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2013: The Year In Music

December 27, 2013 1 comment

Frequent readers of this blog (he says as though there is such a thing) will remember that 2012’s musical review found a top-heavy list that had a couple great albums and a lot of filler. It was tough, frankly, to put together even a top ten that was worthy of being called a “top ten” of anything. In looking back at last year’s list, there are probably only a half-dozen that I’ve listened to more than a half-dozen times this year.

2013, however, has been a far, far different story. If you read my write-up over at Dying Scene, you’re no doubt aware that I took the easy way out, compiling a top-ten list that was 15 albums long. The top six were almost interchangeable, and have all spent time as my true “favorite” at different points during the year. The next nine or ten are almost interchangeable at times as well. Long story short, 2013 made up for 2012 in a big, big way.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

As always, I don’t include EPs, live albums or 7-inches in my countdown. However, there were a few that are noteworthy and thus will get props here.

First up is the new 7-inch from Nashville’s Blacklist Royals. The two tracks, “Righteous Child” and “She’s The One,” are slated to appear on the band’s forthcoming full-length, Die Young With Me. They’re a heck of a taste of what’s to come…just hope DYWM finally sees the light of day in ’14. Here’s the title track from the 7-inch:

Also released this year were a couple EPs from Boston’s Street Dogs. The fellas started 2013 on hiatus, but that was short-lived. By spring, they had resurfaced with a new lineup and a couple releases on new label home Pirates Press Records. The new lineup doesn’t appear in its entirety on the albums, but they are at least the first new material we’ve had from Street Dogs since their self-titled 2010 album. Here’s the new track “Crooked Drunken Sons.”

In related news, 2013 also saw the debut 7-inch from FM359, a project that features the Street Dogs’ Mike McColgan and Johnny Rioux teaming up with Continental’s Rick Barton (also, not coincidentally, a founding member of Dropkick Murphys alongside McColgan). It’s very much a left turn compared to what you might expect coming from two founding Dropkicks (remember when they were a punk band!?). It’s a traditional Americana-style album; gospel without the Gospel. Here’s “A Little Sign”

MOVING ON TO THE LIST

21. Drag The River – s/t

Drag The River is the long-running on-again/off-again project featuring Jon Snodgrass and ALL’s Chad Price. The Fort Collins-based alt-country team put out their first album in five years this year. It’s good. Here’s “Song For My Roommates.”

20. Streetlight Manifesto – The Hands That Thieve

I think I would have had this album up higher if I hadn’t seen a solo performance by frontman Toh Kay earlier this year. But I did see a solo performance by Toh Kay earlier this year, and it was freaking awesome, so that kinda spoiled the much-maligned final album from Streetlight Manifesto before it actually came out. Anyway, here’s the title track:

19. Amanda Shires – Down Fell The Doves

For the uninitiated, Amanda Shires is the violin-playing better-half of alt-country artist extraordinaire Jason Isbell (whom you’ll read more about later). She put out her own solo album this year, and it’s not what you’d perhaps expect coming from the violin playing better-half of Jason Isbell. Dark, sweeping, bluesy and sorta punky at times. Here’s “Devastate,” but make sure you look up the track “Box Cutters” as well:

18. Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse

I’m not, nor have I ever been, clinically depressed. I feel like if I were, I wouldn’t be able to make it through a Frightened Rabbit album in one piece. In a list that is chock full of world class songwriters this year, Scott Hutchison is, at times, the best of the bunch. Here’s “The Woodpile,” which may be my favorite song of the year. Seriously. If you listen to no other song on my list, LISTEN TO THIS ONE!

17. The Bronx – IV

I belong to the minority that actually prefer’s The Bronx’s mariachi alter ego side project to the original incarnation. I’m not that hardcore. Still, IV is a really good album, certainly my favorite the four studio album’s they’ve out out to date. A little more mainstream sounding, but that’s why I like it. I know, I know… Anyway, here’s “The Unholy Hand”:

16. Off With Their Heads – Home

Here’s where we start to get into the territory of albums that have been my “favorite album” of the year at times. OWTH are the real deal. Frontman Ryan Young has a no-bullshit way of conveying, well, conveying what a suicide note sounds like. At times, you genuinely worry for him. See for yourself; here’s “Always Alone”:

15. Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks

I can understand those that say that Nine Inch Nails’ music is an acquired taste. I’ve always had a healthy respect for Trent Reznor as an artist, but it wasn’t until later years that I actually started to connect with his music. His return to the NIN game in 2013 is equal parts “pick up where you left off” and “time to change the game again.” Here’s “Copy of A” (featuring Pino Palladino on bass):

14. Get Dead – Bad News

Fat Wreck’s site bills Get Dead as “elements of Swingin’ Utters, The Pogues and Hot Water Music.” If you’re familiar with all of those bands, you realize that none of them are really even close to each other sonically. And yet, Fat Wreck’s description is right. Here’s “Kerouac’s Teeth”:

13. Arliss Nancy – Wild American Runners

I only got into Arliss Nancy very late in the year, which is a shame, because the Fort Collins-based country punks are really, really good. Folk-punk has been the obvious trend lately, but these guys don’t seem to be riding the genre’s coat tails. Here’s “Benjamin”:

12. Alkaline Trio – My Shame Is True

I’m just gonna come out and say a couple things here. After Skiba’s Sekrets side project, particularly after video of the disastrous show in Chicago surfaced, I was genuinely concerned about the future of the Trio. Then I heard “I Wanna Be A Warhol” the first time through, and was even more concerned. I’ve since become enamored with it, and I think the entire album is some of their best, most mature work to date. Andriano’s tracks shine in particular. It feels weird to have “My Shame Is True” listed so low, given that this would probably be a top 5 album most other years. Speaks to the strength of 2013 more than anything. Anyway, here’s “I, Pessimist”:

11. Broadcaster – A Million Hours

This album has been in my “to be reviewed” folder for way too long (stupid grad school work). I really do owe it to this Long Island three-piece to finish it up. Takes me instantly back to everything that was right about mid-90s power-pop music (somewhere between American Hi-Fi and Weezer, but with better lyrics). Sadly, they’re a little too “indie” to have anything on YouTube. Look ’em up on Spotify, however.

10. Joshua Black Wilkins – Fair Weather

If you were lucky enough to make it out to Face To Face’s US tour this past summer (with Teenage Bottlerocket and Blacklist Royals), and smart enough to show up early, then you were lucky enough to catch Joshua Black Wilkins’ one-man-show. If you weren’t so lucky, you don’t know what you’re missing. It probably stands to reason to point out that yours truly takes a liking to boozy, bluesy, singer-songwriter music, and J Black Dubs is amongst the dirtiest Tennessee bluesmen going. Not bad for a photographer by trade. Here’s “I Tremble”:

9. Bad Religion – True North

It’s probably a fair criticism to say that the last few Bad Religion albums are effectively interchangeable. As much as I love everything from the Brooks Wackerman era, True North is the best of the bunch. And their live show is still as vital, and inspired, as ever. Here’s their ode to Mitt Romney, “Robin Hood In Reverse,” followed by the self-explanatory “Fuck You.”

8. Swingin Utters – Poorly Formed

Many people are partial to the Utter$’ first “comeback” album, 2011′s Here, Under Protest. Most people are wrong. Much like my commentary for Three Chords And A Half Truth above, I really think that Poorly Formed is a great example of a band reuniting, hitting their stride, and shaking off any residual dust. That said, I didn’t give it much of a chance earlier in the year. It has since become effectively stuck in my CD changer. Here’s “Greener Grass.”

7. Jason Isbell – Southeastern

Pound for pound, Jason Isbell might be the single best lyricist on the list this year, though that is certainly saying something. Isbell is somewhat recently sober and married to the aforementioned Shires (who also plays violin for his band, the 400 Unit). Tracks like “Super 8,” “Cover Me Up,” “Stockholm” and “Flying Over Water” are damn-near perfect. Here they are, in that order:

6. Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart

Another example of the strength of the 2013 music scene: Frank Turner’s last album, England Keep My Bones, was my favorite album the year it came out. The more honest, introspective Tape Deck Heart is better, and yet it’s #6. Anyway, here’s “Recovery,” followed by “Tattoos,” which appeared on the deluxe version.

5. Lenny Lashley’s Gang of One – Illuminator

I was sad when Darkbuster met its demise a half-dozen-or-so years ago, and more sad that frontman Lashley had, effectively, a mental breakdown while on tour in Europe toward the end. Illuminator is the sounds of Lashley hitting the lowest of low points in a few areas of his life and coming out the other side. Can’t say enough good things about the album. Here’s “US Mail.”

4. Face To Face – Three Chords and a Half Truth

Here’s what I wrote for Dying Scene: “While 2011′s Laugh Now, Laugh Later marked the band’s triumphant return to the punk rock game, Three Chords And A Half Truth found Face To Face abandoning much of what you’d call their ‘traditional sound’ yet again. Perhaps it was foolish of us to think that they have a ‘traditional sound’ after all. Not as big a left-hand turn as Ignorance Is Bliss was, but certainly not without its “out of left field” moments. Also, best album cover of the year. Nice work, Nat.” Here’s the video for “Right As Rain,” directed by the above-mentioned Joshua Black Wilkins, followed by the leftest-of-left turns, “First Step, Misstep.”

3. Various Artists – The Songs of Tony Sly: A Tribute

I could spend twelve-hundred words expounding on the touching, virtuous moments of this album. Oh wait…I did. Here’s Tim McIlrath covering “For Fiona,” with backing vocals from Jon Snodgrass.

2. Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt

If you’re reading this, you’re undoubtedly well aware of my long-time affinity for all things Pearl Jam. They are the first band that was really “my” band. I’ve emoted with and related to Eddie Vedder’s every word for better than twenty years. I understand and accept that The Clash are “the only band that really mattered.” Pearl Jam are my Clash, and always have been. So it pained me to no end that Eddie phoned in the last album, 2009’s Backspacer (with more than a little help from prodoucher Brendan O’Brien). For the first time, I was legitimately nervous about a PJ album, fearing that the “all tings Pearl Jam” chapter of my life’s book would close after almost a quarter-century. I was worried over nothing. Lightning Bolt (or at least the first eight tracks on Lightning Bolt) is a total triumph. A return to the piss-and-vinegar of the mid-1990s, coupled with some of the more heartfelt, relatable ballads the band has ever written. Here’s two examples of the former (“Father’s Son” and “Mind Your Manners”) and one of the latter (“Sirens”).

1. Dave Hause – Devour

In all honesty, this album probably sealed up the #1 spot on my 2013 list a month or so before it had even been recorded. It was upon first hearing “Autism Vaccine Blues” live during Dave’s set opening for Flogging Molly on their Green 17 tour, and had an immediate, jaw-dropping sort of impact. Though the album version is a little less jaw-dropping than just Dave and a guitar, Devour contains enough cathartic moments to put it a full head above anything else on the list. Here’s my full review of the album from earlier this year. Here’s the stripped-down version of “Autism Vaccine Blues,” followed by a quintessential downer (“Before”) and a quintessential upper (“The Shine”).

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Best of 2010…Volume Two

March 7, 2010 Leave a comment

February was mostly a slow month for new music (as usual), but in some ways it was a nice calm before the storm that the next few weeks and months will bring. It allowed me to fill in some back albums in catalogs that I had been missing (Eels, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club most notably).

All that being said, my favorite album of the month is probably going to turn out to be in the top three for the year…

Tony Sly – 12 Song Program

http://www.myspace.com/tonyslymusic

There has been a trend in the last couple years for front men of punk bands putting out solo material, often times acoustic. Trever Keith (face to face), Kevin Seconds (7 Seconds, etc.), Joey Cape (Lagwagon, Bad Astonaut), Matt Skiba (Alkaline Trio), Greg Graffin (Bad Religion), and Chuck Ragan (Hot Water Music) are among those that have gone this route. Now “No Use For A Name” leader Tony Sly throws his hat into the ring in a big way. It’s probably not groundbreaking at all, but it is easy to listen to, lyrically great, and musically just difficult enough to be better than I could play it. Solid, solid album from start to finish.

Check out: Capo 4th Fret, The Shortest Pier, Toaster in the Bathtub