2013 Honorable Mentions (In no particular order)
1. Ondatropica: Ondatropica (Soundway, 2012). Brazilian/world here.
2. Eric Boeren Quartet: Song for Tracy the Turtle (Clean Feed, 2010) Free jazz here. 3. Bettye Lavette: Thankful ‘n Thoughtful (Anti-, 2012) Classic r&b review here. 4. How to Dress Well: Total Loss (Acephale, 2012). Indie electronic review here.
5. Skyzoo: A Dream Deferred (The Faculty/Duck Down Music, 2012). NYC hip hop here.
6. Philippe Petite: Eugenie (Alrealon Music, 2012). Ambient/Classical here.
7. Isaiah Toothtaker: Illuminati Thug Mafia Thug hop here.
8. Hollis Brown: Ride on the Train (Alive Naturalsound, 2013) Blue eyed r&b here.
9. Har Mar Superstar: Bye Bye 17 (Cult Records, 2013) Retro-funk soul here.
10. Safe Haven: Sermon for No One (Self-release, 2013) Roots rock here.
11. Sidsel Endresen & Stan Westerhuis: Didymoi Dreams (Rune Grammophone, 2012) Free jazz/rock here.
12. Della Mae: The World Oft Can Be (Rounder, 2013) Bluegrass here.
13. Maurizio Minardi: The Cook The Clown The Monk and the Accordionist (Belfagor Label, 2013) Straight jazz here.
14. Afrolicious: California Dreamin (Afrolicious Music, 2013) Funk/Afrobeat here.
15. Orchestra Super Mazembe: Mazembe @ 45RPM Volume 1 (Sterns, 2013) African here.
16. Nick Waterhouse: Time’s All Gone (Innovative Leisure, 2012). Retro-soul here.
17. Holly Williams: The Highway (Georgiana Records, 2013) Sparse country here.
18. Chris Shiflett and the Dead Peasants: All Hat and No Cattle (Side One Dummy, 2013) Alt-country here.
19. Melt Yourself Down: Melt Yourself Down (The Leaf Label, 2013) Free improv/world here.
20. Ethernet: Opus 2 (Kranky, 2013) Ambient electronic here.
21. Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood: Black Pudding (Ipecac, 2013) Indie country here.
Best of 2013
#22 A Tribe Called Red: Nation II Nation (Tribal Spirit Music, 2013) A very moving record that combines ecstatic Native American singing, hand drums and pretty minimal electronic/club elements. Wickedness.
#21 Tal National: Kaani (Fat Cat, 2013). This African record by a party band from Niger is almost dizzying. A lot of African music records can have a very manicured and micromanaged sound to themand while Kaani is very tight sounding record, there’s a wildness to how much and how hard they push on the listener.
#20 Carcass: Surgical Steel (Nuclear Blast, 2013). A crushing blend of thrash, shred, and classic metal on this record. To call the band muscular would be an understatement and this record is just ri-donk-u-lous.
#19 Omar Suleyman: Wenu Wenu (Ribbon Music, 2013). A blistering combination of dance beats and playing that is as relentless as it is pulse raising. Most of the tunes have a kick drum anchoring the mix, but there are plenty of hand drums on top of the kick and whoever shreds the shit out of the synthesizer on this record steals the record from Suleyman, who does a fine job singing the tunes.
#18 Jeri-Jeri: 800% Ndagga (Ndagga, 2013). A unique and hypnotic African record that combines a wicked kit drummer with hand drums and a fat, almost sub-bass sound.
#17 Modern Life is War: Fever Hunting (Deathwish, 2013) Strong players at all positions — great driving drummer, excellent guitar player and singer. Shades of Fugazi in that they’re trying to say something and play with a sense of urgency.
#16 Cyanide Pills: Still Bored (Damaged Goods, 2013) A hymn to erectile dysfunction Can’t Get It Up is a great album opener. Sarcastic, energetic and pretty rockin’. The singer has a bit of Johnny Rotte, the guitar player has more than above average chops for such a mostly punk rock outfit and the rhythm section, well you don’t listen to punk rock for the rhythm section. dig the funny lyrics, I like the guitar player and the songs are catchy as fuck.
#15 Serengeti: Kenny Dennis LP (Anticon, 2013). A satirical celebration of old school hip hop centered around the relationship between a younger rapper coming up now and an aging rapper named Kenny Dennis. First tune, Bang ’em, straight up outstanding. Very creative with great beats.
#14 Patterson Hood: Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance (ATO, 2012). A country rock/FM soft rock record by an understated singer with a focus on poetic lyrics supported by one of the best drum sounds I’ve heard on a rock record in a long time.
#13 Bob Gluck Trio: Returning (FMR, 2011). This is a piano, bass, and drums record, a classic trio format. Gluck plays a loose piano and he’s neither based in blues piano jazz nor is he a Cecil Taylor piano basher. His playing is semi-lyrical, and semi-sweet and really interesting to listen to. The connection between the musicians is strong and enhances the listening experience.
#12 Matt Davis’ Aerial Photographs: Ways and Means (Van Dolah, 2009) What this record shares with Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain is a downtempo, sparse melodic atmosphere. Sketches of Spain does not contain interview snippets of homeless people in Philadelphia — I originally found these small vocal excerpts to be annoying, but I think they deepen the intent of the work by grounding it the lives of real and struggling people.
#11 Graveola: Eu Preciso De Um Liquidificador (Mais Um Discos, 2013) Extremely musical and creative Latin Rock record out of Brazil. Excellent singing and excellent musicianship with sophisticated arrangements. The vibe is upbeat but not mindless and there is a distinct lack of cheese found on so many American records.
#10 Bessakou Kouyate: Jama Ko (Out Here, 2013). The singers are very good, the record is rhythmically strong, but the electric ngoni sound and Kouyate’s playing takes this from an above average record to a great record. There are passages that are very ecstatic (in the religious sense), moments of quiet, other sections that remind you of the origin of the blues.
#9 Baptists: Bushcraft (Southern Lord, 2013). In short, a vibrant blend of metal and Minor Threat style punk out of this Vancouver band. The drummer fucks shit up in a very interesting way.
#8 Nico Muhly: Drones & Piano (Bedroom Community, 2012) A modern classical recording of, you guessed it, drones and piano. Very engaging piano composition/playing. To my ear is sounds like the drones are all acoustic violin sounds. I kinda wish there had been some electronically generated drone sounds, but I’m greedy.
#7 Galoshins: EP1/EP2 (Aremellodie, 2013). Quirky rock with some punk edge in the XTC tradition with a hair of Devo and maybe the Minutemen and Elvis Costello thrown in just to keep you on your toes.
#6 Fly Agaric: In Search of Soma (F-Ire Recorded Music, 2012) It’s mostly straight jazz, but there’s a uniqueness to the record that I dig. The drums sound different than most straight jazz records — they sound less swinging (and cliche) and more percussive and in your face. The sax is really well recorded — not flat and tinny. There’s a raucousness to this record that I rarely hear on straight jazz sessions. Finally, a straight jazz record I can recommend. (Added February 24, 2013)
#5 Paul Giallorenzo Trio Featuring Ingebrigt Haker Flat (Not Two, 2012). I really like the way Mr. Giallorenzo plays piano. I’m not entirely sure why I dig his playing so much, but ultimately who gives a shit? If I dig it, I dig it, and I dig it a lot. The tunes are varied and they work an inside/outside vibe very naturally. The rhythm section does a really good job both of supporting and interacting with the piano. This is the first jazz record of 2013 that I’m recommending to listeners.
#4 Jesper Løvdal & Günter Baby Sommer (ILK, 2012). Found this sax player via a Jazzloft email and this record was on MOG. A duo horns and drums record with excellent variety and spaciousness. The sax player has a great tone — warm with some wail and skronk. And the drummer is not too shabby himself.
#3 Wadada Leo Smith & Luis Moholo: Ancestors (Tum Records, 2012). This record is my second Wadada Leo Smith recording to make the best of list in the last 4 months. It’s a duo record, trumpet and drums and like the rest of Smith’s music, it’s serious. Open and unrushed as well. It’s a really nice recording so this Youtube clip doesn’t do the interplay between the two musicians justice.
#2 Bio Ritmo: La Verdad (Electric Cowbell Records, 2011). Slinky and pretty street like a classic Fania jam but with other more modern elements that make it more than a re-do of classic Latin salsa records.
#1 Pantha Du Prince: Elements of Light (Rough Trade, 2013). The contrast between the metallic percussion and the club beats underneath is pretty sophisticated. There’s an ethereal vibe from the bells breaking up the four on the floor beats(most of the metal percussion sounds like bells) that elevates a normally pretty mundane musical formula. You don’t have to be high to listen to this electronic music. (Added 1/28/13)
Unrecognizable Now: Two Rooms (Kesh, 2012). Layered, slow moving, and very captivating. I find it a little tough to write about ambient electronic music, but I know what I like and how that makes me feel and this recording most definitely accomplishes that. (Added 12/21/2012)
Propaganda: Excellent (Humble Beast, 2012). This is the shit. This dude gets into some deep and cosmic rhymes on this record. Instant year end best of list. Smart and catchy production, but the rapper steals the show with all manner of topics on this record. Excellent, excellent work. (Added 12/21/2012)
Wahid: Inside Silence (ADW, 2011). I really like the spaciousness of this frame drum/oud record. I’m not sure how much of the record is composed is and how much is improvised but my guess is they start with a theme and work from there. The production is just a tiny bit reverbed out, but it does not diminish my enjoyment. They did a record this year and I didn’t hear a huge difference and I ended up choosing this one for my year end list. (Added 12/17/12)
Prince Fatty Versus The Drunken Gambler (Mr. Bongo, 2012). Bubblin’, funny, and heavily rhythmic dancehall influenced roots reggae. After the opening shout out to James Bond and kung fu, there are tunes with sweet singers that follow. I’m pretty sure this is new music and not a re-issue which makes this record even more impressive. (Added 12/17/12)
Martha Redbone: The Garden of Love: Songs of William Blake (Redfeet Productions, 2012). I can think of a myriad of ways that a record based on William Blake’s poetry could go wrong. It could be pretentious, it could be not swinging, it could be a melodramatic drag. So this is the opposite — it’s smart, tasteful, rootsy and Redbone has a great voice. She does the one thing that plagues music today — she doesn’t oversing. She just sings — no breathy nonsense. (Added 12/17/12)
Damien Jurado: Maraqopa (Secretly Canadian, 2012). Tasteful and sophisticated arrangement skills, a yearning voice that doesn’t over-sing. The lyrics aren’t Bob Dylan material, but they’re good and the sounds and his voice all work together to make a throwback ’70s quasi hippie music record that sounds really fresh and not a replication. (Added 12/17/12)
Erin Costelo: We Can Get Over (Self-released, 2012). I found this record off a Canadian radio station. A soul record from a Halifax woman — makes Adele sound pretentious and makes Sharon Jones’ lack of sweetness very apparent. The tunes are more early ’60s soul influenced rather than late ’60s/early ’70s soul influenced. She sings her ass off, the arrangments are tight and hip and the record sounds really good. (Added 11/26/2012)
Wadada Leo Smith: Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform, 2012). An expansive piece of music centered around African-American history but also the American experience. The closest point of reference would be Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain with politics. The production is cool in temperature, the music is a combination of classical orchestration and improvisation, and the tone is somber and slow moving. (Added October 30, 2012).
Dennis Bovell: Mek It Run (Pressure Sounds, 2012). Any thought that a bass player for Lynton Kwesi Johnson would skimp on the low end for this re-issue of late ’70’s/early ’80s tapes is put to rest on the title track where a relaxed monster bass line drives the whole tune. While the hazy, old school dub sound has been replaced with a crisper sound it’s not a thin sound — the delays on the drums are trippy as hell and Bovell does a great job keeping the spirit of dub going here. (Added 10/20/2012)
Left Lane Cruiser and James Leg: Painkillers (Alive Naturalsound, 2012). I was about to put this record in my honorable mention category as I really enjoyed Junkyard Speedball from last year so much that I thought this record couldn’t hang with that one. But I gave this album of covers done in a punk blues manner another spin and the vibe is tighter than a bull’s ass at fly time. This is the sort of anti-social nastiness the world needs more of. I think of this as the pinnacle of trailer park culture and about as funky and down in the gutter as white people can get. (Added 10/14/12)
Seluah: Red Parole (Karate Body Records, 2012). I tend to want to push up smaller releases but don’t want to be another music biz hack pushing my own agenda over the music itself. I thought maybe I was making this record better than it is, but it’s pretty hot. The core of its appeal for me is the way the singer’s detached voice and delivery floats over the rest of the band in a really alienating and fresh way. Some serious time was spent pimping out the drum sound on this record. There are moments of rockin’, and moments of lyrical prettiness. (Added 10/14/12)
Torche: Harmonicraft (Volcrom, 2012). A pretty mainstream rock record I like the way these guys play together and the way these songs feel. The drummer has an undercover swing to his playing and that shit always helps an album over the top. For fans of Jane’s Addiction and Stanford Prison Experiment to check out.
If the music business knew what they were doing these guys would be huge. (Added 9/30/12)
Lianne La Havas: Is Your Love Big Enough? (Nonesuch, 2012). I haven’t felt a Nonesuch release in a long time, their stuff tends to be a bit buttery soft for my taste. Say you find Esperanza Spaulding to be too wooden and proggy and Norah Jones to be too slackery, Miss La Havas may fit your tastes better. This young lady can sing and she sings naturally. She doesn’t have to try to sing beautifully, she just sings beautifully. Big difference. I think of this record as being like a Prince/Joni Mitchell record, a really great combining of musical styles. (Added 9/30/12)
Le Super Borgou de Parakou: The Bariba Sound (Analog Africa, 2012) Rockin’ and funky music from 1970’s Benin. More guitars and organ than horns it swings. Not on Spotify and the cd on Amazon is $22 and vinyl is $40. Booo, hiss! So if you’re not up for the MP3 format you’re gonna have to cough it up.
Thollem McDonas: The Gowanus Session (Porter, 2012). McDonas on piano and big hitters William Parker on bass and Nels Cline on guitar. For me this session has the right balance of skronk, and thunder, and noise and lyricism. This session has one of my favorite characteristics of a great free jazz session. The musicians may be playing something totally out, but at the same time it’s very connected to what the other musicians are playing. (Added 9/26/12)
The Semi-Colon: Ndia Egbuo Ndia (Afro-Jigida) (Razor and Comb, 2012). An African music record, but focused much more on the guitar — it’s rather hornless. The music is slinkier than the traditional pounding Afrobeat style and the guitar players lends the whole affair a rockin’ vibe. The lead singer works a little in English and his native tongue. The record has a slight off kilter weirdness to it that I really dig. (Added 9/26/12)
Jim Black Trio: Somatic. Piano, drums, and bass. Neither new age-y nor Cecil Taylor piano bashing, there’s a good connection between the players on this session.
Sly and Robbie: Blackwood Dub. Heavy grooves and percussive centered dub delays.
Devin: Romancin’. Elvis Costello meets the Strokes. High energy attitudinal punk/new wave inspired rock music. I’m still a little shocked this recording caught my ear, but when I listen I really dig it.
Wizard Rifle: Speak Loud, Say Nothing. Refers back to old school SST/Amrep punk bands but with some metal heaviness mixed in to help punish you because you’ve been a very bad boy/girl.
Horse Feathers: Cynic’s New Year (added 5/16). Lush beautiful folk music. Great singer, great arrangements and a lack of cheese.
Chatham County Line (Yep Roc, 2012). You can’t fake a live record and these guys can sing. Really sing. I think of this as a hayseed Crosby, Stills, and Nash record. Beautiful harmonies, great string playing.
Earth: Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 2. A little less guitar distortion and a little more of an overall sonic picture but the same concepts at work — mindfulness of sound.
Cedric Pescia: Sonatas & Interludes (Aeon, 2012). (Added 8/19) I’m not a huge John Cage guy, but this solo piano record is beautiful. Unpredictable, unique and keeps your attention through the 20 solo piano pieces.
Glenn Hansard: Rhythm and Repose (Anti, 2012) I decided this is a very good album but not mindblowing. I like that his voice sounds genuine to me, there is no cheesy production or oversinging but it’s not a record I would reach for over and over. Goes on the honorable mention list.
Ebo Taylor: Appia Kwa Bridge (Strut, 2012) I like Taylor’s guitar playing and I really like his low key voice. Another very strong record, not quite mindblowing.
Chris Robinson Brotherhood: The Magic Door (Silver Arrow, 2012). I have found this man’s music to be annoying for a long long time, so I’m shocked but I think this is a really good record. Just short of a best of effort, partially due to my longstanding aversion. Robinson combines jam rock, blues music, gospel, hippie music, and a little country flow to make something that is classic sounding but fresh at the same time. (Added 9/26/12)
Junkyard Speed Ball: Left Lane Cruiser. Guitar/drums duo that smokes the Black Keys. Much dirtier and more original.
Hauschka & Hildur Guonadittur: Pan Tone. Out quasi-classical ambient acoustic cello/piano+ recording.
Earth: Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light Do you know how hard it is to get that beautiful, rolling distorted guitar tone? Very hard is the answer.
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears: Scandalous. Full on rock/soul onslaught. Best soul band in the nation, imho.
Bing Ji Ling: Shadow to Shine. A 1970’s KC sunshine-EarthWindFire-SlyStone smoothie. The recording sounds great.
Sorry Bamba Volume 1 1970-1979: I love the guitar driven African music.
Agesandages: Alright You Restless. Creative music for cubicle dwellers. Part Broadway musical, part jam band.
David Lowery: The Palace Guards. Buy this instead of those Wilco records. Literate American music.
Deerhoof: If you dig the basic precepts of indie music (which I don’t) then you have to have this record. Quirky as shit and creative and musical.
Oval: O — Beautifully rendered minimalist electronic music that draws your attention to tone. I’ve been wearing this record out.
Dawn of Midi: First. An ambient, completely free piano, bass, and drums recording. All you stoner non-jazz kiddies could get with these sounds. Lush and inside and outside.
Mark Ribot: Silent Movies — Intelligent, lyrical solo guitar record that transcends genre. Just playing.
Rodrigo Amado: Searching for Adam (Not Two, 2010) Added 8/25/2012. Amado has a beautiful tone, plays with a fluid rhythmic sense and leads an energetic quartet here. These are long stretching pieces where two instruments will play together for big sections, back into the quartet, etc.
Konono No. 1: Assume Crash Position — the distorted percussion really drives the African bus — tough and infectious.
Tony Allen: Secret Agent — It’s fucking Tony Allen, c’mon.
Alexandra Grimal: Owls Talk (Self-released, 2010). Added 8/25/2012. Two saxophones with Gary Peacock on bass and Paul Motian on drums. Very well recorded. It’s hard to tell how much of this record was written and how much is free, but it’s a really beautiful session.
Dr. Dog: Shame Shame — I don’t usually go for the straight pop music, but these guys are excellent arrangers.
Harlem: Idiot — Haven’t dug anything on Matador for ages, but this energetic garage rock is killin’.
Wadada Leo Smith/Ed Blackwell: Blue Mountain Sun’s Drummer. Like Tony Allen, but it’s Ed Black well. C’mon, for fuck’s sake.
Ray LaMontagne: God Willin’ and the Creek Don’t Rise — it fades a little in the second half, but he moved on from over singing and pumps the old school vibes.
Dosh: Tommy — Musical ambient electronica. Tracks 5-7 are best.
Subject to change as year goes on, and as I listen and re-listen.
Best of breed, moves you beginning to end:
Extra Golden: Thank You Very Quickly (Thrill Jockey). Two Africans, Two Americans. Sick drummer.
Borah Bergman: Luminescence (Tzadik). Lyrical and rhythmically sophisticated jazz piano trio recording.
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears: Rippin’ uptempo R&B with rockin’ guitars that won’t quit.
Jon Hopkins: Insides (Domino). Great electronic sound choice greatly arranged. Sophisticated electronica results.
Nomo: Invisible Cities. Smart Afrobeat variant done with a hint of jazz sensibility.
Daniel Carter: Chinatown (NotTwo). Daniel Carter’s organic sax tone, electric playing, and a solid rhythm section.
Very, Very Good, almost perfect:
John Frusciante: The Empyrean (Adrenaline). Downtempo space rock with high production value.
Bishop Allen: Grrrr (Dead Oceans). Great arrangements of angular pop. XTC for a new generation.
I Was a King: I Was a King: Rockin’ big drums and stoner power chords. Mid-1970’s Alex Chilton-esque rock.
Band of Skulls: Baby Darling Doll Face Honey. Title song was the best tune I heard all summer. I wore it out.
Adam Franklin: Spent Bullets (Second Motion) Slow hooks and guitars from former Swervedriver singer.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (Lightning Rod) Great sounding slower but not as witty John Hiatt style Southern rock.