Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The BEST of 2013. #12 - 9

The TOP 12 Albums of 2013

As the year is winding down, I am pretty confident that I have heard everything I wanted to hear this year. Click here to read the primer to the list that I wrote a couple of weeks ago. In short form? This was a TREMENDOUS year in music. This list was truly a labor of love, as the re-listen to everything I had heard since January, jumbled the rankings up more than I thought could happen. That said, I am very confident in how everything fell, and am happy to present the list to you, the reader.

Before we dive into the best of the best…..a few that JUST missed the top 12 (and what made me think of extending it to 15…it was THAT good a year). One line and one track on each.

Cage The Elephant – Melophobia
Victim of the re-listen, loved on the initial release, failed to keep speaking to me after the fact…
One Track: Come A Little Closer

Balance And Composure – Things We Think We’re Missing
A touch below their debut, strong throughout, but not enough to push any higher….
One Track: Lost Your Name

The National – Trouble Will Find Me
The opposite of Cage, with more listens, it would probably crawl into the bottom half of the 12….
One Track: Slipped

And now, let’s get to it. My favorite albums of the year, starting with 12-9. Remember the simple rules:
No Best Of
No Live
No Comps

Number 12

Volcano Choir – Repave

The top 12 starts with a record that up until about 3 months ago, would have easily checked in to the top 5. The reason for the “drop” is two-fold:
1) A LOT of great stuff came out since September
2) The re-listen made me take a more critical look
This is not to say it’s not a very good album, as it is. It’s just upon listen after listen, my excitement, while never waning, never increased either. The Bon Iver side project’s sophomore release is rife with great instrumentation, as well as the distinct voice of Justin Vernon. But unlike the Bon Iver records, Vernon has an avenue to let his range show, breaking down the usual falsetto wall, and allowing full register to be at the forefront. And guess what? It works very well. The record lacks a true standout track, and like a few records upcoming further up the list, works much better as a whole. If you like Bon Iver, it will not disappoint, and may become a “background music” staple.
Key Tracks: Byegone, Acetate

Number 11

Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt

One of the most anticipated releases of the year in the household. I had a lot of expectations, following the resurgent release Backspacer, and Lightning Bolt, while not knocking it out of the park, certainly was a great offering from Mr. Vedder and the band. The obvious highlight is “Sirens”, which is easily one of the best songs of the year. A simple mid-tempo anthem, it soars with Eddie’s vocals and the unmistakable Mike McCready guitar sound. Other highlights include "Mind Your Manners", a punkish rocker with a FANTASTIC bridge and "Infallible", a mid-tempo bluesy feeling tune. The issue I have with the record, and why I can’t rate it higher, is that, like Backspacer, Lightning Bolt gets VERY uneven in the second half. I know that sequence of songs should not matter THAT much, but in this case, for me, it is a detriment. That said, if you skip around to what you want to listen to in whatever order, it may work better. A great, not REALLY great effort from Pearl Jam.
Key Tracks: Sirens, Fathers Son, Mind Your Manners.

Number 10

Mazzy Star – Seasons Of Your Day

17 years. 4 sets of Olympics, 4 World Cups….hell, it’s my son’s AGE! That is the number of years since the last Mazzy Star record came out. That is a hell of a hiatus. It’s crazy to think that I was in my 20s when "Fade Into You" hit the airwaves (but kid you not, despite the boyish looks, I was). So, when I was made aware that Hope Sandoval and David Roback were coming back to the scene…while excited, I was a bit skeptical. Could they recapture the magic that “Fade” had? Did they still have something to say? Were they aware that “their sound” should not be changed, as it would be re-welcomed into today’s landscape? The answer to all three, is a resounding YES. From the moment the record starts, the ethereal landscape is set. Roback has a defined talent in setting a mood from the first note that is struck. And then Hope’s voice….never loud, never reaching, just a perfect balance of emotion and verve that sets her apart from singers 20 years her junior. As the record plays, one song flows into the next. The textures are brilliant, the lyrics captivating, and the “Mazzy” sound envelops the room. The highlight is “California”, which I would rank in the top 10 songs of the year (there will be a side-bar type post to address this), but in all honesty, you could pick 6 songs off the record as a contender. This was my genuine surprise of the year, and a record that has had many a spin on the turntable. (bonus points for purple vinyl)
Key Tracks: California, Lay Myself Down, Sparrow

Number 9

Boxer Rebellion – Promises

In 2011, I became a TAD bit addicted to Boxer Rebellion. The Cold Still was in heavy rotation for me for a good two months, and every time I listened, I picked up something new from Nathan Nicholson and company. So, I was eagerly awaiting the follow up. I was not only not disappointed, I was blown away. Promises, while sounding like a Boxer Rebellion album, takes the SOUND to a new level. The first song, and first single, “Diamonds” sets the ethereal tone, taking the listener on a swell of emotions in a perfectly crafted 4 minutes. Howe’s guitar work has evolved into a signature sound, ala The Edge. Nicholson’s voice has never sounded better, soaring in spots, quiet in others. He may have taken the title from Chris Martin for “best well placed falsetto” as well. From “Diamonds” all the way through to the closer “Promises”, this is clearly their best work.
Key Tracks: Diamonds, Keep Moving, New York, Promises

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The list is coming

On its way…….the top 12 albums of the year

I was talking to a friend a few weeks back, a casual music fan at best, and the subject of new releases came up. Admittedly, being a casual fan, he was in the camp of “well, besides (insert favorite band here), everything else is just awful”. It’s not the first time I have heard this in my life. And while I agreed with his assessment that his favorite band DID put out a pretty spectacular album in 2013, that he was missing the boat on some fantastic issues from the course of the year. Some known bands, some new bands, some indie bands…..this year was a GREAT year in music. So much so, that I have to expand my normal “Top 10” thought process, to a Top 12. I even toyed with 15, but then the write ups would get draining and drab, so thought better of it. (I will list a few “near misses” when the first part of the list comes out) A couple of thoughts right away:

1. If you came here thinking that Arcade Fire was going to be on the list……you are reading the wrong blog. For the 3rd record in a row, I gave them my best listen. I WANTED to like the new record (as if it would let me eat at the cool kids table), I really did. I just can’t. I GET the appeal, I GET the fandom….I just don’t get the music.
2. When it came to ranking the top 3, it took a couple of re-listens to settle on the order. (they were always the top 3, I just changed my mind 6,000 times as to the order) As I write this, I still have time to change it 6,000 MORE times….but I don’t think I will. In the words of great speech writers, I believed “it is locked”. (unless, of course, something comes out prior to releasing the list that blows the whole list up….)
3. As far as 4-12…..well that changed order (and the bottom changed entrants) 6,000 times….X 10. That speaks to the breadth of awesome that came out this year. The difference between 4 and 15 is very minimal, and led me to nit-pick. Just know, that anything in the 12, is not just good, but at least VERY GOOD to GREAT.

Now, the standard judging rules apply. Those are:

1. No Best Of records – Obviously. Even if they tacked on a couple of new tracks, can’t evaluate.
2. No Live records – Live records tend to be BEST OF’s in front of an audience.
3. No COMPS – Needs to be a band and a full LP (which, this year was a tough omission, as the Sound City soundtrack is phenomenal)

Lastly, as with anyone’s “Top Whatever #” list, this is purely subjective. I don’t really pay attention to mainstream reviews; I like to listen not only with my ears, but also my gut. What I like may be different than what you do. There are a lot of diverse sounds on the list, so I am hoping that at least one of the albums will speak to everyone who reads.
The capsules will start posting towards the end of November, once I feel comfortable that nothing new coming out in December could create an issue. Thanks as always for the read.

Thursday, November 7, 2013



In advance of what has become an exhaustive process of ranking the best records of 2013, I wanted to NOT rank some of the best cover versions on YOUTUBE. No order, no ranking….just pure bliss. Here we go…..
Jeffery Gaines – In Your Eyes
Let’s start here. Take one of my favorite songs, an ICONIC piece of music, and strip it down to guitar and a different vocal take…..I’m in. Covers of PG songs are tricky for me (even though this is 1 of 2 on the list) because I hold the originals in such high esteem. However, Gaines kills this version, despite the hacky “live” video.
Pearl Jam – Baba O’ Riley
Absolute “must be” part of any set list for the Seattle rockers. I would feel cheated if I was at a PJ show and they did not break this out. Mikey M nails the riff, Cameron is SPOT on behind the kit….and Ament…..well, Jeff is Jeff. Wait? Did I mention Eddie’s scream at 1:43? (or his donation of 30 tambourines to Brazil faithful?)
Nine Inch Nails w/Gary Numan – Cars
No secret that BOTH of these acts will break the top 10 for 2013 with their TREMENDOUS albums. Put them together….. NICE

Elbow – Mercy Street
Back to a Gabriel cover….but if ANY band could handle it, it is Elbow. If you listen to their early work, Guy sounds SO much like PG it’s kind of scary. When the “Scratch My Back” project came about, and PG covered Mirrorball (brilliantly BTW) I was waiting with baited breath to hear the return…..so not disappointed.
Stereophonics/Tom Jones – Mama Told Me Not To Come
Unabashedly, I think that Kelly Jones has one of the best voices in rock and roll. SOOOOO, lets team him up with a legend. The result? They made it their own. Three Dog Who?
Foo Fighters – Rock And Roll
OK, it DOES help the AURA of it, that JPJ and Page are on stage. BUT!!! Dave behind a kit WAILING? Sign Me Up. (intro is not safe for kids)
What are your favorites? Drop in the comments below.