2013 – The Best?
Yes. 2013: you old whore of a year. A year when retro rock abounded of nearly all forms, especially Shoegaze and slacker indie. It was a year that in my opinion saw many that would be considered “heritage acts” return to form and release some of their finer work, some re-formed or otherwise dormant bands finally getting around to get their shit together and put something out, and a shit-ton of terrible pop from the USA and UK. This writer is here though to write about what I deem “the best” that I’ve heard. Records that in their entirety got a lot of air time in my ears on my many journeys around the Danish rail network, some of which really moved me, some of which are from new artists, and even a few passionate yet slightly overlooked recordings from native Danes. Here’s the breakdown, in loose numerical order from very good, to amazing, to classic.
Suns of Satan – Sidespring (DK)
One seemingly quiet summer day I popped into RADAR and saw these guys play their very strange mix of psych-pop-indie. Something about it just grabbed me, even though I could not really understand what she was singing, or why with a name like that they seemed so cute and charming. It was one of those times when I used all my record money for beer, and looking back I wish I’d gotten the album from them and not streamed it nearly every day it rains, because it’s fragile, beautiful, dark and light-. and a damn fine way to learn a bit o’ Danish.
Jakob Bruno – Baby I Blow My Brains Out For You (DK)
The term ‘he sounds like Dylan’ usually scares me far far away from new artists. Fuck, even Dylan doesn’t sound like Dylan. Bruno’s mini album of mainly acoustic numbers could very well have been released 50 years ago, and now In a year when it’s perfectly acceptable to have a MacBook and a red keyboard as a band, this guy and his music are holding it down for all the down-and-out singer songwriters without conjuring up horrifying visions of guys with dreads singing songs about their ex girlfriends while sipping chai. This guy is the real deal. And a nice chap too.
Kurt Vile – Wakin On A Pretty Day (USA)
I suspect I’m not the only one who likes to drink beer in the sun with my mates and listen to music. Kurt Vile is making music for any occasion. He’s the Norah Jones of Slacker rock.. He’s the Eagles of our generation. It’s just there at every corner you turn, but not too much that it makes you sick and want to hate and kill him. You love him. Don’t you?
Mark Kozelek & Desertshore – Like Rats/Perils from the Sea (USA)
Koz had his most productive year EVER in his lengthy career. Let’s see: first he released ‘Like Rats’, a tasty but quirky covers album that didn’t ruffle any feathers but fits nicely in his cannon, A collaboration with Album Leaf’s Jimmy Lavelle, ‘Perils From The Sea’ that for the first time put his proto-shoegaze folk-ness into an electronic setting with strangely beautiful lyrics and unmistakable voice, then he got lead singer credits on former Red House Painter’s band mates NEW band Desertshore’s 3rd album (which was more of a return to his 90’s sadcore roots) and that’s just what his label released. They couldn’t keep up! He’s also got a new Sun Kil Moon album in the can (where he is pretty much rapping) and a Christmas album for some reason being released in 2014, even though tracks are leaking like cloth buckets online. It was a good year to be a fan of Mark Kozelek.
Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold (USA)
They will probably claim that they are not at all influenced by Pavement. I saw a documentary on their tour this summer of Mexican festivals and some hipster guy said ‘parquet who?…oh…I heard they sound like the Strokes. Someone’s got to right?’ I adore this album. That pretty much sums up their sound if you must ask. It stabs away lyrically at nearly everything, peaking with the anthemic ‘Stoned and Starving’ – the best song ever written about wandering the streets of Brooklyn boxed off your tits looking for munchies and being all OCD about it. It’s angular punk with a slacker drawl and tight as a duck’s starfish.
Cool Ghouls – S/T (USA)
Does the world need another lo-fi trashy garage rock band? Yes. In a year when Ty Segall only released one album and Mikael Cronin conquered late night TV, we need yet another bunch of guys and girls bashing out Nuggets inspired psych/pop. There is not a dull moment on this little masterpiece. I know nothing about this band except I listened to this album at least 50 times while building my Halloween costume this year. If Foxygen is too mainstream for you, this is the album to drop and impress your purist retro rock friends.
Bill Callahan – Dream River (USA)
The artist formerly known as Smog is back again. His voice is like a fog horn, his demeanor is something like Ron Swanson from “Parks and Recreation” and while it’s a little less apocalyptic than his previous solo albums (the first song contains the line “the only two words I said today were ‘beer’ and ‘thank you’) it’s a good slice of Americana but with a sense of doom and isolation that only Mr. Callahan can provide. Also, he’s probably good looking enough to steal your girlfriend away just asking for a lighter.
Jim James – Regions of Light and Sound and God (USA)
My Morning Jacket’s primary force decided to release this as a solo album, and the world is a better place. Certainly less bombastic than classic MMJ records, Regions sees Jim James in a more reflective and spiritual mode, yet still a bit zany. Oh- and that VOICE! If you are sick of waiting for another Fleet Foxes album, stick this in your ear holes and you’ll thank us after it commences.
Lars & the Hands of Light – Baby We Could Die Tomorrow (DK)
Not only the most overlooked release in Denmark, but possibly in the world. This little gem just kind of seemed to slip through the cracks without any of the deserved fanfare. Lars and his sister managed to craft a perfect song cycle that was beautifully produced, played and packed full of potential hits like “End of Summer” and “Me Me Me”. It actually makes me angry at the state of the Danish music scene when this record is NOT on every single sentient human’s turntable. It’s a perfect mix of jaunty 60’s pop sensibility with a modern twist. For fans of mid period Belle & Sebastian or Orange Juice. My choice for “Best” Danish album of the year.
The Black Angels – Indigo Meadow (USA)
The Texas gods of Neo Psych surprisingly seemed to have set out to make some sort of stab at a pop or “radio friendly” unit here, but it’s still dark as fuck and quite scary. In some places they might have actually taken some cues from the Raveonettes, however those references vanish when they are in full terrifyingly heavy and dark flight. I don’t know what an Indigo Meadow is, but it may not be a nice place to picnic unless you are on GHB and looking to evoke the spirit of the hippie dream gone horribly horribly wrong.
Polvo – Siberia (USA)
Their second “comeback” album could very well be their best. Polvo have been around since even before heavy ‘math –rock’ was cool, and you can’t even really class these North Carolinians as that. More of a psychedelic heavy indie noise math? Multiple layers and extremely creepy lyrics are set to pounding drums and heavy often atonal and dissonant guitar lines. There is no one like Polvo on this planet or beyond and I’m glad they are back to prove it. Yes, it’s on Merge as well, don’t worry, other people have heard of them. This album is like a symphony of classic heavy indie. For fans of Sonic Youth, Melvins, and Dino Jr.
True Widow – Circumambulation (USA)
I couldn’t believe my ears. In a year when nearly everything from the 90’s unfortunately seemed cool again as a new generation of kids grew up and picked up instruments, the bands that inspired the underground were quick to reform or remaster. Not Slowride though. Thank god. Former Slowride guitarist and singer Dan Phillips moved on and joined this very interesting outfit based in Texas. Their third album harked back to a parallel movement of music in America, – Northwest hard-core and a touch of doom. It appears heavily influenced by late period Unwound but still retaining faint traces of Phillips’ shoegaze roots with Slowride. It’s heavy, dark, slow and beautiful with tuned down guitars, suitably dry drums and a mood and attitude that seems timeless as well as modern. For fans of Unwound. Black Mountain and Slowride.
Iceage – You’re Nothing (DK)
If you read our blog, you probably have heard of Iceage. Hell – I’ll go ahead and say they are probably the best-known bands EVER out of DK. Why? If it’s one thing Danes are good at, it’s form following function and creating a sense of isolation for foreign people. As the album title suggests, they don’t really think highly of much. Where Iceage succeeds and every other “punk” band in the world fails is being painfully authentic in their creation of a true punk mentality. A sense of brotherhood to people that follow them, and utter hatred and scorn for those who don’t. If you don’t like them, chances are, they don’t like you. You’re Nothing, their 2nd album gets the point across in lightening quick time. 12 songs in just under 30 minutes. Its bleak, poetic, brash and not at all frivolous or necessary. Bow down for the new kings. For fans of Wire, Black Flag, etc. NOT for fans of Green Day, Offspring and Blink 182.
Richard Thompson – Electric. (UK)
I cannot stress enough how much this man’s entire career has been overlooked. He really still to this day embodies the spirit of “alternative music”. He’s always been an outsider, constantly moving and surviving. The 2000’s have seen this veteran making the best music of his career. Thompson is one of the very few musicians that as soon as you hear ANYTHING this man plays on, you know it’s him. “Electric” sees him still in fighting form, both in writing in playing. Mixing genres at the drop of a dime from Medieval, Celtic, pre-war folk, prog and Jazz. While other artists of his generation are stuck doing heritage festivals and greatest hits tours, this guy goes to work and sleeps with a knife. Just listen to the solo on “Sally B.” and you’ll see what I mean.
My Bloody Valentine – M B V (IRL)
Enough has already been said about this album of course, so I’ll spare you the back-story. I was more happy that MBV were back to reclaim the crowns as one of the most important bands of all time, not to smite and obliterate any new bands apeing their chop, but to teach them: “this is how it’s done guys”, now go mow the lawn. Chances are you have been lucky enough to see them over the last few years on some of their tours, chances are you received a painful souvenir like I: a raging case of Tinnitus. I love this band with all my heart.
Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin (USA)
I’ve seen a heap of year-end lists without this album on it, and now I have fewer friends. Whatever John Dwyer has been doing up to this point with his incessant brand of Psych/pop has never quite grabbed us like “Floating Coffin”. Among Thee Oh Sees umpteen incarnations and Dwyer’s literally hundreds of hours of recodings, this is his masterpiece. Bombastic and manic psychedelic punk perfectly executed and sonically mind-boggling. Do yourself a big favor and listen to this awe-inspiring disc. If you don’t: stay hidden, cross the street, whatever man.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II
Sublime. It’s the only word possible to describe the lo-fi heavy-soul-psych of their 2nd album. These Kiwis always had an air of mystery around them, not the kind of over hyped “guys wearing f-1 helmets” kind of mystery like some acts, but the kind that makes you wonder who they really are, what they eat for breakfast and how the fuck they could possibly make a record that mixes Al Green, the Beatles and Guided By Voices (often in the same song). II is truly an anomaly this year and there is honestly nothing else out there. It deserves to be higher, and so do you.
John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts (USA)
Mr. Grant. One of the most inspiring phoenix-like rises from the depths of despair to apparent near Messiah status. His second solo offering saw him moving to Iceland and working with Gus Gus on his often dark and witty half -electronic half “The Carpenters on drugs” album. In “GMF” he states in complete seriousness “I am the greatest motherfucker that you’re ever going to meet”. Anyone that has recently agrees. He always has had an affinity for Denmark, and will of course return with full band to Voxhall this march to blow your mind. If you have not heard this mans heavenly voice and deadpan wit and humor, you need to set that right. For fans of Scott Walker, Morrissey and The Carpenters.
Mazzy Star – Seasons of Your Day (UK)
Not just another “comeback” or reunion. Mazzy Star seem to honestly have been working on this for over a decade, but it’s a seamless transition from their mid 90’s heyday. When I was a teenager, Mazzy was the go to band to put on while stealing your girlfriends kisses on a moonlit beach. It still is. Ranging from soulful slow-core balladry, psych-folk and hints of their shoegaze/paisley roots as the band “Opal”, “Seasons” is very much a perfect album. Never over played, never over baked, just absolute genius from the original dream pop-folk kings. It even has one of the last recorded appearances from Mr. Burt Jansch.
Phoenix – Bankrupt! (FR)
Whoah! Wait a minute – “THAT’S PHOENIX?” is exactly what most people thought when hearing this incredible new record by the gifted frogs. Yup. For the general populous – Phoenix were forever engraved as being the band Bill Murray apparently approved of to his wife over the phone in “Lost In Translation”. They have though been consistently pumping out very decent electro-indie since then, but “Bankrupt!” was Phoenix on steroids. Maybe the world was just finally ready to notice an excellent album from such a lovely group of men. Their live show was absolutely tight, fun and uplifting, as they proved to us in a sunny field this summer at Northside. The future is bright for Phoenix. Oh yes.
Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The More I love You. (USA)
2013 was yet again a year when big hip hop, pop-tard boy bands, and Tweenie Teen princesses ran amok and ruined the world (often seated on a wrecking ball with their tongue out) for credible strong women everywhere. Nobody gives a shit about what Sinead O’Connor has to say about it, but Neko Case has a few words – “And if I’m dipshit drunk on the pink perfume, I am the man in the fucking moon, ‘Cause you didn’t know what a man was – until I showed you” in her surprisingly heavy song “Man”, Actually the term “heavy” really could describe the whole affair. Dealing with subject matter like Rape, Sexism, murder, unrequited love and isolation, this album is all at once, very very immediate and honest, as well as guarded feminine and butch at the same instance. Can you classify this album? Neko Case is primarily viewed as a country – folk artist, however this collection spans genres from near avant-garde Scott Walker instrumentations, Appalachian Folk, Celtic ‘sean nos” slacker indie, surf and baroque. Her powers are apparently unlimited, and on year end lists full- no doubtedly primarily with men – Neko is coming to the table with gloves off to play with the boys, not with batting lashes and sultry vibrato, but a shotgun and knife hidden in her boot heel for a hold out piece. This album terrifies me it’s so good.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away (AUS)
Not just another Bad Seeds record at all. In fact, this albums sound is owed not only to Nick Cave’s fucked up lyrics of torture, murder, prostitutes and nautical destitution (not to mention alluding to end Miley Cyrus; life in text as well) but to long-time collaborator and Dirty Three founder Warren Ellis. Less composed and over thought as other Cave albums tend to be, this mixes the isolation and post apocalyptic world of Cave and Ellis’ work on “The Road” soundtrack and the entire red desert setting of The Dirty Three’s finest jams with a skeleton crew of Bad Seeds. Push The Sky Away feels like a swell of music built organically and then fed gasoline and set ablaze. Yes there are some ‘crazy preacher’ moments. But also tinges of more of his quieter and lush moments on “Boatman’s Call”, Released on record store day, and also very essential is a live companion album culled from a further stripped down Bad Seeds from a KCRW session after the summer tour rolled into the USA. Those lucky enough to see (or be snotted or humped by Cave) him perform at Northside this year witnessed the hand of god and the devil simultaneously smacking the heathens of Aarhus across the gob. We are so fortunate to live on the same planet as this man and his chosen band; he truly is a genius and one of the greatest living songwriters and performers on earth.