Best of 2013

thesoapbox

Yeah, it’s February and we are posting a “best of 2013.” Why? To drive a point home: if it’s irrelevant to post this right now, smack in the beginning of February, why do we accept a “best of” list before the end of the year, hmm?

Anyhoo, you just want to read what we think it’s the best stuff from 2013 and here it is. There are some omissions from your other regular “best of” lists, because why praise the same 10 or so albums everyone put in a pedestal?

Here’s a slightly more obscure list that is much more sensible (but the again, I would say that, being a contrarian and shit). Oh, and don’t worry about the order, honestly. I heard about 245 promos last year, liked probably half of them and loved about 50, so narrowing them down to this list just means I really support every single choice made here.

If you are a stickler for “best of the best” and for some unfathomed reason want me to stop dilly dallying and just choose the pick of the crop, listen to the top 8 choices. You will feel compelled to check the rest. Trust me.

1) Owen – L’Ami du Peuple

Well, it might not be a reinvention of the wheel nor the most buzzed about album around, but Owen’s L’Ami du Peuple manages to drive a musical dagger through every single feeling. Mourning, the insecurities of being a parent, identity problems and family, it all seems to be tackled in every single lovely track of this album. ‘Bad blood’ is a particular gem, with that “blame your mother for every shadow you fear / the burning urge to flee well that’s  on me” being one of the many reasons why each and every one of us is the sum of all their ancestors. For better or worse.

2) 65daysofstatic – Wild Light

What is the sound a city makes? Wonder no more, because Wild Light seems to capture every momentary thud and bang rattling from a million souls chasing that proverbial bap (sorry, breadcake), with the morning commute, food and interaction as part of their routines. It’s loud, it’s sometimes impenetrable and it’s so good at reflecting the gargantuan nature of cities (‘Heat Death Infinity Splitter’) that it’s a marvellous argument against luddites that keep mumbling “electronic music is not real music”. Now, if that doesn’t sell the idea of this album, then just take away this: it’s grandiose.

3) Retribution Gospel Choir – 3

A couple of years ago, I heard on a dinky radio a song that seemed to be a cover of Low’s Take your time. Even the vocals were pitch perfect. Then I realised it was Mr. Sparhawk, Mr. Garrington and Mr. Pollard in a loud, black-clad outfit called Retribution Gospel Choir. I’ve seen them twice live and both times my socks were blown off. It’s a guttural breed of rock, what these 3 fine gentlemen create, and you can tag any symbolism/interpretation to their music, what is harder is capturing and describing how they sound live. Cue Jeff Tweedy doing his magic and the band releasing two 20+ minute tracks, one visiting the jam-friendly, psychedelic side of RGC, the other one, their more introspective, ethereal watercolour brushings (with a little help from Señor Nels Cline.)

4) Mark Kozelek’s triple album aka: Mark Kozelek – Like Rats, Mark Kozelek & Jimmy Lavalle – Perils from the sea and Mark Kozelek & Desert Shore – Self titled. 

When it rain, it pours and what a wonderful, torrential deluge did we get from Señor Kozelek in 2013. 3 flippin’ albums, with different styles but always sugar & arsenic coated with Kozelek’s vocals, which can make a threat sound as sweet as Count Chocula. It might seem excessive to some, but to us Disciples of Krazy Koz (TM), this was a godsend. New album for 2014, Benji, finds him back on the Sun Kil Moon persona and from what we hear, it’ll be another excellent ride.

5) The Payroll Union – The Mule and The Elephant

History: the subject many groan at during school. Politics: the subject everybody drops in conversation for either zealous agreement or stark aggravation. Mix them both, work them like clay in the form of Gothic Americana and Oral History and you’ve got this debut album by this Sheffield quartet of Dapper Dans and Ruffians. Dance to the gloomy ‘Hard times’, revel into the trip that is ‘South’ and lose yourself into the history references of the keeper ‘Through the trees.’ History is more fascinating than most think and kudos to this band for proving it.

6) Low – The Invisible Way

The other 2013 album made with Jeff Tweedy behind the console, The Invisible Way is Low keeping their primordial essence still pure but adding a dab of “something else”, like they’ve done in every album. This time around, the Americana, 70s pop sensibilities of Wilco seem to ooze through the speakers, but now with the great range of vocals Low offers. ‘Just make it stop’ is a desperate plead wrapped in a tender moment and ‘Plastic Cup’ takes a slice of life approach, narrating what happened to tour member of Low/RGC drummer, Eric Pollard. Don’t worry, he’s fine and he’s got an awesome album under the Actual Wolf guise.

7) Turbina – Leti’ hum eek’ inda jani mish masadi II

The companion piece to 2012’s , this album continues the strange trip that Turbina has been treating us to since they decided to break convention and do as they please. II is way calmer than I (no crazy screaming fits like in I’s ‘Cretino’) but the musical palette is quite varied and you wonder what is their masterplan, but ‘Xonahuiacan’ points at BBC Radiophonic meets a Latin Brass Band. For what it’s worth, these two albums are the closest I can think to a Mexican Double Album (believe me, I’ve searched and didn’t find anything like this). Turbina: weird, zigs zags between rock, electronic and a mental breakdown at a supermarket. A great display of the amount of musical experimentation that in Mexico.

8) Mazes – Ores & Minerals

Mazes are reptiles. I don’t mean this as a conspiracy theory, but that it seems they do like to shed their skin quite a lot. A thousand heys, their previous album, was happy sad songs that were mostly straightforward. Ores & Minerals has the band hooking up with bits of Wilco, Sebadoh, Dinosaur Jr. and possibly a 5 hour drive through a desert highway, offering tracks that dabble into droning (‘Bodies’), 90s alternative (the sweet ‘Jaki’) and possibly giving us one of the best tracks you could put in any mixtape (I suggest as track 3 or 4), ‘Skulking’, which has a delicious solo that made me gain a couple of stones. This rock gem is best consumed on vinyl and you can have pudding with Better Ghosts, the companion mini-album.

9) Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana

Everyone and their mothers claimed “first dibs” on covering them for their blog/website/podcast and frankly, no one gives a damn, dear. Major Arcana is out and it rocked beyond hype and expectations, that’s the only thing that really matters. Bits of Helium, Mary Timony, Autoclave and maybe a dab of Juliana Hatfield are the first identifiers you can smell, but this is a very fresh take on 90s alternative (believe me, I was there.) There will come a slew of copycats in the following months, of that I’m sure, but this, and the previous EP, Sports, are surefire, solid purchases. I recommend ‘Casper (1995)’ and ‘No Below’ and work your way around.

10) Grouper – The man who died on his boat

Released way back in January and overlooked by many of the more influential ones (whoever they are), Grouper’s stark The man who died on his boat paints a picture not unlike a W. M. Turner masterpiece, but instead of yellow and orange sunsets affected by volcano dust, Grouper’s paintings are like gray paintings, where every shade from the spectrum has been sucked out and you are left with only the primer and the sketch. ‘Cloud in places’ is a haunting memory of your childhood, back into your life and ‘Cover the long way’ is somehow reassuring and sweet. Try it for a starry night.

11) The City and Horses – Strange Range

It might not be a secret that we are partial to 70s pop due to it being so well constructed and having that “dreamy sound” that has to have influenced the myriad dream pop bands we have today (all of them welcomed, btw.) So when ‘Whip’, the strong opening of this album by The City and Horses hits you with a guitar going loco and that wonderful bass, you know you’ve landed on a Ford Fairmount in the summer of ’76 and you are on the correct side of 110th Street. Sweet moments (‘17’), thoughtful, quiet pieces (‘Cool Joe’) and sparse moments (‘Slave’) remind you that although the band can do 70s very well, they are in the here and now and have a lot of fresh ideas to throw your way.

12) Chastity Belt – No Regerts

“Very Seattle” a friend said when I played her this album and that was without her knowing who they were nor where they were from. Both sweet and sad, No Regerts also manages to use some of that 90s nostalgia while still doing their slacker rock just swell, capturing that isolation you feel at the wrong party (‘Seattle Party’) and how happiness isn’t what it mustered up to be (‘Happiness’).

13) Yokozuna – Quiero venganza

Two loud brothers with an album that manages to tackle some socio-political aspects of Mexico while still managing to crank a fuzz all the way up. Can’t go wrong with this loud soapbox moment from the Tranquilino brothers.

14) Kavinsky – OutRun

A concept album, seemingly inspired by a deep love of 80s electronic music and films like The Wraith (go watch it, kids, it has Charlie Sheen in cool mode), OutRun has some of Kavinksy’s previous hits, like the ubiquituous ‘Nightcall’, but also has some splendid gems like the “OMG, I’m on level 3 on my first quarter!” fist-bumping rock of ‘ProtoVision’ and the “woo! Final level!” excitement of ‘Testarossa Overdrive’. Ah, sod my videogame references, the French have a monopoly on exciting electronic music right now (see also: College), so check this one out.

15) Palms – Palms

Chino, Chino, Chino. Stupid, sensual Chino, why is that I’m liking more your sideprojects tan Deftones? First, the chilling, haunting Team Sleep, and now the almost proggy electronic of Palms. It figures, as he is surrounded by three members from Isis who flexed their creative muscle and created something gorgeous. Always glacially paced, there’s something in this tracks that keep you hooked, whether the slightly Vangelis-like sounds or Chino’s delectable voice.

16) Various Artists – Boardwalk Empire Vol. 2

Well, what do you get when you gather a veritable cornucopia of swell voices to sing ol’ ragtime, Prohibition era tracks? You get this classy collection, gathering (relatively) young artists like St. Vincent and Matt Berninger and legends like Liza Minelli and Patti Smith. The whole album is a joy, from start to finish, with ‘Old King Tut’ & ‘Jimbo Jambo’ being good starting points.

17) Eric & Magill – Night Singers

“Where there’s a will there’s a way” is more than just a phrase for Eric & Magill, as the band recorded this album in separate continents, sometimes with barely working equipment. Easily overcoming that relationship-killer called distance, the band creates another healthy dose of their dream pop. Don’t think because this is #25 in a list where numbers are just numbers is a slight, not at all. It deserves your attention for being both an accomplishment of persistence and being simply dreamy.

18) Dating Myself – Fine, There

A “lost album” from the 90s (or is it?), Fine, There is the only known outing of Grunge superstars Dating Myself, one of the original Riot Grrrl bands that highlighted the pluckier years of some of us. With enough distortion to make Krist Novoselic’s beard tingle and enough slackerisms to make Mary Timony proud, Fine, There is a slightly faded Kodachrome 400 photo of an era long gone. Heck, our review is based on an incident that happened (or did it?)

19) Humanfly – Awesome Science

Sometimes bands will never get their dues while they are still together. Sometimes it feels that no matter how much they work and peddle their music, their notes will remain unheard. Bittersweet is the release of Awesome Science, an album lauded by both the fans and the cynical press that finally embraced the band that in a Pyrrhic way won hearts with a brutal album that finds them parsecs away from what they were, becoming one with a ever expanding universe of sounds that sadly has now achieved heat death. Thanks for this album, what a fucking way to go.

20) Vision Fortune – Más Fiestas con el Grupo Vision Fortune

Criminally overlooked, an instrumental record that sounds like the lost souls of a hotel lobby in the late 76 in some resort near the Gulf of Mexico. Never overtly abstract , Vision Fortune manages to create a magnificent environment of dissonance that should appease fans of the BBC Radiophonic who wonder how would their buzzing tunes sound in the hands of three clones of György Ligeti.

21) Spacesuit – Future Girls

Don’t let the fact that The Life and Times are neck deep in this one, the pace here is more glacial and spacey, like that scene in Snatch where Brad Pitt is knocked out in very slow motion. Future Girls, an album recorded at an easy pace, accentuates the “space” part of Space Rock, bringing us 9 gorgeous ditties for the dreamer and the stargazer.

22) Hookworms – Pearl Mystic

An intense trip through proper psychedelia, this gorgeous sounding album should find a permanent place in any discerning psych fan. It helps that the sound is crisp, so you can dissect it and enjoy every single layer and frame of trippiness provided you by a band that is Draconian with their sound, both live and in the studio. Perfectionism or an unparalleled zealot to their music? I am inclined for the latter.

23) Jim James – Regions of light and Sound of God

He of the honey-sweet voice opens his wings and flies far, far away from the grandiose sounds of My Morning Jacket and embraces another technique to approach this monster we call music. Sometimes heartbreaking (‘Exploding’), sometimes moody and scary (‘State of the art (A.E.I.O.U.)’) and even slightly chamber pop (‘Dear One’), you might get a few sniffs of Circuital-style experimentation here, but this is Jim’s show and it’s one heckuva light show.

24) Beach Day – Trip Trap Attack

Fun. This is all this album wants. And it comes to you in 11 flavours of sugary, e-coloured tracks that will have you swaying with a loved one (or the memory of.) A fantastic “summer album” by all means, Beach Day will help you out on a bad day, just like a good piña colada will satisfy that hidden hunger in your heart. Check their covers of ‘Dracula’s Daughter’ and ‘Love is strange’ for further adventures into the heads of Hollyweird’s finest.

25) Los Pecadores – Escape from Uranus

The whole “surf music being made by dudes with masks” might be a cliché in the Mexican rock scene, but these fellas are from [REDACTED], England and they seem to know a thing or two about films, considering the few references to horror and b-quality sci fi that seem to skulk around this collection of creeptastic surf songs. A joy to watch live too.

Special mentions:

Re-release of the year: Mad Season – Above.

In a year full of nostalgia cash ins and bloated, cynical cash grabs, this 3 disc edition is the only honestly worth spending your money in. Featuring every single track recorded by the band, plus the fantastic concert that was a rarity for us fans, the re-release of Above is something that reflects the 90s much better than any release by Nirvana, Pearl Jam or Pavement. Yes, I mean this. The sadness of ‘River of deceit’, the fierce brutality of ‘November hotel’ and the inherent longing of ‘Long gone day’ represent much better what Generation X was going through. Give this album a shot if you are into your 90s nostalgia or just want to find out what your thirtysomethings were doing back then.

The Sloucher.org special award for criminally underrated band of the decade: The Scaramanga Six.

Two drummers. An Albini produced masterpiece. A granite solid live show and a stylophone. That is The Scaramanga Six, a band that never seems to get the kudos they fuckingly deserve. Phantom Head was an album barely reviewed and with a tour that was criminally underattended by people who really should know better, we can only hope this band will be appreciated in hindsight by people more receptive to what they created. Hopefully in this lifetime. If you don’t believe me, check ‘It’s just a matter of time’ and relish the slow paced, atmospheric rock.

And now, I hand over editorial duties to Orestes P. Xistos…

Now, now, y’all sometimes forget that great things come in small packages, so we need to talk about the beauty of the EP and what we consider to be the best of the best of the best of what’s around. Sorry for the Dave Matthews Band reference, but let’s be honest: you didn’t know it was one. Wait, it’s more of a Foo Fighters/Dave Matthews Band mash up, but then again, who can tell them apart, hashtag amirite?

Oh, right, EPs… In our classic flippant style, each of our fave EPs is somehow correlated to a member of the Sinister Six. Why? Because we are geeks and we are super excited about the new Spiderman film…No! Wait, we already did that! Okay, so… they are just in order and we hope you like our lovely choices!

1) Echodrone – Mixtape for Duckie.

Yes, a covers EP wins the coveted #1 place and this is because the band has made each and every song in this collection theirs. Sure, you know a couple of these by heart (or might be downright afraid of ’em) but trust me when I say that not only do they breathe new life into the good hits of yesteryear, you might even end up re-visiting the original and checking the backcatalogs of both Echodrone and the covered artists. So go for it. Sail away with them and wonder who is going to drive you home, tonight.

2) Oxo Foxo – Disguise

“Who?” Well, it’s a woman with a loop pedal, a microphone and the ability to multiply herself, without going into Michael Keaton territory. The slightly delayed EP is a five song run through the versatility of Oxo’s pop sensibilities, mixed with the creative surge of an almost hymnal flavor of dance pop. ‘Starfish’ is a gorgeous track and ‘Turn it back on’ is easily one of the best intro tracks of 2013. And that ain’t no lie.

3) EP Island – Electric’ish

Some say that this band and Canadian Grunge legends Dating Myself are part of the same sect of musicians who ambush us with surprise releases. That might be a good yarn but what is a real truth is that Electric’ish is another solid trio of tunes from this band that never fails to surprise with their neckbreaking recording speed (usually 3 days to done and dust an EP) and their spacious, rocking sounds.

4) Virginia Wing – Extended Play

Last year, when Felix Baumgartner jumped, he passed a strangely shaped cloud. From that cloud, strange sounds emanated. Virginia Wing’s Extended Play are a tribute to those slightly ethereal sounds from the rarefied atmosphere of Earth. ‘Common ground’ is extraterrestrial pop; a garbled transmission from a lost cosmonaut singing a lullaby. ‘Rit rit rit’ is the sound of a thousand asteroids flaming out in the atmosphere, never reaching the ground but leaving an impressive light show for us to remember.

5) Hey Sholay – Cloud, Castle, ____

Weird poppers extraordinaire, Hey Sholay, were a bit quiet during 2013 but still they offered with cupped hands this lil’ orange EP, a collection of tracks that might be too orangey for the chorus verse chorus enthusiast, but a smashing refreshing dose of tangerine-flavoured pop for those parched for a variety of Pop with a bit of an edge. Sometimes you feel they are taking the piss while pulling everyone’s rugs (how do you pronounce ‘Djdjdjdjjdjjdjjhhh’?) but for whatever confusion the song titles might give you, you know the answer might lie in the warm music inside.

6) Witch Hunt – Little Book of Hate

Horror pop was the term that sprung to my mind when I first heard about this lil’ duo that makes enough racket to put to shame any quintet. Their ‘Crawl’ single was a warning of things to come, but we, just like the population of South Park, just didn’t not listen to the warnings. I suggest you start with ‘Wide and laughing’ and just listen to this repeatedly until that portrait in your attic mummifies.

Words: Sam “the spam” Valdés López and Orestes P. “Coltrane” Xistos

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s