Well folks, it's 4.30pm on NYE and I'm assuming there's not going to be another album fall into my lap this year so ...............
I'm lucky enough to own a record shop and get exposed to SO MUCH great music it's hard to keep up with. This is a list of my ten favorite albums of 2013. Not necessarily the ten greatest, just MY ten favorite. There's a huge difference. I'm sure there's an endless number of great records I didn't get to hear this year, hopefully I will down the track. This list varies in order depending on my mood but for me, number one IS number one. It doesn't change no matter what I'm doing or feeling. I've added an "honourable mention" list as ones that didn't quite make it on the day, but in fact could possibly be in there on other days AND a "best reissue" list, some of which are in my top ten.
So, without any more rambling ...................
Earthless : From the Ages
These guys dropped into my life a few years ago and literally changed everything for me and I am forever in their debt because of it. Three amazing musicians with impeccable taste and the talent to back it up. Their albums are ........ sporadic to say the least. Studio albums are few and far between which is just fine because their live albums are just like their studio albums. Great, inspired, amazing, glorious ........ I could keep going.
This album however is on another level, even by Earthless standards. The first thing you realize about Earthless is NOTHING else sounds like them. Sure, there's bands that try, but none do. No other "psych" band, and there are other great psych bands, have the focus and the taste of Earthless. The rest tend to meander and "jam" which can be entertaining and enjoyable on several levels and worthy of multiple listens but this album is an album in the true sense of the word. It is an entire album. A complete album. a piece of pure art. THIS, is one of the best albums ever recorded.
To the causal listener you might pass it over as an hour long guitar solo. To someone prepared to put in a little work (and it's really not much) you will quickly realize that this is perfection. There is nothing superfluous here. Nothing that isn't needed. It sounds busy but is actually fairly sparse and precise. The musicianship is immaculate and constrained. It's not too long or too short. It constantly moves, rising and falling. Moving in and out of time and space while never losing focus or repeating itself (except where it's supposed to) and never losing hold of the central theme, often returning to the same or similar riff, or drum fill to remind you you have actually moved forward without realizing it.
The genius of this album is not the mastery of the playing. It's not the production. It's not the packaging, all of which is flawless. The genus is that three human beings can walk into a studio and link their brains together and have the understanding, the taste and the ability to record something this special.
Psicomagia : ST
This album came out of nowhere for me. A present from a friend I trade vinyl with, and I'm grateful and indebted to him for our friendship. When he gave me this album I balked due to not one guitar being listed on the back. Instead all it said was Keyboards, Saxophone, drum, bass and poetry ? I've learned to listen to EVERYTHING this friend gives me for this very reason. I don't know how to categorize this album, which may be it's best feature, apart from the music of course. I guess you would call it free form psych jazz rock ? I don't know and I don't care. It goes from moments of sparse instrumentation to syncopated (Bitches Brew era) noise, but it is spectacular from start to finish. This is the first (and hopefully not last) album from this band and features members of other bands I like, Astra and Radio Moscow, but neither of those bands reach the heights of musical genius that this albums hits.
Violent Soho : Hungry Ghost
It's no secret how much I love these guys. They're like family and I'm honoured to be involved in what they do. This album was a long time coming but it was worth every second of the wait. I was fortunate enough to hear most of the demos and I knew this album was going to be amazing, even though they themselves had reservations and self doubt. I knew it would be great before they even put sound to tape because Luke is an amazing songwriter.
I'd listen to this album recorded trough a blanket onto an old cassette tape. For me it's not about the production, which is superb. His songs are familiar, nostalgic, reminiscent without ever sounding stale or borrowed. His sense of melody, drama and dynamics are amazing. His attention to detail is impeccable.
It would be easy to write this album off as just another guitar rock album, a pop album, a "grunge" album. It is in fact all of these and more. The songs are strong. Every one a potential single.
Grant Hart : The Argument
This album took A LOT of work. More than I've ever put into an album before but the pay off was worth it. I put the work in because Grant Hart wrote the best Husker Du songs (there's controversy for you) so I knew he had, at least at some stage been a great songwriter. This album, on the surface seems aimless, unfocused and devoid of a "genre" to nail it to. It makes it difficult to listen to until you realize that's the point. The songs vary from "electronic beat" (why, when he's such a great drummer?) driven pop to 30's/40's ukulele ballads. From sparse instrumentation vocal pieces to slightly discordant, distorted pop songs faintly reminiscent of days of old. There were times I thought this was the sound of a junkie falling apart on vinyl, but when it all lined up and came into focus, I'm SO glad I persisted and didn't write it off because it could, maybe, might be his best work, EVER.
Carlton Melton : Always Even
I'm a huge fan of these guys and try to get everything they do, which is hard work sometimes as their releases are patchy and limited. This album meanders a bit more than the others but in a way that only Carlton Melton can do without sounding too laid back or like they just don't care. It always keep my attention even when I just try to put it on as background music. They are masters of great tones, great sounds, great riffs and captivating instrumental music.
Causa Sui : Euporie Tide
These guys were in my top 10 last year too. Much like Carlton Melton but "prettier" and less distorted, although they do get that way in spurts. This is driving instrumental music with lots of seventies style riffs and wah but has lots of light and shade where the music drifts into spaces of dreamlike tones for long periods and then drives back into the heavier end sporadically to give the music a feel of movement. Great for listening to while you work.
Adam Franklin and Bolts of Melody : Black Horses
I'm a huge fan of this man's work. His sense of melody and timing is impeccable. Most of you would know him as the singer/songwriter from Swervedriver. That's how I knew him too until I discovered his solo/Bolts of Melody stuff and you quickly realize this is where Adam get's to record those songs that may not work in SWD. That's not to say they're not reminiscent or even, treated with heavier guitars and rhythm section, could work as SWD songs, but there are lighter songs on these records that show he is a man of impeccable taste when it comes to writing, arranging and recording his material. This album is no exception and his use of "non rock" instruments and timings take it one step further from "more well known" arrangements. With SWD back together it will be interesting to see if Adam keeps these gems coming or will it swallow up all his time and ideas. I for one, hope not.
Sebadoh : Defend yourself
Sebadohs best record in years. You might say that's because it's their only record in years but I think this might be their best yet. Obviously the break has worked for Lou and Jason and having gone off and pursued their other projects (Dino Jr and Circle of Buzzards respectively) seems to have either given them a backlog of Sebadoh songs, or inspired them to write in the "classic" Sebadoh style with the added knowledge of these other projects. I personally think the Lou penned song on the last Dino Jr album (Recognition) is one of Lou's greatest songs and the 10" EP Sebadoh released this year also is great. This is such a focused record in the way that few bands can be because Sebadoh have two great songwriters who write and play in completely different styles which can mean some people either like the "Lou songs" or the "Jason songs" but I think you'd be hard pressed to choose on this album.
Windhand : Soma
Their first album took me by surprise and blew me away. I'm not a fan of all their influences but they have something that works so well in this style. Slow, sludgy, doom with exceptional guitar tones and great vocals, and great songs, which is where most bands trying this genre fall short. This is laid back stoner at it's best. The songs feel slightly laboured, never reaching that point where you want it to go but that's kind of what's great about it. Everything (except for the acoustic ballad on the end of side 2) is played on the back beat, waiting for the next drum beat to come, but they do it SO well. They're one of the few bands in this genre that nailed their second album this good. Instead of reinventing the wheel or trying to "improve" on what they did so well, they just did more of it, and it's great.
Dumb Numbers : ST
Dumb Numbers is the "band name" used by LA via Melbourne artist Adam Harding. I have known Adam for some time and he has done stuff on my label (and is doing more) but he never ceases to amaze me with his ideas and tones for his music. Here he assembles an amazing array of musicians to help him record these songs inc Bobb Bruno (Best Coast) Lou and Murph (Dino Jr) Dale Crover (Melvins) Daniel and Robo (Magic Dirt) and many more resulting in a bunch of eclectic and original songs that somehow sound familiar and reassuring in a dirty, pop rock kind of way. Adam has released quite a few singles and EP's under his own name but this is the first one as a "band" and the songs are ........ more full, more substantial, more inspired. That might be due to his collaborators, or maybe just because he writes great songs.
Mugstar : Centralia
Starting with the drum beat and riff that stretches for the first third of side one these guys know just when to let it go, and when to build it back up again. Not in the "post rock" world like Mogwai (who are also great at it) but in the Krautrock world that seems to be seeping into psych/noise rock nowadays, and I for one am pretty happy about it. Less repetitive and monotonous than bands like Wooden Shjips and all the Loop/Spacemen 3 wannabees, these guys keep it moving even without the real "build and release". This album is on the EXCELLENT Cardinal Fuzz label and proudly boasts "recorded live to two track" but it really doesn't matter here. The sound quality is excellent and the production is almost irrelevant as it's the structures and timing that really shine through.
Honourable mention :
Cosmic Dead : ST/Pigs x 7 split 12"
Mark Lanagen : Imitations
Electric Moon : Papermoon Sessions
The Janitors : Drone Head
Moon Curse : ST
Freak Wave : ST
Best Reissues :
Deep Wound 7"
Sandpit : On Second Thought
The Nation Blue : Blueprint for a Nation
Rotomagus : The Sky Turns Red
Death : For the whole World to See
JaMC : Barbed Wire Kisses
Lemonheads : Hate Your Friends
Labels you should check out :
Who Can You Trust
...... and any other label tirelessly run by fans for fans without any expectation of financial reward.