My favorite albums of 1st quarter 2017

I just got done tweeting out my list of 14 albums I really enjoyed in the first three months of 2017. Here it is in Storify form, for easy consumption:

My favorite albums of 1st quarter 2017

My favorite albums of 2016

Not to be confused with “the best” albums of 2016. I didn’t hear everything that was released in 2016. Heck, over at Bandcamp, they said that something like 11,000 vaporwave albums were released in 2016 alone. Not that I listen to vaporwave. But the same could probably be said of any number of genres.

So the only claim I can make is that I probably listened to all or part of ~300 albums in 2016, and these are the ones that truly stuck with me:

A Giant Dog – Pile

No record had more spins in the car, or the office, or the headphones, than this one. My only theories about why this isn’t topping every list in America are that (a) critics apparently draw conclusions based on band name & album cover art without bothering to listen, or (b) America hates fun.

Horseback – Dead Ringers

What is Horseback, exactly? Occasionally black metal; nearly always a meditative examination of tone, texture, space, drone. Whatever you thought it was before, this album forces yet another expansion. The most beautiful album I heard this year.

Rebar – Rebar

This album was recorded ~20 years ago; I’ve had a CD-R copy of it for most of that time. But it was only in 2016 that the members of this greatest of all Greensboro bands finally got around to mastering & releasing it, in all of its woozy glory. Remarkable “indie-rock” played at all the wrong speeds.

https://www.cdbaby.com/cd/rebar1

Al Riggs – Breakdowner and the Hungry Months

Al released three full albums and a half-dozen singles in 2016, and they were all excellent. Why did I pick this one to highlight? Probably because the leadoff track, “Hungry Months,” still gives me chills every time I hear it.

Body Games – Damager+

Bandcamp is awash in electronic music, but there are precious few artists with this level of talent at melding beats, melodies, wrenching samples, and the human singing voice. I can’t understand why this isn’t huge. Maybe people are scared of how it makes them feel?

Mannequin Pussy – Romantic

Sophomore outing from this astonishingly great Philly band. Imagine everything good about 90s grunge (& post-grunge Alternative) but with all the tedious boring stuff (boy singers, guitar solos, multiple verses, instrumental bridges) stripped away. 11 songs, 18 minutes.

Davidians – City Trends

Three former members of the greatest NC hardcore band of all time (Double Negative) join forces with midwestern transplant Colin Swanson-White, whose mindblowing guitar playing is simultaneously not hardcore & yet totally hardcore. Big hollowbody guitar, judicious application of weird flanging & chorus effects, shitloads of whammy bar.

SubRosa – For This We Fought the Battle of Ages

This Salt Lake City doom band finally perfected their sound — centered around two stereo-panned violins & three majestic women’s voices — on this, their third album. It’s “metal,” unapologetically, but if you’re a casual music fan, it’s probably utterly unlike what you think “metal” sounds like.

Zeal and Ardor – Devil is Fine

A thought experiment — ersatz field recordings of [satanic-seeming] faux black spirituals & chain-gang songs, melded with black metal instrumentation — turns out to work so well that it becomes one of the great albums of 2016. Which has subsequently been mostly removed from Bandcamp, leaving just a couple of songs behind.

Flock of Dimes – If You See Me, Say Yes

Flock of Dimes is Jenn (Wye Oak) Wasner’s solo side-project; this is their debut album. Though Jenn’s rep is as a great guitarist, the instrumentation here is dominated by synths. But the featured sound throughout is Jenn’s glorious voice. Lyrically & metrically the vocal lines are pretty complex, even as they’re backed by synth tracks that are by turns lush-n-simple, blippy, and/or occasionally K-pop or Afropop influenced. It’s rare for the backing music to simply support her voice & mimic the vocal melody, which makes this a far more interesting & repeat-worthy album than it might initially appear to be. It’s pretty clear that Jenn has spent a lot of time with Joni Mitchell’s 70s and 80s catalog, in the best possible sense.

Bubbling under, as the chart ppl used to say:

Angel Olsen – My Woman
Radiant Beings of Light – Carnatio
Inter Arma – Paradise Gallows
Liquid Asset – Colony Denied
Holder’s Scar – Public Acid
Goat – Requiem
Howls of Ebb – Cursus Impasse
Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä
Ian William Craig – Zugzwang for Fostex
Sarah Louise – Solo Acoustic Vol. 12
Krallice – Prelapsarian
Year of the Cobra – In the Shadows Below
Chateau – Moons Over the Slaughter

This year I tried something new, compiling lists quarterly, and tweeting them out. I managed to remember to storify the first two quarters, but failed to do so for the third, so I’ll just post those lists here in one place. I don’t have easy answers as to why some things made a quarterly list but didn’t stick with me — taste is a fickle thing, and so is longevity. Looking back, I do think my final list skews towards the 2nd half of the year — an artifact of my always seeking out something new, I suppose.

First Quarter:

Savages – Adore Life
Al Riggs – Breakdowner & the Hungry Months
Professor Toon – Take Notes
Blursome – Age
The Astounds – The Astounds
Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä
Ian William Craig – Zugzwang for Fostex
Body Games – Damager
Naked Naps – The Middle

Second Quarter:

Jenks Miller & Rose Cross NC – Blues from WHAT
Colin Stetson – SORROW: a reimagining of Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony
Dogs Eyes – Measure the Earth
Konvoi – S/T
A Giant Dog – Pile
Zeal and Ardor – Devil is Fine
Phatlynx – Loosen Yer Belt!
Rebar – Rebar
Gorguts – Pleiades’ Dust
Liquid Asset – Colony Denied
Howls of Ebb – Cursus Impasse
Al Riggs – Blue Mornings

Third Quarter:

Al Riggs – Night Freedom
Inter Arma – Paradise Gallows
Horseback – Dead Ringers
Ryley Walker – Golden Sings That Have Been Sung
See Gulls – Curtain Call
SubRosa – For This We Fought The Battle of Ages
Magpie Feast – To Keep It All Spinning
Dex Romweber – Carrboro
Sylvan Esso – “Radio”
Angel Olsen – My Woman
Flock of Dimes – If You See Me, Say Yes

I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to extrapolate what my fourth-quarter list would look like.

Finally, if you really like lists, I just posted the WXDU Top 101 NC Releases of 2016 over at that website. That list is compiled by adding up plays by all WXDU DJs, so it’s far more than just a reflection of my personal tastes, although I did review + add over 70% of the albums listed.

My favorite albums of 2016

My fave Bandcamp-sourced albums of 2016 (that didn’t make their list)

This is NOT my top-whatever of 2016; look for that in early January. But the awesome folks at Bandcamp put together a top-100, so I felt compelled to review my Bandcamp collection & compare my faves with theirs.

This, therefore, is my top 14 albums that I bought from Bandcamp in 2016 but which didn’t make their top-100 list, in no particular order:

Ian William Craig – Zugzwang for Fostex – https://patientsounds.bandcamp.com/album/ps079-ian-william-craig-zugzwang-for-fostex

Body Games – Damager+ – https://bodygames.bandcamp.com/album/damager-2

Colin Stetson – Sorrow – https://colinstetson.bandcamp.com/album/sorrow-a-reimagining-of-goreckis-3rd-symphony

Jenks Miller & Rose Cross NC – Blues from WHAT – https://threelobed.bandcamp.com/album/blues-from-what

MAKE – Pilgrimage of Loathing – https://accidentpronerecords.bandcamp.com/album/pilgrimage-of-loathing

Horseback – Dead Ringers – https://horseback.bandcamp.com/album/dead-ringers

Gorguts – Pleiades’ Dust – https://gorguts.bandcamp.com/album/pleiades-dust

Inter Arma – Paradise Gallows – https://interarma.bandcamp.com/album/paradise-gallows-2

al riggs – Breakdowner and the Hungry Months – https://alriggs.bandcamp.com/album/breakdowner-and-the-hungry-months

Mannequin Pussy – Romantic – https://mannequinpussy.bandcamp.com/album/romantic

A Giant Dog – Pile – https://agiantdog.bandcamp.com/album/pile

Year of the Cobra – In the Shadows Below – https://yearofthecobra.bandcamp.com/album/in-the-shadows-below-2

Davidians – City Trends – https://sorrystaterecords.bandcamp.com/album/city-trends

Holder’s Scar – Public Acid – https://holdersscar.bandcamp.com/album/public-acid-promo-cassette

And these are my top 2 albums that I bought from Bandcamp in 2016 that *did* make their top-100 list, also in no particular order:

Oranssi Pazuzu – Varahtelija – https://oranssipazuzu.bandcamp.com/album/v-r-htelij

Sub Rosa – For This We Fought the Battle of Ages – https://profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com/album/for-this-we-fought-the-battle-of-ages

My fave Bandcamp-sourced albums of 2016 (that didn’t make their list)

2015 in review, Part 1: Favorite albums

OK! Here are my top 20 albums/EPs of 2015, plus another 35 albums/EPs that are tied for 21st on the list.

20. Just Jess: The Break-Up EP

Jessica Caesar plays drums for Pink Flag, and has sat in on drums in a variety of other local bands. She has also worked the door at the Pinhook off & on practically since they opened.

At no point did I ever have the slightest inkling that she was sitting on this batch of great songs, or that she’s such a great singer. This is weird, raw soul album, dominated by bass guitar, kickdrum, and Jess’s vocals, but with lots of neat little percussion, keyboard & guitar flourishes. It’s called “The Break-Up EP” and that’s 100% accurate — this is raw emotion, without much distance. It’s remarkable to hear an album this full of soul & pain, but recorded in this kind of immediate, mid-fi, non-slick/overproduced way. Give it a spin with open ears & open mind.

19. Chrch: Unanswered Hymns

Chrch (formerly Church) are a west-coast doom band whose low-n-slow songs differentiate themselves in large part via the buried but still distinct & haunting vocals of Eva Holland.

18. Crypt Vapor: Tombe Della Citta

Are you a huge John Carpenter fan? Do you sit around obsessively refreshing his IMDB page, hoping to see a new “in production” direction credit added to his list? Or do you just love weird/classic 70s/80s action/horror soundtracks (not just John Carpenter, but other titans of the genre like Goblin)?

Well, so does a mysterious Italian? Australian? named The Death. Crypt Vapor is his (or her) band; this is their first full-length release. The song titles do a pretty good job of setting up the tone/mood of each track — the intention is clearly for us to interpret these as soundtracks to [imaginary] horror/action movies.

17. Buck Owens: When Buck Came Back, Live San Francisco 1989

By the late 80s, Buck Owens was in semi-retirement, having quit Hee Haw in 1986 (and quit making serious music years before that). But then Dwight Yoakam cajoled him into recording a duet of Buck’s “Streets of Bakersfield” for Dwight’s second album in 1988, and the song went to #1. Thoroughly rejuvenated, Buck cut an album, “Hot Dog,” and hit the road.

This live album was recorded in January of the following year at the Victoria Theater in San Francisco — his first show in the city since 1967(!!). It takes the band 3-4 songs to get into the groove, but at around the 15 minute mark, things just take off. The material is 90% vintage Buck classics, performed in crackerjack style, but the best part is actually hearing the awestruck gratitude in Buck’s voice as he thanks the crowd.

16. Boulevards: Boulevards EP

Boulevards is a dude from Raleigh named Jamil Rashad, who seems to have an improbable direct mental line to the 70s/80s funk wellspring originally tapped by Chic, Rick James, Cameo et al.

Boulevards was the breakout star of this year’s Hopscotch Music Festival, and he’s clearly bound for bigger stages.

15. Kamasi Washington: The Epic

You’ve probably read a lot about this album by now — west-coast sax player Washington did time as a sideman (sax for Chaka Khan!) as well as an arranger (chunks of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly). And then suddenly he dropped this 3-hour debut album of majestic jazz. It’s kind of all over the place — some cooking mid-size ensemble work, some more “out” material, some weird vocal pieces a la Sun Ra. The overall impression is of a genius exploding onto the scene, so full of ideas that filtering/editing would have been impossible.

14. Un: The Tomb of All Things

Un singer/guitarist Monte McCleery was diagnosed with Lymphoma in 2014. He’s in remission now, but based on what I have read, there’s little question that his confrontation with mortality fed into the creation of this album. It’s almost impossible to understand what he’s singing, but there are lyrics posted online, and they’re literally all about the journey towards death.

Musically, this is low-and-slow funeral doom of the highest order. Obviously heavily influenced by their Pacific Northwest forebears Earth and sunn o))), the guitars here just sustain & sustain on endless ultra-heavy chords, and the drums, where present, are nearly as slow and controlled as Earth’s Adrienne Davies. But Monte’s hoarse, bellowed, nearly unintelligible vocals set this apart — those bands are more about transcendence and space, whereas Un are about pain, sorrow, and death.

13. Sarah Louise: Field Guide

Sarah Louise Nelson lives in the woods in the mountains of NC, about an hour outside of Asheville. She plays absolutely mesmerizing fingerstyle 12-string guitar. She happily identifies with the American Primitive tradition, although based on her interviews she’s also a highly curious & wide-ranging listener to all kinds of music, and has actually apparently been woodshedding with a 4-piece band to put together some extended psych jams based on her songs.

Sarah’s writing process starts with her making up a new tuning, and then she sees where her fingers take her. She has spoken in interviews about the power of the drone, and its relation to natural sounds, so her tunings tend to take advantage of the opportunities presented by 12 strings to build up resonances & let them hang in the air between the notes.

She absolutely blew me away at Hopscotch 2015, and I was kicking myself for not having heard of her sooner, especially since this album was released on Scissor Tail, the same label that released the most recent Chuck Johnson album. This one was just a limited-edition cassette, though, which sold out in 2 weeks.

Interestingly, the original demo of this album had vocals on some of the tracks, but Sarah went back and re-recorded them without vocals because Scissor Tail specializes in instrumental music & she wanted to fit their aesthetic. At Hopscotch she sang on several numbers, and I’ll be excited to hear recordings of those songs when/if they’re released.

12. Daniel Bachman: River

Always a treat to get a new one from Daniel Bachman. This is Daniel’s first album recorded in a “real” studio, but to be honest, although there’s a tad bit more clarity, his other records always sounded good to me, and so does this one.

The opening track is 14+ minutes long, and it’s a step forward for Daniel. It starts out slower & more open/brooding than is usual for him, and then when it kicks in, his right thumb is going nuts, whacking the shit out of the lower strings — it’s a more forceful attack than I’m used to from Daniel. The tune goes a lot of places in 14 minutes & it’s well worth your time. There’s also a 4:45 reprise of the same piece at the end, which is less intense.

Elsewhere, there are a heavy-feeling slide blues, a mix of shorter & longer experimental pieces, and a more straightforward piedmont blues.

11. Cantwell Gomez and Jordan: Half-Finished Bobcat

First new material from the mighty CG+J since their half of a [too-brief] split cassette back in 2012. Back in the 90s people talked about “post-rock” to describe bands using rock instruments in somewhat less-rock ways. At this point I’d rather call CG+J “free rock” inasmuch as they’re fully capable of locking into an insanely tight groove, but they also spend a lot of time going in three distinct directions at once. Or four, if you count Anne’s vocals. (David’s vocals are more likely to mirror closely his guitar melodies).

These folks are just about my favorite band ever, and also just about my favorite people ever. Their music is endlessly inventive & endlessly amusing, in the best way.

10. Alabama Shakes: Sound & Color

Near as I can tell (from the Internet, as well as a certain amount of teasing I’ve gotten from younger friends), it’s apparently maybe not “cool” to like Alabama Shakes? Thankfully I’m much too old to care about what’s cool. This record sounds huge, and when they came through the Triangle this past summer, the band sounded even bigger.

9. Sagan Youth: Cela

For their second album, Chapel Hill live-organic-electronic duo Sagan Youth swung for the fences and connected, solidly. This is a concept album about landing on a moon of Saturn (OR IS IT???) — gorgeous stuff, some of it heavily beat-driven, others more spaced-out. All instrumental, although there are some apt sci-fi movie dialogue samples here & there.

 

8. Dødheimsgard: A Umbra Omega

Holy crap this is completely insane. Musically it’s intricate black metal, although the interludes of piano & sax kind of explode any sense of black metal orthodoxy. But far more bizarre than the music are the vocals of Aldrahn, which are like strange soliloquies by the insane villain from a Hammer Horror movie. Taken all together, it’s the strangest metal album in a year of strange metal albums, and I can’t stop listening to it.

 

7. Ryley Walker: Primrose Green

Did Pitchfork kill this album’s momentum, or did people just forget about it? (Or, as my friend Grayson would have it, is it simply not the album that Ryley could and should have made?)

No way for me to know; I still think it’s amazing. Of course, I’m coming at it as someone who spent a lot of his teenage years listening to the classic late-60s/early-70s Van Morrison albums, which are the clearest sonic antecedents to this record. If you don’t like Astral Weeks & Veedon Fleece, you’re probably gonna hate this album. And I guess even if you do like those albums, you may or may not be ready for some kid from Chicago to take a stab at replicating their sound.

6. Joanna Newsom: Divers

If you already know you don’t like Joanna Newsom, then I feel bad for you, but I’m not going to try to change your mind. And neither will this album. It’s part continued evolution, part distillation of the insane brilliant sprawl of Have One On Me into a more concise form. It’s a phenomenal piece of work, and could certainly garner Joanna new fans — but probably not from those people who’ve already heard her voice & decided to hate it.

5. Des Ark: Everything Dies

Third full-length studio album from Des Ark, her best yet, and the first since 2011’s “Don’t Rock the Boat, Sink the Fucker.” Aimee has been busy in those four years, some with music, some with other important stuff in her life. That split is apparent when you realize that over half of these songs appeared in raw acoustic demo form on her 2011 WXDU live session (subsequently released by Paramnesia & then Lovitt as WXDU Vol. 3). Those songs are recognizable here, but the meticulous arrangements, including layer upon layer upon layer of backing vocals, are decidedly new.

The other big shift here is lyrical, particularly on tracks 7+8, which together make up the emotional center of the album. For the first time on those two songs we hear a fully emotionally vulnerable Aimee Argote, one who is deep in love and is in some ways happy about it, even as she recognizes the weird effect(s) it has had on her feelings & her self-confidence. Given how much she used to flaunt her love-em-and-leave-em persona, this is kinda unprecedented. I’ll be really interested to hear more new material — stay tuned at some point for a WXDU Vol. 4 demo session.

I love all these songs & I’m fascinated to see Aimee continue to evolve her sound. Piano was her first instrument as a child, but it’s only on this album that it has emerged as a major instrument in Des Ark. This is also her most collaborative work, with contributions from members of Appleseed Cast, plus Jonathan Fuller of Engine Down, Thor Harris of Swans, and Andy Lemaster of Now It’s Overhead & Bright Eyes.

4. Body Games: Local Love Vol 1

By now we were supposed to have a Body Games full-length, but it apparently takes Dax a long time to get to where he’s fully satisfied with his own material. So to distract (us/themselves), they quickly pulled together this EP of covers of local bands. Which is of course more brilliant than most other things I’ve heard so far this year.

The Body Games sound falls squarely into the Postal Service / Hot Chip sector of electronic pop — a little chilly, a little melancholy, vulnerable, but impeccable. Add to that a fondness for well-placed (and heavily manipulated) samples, both musical and movie dialogue, and some excellent source material, and you’ve got the Jams of the Summer.

3. VHOL: Deeper Than Sky

VHOL are a northwest metal supergroup: John Cobbett & Aesop Dekker from Ludicra; Sigrid Sheie from Hammers of Misfortune; Mike Scheidt from YOB. (OK, John is also in Hammers of Misfortune & Aesop is in Agalloch, too). Their self-titled debut was my favorite album of 2013.

As with the first one, the primary program here is a thoroughly & gloriously indulgent exploration of their mutual affection for thrash, speed & hardcore crossover metal. This time around there are fewer moments of blackened guitar, although the unearthly choirs of strum do make an appearance here & there. Also new this time around: some mid-album goofiness as University of San Francisco piano instructor Sigrid Sheie goes nuts on the piano on “Paino.”

Everyone here turns in top-notch performances on their respective instruments, and they’re all clearly having a blast as well. Mike Scheidt splits his time between hardcore/thrash barking & his gorgeous high unearthly singing. Lately my favorite metal is that which blurs genre boundaries most effectively, and VHOL blur them right out of existence.

2. Bell Witch: Four Phantoms

Bell Witch are a bass/drums funeral doom duo from the Pacific Northwest; this is my favorite metal album of 2015. I determined this organically, by realizing that I had various riffs & melodies from it repeating in my brain off & on all the time, even if I hadn’t listened to the album in a week or two. It’s gorgeous and elegiac and brutal and sad and lovely. I absolutely cannot wait until they come through on tour in a couple of months.

1. Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love

Today (January 1, 2016) I went back through all my blog posts from 2015. It was gratifying and a little hilarious to see how many times I made a point of saying “still listening to the new Sleater-Kinney; still confident it will be my number 1 album of the year.”

I made this list (this one here, the one where this album is #1) a couple of days ago, and I had honestly forgotten about all those blog posts. But I hadn’t forgotten about this album — it’s unforgettable.

I will also say that, for once, my enjoyment of a record was enhanced by learning more about the band; in this case, via Carrie Brownstein’s memoir, “Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl.”

35-way Tie for 21st:

Aevangelist: Enthrall to the Void of Bliss

Aevangelist make “New Oblivion Gospel Music” — one of them currently lives in Portland, and the other in Chicago, but they still manage to release at least one full-length and one or two EPs a year. This music is nominally blackened death metal, but that doesn’t come anywhere near describing it. This is as close as you’re going to get to a soundtrack to hell, or at least a soundtrack to someone’s really vivid nightmares of hell. Yes, there are (programmed) blast beats, and yes, there are guitars, but there’s also some kind of zither or autoharp in the right speaker, being played intermittently & kind of tunelessly, throughout the entire album. Vocalist Ascaris (aka Chicago improv sax player Val Dorr) produces a profoundly unholy range of guttural noises (including an extended choking-to-death thing at the start of #6), but also sings in a pleasant deep voice on #2. And sort of raps, briefly, on the short interstitial black metal trip-hop #4.

Basically, everything here is designed very carefully to fuck with your head. Apparently, at their comparatively rare live shows, there are a lot of masks, weird body paint, genderfuck clothing, saxophone, and a bunch of other things that reportedly drive the black/death metal traditionalists up the wall, which is totally awesome. And totally intentional, based on the interviews I have read. Metal desperately needs more of this.

Bandway: Buddies

This is some kind of miracle — the first new Bandway album in something like 11 years. Bandway are Bo Taylor (Motocaster, Dish, Tonk) and Brooks Carter (Jack O Nuts) making dead-on parody 70s/80s mullet-rock. They’re way funnier than Tenacious D, and this album is their funniest work yet.

Several songs here seem to be inspired by movies and/or by the butt-rock that often appeared on the soundtracks of 80s action movies. “Indecent Proposal” is actually a straight retelling of the plot of the movie of the same name. I’m told that another song was inspired by the movie ‘FM’ but it has been too long since I saw it to be able to tell.

Birds of Avalon: Disappearance

The first completely new music from Raleigh’s Birds of Avalon in several years — Paul and Cheetie took some significant time off to build out & open Garland, Cheetie’s amazing Indian-fusion restaurant that occupies the ground floor of the Kings/Neptunes building.

The last time we heard from the Birds, they had lost vocalist Craig Tilley, but had a full album in the can that they had recorded with him, so they went ahead & released it. It was actually their best work up to that point, and it was pretty cool to see them play gigs after its release & hear them take turns taking over all the vocals that Craig had sung.

This, then, is their first all-new effort without Craig. Bassist David Mueller and guitarist Cheetie Kumar share vocal duties. Between David’s vocal prominence and the addition of more synth textures (and even some sequenced beats/basslines), the line between BoA and David’s own band Heads on Sticks becomes increasingly blurred, sound-wise. Nevertheless, this is still emphatically Birds of Avalon, and all you need to hear is the extended psych guitar workouts on nearly every song to bring that point home.

The Charming Youngsters: Middleweights

Saw these folks at a Hopscotch day party, thanks to a weather-related scheduling snafu. It was the best surprise of this year’s festival. My favorite thing about indie-rock is how it’s more ramshackle & taped-together than regular-rock — and thankfully there will always be bands who wind up working in that mode, whether by choice or by accident.

Daddy Issues: Fuck Marry Kill

In which our heroes finally match their musical chops to their lyrical & thematic ambitions, and then immediately break up. This is such a great nutty filthy amazing silly heartfelt record.

Davidians: Night Terrors 7″

This is the first installment in a new all-NC 7″ series on Sorry State, which makes me very excited. Also exciting: Davidians keep getting better & better. The guitars here are so crazed, with what sounds like a little bit of chorus on there to make them all slippery & strange & non-hardcore.

Despoiler: Dysgenika

I don’t know anything about this record, other than that it was released by a local label, and appears to be the work of a local artist. And that it’s insane, in the best possible way.

Earthly: Days

Debut album from the artists formerly known as Bonglestar [Galactabong]. Kinda bummed they changed the name, but it’s probably for the best. This album fits squarely in with a lot of the other heavily sample-based electronic music that has come out in the Triangle over the past year — artists such as Blursome, Hanz, and Laso Halo. Lots and lots of samples, sliced & diced & thoroughly hashed together, sometimes in the service of a beat, sometimes more ambient, sometimes going for wall-of-irritation. It’s all good stuff, whether you’re going for the more straightforward & danceable or the fucked-up glitch.

Eldritch Horror: Untouched By the Sun

Eldritch Horror were quite possibly the only death metal band in Raleigh when they were originally active, from 1989-1993. I moved here in 1992 and I remember there being a lot of sludge & post-industrial & some hair metal, but Eldritch Horror definitely stood out.

They dissolved around ’93-’94, but reunited once in 2006, and again in 2014. This time it seems to have stuck. What you’re hearing here is an ALL NEW recording (2014-2015) of their original set of material from ’89-’93. And it’s REALLY good. Total oldschool death metal, tempered (as was more often the case back then) with hefty doses of thrash & power metal. Singer David Price has an awesome growl, made all the more remarkable by the fact that he took 20 years off from using it.

Huge riffs, some pretty nutty solos, and live-sounding (but fast as heck) drums. Good stuff.

Escher: The Ground is Missing

Tech death / math metal from Raleigh, with screechy vox that veer into metalcore territory. They’ve got an intermittent sax player, and they’re prone to drop in mid-song breakdowns where everybody plays clean & the time signatures get weird. In other words, they’re doing interesting stuff to mix things up, and I’m into it.

Fake Swedish: Truce

They’re back. Fake Swedish were a weirdo Chapel Hill band of New Jersey transplants who wore their obsession with those early Scott Walker solo albums proudly on their sleeves (and in their Jacques Brel covers). Their originals were excellent, and the more baroque they got, the better they were.

So of course they had to break up. Guitarist Eric Haugen gigged around in various bands, while singer Joe Romeo moved back & forth between here & New Jersey, and made a country-rock album with his band the Orange County Volunteers.

Fake Swedish reappeared in 2014, quietly, gigging around Chapel Hill. This is their first recording since their 2005 debut, “Get Correct,” and it’s a doozy. 70s rock/artrock tropes + Joe Romeo’s baroque lyrical tendencies.

Genocide Shrines: Manipura Imperial Deathevokovil (Scriptures Of Reversed Puraana Dharmurder)

Yep: “anti-Dharmic” death metal from Colombo, Sri Lanka. In an interview with “Grim Kim” Kelly, singer Chathuranga Fonseka says “This was an unmistakable cleansing ritual for us. We poured demented amounts of energy to ensure the stability of the continuity of a pounding fist of madness. To ensure the message of the absolute NOTHING, demonstrated by a desecration ritual transmitted as an audial offering.”

That just about sums it up, really. This whole thing sounds like it was recorded in a cavern — it’s so drenched in dark reverb that you can’t really make out anything distinctly (except, weirdly, the ride cymbal, which is crystal-clear). Drummer BlasphemousWarGoat is just an endless rumbling roar, the vox are just roaring & growling & hissing, the guitar is more a suggestion than anything else. It’s pretty awesome.

GNØER: Tethers Down

GNØER are the same three guys who make up the excellent Raleigh indie-rock band Goner. For the past couple of years they’ve been playing around with keyboards and drum machines (though it should be noted that they’ve always been a keyboard band — their standard lineup was keyboard/bass/drums/vocals). Now they’ve got a 5-song album that’s all-electronic (well, nearly — there’s electric bass on a couple of songs) & with the new sound comes a newish name.

Given that they were already a keyboard-heavy band, this is more an evolution than a revolution — you can tell they’ve had a lot of fun reimagining their sound using their new toys, but structurally these are mostly still longish anthemic songs with a lot of words about the lives of small-town post-college people. Which is good, because that’s what these guys do best.

Nathan Golub + Wood Ear: Nothing in Return

Nathan Golub takes his place among the first rank of Triangle guitarists with his solo track on this three-song split, the 12+ minute “Liberty Drive In.”

Malcolm Holcombe – The RCA Sessions

All I really know about Malcolm Holcombe is that he’s from Asheville, he’s a brilliant songwriter, and his voice is a croak so wizened and idiosyncratic that to call it an acquired taste would do a disservice to the whole concept of acquisition. This brilliant album is a survey of material from across his long career, re-recorded with some ace backing musicians at RCA studios in Nashville.

Hooded Menace: Darkness Drips Forth

Hilariously awesome & highly cinematic doomy death metal. It’s fun & riffy & slow & heavy and kind of profoundly silly but in a completely straight-faced way.

Howls of Ebb: The Marrow Veil

Absolute chaos. Total low-budget horror soundtrack music, if your low-budget horror movie requires a mix of spooky tones, echoes, and crazy satanic death metal.

Magpie Feast: The Atlas of Lost Hearts

This is something of a step forward for Raleigh’s Magpie Feast, who continue to hone their kinda-ramshackle country-rock sound. This is a little more straightforward than their last EP, but no less satisfying. The instrumentation is solidified as gtr/bass/drums/fiddle + male+female vocals, often sung in unison. There’s a sense of confident authority here that was less evident on their earlier releases. The rhythm section, in particular, is locked in but not lockstep.

If you recall the Asheville musician Seth Kauffman & his band Floating Action, back before they got a little too slick, this is in that same laid-back rattletrap country/rock/soul mode. It’s good summertime North Carolina music.

MAKE: The Golden Veil

Been a while for MAKE — they got kinda burnt out & had to regroup, rethink, etc. The result, this, their second full-length album, isn’t really a new direction for them — it’s more just a huge evolutionary leap forward. Everything that made them great before, amplified & purified. Epic transcendental blackened space metal, more or less.

The Malpass Brothers: The Malpass Brothers

Two brothers from Goldsboro who decided that the right thing to do was to pretend that it’s the early 60s and straight hardcore honky-tonk country music is still a thing that people play. This album is as remarkable for its sheer existence as it is for how good it is.

Midnight Plus One: Unlearn Everything

This is the second full-length from Midnight Plus One, and their last as a 5-piece. Given that they’ve been a three-piece for a while now, you can probably surmise that they weren’t even sure if these recordings would see the light of day — but then Chris DeFusco of Negative Fun basically insisted.

The current gtr/drums/vox trio is pretty in-yr-face aggro, and the songs here that are in that vein are my favorites. The slower/longer cuts can sometimes get lost in the midtempo doldrums.

Jenks Miller + Rose Cross NC: Live September 11, 2015

This was one of my favorite sets at Hopscotch, and my friend Jonas Blank of NYCTaper did such a great job with the recording that it has wound up one of my favorite releases of the year as well. Jenks & his band have been pretty fearless these past couple of years. Specifically: Nearly every set consists of the same 3 or 4 songs, but stretched, teased apart, expanded & reconstructed. It has been a fascinating process to watch.

Monologue Bombs: Eighties Night b/w The Nightingale Routine

Monologue Bombs are the solo side-project of Goner keyboardist Scott Phillips. They started out as Scott mostly playing accordion and singing, but they’ve clearly evolved since then, to the point that one might mistake these for demos from some upcoming Goner release.

Scott has always had a gift for concise, vivid description, and an ear for narrative detail, and these two songs are proof that he’s continuing to hone his talents. These are affecting & gripping songs & they remind me, again, that I can’t wait to hear more from Scott.

Mountain Goats: Beat the Champ

Here it is: The Mountain Goats wrestling concept album. I never watched wrestling as a kid, so I don’t have that hook to hang this on. But I love people and drama and human emotions and stuff like that, and that’s what this album is all about.

But so we’re clear: These songs are seriously really all about professional wrestling.

My quibbles with it have more to do with the sonics than the content — there’s a certain kind of bippy-boppy upbeat rounded-off anodyne mode that they get into sometimes that I wish they’d avoid. Overall, though, the high points definitely outweigh the lower points. I know it’s not how he works, and probably not good for business besides, but I’m increasingly thirsty for an entire Mountain Goats album of slow songs with John solo at the piano.

Naked Gods: Naked Gods

Third album from this exceptionally good Boone-based southern psych-rock outfit. There’s a southern twang throughout, and some great guitar work, but there are also organs & drones, heavy fuzz attacks, moments of pop clarity & moments of heavy psych. It all fits together remarkably well, particularly given how short most of the songs are — you feel like you’ve had a solid workout in 3-4 minutes.

No Love: Dogs//Wolves 7″

The second release in that Sorry State NC singles series. Another pair of super-catchy numbers from No Love, who manage to be abrasive & not remotely “pop” and yet still hooky as shit.

Patois Counselors: Patois Counselors 7″

Killer new “postpunk” from the ever-shifting Charlotte universe — that’s Bo White (Calabi Yau, Yardwork, various solo stuff) on vocals, and Nick Goode (Brain F≠, Joint D≠), plus other folks I may or may not know (it’s all pseudonyms on their Bandcamp).

Since the rumors of Whatever Brains’ demise have proven to be true, at least we’ll have Patois Counselors to step into the gap they leave — and they may be uniquely suited to do so, given how restless Bo has always been, musically. This is wicked good.

See Gulls: You Can’t See Me

Long-awaited debut from See Gulls. These folks got so good so fast — and garnered so much attention at Hopscotch 2014 — that it was an honest surprise to discover that their debut would be this comparatively brief 5-song EP. Sarah Fuller is really coming into her own as a songwriter & frontperson, so I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Silent Lunch: Silent Lunch

Two new ones from Durham trio Silent Lunch, matched up with the three songs from their original (out-of-print) EP, and destined to be the entirety of their recorded output. Sigh.

The two new songs are both much stronger than the material on Late to Bloom — they’re better recorded, the instruments do more interesting things, they’re tighter, and the vocals are unsettling in their intensity. Both songs are about the fine line between love & lust, and they repeatedly cross over from urgency to desperation (and back again). Given that, it’s profoundly depressing that they broke up more or less simultaneously with releasing this.

Suppressive Fire: Hellwraith

Suppressive Fire are a thrash band from Raleigh. They call themselves “blackened thrash” but it’s really just high-quality post-Slayer thrash. I love how raw this sounds (it was recorded by Greg Klaiber of the Pinhook). Track #2 is a fairly straight transcription of the climactic scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, because why not? This is all kind of silly and totally ripping.

Terrace Heater: Harris Teeter

Terrace Heater is (was) Graham Cox (ex-Brainbows) and other people from bands like Fruit, Plankton Feast and Santana. I never saw them so I honestly don’t know, and now I’m told this is their first and last album. Trivia: Two of the songs on here were originally released as singles on Bandcamp with a price tag of $1000 per song. I’ll have to ask Graham if he sold any.

This is punk/postpunk with a jittery early-80s feel — some Minutemen, some Feelies, some early Joy Division in there somewhere as well. Stuff I really like, which is why I’m so irritated at myself for never seeing them. At least we have this record.

Wes Tirey: Journeyer/Forward, Melancholy Dream

Wes Tirey is from somewhere up near Asheville — he’s part of a loose affiliation of folks up there (Sarah Louise, Tashi Dorji) who use traditional music forms as points of departure for someplace decidedly weirder.

Wes is a guitarist, but the first three of these tracks lean more heavily on the organ than the guitar. The common denominator throughout is Wes’s creaky talk/sung vocals. He’s not quite as grizzled sounding as neighbor Malcolm Holcombe, but his voice does seem to come from an older, darker universe.

Wes is a prolific guy, and has a ton of stuff up on his Bandcamp — you can buy his entire discography there for like $17, which I strongly suggest you do.

Waxahatchee: Ivy Tripp

I wasn’t sure I needed this record — great, more breezy well-written well-played well-recorded indie-pop-rock — but after bits & pieces of it kept getting lodged in my head, I was forced to conclude that I absolutely needed it.

The Wigg Report: Everyday Revolution

It has been a few years since the last album from Durham’s Wigg Report, the band who travel to all their gigs via bicycle. They’re all about making what ppl in the 90s called Temporary Autonomous Zones in which they can live their lives. The quote on the back is a good one: “revolution is not the overthrow of the existing system but the setting up alongside of a better one.” They work as teachers & computer nerds & make music for their friends & neighbors.

Instruments: guitar (acoustic but amplified & distorted), minimalist drumkit, saxophone, voice. New this album: bass, from a guy named Charles Latham, who moved away to Philly for quite a while but is back now. He’s a pretty great antifolk singer in his own right.

This was recorded live in minimal takes & it sounds just like what the Wigg Report sound like, which is a good thing, because they are joyous & smart & compassionate & funny & both cynical & idealistic at the same time.

The Wyrms: At Wizard Island

Last year there was a kind of sunny indie-pop band from Carrboro called Rogue Band of Youth. One day, according to the email they sent me, they went out & bought a bunch of fuzz pedals, changed their name to The Wyrms, and wrote a ton of amazing garage/psych/fuzz/pop tunes about vampires and other horror/fantasy movie tropes. This is the result. It is amazing, primarily because they still remember how to write pop hooks & they’re not afraid to throw in little “oooh oooh” parts. Seriously, if you listen to this enough you start to realize that if you cut out all the fuzz & added some tambourine, these songs would work wonderfully as sunny indie-pop. Or the Partridge Family.

THIS IS A VERY GOOD THING. This is the party/driving/housecleaning/anything album of the late-summer/early-fall.

2015 in review, Part 1: Favorite albums

25 Albums from 2014*

I’m going back to alphabetical order this year. There’s so much genre spread here that I don’t really feel like trying to figure out whether I like insane satanic death metal more or less than Beyonce.

Behemoth – The Satanist

I hadn’t ever listened to Behemoth before this album; there are now some reissues of their earlier material out on Metal Blade, if you’re interested. Grayson Currin gave The Satanist an 8.2 in February, but I didn’t actually hear it until November. It’s phenomenal, and it epitomizes everything I’m loving in metal right now – thoroughly raspy Satanic vocals, pulsating speed, and the occasional oldschool guitar-solo flourish.

Beyonce – Beyonce

Sure, this technically came out in December of 2013, but I didn’t hear it until 2014, and based on the press coverage and general popular attention, I think that’s true of most people as well. Given the coverage since then, I don’t think I need to say much here, other than that it’s still amazing, a year later.

Blursome – Heavy Resting

2014 was the year that local indie/weirdo electronic acts multiplied like crazy. We had debuts from Doom Asylum and Faster Detail, and a great leap forward for VVAQRT, all on Hot Releases, and new music from Zeke Graves’s long-running Datahata project, on Grovl. My favorite of the bunch, though, was this debut EP from Raleigh’s Blursome. Spooky nighttime nervous ambient unease music:

LR06 HEAVY RESTING by BLURSOME

Body Games – “Perfume”

Still waiting for Dax to release more than one song a year. But when the songs are this good, I can’t really complain too hard.

D’Angelo – Black Messiah

Is this a brilliant album? Sort of. Is it as good as Voodoo was? Not exactly – but I don’t think it’s trying to be what Voodoo was. It sounds so skittish and erratic and overthought (it took 14 years to make, so yeah). I find it fascinating & really enjoyable to listen to, but more as a document of a particular Sly/Prince style obsessive aesthetic, rather than beautiful music to sink into & simply enjoy.

Demon Eye – Leave the Light

Straight-up no-pretensions old-fashioned heavy Sabbathy blooz-metal out of Raleigh. These guys are so clearly having a great time, and guitarist Erik Sugg seems to be a bottomless well of perfect riffs.

Leave The Light by Demon Eye

Ex Hex – Rips

I was kind of nervous about this album before I heard it, because I’ve seen Ex Hex a few times now, and they’ve never really clicked for me. I’ve really wanted to love them, but so far onstage they’ve just seemed a little too thin-sounding, or something. I’m always wishing for a second guitarist.

There is no such problem with this album. It’s tight and fast and stripped-down and riff-laden and lacks absolutely nothing. What a great pop guitar album.

Stream it here.

Horseback – Piedmont Apocrypha

I’m an unabashed Horseback fan, but I’ll also freely admit that I “appreciate” some Horseback more than I outright enjoy it.

This one, though, is pure crystalline enjoyment from start to finish. It distills the breadth of the Horseback project into a handful of songs, while continuing to push things further & further away from any sort of “metal” center.

Piedmont Apocrypha by Horseback

Last Year’s Men – Underwhelmed

It has been a few years since Last Year’s Men made their splashy debut, back when drummer Ian Rose was still in high school. They played garage rock, sure, but there was a ‘50s purity and a not-so-hidden undercurrent of country about it, which was even more surreal given that the average age of the band was around 19.

This new album further hones & clarifies those tendencies, and it equals or exceeds their first album in every way. It’s something of a mystery that nobody was leaping to release this thing (and that nobody has yet stepped up to do a physical release of it since its digital-only release in September). Not too late!

Underwhelmed by Last Year’s Men

Lord Mantis – Death Mask

I listened to a lot of metal this year, but most of it didn’t hook me. I was at least moderately disappointed by several albums I had been eagerly awaiting, and maybe that threw my general expectations off. Or maybe it was just ear fatigue.

Whatever the reason, the only metal that I really got into was mostly from the “hellish ritual soundtracks” camp, and this album is pretty much Exhibit A.

Death Mask by LORD MANTIS

Lud – Defenestration Boulevard

Lud are my favorite North Carolina band, and this album is as good as anything they have ever done. These are everyday middle-aged people with day-jobs, making extraordinary heartfelt music about stuff that really matters, like the importance of actually giving a shit about our fellow human beings. Never mawkish or easily sentimental; rather, Kirk Ross brings his reporter’s eyes & ears to bear on the world around him, and just tells it like it is. If this list were in numeric order, this album would be at the top of it.

Mannequin Pussy – Gypsy Pervert

This band came through town, and I was compiling show listings the week before the show, I was curious enough about them to check them out on Bandcamp. I don’t recall the specifics, but knowing me, I probably downloaded the record, barely listened to it, missed the show, and then realized later what an idiot I had been.

I mean, I know I missed the show, and I know I’m an idiot. This is a great record.

GYPSY PERVERT by MANNEQUIN PUSSY

Museum Mouth – Alex I Am Nothing

These guys are from Southport, NC, but they play around the Triangle a LOT. It took me way too long to actually get around to hearing them or seeing them – they are a frenzy of nervous energy & this album is the best pop-punk unrequited love album ever.

Alex I Am Nothing by Museum Mouth

No Love – Tape #2

Raleigh Hardcore is pretty dude-heavy and pretty serious nowadays, but No Love are neither, and that makes them The Best.

Tape #2 by No Love

See Gulls – “Don’t Write Me Love Songs”

The undeniable runaway smash hit of Hopscotch 2014. I really thought we’d have the full album by now, but it’s gonna be spring before it arrives, apparently. I’m perfectly capable of listening to nothing but this on repeat until then:

Don’t Write Me Love Songs by See Gulls

Soft Pink Truth – Why Do the Heathen Rage?

There are a handful of metal albums on this list, but none of them gave me as much pleasure as this queer electronic re-imagining of black metal classics by Matmos’s Drew Daniel. So profane & so beautiful.

Solar Halos – Solar Halos

The thing I love about Solar Halos is that they sound exactly like what the combination of Nora Rogers, Eddie Sanchez and John Crouch ought to sound like. You can hear the layers of their other bands (Curtains of Night, Fin Fang Foom, Caltrop), and you realize that they were always meant to be layered in exactly this way. Intensely heavy, but always moving ever upward.

Solar Halos by Solar Halos

Sylvan Esso – Sylvan Esso

Who knew? Well, near as I could tell, Nick and Amelia knew, and they were just waiting for the rest of the world to catch up. All of the local bands on this list deserve the kind of attention this album got, but few of them have worked as hard or in as focused a manner to make it happen.

T0W3RS – TL;DR

It has been fun watching T0W3RS evolve, from a huge sprawling band getting over on vibe and energy, to a recording outfit that was still figuring out, over the course of a couple of EPs, what worked & what didn’t work. And then to Derek, himself, sans band, hunkered down & inventing this stunner of an album more or less on his own.

TL;DR by T0W3RS

Teitanblood – Death

Straight fukkin insane blackened death from Spain. It’s just an endless pummelling onslaught. I particularly love the vintage Hanneman/King style guitar solos that come spurting up periodically from within the maelstrom.

The Tender Fruit – The Darkness Comes

It took Christy Smith four years to record & release this, her second album. She told me that, much like some other folks I know, she learned that she’s a better & more prolific writer when she’s going through some hard times. Hard times are inevitable, but I’m not one to wish them on anyone, so I’m fine with listening to this gorgeous album for the next howevermany years it takes for the next one to happen.

The Darkness Comes by The Tender Fruit

The Tills – Howlin’

The garage-rock “revival” is endless and bottomless and meaningless, pretty much, but I know a great song when I hear one, and this EP is loaded with them.

Howlin’ by The Tills

White Lung – Deep Fantasy

I got pissed at these folks at Hopscotch because there were a half-dozen asshole mosh-pit crowd-surfing fist-swinging dudes at their show, and the band didn’t do or say anything to try to stop it. I kind of expect more from punk bands with women in them. Didn’t keep me from enjoying the hell out of this album, though.

Wye Oak – Shriek

Wye Oak put on one of the two or three best sets at this summer’s Merge 25 anniversary celebration, and it was due in large part to how much fun Jenn Wasner was clearly having playing bass & keyboards, instead of guitar, on the songs from this album. She looked ecstatic, and it came through in the music as well. Comes through on the album, too. This is next-level stuff.

Yob – Clearing the Path to Ascend

I had listened to plenty of Yob before, but they never quite clicked for me until this amazing, sprawling, epic album. So heavy, so gorgeous, so sad & yet so optimistic. It fills me with hope in a way that nothing else on this list can do.

25 Albums from 2014*

2013 Best-of Lists

This was either a particularly great year for metal, or just a continuation of my long slow slide back into metal as my favorite music. I guess either way it was a particularly great year for metal.

This year I’m posting a single top-20 list with locals and non-locals intermingled. It’s also in numeric order (!). There are additional lists below it, which kind of calls the whole notion of a top-20 into question, but whatever, it’s my list.

Fingers crossed that all of these multimedia embeds don’t break The Internet.

Top 20

1. VHÖL – VHÖL

West-coast supergroup of black & doom metallers dipping into their shared history with/fondness for hardcore & D-beat to make the most exuberant hardrock album of the year. This literally spent a solid 6 months in my car CD player with no breaks.

Vhol by VHOL

2. Goner – Faking the Wisdom

These Raleigh indie-rock lifers have been writing gripping character studies of aging townies in a college town for a decade now, but this album is where everything finally exploded fully into multiple dimensions.

Faking The Wisdom by Goner

3. Savages – Silence Yourself

If you’re not still obsessed with UK postpunk, I don’t know what to do with you. If you are, and you haven’t heard Savages, then … .

Listen/Buy at Matador Records

4. Scout Niblett – It’s Up to Emma

I never paid that much attention to Scout Niblett, but this one’s such a throat-grabber there was never any question of attention: She demands it from the first note of the first song.

She also put on the show of the year at Hopscotch.

5. Hiss Golden Messenger – Haw

This is the sort of gospel music I can fully embrace: slow Southern country gospel with a strong agnostic streak.

Haw by Hiss Golden Messenger

6. Gorguts – Colored Sands

Given that I never really got into death metal the first time around, it’s a little bit baffling even to me that I have two absurdly complex technical death metal albums in my top-20 this year. This is such astonishing music.

Colored Sands by Gorguts

7. Audubon Park – Crazy Crazy for Feeling

Audubon Park are scattered across at least three different states, and apparently no longer bother even practicing before recording. And yet their skewed 5-things-at-once indie-rock is better than ever on this album.

Crazy Crazy for Feeling by Audubon Park

8. Lorde – Pure Heroine

You can be cynical & call it electro-pop for middle aged white former rock critic dudes. Or you can be non-cynical & just enjoy her amazing voice.

I determined during her run at #1 that the last time I was unabashedly in love with a #1 single, it was “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which makes too-perfect sense.

9. Midnight Plus One – Midnight Plus One

Such urgently weird rock music, like all the best snippets of 80s/90s Kim-sung Sonic Youth songs distilled down to 2-minute bursts.

Midnight Plus One by Midnight Plus One

10. Desert Heat – Cat Mask at Huggie Temple

The more Steve Gunn & Cian Nugent collaborate, the closer the universe gets to achieving oneness. Another band whose Hopscotch show is solidly in my top-5 for the year.

Listen/Order at MIE

11. Inter Arma – Sky Burial

When I finally heard this album, I began endlessly kicking myself for all the times I missed these guys at Slim’s.

Sky Burial by Inter Arma

12. Sylvan Esso – Hey Mami

Just a tiny-but-perfect taste of what this duo has in store for us in 2014, I hope.

Hey Mami / Play It Right by Sylvan Esso

13. Schooner – Neighborhood Veins

All of Reid Johnson’s competing pop/non-pop instincts finally fuse into a fully cohesive & brilliantly realized whole.

Neighborhood Veins by Schooner

14. Arnold Dreyblatt & Megafaun – Appalachian Excitation

I don’t listen to that much experimental pulse/drone music, because when I do, I want it all to be this good, and it rarely is.

15. Inquisition – Obscure Verses for the Multiverse

The most distinctive & unholy black metal racket, all from just two dudes. Dagon’s crazy interstellar demon frog vocals & his utterly unique bend-heavy guitar style are like nothing else in the multiverse.

Obscure Verses for the Multiverse by Inquisition

16. Golden Gunn – Golden Gunn

I love living in a world where two heroes can dream up a goofy 70s boogie haze back-story *and* write & record an amazing album to go with it, all more or less on a lark.

Golden Gunn by Golden Gunn

17. Wormed – Exodromos

I only bought this album a few days ago, but it has blown my mind so thoroughly in that time that there’s really no question about its inclusion here. Outer-space tech death with unearthly overtone throat-singing vocals? YES.

Exodromos by Wormed

18. Bryan & the Haggards featuring Dr. Eugene Chadbourne – Merles Just Want to Have Fun

Eugene Chadbourne has been exploring the overlaps between jazz and country for well over thirty years now, but rarely before has he found such sympatico partners-in-crime as Bryan & the Haggards.

19. Airstrip – Willing

Proving definitively that all krautrock-influenced electropop needs to involve the services of a top-flight heavy metal drummer.

Willing by Airstrip

20. Janelle Monáe – Electric Lady

I like the first “suite” on this one better than the second one, and overall it could probably stand to be shorter, but the highlights here are so high that it hardly matters. There is NOBODY else on earth making weirdo futuristic soul music on this level.

Listen/buy at Janelle’s site

Five albums by 90s indie-rock titans that I’m kind of amazed didn’t make my top-20 list

The Kingsbury Manx – Bronze Age

Superchunk – I Hate Music

Yo La Tengo – Fade

Quasi – Mole City

Polvo – Siberia

Ten more local releases that I truly enjoyed playing on the radio, every time I did

D-Town Brass – Golden Belt

The Dead Tongues – Desert

Demon Eye – EP

Eros & the Eschaton – Home Address for Civil War

Felix Obelix – The Ringtone Album

Gross Ghost – Public Housing

Jonny Alright – Sings and Plays His Songs

Mount Moriah – Miracle Temple

Toddlers – Toddlers

Bo White – Adornment

I’ll probably make a list of memorable local shows I attended, but that’ll require some more thinking.

2013 Best-of Lists