No year’s end list of mine would be complete without at least one showing from one of Sam Ray's various projects. The dude and his music are inextricably linked with my writing/blogging/whatever and probably will be for a long time to come. Anyways, it's been a big year Sam and the rest of the good folks of Julia Brown especially when considering it was their first. A tape release, a vinyl release, some major hype; and all of it deserved. The band worked hard to free themselves of the baggage that came with the defunct Teen Suicide, most specifically the emo tag. Not that they have anything against emo, but Julia Brown wanted their music to be something entirely different. Lo-fi, heartfelt, humble, and mature; To Be Close To You is easily the best thing that Sam has attached his name to yet, and I’m looking forward to the band’s slowly progressing sophomore album.
If there is a theme to my favorite album choices this year it is this: growers. There were the albums that I wasn’t thrilled on upon first listen and then there were the albums like Slow Dance In the Cosmos that I liked ok enough at first but grew to love as time went on. Like the crusty paint on the cover artwork each time I listened to the album I scraped a little bit more surface off, revealing the color underneath. Aaron Maine’s oddball melodies and frank lyrics often remind me of Pedro the Lion, but where David Bazan had a tendency to dwell on darkness, Porches. finds the humor in the doom and gloom. When I talked to Aaron for The Miscreant he spoke about how he explores sad themes with his music, but at the end of the day he is doing it in an attempt to find happiness. In that way Slow Dance In the Cosmos becomes a bittersweet journey from darkness to light that relishes the travel time getting there.
I, like everyone else, cringed when I first saw the name Joanna Gruesome. How seriously was I supposed to take this band? Turns out, very seriously. I’m still finding myself prefacing my recommendation of Weird Sister to friends with “Disregard the name…”but it’s so completely worth it. I want the world to know about this band and I’m not going to let anything hold me back. Least of all a name. All it took to draw me to Joanna Gruesome was one listen of Weird Sister's first single “Sugarcrush.” The song took what would have been a sugary sweet melody and toughened it up with some punk and hardcore influence. From there I was sold. With their vicious lyrics and irresistible hooks, Joanna Gruesome with their not-to-miss live show became one of the absolute best thing about 2013. And best new is they show no immediate signs of slowing down.
There were a dizzying number of great metal albums released this year and Texas madman Chris Ulsh was only involved in like half of them. Seriously though, in addition to being in Power Trip he also slings for Mammoth Grinder, Hatred Surge, and the Impalers ; all of whom put out some excellent material this year. The shining jewel in his undisputed crown though is Manifest Decimation with its loving ode to the good old fashioned thrash metal of the 1980’s. The band wanted to keep things feeling particularly vintage and aside from some heavily-reverbed percussion and the occasional touch of electronics they accomplished just that. Pushing themselves past the point of nostalgia, Power Trip made an album that took thrash metal, the partiest of metal sub-genres, and made it feel both fun and dangerous. Ps- good gracious, that Paolo Girardi artwork is amazing.
Merchandise are a strange sort of anomaly that flies in the face of the modern age. In the days where everything is connected via the world wide web the guys manage to stay pretty much off the grid other than their rarely updated eyesore of a Wordpress site. On top of that these young hardcore kids from Florida make a seasoned sort of music with a maturity level that is seemingly way beyond their years. Following Carson Cox’s booming baritone, Merchandise have always reminded me of some sort of crustier modern day version of The Smiths and their songs pack quite a punch that hits me right in the gut. Carson’s vocals do draw a lot of the attention, but if you ask me it’s Dave Vassalotti’s guitar work that’s the unsung hero here. He has a way of spinning riffs together that, as corny as it sounds, make me want to tear up sometimes. On Totale Nite, the guys take their tempered darkness and push it even further into their cold world of alternative post-punk. Though bit weirder and not as accessible as Children of Desire, Totale Nite shows that the band is making their own way in the world and I’m just thrilled to be able to listen to them do it.
Simply put, Run the Jewels was the most instantly-appealing hip-hop album of the year for me. I loved Killer Mike's R.A.P. Music and El-P is cool enough with me, but man, Run the Jewels easily comes out on top when you stack them all up. I’ll admit that the reason I hastily downloaded it in the first place was the gorgeous zombie hands on the cover, but that’s just the horror freak in me talking. What I found inside though was some of the catchiest, smartest hip-hop I’d heard all year. What I like best about the album, aside from El-P’s crazy, neo-sci-fi production, is how the two MC’s tag team each and every track. Killer Mike is more bombastic with in-your-face lines that gratify instantly while El-P is more content to take the more unassuming road with lines that require several listens before their snappy genius really start to sink in. Simple put: in a year where so many bigger hip-hop albums seemed to steal the spotlight, Run the Jewels gave me everything I wanted from the genre and nothing else seemed to touch it this year.
This year Irish post-black metal band Altar of Plagues decided to call it quits, but not before they released one of the finest, most forward-thinking metal albums of the year. When I talked about Teethed Glory and Injury earlier this year I think that I called it “the most vital metal album of the year.” I stand by that because no other metal album this year continually left me mystified and grasping for speech as much as it did. Turning out to be the band’s swan song, Teethed Glory and Injury is an album that incessantly pushes the envelope and questions what it means to truly craft a metal album. The way that they incorporated droning, ambient noise and touches of futuristic electronics showed a band that refused to let their ambitions be boxed in. Like the contorted figured on the cover artwork, Altar of Plagues was a band that continually exerted themselves, pushing their craft to some mind-numbing extremes. These guys will be missed.
I’ll admit that I wasn’t first in line to check out Majical Cloudz. All I really knew about the project was that apparently they worked closely with Grimes up in Montreal. And seeing as I’m not exactly a Grimes fan, I felt no rush to check out the music. Plus their name was Majical Cloudz and to me that just seemed silly. But damn my cynicism and all that it keeps me from, because Impersonator turned out to be the album that resonated most with me on an emotional level this year. And yet for as good as the album was, what truly pushed me over the edge into the abyss though was Devon Welsh’s live show. There he stood in his signature white tee tucked into his black pants with a single white light beaming down on him. Stripped down, raw, and utterly powerful his set compelled me headlong into a dark world where there is a flickering light at the end of the murky tunnel, a single light to guide you home. When you listen to Impersonator you feel the intense gaze of Devon’s soul peering into yours. There’s no escaping it, but the best part is that you wouldn’t want to even if you could.
When describing bands in 2013, it’s became an option to say that “they’ve got that Copenhagen sound” and people will know exactly what you are talking about. This is thanks largely in part to the young rabble-rousers known as Iceage. Sure, they are not the only band to thank here, but they are one of the first and are they are certainly the most well-known. This is for good reason because Iceage are truly one of the more exciting and exhilarating punk bands working today. They are a pure, nihilistic force of nature with churning distortion, a loose grasp on what it means to keep time, and vocals that waver between sounding apathetically flat and flat out aggressive. The band’s sophomore album You’re Nothing is one that wallows in youthful rage and it’s also one that you probably shouldn’t look directly in the eye. What makes Iceage so exciting though is that for all the hype and critical acclaim, the band seems to be moved by none of it and what’s even scarier is that they manage to come off as wildly unpredictable in just about every way.
I struggled with putting Deafheaven in my #1 spot. On one hand I’m really glad that Deafheaven sort of broke the doors down as far as crossover success goes and that they got people who typically avoid metal to listen to (and like) an arguably black metal album. But on the other hand there were so many amazing metal albums released this year, it’s such a shame that a lot of those new listeners stopped at Sunbather and ventured no further into the genre. At the end of the day though, it’s not Deafheaven’s fault that they became an unwitting buzz band this year, and I’d be lying if I said that there was another album that hit me harder (both in the gut and the heart). So here it is: Sunbather is my favorite album of the year. It took what seemed like a novel concept and skyrocketed it to the realm of sublime musical genius. Whether you’re looking to blast the speakers off with its unrelenting noise or simply lay back and watch the clouds go by to the album’s lush and intermittent calms, Sunbather is an album that accommodates both extremes. Finding beauty in the least likely of all places, Deafheaven turned black metal on its head and made it exuberantly and deafeningly life affirming.
Simply put, Valonielu is one of the most challenging albums I listened to this year. It seemed like every metal authority on the Internet was singing its praises for how Oranssi Pazuzu was able to seamlessly blend black metal with space rock, pysch, and krautrock. If that seems really heady to you, that’s because it is. Heavily relying on electronics and repetition, Valonielu is unlike any other metal album released this year. Normally I am the sort of person who likes to compartmentalize things and so something like this that so violently resists classification would seem like it would be an itch I couldn’t scratch, but it is actually an extremely liberating experience if you just let it blast off and take you to some weird places.
There is a lot of bedroom R&B made by skinny white dudes flying around these days. It used to be a novel concept, but now it’s just old hat. Really the only act I have a soft spot anymore is Autre Ne Veut, and believe me when I say that that soft spot is extremely soft. Now I realize that Arthur Ashin’s music (and his voice in particular) is sort of an acquired taste that can either come off as weird or overly cheesy or both, but I happen to be a sucker for his incredible melodies. You could argue that his voice isn’t really suited to these songs and that he often writes notes that he can’t squarely hit, but that’s a lot of the draw here. He pushes his voice and the big moments feel all the bigger for it and I just can’t stop singing along. Even if I have to break out the falsetto to do so.
Dan Casey is just a cool dude. Life an effortless sort of cool. The artist also known as Yalls and formerly known as Steezy Ray Vibes slowly began to piece together his debut album following the release of its first demo last. That first track “Empty City” turned Dan’s listeners heads because up until that moment he was an electronic artist keen on getting hips a-shakin’. So where did this singer/songwriter come from with his dusty guitar picking and weathered croon? Well turns out he was there all along. All he needed was a little prodding to get him to peak out from behind the curtain. On his full-length debut Empty City Dan lays everything bare and holds nothing back. He lays all the pieces of his mind out in front of listeners and lets the responsibility of puzzling them together up to them.
The term ‘apocalyptic’ gets thrown a lot as of late when referring to music. I know that I’ve personally used it a fair number of times. And it’s understandable why, it’s a loaded word that dredges up images of a barren earth, jagged wastelands, and punishing hardship. And yet of all the supposedly ‘apocalyptic’ releases floating around this year, no one meshes with the word quite as perfectly as Locrian does on Return to Annihilation. The band sits somewhere in the murky netherworld between metal, noise, and drone only infinitely colder and more calculated. The deep, churning atmosphere feels like and android monster; half organic, half machine. And the more you allow yourself to get suck into the world of Return to Annihilation the more the lines become as foggy as the photo on the cover art. There’s no telling where the wire ends and the flesh begins.
Back in 2011 Youth Lagoon’s emotionally raw debut album Year of Hibernation was my undisputed favorite of the year. This year Trevor Powers re-emerged with some peacock-looking hair and ten songs of weirdly layered psych pop that, on first listen, seemed worlds away from the gentle pop of his debut. I wasn’t thrilled when I first heard “Dropla” and it knocked my anticipation of Wondrous Bughouse as a whole down a few pegs. But like several other albums this year, the album’s intricacies and veiled melodies grew on me with each listen. I managed to see Youth Lagoon twice this year and it cemented in my mind just how immense this album feels. While not as good as his debut, Wondrous Bughouse is still an album that I love to get lost in.
Man, I was so skeptical of Pharmakon when I first heard her earlier this year. Her single “Crawling On Bruised Knees” started making the rounds and I was not sold. Quite the opposite really. But I’m ok with admitting when I’m wrong and after hearing Abandon in it’s entirety I can tell you that that’s exactly what I was. Wrong. No other electronic release this year sounded quite this forcefully dark and heavy. Margaret Chardiet’s screaming in particular will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Slaving over every minute detail Pharmakon has churned out a work of staggering brutality that’s just as beautiful in how relentlessly it punishes listeners. I’m no power electronics scholar, but if what the niche genre as a whole has to offer is half as powerful as this then, well, just give me a few years and I’ll see what I can do.
I’ve said before and I’ll say it again: there is no other band like The Body. The Portland duo manage to create their own version metal that borrows from doom, sludge, and noise; and yet the resulting concoction sounds nothing like any of them. Obsessed with everything that is vile and macabre, the band takes great strides to separate themselves from society, which they see themselves as being at odds with. With deep, gurgling riffs; manic, unhinged vocals; and drum blasts that hit like a shotgun, The Body’s music is darker and heavier than almost anything else you’re likely to hear. On Christs, Redeemers, the band’s third album, they up the ante on what they have to offer by shaving off some of the rough edges and delivering a more forceful and direct atomic blast that lays waste to anything and everything in sight.
I think it took seeing Celestial Shore live to propel 10x from being an album I like to being an album I adore. The band is very goofy and slightly awkward, but they come by it honestly and it only adds to their overall charm. They also manage to be a strange sort of cross section between Zombies-like harmonies, a bit of jazz, and a giant helping of spastic math rock. But the key to Celestial Shore is that where most math rock feels stiff and corny, theirs feels spunky and spontaneous. The sheer musical skill of this unassuming Brooklyn band could also easily slip you by simply because there is just so much going on, so double-dipping is suggested. But seeing as the album is so compulsively listenable that shouldn’t be a problem.
Jesse Sanes is a crazy person. That’s him hanging from his ankle on the cover of Hoax’s long-awaited self-titled album. The Hoax frontman embodies everything in what it means to be hardcore. If he’s not bleeding by the end of a Hoax show well then that means it wasn’t a real Hoax show. Following his fearless leadership, the band shreds their way through 12 tracks (well, 11 really when considering the foreboding intro track was supplied by Pharmakon) of merciless, blown-out hardcore. The band makes up in sheer, brutal force what they lack in audio fidelity; besides who has time for the studio when you’ve got pure, vitriolic rage is spewing out all over the place? I can’t think of a more definitive hardcore statement this year than Hoax and the fact that the band’s future remains unclear makes it all the more imperative.
I was desperately sick in bed the first time I listened to Emily Reo’s Olive Juice all the way through. I’m not sure if I was delirious, or if it was the medication I was on at the time, but when the album hit its final track “Car” I nearly burst into tears. It’s such a sorrowfully sweet note to end the album on and Emily’s voice sounds like an angel as it floats along the song’s swirling synths and endearingly timid melody. Emily is no stranger to the blogosphere but on Olive Juice it feels like she’s finally making the statement, “This is my music.” It’s gentle, honest, and passionate in a way that is all too rare these days and the only thing that surpassed it on those levels was seeing Emily perform the songs live. Confident in front of a table of electronics, Emily spun her spells and whisked them into my ears and, damn, I don’t think I’ll ever be the same.
Blanche Blanche Blanche are weird. The funny thing is that they don’t try to be, they just are. I had a ton of questions that I wanted to ask the band in hopes of gaining a bit of clarity about their operation, and so I tracked them down for an interview on Portals. What I didn’t anticipate was that I would leave the interview with more questions than when I went into it. I’m ok with that now. It preserves the mystery. On Wooden Ball, the band’s millionth release, they continue to usher in some honest-to-goodness weirdness in the form of skittering pop music. Seemingly disjointed time signatures clashing with weird synth lines and samples with half-sung-half-spoken vocals that only serve to heighten the sense of WTFness. And yet for as many directions as everything seems to be running, it all carries it down the same unpredictable road.
Have you ever taken a nap only to jump awake prematurely halfway through a REM cycle? You don’t know where you are or what is going on and proper body function goes out the window. Well this happened to me when I fell asleep listening to the nightmare-scape that is Youth Code. I startled myself, looked around in the dark with bloodshot eyes, heard the terrifying music playing and thought I was in some sadomasochistic hell straight out of a Clive Barker story. That’s probably the most apt description I can give you for Youth Code’s self-titled album. The post-industrial electronic duo deal in everything that is dark and macabre and yet somehow make it danceable. The screamed vocals and creepy dialogue samples then enhance the experience from unsettling to full on nightmare. Basically it’s awesome.
There were some excellent death metal albums released in 2013. I mean, come on, even legends like Carcass and Gorguts each put out their first new albums in over a decade this year. And yet the death metal album that continually came back to time and again was something less… monumental. Stripped down and rotten to the core, Bone Sickness’ Alone In the Grave managed to hit all the right buttons for me. What’s most charming (can death metal be charming?) about Bone Sickness is that with all of the technical advances available for recording music nowadays, the band eschewed all of it for an old school, lo-fi approach. At only seven tracks the album is lean and mean with absolutely no fat. Just grit, gore, ugliness, and some mean old-fashioned guitar solos.
27. The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die :: Whenever, If Ever [Topshelf]
Ah, yes the great #emorevival of 2013. All it took was Pitchfork deciding that it was finally ok to listen to emo music again and all of a sudden all the music websites were tripping over themselves to post about the best new emo bands. What a load of crap. The fact that emo never really went anywhere seemed to escape the Cool Music Radar until this year. Anyways, let me jump down from my high horse to talk about TWIABP for a minute. Of all the emo music I heard this year, Whenever, If Ever hit me the hardest with its glowing heart and excellent musicianship. Merging the emotive rawness of emo music with the best bombastic elements of chamber pop, TWIBAP became one of the best reasons to buy into the revival this year (if you needed convincing, that is). Now that they’ve got the music world’s attention I can’t wait to see what this talented young band offers up in the future.
I rely on Holodeck Records to steer me towards amazing synth and deep electronic-based music that I most likely would never had heard if it weren’t for them. One of the absolute best things they sent my way this year was the debut LP Ruleth from former Medio Mutante member José Cota AKA SSLEEPERHOLD. The album riffs on dated synthscapes from places like exploitation horror and Giallo films of the 70’s and 80’s but what makes Ruleth stand out from simply being a nostalgic novelty act is how Jose injects with a modern, outsider’s flair. This is the musical equivalent of an adult version of the kid who spent countless hours in the horror section at the video rental store. The kid who stared down the cover artwork and whose imagination made them so much scarier than they actually were.
I’ve really come to love Oozing Wound. I don’t remember how I stumbled on the guys’ debut cassette Vape and Pillage last year, but I’m really glad that I did. I watched as they went from being a word-of-mouth Chicago thrash band to being signed to unbridled weirdo label Thrill Jockey this year. Of course all of this was from the comfort of my couch with my computer on my lap, but it’s been cool to see such a friendly, fun-loving band get the attention they deserve. On the band’s debut album Retrash, they pack all the punch I knew they were capable of and the beer and the riffs flow generously. Strap yourselves in though, for as fun as they guys like to keep things, they are also quite serious about rocking your socks off as well.
Endless Fantasy is an album that has been in the works for a long time. Which, I suppose, is the reason why the band felt the need to have the album be twenty-two tracks in length. So yeah, it’s quite the long haul if you listen front to back, and the fact that it’s chip-tune pop rock makes ingesting all this sugar in one sitting an impossibility. It’s either that or you need to have one hell of a sweet tooth. Fortunately for me I would live on gummy bears if I could and so Anamamaguchi caters to my lack of self-control in the face of sugary goodness. Yes it’s a bit cheesy, but when examined closely you’ll find that these songs are actually pretty complex with numerous layers all written together expertly. Sure, it’s like a glitter bomb to the brain exploding in a burst of confetti out your eyes, but it’s also a party and well, I’m all about that.
I’m so happy to include the shimmering dream pop of Pure Bathing Culture alongside my favorite punk and metal releases of the year. Compared to a lot of the music here, Moon Tides might seem wide-eyed and innocent. But to write Pure Bathing Culture off as just another dream pop band in a crowded field would be missing the mark. The duo pen catchy, slightly schmaltzy pop numbers that recall the adult contemporary radio airwaves of the 1990’s. In other hands it could easily come off as a corny, but these two keep the lid on tight and deliver the soaring melodies with straight-faced conviction. Moon Tides is also one of those albums where each track seems stronger and more catchy than the one before, but the listening experience is cyclical once you’ve reached the end and it takes you right back to the beginning. Only this time was better than the last.
Pissed Jeans are one of my beloved Philadelphia’s (by way of Allentown) most cherished commodities. They are loud, furious, and bristly but the band has a whip-smart sense of humor and it helps to balance everything out. In the last few years, and on the strength of several strong albums, the band has accrued a cult following and become influential in their own right. Their brand of grumbling, lurching sludge punk has become a benchmark for loud rock music and their influence even extends to bands like their labelmates METZ. On Honeys, Pissed Jeans takes their notion of monotonous droning rock and stretch it out even further like smelly molasses. Some of the slower moments get particularly sticky, but when that taffy snaps back, look out, because there is no telling who these guys will take out with them when it does.
I’ve learned that when Deathbomb Arc headmaster Brian Miller sends me something new to listen to I’d better sit up and pay attention. After all he was at the Julia Holter and Death Grips parties before most everyone else. Earlier this year he dished out the debut mixtape from experimental hip-hop group clipping. and told me to give it a listen. That inaugural spin was unlike pretty much anything else I’d heard this year. Merging noisy, dissonant production with Daveed Diggs impeccable flow might have seemed weird on paper, but the mashup actually works brilliantly. Pretty soon everyone else (well, sort of) started to take notice and it wasn’t long before the trio saw themselves being signed to Sub Pop Records. It was a crazy turn of events, but it’s important to remember where it all started. Midcity is just as exciting a listen now as it ever was and I personally can’t wait to hear what this band unleashes now that they’ve got full access to a full studio.
I was already a big fan of Night-People before the label ushered in three of my favorite bands for new releases this year. Aligning with my tastes to an almost eerie degree, the label became a personal powerhouse favorite of mine this year and it all started with Boy Friend’s second EP Secret City. I’ve been a huge champion of this Austin band since they broke away from Sleep ∞ Over to do their own thing in early 2011 and with each release my affection for them grows more and more. Their take on new age dream pop borrows from Cocteau Twins and Enya in equal measure and it’s about as ethereal and mystifying as you could possibly imagine that mashup to be. Fleshing things from a duo to a full four-person lineup, Boy Friend seems to be gearing up for big things and I’m more than happy to tag along behind them and watch it unfold.
9. Perfect Pussy :: I Have Lost All Desire for Feeling [Self-released]
It’s been a whirlwind six months for Perfect Pussy. The Syracuse punk band that was started on a whim has turned around and become one of the most surprising runaway success stories of 2013. I remember back in July when Jeanette Wall excitedly sent me the band’s demo. She had gone to college with the band members and was excited to share what her friends were up to. The surprisingly good demo was loud, spastic, blown-out punk rock that dealt in fun and ferocity in equal measure. Since then the band has landed on pretty much every high-profile music site there is and you can’t shake a stick in NYC without hitting a voracious fan. Now that the secret’s out on Perfect Pussy I can’t wait to hear what the band unleashes next.
Odonis Odonis revel in filth and grime in order to churn out this dark, punk-leaning music that the band has taken to calling “industrial surf-gaze.” If you’re the sort of person who rolls your eyes as invented genre tags, you can just stuff it because when these guys call themselves industrial surf-gaze it’s because it totally fits. On the band’s EP Better, they churn out six tracks of dark, heavily reverbed rock music that would inspire listeners to tap their toes and dance around if it wasn’t so scary. When the band chatted about their favorite album for a Portals feature earlier this year, they singled out macabre post-industrial band Skinny Puppy. Now take that and compound it with the fact that the band is friends and tours with METZ and the picture of Odonis Odonis starts to become clear.
I still think it’s criminal that no one else is talking about this band. Open Letters are three young kids from Vancouver who play some of the absolute best pop punk I’ve heard this year that, at times, even skates pretty close to melodic hardcore. On the band’s first EP 1-6, the band shows their skill in writing tracks with abrupt tempo changes, smart lyrics that carry a dark sense of humor, and extremely catchy melodies. The vocals are a pretty nasal in a way that could potentially turn some listeners off (I read one blog review that assumed they were female), but if I recall correctly, snottiness is par for the course when dealing with punk rock. If you need another reason to check this band out, know that even with the meager earnings they get from Bandcamp downloads, they put most if not all of it towards charity.
Voices like that of Some Ember’s Dylan Travis don’t come around all that often. Especially when dealing with this kind of music. Timid or obscured vocals seem to be most prevalent, which makes Dylan lion-throated croon stick out all the more. The band’s latest EP Asleep In the Ice Palace finds them crawling out of the dark cavernous sound of their debut Hotel of Lost Light for songs that are little lighter, even a bit poppier. It’s definitely not a bad thing and true to it’s name the EP feels cold and crystalline; but there is also a warmth here that is mostly present thanks to the band’s striking melodies and the way Dylan delivers them in earnest.
Get Olde is a sugary little slab of sweet chiptune pop rock that could easily come off as cutesy were it not for the band’s effortless control and grinning honesty. Crying is the SUNY Purchase mini-supergroup featuring members of Whatever, Dad and LVL UP that took their sweet time building up to the release of this EP, but the wait was worth it. Being a fan of both source bands I figured that I’d enjoy Crying just as much, but I was honestly caught by surprise at just how good this EP really was. With a tight grip on infectious, catchy melodies and just enough chiptune thrown in to make it stand out, Get Olde is one of the most perfect examples of pop music this year. Hands down.
I got acquainted with Pleasure Leftists earlier this year through the excellent 7” that they put out through Kartoga Works. In a year where new post-punk acts seems to be absolutely everywhere, Pleasure Leftists stuck out to me on the sheer strength of their songwriting and Haley Morris’ monstrous, haunting voice. Like a child who furiously scribbles on their coloring book with no regard for staying within the lines, Haley unleashes a massive voice that blurs the idea of a melody having correct notes. It’s not gentle music and some of the choices are pretty brazen, but there is a heart to the music whose beating can be felt even underneath the cold, dark exterior of these tracks. And it’s that heart that brings me back to Pleasure Leftists time and time again.
The two tracks on Wreck and Reference’s Content 7”are a perfect representation of what listeners get with this boundary-pushing San Francisco metal duo. In the last couple of years they’ve really become a favorite of mine, and with everything they put out they continue to be one of the most exciting and underrated bands around. Resisting classification to an almost furious degree, Ignat and Felix seamlessly stitch harsh genres together. Genres such as but not limited to: black metal, noise, industrial, doom, and drone. It’s all fair game. Like a car wreck that leaves a vehicle wrapped around a tree, the result of Wreck & Reference’s madness is violent, jagged, but also tempered, and in a bizarre way, rather beautiful. Just don’t expect them to hold your hand.
What can I say about LVL UP that I haven’t already said? I’ve been plugging the guys to anyone who will listen for over two years now and I love them just as much now as I ever did. On Extra Worlds, the first of two 7”s they put out this year, the guys let loose six tracks that find the rambunctious band at the very top of their game. I’ve really come to hold the guys in LVL UP in high regard. Not only do they craft some of the best pop rock around, but members also busy themselves in numerous other projects. They share members with Crying, Sirs, and Spook Houses; frontman Dave Benton runs Double Double Whammy; and guitarist Nick Corbo owns and operates Totally Ruined Circuits. So yeah, these guys are pretty busy. But do yourself a favor and forget all that and check out Extra Worlds to see what is so incredibly special about this group of dudes.
If you’ve frequented my blog over the past year you might have noticed that I am super into Un Blonde, the solo project of Faux Fur member Jean-Sebastien Audet. The only other person I know who loves this kid’s music as much as me is Ricky from SSWAMPZZ. But then again it’s more probable that you haven’t been privy to my gushing prior to now. If that’s the case and you are new to Un Blonde it might seem a bit odd that some self-released, no name EP managed to steal my number one spot. But man, I love these seven tracks so completely that anything coming in front of it would be a total sham. Building on the sound that Women left behind, Un Blonde takes an angular approach to jagged post-punk and injects it with melodies that skate a line between catchy and creepy. Jean-Sebastien has busied himself this year with numerous other singles and EPs, but Un Blonde still sticks out head and shoulders above the rest.
I’m not usually up on all the latest electronic music. Plus it seems like every week there is some hot, new, up-and-coming producer that everyone seems to be talking about while I’m busy listening to what the bleep-bloopers call “guitar music.”That being said I am not averse to electronic music, and in fact, I like quite a bit of it. One release that really stuck with me this year was Chrome Sparks’ Sparks EP. The tracks on Sparks have a tendency to build and swell so that by the time they hit their well-earned climaxes I’m nodding my head around like a dashboard puppy with a goofy grin on my face. Jeremy is also a DIY success story that any artist looking to forego a label could look up to. Happy to see him doing so well.
Shoegaze seemed to enjoy a fruitful year. Plenty of acts gave the genre a good name in 2013, but if you really dug into the best that it had to offer chances are two names would surface: Nothing and Whirr. Which fits since the two bands are not only friends and tour mates, but collaborators as well. This year saw the release of Whirr’s Around EP, and while not the event that the band’s 2012 album Pipe Dreams was, Around is still a concise statement from a band who is arguably at the top of their game. Swirling darkness mixed with post-rocking climaxes add up to an EP that is as challenging as it is life affirming. The valleys are low, but they only make the heights all the more high. And the view from the top is spectacular.
Tennis is a band that I don’t think gets enough credit. They snuck onto the scene at a time when the number of bands doing throwback beach pop was at an all time high and so they understandably got lost in the shuffle a bit. They aren’t aggressive and there is absolutely nothing offensive about them, but they trade all of that in for something much more valuable: consistency. Their tracks seem simple enough on first listen, but the more you listen the more you realize how special they really are. It’s like the band goes diving for melodies like oysters. They are patient and they take their time, but when you finally crack them open there are bright, shining pearls inside.
It’s really a bummer that Sirs have decided to call it quits. In a stellar lineup of bands that have been birthed of the SUNY Purchase scene, the spunky rock band has always been a bright and shining star. They brought a ferocious punk rock energy to their music that they dressed up in punchy rock numbers fueled by passioned screaming and youthful energy. And yet on their final EP Sirs, the band dialed things back a bit and ushered their sound down a back alley that sounded an awful lot like powerpop. It might not have been the swan song that fans were expecting, but the band came by it honestly and managed to churn out an EP of six songs that send them off on a catchy if bittersweet note.
With their third release, Gatekeeper has completed their tragic comedy. Envelope structure, man. Their first EP Giza was a nearly flawless ode to horror synth scores in club music form. Unfortunately on the band’s debut album Exo, their reach exceeded their grasp. The whole video game angle was cool and immersive, but it came at the expense of the music, which ended up being dreadfully boring. Now the band has resurfaced with a second EP entitled Young Chronos that injects some of the excitement back into the project. Operatic choir vocals play a huge role here and they are weaved into the tracks which waver between something sounding like classical music and an ecstasy-induced dance session. Sounds weird, but overall it works really well and serves to restore a bit of the mystery to Gatekeeper.
I mistakenly assumed that The Body’s midyear EP Master, We Perish would be a precursor to the band’s much-hyped third album Christs, Redeemers. While the three tracks on the EP were most certainly the work of the psychotic duo known as The Body, they were more an exploration of bleak sound and dark texture as opposed to the band’s typical deconstruction of metal subgenres. The EP opens up with the ominous sound of an air raid siren and like a town preparing for the slam of an encroaching twister, listeners are immediately put on edge for what’s to come. Everything that this band does is done in an effort to make you feel uncomfortable and alienate you in their dark world. Master, We Perish accomplishes this while simultaneously showing that The Body still has a few tricks up their sleeves.
I listened to a lot of black metal this year. Like, probably too much black metal. Unless you’re really into it in which case there is no such thing as too much black metal. Anyways, Ash Borer is one band that you pretty much have to be into if you claim to love USBM. In the year’s since their inception they’ve become one of the most respectable and consistent bands on the scene and this year’s Bloodlands 12” further evidenced this with it’s two tracks of pure, scorching hatred. With all of the genre-melding going on in black metal these days, it’s nice to hear something as bleakly old-fashioned as Bloodlands. Lo-fi and oppressively dark, these two tracks whip themselves up into well-earned frenzies that approach the twenty-minute mark. Could be trying for some, but for those versed in the style there is almost nothing better.
Future Death quickly became one of 2013’s most exciting, new finds for me. The band from Austin, Texas are like controlled chaos in the hands of a mad scientist. The only thing they are tagged as on Bandcamp is “experimental” and thinking about it, that totally fits. At times they remind me of the mathematical weirdness of Ponytail, but the band is infinitely louder and they have actual, you know, lyircs. What really propels Future Death into the stratosphere of crazy though is the drum work. Taking blast beats and hardcore breakdowns and and mixing them with the spasming math rock rhythms of someone like Zach Hill is just scraping the tip of the iceberg here. Using that craziness as a foundation, the band then unleashes the full fury of bizarre on top of it. I’ve never been so happy to be completely blindsided by a band like I was with these guys.
Holodeck Records put out a lot of material in 2013, and given the already challenging nature of their music it can be hard to not only get to it all but to also digest it completely. Of all of their releases that I listened to this year, Sensum and Clunch’s self-titled cassette was the one that took a several focused listens before it’s genius really sunk in. Clinical in a way that is somehow not sterile, this EP is some deep, deep electronic music. Suited best to a set of proper headphones, the four tracks on Sensum and Clunch pull you in little but little until you’ve been completely swallowed by its digital world. Sparse in a calculated manner, the music is all about careful layering. Like a delicate structure, crystalline pieces are attached together creating a glistening, immersive experience.
In a lot of ways 2013 belonged to Exploding In Sound Records. The label seemed to be on fire with excellent releases from Porches., Ovlov, Kal Marks, and Fat History Month. Finishing off the year strong, the label debuted the second EP from Palehound, the solo project of nineteen year old Yonkers native Ellen Kempner. With a maturity level way beyond her years, Palehound has delivered a tight release of six tracks that showcase how strong of a songwriter she really is. What really puts this EP up there as one of the year’s best is how deceptively deep it really is. Ellen writes lyrics with funny slang and bizarre metaphors that require you pouring over them to extract their meaning. It may take a couple listens but once you get there it’s an absolute joy from front to back.
Been meaning to get to these guys for a couple weeks now. Whatever! Been busy! Anyways, they gave me permission to refer to them as a Donovan Wolfington side project, but they only really share one member so in my eyes Pope really stand on their own. Taking some cues from Dinosaur Jr. and Weezer, Pope play a grunged-out brand of pop rock that, in spurts, reminds me a bit of what LVL UP and Spook Houses are doing. And that’s not bad at all.
The band is taking to the road for an interesting mini tour that hopes to merge music with visual art. Here I’ll just let band member Alex explain it to you:
We are doing a special sort of EP release where we are taking our buddy’s photography on the road to Houston, Nashville, and New Orleans. The idea is that music and photography go hand in hand and hopefully it will provide a more engaging and interesting music release experience.We are doing 50 unique prints for each city, and a selection of those will be up online as well. The first release is in Nashville on November 15th and we are trying to get some write ups and listeners before then to give the shows a little more impact and get more checking out the photos and the music.
Cool, right? Anyways, grab the guys’ EP Known Weed Smoker and then catch them on the road if you can.
This crazy debut EP from Bad People came out earlier this fall, but it slipped past my radar until just a few weeks ago. Featuring members of bands like California X, Shoppers (shout out the Perfect Pussy homies), and White Guilt, Bad People make pop punk of only the snottiest caliber. The vocalist sounds unintelligibly unhinged and therefore reminiscent of all the best first wave punk bands. The instrumentation is also suuuper catchy with weird little moments thrown in to spice things up. The occasional surf-rocking guitar line, organs, phantom saxophone noises? All fair game. Overall it’s just a really zany, fun punk release that if nothing else should sufficiently piss off your parents.
We’re less than a week away from the release of Sirs new self-titled cassette for Double Double Whammy. The EP follows on the heels of the band’s excellent, also self-titled 2012 album, which featured a louder, more punk driven band than you’re likely to find on this new release.
"Shellshock" is the second single to drop from Sirs and with it the picture of the EP becomes clearer. The guys weren’t lying when they said that power pop would be playing a huge role on the release, and “Shellshock” is further proof of that. Don’t worry though, this is still the same Sirs with catchy pop hooks and Justin Jurgen’s gravely howls. It’s just that this time around there is a little more bounce and a little less knuckle-sandwich.
I caught a fair number of acts at CMJ last month but the one that sticks out in my mind was Celestial Shore’s relatively low-key performance at the Force Field PR showcase. The band, with just enough outward display of energy, shredded their way through all of their best songs only occasionally glancing out towards the crowd to make sure they were still there. Jeanette Wall and I pushed our way to the front and leaned against the bar with our tongues probably lolling out of our heads in adoration. Needless to say I entered that freshly-painted artspace a fan and came out a disciple.
Following their stellar debut album 10x, the band headed back into the studio last month for a Shaking Through session. Basically they were given two days to write, record, mix, and master a new track and thus “Die for Us” was born. Once again contracting the help of vocalist Lorely Rodriguez AKA Empress Of the band has crafted what is easily their tightest, most delicate track to date. They put the brakes on the heavier math rock elements of their music in favor of something much dreamier and languid… that is until the typically spastic outro. All in all if this is the direction that the band will be heading in on future recordings I’m all for it because damn, if it isn’t gorgeous.
Chris from Otherworldly Mystics had been at me to listen to this SNOWBEAST EP for a couple of weeks, but for whatever reason I kept putting it off. Damn, that was stupid of me because this thing is so great and so incredibly up my alley. And even though their Twitter bio says that they are a ” tropical chill wave rock band from Vancouver, BC” I’m going to go ahead and say that you should probably just ignore that because it is so incredibly misleading. Also it’s very 2010.
No, what you’re more likely to find on the band’s latest EP S N O W B E A S T is five tracks of ramshackle folk rock (emphasis on the “rock”) that borders on unhinged. There is a nice dusty, lo-fi crust hanging over all the songs as if the band recorded it to tape in a musty old cabin. Then add to that the fact that the vocals waver between a whiskey-throated rasp and downright frantic screaming. If that sounds like it would put you off, don’t worry. It all reads as passion as opposed to raucous noise. Listen to their track “Somewhere, Ontario” to see exactly what I’m talking about and then go ahead and grab the tape from Otherworldly Mystics.
I can’t seem to get enough of Porches. this year. I gushed about their debut album Slow Dance In the Cosmos for Portals a few months ago; an album that is easily one of my favorites this year (shout out Exploding In Sound Records. yo, Dan). Then a couple weeks ago I tracked Aaron Maine down and picked his brain about a few things in an interview for my very good friends at The Miscreant. Now after all that the band has announced a new split 7” with LVL UP of all bands? Temples… pulsing. Aargh, brain… liquefying.
The first track to pop up on the net from the split is a Slow Dance In the Cosmos outtake called “Townie Blunt Guts.” The track has received some loving attention from just about every independent music outlet on the web, but I would be remissed if I didn’t add my cracked-voice adulation to the ever growing echo chamber. So here it is: of course the song is fantastic. Go listen to it.
Prepare your ears for this one. Goliath is the new EP from Manhattan black metal trio Imperial Triumphant and this giant is positively apocalyptic. Following their 2012 debut album Abominamentvm, the band has stepped up their technical approach to unorthodox black metal to an almost mind-numbing degree. Calling this straight black metal might even be a stretch because these guys throw in components of death metal and the result is simultaneously chaotic and controlled. Simply put, the stuff that these three guys are able to accomplish on these two tracks seems almost inhuman. And all this from a black metal band from Manhattan, no less.
Oh and if you need any further reason to check this thing out, know that the EP was mastered by Colin Marston and the metal demigod even shows off his guitar soloing chops on “Sodom,” the first of the EP’s two tracks. Yeah, I’m sold.
Following his great demo tape last month, Mike Kriebel is back with another EP of unbelievably sweet melodies wrapped up in apathetic garage rock as The Tone. Needless to say if you are still sore over Philadelphia sweethearts The Eeries calling it quits then The Tone should act as a crusty band-aid for your scraped knees. Apparently the spirit of The Eeries followed Mike to Los Angeles and is still alive and kicking in these Beatles-worshipping rock and roll numbers. Happy.
Pay what you want for both of Mike’s EPs on his Bandcamp page and keep an open eye, I have a feeling he’ll be unceremoniously dropping more new material like this over the coming months.
I’m not the horror buff I wish I was. I adore horror movies, but between (long list of excuses), I haven’t seen a number of the genre standard bearers, sleeper hits, cult classics, and horror movie maven favorites. That said… damnit, I love horror movies. They can be great in so many different ways: fun, creepy, scary, gory, tragic, disgusting, filthy, terrifying, artful, and many more, in many different combinations. I happen to love movies that can be described by the first, and that’s why my favorite horror movie is the modern day cult classic Trick ‘r Treat.
It may not even qualify for that soon. The movie is beloved that a sequel was recently announced at a screening. It’s unsurprising, though, and thoroughly deserving. Trick ‘r Treat has a tremendous balance of scares and gore, fun and wit, and it’s the rare anthology that thoroughly works.
Unlike the uneven V/H/S’s, the bloated ABCs of Death, and the two dated Creepshows, Trick ‘r Treat is a horror anthology that looks tremendous and is consistently effective throughout.
The way the smaller stories weave together to construct the greater movie around them is done fairly seamlessly, given the level of difficulty involved, and the way the movie plays with time is done with a hand that just light enough.
Best of all, there are few better movie mascot than the pint-sized Sam and his chomped-on lollipop.
The movie’s just so much fun. The open is a fantastic little vignette all it’s own. Dylan Baker is fantastically creepy, and every little twist and reveal inspires an “aha!” rather than a groan. The designs throughout are a Halloween wet dream, and that may be the most important part. The movie’s that take place on Halloween are often the most fun end-of-October watches, and we can never have too many of those.
I don’t know if Trick ‘r Treat 2 will confidently waltz across the tightrope as well as the first film, but it’s certainly earned the right to give it a shot.
THE FRIEND: Christa Palazzolo - fearless leader of Boy Friend
THE FILMS:Carrie (1976, dir. Brian De Palma) and The Descent (2005, dir. Neil Marshall)
I don’t have a crazy extensive library of horror movies in my viewing past - partly because I get scared VERY easily - but there are a few that have always stood out for me aside from the classic Argento’s & Hitchcock’s.
First of all - did any one else grow up watching “Unsolved Mysteries” in the 80’s/90’s?…because I think I’m permanently damaged from watching that with my sisters. All those rhetorical questions Robert Stack threw at the viewers; “What if I’m the person that has to solve a mystery?!”, “What happened to the ghost - is he going to come kill me?!”, “ALIENS?!”, etc. Still I have to admit, that show really got my imagination going as a kid, even if it went a bit too far at times.
My forever fave romantic/thriller of all time is Brian De Palma & Stephen King’s 1976 Carrie. I remember feeling incredibly drawn to Sissy Spacek’s character as a teenager. The only horror movies I had seen up to this point always involved some beautiful damsel in distress either getting saved by men or being completely massacred by them. Here was this strikingly fair/slightly strange looking young woman playing this tortured soul with an unharnessed telekinesis power & ruling everyone. Everyone pays! Even her. *see photo - Halloween 2010, me as Carrie*
Finally, the scariest movie I have ever seen in my entire life - Neil Marshall’s 2005 The Descent. I had no idea this was a scary movie. I’m pretty sure my roommate was watching it & I got sucked in immediately. It was insanely amazing & thrilling up until about halfway through & then it took this CRAZY turn & I had nightmares for weeks. The absence of big cinematic music made the terrifying moments 100x more intense. I love a movie that can completely grip you, and then morph into something you could never imagine! Caves, babes, darkness & creatures. #insanity