Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The BEST of 2013 #2 and #1

The BEST of 2013 - #2-1

We finally have made it to the end of the countdown. In what has been a tremendous year in music, it comes down to the final two. The separation between number 1 and 2 is microscopic, to the point where I have flipped flopped them at least a dozen times. (By comparison, The Lonely Forest, while a tremendous record, was not even in consideration for top 2 status)

In case you missed any of the countdown here is:

Without further delay, the final two….

Number 2
NIN – Hesitation Marks

In early 2009, Trent Reznor announced to the world that NIN was taking a break. There was no timetable given, not a lot of reason either, but in his eyes, it was time to shut it down for a while. So, following the tour in 2009, Trent put his energy and creativity into other projects. First, came the project with his wife entitled “How To Destroy Angels”. Also, Trent teamed up with Atticus Ross to record two BRILLIANT scores for David Fincher films, The Social Network and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. (the former for which he received a Golden Globe and an Oscar) Just when you could start thinking, with all of this success, that NIN might be retired forever, Trent took a left turn and announced that the first Nine Inch Nails record in 5 years would be released in 2013. Expectations were of course, very high, and luckily for the listener, not only met, but leapt over in a free and easy swoop. Reznor has always been a master at mixing the electronic with the “raw” in music. Ahead of his time with the use of technology, while still allowing the sonic entities to remain pure. Hesitation Marks hits top speed from the get go, with the brilliant lead off track “Copy Of A”. One of Reznor’s unique abilities, it to write a lyric that may seem so simple at first listen, but gains more depth the more you hear it/think about it. The album continues at warp speed with “Came Back Haunted”, another gem. It closes out side 1 (for the vinyl consumers) with the beautiful “Find My Way”. In the space of three songs, the landscape is set, from pounding pulse to minimalist airiness. The rest of the album flows in the same vein, moving from up tempo to slower songs with ease. The time off from “the band” did nothing but fuel Trent to put out his best effort since The Fragile, one that in most years would top this list.
Key Tracks – Copy Of A, Came Back Haunted, Everything, Running, While I’m Still Here

Number 1
Elvis Costello and The Roots – Wise Up Ghost

Over the span of his 3+ decade career, Elvis Costello has become one of music’s ultimate chameleons. His collaborative efforts have included writing/recording with Sir Paul McCartney, (including the hits, “Veronica” for Elvis and “My Brave Face” for Paul) Allen Toussaint and Burt Bacharach to name a few. So, in hearing of this effort at the beginning of 2013, it was met by a slight head tilt and a “huh”. I have the ultimate respect for Questlove and the Roots as musicians, as they really have a wonderful way of adapting styles….but a record with Elvis? I was curious to hear the results, and anxiously anticipated the record. Within the first 30 seconds of hearing “Walk Us Uptown”, I was sold that this was going to be magical. 12 perfectly executed tracks, each one building on the previous, with Elvis’ voice in top form, and a backing band taking him wherever he needs to go.

There is a “part 2” to this capsule, a quick hit email interview with the producer of the record, Steven Mandel, that will be posted as an addendum, as he has been busy the past couple of days to get back to me. Be on the lookout!

Key Tracks – Wise Up Ghost, If I Could Believe, Walk Us Uptown, Come The Meantimes

Friday, December 27, 2013

The BEST of 2013 - #4 and #3

Number 4
Stereophonics – Graffiti On The Train
In 2001, Stereophonics took the UK by storm, releasing one of the best albums of that year (or the decade for that matter) Just Enough Education To Perform. It featured some great songwriting, incredible music, and the unmistakable voice of Kelly Jones. When I first heard it, I was onboard with the possibility of a HUGE breakout. The next two records moved the needle a bit, but not to the point I thought it would. Then in 2007 and 2009, they released two records that for lack of better term are better left forgotten. Many (including myself) wrote Stereophonics off, thinking it was time to pack it in. Thankfully, the band knew better than us. Graffiti On The Train is a TREMENDOUS comeback, the kind of record that feels like they are saying “Oh yeah? We’re done? Here you go….”. Jones, one of the best voices in rock music, is at his growling finest, as the lead track, “We Share The Same Sun”, sets the tone for the entire record. The title track follows, taking the tempo down, but not the energy. And as every song envelops the room as the record plays, you take notice that no two sound anything alike, nor like anything they have done up to this point. This record is a triumph, a true front to back experience, and one that gets me excited for whatever comes next….just like 2001 all over again.
Key Tracks – We Share The Same Sun, Graffiti On The Train, Indian Summer, Roll The Dice

Number 3
The Lonely Forest – Adding Up The Wasted Hours
Do you remember the early 90s? Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Screaming Trees….etc..etc… Collectively known as the “Seattle Sound”. I think in 2013, we may have stumbled upon this version 2.0. Maybe not Seattle, per se, but Pacific Northwest. I give you The Lonely Forest. At first listen, they MAY sound like a Death Cab “rip off”….but as you dig deeper, you hear layers of soul that are their own, and expressed in a much different way than Ben, Walla and the rest of DCFC would express. (it should be noted, that this record is their debut on Walla’s Trans-Record label) This was the last record to fall into my hands before finalizing the list, and as I tweeted at the time, as I THOUGHT the top 12 was locked, “they may have blown up the top 3”. Front to back, this is an album of pure joy. “Pull The Pin” sets the tone from the start, with it’s very staccato syncopation before launching into anthem like strains, “Neon Never Changes” turns the car left down a trippy-ish road, and then “Lavender Dress” (which on its own, may seem like a throw away song) segues perfectly into one of the best songs of the year, “Warm/Happy”. There is nothing like the pure joy of “discovering” an artist that .001% of the population may know, RIGHT before the height of their perceived super powers are launched to the mainstream. This record is a run, don’t walk, situation.
Key Tracks: Warm/Happy, Pull The Pin, Fire Breather, Left Hand Man

Songs from records that didnt make the Top 12

A Look At Songs From Records That Didn’t Make The Top 12

As noted a few weeks ago, this year was incredible for new releases in music. My normal top 10 list expanded to 12 (could have easily been top 15), and even the records I did not like as a whole produced some tremendous songs. So, before I reveal the remaining top 4 albums of the year, a look at some of the other tunes that struck a chord.

Panic At The Disco – This Is Gospel

I Can Make A Mess – Lions

Superchunk –Me & You & Jackie Mittoo

Atoms For Peace – Ingenue

The National – Sea Of Love

The Appleseed Cast – Cathedral Rings

The Head And The Heart – Another Story

Balance And Composure – Reflection

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The BEST of 2013. #8-5

The Top Records of 2013: #8-5
Welcome back to the countdown. If you missed #12-9, scroll down to the previous post before (or after) reading this.
And now, let’s get to it. My favorite albums of the year, continuing with #8-5. Remember the simple rules:
No Best Of
No Live
No Comps

Number 8
Minor Alps – Get There

There have been a few nice male/female vocal collaborations this year, including Mathew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs offering their third edition of Under the Covers and Billie Joe and Norah Jones covering the Everly Brothers. While those were both very good in their own right, they were pale in comparison to this stunning debut from Mathew Caws (of Nada Surf fame) and Juliana Hatfield. Both have put out great albums apart from each other in the past, however, at the risk of hyperbole, it’s as if those paths were leading to this. Their voices separate are wonderful….together it is sublime. There is nothing too complicated with the music on the album, it is the soaring harmonies that take the songs to a tremendous level. The first single, “I Don’t Know What To Do With My Hands”, is a bit of a misnomer for the breath of the record. While both can “rock out” with the best of them, the quieter moments of this album are what make it what it is. Tracks like “If I Wanted Trouble” and “Waiting For You” showcase the duo’s pop sensibilities without raising the distortion level to 11. A fantastic debut from two veteran rockers.
Key Tracks – If I Wanted Trouble, Wish You Were Upstairs, Buried Plans

Number 7
Koji – Crooked In My Mind

More than anything, this album represents a wonderful throwback in time. Back where having a relationship with a record store, led to you getting suggestions on music you may not have heard if not for that. Because of the relationship I have with the people at my favorite shop, this incredible debut record fell into my hands. Based on my purchase history, tastes, and conversations we had, “my guy” recommended this record, and I am incredibly happy he did. Backed by a tight rhythm section, singer/songwriter Andrew Koji Shiraki delivers not only stark vocals, but some really great chord progressions throughout the entire record. It starts right off the bat with “Chasing A Ghost”, a wonderfully constructed three and a half minutes of longing and angst. And as you progress through the record, you quickly find out, this is a guy with something to say. His voice has the perfect blend of smooth and growl, which pushes the songs to new heights. This is one guy to keep an eye on for the future.
Key Tracks – Chasing A Ghost, Distance/Divide, What You Leave Behind

Number 6
Gary Numan – Splinter

Yes, the guy that did this…….

There is a reason I use the NIN/Numan clip to remind you of who he is. Trent Reznor has been on record saying that Numan was an influence on Nine Inch Nails….and it seems with this record, Numan has returned the reverential favor. I was struggling with this capsule, as I was having a hard time articulating “why” this record rates so high. When I brought that up to a very good friend, we both thought at the same time “it’s haunting”. (and she has never heard it….she just knew) This is a record of introspection, pain and suffering. A record that is needed to be heard as a whole to understand the true beauty of it. A record that gets better with every listen. It’s dark, it is broken….and it gets the listener BEGGING for a happy ending. It’s not there to be had, and that may be, in part, the genius of it. Numan, in the space of 12 aching tracks, takes the listener on a journey into his world and more importantly, into his psyche and soul. While he has continued to release music over the past years, this was the first record since “Cars” that has really moved the needle in the US. Truly, long overdue.
Key Tracks – (going to defer to the review and say that taking individual tracks out does not do this record justice)

Number 5
Cumulus – I Never Meant It To Be Like This

How to start a capsule on the best debut record of 2013? How’s this for polished: When talking about the record on the FABULOUS Air-Raid podcast, (seriously, go subscribe to it now, it’s fantastic) Chris Walla, head of Trans-Records said, when referring to the day he signed Cumulus to the label (and I’m paraphrasing) “It was the only record I can remember being brought to us that we didn’t touch before releasing, it was perfect as it was”. THAT is pretty high praise. Cumulus, prior to becoming a true band, was the work of Alexandra Niedzialkowski, a wonderful singer from outside of Seattle. Influenced by strong women from her youth listening to music, Alex started to put together a catalogue of original songs that grew in stature with every time she played out. Enter her childhood friend Lance Umble and bassist Leah Julius. Cumulus went from confessions of one woman, to a band with a plan. The sound and feel of the band brings me back to early 90’s women-led alt-rock acts, especially the Sundays. In fact, I sent an email to Alex to tell her how much I loved the record, and how much she reminded me of Harriet Wheeler, she indicated she had never really listened to them. (which, to me, was just great, as it took away the aspect of “copying a sound”) All of those comparisons aside, this is just a fantastic piece of art. From the opener, the flirty, popped-up “Do You Remember”, all the way to the end and “Night Swimming” (NOT a cover of the R.E.M. classic….but pretty damn near as good), the record takes the listener on a sonic voyage. Alex’s voice, filled with strength AND lilt, is as good as it gets. She hit’s every note, every word, every phrase with meaning and purpose. This was absolutely one of the biggest surprises of the year for me, and a record I can’t stop putting back onto the turntable.
Key Tracks – Do You Remember, Ocean Song, Morning Coffee, Night Swimming