Welcome to another year of Dropbox Notes ! This month’s offerings are the best of last year, i.e. my favorite records from 2013.
In the past, I have posted my best albums of [insert year] list with little regard to the order on that list. That is, I just posted my favorite records of the previous year in an approximation of what I liked the best. This year, I struggled to try to get through at least the first 30 albums in order of how good I thought they were; how much I enjoyed listening to them, and how likely I would go back and play them after not listening to them for a year.
That qualifier – whether you would go back and listen to a record after a year of not playing the album – appears (at least to me) to be the real test of a list like this. In the past, most of the other lists I have reviewed (you can find some at rocklist.net) from some of my favorite magazines have not contemplated the long term impact of the records they claim are the best and greatest of the year. Some magazines do a better job of this (and I am confident it is completely unintentional) than others.
For example, looking back just 5 years to 2008, compare these two top 20 lists from Q Magazine and Spin:
Q Magazine 2008 Top 20
1. Kings of Leon – Only By The Night
2. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
3. Coldplay – Viva la Vida
4. Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
5. Glasvegas – Glasvegas
6. Duffy – Rockferry
7. TV On the Radio – Dear, Science
8. Elbow – Seldom Seen Kid
9. Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lonely
10. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!
11. Sigur Rós – Með Suð í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust
12. Keane – Perfect Symmetry
13. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
14. Kaiser Chiefs – Off With Their Heads
15. Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III
16. Hot Chip – Made In the Dark
17. Adele – 19
18. British Sea Power – Do You Like Rock Music?
19. Goldfrapp – Seventh Tree
20. Gaslight Anthem – ‘59 Sound
Spin 2008 Top 20
TV On the Radio – Dear Science
Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III
Portishead – Third
Fucked Up – Chemistry of Common Life
Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes
Santogold – Santogold
Deerhunter – Microcastle
Hot Chip – Made In the Dark
Coldplay – Viva la Vida
MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
Elbow – Seldom Seen Kid
Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Pt 1: 4th World War
No Age – Nouns
Vampire Weekend – Vampire Weekend
Beck – Modern Guilt
My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges
Roots – Rising Down
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Dig!!! Lazarus, Dig!!!
Okkervil River – Stand Ins
Gnarls Barkley – Odd Couple
There is a little overlap on these two lists but on average from the Q Magazine list, I would listen to 5/20 (25%) and from the Spin list I would listen to 4/20 (20%). Can you guess which records I’d probably revisit?
With this personal observation i.e. that there are very few records that I would continue to play after a gap of a year, this list is prepared with that objective also in mind – looking forward 1 year from now.
And perhaps that is the goal of this “Best of 2013” list – to check back in a year and see how many of the 100 listed here you would go back and listen to in 2015.
With that said, here is my list of the BEST OF 2013 (all capitals because I am shouting):
Tales From The Dropbox Best Albums of 2013
Savages – Silence Yourself
FIDLAR – FIDLAR
Pacific Air – Stop Talking
Guards – In Guards We Trust
The Men – New Moon
Arctic Monkeys – A.M.
Kurt Vile – Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze
Paper Lions – My Friends
Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold
Palma Violets – 180
Fuzz – Fuzz
The National – Trouble Will Find Me
Paper Aeroplanes – Little Letters
Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe
Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana
Pure Love – Anthems
California X – California X
Foals – Holy Fire
Future Of The Left – How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident
Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Mikal Cronin – MCII
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of The City
Starflyer 59 – IAMACEO
Miles Kane – Don’t Forget Who You Are
Lydia – Devil
London Grammar – If You Wait
Royal Bangs – Brass
Upset – She’s Gone
Waaves – Afraid of Heights
Deerhunter – Monomania
The Julie Ruin – Run Fast
Jagwar Ma – Howlin’
Haim – Days are Gone
Bad Sports – Bras
Bastille – Bad Blood
My Bloody Valentine – m b v
Deap Valley – Sistrionics
So So Glos – Blowout
Wooden Shjips – Back To Land
Drenge – Drenge
Hookworms – Pearl Mystic
These New Puritans – Field Of Reeds
The Knife – Shaking The Habitual
Julia Holter – Loud City Song
Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt
Iceage – You’re Nothing
Yo La Tengo – Fade
Superchunk – I Hate Music
Volcano Choir – Repave
Phoenix – Bankrupt!
Purling Hiss – Water on Mars
Roshambo – Lonesome Men From The Woods
Pissed Jeans – Honeys
Queens of The Stoneage – Like Clockwork
Phosphorescent – Muchacho
Local Natives – Hummingbird
Factory Floor – Factory Floor
Foxygen – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
Riots – Time For Truth
Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation
Fall Out Boy – Save Rock And Roll
Forest Swords – Engravings
James Blake – Overgrown
Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin
Mutual Benefit – Loves Crushing Diamond
Strypes – Snapshot
Acres of Lions – Home(s)
Daughter – If You Leave
Grouper – The Man Who Died in His Boat
Ballet – I Blame Society
Tegan and Sara – Hearthrob
Peace – In Love [Deluxe Edition
Taymir – Phosphene
Chastity Belt – Ne Regerts
Auto Defiance – Running on The Edge
Jimmy Eat World – Damage
Courtney Barnett – The Double EP – A Sea Of Split Peas
Dirtbombs – Consistency Is The Enemy
Fitz & The Tantrums – More Than Just A Dream
Hungary Kids of Hungary – You’re A Shadow
Imperial State Electric – Reptile Brain Music
Iron Chic – The Constant One
Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time
Matt Pond – The Lives Inside The Lines In Your Hand
Jake Bugg – Shangri La
Murder By Death – As You Wish Kickstarter Covers
Cage the Elephant – Melophobia
Teen Agers – I Hate It
Beware of Darkness – Orthodox
Super Happy Fun Club – All Funned Up
Middle Class Rut – Pick Up Your Head
Banquets – Banquets
Cults – Static
RVIVR – The Beauty Between
Exxonvaldes – Lights
Mama Kin – The Magician’s Daughter
Swearin’ – Surfing Strange
Dead Sons – The Hollers And The Hymns
Growlers – Not. Psych!
Guster – Live With The Redacted Symphony
I’ll add the covers if I get a chance, but otherwise enjoy the list. Part 1 of the list ( 1-50) dropped today. I’ll drop part 2 (51-100) around February 1, so a slightly shorter turnaround this month/
Let me know if you think I’ve missed something, or your thoughts on the list. If you have a list you’d like to share – post a comment or send me the list and I’ll post it.
Until later alligator! I wish you all a terrific and happy 2014. Peace out.
Now that you’ve had a little time to digest this month’s offerings, I figured I’d try a little different method of introducing this month’s dropbox offerings. As you know, if an album is on the list, then I like it. It is pointless to “criticize” a record. Over the years I have read reviews in a large variety of publications, including fanzines, almost religiously, with a singular purpose: to determine whether I would like an album enough to purchase it. However, when I actually thought about the information I was processing, in the end it was all about the quality of certain information in a review. Most reviews are rather worthless fluff. It seems as if writing more about how the band feels about the record was somehow important, or where it was recorded, or how it compares to the last record ( always harder, faster, more fully realized, etc.), or the difficulties one or more band members experienced during the writing process (Alternative Press – I’m talking about you here) was somehow important in making me decide to make a purchase. I am a slow learner. It is only recently I realized that I was only just scanning theses so-called reviews to see if I could gleam valuable nuggets of information that would help me decide on whether I would actually like the record. Some reviewers are better than others at giving me the information I needed to make that decision and I find that I am sometimes guilty of excessive descriptors.
So, after plenty of thought, I have divined the minimum amount of knowledge required to make a decision:
1. Band Name + Album Cover – You can often determine what genre a record falls into pretty quickly by looking at the album cover and in knowing the genre, you’re probability of determining whether you’ll actually like the album will increase, sometimes, significantly (in the true meaning of the word significance). Art is very much a part of the record buying experience. Death metal and thrash albums look different than indie records which look different from pop artists and country. There are exceptions, but generally, the formula, band name + album cover art = genre can help you narrow things down. As noted below, this is why a video of the band performing live is really helpful. Than you YouTube!
2. What other sound/influences are present? This is a different question than one that is often asked of the musician’s themselves. If the information comes from a band member, the “influences” question (which in my opinion is a fairly lazy and poor question) can produce a wide variety of answers none of which will actually help with the decision to listen to an album based upon a review. For example, here are Sky Ferreira’s claimed musical influences: Madonna,Prince,Gwen Stefani,Britney Spears,Alice Cooper,Nancy Sinatra, and The Runaways.
So, when you listen to the record, which is in this month’s dropbox, do you hear any of these influences? No. Not a single one is present on this record. Not much help.The real question for PIP (purchasing information purposes), are those elements of artists that have a similar sound to the artist being reviewed, so you can kind of figure out if it is a sound/artist you would like to listen to and then take the leap from there. For example, it is not much of a stretch to say that the early Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers records sound like Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. How do I know? I asked Jonathan in Vancouver and he said “I ripped them off, I tried to sound like them.”
There should be little debate that throughout the history of recorded music, artists have incorporated elements from other artists into their compositions. Whether by design, accident, coincidence, the limitations of human imagination, or genetics, popular music is derivative. The past is a predictor of the future, right? Comparison should not be avoided when it can lead to finding something worth treasuring.For me, these comparisons are helpful. If I know and like the other artist to which the comparison has been made, then the probability of me liking the unknown artist, increases proportionately to the reputation of the comparison artist. For example, if you tell me an artist sounds like the dBs or Replacements – I’m in. I will purchase the record. I love those sounds.
3. Where is the artist located? Regionalism in music is important. For example, the English punk rock scene, Seattle’s grunge scene, Athens GA, North Carolina alternative rock, Minneapolis punk rock, Vancouver punk rock, even Toronto, Boston, Los Angeles, and New York developed some interesting variants in the same genre, i.e. a sound associated with a city. Once a particular type of music becomes moderately successful in an area i.e (playing shows that people are attending) then other bands in the area start developing a similar sound. This may be a result of bands playing together on a concert bill, or attending each others shows (British punk is an excellent example of this), or in areas where college radio still has an influence, hearing like minded musicians playing and incorporating those sounds into a bands oeuvre.
All this is not meant to infer that bands are mere copyists, but this “regionalism” is one of the qualities that I have found helpful in determining whether I am going to like a band. The place of origin alone is not very helpful, but as an additional piece of information, sometimes you can connect the dots to discover a connection to a particular sound.
3. Who produced the record? In certain genres this is an important piece of information. Depending on your familiarity with a particular type of music certain producers names have considerable influenced my decision to purchase an album. For example, Mitch Easter has produced a huge number of records by bands whose records I’ve liked. ( R.E.M., Ben Folds Five, Pylon, Helium, Pavement, Suzanne Vega, Game Theory, Marshall Crenshaw, The Connells, Velvet Crush, Ken Stringfellow (of The Posies), and Birds of Avalon). Same goes for Don Dixon ( Marti Jones, Chris Stamey, Tommy Keene, Smithereens, Richard Barone) , Steve Albini (Pixies, Nirvana, PJ Harvey), Steve Lillywhite (U2, The La’s), John Leckie ( Stone Roses, Radiohead), etc. Hopefully you get the idea. Sometimes a producer’s influence can make the purchase decision easier, although I note that few reviews mention a producer, unless it is Dangermouse.
4. A video. YouTube is among the greatest innovations in music. Why? Because now you can actually see an artist play live, and this for me is a huge influence in the purchasing process. Some artists make good videos but they are incapable of putting on a show that I would want to see. Perhaps its my growing up in Vancouver in the late 1970’s where the can-punk scene was huge. I attended hundreds of shows between 1977 and 1986 and this spoiled me forever. It is difficult to imagine the cognitive dissonance created in having experienced Dead Kennedys, D.O.A., Subhumans, as well as a steady stream of British acts including XTC, Echo & The Bunnymen, Gang of Four, Stranglers, Clash, Buzzcocks, Jam, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Police, and American acts including the Cramps, Minutemen, Toxic Reasons, Replacements, Plasmatics, and Husker Du and then try to experience a Tom Petty show, which I did, regrettably. I loved Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers ( Released November 9, 1976 containing the songs “Breakdown” and “American Girl”, but the record did not translate well live because Tom Petty puts on the absolutely most mind-numbing and boring live performances ever. YouTube cures this problem. However, as noted in these notes, live performance is just a fact to the equation, because some great songs are recorded by bands that should never perform live. See Tom Petty above.
4. What record label is the artist on? This information used to be terrifically helpful, but now, not so much. As self-released and self-funded (or crowd funded) releases now start to predominate the market label associations are becoming relatively meaningless. I mention the importance of the record label as another excellent fact for PIP, because I would be remiss to dismiss the influence of some great record labels that were remarkably consistent, some for a very lengthy period of time. Often, I would purchase an album just because of the label. Just as Blue Note is the touchstone for Jazz, Stiff Records, Sympathy For The Record Industry, Sub Pop, Car, Rough Trade, XL Recordings, Touch and Go, SST etc., represent (ed) classic punk, indie, and alternative records, and you could buy a record just because it was on the label. I note however, that many of even these labels are now either extinct, have expanded the range of their releases and therefore are not as consistent in quality, or owned by the few remaining major labels, and ascribe to a different perspective as a consequence ( make more money). I haven’t dropped label as a requisite item of information, but as time goes on, I fear this information will be less relevant for PIP.
So there you have it – not a lot of information is truly necessary to discern good from bad or potential interesting from not so much. I would add that sometimes you like a particular reviewer, and will go along for the ride, but even in my case, some winners could be losers in your mind. So, tread lightly my friends, and if I don’t update before the end of the year… happy holidays.
Here is this month’s list: (Also, I know about the numbering issue – I’ve tried to fix it, but WordPress #$^ stuff up. It took me an hour to get things to line up. As for the numbers, I’ll have to wait for another time.
1. Go Violets – Heart Slice EP (Brisbane popsters channeling Breeders/Belly.)
Try: “Teenager,” “Josie,” and “Beside Me.”
Iron Chic – The Constant One (Long Island punk rock super-group claiming Gaslight Anthem territory – you’ll love it’) Try: “Sounds like A Pretty Brutal Murder,” “What Ever Happened to The Man of Tomorrow,” and “Bogus Journey.”
Chumped – Chumped EP (Slacker Superchunk channeling female fronted Brooklynites sing catchy as F… songs about…..feelings.)
Try: “Someday,” “Eleanor,” and “Something About Lemons.”
Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time (Model Sky actually can sing and gets it right – well-crafted electro-pop in an Annie Lennox light way.)
Try: “24 Hours,” “Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay),” and “I Will.”
Super Best Friends – Handshake (Canberra 3 piece party synth garage punk rock with headbangin’ appeal! Shouting choruses!)
Try: “Karma Karma,” “No Logo Is A Joke,” and “The Bleachers.”
Davey Lane – The Good Borne of Bad Tymes (Aussie You Am I guitarist debut EP a throwback to mod influenced shoegaze with power pop elements.)
Try: “You’re The Cops, I’m The Crime” (Awesome single!) “Sinking May,” and “You Got Me On Side.”
The Proctors – Everlasting Light (exceptional sunny jangle pop from Gavin Priest led trio – has perfected the Game Theory/Windbreakers sound.)
Try: “Trouble With Forever,” “Perfect World,” “Ember Days.”
Caseworker – Voices Out There (4th album from San Francisco based garage dream pop trio with boy girl vocals who explore inner ambient/minimalist textures.)
Try: “Voices Out There,” “Ultramarine,” and “Dependence Day.”
Upset – She’s Gone (former Best Coast/Vivian Girls drummer Ali Koehler led all girl trio produce energetic fuzz laden 90’s influenced pop punk echoing Koehler’s past and the gooeyness of the Ramones.)
White Hills – So You Are… So You’ll Be (8 years and 7 albums in band perfects haunted Hawkwind space rock – garage psych with light fuzz. Prepare to be blown away.)
Try: “In Your Room,” “So You Are… So You’ll Be,” “Forever in Space (Enlightened).”
Chills – Somewhere Beautiful (NZ Indie pop legends and sound originators with a live return (as a five piece) playing the hits at private party on New Year’s Eve 2011 in Central Otago, N.Z. )
Try: “Heavenly Pop Hit,” “Soft Bomb, Part One,” and the hauntingly lovely “Submarine Bells.”
Less Than Jake – See The Light (Veteran ska punkers make a return with first LP in 5 years – and its good)
Try: “My Money is on the Long Shot,” “Do the Math,” and “Sunstroke.”
Dead Gaze – Brain Holiday (Missisippi’s Cole Furlow’s project is lo-fi garage based fuzz pop in the same vein as Ty Segall with groovy hooks to make you smile.)
Try: “Yuppies Are Flowers,” “Stay, Don’t Say,” and “Possible Embrace.”
Wild Child – The Runaround (Austin-based group led by the husky voiced Kelsey Wilson and Alexander Beggins’ sophomore effort finds success in folk influenced indie pop, unfortunately a little overproduced, but some catchy hooks right the ship.)
Try: “Victim to Charm,” “Living Tree,” and “The Runaround.”
Roman Candle – Debris (Chapel Hill N.C. fourth LP changes pace with a darker guitar pop record featuring a rarity – some strong lyrics. Beautiful sounding album.)
Try: “End of the Street,” “Nowhere to Start,” and “Not Strangers Anymore.”
Sadies – Internal Sounds (Canadian desert rockers still evoking their Byrds and Band with all the jangle that means on their 16th album.)
Try: “The First 5 Minutes,” “Starting All Over Again,” and “Leave This World Behind.”
Straightaway – Last Exit To Nowhere (straight forward no fills skate punk from France.)
Try: “My Own Demise,” “Last Exit To Nowhere,” and “Right Choice, Wrong Feeling.”
Blue Rodeo – In Our Nature (Canadian alt-country legends edge closer to their Band roots with a beautiful but very dark folk rock record – 13 is a lucky number.)
Try: “New Morning Sun,” “In Our Nature,” and “When the Truth Comes Out.”
Minor Alps – Get There (Blake Babies + Nada Surf = sweet folk harmonies – Juliana Hatfield and Mathew Caws.)
Try: “Far from the Roses,” “Mixed Feelings,” and “Waiting for You.”
Alex Lloyd – Urban Wilderness (Very catchy Aussie sing-a-long folk pop that’s punchy with this 6th album as good as his award winning first, 2002’s Black the Sun.)
Try: “Waterfall, “Black Cat” and “Turn the Light On.”
Templeton Pek – Signs (melodic punk rock from Birmingham England in vein of Billy Talent,Rise Against (with whom they toured in 2011) still retaining some metal edges.)
Try: “Who We Are,” “Slow Burn,” and “Signs.”
Radical Face – The Family Tree – The Branches (Ben Cooper recording under Radical Face moniker 2nd LP of trilogy traverses Death Cab For Cutie indie/alt-folk territory – successfully.)
Try: “Holy Branches,” “Reminders,” and the pastoral “Summer Skeletons.”
The Sounds – Weekend (5th album from Swedish dance party rockers contains classic (Blondie) elements of the Sound’s past while showing a little more risk with a couple of indie pop efforts. Gotta love Maja Ivarsson’s vocals which are gruff sweetness.)
Try: “Hurt the Ones I Love,” “Shake Shake Shake,” and Weekend.”
Gary Numan – Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind) (20th release, Goth electro-robot’s triumphant return.)
Try: “I Am Dust,” “Splinter,” “Everything Comes Down to This.”
Curbside – The Sound I Know (2012 release, Canadian throwback 90’s pop-punk rock in same vein as Overwhelming Colorfast.)
Try: “54 Queen Street South,” “For Those Left Behind,” and “Saving Face.”
Alex Chilton – Electricity by Candlelight (Alex illuminates genius through impromptu cover set recorded at Knitting Factory NY 2/13/97 after power outage cancels second show.)
Try: “Surfer Gril (Beach Boys)” “Solar System (Beach Boys),” and “My Baby Just Cares for Me (Nina Simone).”
Lovespoon – Carious Soul (Italian (Ravenna, Italy) Green On Red meets Alex Chilton – loads of reverb.)
Try: “Anyway,” “Carious Soul,” and “Another Pale Moon.”
Twin Forks – Twin Forks EP (Boca Raton FL based Dashboard Confessional singer Chris Carrabba’ folk rock project – and its good.)
Try: “Back To You,” “Cross My Mind,” and “Can’t Be Broken.”
Craft Spells – Room 205 Session EP (Stockton California’s regrettably too short Cure influenced lovelorn indie electro-pop – beautifully crafted.)
Try: “From The Morning Heat,” “Party Talk,” and “Love Well Spent (Live at MFNW).”
Loon Lake – Gloamer (Melbourne brothers led five piece command indie surf pop and channel Weezer and INXS.)
Try: “City Lights,” “Cherry Lips,” and “Carolina.”
Swearin’ – Surfing Strange (Second LP from Brooklyn’s Allison Crutchfield and Kyle Gilbride co-fronting the Pixies (a little bleaker without the howl))
Try: “Dust in the Gold Sack,” “Watered Down,” and “Loretta’s Flowers.”
Moistboyz – V (Dean Ween‘s post Ween heavy punk -metal band with heavy debt to Billion Dollar Babies (Alice Cooper’s backing band on the classic albums) and the Beat Farmers – @#$%@#% awesome! NSFW.)
Try: “Paperboy,” “Chickendick,” and “Protect And Serve.”
Future of The Left – Human Death EP (See #56. Andrew Falkous led Cardiff Wales alt-punk rockers synth punk EP follow up to amazing 4th LP.)
Try: “Not Entirely Present,” “The Knife That Is Not A Knife,” and “Not Entirely Present.”
Young Knives – Sick Octave (Mercury Prize-nominated Leicestershire indie rock trio kickstarter funded 4th LP indie-synth noise pop with Cabaret Voltaire leanings and David Bowie/Byrne vocals.)
Try: “We Could Be Blood,” “Marble Maze,” and “Maureen.”
Wooden Shjips – Back To Land (Velvet Underground inspired 6th album from San Francisco based psychedelic drone rockers emphasize their 60’s influences all to great effect.)
Try: “Back To Land,” “These Shadows,” and “Everybody Knows.”
White Denim – Corsicana Lemonade (Southern boogie indie rockers 6th LP finds the perfect balance between the 70’s (Allman Brothers) and today)
Try: “New Blue Feeling,” “At Night in Dreams,” and “Pretty Green.”
Western Lows – Glacial (ex-Mezzanine Owls front man Jack Burnside, with help from friends Michael Stipe, Azure Ray’s Orenda Fink, and Andy LeMaster produce an excellent shoegaze Bon Iver record with Echo & The Bunnymen elements)
Try: “Last Known Rivers,” “Lazy,” and “Grapevine.”
We All Want To – Streets of Your Town (Single) (catchy single from another Brisbane Australian band finding comfort in the sound of Michael Stipe fronting Let’s Active/ Go-Betweens. LP is great too!)
Try: “Streets Of Your Town,” and “We’re Not Perfect.”
TV Ghost – Disconnect (Lafayette Indiana’s shoegaze Joy Division meets Echo & The Bunnymen in haunting post punk epic.)
Try: “Veils,” “Others Will Be Born,” and “Dread Park.”
The Toddlers – The Toddlers (Baritone vocalist Nathan Tobin’s Carrboro NC, Mitch Easter recorded, Americana post punk influenced desert rock meets Pavement with the National’s Matt Berringer sound-a-like.)
Try: “You Can Keep The Wheels,” “Who Is The Kingdom,” and “Little Man.”
Smallpools – Smallpools EP (Vocalist Sean Scanlon’s Phoenix meets Grouplove/Imagine Dragons indie-pop.)
Try: “Dreaming,” “Mason Jar,” and “Over & Over.”
Polar Bear Club – Death Chorus (less howling and decidedly more poppy version of this terrific upstate New York punk rock band in transition – still rocks hard.)
Try: “Blood Balloon,” “When We Were College Kids,” and “Upstate Mosquito.”
Mystery Twins – Ghost In The Ground (Nashville rockers singer-guitarist Doug Lehmann and drummer Stephanie Brush produce garage rock kissed by X, the Everly Brothers and the 60’s.)
Try: “The World Within,” “Your Heart Won’t Let You Down,” and “Mary.”
Love Junkies – Maybelene (Perth Australia trio funnels Jet through the White Stripes traversing no new ground but rocks like a mother*&&$$.)
Try: “Oxymoron,” “Hurt You,” and “Maybelene.”
John Steel Singers – Everything’s A Thread (Aussie angular and jangly indie rockers with Beach Boy harmony flourishes achieve perfection.)
Try: “Common Thread,” “The Marksman,” and “Everything’s A Thread.”
Connections – Body Language (3rd excellent 2013 release from scrappier Columbus Ohio GBV indebted lo-fi rockers who actually write better songs)
Try: “Aimless,” “She’s Cheering Up,” and “Jeni and Johnny.”
47. Day Ravies – Tussle (Sydney Australia quartet wear proudly their Kink’s/ Velvet Underground/ Sonic Youth influence on their Jesus & Marychain shoegaze sleeve)
Try: “Double Act,” “I Don’t Mind,” and “Staring Is Caring.”
Anna Calvi – One Breath (Sophomore release from the biggest thing since Patti Smith according to Brian Eno with powerful soaring nuanced vocals utilized to spectacular operatic quality effect.)
Try: “Suddenly,” “One Breath,” and “Carry Me Over.”
Ty Segall – Gemini (Demos from 2012 Twins LP sessions for vinyl only release.)
Try: “Would You Be My Love,” “Gold On The Shore,” and “Ghost.”
Entrance Band – Face The Sun (turbulent history California psych prog rockers return to the program with trippy moody LP )
Try: “Fire Eyes,” “Spider,” and “Night Cat.”
Georgia Fair – Trapped Flame (Jordan Wilson and Ben Riley, Sydney-born, now Melbourne-based duo mine travel to L.A to produce 2nd LP full of Americana flavored inspired alt-country rock (BoDeans).)
Try: “Love Free Me,” “Plain Girls,” and “Someday Soon.”
Jake Bugg –Shangri-La (2nd LP containing more of the same up-tempo rockabilly tinged folk rock as his debut. Carry on lad – what you are doing works.)
Try: “What Doesn’t Kill You,” “Messed Up Kids,” and “Kingpin.”
Songs: Ohia – The Magnolia Electric Co. (Late Lorain Ohio musician Jason Molina masterwork reissued ala Death Cab for Cutie acoustic.)
Try: “I’ve Been Riding with the Ghost,” “Almost Was Good Enough,” and “Farewell Transmission.”
Spiderbait – Spiderbait (9 year hiatus over for band together for a quarter century. Best known in U.S. for Ram Jam “Black Betty” hit cover, these Aussie alt rock legends return with explosive propulsive electro-hard rockin’, banger of an album.)
Try: “It’s Beautiful,” “Supersonic,” and “What You Get.”
Swellers – The Light Under Closed Doors (Flint, Mi. Diener brothers return solid effort of well-crafted mature pop punk with sad feel.)
Try: “Should,” “Got Social,” and “Big Hearts.”
Future of the Left – How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident (4th album is best punk rock record of the year, diverse, humorous and Johnny Lydon inspired vocals.)
Try: “Johnny Borrell Afterlife,” “She Gets Passed Around at Parties,” and “Why Aren’t I Going to Hell.”
Fuzz – Live In San Francisco EP (It’s Fuzz. It’s Ty Segall. What more is there to say?)
Try: Them all.
58. Hedley – Wild Life (Canadian pop rockers with hooks to spare, “Anything” subversively brain coma inducing.)
Try: “Anything,” “Beautiful Girl,” and “Dreaming’s For Sleeping.”
Bet you thought with the timing of the release of this month’s dropbox (on Halloween) and these notes that there might be a holiday theme to the drop box. No such luck. What there is this month, with this latest version of the drop box, is another month of really good music. Rarely does the wave of good tunes extend past September. Historically, October and November begin the Christmas music season and often signals a time of year that is littered with greatest hits and anthology albums, Christmas albums (I kid you not, Bad Religion has a Christmas Album that is as terrible as it sounds. Filled with traditional songs sung in the style of Bad Religion – brutal) and those artists who are not on major labels. The “major labels” (whatever those are now) have already released their biggest albums of the year, e.g. Lady Gaga, Kanye, etc. to time their sales for Christmas shoppers desperate for a gift for someone whom they think will like the album they purchased for them and invariably, they do not. At least in the pre-digital age, when you ended up with the Bee Gees greatest hits vinyl, you could always return it for the latest KISS album.
Not only is this month’s drop box filled with some really good records, but what is most striking about this month is the diversity of the releases – from the Clash to Cassadee Pope – you should find something appealing as you begin the holiday season. Consistent with the release schedule of the major labels, the large number of reissues and anthologies has produced several worthy of inclusion in the drop box. I have selected a couple of these to introduce the band or the record to those of you whom likely have never heard of these artist, such as the Undertones and Public Image Limited.
After speaking with Russell last week about the diversity of musical styles, and for those of you who care about these things, there is a pattern that has developed over the past several months. If you scroll back through the notes, I have tried each month to provide something old, something, new something pink and something blue in each dropbox. This month there are a few extra oldsters that made the box.
So, with that said, lets introduce a few that made it:
The Clash should need no introduction, right? The Clash, like Elvis Costello and The Who, are reissue kings with numerous repackages of their albums. This latest round of reissues however may be the final statement on their reissues. The Clash Hits Back, and the simultaneous release of Sound System, a massive boom box containing all of the Clash albums that Mick Jones played on (the band essentially disavowing the Cut The Crap album) and containing a treasure trove of unreleased demos and goodies, easily supplants the Clash on Broadway box set as the best of the Clash reissues.
The Clash Hits Back is of interest, not only for the upgraded re-mastering of classic Clash songs making them sound much closer to what the records sounded like on vinyl – raw and vital, but also for the sequencing of this two disc set. The Clash Hits Back is sequenced almost exactly as the set played by the band at the Brixton Fair Deal (now the Academy) on 10 July 1982. The place apparently held a special place for the Clash according to bassist Paul Simenon who was responsible for the Hits Back and Sound System projects. I was able to see the Clash play in Vancouver at the Commodore Ballroom (January 31, 1979) at the peak of their powers. When you scan the set list for this show it is amazing – essentially a greatest hits album from the first song to the last. I have a bootleg of this show, unfortunately an audience recording, but you can hear the energy of the crowd and the band as they ripped through these songs. Strummer was a master at timing the emotions of the crowd in response to the songs. I’m not going to make song picks here. This is perfection.
Coming from a completely different musical direction in the same punk genre as the Clash were a little band from Derry Northern Ireland – The Undertones. Like Stiff Little Fingers, the Undertones played a pop version of punk rock with well written short sharp songs propelled by the O’Neil brothers and the unique sounding vocals of Feargal Sharkey. The O’Neil’s later went on to form the amazing That Petrol Emotion when Feargal Sharkey left the band to go solo.
Drawing from not only punk and new wave but also pop and northern soul, the Undertones represented a very distinct branch of the new wave movement from 1979. Hugely popular in England and Ireland and a large following in Canada, they didn’t connect with the U.S. as many a band who tried to break in to the U.S. market largely failed. I note that even the Clash had difficulty early on only finding success when the band was nearing the end of its initial run. People think the Clash’sLondon Calling was a huge record. Although now it is considered by many as one of the greatest albums of all time, it peaked in the U.S. Billboard charts at number 27 in 1980 (released in the U.S. on January 18, 1980), and did not reach RIAA gold certification until December 4, 1991, almost 11 years later.
So back to the Undertones. What made the Undertones so unique, and unlike Stiff Little Fingers, was despite the time and place of their formation (during the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland) the songs are focused on love, teen angst, and youthful exuberance. It is difficult not to smile when you hear the catchy pop-punk singles of this unique sounding band that incorporated a wide range and diverse number of influences. UK radio DJ John Peel’s favorite song of all time was “Teenage Kicks” which is hard to argue as the best in the Undertones catalog but for me, on Introducing the Undertones, “Hypnotized,” “Here Comes The Summer,” and the Motown influenced “The Love Parade” do nicely.
The third oldie record in this month’s drop box is Public Image Limited’ s debut release First Issue – a remarkable album that changed the public’s perception of what popular music should sound like upon its release in 1978. Following the death of the Sex Pistols and the resultant trauma from the mess the Sex Pistols left in their wake, Johnny Rotten’s formation of Public Image Limited shortly thereafter was not only a surprise, but the uncompromising quality of the music on First Issue was a shock to the public. At the time, the record was considered too un-commercial to be released in the United States. The influence on post punk following the release of First Issue is undeniable.
From the band name, Public Image Limited, to the songs on this record, First Issue is a deliberate attempt to exorcise the taste of the Sex Pistols from Lydon’s psyche. The album is a direct slap at Malcolm McLaren and the lyrics, in part, are directed to the bitterness Lydon felt towards the manipulation by McLaren in creating the infighting and tension that lead to the demise of the band. This back story to the record puts songs like “Public Image” and its wry observations such as “[y]ou never listened to a word that I said/ you only see me for the clothes that I wear” in context. There is nothing like psychological pain to inspire brilliance.
Listening to this album more than 35 years after its original release, the songs now sound akin to present day rock, but at the time, this sound was revolutionary. Jah Wobble’s thumping baseline expanded the sonic template for guitarist Keith Levine’s grind and the union of these divergent sounds exposed the underbelly of rock – in a very exciting way. This reissue of First Issue also includes a Lydon interview and the b-side “The Cowboy Song” which is really a true b-side, as this song leans more towards noise punk. First Issue is at it’s heart anti-rock created by a guy who hated conventional rock and roll. First Issue was a dangerous record in 1978, and frankly, it still is. Try “Public Image”, “Low Life,” and “Annalisa.”
Fast forward a couple of years later into the 1980’s, English new wavers Tears For Fears, comprised of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith, represented the prototypical sound of new wave in the mid 1980’s and by the end of that decade were ubiquitous on radio – both AM and FM. In the same manner as like-minded synth pop bands, Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark and the Human League, Tears For Fears initial impact is lost in the syrupy overproduced major label influenced pop that followed each band’s debut record. But as a debut, The Hurting, still resonates. The Hurting was a UK Number 1 album, but the U.S. missed the initial wave of popularity, with the follow up album, Songs From The Big Chair, reaching stratospheric popularity levels upon its release in the U.S – peaking as a Billboard No. 1.
So, why was The Hurting so special? The vocal qualities of Roland and Curt over top of the sly synth-pop disguised the serious nature of the lyrical content on the album. It is difficult to reconcile the subject matter on songs like “Mad World,” “Pale Shelter” and “Suffer The Children” with the dance music underlying these lyrics. e.g. from “Pale Shelter”: “[y]ou don’t give me love/ you give me pale shelter/ you don’t give me love/ you give me cold hands…” Remarkably, this album found a niche with the Cure loving Goth kids who adopted the band as an alternative to the dower Cure who had left the comparatively upbeat song craft found on their debut Three Imaginary Boys for the post punk of Seventeen Seconds, Faith, and Pornography – three of the darkest records in the Cure discography. Tears For Fears looked like Goth’s, and the dark lyrical content fit within the Goth world, but The Hurting is filled with remarkable pop songs and TFF were definitely not a Goth band, so this anomaly possibly lead to increasing importance and popularity which TFF later capitalized upon commercially. Try “Change,” “Suffer The Children (7’’ version),” and “Pale Shelter.”
Last, but certainly not least in this month’s plethora of reissues, is Death Cab For Cutie’sTransatlanticism Demos, which is the bonus record attached to the 10th anniversary reissue of Transatlanticism which was Death Cab’s fourth album and commercial breakthrough record.
While I rarely, if ever, am excited by the demos of a band, these demos caught my attention because the textures present here give further meaning and context to songs that I loved from this record. Ben Gibbard and Chris Walla’s approach on Transatlanticism was never to be a rock band putting out a rock record. Rather, these demos demonstrate the care the pair took in developing a sonic approach to indie rock that creates a tension that touches your heart. The simple approach to these demo songs bring the released versions into perspective. “Lightness” in particular stands out as the simple melody that penetrates your soul. Give this a whirl at least once. You won’t be disappointed. Try” Lightness,” “Death of An Interior Decorator,” and “Tiny Vessels.”
October also had some new releases worthy of a few lines:
It is hard to argue with the commercial popularity of Arcade Fire’s new release, Reflektor. For those expecting The Suburbs mach II, Reflektor is really a left turn. Debuting at No. 1 in the Billboard charts shows that the record company knows how to release a record and the No. 1 debut is more the result of great publicity, a last album by the band that was spectacular, and timing of the publicity in advance of the release date, than the quality of record itself. That is, few people who purchased the record had actually heard the record before purchase. So what makes Reflektor, which is a staggering 85 minutes long, a great record? In short, the songs on Reflektor comprise a certain phase shift in the Arcade Fire’s sound and the result is an unconventional album uniquely positioned for mass appeal.
There is nothing on this record that would signal conventional hit record. The songs are lengthy, and like the National song structures, build to crescendo and upon the reaching that sonic peak, explode into smaller yet no less interesting waves. The songs don’t attack you, but rather flow like water, not a gentle stream, but like the ocean… and that is the magic in this record. The songs are constructed in such a way to give you the feeling that you are floating within each song. You float and consequently the need for instant gratification typical of most pop songs i.e. the chorus, is no longer a necessity. This record would make for a long sweaty night in a nightclub and I can envision the endless remix possibilities. Finally, there is a rhythmic awareness on this record unlike any other Arcade Fire record. It is impossible not to listen to this record with a foot tap. Songs like “We Exist” and Here Comes The Nigh Time” are prime examples of this new approach with interesting rhythms propelling the songs and the Win Butler’s vocals weirdly hovering in these rhythms. Try “We Exist, “Normal Person,” and “Afterlife.”
AFI makes a return after a lengthy hiatus. After 4 years, Davey Havoc and company make a very lush sounding imaginative record that is undoubtedly the darkest record the band has made. This is Havoc’s personal pain examined in depth. Knowledge is power, so be forewarned, this is not a dance pop record and nor is it in any manner similar to the straight forward rock that was present on Crash Love. This is still progress for AFI and not a return to the commercial popular version, except that the Goth rock leanings are reinvigorated on Burials. Other than the radio friendly “17 Crimes,” there are no other songs on this record that should make any commercial playlist. I guess that is perhaps the point AFI is trying to make on this album. Burials is clearly not an attempt to produce a radio friendly unit shifter (Nirvana). Look, any band who can sing “I Hope You Suffer” with such ferocity, is no longer grasping for the brass ring. If you are already a fan, then you will get this record and what AFI is trying to accomplish. I also hope that anyone who listens to this record doesn’t have a personal connection to these songs, because if you do, my heartfelt deepest regrets. This record makes the dropbox, because of its honesty and commitment to the craft of making music that is personal. Very few artists are willing to commit to their art, but AFI have done that in spades here. Honest and intense, this is a great record. Try” I Hope You Suffer,” “Heart Stops,” and “Greater Than 84.”
Radically switching things up (because after listening to Burials, you are reminded that perhaps a break from despair is required, at least sometimes), legendary (at least to me) musician and producer Chris Stamey (formerly of the Sneakers, and dBs) releases Lovesick Blues, his first record since 2005’s collaboration with Yo La Tengo, A Question of Temperature. This is a beautiful record in the true meaning of that word – pleasing the senses or mind aesthetically. The addition of strings to these delicate compositions add sonic highlights to the simple and straightforward approach of Stamey on these intimate tales. For those of you whom have grown up with pop music on radio, then Lovesick Blues will be an acquired taste. I find Stamey’s approach to these songs remarkable. After repeated listens to this album I find nuances to each song that I didn’t discover on earlier listens. It is the work of true genius to make complex songs sound so simple. Try “Skin,” “You n Me n XTC,” and “Lovesick Blues.”
Never thought I’d see the Dandy Warhols pop out a new record as good as this at this point in their career. This Machine is the 8th album from the Portland mainstays who continue to tour and play but not with the same fervor as earlier in the band’s development. Prior to listening to This Machine, I had read some mostly negative reviews and as a reader of Pitchfork’s blog, I was dismayed by Pitchfork’s reviewer’s 5.1 overall rating for the album. The reviewer found the Dandy Warhols stripped down approach to psych rock unappealing and the album overall uninteresting. With that as foreshadow for my own listening experience, I was hesitant to even give the record a spin. I’m glad I did. Pitchfork’s review is wide of the mark and they are just plain wrong in their assessment of This Machine. Perhaps there is something else going on with the politics of rock criticism as Pitchfork becomes less relevant in the big picture. I know, some of you are thinking why I would make such a bold statement.
An Aside: Pitchfork has like many a blog, evolved over the years. As it attempts to monetize its blog, after all who writes this stuff for free, there has been subtle, but noticeable change in the review content. Sure, there is still an attempt to review nearly everything released, but in the last year, there is major label creep. I note the positive reviews of Katy Perry (I agree with the review), Kanye West (9.5 for largely an average and uninspired record. Note: Hype does not make a record good. The test, as always is time, and I can think of no time where I would play this more than the few times I tried to listen to this record), Drake (8.6), Janelle Monae (8.3) etc. The point here is that Pitchfork is shifting its focus to try to be popular, i.e. increase readership, which by no means is a bad thing, but at what expense? Since, the focus of the dropbox is always only on things I personally like, I do not offer or pretend to offer criticism, only information. Hopefully it’s relevant and interesting. If not, let me know. I’ll do better. So, back to the point of this aside – Pitchfork is becoming less relevant as a place to read valid criticism because it has lost its focus – it is not Spin or Rolling Stone and it shouldn’t try to be. Rather, Pitchfork’s best asset was always information – exposure to unique sounds and artists. This I feel is what it has lost.
Now, back to the program:
Dandy Warhols’ leader and rock savant Courtney Taylor-Taylor, has produced an interesting and yes, different, Dandy Warhols record. The secret on This Machine is the Dandy’s capacity to move the listener by changing the sonic direction of each song. The strength of the Dandy Warhols has always been the capacity to sonically fuse pychedelia to indie rock, and that is accomplished here is spades. Perhaps, Pitchfork doesn’t like the ethereal vocals, noticeable present on “The Autumn Carnival,” or the straightforward Cramps sound of “Enjoy Yourself” but in the main, I was pleasantly surprised by both the depth and variety of the songs. Sure, there is not the vigor of youth present in Taylor’s vocals, but maturity should not be taken for merely going through the motions. Also, nothing on This Machine approaches the level of craftsmanship found on the first three DW records, but, for most bands, it is difficult to get one great record let alone three, and on album eight it is refreshing to see a band not traipsing around the same sound with little thought to creating something new. This record works because it demonstrates range, uncompromising quality, and the songs still fit the band. Sure there are a few missteps, such as the cover of Merle Travis’ “Sixteen Tons,” but overall a very good record. Try “I Am Free,” “Rest Your Head,” and “Sad Vacation.”
Need a change of pace and direction? Not you as a listener, but as a band, then look no further than Fall Out Boy’s latest release. I thought their last album Fall Out BoySave Rock and Roll was a very strong record, but this follow up EP, Pax-Am Days, is a palate cleaner for the band. This is eight songs of short sharp punk rock touched by the pop sprinkles of Patrick Stump, and the results, unlike similar attempts by bands looking to take a harder left turn in their careers, are uniformly excellent. Perhaps, FOB’s members actually like punk rock – because they play it like they mean it. While this type of punk rock is likely a genre where the band will likely end up on their next full length, Fall Out Boy successfully plays these eight tracks like the band is still part of the scene, not merely aping the sound. A great effort. Try ”American Made,” “Caffeine Cold,” and “Love Sex Death.”
If you’ve been following the dropbox for the past couple of years, then you are likely aware that when I like a record I become a fan of the band and so, when something new appears, I am eager to give it a listen. Such is the case this month with some great new tunes from some past offenders:
Kurt Vile and The Violator’s latest, It’s A Big World Out There (And I’m Scared), is scheduled for release next week (November 13) and continues Vile’s distinctive indie rock sound explored earlier this year on Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze and will comprise the bonus disc for the deluxe version of that album as all of the tracks were recorded during those sessions. All of these are previously unreleased, and as a standalone, this EP works great as a companion to that record. I am looking forward already to the next installment. Try “Feel My Pain,”, “Never Run Away (string synth),” and “Snowflakes Extended.”
So, you’ve probably already guessed I have a toner (a musical boner, see the Pitch Perfect movie), for the very prolific Ty Segal who seems to release something every month. This month it is in the form of Fuzz, consisting of life long pals Charles Mootheart & Ty Segall and rounded out live by ex-Moonheart Roland Cosio on bass who have released a gem of a record in the form of the self-titled debut Fuzz and a 7’’ “Sunderberry Dream” b/w “21st Century Schizoid Man.” Like Segall’s other projects, the touchstone is always some point in rock history as filtered through Segall’s brilliant reinterpretations of the genre. Here, Fuzz takes on the heavy rock of the early to mid-70’s with Black Sabbath, Hendrix, and similar post 60’s psychedelic Blues based fuzz rock. The record makes you sweaty just listening. I want desperately to get my Bic lighter out, particularly after the opener “Earthen Gate” where at the end you could almost imagine the stadium cheer. Less a throwback than a homage, Fuzz won’t sell a ton of records – but they should. Try “Sleigh Ride,” “Loose Sutures,” and “One.” Get a Live peak here: Fuzz (Ty Segall) – This Time I’ve Got a Reason (KDVS: Live In Studio A.
Westfield New Jersey’s Static Jacks are back with their follow up to one of my favorite records of 2011, the magnificent If Your Young, with the also stellar In Blue. This is, if you recall, sing-a-long pop punk that is so catchy I dare you not to be captured by the melody present here in abundance on the songs comprising In Blue. I loved the entire record which is currently playing on repeat. “Wallflowers” has hit song written all over it, so start there and bounce around because there is not a dud on the album. Apparently the band has been listening to the trend to explore “fuzz”, so this record has more of that presence than on the past albums all to great effect. Try ”Wallflowers,” “Katie Said,” and “Ninety Salt.”
So, until I can get to an update, here is the list:
Dirtbombs – Consistency Is the Enemy 
Fuzz – Sunderberry Dream EP 
Fuzz – Fuzz 
Static Jacks – In Blue 
Cage the Elephant – Melophobia 
Public Image Ltd. – First Issue (Reissue) [2CD] 
Cassadee Pope – Frame By Frame 
Electric Six – Mustang 
Undertones – An Introduction to the Undertones 
Panic! at the Disco – Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die! 
Andrew Belle – Black Bear 
Chris Stamey – Lovesick Blues 
Fratellis – We Need Medicine 
Teen Agers – I Hate It 
Tears for Fears – The Hurting [30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition] 
William Beckett – Genuine and Counterfeit 
AFI – Burials 
Arcade Fire – Reflektor [2CD] 
Best Coast – Fade Away EP 
Dandy Warhols – This Machine 
Dirty Projectors – Offspring Are Blank EP 
Fall Out Boy – Pax-Am Days EP 
Future of the Left – How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident 
Gaslight Anthem – 45 RPM Club (7”) 
Clash – Hits Back [2CD] 
Cass McCombs – Big Wheel and Others 
Control – Ballad of The Working Man 
Cult Of Luna – Vertikal II (MCD) 
Cults – Static 
Death Cab for Cutie – Transatlanticism Demos 
Echosmith – Talking Dreams (Deluxe Special Edition) 
Kurt Vile and The Violators – It’s A Big World Out There (And I Am Scared) EP