|That's Al with the Merge shirt and cup of mirth.|
Aside from getting married and having kids, curating this great music has been the highlight of my life, and being asked to compile year-end lists like this, in addition to being incredibly flattering, is a great opportunity for me to point at some fantastic records that people need to hear.
2013 was an incredible year for independent music. The top of my "favorite records" list is, in my opinion, beyond doubt, but the next five or six are relatively interchangeable. And I'd be remiss if I didn't recognize the fantastic local music produced this year by the likes of Wax Darts, The Everymen, Speed the Plough, Wreaths, and the Karyn Kuhl Band. Despite the closing of the state's greatest music venue, there's lots to be optimistic about when it comes to New Jersey indie rock.
Tan Vampires - Ephemera (self-released): Home-spun, rhythmic, folksy indie rock from
New Hampshire, beautiful and captivating.
Iceage - You’re Nothing (Matador): Equal parts noisy and melodic; this is on one hand a crushing punk record, and on the other a harmonic masterpiece.
Speedy Ortiz - Major Arcana (Carpark): Give me dissonant, riff-laden math rock, and I’ll love it every time.
Deafheaven - Sunbather (Deathwish Inc): Ever wonder what it would sound like to mix brutal speed metal with mellow post-rock? It sounds like this, and it’s awesome.
d.smithsucks - The End Of Everything (self-released): Anthemic, Mould-esque guitar rock with an obvious Lemonheads influence from a guy who dislikes the Lemonheads.
Earthless - From the Ages (Tee Pee): Massive guitar solos, ten minutes long, like they’re supposed to be.
Jimi Hendrix - People, Hell & Angels (Legacy Recordings): unreleased studio recordings initially intended to be the followup to Electric Ladyland. A fresh batch of Hendrix just reminds me of how important his contributions were.
Widowspeak - Almanac (Captured Tracks): Mellow.
Jesu: Every Day I Get Closer to the Light from Which I Came (Avalanche Recordings) -
Not enough songs. Not loud enough. Still brilliant.
Cheetahs - Extended Plays (Wichita Recordings Ltd.): Washes of distortion, powerful
pop hooks, like a 90s indie rock revival. I’m an old man, I love this shit.
Polvo - Siberia (Merge): If I didn’t love their last one so much, I’d say this one might be their best work.
Yo La Tengo - Fade (Matador): Just a brilliant record, from a band that makes very few missteps. Musically, there’s very little I will miss more than YLT’s Hanukkah shows at Maxwell’s. Hopefully, anyone who got to see one understands just what a special thing those shows were.
Bailter Space - Trinine (Fire): Bailter Space is one of the greatest (and loudest) bands ever; their new record does not disappoint.
The Night Marchers - Allez Allez (Swami): Loud, sweaty bar rock with enormous hooks and catchy choruses. What’s not to love?
Kvelertak - Meir (Roadrunner): Norwegian metal. I can’t understand a fucking word they’re saying, and the cookie monster vocals fly in the face of everything else I listen to, but this is an absolutely amazing record, a collection of monstrous riffs and enormously melodic guitar work, and I’m fairly certain that if Kvelertak had existed when I was in high school,
I would have run away to Scandinavia.
There Will Be Fireworks - The Dark, Dark Bright (self-released): A powerful, dramatic piece of art, more mature than their debut but equally expressive.
Bardo Pond - Peace On Venus (Fire): I’ve been fascinated with Bardo Pond’s melodic jams for 20 years. Waves of massive distortion with beautiful, melodic flute passages over endlessly repetitive riffs create a complex brand of psychedelia that the term “stoner rock” simply doesn’t do justice. When their music gets more accessible, as it does on this record, the result is always brilliant.
Bottomless Pit - Shade Perennial (Comedy Minus One): One of the best bands in America.
Radioactivity - s/t (Dirtnap): Blindingly fast guitar pop with brilliant hooks, like late 60’s garage pop, late 70’s skinny tie new wave, and mid-80’s punk rolled into one fantastic band.
Joel R. L. Phelps & the Downer Trio - Gala (12xu): Out of nowhere comes a new
Joel R.L. Phelps record, and it’s the most brilliant thing I’ve heard in a while. Not even a contest, easily the best record of the year.
Frank Zappa - Apostrophe (Zappa): Finally, all the Zappa titles are being released digitally. Apostrophe is one of my favorites, if only because “Uncle Remus” is my favorite Zappa song and I’m finally able to own a clean digital copy of it AND properly compensate the estate.
Come - 11:11 (Matador): Fuzz-encrusted blues. One of the most beautiful bands, probably their best record.
Speed the Plough - The Plough and The Stars (Bar/None): A lavishly-packaged collection of songs from their first four out-of-print albums, rare live recordings, and some new stuff as well, released by New Jersey’s greatest record label.
Songs: Ohia - Magnolia Electric Co (Secretly Canadian): Songwriting.
Lemonheads - Creator (Fire): One of the best records by a band that’s been a massive influence on me and my little record label, it’s so great to see these records back in print again (and to hear the Lemonheads with Evan Dando and Ben Deily together)
Favorite Live Performances:
The Feelies - Maxwell’s, July 3: Saying good bye to the world’s greatest venue, Brenda Sauter singing the Velvet Underground’s “After Hours” to close the set. Not a dry eye in the house.
Yo La Tengo - Boulder Theater, May 21: Catching one of my favorite bands from back home while in the midst of a long, cross-country trip took away some of the homesickness.
Overlake - Asbury Lanes, September 19: Watching a great new band coming into their own is an exciting thing, and this performance was tremendous.
Stuyvesant - Maxwell’s, June 26: New Jersey’s best band play their final show at their home base.
Stuyvesant/The Brixton Riot/The Anderson Council - The Court Tavern, February 9:
Just a great bill. Loads of power pop.