I say something similar every year, but there were too many records I enjoyed in 2013 to possibly mention them all in a top ten list; not even one that also includes ten honorable mentions (most of which were good enough to have made it into my top ten as well, but obviously, space dictates that some had to get cut) and a separate section for EPs. This year had a handful of surprises (like Deafheaven‘s Sunbather, which blew up in ways I’m certain no one had predicted), as well as some personal standbys that didn’t disappoint (like Laura Stevenson, Touche Amore, Moving Mountains, and Iron Chic in particular). Overall though, I found my choices stayed within the same genres and styles that I generally gravitate toward, and heading into 2014, I’ve resolved to try stretching my boundaries a little more and check out things I normally wouldn’t. For now, here is a decent cross-section of what I jammed over the course of the past year: Continue reading…
Admittedly, I haven’t written much about music this year. Between work and life, I found myself pushing the writerly portion of myself off into the background. That’s life. Things happen, our selves adapt. However, that is not to say that I did not enjoy a slew of the music that was released this past year. This year has made me think more about music as a source, to look more at the way it is crafted in order to move and leave the listener with something important, something sometimes intangible, ephemeral. This year has also found me liking bands and genres of music that I had never considered before. It’s odd at this point in my life to find myself growing as a listener, but the bands and sounds I have found this past year make me greatly appreciative of this new element to my journey as receiver. What you’ll find below is a list of the albums that have struck, stuck with, and in some cases, haunted me over the course of 2013. The albums below are in no particular order, except where noted.
2013 has come and gone. A lot of things went down and crashed and burned. Mostly personal and a few professionally. Thankfully nothing to affect the music site nor my random music listening habits. If one is true of last year, is that a lot of great music came out and as always was a much-welcomed respite from the usual drudgery and beatdown that life can and does provide. It was a hard task to narrow down some of my favorite releases for the year without leaving out quite a few or forgetting about others. So in an effort to be concise and short, here are the few releases that not only WOW’ed me but also maintained themselves in consistent rotation throughout the year thus proving a positive lasting effect.
Deafheaven – Sunbather – The release that took people outside of the aggressive music underground by surprise. It wasn’t a surprise to me. This album epitomizes what a balance of seemingly disparate styles and genres of music should be. All the best elements of black metal and shoegaze and ambient rolled into one mammoth of a beautiful masterpiece.
Black God – III – The Louisville hardcore punk machine that is Black Good keep at their promise of an EP each year with song no more than three minutes apiece. Fast and furious music for the jaded hardcore punks. Especially those who grew up with and love all the previous bands each member was in.
Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer Different Park – Never surprised to find a non-metal/hardcore/punk album that I got hooked into. In this case, Musgraves may be a singer-songwriter in country and borderline Americana and bluegrass, but lyrically (and attitude) she is all punk rock. Weaving stories denouncing the hypocrisy of small-town America and celebrating doing what you want, when you want, this album may as well be honky-tonk punk rock.
Shai Hulud – Reach Beyond The Sun – Each time these metalcore giants release an album it’s a celebration. Sure enough they beefed things up in their sound and with former vocalist Chad Gilbert handling production and vocals, it was a complete throwback to their rawer sound and style. So glad they’re still at it.
Youth Code – Youth Code – Some bands get written off simply because they may sound too much like another band. I initially made that mistake with Youth Code. On first listen I weighed in too much on them being a carbon copy of Skinny Puppy. What I later realized was that although YC are deeply-rooted in the industrial sound, theirs is more with a punk attitude. And that’s what then clicked and I got hooked.
Whirr – Around EP – The EP may have been short, but for the San Francisco newgaze band, this was a much noisier and heavier affair than previous outings. Their expanded sound lent to larger ambient landscapes of music that pushed Whirr into something new.
Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks – It is now clear that with each new NIN album, you don’t know what to expect. Reznor threw everyone for a loop in not only announcing the return of NIN as a touring entity but also releasing a new album. A new album that was a culmination of the typical NIN sound and style borrowing from all previous records. May as well say that Hesitation Marks is the new classic NIN sound.
Pity Sex – Feast of Love – The fuzz-pop group polished up their sound a bit on this new album. Taking their established elements of shoegaze, pop, and fuzzed-out distortion, and adding a little bit of clarity, Feast of Love was a pretty album to listen to.
Oathbreaker – Eros|Anteros – Criminally underrated album released this year on Deathwish’s roster. To call this album a monstrous beast of heaviness would be scraping the surface. A heavy metallic exploration of love and hate and life and death, this was Oathbreaker’s mot complex and involved release to date.
The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars – After announcing putting the band on hiatus, the tension between Joy Williams and John Paul White was palpable in this album. The songs are heavy on emotion and thematically give a glimpse on the internal discord that led to the split of the group. This album is the sound of hearts breaking and souls being worn down. It’s a sad affair and felt very much human and a fragility that anyone can relate to.
Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time – Plenty has already been written about Ferreira and how long this album took to be made and all the hands it got on to finally see the light of day. If you’re able to appreciate noise-drenched, sugary-sweet synth-pop that harkens back to the 80′s, then this is right up your alley. I was initially skeptical given all the P4K-level hype and “infamy” but this ended up being a great surprise to get completely hooked into. Pure pop bliss.
Wildhoney – Wildhoney – When you combine some of my favorite “noisy” genres of music like shoegaze, fuzz pop, and Brit-pop to created something new, it will certainly catch my ear. And that’s exactly what Wildhoney did. The music is all over the place in varying styles deeply-rooted in the aforementioned but the dreamy vocals anchor it all down to have a sweetness in sound that bands rarely achieve. Their music is sweet and jarring and punky, and completely hooks you the moment you hear it.
My 2013 was not just comprised of sitting at home and listening to some great records. I also left house a few times and caught some shows whenever possible. A few standouts:
Nine Inch Nails – Tension Live 2013 – I caught three shows of this tour: one in Boston and two in Florida. Each time it was better than the previous. As has been documented plenty all over, from the sound to the elaborate and innovative light spectacle, Nine Inch Nails brought what was easily the best tour of the year.
Whirr and Nothing – Tampa, FL. The closest these two noisy newgaze bands would come was a four-hour drive. And a free show to boot! So it was a no-brainer that it would be my only chance to see them. This was the loudest show I have ever attended in my life. And even with earplugs in, the noise and lush sound of each band’s style of shoegaze were undeniably phenomenal and felt like a tidal wave of sound drowning you.
Taylor Swift – The RED Tour – It had been a long time since I went to a show, small-venue or even large arena, where I felt that I was getting a true concert experience. Taylor Swift fixed all of that and proved to have one of the most over-the-top and well-choreographed and best-sounding concerts I had ever been to. From the moment it started and all the way to the end where it rained confetti, it was a non-stop party and experience. It was all that a concert is meant to be in every sense: fun and engaging and musically and visually stunning.
Deafheaven and Marriages – Orlando, FL – Another no-brainer no matter how far of a drive to take. Two great bands. A lot has already been written about Deafheaven. And it’s all true. One of the best bands currently in their respective aggressive music scene. And the addition of Marriages to this tour was a treat. They are a band that more people need to into.
How To Destroy Angels – Boston, MA – As a long-time NIN fanboy, it was an easy decision when How To Destroy Angels announced a run of dates and Boston would be one. Beantown may as well be my home away from him, and to go and get to see Trent Reznor’s side project was a trip well-worth it. As expected, musically and visually, the show was stunning. If there is such a thing as perfection embodied in music and sound and lights and mood, then How To Destroy Angels was the epitome of that perfection.
2014 is already promising to be another solid year in great music and bands coming out. Eagerly expected are new releases from Converge, Nothing, Deafheaven, and ANNE. Anticipation is at a fever-pitch for the debut release of Death of Lovers. At least for me it is.
And surely there is plenty more that has yet to be announced or even hinted at. But if this year is anything like 2013, then we’re all in for a great ride with a killer soundtrack to jam out to.
You can’t throw a metaphorical rock on the Internet these days without hitting a trend piece about the resurgence of 90’s emo on a major news outlet (in the case of Buzzfeed, we’ll put “news” in heavy quotation marks). In some ways this is surprising, but perhaps it shouldn’t be. The genre has been exploding in popularity over the past several years, producing an immense number of quality bands and a renewed interest in where this music actually came from. Honest music from talented musicians is getting the attention it deserves, and it’s tough to argue that’s a bad thing.
Frequently left out of this discussion, however, are the bands that forged the genre’s heavier and noisier periphery. While much of the dialogue surrounding the recent emo resurgence has focused on its more poppy and melodic elements, it’s worth revisiting the genre’s angrier side as well. Call it screamo (or its Internet-speak derivative, “skramz”) or post-hardcore or whatever you will, the movement (which never really fully ended) produced a number of acts in the early days that continue to influence newer bands today.
Few bands epitomized this sound better than Saetia. By their own definition, Saetia were a hardcore band. By popular definition, however, they were unequivocally a screamo band. The New York City-based four-piece, whose members would later go on to form Hot Cross and Off Minor (and also shared drummer Greg Drudy with the initial lineup of Interpol in the late 90′s), showed that hardcore could at once be smart, heartfelt, and pissed. Along with similarly minded East coast acts like pg.99 and Orchid, they took the sonic foundation laid by the early 90’s Gravity Records roster and pushed it sufficiently far enough in new directions to establish a generational divide in the genre’s history. Continue reading…
As a genre, technical metalcore (or math metal, or noisecore, or whatever else you want to call it) is both efficient and effective in the way it regulates itself for quality. Nailing rapid-fire tempo changes in 7/4 convincingly and with attitude takes an incredibly high level of musicianship, and if you’re looking for a way to easily latch onto a passing fad, this is the wrong genre for you. That means if you’re going to do this kind of music, then you have to do it right or not at all; its technical requirements demand it, and no one listening is going to have patience with you for just fucking around. Continue reading…
When American Nightmare released Background Music in 2001, it’s doubtful anyone would have guessed how far reaching its influence on hardcore would ultimately become. A high water mark for the genre to some and dramatically overhyped to others, the record blended early 80’s hardcore at its most nihilistic with the bleak prose of frontman Wes Eisold, eschewing self-righteous sloganeering and tough-guy posturing in favor of aching catharsis. While few could argue they were truly revolutionary, by applying a few creative tweaks to an existing template, they were able to create a sound and establish an identity that was uniquely their own in its time. Continue reading…
If there’s anything I’ve learned this week, it’s when your friends tell you to bike across town in the cold late on a work night to see their friends play in a crappy metal bar, you just do it. That’s what I did anyway, and it turns out it wasn’t as regreattable of a decision as logic would seem to dictate. The band in question happened to be Sarasota, Florida noise / indie pop duo Teach Me Equals, a pair that blends cello, programmed beats, and a copious amount of effects pedals to create a sound that’s remarkably full for a two-piece. If you’re into stuff like Bjork or Massive Attack, then they’ll probably turn your crank. Check them out with the stream below, and get your … crank … turned.
We’re not feeling creative this afternoon, you guys.
Not everyone may have heard of Restorations, but we’d bet good money that most people who have are fans. Striking a balance between post-hardcore, sludge metal, and straight-forward rock and roll, the band has built a passionate following over the past several years that is continuing to grow. While they’re now days away from hitting the road with Weatherbox en route to The Fest 12 in support of their second full-length, appropriately titled LP2, it’s almost difficult to believe there was once a time where the band’s future success looked any less certain. Vocalist / guitarist Jon Loudon recently took some time to talk to us about how they got to where they are now, balancing work and band life, the benefits of strong label backing, and more. Continue reading…
When an old-school screamo band can claim that former Orchid and current Ampere frontman Will Killingsworth mastered their most recent record, it’s worth sitting up and paying attention. Portland, Oregon’s Carrion Spring are such an act, and their recently released EP, Indiscretions//V.1, sees the band firing away on all cylinders. Chaotic yet always firmly in control, their sound is heavily reminiscent of La Quiete or The Kidcrash; abrasive and impassioned, yet subtlely melodic enough to stay catchy. Continue reading…
Separation Sunday is The Hold Steady’s greatest album. Almost Killed Me was a decent first album, and served as a good warm-up, but its recursive play on the phrase “hold steady” seemed to overwhelm much of the album, and not in a necessarily positive way. The critically acclaimed Boys And Girls In America is a strong contender with songs like “Stuck Between Stations” and the massive ballad “First Night.” But, for someone who does not abide any form of religion or Belief, The Hold Steady’s sophomore album is a religious experience. I can’t help but want to believe in the psuedo-Catholic visions that the characters experience while they party their way from Midwestern capitals to historic neighborhoods in Florida. I can’t help but look up every reference that I don’t understand so that I can understand it.
The album is so lyrically dense it borders on the literary, with its recurring characters and themes of Midwestern boredom, religious iconography, and drug use. As singer-songwriter Craig Finn starts speak-yowling through an echo on the opening track “Hornets! Hornets!” you understand that you’re in for a different experience than most rock albums. I mean, how often do you hear a song that references Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill?” And it’s one of the first things we learn about Finn’s central character Holly (“Her parents named her Hallelujah” opening lyrics to album-closer, “How A Resurrection Really Feels”), that the song got “scratched into her soul.” Music is one of the most important and universal ways that people connect and using a reference to such a powerful song from the 80’s immediately tells you who this girl is, not only as a character, but as a person. That’s the beauty of Finn’s characters—burnt out and Born Again Holly, pimp Charlemagne, and skinhead Gideon—as they pop in and out of the album: they feel like real people.
Separation Sunday is a bar-rock/lit-rock concept album that is as much about story-telling as an art form as it is about the stories being told. It’s more a work of short fiction than anything, a collection of the crazy things you hear about the friends of your friends whom you’ve never met, but know all too well. These songs, like crowd-favorite banger “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” and the waltz “Don’t Let Me Explode,” play like the campfire/back-room-pub narration and on more than one occasion I have considered transcribing the album into some other medium, be it film or graphic novel because the album begs to be heard, it begs to be shared. My love for album-closer “How A Resurrection Really Feels,” where we are treated to a heart-breaking and inspiring portrait of Holly in some form of recovery, alone aims to be shouted from the rooftops.
This isn’t a background album. You can’t just go about your life while it plays nonchalantly through your speakers or earbuds. You have to sit and listen to what is being spoke-sang to you about these kids from the Midwest just trying to figure it all out, and having a hell of a time doing so. In a way Separation Sunday is about the human experience and the interconnectivity that lies between all these silly little lives being lead on this silly little planet we call Earth. We exist, and all these people outside of us exist, and their stories filter through our own and vice versa. The connections are there, you just have to listen. The Hold Steady want you to know that you are not alone.