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Some highlights from 2013

January 14, 2014

I’ve been negligent with the blog of late. I meant to file something Christmas-related last month but ran short of time.

Instead, I thought I’d list off some of my favourites from 2013. First off, as I’ve said elsewhere, this site is more about finding interesting music in the cracks or taking new angles on the familiar. I’m going against convention here by not writing about some musical niche, but the whole point for me is to look at things that cross boundaries, as often as I can.

Patty Griffin's Silver Bell. Finally!

Patty Griffin’s Silver Bell. Finally!

In any case, what I want to avoid is yet another music blog devoted to the brand new. I don’t want to feel the need to keep up with everything new, and frankly, as I confessed in a recent blog, I’m a bit down on much of what’s going on now in music, but when I put together the following list I realized I wasn’t totally out of touch in 2013:

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Finally got to see Cave and the Seeds live in 2013, on tour to promote Push the Sky Away. The record, itself, is stark and beautiful, the latest in a long line of fine Seeds records. Unlike most, the man gets better with age.

Marc Ribot – He’s gone garage rock on his latest project, Ceramic Dog, and, my God, does this thing rip. Ribot is one of the most versatile guitarists around and he unleashes his instrument here. There are some subversively lyrical songs, but much of the record is instrumental. Take note of his nasty cover of Brubeck’s classic “Take Five.”

Vampire Weekend – These Brooklyn-based critics’ darlings have topped lots of best of lists. I don’t love them yet, but I’m starting to get them, and their latest, New Vampires of the City, is more melodically complex and mature than previous efforts. They might just buck my theory that most rock bands, even good ones, have about three albums of solid material in them. I’m curious where they’ll go from here.

Braids – I wanted to pick the Luyas’ latest, but I realized it came out in 2012. Instead, I’ll sub another electro-pop group, Braids, a Calgary act now based in Montréal. Flourish // Perish is very dreamy stuff.

Neko Case – That voice! That’s all you need to know (plus the album title is so long, it would take up half the blog).

Bill Frisell – His Big Sur record is fine, in line with his most chamber-like projects, but Silent Comedy on Tzadik, with loads of multi-tracked Bill and no one else, is more interesting. Sure, he hasn’t made a classic record in a while, but he’s still Bill Frisell for God’s sake. (Look at my blog from mid-2012 if you’re new to the man.)

Tim Hecker – A lot of electronic music is dull, tub-thumping dance music consisting of sterile synth bass lines and predictably monotonous drum beats. Hecker’s though is more experimental, as his work is influenced by the minimalist layers of composers like Reich, Adams, etc. Give his latest, Virgins, a chance.

Public Service Broadcasting – (See above re: electronics.) Musically they’re more typical “dancey” than people like Hecker, but this British act digs into the past in the form of old samples from news reels, information films, etc., to make their futuristic sounds. Their 2013 release, Inform – Educate – Entertain, makes for a fascinating listen. I’ll be checking out more of their back catalogue.

Kurt Vile – Okay, I don’t have his latest, Waking on a Pretty Daze, but I remember hearing it on NPR’s First Listen and really liked it. His is a world where Sonic Youth is a shoegazing roots band sitting around a campfire in an abandoned warehouse district. (His old band, The War on Drugs, is also mighty fine.)

Patty Griffin – Silver Bell. Finally released from the vaults after well over a decade, Griffin’s record is a gem. Currently, I only have the leaked version that’s been floating around on the Internet for years, but I will buy this if only to spite her then-label boss, Jimmy Iovine. She also released an album of new material, American Kid, this year. I haven’t heard the whole thing, but the songs I have are, not surprisingly, breath-taking. The woman is still criminally under-appreciated.

Other stuff I need to check out: I saw saxophone and clarinet legend David Murray play a great show with Macy Gray, but I still need to listen to his new album (Macy shows up on one tune). I’d like to hear more of Jonathan Wilson’s album Fanfare after hearing a track called “Cecil Taylor.” The reference to the avant-garde giant is simply lyrical rather than musical. For some reason, the tune reminds me of those old guitar-driven epics by the Doobie Brothers from the early 70s. Interesting. Perhaps my favourite recording of the year was a droll, slightly surreal tune by Australia’s Courtney Barnett called “Avant Gardener.” I’m not sure what the rest of her songs are like, but I’m curious as hell.

On the whole, I had an easy time picking favourites (Spiritualized, Swans, Sharon Van Etten, Kathleen Edwards, Dan Deacon) the previous year, though I don’t recall blogging about this. This wasn’t the case in 2013, as I am not sure any of this last year’s candidates will go down as all-time favourites, but they’re still plenty good.

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From → Lists, Recordings

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