Here are 35 (mostly) rock records you should hear from 2013. Why 35? Who said 10, or 20, or 50, or 100 was the standard? Not all years of music are equal. Some years, I list 20 albums. Some years, it’s 25 albums. Others, it’s 25 and a handful of honorable mentions. This year it’s 35 because there was a definite line between albums I’ve spent considerable time listening to and I’ve grown to love, the second group, those that are flawed and are staying in the record collection, and the third group of records already in my sell back stack. Bye Bye The Knife! I won’t miss your two sides of artsy, self-indulgent bullshit stuffed into an already bulging 3 LP set.
Yes, all 35 of these (mostly) rock records I’ve bought as LPs. That’s not bragging. I’m not saying my record collection is bigger than your penis (It is!). Rather, it’s to show I have some skin in the game, as they say in Washington. I feel uncomfortable recommending anything for which I haven’t put down my own hard-earned, cash money. And, if you haven’t noticed by now, I have some personality ticks. You know, like dismissing an entire album because one verse of one song drives me bat shit bananas bonkers. 35 it is.
The loudness! The majesty! Underneath an omnipresent rumble of what can only be described as a thunder machine, but not attributed to any recognizable instrument in the liner notes, guitarist Kerry McCoy alternates between the showmanship of Metallica, the wobble of My Bloddy Valentine, the ecstasy of Edge, and the whimsy of Johnny Marr. The drums, meanwhile, operate so swiftly you’ll swear they were either programmed or performed by a man with eight arms. Again, the liner notes provide no evidence of either.
The virtuosity! Just when you think you Deafheaven pegged, they turn off the thunder machine and offer up a serene soundscape. Are you getting comfortable? Good. It’s rage time again, as drums tumble like an army of fists and guitars grind in both valor and agony.
One can think of Go Easy as a punk rock textbook. Not a history book, mind you, but a guide on how to make a bitchin’ punk rock record for the 21st Century. For the Brisbane, Australia band, Blank Realm, are not merely content to revisit underground styles first birthed in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s and recreate Youtube’s greatest punk rock moments of the past 40 years for new ears instead, each chapter they’ve written contains valuable lessons on how to make these time-tested methods your own.
His vision is so complete that it’s difficult to tell without liner notes whether any given song is a Thomas original or a cover. There’s plenty of both on this record. More importantly, as Thomas digs through his record collection for inspiration, and the punk songs begin to sound less like punk songs and the gospel songs sound less like gospel songs, Corrupt Free Enterprise becomes a cohesive, knowledgeable album, the likes of which just doesn’t get made too often these days.
Indeed, the same man who rages over west-coast hardcore, “I wanna fuck you like a puma,” can easily transition into the dirty, urban proto-punk of “Ghost.” One track later, and he’s delivering fractured soul on “Reflection,” and old skool hip-hop over a blown-out sub-woofer (“Deep in the Dusk.”) “Swimming Blues” and “Being Cleveland” both recall the earlier, grimier work of the White Stripes, and “When Will I See You,” takes its cues from Southern spirituals. There’s little Thomas can’t do as Obnox.
(Mike) Polizze’s playing, meanwhile, is epic in the truest sense of the word. While informed by the Mascis and Moore school of guitar playing (he’s loud, blown-out and rambunctious like those alt-rockers), he’s also more in tune with the blues. One can hear a bit of Jimmy Page in his playing, for like the Zeppelin axe-man, Polizze arena-sizes those old-timey melodies. Page, however, never let himself go in the way Polizze does. And that is the third ingredient to the playing of Polizze and Birds of Maya. They jam like they’re in a punk band, unafraid to go headlong into a technical passage, but skilled enough to keep the wheels from rolling off of the damn thing as they’re shredding and thrashing and jamming and jam-thrashing. Impressive isn’t the word and we haven’t even discussed the B-Side, “BBQ” with Harmonica Dan.
If it isn’t clear to you yet that Trent Reznor is his own man, let me spell that our for you again. Your own expectations did not influence Trent Reznor and the making of Hesitation Marks. If he was aiming to please, Hesitation Marks would be a demented shredder like the Broken EP from ’92 and it would have been released free to the internet masses. Instead, he set out to make an album worthy of the name, Nine Inch Nails, and do so using the tools and methods available in 2013. Reznor is confident. He is sober. And, despite other opinions, Hesitation Marks is Nine Inch Nails’ most vital work in years.
The one-two punch of “Copy of A” and “Came Back Haunted” open the album with a more nuanced approach to rage. Gone are the 99 guitar track thrashings which marked Broken. In their place, Reznor uses minimal techno as a base then adds and peels away layer upon layer of bleeping and whizzing electronics. The dynamics are impressive, even more so on a proper hi-fi where the specially mastered vinyl edition accentuates the highs and lows. One minute it’s a quiet night at home with the stereo and the next you’re shaking the neighbors’ fine china.
Those nerds in Vampire Weekend, with their expensive educations and fancy words, J Crew oxford shirts and indifference to our indie rock insecurities, have gone and done it again. With Modern Vampires of the City they now have a second pop masterpiece on their hands and this one may be even more confounding than their debut.
How does it work? How does their time-traveler, tourist pop which traverses continents, from the Caribbean to Sub-Saharan Africa, and spans decades, from traditional Irish-folk melodies to modern, auto-tuned radio hits not fall apart at the seems?
Led by songwriters, Ezra Koenig and Rostam Batmanglij, the band often pull off the unthinkable, like segueing from early, Jamaican ska to an Irish sea-faring melody on “Unbelievers,” from that sea-faring folk to a harpsichord melody on “Worship You,” and then they manage to cover chamber pop, world pop and synth pop on “Everlasting Arms.”
Much to the dismay of forward-thinking, music technologists, the album has not completely disappeared, yet. Nary a week goes by without influential blogger Bob Lefsetz unleashing another screed against the album. People don’t want albums, he’ll claim. The future is in singles, nimbly produced outside of the traditional record, promote, release and tour cycle, placed into playlists or scrambled into a passive and personalized listening experience.
The truth is some people still care about the album. Furthermore, some people still consider listening to an album to be a primary activity, not something to be done while working, walking, running, cooking, cleaning or tweeting. For those people, who measure less than one percent of the music listening public, oh boy, do Yo La Tengo have an album for you.
For Fade, the long-running New Jersey trio’s 13th album, and first since 2009′s Popular Songs, Yo La Tengo brought in John McEntire of the influential, post-rock band Tortoise to handle production. His fingerprints are all over this unexpectedly focused work (Fade has one of the shortest run times in Yo La Tengo’s extensive catalog) with both vast and unending details placed deep within the mix meant to engage the very type of listener being willed out of existence by technologists.
This band is skilled. This band is strong. This band says what they mean and it’s so fucking intense it makes you wonder why the rest of the world is trading pictures of dinners and cats and trying to come up with clever one-liners to increase their social following. Me, I’m going to work on that theory that post-punk died when Interpol got mustaches. It’s got some revising to do.
If there’s a reason power pop singers often get short shrift, it’s because the genre itself hasn’t changed much through the years. Take some songs about guys and girls, add big guitars and a bigger chorus and repeat. It’s the way The Beatles did it and it remained the same through Badfinger and The Raspberries in the ’70s, and on through the college rock and alternative rock eras with The Mice, The Fastbacks, Teenage Fanclub, and Sloan. The production may change with the times — glitzier in the ’70s, cheesier in the ’80s, and grimier in the ’90s, but the formula hasn’t. Cronin’s “Shout It Out” is so instantly hummable and has just the right amount of frazzle dazzle in the chorus that it would have been a classic during any of those decades.
Yet, as heroes from the ’90s have aged their way into new decades, a simple alternative to dying before middle age has been found — Be yourself, act your age, and rock out.
Mascis has let his long hair go white. When members of Yo La Tengo take the stage, they dress as if they’re out for a family cookout. Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices has embraced the role of drunken uncle, adding a level of self-awareness to his ageless Rock ‘N’ Roll circus.
For Mac McCaughan, Laura Ballance, Jon Wurster, and Jim Wilbur of Superchunk, being themselves means acknowledging their ’40s, but not surrendering to them, and being loud, rowdy and obnoxious on the surface, but wiser in their words and their ways.
Ballance is no longer a touring member. Her ears can’t handle the stage. Similarly, McGaughan tempers the enthusiasm of “Me and You and Jackie Mittoo,” a classic two-minute, pogo-pop jam, with a tacit acknowledgement that idealism can’t save lives when he sings the lines,”I hate music/What is is worth/It can’t bring anyone/Back to this earth.”
Kurt Vile has little use for a diagram of the western pop song. Forget verse, chorus, verse, bridge and coda. There’s the ramble part and the tamble particle and the solo. His voice rises where most would descend, and descends when most vocal melodies would tend to rise. Words are mumbled like Dylan and syllables are stretched in a Philly drawl all his own. So when Vile says this new album of his, Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze, was particularly influenced by Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, one should know better than to expect anything other than another suite of weirdo blues, the likes of which he’s spent the better part of the past five years perfecting.
Tony Molina knows his guitar pop. His very short, and very sweet release Dissed and Dismissed is 12 songs and around 12 minutes short and sweet. In the process he hits on multiple guitar pop classics by incorporating the spontaneity of Guided by Voices, the aw-shucks ease of Evan Dando and the Lemonheads, and even the arena rock aspirations of early day Weezer when Rivers Cuomo was a geek, with a broken heart and a dream. The man has such a knack for the hook, that it’s damn near shocking to learn his other bands are hardcore.
The final third, meanwhile, is where Shields finally makes a clean break from his past. The rhythm tracks of “in another way,” “nothing is”, and “wonder 2,” all borrow heavily from the rapid, staccato beats of UK drum ‘n’ bass, a genre popularized in the late ’90s by now forgotten artists like Roni Size and Goldie.
Technically, one could still make the argument Shields is stuck is trapped in a time warp. Drum ‘N’ Bass, like industrial rock and trip-hop, is still waiting for its modern day revival. Yet, as the drum loops and static-singed guitars of “nothing is” gain intensity and volume, it unexpectedly transforms itself into the exact moment where My Bloody Valentine becomes both an influential act of the past and a reinvigorating force for modern music.
“wonder 2,” furthers the experiment with the slightest pop melody and the sound of Shields gear fighting bravely against the particle force of the Large Hadron Collider. With one mistaken calculation, Shields, his guitar, his amp, and all of his electronics could have been sucked into nothing. Instead, he emerges from his battles against the laws of physics and 22 years of creative inaction, with his reputation as an innovator firmly in tact.
Supergroup may not seem like the best way to describe the Melbourne musicians who gathered to record under the name Boomgates. Brendan Huntley (Brenadan Suppression of Eddy Current Suppression Ring) and Steph Hughes (Dick Diver), two of the band’s better known personalities from the Melbourne garage-rock scene, hardly register here in America. Furthermore, they never intended for it to be any more than a part-time jam session amongst friends.Yet, after spending time with their debut album, Double Natural, it’s difficult to ignore both the assembled talent at hand and the ease at which the songs just flow.
Wanna make your pop princess a full-grown pop diva? Ditch the synths and add strings. By their very nature a string section will add gravitas to any recording, and in the process add a good ten to fifteen years of maturity to your singer and your target audience. It’s true for your Christina Aguileras and Whitney Houstons of the world and true for underground artists with a gothic image, like Nika Roza Danilova, better known as Zola Jesus.
On Versions, Danilova has teamed up with experimental composer JG Thirlwell and the Mivos Quartet for eight new interpretations of previously recorded tracks and one new track. She sounds older. Her voice sounds bigger, both in range and in tone, with the smokiness and huskiness in her vocals no longer dictating which notes can and can’t be hit. Oh, and, it may be her best work yet.
The key here is that Thirlwell is more of a tweaker than your traditional composer. He’s not averse to manipulating sounds in the mix outside of the strings and will often pair the solemn and serene sounds of the quartet with harsher, programmed beats. It’s an approach that not only gives Danilova space to show off that natural vocal talent of hers but also allows her to build some separation between herself and the other young, vaguely gothic singers in the indie underground.
After two albums with the raucous Bad Seed alter ego, Grinderman, and one album with the Bad Seeds which shared much of the machismo of their other selves, Nick Cave has brought back the Bad Seeds proper for a suite of nine subdued ballads. Gone are the rabid howls of a man whose blood is boiling with a manly mix of Viagra and Winstrol. Gone is the shriek of the electric bouzouki. Gone is the man of depravity and his lone shot at redemption. Instead, there’s a song which name drops Wikipedia.
If it’s any consolation, “We Real Cool,” also known as the Wikipedia song for this discussion, is not solely about the web’s most popular, sometimes reliable encyclopedia. Wikipedia only comes into play when Cave is citing the distance from Earth to Sirius and Earth to Arcturas. And, maybe it helped fill in some details during, “Higgs Boson Blues,” wherein Cave imagines a scenario where the Large Hadron Collider’s experiments with the Higgs Boson particle bring on the apocalypse. With the world now shit, and Cave on his way to Geneva, Hanny Montana, Robert Johnson, and Lucifer all make appearances.
Plus, Cave is still a rarely equaled, uncompromising songwriting talent with the ability to freeze the listener in place. His description of the Brighton sea-side in “Water’s Edge” twists an innocent, youthful escape into a sinister place. Bass notes bubble like a gathering storm. Strings sing gypsy melodies. His lines hit hard: “With a bible of tricks they do with their legs/The girls reach for the speech and the speech to be heard/To be hard, the local boys teem down the mound/And seize the girls from the capitol.” A fun time will not be had by all.
17, Fuzz – S/T
Fuzz is the band teenagers and young twenty-somethings dream about when they strap on their first guitars, the kind of band with all of the heaviness and all of the foresight of the first rockers to take the blues to a darker, more menacing place. Then, those teenagers and twenty-somethings realize they don’t have the talent of the Yardbirds, Black Sabbath, or Hendrix because to be the Yardbirds, Black Sabbath, or Hendrix requires learning to play your instrument well. That’s hard. Instead, teenagers and young twenty-somethings end up in indie rock bands.
Ty Segall and Charlie Moothart, the two principles in Fuzz (now joined by Roland Cosio on bass), have the chops to convincingly deliver an album proto-metal in the 21st Century. Segall, of course, has been releasing garage rock albums, with the emphasis on rock, at a dizzying pace during the past five years. Moothart, meanwhile, has personally contributed to two Segall albums, one album by the Ty Segall Band, and two albums by San Francisco scene-mate, Mikal Cronin. In other words, both men know their way around a studio.
Fuzz’s novelty, of Segall leading from behind the drum kit, hardly matters when lead guitar duties are in such capable hands. Moothart utilizes every weapon in the shredder’s arsenal as he freely switches between thick, sturdy and burly blues, fingers on fire solos, and blatantly showy squawks of wah-wah. It’s as if Fuzz is his personal audition for the next opening in Black Sabbath and damnit, if he didn’t nail it this time.
18. Disappears – Era
Since their inception in 2008, the Chicago band Disappears have been overloaded with potential, but short on essential product. They have the pedigree. Founding member, Brian Case, cut his teeth in 90 Day Men and The Ponys. At one point, the drum kit was manned by Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley. They have the talent. Over five years they’ve capably worked the fringes of reverb-heavy garage rock (2010′s Pre-Language), spacey krautrock (2011′s Guider, complete with a 16 minute love letter to Neu!), and heady psychedelic rock (2013′s Kone 12″ EP). Their problem has always been focus. Every time they appeared to be on the verge of something special, they would move on to another realm of the underground.
At first listen, Disappears latest effort, Era, would seem to signal another shift. Here they spend much of the album working within the framework of moody and minimal post-punk. However, once you dig a little deeper, you will begin to notice how each of their previous releases has helped build to this point where they finally have an album worthy of their reputation.
How much credit goes to the band and how much credit goes to the producer is difficult to discern. The ears hear Murphy’s cultural tourism all over the album. Remember, this is a man whose early single, “I’m Losing My Edge,” was a self-mocking list of every important band ever, every pop band, every punk band, every electronic, hip-hop, and dance band ever worth knowing. On the other hand, Win Butler owned the idea in interviews that Reflektor was designed to be a mash-up of Studio 54 and Haitian voodoo, a place where ABBA and the Sex Pistols can coexist. The band brought the songs to Murphy and Murphy tapped his toes.
“Awful Sound (On Eurydice)” is definitely Arcade Fire’s doing. It’s the one song on Reflektor where the old Arcade Fire’s penchant for hammy emotion comes to the forefront. “Hey Orpheus” is likely a split. The dark, propulsive beat could have been lifted from an LCD Soundsystem album, but I can’t, for the life of me, picture Murphy shouting “Hey Orpheus!”
Personally, I like to think Murphy saved the Arcade Fire from themselves. For once, I picture a band free of the burden of being an important band, a band who’ve allowed themselves to have, gasp, fun at their job.
Sexy, cool, and kitschy are the first three words to come to mind when describing Costa Blanca, The Limiñanas’ latest release of garage, lounge pop, and psychedelic rock for Chicago’s Trouble in Mind Records. Sexy and cool are a given. From their understated arrangements to their sly vocals sung in both French and English, The French duo reek of refinement. Although the credits list guitar, sitar, banjo, bouzouki and something called an oud, most tracks live and die by the vibrant, buoyant grooves laid down by principles Marie and Lionel Limiñana.
In a recent interview with the Village Voice, the men of the six-piece Brooklyn band, The Men, revealed their adoration Tom Petty. The excitement they expressed over Petty headlining Bonnaroo was akin to the reaction a hipster caricature would have to the announcement of a show by Arcade Fire, Animal Collective, or Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel. This can’t be the same band of scuzz-punk noisenicks who gained acclaim by reimagining decades of underground nasty, can it?
Yes, it can be. Yes, it is, but there’s a catch. One just can’t unlearn years of Husker Du, Nirvana and Sonic Youth. Even during New Moon’s most rustic moments, and the A-side of their new record has its share with “Open the Door,” “Half Angel Half Light,” and “Seeds,” The Men sound more like Tom Petty with The Heartbreakers, as in the classic punk band led by Johnny Thunders, than Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the classic rock band with Southern charm.
Did you find The Flaming Lips’ latest album, The Terror, lacking the the kind of wonderfully weird vibes Wayne Coyne and company had built their career upon? Yes? Well read on, because the San Francisco garage rock outfit, Thee Oh Sees have a dandy of a record for you. Featuring the same over-sized, blasted-all-out-to-hell guitar aesthetic as The Lips, Thee Oh Sees’ Floating Coffin is gleeful, loud, and endearingly strange where The Terror was meek, and only scary in the way a hotel handyman in a ghost mask could unnerve a Saturday morning cartoon crime-fighting crew.
“Toe Cutter/Thumb Buster” brings both the noise and the oddness early with a wobbly guitar melody, like marching band trombone sent through a six stack of amps, paired with twee, practically teasing vocals.
The physical album itself, a bright neon thing, opens up like an invitation. When the four sides are peeled back, one finds four inserts printed on heavy stock, in the same neon green and safety orange color scheme as the album cover. Remove the cards and on the reverse side of the front cover, one finds a stamp. It reads “Inspected By: No Age Mfg. It’s signed by either Spunt or Randall. You see, No Age assembled all of the initial releases themselves, and they really did inspect each and every one.
The music, itself, shows a similar attention to detail. The mix is a challenging one where parts one would expect to feature prominently, like a bitchin’ riff, are buried deep, obscured by other sampled sounds. Lead track, “No Ground,” for example has some sweet beach pop, “Ooh Wah Oohs,” which hit near the end of its run. And I missed them the first ten times I played An Object. “Generator” has a guitar melody which sounds like Peter Hook playing bass for New Order, but damn, there’s so many other competing melodies it’s easy to miss that one, too.
My Wikipedia edit of the Primal Scream discography completely omits 1994′s Give Out But Don’t Give Up, 2006′s Riot City Blues and 2008′s Beautiful Future. Two more albums, 1997′s Vanishing Point and 2002′s Evil Heat are relegated to the footnotes. And, up there on top, in a bold, extra big font are the three albums that matter: 1991′s Screamadelica, a timely groove of an album incorporating both classic, psychedelic rock and the Madchester dance pop scene, 2000′s XTRMNTR a pointed and political album of driving electronic rock featuring master blaster guitar and production by My Bloddy Valentine’s Kevin Shields, and, now, thirteen years since the band truly mattered, we have More Light, a diverse work which combines what’s worked the best during the course of their career.
Lead single and opening track, “2013,” features both the return of Shields and his fluid and woozy guitar work and Gillespie’s social awareness. The lyrics read like a hastily written Occupy manifesto, as loosely related lines like “Every generation buys the lies, just like the one before,” and “What happened to the voices of dissent/Getting rich I guess” are strung together and shouted as soon as they come to mind. It’s followed by “River of Pan,” a soothing, drug fueled groove similar to the Trainspotting theme on Vanishing Point. Later, “Elimination Blues,” stretches a vibe in the same vein to even spacier places, as sparse drumming and a bluesy, five-note guitar melody are more than content to repeat themselves for as long as it takes to cleanse the mind.
The title track, meanwhile, may stand as Cox’s greatest composition to date. What begins as your typical, garage rock hip-shaker, is anything but typical once it takes the off ramp to freak city. From that point on, it’s three minutes of American-made motorcycle engines, misfiring phasers, feedback on top of feedback and an increasingly deranged Cox repeating the word “Monomania” like a mantra for madness.
Perhaps the best thing that can be said about English Little League is it’s just another Guided by Voices album, equal in quality to the three 2012 releases which preceded it — Let’s Go Eat the Factory, Class Clown Spots a UFO, and The Bears for Lunch.
Guided by Voices are no longer a curiosity. There are no more question marks. Robert Pollard and Tobin Sprout have matured as songwriters. Their voices carry the wisdom which comes from aging, too. Well, that is as long as you aren’t expecting to decipher Pollard’s lyrics. He sounds wiser, but his words remain as cryptic as ever.
With Mitch Mitchell (guitar), Greg Demos (bass), and Kevin Fennell (drums) on for the fourth straight album, Guided by Voices 2012 sounds more put together, if not professional at times. And they’ve done this all without sacrificing their characteristic whimsy and quixotic pursuit of the Rock ‘N’ Roll dream.
The name Mike Polizze doesn’t carry the same cachet in the underground as such guitar luminaries as J Mascis and Thurston Moore. To date, he’s been a frequent collaborator with his Kensignton neighborhood friend, Kurt Vile, the lead shredder for chooglin’ Philadelphia blues band, Birds of Maya, and the head of his own bedroom rock band, turned power trio, Purling Hiss. Outside of those record geeks whose faces will light up at the mere mention of Birds of Maya, Polizze has operated in anonymity through it all.
Purling Hiss’ Drag City debut should mark the beginning of a much needed correction. For one, unlike previous albums by Purling Hiss (and Birds of Maya), Polizze, Kiel Everett (bass), and Mike Sneeringer (drums) laid down the tracks for what would become Water to Mars in an honest-to-goodness recording studio. This means those killer guitar melodies, once obscured by layers of tape hiss, now come through loud and clear. Sampling only lead track, “Lolita,” one can pick up the sexy swagger of Van Halen, the urgency of Detroit proto-punk, the squawk of New York City noise rock, and the stacks of amps effect favored by the aforementioned J Mascis as Polizze shreds with indifference.
The album title, Cruise Your Illusion, a slight play on the Guns ‘N’ Roses double album set, Use Your Illusion, should have been your hint. The Olympia, Washington quartet, Milk Music aren’t your average band of long-haired, riff rockers from the Pacific, Northwest who were raised on grunge and worship at the altar of the alt-rock guitar trinity of Young, Mascis, and Moore. Sure, there are many nods to those holy noise-makers throughout Milk Music’s long-playing, debut, but guitarist Charles Warring also borrows from several, let’s say, lesser referenced greats of the classic rock era, like Tom Scholz of Boston, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, and Duane Allman and Dicky Betts of the Allman Brothers.
For the target audience — Male, thirty-something, office worker, and educated in classic punk, early Sub Pop and AmRep Records, Pissed Jeans’ Honeys will resonate like few other records released over the past five years. As Matt Korvette growls, about management, health insurance, dinner parties, online dating, and his own ability to function as an adult in an adult relationship, you’ll find yourself nodding, no, headbanging in agreement with every snarl and every scuzzy guitar riff.
Workmanlike may not be the best adjective to describe Desperation, the fourth album by the Memphis garage-rock outfit, Oblivians, and the band’s first since 1997′s …Play 9 Songs with Mr Quintron, but when you put three pedigreed Rock ‘N’ Roll veterans in a studio with the sole aim of writing a hip-shaking, party rock album about booze, women, song, and so much booze, women and song that the police join the picture, the end result is really never in in doubt.
Desperation contains no tricks. There are no attempts to be clever. Nor, are there any attempts to be anything other than what they’ve always been: a loud, brash threesome who bash out garage rock laced with blues, boogie, and soul (and no bass drum and no bass guitar).
31. Windhand – Soma
Unlike those early Sunn O))) records, however, where heavy was an end in of itself, Winhand combines that unbearable sense of burliness with actual songs of doom and grunge as vocalist, Dorothia Cottrell, channels some of metal’s most beloved vocalists. Comparisons to the late, Layne Staley of Alice in Chains are apt, as are those to the prince of darkness, Ozzy Osbourne, himself. It’s not until the fourth song in, an acoustic number titled, “Evergreen,” that it becomes apparent that the owner of those foreboding pipes is indeed a she. That’s heavy.
The story of Thurston Moore’s separation from Kim Gordon and the subsequent dissolution of Sonic Youth follows a similar path, except that red Mustang is a light truck and that light track carried the name of a moving company operated by composer Phillip Glass, Chelsea Light Moving, and that truck and that company would become the name of Thurston Moore’s new band. It’s this new band, with Keith Wood on guitar, Samara Lubelski on bass, and John Moloney on drums, which enables Moore to turn back the clock to the late ’80s, early ’90s period of alternative rock and record a smashing album in the vein of Sonic Youth classics like Dirty and Goo. Let’s call it the IFC version.
Listening to the album Calendar Days by the Melbourne quartet, Dick Diver, is like eavesdropping on conversation between two close friends at a cafe as the pair go over life’s curious demands. During its course, they cover both the big issues, dreams and aspirations, regrets and failures, and the little things like the morning’s breakfast or last night’s television. And what makes these narratives by Al McKay and Steph Hughes so compelling is even as every tale is told with similar nonchalance (McKay could capably fill in for Steven Malkmus if Pavement ever went the reunion route without their lead singer, and Hughes possesses a similarly relaxed delivery, although she recalls bands like The Shop Assistants and Electrelane when she sings), the words they choose have the ability to stop the listener dead in their tracks. It happens on practically every cut.
Then, something happened. I brought that heavy, double deluxe, 180 gram at 45 RPM version of …Like Clockwork home and put it on my turntable. The music came alive.
Now, I was hearing a clean, crisp and deep, dynamic, nuanced and detailed album, the same type of recording critics gushed over when Daft Punk released Random Access Memory a few weeks back, except, this was a rock album. When was the last time you put a rock album on your turntable and marveled at the sound? Not the songs, mind you, but the actual sound.
Listen to the bright, bulbous keyboards of “Vampyre of Time and Memory” and one can literally smell the stank weed and patchouli stew clouding your view of a vintage lava lamp and black light Black Sabbath poster on this interpretation of everyone’s going stark, freaking mad era Pink Floyd.
Sleek, sexy and slightly funky during the verse and all big burly man in the chorus, “If Had a Tail” would have been the single if “My God Is the Sun” hadn’t claimed the spot first. It’s the audio accompaniment to every Josh Homme photo ever snapped.
And, my god, “My God is the Sun.” Initially weak-kneed and wobbly, like a sailor on an extended bender who only rights himself for fistfights, the chorus arrives with hammer blows of snare and hi-hat. The guitars ratchet at spitfire speed. Then comes the biggest hammer blow of them all, as each and every amp is set strip the guts straight from your stomach with a deafening rumble.
Zeffira’s cover of My Bloody Valentine’s “To Here Knows When,” is her time stand still, take your breath away, sweet Mother Mary moment on her debut album, The Desserters. Here, her talents as a vocalist and arranger are vividly displayed as the wooziness of My Bloody Valentine’s intense guitar wash, is alternately mimicked by brass, woodwind, piano and voice within a gorgeously, understated arrangement. Listening, but once, is not an option. This songs demands to be repeated.
Note: Not all albums are available for streaming. The playlist of 35 albums actually has something like 31 or 32 albums.