Unlike the other lists, the music list is always a released-in-2013 shindig. So of the discs I heard that came out in 2013, here are the cream of the crop, as per yours truly:
10. Clutch, Earth Rocker (Weathermaker)
I know a number of Clutch fans who thought Strange Cousins from the West was a rare miss for the boys from Maryland. I’m not one of them; I thought it was a phenomenal piece of work, and “50,000 Unstoppable Watts” and “Minotaur” rank among my favorite Clutch tracks. So I’m coming from a slightly different place than most when it comes to Earth Rocker, which has been an almost universal feature on 10-best lists this year. A lot of people see it as a return to form, whereas I see it as just a continuation of the ridiculous series of great albums that started when the band stopped being so pissed off and starting being stand-up comics (I have always placed that transition at The Elephant Riders). And, I rush to add, not that this takes away from their nineties stuff, which is equally brilliant, but Neil Fallon’s sense of wordplay has gotten more pointed and wittier with every release. “Cyborg Bettie” will leave you in stitches the first time you hear it.
9. Julianna Barwick, Nepenthe (Dead Oceans)
It’s getting to be a regular occurrence. Ho hum, another year goes by, Julianna Barwick releases another jaw-dropping set of perfect songs that are guaranteed a place on my 10 Best list. Nepenthe is every bit as good as The Magic Place or the FRKWYS collaboration with Ikue Mori (both of which made my year-end lists in 2011). If it’s not better, that’s because Barwick had already set her personal bar so damn high that surpassing it is going to take driving into realms that no one has yet discovered. Somehow, I have little doubt that eventually she’ll do so, but for now, you can still count on everything Julianna Barwick releases being one of the best things you will ever hear.
8. Shrive, Nothing Works Here (Compulsion Rites)
There’s a chap named Paul Markus. I believe he is from Cincinnati, though I cannot currently confirm this because I am lazy and I suck. [ed. note Jan. 2014: Sandusky, Ohio, actually.] Last year he started a project called Shrive and put out a tape called Dross on the DBLWLF label (if you do not know DBLWLF, just go find their page and buy everything). It was very short and low-key and interesting, but didn’t blow me away. Then came 2013 and his first (and hopefully not last) tape on Compulsion Rites (if you do not know Compulsion Rites, just go find their page and buy everything, and I am not just saying this because I have released a handful of cassettes on Compulsion Rites), Nothing Works Here. Listening to Dross, even now in hindsight, does not in any way prepare me for Nothing Works Here. Markus is taking the same very minimal approach, but where it felt like an experiment on Dross, it feels like a composition here, something much more structured and mature, claustrophobia and frustration and hopelessness reflected in the twitch of an eyelid instead of a meltdown. I had written about six more sentences and then I realized that they all said basically the same thing as that last one, so I will shut up and just tell you to go listen to this. It is a masterpiece.
7. Thy Light, No Morrow Shall Dawn (Pest Productions)
Thy Light have always been interesting in the black metal realm because they have never been afraid to wear their power-metal-loving hearts on their collective sleeve, but never has the influence been more noticeable than on the thirteen-minute-plus title track of this spectacular album. This is not necessarily a surprise given that Thy Light come from Brazil, which was basically the power metal capital of the world for years after America (and most of Europe) abandoned the form for the most part. But it’s been coming back recently since everyone’s gotten sick of shredding, and so Thy Light are coming to prominence at, pretty much, the perfect time, and they’ve got the talent to stand with their spiritual fathers. This is an album that’s focused on chords and chops rather than complexity and obscurity; it is the most accessible black metal album I have ever heard, and it may end up being a very welcome game-changer.
6. Ulcerate, Vermis (Relapse)
I have no idea who released these guys from the stinking jungle pits they inhabit in order to record Vermis, but whoever it was, I hope they do it more often in the future. Everything about this disc is huge, to the point where I wouldn’t be surprised if someone told me it was recorded outside in a completely flat desert. Guitar walls and guttural howls and the kind of drumming that puts splinters in your palms that will never, ever come out. It is a thick, filling, and very, very tasty stew indeed.
5. Pray for Teeth, From the Dry Edge of the Shore (Mayfly)
I had my ten best list all set, then I made the mistake of thinking “hey, I wonder if Pray for Teeth have put out anything since that last EP?” and went to their bandcamp page. From the Dry Edge of the Shore is their first full-length, Long-awaited (at least by me), four long tracks that continue the evolution of their sludgy post-Victory hardcore sound. “Puritan Eyes”, from their first demo, was for my money the single best song released in 2012, and they have continued down that path, integrating sludge, hardcore, and the occasional sampling into a band who remains at the top of the post-Victory heap.
4. Dog Lady Island, The Stop Circle of Singing (Alien Passengers)
If you were unaware of the music of Dog Lady (Island), the brainchild of Detroit-based avant-garde violinist Michael Collino, hopefully you developed an appreciation for it over the past eight months, as the title track from his 2009 release Children of the Torn Snare decimated track after track in my Desert Island Disc series before emerging as one of the victorious twenty-two. Collino has put out many, many releases between then and now (including stuff by his side-collaborations Bile and Horseman, Gloria, and I’m probably missing a few others), and every last one of them is worth picking up, but The Stop Circle of Singing is something very special indeed; it my be my favorite since Children.
3. Robert Turman, Roto (Hanson Records)
One of the really fun things about vinyl that has gotten lost in the ages of tapes and CDs is playing around with the speed. Vinyl’s resurgence has brought that back, but it is still rare to find music that is specifically designed to be played at multiple speeds. Leave it to Robert Turman, the great manipulator, to come up with the best such album I have ever heard. Unfortunately, judging by everything I’ve been able to find on the net, it seems this one is sold out (it’s no longer available at any of Hanson’s outlets on the web, though you may be able to find it in Aaron’s newly-opened brick-and-mortar Hanson outlet in Oberlin, OH), so the only time you may get to hear a piece of it is below. Unfortunately, that’s only at one speed. The album came with a download code that had digital versions ranging from 8rpm to 78rpm. Obviously, they didn’t all sound equally great; pretty much everyone I know who commented on it said their favorite was either 33 or 45 (mine is the latter). But for what is, for all intents and purposes, two side-length pieces of treated guitar improv… this is the kind of stuff the guys from Phish have nightmares about, because if their fans heard this, they’d be out of jobs immediately.
2. Various Artists, Songs for Spooky (Live Bait Recording Foundation)
One of my non-bendable rules since I have been active in music-making is that no project of which I am a part can show up on my Best of the Year list. That feels a little too much like vanity publishing, no matter how good I think the material actually is. I’m stretching that rule a bit for this one, since I am one-third of one of the many projects that contributed to this stellar release, but I’m not entirely breaking it; I briefly considered this for Album of the Year, but since I’m on it, again, vanity publishing. That doesn’t mean you should not immediately try to hunt down a copy of this (you’ll have to use the internet, as it was a limited run that sold out almost overnight). This is not a usual LBRF release in that there is a more diverse spectrum of genres on display here; Stephen solicited tracks from acts whose members knew and loved his faithful hound Spooky, who had to be put down earlier this year due to age-related infirmities. (All proceeds from the sale of the disc went to the shelter where Stephen adopted him.) Few animals have ever had such a phenomenal memorial.
[there is nothing I know of currently up on the web; I will try and get permission to post the Smiley Orange Beveridge track on Youtube and link to it.]
Album of the Year: Skin Graft, Enemy (Alien Passengers)
Last year, in heaping much-deserved praise on Sowell, I noted that for Skin Graft, it was the beginning of what I figured was going to be a new sound; Wyatt has mentioned to me a few times over the past couple of years that he was looking to go in a new direction (he had, in fact, considered changing the name of the project to Ruin. This may still happen, I don’t know). With Sowell, I was very fond of that direction. He’s taken a few more steps down that path with some phenomenal cassette releases (if you get a chance, pick up Medic especially, which was my early choice for Album of the Year before I decided that this was the year I was implementing the 3” CDR rule), and then came May, and Enemy. Skin Graft’s game was already ten levels higher than everyone else’s, but Wyatt Howland is now playing on an entirely different court.