Deerhunter – Back to the Middle
These are some of the records that got a lot of spins from me in 2013.
Not too many surprises to anyone who knows me; lots of geetars and a few knob-twiddlers. I’m so predictable. If you want to read a much more entertaining 2013 round-up, try Noel Gallagher’s instead. Whatever your opinion on Oasis, the man gives good interview.
Up top: Deerhunter continue to be unable to make a bad record. Following the claustrophobic bad vibes of Cryptograms, the epic guitar sprawl of Microcastle/Weird Era Cont., and the ethereal dreampop of the gossamer Halcyon Digest, Monomania tight-focuses in on scuffed-up garage pop with barbed hooks aplenty. Probably most-played this year.
AGE OF CONSENT
The story behind No Age’s latest record An Object – the two band members personally produced the first 5000 LPs and 5000 CDs, nearly completely by hand – adds a tactile, human element to a record that may strike many as so maddeningly, obliquely conceptual that it calls Wire to mind (even the album title is reminiscent of the art-punk pioneers’ semi-recent Object 47).
But if Everything In Between was No Age’s Pink Flag, this one might be their Chairs Missing; more abstracted and concerned with texture than EIB, a line in the very first track warns: “I am the patient spider in the web” – what, you’re not “the fly in the ointment”?
That said, this track sounds more like Minor Threat experimenting with bagpipes:
No Age – C’mon Stimmung
Iceage and Savages likewise continued to mine the punk/postpunk vein:
Iceage – Ecstasy
Savages – City’s Full
With Queens of the Stone Age’s …Like Clockwork, Josh Homme continues to do whatever the hell he wants (after all, he has his own theme music that plays wherever he are…and don’t even ASK what he does to the status quo).
Here, The Ginger Elvis seemingly goes for a spin with Ghost Rider in a car built by Gary Numan:
Queens of the Stone Age – If I Had A Tail
I’VE SEEN THE FUTURE, BROTHER
The Flaming Lips entered the popular consciousness with a whimsical (or, if you ask me, annoying) tune called “She Don’t Use Jelly”, and subsequently won over many fans with open-hearted, humane records like The Soft Bulletin and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots.
But there has been long been an undercurrent of mortality to their work – not only are there shades of deep loss in both the aforementioned “optimistic” albums, but two of the early great Lips albums were called In a Priest Driven Ambulance (in case there were ever any doubt about the patient’s prognosis) and Hit to Death in the Future Head.
On their latest, the bleak and aptly-named The Terror, Thanatos is in ascendance once more. It’s not an easy listen, shooting the noisy-but-very-intriguing Embryonic out into the void.
A lot of Floyd-indebted bands set their controls for the heart of the sun.
What nobody expected, decades later, was for one to come back from the far side, panels burnt black, circuits showering sparks:
The Flaming Lips – Look The Sun Is Rising (Live)
The cameras are too damaged, the ship still too far out, for us to maintain a clear video connection with the returning astronauts for long; we don’t yet know what it is they saw.
But the glimpses we’ve gotten of them through static are shocking. They left us as young men; they come back hollow-eyed, white-haired.
Where is it they went?
And just how long were they out there?
(Longer than you think, Dad. Longer than you think:)
The Flaming Lips – Try To Explain (Live)
Of course, the planet they are returning home to may have gone through some changes of its own:
Boards of Canada – Reach for the Dead
Barn Owl – Void Redux
Forest Swords’ Engravings traveled back in time to some sort of dank druidic dub:
Forest Swords – Thor’s Stone
This one might be a cheat, since it came out December 2012; but I didn’t get it until January, and anyway, if it wasn’t this one, it’d probably be the new one that just came out but I haven’t absorbed yet:
Burial – Rough Sleeper
Irish guitar gods My Bloody Valentine finally followed up 1991’s epochal Loveless.
As pure sonics go: many have tried, but nobody makes guitars sound like Kevin Shields does. Listen to that sizzle:
My Bloody Valentine – She Found Now
But unfortunately…I find the album kind of melodically inert. And not in that “happily floating in an endless warm drone” way, but in a “stuck in second gear” way. I don’t know. The album’s not far enough out there to blow my mind, nor catchy enough to lodge in it, despite dozens of plays.
What do you guys think? Is it just me who’s a little let down?
My Bloody Valentine – Only Tomorrow
A contemporaneous band that didn’t have to face the same stratospheric expectations, Mazzy Star’s characteristically low-key (to the point of narcoleptic) return with Seasons of Your Day was welcome:
Mazzy Star – California
Yo La Tengo thankfully never went away; they just continue to be quietly-excellent, yet again, on Fade.
Though “quiet” can be a relative term, when Ira gets going on that string-manglin’:
Yo La Tengo – Ohm
I liked this track off the latest Superchunk – the careening guitar sounds a little J Mascis-y, and contrasts nicely with Mac’s swooning, ever-boyish tenor:
Superchunk – Low F
I just realized that I haven’t spent a lot of time with the latest Neko Case; we had it in the car, but it had more swearing than I prefer when ferrying The Boy back and forth to preschool, so we took it out and I kind of forgot about it. I can say that it seemed less immediate than usual.
Neko Case – Calling Cards
Oof. Hit me right in the heart, why don’t’cha.
The remarkably consistent Johnny Jewel released After Dark 2, another compilation of tracks from his Italians Do It Better label; and it was the rare sequel to be thoroughly enjoyable.
Thankfully, not a Clapton cover (though the intro often tricks me into briefly thinking it’s “Little Red Corvette”):
Desire – Tears From Heaven
All Chromatics need is a steadily-percolating rhythm and Ruth Radelet’s plaintive, ghostly vocal:
Chromatics – Looking For Love
Sounding a little bit like David Gilmour and Manuel Göttsching jamming together: Psychic, by Darkside.
(Oh – and in case you are wondering, this IS an actual video. Patience, grasshopper):
Darkside – Golden Arrow
Darkside – Paper Trails
SEA AND SAND
I really, really wanted to love the newest Beach Fossils. The addictive self-titled debut and the What a Pleasure EP are full of shimmering guitar hooks that at various points called to mind classics by The Clean, The Feelies, IRS-era R.E.M., Galaxie 500, the Clientele – basically, any band in the last 30 years that’s taken chiming jangle and buried it under a hazy patina of reverb.
Beach Fossils – Taking Off
But whether it’s due to numerous personnel/lineup changes, or an apparent desire to de-murk and go more “punk” (the title track/opener cops the riff from “Pretty Vacant”, and the new, very good drummer means the tempos are generally faster all-around) Clash the Truth was a little unsatisfying to me.
Before, the vocals were secondary to those wonderfully-interlocking riffs, meshed together like the gears in a dusty grandfather clock. Now the vocals and lyrics are more prominent, and they don’t always stand up well to scrutiny.
They still know how to write a catchy tune, and it’s by no means a bad record; just one that plays down the elements I love best about their music.
Beach Fossils – Birthday
Dirty Beaches’ Drifters/Love Is The Devil is a weird double album. I probably would have chosen to release the two very different discs separately, as Drifters continues Alex Hungtai’s “Suicide-listening greaser” noir vibe (when I saw him live a few years ago, many in the audience did not know what to make of him – a drum machine, guitar feedback and an Elvis ‘do. One-man Lynchian rockabilly. I loved it):
Dirty Beaches – Casino Lisboa
Man, that rocks.
But had they been released separately, I might have missed out on the very good second disc of lo-fi ambient instrumentals collected on Love Is The Devil:
Dirty Beaches – Love Is The Devil
These 5 ladies from Australia with the defiantly un-Googleable name have made one of my favorite rock albums in a while. Sweet and sinister harmonies, and 3 guitarists liberally stacking stormy shoegaze riff upon fiery psych lick; all played with an appealing, unselfconscious basement looseness and serious chemistry. Probably my second-most-played record of 2013, with woozy snippets recalling old favorites like Stereolab, Sonic Youth, Spacemen 3, Flying Nun bands, and others.
I’ve featured this track before – it comes across like Ride’s bratty kid sisters, with hooks as sticky as insouciantly-snapped bubblegum:
Beaches – Send Them Away
More of an Eastern/Velvets drone:
Beaches – Veda
Beaches – Out of Mind
Overall, a lot of good records; but to my mind, no transcendently great ones. Even my most-played (Deerhunter) is decidedly (maybe intentionally) less-inventive than they’ve been in the past (I’d give it a B+); Beaches are terrific, but it’s all been done, so I’d dock ’em points: also a B+, or maybe an A- at best. The Terror is a really, really powerful piece of work, and the Lips deserve kudos for continuing to report back even when the trip gets dark; but it’s a hard album to recommend lightly (or listen to frequently).
A lot of established artists doing what they do, and younger artists mining the past for inspiration – but no real game-changers – crossed my radar.
Overall a “B” year.
That said…I’m an old fart…who’d I miss? Post your albums of the year in comments!