’s Achtung Baby and Talking Heads’ Remain
In Light, this record added Murphy’s new york nightlife
low end and percussive elements from Haiti (frontwoman Regine
Chassagne’s howtown) to their already cryptic sound.
They received slack for their unusual digital marketing
campaign, late night TV special directed by Roman Coppola
(which I loved and would totally do, if I had the platform),
doing small, impossible to penetrate shows during CMJ week
and requiring a dress code for several concerts. Basically
they were trying to do two things with this record, be big
(have an event that includes the mainstream and all those
concerned) and be weird (do things that the status quo would
not expect.) The music community’s reaction was about
as crotchety as Statler and Waldorf from The Muppets. In
the end, The Fire made a brave, good record, and are trying
hard to use their influence to become bigger and weirder.
They are the only mainstream rock act (especially if you
don’t count those twenty years old, i.e. Radiohead)
trying to do anything like that, in fact they might be the
only rock act in the mainstream that isn’t completely
insufferable, am I wrong??
The Great American Novel- :(
(Here is the part where though I am, 27, I sound really
old) In the words of Pete Townsend, the only person who
can explain rock n’ roll, according to fictional Stillwater
frontman Jeff Bebe: The kids are alright. The songwriter/frontman
of The Novel, the 21 year old Layne Montgomery, is a self-deprecating
music geek who writes tunes so endearing and uncool that
I cannot help feel like an older brother listening to songs
about experiences about the recent growings up of a young
Here’s the thing, this record is REALLY fucking good.
The band swings like The Strokes meets Elvis Costello and
The Attractions, and the tunes, with all their references
to Facebook and texting (even the emoticon album title),
show serious substance over style with great power-pop melodies,
ringing piano, sweet guitar solos and funny but moving lyrics.
The ghost of Weezer’s Pinkerton, which is like Kind
Of Blue for awkward guys with glasses trying to get laid
(and you’re talking to the Professor Cornell West
on this subject) looms large here, (here’s a lyric
for ya: “I’m just tryin’ to find someone
to get drunk and watch Twin Peaks with”) but there’s
a fresh attitude here, augmented by the Beatles-ian production
of Oliver Ignatius at Mama Coco’s Funky Kitchen, which
has been mentioned a few times on this site. It’s
cool, it’s cool, it’s cool…
Porches- Slow Dancing In The Cosmos
This is probably many people’s introduction to the
songwriting of Aaron Maine, a hard drinking young man around
my age from upstate New York but I think it was almost six
years ago when my ex-girlfriend played me some tracks of
this guy from her ex-boyfriends town and it actually hit
me like a ton of brick. I’ve played with a few of
his outfits, he’s released music under his own name
as well as with the more folk-grunge trio Space Ghost Cowboys.
The project Porches was initially Maine and a bunch of synths
and drum machines, then augmented to a live band.
The usual indie buzz people have now caught on, and all
I have to say is, this guy is a hell of a songwriter, and
this record is the type of melancholic, melodramatic pop
that it’s hard to deny having a gut reaction to, much
like his other records. “Franklin The Flirt”
is a slow bummer that almost feels like The Beatles’
White Album. This record is one of the better combinations
of classic pop craft and electronic laptop type productions
of the decade, owing much to the content of it’s creator.
I suggest this, and then the rest of the dude’s records.
Daft Punk- Random Access Memories
SUPRISE! I fucking love this record. I didn’t even
much care for the last DP effort, but being a person who
loves disco, I have to like this, which is basically a pastiche
to disco, a paean to the present gods Giorgio Moroder (who’s
present here, explaining his career over a Euro-beat in
my favorite track) and Nile Rogers (whose comeback is welcome
in my book.) I liked “Blurred Lines” more than
“Get Lucky” this summer, but this record has
so much to offer. Julian Casablancas hasn’t been better
in years than “Instant Crush”, their synth-pop
collaboration, and I feel the spirit of Freddy Mercury looming
over “Touch” and a few other tracks. Pharrell
just rules in general, I am a sucker for him. This album
is fun and I spun it so much, I couldn’t in my right
mind leave it off my list…
Here are some less populist albums I HIGHLY recommend:
ELEANOR - Garbology - One of the most
inventive bands in New York, the duo from Queens called
Eleanor, have made their wackiest LP yet, in which they
strip down to a lo-fi sound and get really out there for
this 18 track free punk, gritty psychedelic album, where
they channel The Velvet Underground, Buddy Holly and Husker
NEW ATLANTIC YOUTH - New Atlantic Youth LP - My
best friend and drummer of The Brooklyn What, Jesse Katz,
plays in this group, a post-hardcore emo power-trio with
chops that often makes me compare them to Cream. This record
contained hard, soft and weird all at once, with great tunes
all jammed out to the extreme, for fans of Fugazi, At-The
Drive In, Refused and Hum.
VIDEO BEAST - Beyond The Milky Lust - Again,
I have to admit my biases as BKW currently share a bass
player with this outfit a well as producer/engineers. This
NY trio creates psychedelic soundscapes augmented with hard
rock and alternative that will bring you back to 90’s
alternative radio… think Smashing Pumpkins’
Gish produced by Gibby Haynes of The Butthole Surfers.
BUTCHER’S BLIND - Destination Blues - I
already wrote a pretty serious review on this site, but
I remain strong in my love for these boys from Bellerose,
New York’s working class anthems that channel Uncle
Tupelo and The Replacements.
CRAZY PILLS - Restless - This Queens,
NY power-pop garage trio’s frontwoman Amanda, a lady
of modest stature is one of the meanest lead guitarists
in the area. Backed by a groovy rhythm section, this record
with contemporary melodies and rockabilly licks, is like
this decade’s answer to the debut record by The Pretenders.
VAN DALE - Van Dale - We met this band
on tour in Columbus, OH, their hometown. They ended a perfect
20 minute set with the singer/guitarist jumping straight
into the drumset in the middle of the tune. A few month
later, their great debut came out. Think Pavement’s
Slanted and Enchanted with the dryness of early Modest Mouse
and Built To Spill. O-hi-I-O!
Merry Christmas, happy new year, xoxo,
By Stephen Gritzan
I generally don't like compiling these end of the year lists,
mostly because I am often behind on the proper release dates
of records and I generally don't think this way anyhow (did
I tell you how much I loved the Grimes LP?). That being
said, 2013 was a damn good year for music, regardless of
what "music enthusiasts" over the age of 40 might
say. I get so tired to hearing that there's very little
good stuff released after 1972/1982/1992 (pick your year
of maturation), when there is plenty to pick from in this
oh-so-democratic technological age. 2013 featured a number
of great new artists and the return of some favorites. Here's
some releases that caught my attention this year, not in
Kevin Devine "Bulldozer"
David Bowie "The Next Day"
The Bynars "X Vs. X"
Primal Scream "More Light"
Speedy Ortiz "Major Arcana"
Daft Punk "Random Access Memories"
My Bloody Valentine "m b v"
Savages "Silence Yourself"
Bill Callahan "Dream River"
Top New Vinyl Sales At Iris Records (not just 2013
Joy Division "Unknown Pleasures"
Big Star (all records)
Atoms For Peace "AMOK"
Daft Punk "Random Access Memories"
Amy Winehouse "Back To Black"
Neutral Milk Hotel "In An Airplane Over The Sea"
Queens Of The Stone Age "...Like Clockwork"
Black Flag "My War"
There's no need to add to the tributes for Lou Reed. Any
conscious rock fan owes plenty to the Velvet Underground
and you've read plenty about this. But with all the endless
hoopla about Reed, other notable music deaths might be have
been missed during 2013. Phil Chevron, who kept the Pogues
going and became their main guitarist and official Shane
McGowan internet updater left us, as did reggae singer Junior
Murvin, country legend George Jones, and the completely
underrated British folk-rocker Kevin Ayers. But what's most
shocking are the sheer number of important jazz musicians
who died in 2013. Think of about it: Donald Byrd, Yuseef
Lateef, Jim Hall, Chico Hamilton, Don Blackman, George Duke,
Cedar Walton amongst others...all gone in one year! It makes
me want to run and see Sonny Rollins play again as soon
as possible (he still practices three times a day). Funny,
because I'm quite happy that I saw the Dead and Miles Davis
in their later years, without knowing that they would soon
pass and be no more. Reading the above list makes me think
about Rollins, Wayne Shorter and Jimmy Heath to name a few
jazz greats who are still playing live. It might be a good
idea to check some of their shows. The old guard of jazz
might soon be gone. Remember that there's probably plenty
of time to see your favorite indie rock band, but not these
guys and what they represent/who they played with.
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