Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Best of 2013

Coming up with a “best of” list for 2013 was an utter nightmare for me. Simply put, 2013 was an extraordinary year for music. From returning veterans producing their finest work in years to newer artists coming out of the gate swinging, the past 12 months produced some of the finest tunes I’ve ever heard and enjoyed. Of course, this means that developing a list of the best music of the year was a bloodbath. After weeks of agonizing consideration, I finally whittled my list down to 30 albums (with special attention given here to the first 10). After that, I went off on a tangent and added a slew of special categories for other releases that will hopefully put this fantastic year into a greater perspective. Oh, and I also threw in some words on artists to watch in 2014 at the bottom of this post. Like I said, coming up with this list was an intense process. I’m sure I’ll be kicking myself on January 1 for missing an artist or two, but I can wholeheartedly say that my life was enriched by everything listed below.

Without further ado, let’s start with the very best of the best…

1. ALBUM OF THE YEAR- Paul Roessler: The Arc

No other album I heard in 2013 came remotely close to touching this one. 

In 1975, a teenager named Paul Roessler wrote "The Arc," an epic 47-minute song influenced by the great Prog masterpieces of the era (Jethro Tull's "Thick As A Brick," Yes' "Close To The Edge," etc.). Before long, he discovered Punk (promptly building a very impressive career with the likes of The Screamers, 45 Grave and Twisted Roots) and put his ideas for "The Arc" on ice. Thirty-four years later, Roessler decided to revisit the piece, using his years of experience as a musician/producer to re-create "The Arc" in a modern context. Recording as a one-man band, he finally completed the project in 2012. Released this year in a limited run of 500 vinyl copies, The Arc is the sound of a teen musical prodigy finally able to express his vision thanks to nearly four decades' worth of creative exploration and growth. An unforgettable listening experience. (Check it out HERE.)

Listen below to Paul discussing The Arc (taken from a 2012 episode of my radio show, Glory Is Noise).  

2. Os MutantesFool Metal Jack

Originally formed in Brazil in 1966, Os Mutantes (“The Mutants”) create avant-garde Psychedelic Rock/Pop/What in the World? music that has to be heard to be believed, understood and appreciated. The group’s fascinating 10th album, Fool Metal Jack, is the sound of a heart breaking: From the dirge that accompanies a dying soldier’s final thoughts on the title track to frontman Sérgio Dias’ reflections on his brother (and original Os Mutantes member) Arnaldo Baptista’s suicide attempt on “Into Limbo,” Fool Metal Jack was the most emotionally brutal album released this year. Fool Metal Jack is street music born of pain, anger and the desire for a better world – perhaps what Crass might sound like if they were from São Paulo and released a new album in response to today’s planet. (Read my live review of Os Mutantes HERE.)

3. Bernie Worrell Orchestra: BWO Is Landing

What exactly makes Bernie Worrell the greatest musician of our time? To be honest, I simply don’t have the vocabulary necessary to describe it. I write for a living, but I can’t come up with a definitive way to sum up this man’s many gifts. Frankly, I don’t think the English language has evolved to that point. Worrell’s work is something you feel, not analyze. Boasting eight tracks, BWO Is Landing demonstrates the skills of a man still surpassing musical heights that many of us will never reach. Just take a listen to “Piri Piri,” “Moneypenny,” “Double W” or the live track “Thug.” (Read my full review HERE.)

4. Petra Haden: Petra Goes To The Movies

Petra’s a cappella interpretations of “God’s Lonely Man” from Taxi Driver and the main title from Psycho deserve to be heard right now rather than read about, while her take on the “Superman Theme” is downright epic. However, the album’s greatest moment is also its softest: Accompanied by guitarist Bill Frisell, Petra turns the Adult Contemporary fluff of Tootsie’s “It Might Be You” into a sweet, understated work of beauty. (Read my full review HERE.)

5. Throwing Muses: Purgatory/Paradise

After three decades in the music industry battlefield, Throwing Muses have ultimately become a band popular enough to find work on the road, but not successful enough to rise above sleeping on dirty couches. This truth is the backdrop of the crowdfunded Purgatory/Paradise, a CD/book combo that serves as a road diary/soundtrack of the group’s experiences traveling in the Mid Leagues. Without the structure of a music business machine at least trying to smooth over the band’s more self-indulgent tendencies, the listener/reader is left with songs that drift in and out, lyrics that sometimes seem to start mid-thought and in-jokes and stories that mean more to the creators than they ever could to the outside world. While none of the Muses’ past work is what you’d categorize as easily digestible, Purgatory/Paradise is downright difficult. But it is also refreshingly daring and one of 2013’s best releases. The listener/reader getting lost from time to time is a very small price to pay to experience a band allowing themselves to fully exist and create in their own world. (Read my full review HERE.)

6. Iggy & The Stooges: Ready To Die

With original Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton no longer with us, the band drafted Raw Power six-stringer James Williamson, added "Iggy and" to their moniker for the first time since 1973 and rose above the the sad passing to unleash the coolest Rock record of the year. Even 40 (!) years since "Search And Destroy," Iggy and Co. still do it nastier and with biggest balls than everyone else. Check out "Burn" and the blistering "Job" if you don't believe me. 

7. Crime & The City Solution: American Twilight

Armed with a stellar lineup including Einsturzende Neubaten’s Alexander Hacke and former Prong/Swans/Killing Joke/Dirtbombs bassist Troy Gregory, Australian singer Simon Bonney returned in 2013 with the gorgeous American Twilight, his first release under the Crime & The City Solution name since 1990. The album’s many highlights include "Goddess,""My Love Takes Me There" and the title track. Hopefully, Simon doesn't wait another 23 years for the next one. 

8. Sepultura: The Mediator Between Head And Hands Must Be The Heart

Working with producer Ross Robinson for the first time since 1996’s Roots, Sepultura finally create an album that surpasses the high expectations created by the Max Cavalera era two decades ago. The Mediator… finds the band at their heaviest and most creative, effectively finding a perfect balance between the latin rhythms of their Brazilian homeland (helped along by brilliant new drummer Eloy Casagrande) and the brutal Thrash of their early ’80s influences. (Singer Derrick Green is a monster on this thing). Remember how intense and unforgettable Arise was the first time you heard it? You’ll have that same experience with this album.  

9. Gitane DeMone: The Reflecting Shadow

Former Christian Death vocalist/keyboardist Gitane DeMone made a powerful return in 2013 with The Reflecting Shadow, her first full-length solo album since 2000’s Stars Of Trash. Unlike that album, which was mostly Rock-oriented in nature, The Reflecting Shadow is closer to the dark and seductive vibes of her earlier post-Christian Death material. (With Love And Dementia immediately comes to mind.) Recorded in collaboration with Jean-Paul Garnier (who shaped much of the album’s musical style), The Reflecting Shadow is another great chapter in a legendary aural history built on work with Pompeii 99, Christian Death, The Crystelles and various other projects. (Stream the album for free HERE.)

10. Ultra Bidé: DNA vs DNA-c

The latest album by decades-old Japanese cult heroes Ultra Bidé,  DNA vs DNA-c offers 30 minutes of off-the-wall Post-Punk that would give any hipster American “noise” outfit a run for their money. Driven by broken English lyrics (“exploded fuck you right now,” “such a fuck’in I’m a killing dead”) and some truly intriguing bass playing, DNA vs DNA-c is like the soundtrack to a imaginary jam between Pussy Galore and The Boredoms where they cover Wire’s Pink Flag. If that sounds like a party to you, get this album immediately from the nice folks at Alternative Tentacles.

Here are 20 more albums that made 2013 a great year for music:

Nik Turner: Space Gypsy (Read my feature HERE)
My Bloody Valentine: m b v
Voivod: Target Earth
Away: Cities 
Eric Burdon: 'Til Your River Runs Dry
Down Among The Dead Men: S/T (Read my feature HERE)
Jaz Coleman: The Island Symphony
Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals: Walk Through Exits Only
The Crazy World of Arthur Brown: Zim Zam Zim
Pink Frost: Sundowning 
The Mission: The Brightest Light (Sample tracks HERE)
Ministry: From Beer To Eternity
Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs: Under The Covers, Vol. 3
Dot Wiggin Band: Ready! Get! Go! (Read my feature HERE)
Trouble: The Distortion Field 
Avatarium: S/T
Vista Chino: Peace
The Fall: Re-Mit
Doyle: Abominator
Carcass: Surgical Steel

Song of the Year – The Bloody Beetroots Featuring Penny Rimbaud: “The Furious”

When Crass founder Penny Rimbaud begins talking about "a black man in the White House" as a guest perform on The Bloody Beetroots' "The Furious," it is understandable to assume he is talking about Mr. Obama. However, it becomes quickly apparent that Rimbaud - who attacks his targets with as much vitriol today at age 70 as he ever did in the '70s - is addressing what he calls "the new Jim Crow" of mass incarcerations of American blacks. While his rage would make a natural ingredient to any Anarcho Punk anthem, the fact that he is speaking his mind over a track by a world-renowned DANCE band is what gives "The Furious" its greatest magic. The song is a beautifully subversive work of art delivered by one of the most inspiring individuals this writer has ever encountered. 

Listen below to Penny discussing his work with The Bloody Beetroots (taken from a 2012 episode of my radio show, Glory Is Noise).

Best EP – The Replacements: Songs For Slim

With their former guitarist Slim Dunlap struggling to recover from a devastating stroke, founding Replacements members Paul Westerberg, Tommy Stinson and (on one track) Chris Mars came together for Songs For Slim, a fantastic collection of covers that re-introduced the 'Mats to the world without subjecting them to the pressures of coming up with new material after 22 years. The recording's lighthearted vibe offered levity to the seriousness behind the EP’s creation: Songs For Slim was the first in a series of recordings by various artists released to raise funds to cover Slim’s considerable medical expenses. More information on the project is available HERE. 

Best Box Set – Ten Big Stiffs

Released on Black Friday in a limited edition of 1000, Ten Big Stiffs offers 10 seven-inch singles from the famed ’70s/’80s British label Stiff’s gloriously eclectic discography. Every record is fantastic; every song is a highlight. Those on a budget are encouraged to check out the digital version of the set. Everyone needs this collection.

Best Live Album - PainKiller: The Prophecy

To say that PainKiller is NYC avant-garde sax genius John Zorn’s noisiest and most uncompromising project is an understatement. Featuring Zorn with Yoshida Tatsuya on drums and PainKiller mainstay Bill Laswell on bass, The Prophecy offers two hardcore blasts and one epic 60-minute suite recorded in Europe in 2004/2005. Like other titles in the PainKiller discography, The Prophecy (released last month on Zorn’s Tzadik label) strikes an intriguing balance between the unlistenable and the serene.

Best Single - The Urban Voodoo Machine Featuring Wilko Johnson: "Help Me Jesus" / "Heroin (Put My Brothers In The Ground"

Diagnosed with terminal cancer this time last year and given mere months to live, Dr. Feelgood guitar legend Wilko Johnson spent 2013 rocking as hard as he could. This stellar collaboration with London ensemble The Urban Voodoo Machine offers two songs of pure Pub Rock perfection. Three cheers for Wilko, who is still going very strong at the time of this writing.

Best Physical Re-Release: Roky Erickson – The Evil One

With the amazing Seattle-based re-issue label Light In The Attic putting out so many great things this year, I had no choice but to become a pre-paid subscriber to their releases. One of the label’s greatest successes in 2013 was breathing new life into three albums by the great Roky Erickson (The Evil One, Don’t Slander Me and Gremlins Have Pictures). A man whose creative genius is often overshadowed by schizophrenic madness, Erickson shines brightest on The Evil One, which produced some of his most beloved songs (“I Walked With A Zombie,” Two Headed Dog,” “Bloody Hammer,” “Night Of The Vampire,” and the recent Ghost-covered “If You Have Ghosts”). Originally released in the UK in 1980 as the 10-song album Five Symbols and in the US as The Evil One in 1981 (with five songs replaced), this definitive version from Light In The Attic gathers all 15 songs from the album’s 1977-79 sessions. The Evil One is true Horror Rock delivered by a man with more than a few demons and monsters in his head. Expect a feature on Roky Erickson’s life and career on this website in 2014.

Best Digital Re-Release: Christian Death – Atrocities

Finally released digitally earlier this month, this 1986 album represents Christian Death’s first full-fledged step forward following the departure of founder/sole original member Rozz Williams. Judged on its own merits away from the controversy surrounding Williams’ split with the group, Atrocities still stands tall after all these years: Valor Kand’s haunting guitar work on "Silent Thunder" is without peer, while Gitane DeMone’s vocals on “Tales of Innocence” and a rendition of “Gloomy Sunday” are among her finest moments with the band. The Atrocities re-release is part of an extensive campaign that saw five other Christian Death albums hit digital retailers for the first time, with more to follow in 2014. More information on the series is available HERE.

Best Video: Killing Joke: "Corporate Elect"

Released in the spring of 2013 to promote last year’s MMXII, “Corporate Elect” brings the spirit of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” into a modern context with dark, hard-hitting results. A dose of harsh reality from a band that is always ahead of the pack.

Best Unearthed Recording - Vicious Circle: S/T

Previously-unreleased rehearsal recordings of this infamous pre-TSOL band pressed on limited edition vinyl with an accompanying DVD of singer Jack Grisham telling the band’s violent and chaotic tale. Surprisingly melodic, Vicious Circle actually sound closer to where TSOL ended up on Beneath The Shadows than the fast rage of their late '70s peers. Proof that Grisham was a great performer right out of the gate.

Best Music Documentary – Ain’t In It For My Health: A Film About Levon Helm 

After hitting some film festivals in 2010, Jacob Hatley’s brilliant film on the sorely missed Levon Helm finally saw a theatrical/DVD release in 2013. A film so raw, beautiful and devastating that it floored me to the point of tears. A necessary viewing experience for those who truly know and appreciate a musician's life. Just don't expect an easy ride.

Best Music-Related Book – For Facts Sake by Bob Daisley

In a career that has spanned five decades, Australian bassist extraordinaire Bob Daisley has worked with some of the most legendary names in Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. Rainbow, Uriah Heep, Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath, Gary Moore, The Hoochie Coochie Men and Chicken Shack are just some of the many artists who’ve benefited from Daisley’s playing and/or songwriting talents over the years. Fueled by an extensive diary that Daisley has kept since 1976, For Facts Sake presents some of the most in-depth stories about Metal’s greatest legends ever committed to paper. These remarkable tales are fleshed out by hundreds of rare photos and graphics from Daisley’s personal archives. Treasures displayed in the book include Daisley’s handwritten lyrics to the final verse of "Crazy Train" and never-before-seen shots of the late Randy Rhoads. (Read my feature on the book HERE.)

Artists to Watch in 2014:

Blues Pills

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This stunning female-fronted American-Swedish-French band came out of nowhere in 2013 with the Devil Man EP, a slab of Big Brother-meets-Black Sabbath Blues/Doom highlighted by Elin Larsson’s Joplinesque voice. The band’s upcoming Live At Rockpalast EP (due in February 2014) will surely attract even more listeners. Killer stuff.

The Alcohollys

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Featuring Kittie drummer Mercedes Lander and original Kittie bassist Tanya Candler, The Alcohollys released two EPs of Zeppelin-meets-Runaways awesomeness in 2013 and are sure to keep the party going in 2014. More info HERE.

Anna Phoebe

Photo courtesy of Anna Phoebe

Amazing British violinist/keyboardist Anna Phoebe (Jethro Tull/Roxy Music/Trans-Siberian Orchestra) is set to release her next solo album, Between The Shadow & The Soul, in April 2014. Last month, fans got an early taste of the upcoming album’s direction with the release of the four-song Embrace EP. (Read my feature on Anna HERE.)

Ani Cordero

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Current Os Mutantes drummer Ani Cordero (Rasputina/Dean & Britta) is gearing up for the March 2014 release of Recordar, an album of reinterpretations of 11 classic Latin American songs from the 1930s to the 1970s. Guests include Os Mutantes leader Sérgio Dias, who co-produced the album with Cordero. More information on Ani is available HERE.

So there you have it. I wish you all a happy, healthy and successful 2014!


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