Hi. My name is Travis Phillips. I’m new. You may or may not have heard me fill in during some pick up slots toward the end of last semester. If you did, awesome. You may already know a little about the music I like. If not, that’s okay, too. I live to inform. I will be having my own show this coming semester entitled Some Weird Sin. I play primarily garage-punk and power-pop, but I get eclectic. In preparation for my grande premiere, I thought I might share my favorite 10 albums of this past year, so as to inform you of some of my tastes and possibly get you hyped. Overall, I’d say 2013 was a less consistent year than 2012, but it’s standouts were stronger.
10. Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys – Ready for Boredom
This Australian band’s release was probably the closest to reminding me of the spirit that 80s Replacements had (FIDLAR still have a LONG way to go). These guys don’t really sound like the Replacements though. The sound is definitely rawer than most of that bands material and usually a lot slower, too. They also sound pretty drunk. But the focus is on catchy, heart-on-your-sleeve punk with a heavy emphasis on melody, and when that type of music is done right, it’s just the best. “Bite My Tongue” and “Any Day Now” are flat out two of the best pop songs of the year, and the rest doesn’t lag too far behind. If you love slop-pop, check this out.
9. Banque Allemande – Willst du Chinese sein musst du die ekligen Sachen essen
If you had told me that my ninth favorite album this year would be from a German, shoegaze-influenced, noise-punk band with a French name, I most likely would have replied, “New Banque Allemande?” I was impressed with its 2010 debut, “Eins, Zwei,” and on this album, Banque Allemande expands on the ideas of that album’s centerpiece “The Baurmarkt Nation.” “Willst du Chinese sein musst du die ekligen Sachen essen” (roughly translated by Google as “Will you be Chinese you have to eat the nasty bits”) is a generally a lot more sprawling with 4 of the 6 songs surpassing the 7 minute mark. Still, shorter songs, like the dance-punk “Warmes Wasser,” are punchy and more than welcome. This may seem like a bold statement, but Banque Allemande is my favorite German, shoegaze-influenced, noise-punk band with a French name of all time.
8. Parquet Courts – Tally All the Things That You Broke
Okay, so I’m sort of cheating with this one, as it’s an EP, but whatever. New York slacker punks Parquet Courts released “Light Up Gold,” one of my absolute favorites of that year. Since then, I’ve been anxiously awaiting new material, and with “Tally All the Things That You Broke,” I got it. Parquet Courts have gotten far more adventurous, while the stylistic choices on their previous effort could be described as rather one-note (still loved it). Especially of note are “The More it Works,” a Gang of Four-styled dance/post punk tune and “He’s Seeing Paths,” my favorite on this EP, a 7-and-a-half minute hip-hop-inspired song about a kid who delivers weed on his bike. “Descend” is a great, relatively straightforward punk song, and the opener “You’ve Got Me Wonderin’ Now” is infectious with great flute parts and some fantastic freak outs. Only 20 minutes and well worth the time.
7. The Native Cats – Dallas
I’m really glad I caught this before the year’s end because I would have regretted it if I didn’t get to rave about this album. The Native Cats are an Australian post-punk act, and this is their third and, up to this point, best album. Julian Teakle plays bass, and Peter Escott provides vocals and simple electronics with a Korg DS 10 (a Nintendo synthesizer cartridge (yes, he plays his DS on stage)). That’s it. This is incredibly minimalistic, repetitive, sort of dancey music reminiscent of Joy Division if they weren’t so sad. The lyrics (and vocal delivery) remind me of beat poetry, which is to say that lyrically, it is on point. Escott is a very engaging vocalist. Teakle’s bass playing is hypnotic, the synths disorienting; and it’s incredibly impressive that the Native Cats manage to create such a unique sound with so little. The songwriting is excellent as well. “Dallas” only consists of 7 tracks, so there is no fat here. This album is also structured like an actual album. Six of these songs stand strong on their own, but their impact is heightened when placed in the context of the other songs (the clearest sign of a great album). If you have any sort of interest in beat poetry or post-punk, you’d be remiss to skip this.
6. Charles Bradley – Victim of Love
Originality is overrated. Who needs originality (or teeth) when you got soul and voice like Charles Bradley’s soul and voice? I don’t feel like there is much to say on this other than it’s awesome: The band is great; the songs are well written; it sounds like a lost classic from 45 years ago; and Charles Bradley, being Charles Bradley, puts his all into this. You should watch a live video of this guy just belting, gap toothed, sweating and looking like he’s on the verge of tears. It’s just so fantastic.
5. Sonny and the Sunsets – Antenna to the Afterworld
I generally hate concept albums. They almost always allow their concept to overpower and come before songcraft. They become so focused on telling a story that the artists forget that they are recording an album, not an audiobook. For example, take the Who’s “Pinball Wizard” from their album “Tommy.” Out of context, it is a stupid song. Sonny Smith never forgets that the songs come first. Smith’s inspiration for this album is the murder of one his close friends. This album does not tell the story of the murder. Rather, Sonny explores his feelings and thoughts about death, runs through nostalgic tales, tells of psychic encounters, loves had and lost, his slowly deteriorating faith in mankind. It doesn’t tell a specific beginning to end story, but listening to it, you understand that these songs are deeply connected to each other and deeply connected to Sonny.
Beyond that, these are simply excellent psychedelic-pop songs (Sonny’s first foray into the genre). Catchy, superbly produced, and filled with emotion and charisma, songs like “Dark Corners,” “Mutilator,” “Natural Acts,” and “Green Blood” are the types of songs that should be populating the airwaves en masse. I do think Sonny and the Sunsets will be one of those bands that will slowly, over time, create a large and devoted cult following and that albums such as this one will be looked back on as classics 20 years from now. When I’m 40, I’ll say “I told you so.”
4. Nobunny – Secret Songs: Reflections From the Ear Mirror
Taking to the stage donning only a bunny mask, a leather jacket, and women’s (sometimes men’s) underwear, Nobunny is my bubblegum, garage-punk Batman. His breakthrough “Love Visions” was noted as being possibly the best bubblegum album since the classic Ramones era, and indeed, it played almost like a lost, fifth classic Ramones album — catchy and overflowing with energy and attitude. His follow-up, “First Blood,” saw him slightly distancing himself from this, maintaining catchiness but greatly turning down the energy (but still really good). While some may have dropped off after this, people seemed to not realize that “First Blood” was a transitional album. While not as instantly infectious as “Love Visions,” Nobunny was starting to sound less like a Ramones copycat and more like Nobunny, which brings us to Nobunny’s best and most him album to date. Overflowing with energy, attitude and charisma, along with Nobunny’s best and most consistent songwriting, “Secret Songs: Reflections From the Ear Mirror” doesn’t play like a lost, sixth classic Ramones album. It plays like Nobunny’s first classic album.
3. Daniel Romano – Come Cry With Me
Country seems to get a terrible rap, particularly amongst the youth. It’s not very cool music, and when the pop country scene is primarily purveyed by people who write about the same things pop rappers do without any of the appealing swagger that those artists do, it’s not exactly surprising. Country, when done well, is exceptional. Maybe some of you have heard of Gram Parsons. Well, he got taken from the world too soon, and finally, decades later, the universe makes it up to us by giving us Daniel Romano.
This is pure Parsons worship. His previous albums did have hints of this influence, but on this, it goes beyond influence. Romano occasionally sounds possessed by the spirit of the fallen great. Songs like “I’m Not Crying Over You,” “Chicken Bill,” and “When I Was Abroad” most likely wouldn’t have been written by that legend. Songs like “Middle Child” and the gorgeous “Just Between You and Me” (serious “duet with Emmylou” vibes here) would have been right at home on “Grievous Angel.” While Romano sounds like Parsons, on “Come Cry With Me,” Romano hits with an even greater consistency than Parsons did. That is insane. INSANE. I love “GP”; I love “Grievous Angel.” I think I love this a bit more. I’m completely aware that this probably wouldn’t exist without those albums, but I don’t really care. Originality is overrated.
2. Bill Callahan – Dream River
It legitimately makes me upset that I can’t put this at number 1. “Dream River” is, by all accounts, a masterpiece (1 of 3 this year), and I’m also afraid that I’m legitimately short changing it still just because, while I am pretty acquainted with Americana, it’s not to the extent of garage-punk. This is also better than everything to come out last year, which also makes this annoying. This album is as important to Americana as my #1 is to garage-punk.
Americana, like garage-punk, is a genre that is generally believed to have relatively constraining sonic limitations. Some of my all-time favorite albums (“Nebraska,” “American Recordings,” “I See a Darkness”) fall under the Americana flag but being honest, it’s a style that usually involves a guy (sometimes a gal) playing stripped down acoustic tunes with an guitar and/or a harmonica, which is all good. However, this album is different. These aren’t songs. They’re soundscapes.
Instead of your garden variety somber tunes, Callahan breathes life and the spirit of Earth into these soundscapes. The acoustic guitars are replaced with electric guitars, used to a beautiful and ethereal effect. Throughout the album, Callahan refers to a bar, and whenever he does, claves come in to mimic the sound of bottles clanging together. Standard drums are swapped out for congas, flutes are thrown into the mix, and they sound like the wind.
In addition to this absolutely gorgeous sound, Callahan can story tell with the best of them, “Small Plane” and “Summer Painter” being excellent examples of this. Callahan also possesses a distinct and engaging baritone that vocally, for me, puts him up there with legends like Cash and Springsteen.
This is probably the best thing Callahan has ever done, and considering his back catalog, that’s a hell of a statement. Buy the album if you like music. Also keep your ears open for “Dream River” copycats in the coming years at least until they all realize they aren’t talented enough to pull it off.
1. Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin
This was easy. This is not only the best album of 2013, it is the best album of the 21st century. Maybe my favorite album of all-time. Thee Oh Sees have essentially taken every sub-genre of rock and infused them into their brand of psychedelic garage-punk into 10 thematically and sonically perfect songs.
First, we have “I Come From the Mountain,” which is influenced by punk blues. It, of course, rocks. It revolves around simple ideas: repetition and tempo change. The same thing happens multiple times but gets a bit more frantic and chaotic each time. “Toe Cutter / Thumb Buster” has probably gotten the most recognition of these songs because of its brilliant, sludgy riff and catchy bass line. I love the guitar parts that punctuate each verse. The title track has grown on me immensely. It starts without warning with this shrill, brittle, hollow-sounding guitar creating a wall of sound wrapped around this repetitive bass-line. Then the vocals come soaring in. It actually creates this picture in the mind of some sort of ritual being performed where people in dark robes are chanting a spell of necromancy. One can also find elements of surf rock, shoegaze, and cowpunk amongst these tracks, but it still remains a Thee Oh Sees album, grounded absolutely in their aesthetic.
This album’s getting pretty middling reviews. It is one that a few people have, however, seen as gaining acclaim over time. I agree. This album has turned the genre of garage punk on its head. I love the genre, but everyone’s been following the “formula.” It works, but Thee Oh Sees experiment, and they’ve stumbled upon something that’s even better. Anyone who dismisses this as another garage-punk record simply isn’t paying attention. It’s bold; it takes risks; and every risk pays off: the distorted vocals, the repeated mantras, the bizarre harmonies and melodies, the experimentation with genre — all of it. This should spark a new revolution of sound. As good as the previous efforts of Thee Oh Sees have been, this flattens them — as it should. It’s the best album in at least 14 years.
By Travis Shosa