Shawn’s Top 11 Albums of 2013

A quick note: This year I had a very tough decision – I changed my top ten to top eleven. I’m not going to lie, I did this under great personal tumult, as adding an extra number really goes against my own preferred aesthetic to these kinds of things. If you add one to make eleven, why not add another to make twelve if there’s a record you just really want to add? The idea of year end ‘best of’ lists has always – to me – been to whittle it down; to separate the wheat from the chaff so to speak. How is it doing that if you add number positions, eh? Well, then I got to thinking, how did ten become the number? And on top of that eleven is a very powerful number for me, so why am I not already doing eleven instead of ten? In the end it occurred to me that while there were a lot of records I loved this year there were a solid eleven that I felt I must absolutely must talk about, so the number change stuck.

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image courtesy of blabbermouth.net`

11) The Ocean: Pelagial - For sheer execution of concept Pelagial makes this list. Pelagial is unmistakable proof that The Ocean are one of the most ambitious bands working in heavy music today. In 2010 CCO Robin Straps and crew released Heliocentric and Anthropocentric within about six months of one another. Taken together those albums form something of a double concept album; an opus that took a serious look at religion’s dogmatic subjugation of reason over the course of the modern empires of man. Those albums were eye-openers to me – I already loved the band, but that was a step into a much more sophisticated direction, vital, engrossing records that were stunning both musically and conceptually. After flirting with it for a number of years, The Ocean had developed a genuine Renaissance-period approach to writing music. So what do you do after something like that? Well, you could either chill out and write some fast and loose material that doesn’t really challenge anyone to play or listen to it, or you can write one song that is 159 minutes and 39 seconds long. One song that attempts and wholeheartedly succeeds in emulating musically the Oceans of our mighty planet, their actual, physical states of existence. Pelagial begins as one often begins a trip into the waters of mother Earth – peaceful; frolicking in the surface waters. Soon however we move deeper, braving the depths and eventually encountering the sludge-like heavy pressure of the lowest fathoms of the alien-like undiscovered trenches. To accomplish this the band incorporate musical themes and movements into Pelagial that repeat and evolve, honing them into something that is moving, catchy and finally severe.

Clearly there is much ground left to cover in metal, both musically and conceptually. The Ocean is quickly covering much of it.

image courtesy of littleoldmepublicity.com

10) Man Man – Oni Pond – Beginning with 2011’s Life Fantastic something about Man Man changed. Sure, their line-up has turned over several times during the years since they began, but that’s not entirely it (although clearly that plays a part). I’ll tell you that for me, since buying Six Demon Bag on a lark in 2006 and becoming quite smitten with it for a time, Man Man still didn’t quite have the… identity that would ground me as a fanatic. I liked them quite a bit, but I didn’t feel as though they were as necessary as, say, oxygen. No matter how good Bag or follow-up record Rabbit Habits were, Man Man entertained me, but they did not drastically move me. However, when Life Fantastic came out in 2011 there was a revelation in Man Man’s music – or at least there was in how I interacted with it. The band had synthesized just the right amount of Waits, Vaudeville and Indie hutzpah with their predilection for dark character studies and honest to goodness emotional genuflection – always beautifully rendered by Honus Honus in his lyrics – to become one of the most adroit, most original modern bands out there. On Oni Pond is further along this enlightened path. The newest record sees Man Man utilizing ever more disparate influences to further craft the wonderful tapestry that has become their sound. Rarely is it possible to have such interesting instrumentation married so successfully to such original and often disconcerting songwriting.

image courtesy of tellallyourfriendspr.com

9) The Callas – Am I Vertical – This came out of nowhere. I’d never even heard this group before when my wife turned me onto them by forwarding me some press she’d received. First thing I noticed? Am I Vertical was produced by Jim Sclavunos, drummer and multi-instrumentalist with both Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Grinderman. Appropriately enough Grinderman’s rusty fuzz was the first comparison I drew when I fired up Am I Vertical‘s lead-in track, ‘Lustlands’. The album begins loud and sonic, slightly obtuse and very reckless. The comparison holds throughout with a certain fuzzy irreverence, but The Callas aren’t imitating anyone with their sound. No, over the course of the ten songs on the album there’s a complex relationship defined at the outset – a creative relationship where innovation moves around enough corners to somehow make dissonance a catchy, hooky attribute. The Callas want you to like their music, but they also want you to do more than just tap your foot and hum along – they want you ingest some new ideas and have them open your mind up a little bit. They also want to make you hurt a little bit. That’s good – I like that in a band. The guys in the Bad Seeds (and Grinderman by extension) do this quite a bit, though they’ve toned it down a bit in recent years, and that means Sclavunos was the perfect fit for this record, a collection of songs that kind of tastes like a your favorite flavor wrapped in barbed wire. To quote David Smay‘s wonderful 33 1/3 on Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones and apply it here, “These are vinegar pleasures.” Yep, that don’t make them any less tasty though.

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8) Author & Punisher – Women & Children -  For someone who tries to fight blanket categorization of music, for most of my life I have been drawn to music labeled “Industrial” more than any other music via a genre or label. And as much as I love the collectively recognized “Industrial” scene that arose in the 80’s and early 90’s, most of that never really met the criteria I would have bestowed upon music with a name that stirs in me images of large factories and massive machinery that hisses steam and presses metal. There are always elements of those things in colloquial Industrial music, but the music never seems made out of those elements.

That is not the case with Author & Punisher.

Tristan Shone’s music has this exact texture to it because of how it is made – by machinery Shone himself has appropriated and constructed. Shone’s a one-man band that utilizes an array of strange, Steam Punk-esque levers and handles, apparatus not easily described without a technical proficiency I do not possess, so in the interest of shorthand, at this point please allow me to reference a picture:

image courtesy of the sleeping shaman.com

What the hell is that? I don’t really know, but Shone’s used it to craft one of the scariest, most original opus’ this year. After ingesting Women & Children and subsequently his back catalogue – not to mention now looking forward to seeing him live just after the new year – all I can say is this isn’t the future of music, because I doubt anyone else can do this. However it is most assuredly the future of Industrial music, which has pretty much been dead for the last decade despite what the lesser offspring and imitators of that old school scene would have you believe. All hail Author & Punisher!!!

image courtesy of cosmosgaming.com

7)Dillinger Escape Plan: One of Us is the Killer - I’ve been a fan of this band since the late 90’s and I’ve followed them through most of their line-up changes. I like each subsequent record they release but nothing has ever quite done to me what 1999’s Calculating Infinity continues to do to me to this day, and that’s rip my fucking face off and set it on fire – in a good way of course. Miss Machine was amazing in that the band found the confidence to relax their tempos and work in some programming and even some hard rock hooks a la FNM. Ire Works dabbles at times with an almost Squarepusher vibe while even touting some pop elements. And 2010’s Option Paralysis stokes the flames with a smokey piano ballad (sort of). The day I bought One of Us is the Killer I expected pretty much the same thing – another great Dillinger album that would add to the band’s technical and aesthetic overall palette and sit nicely in line with the rest; an ordered, logical procession of their career.  What I did not expect was the band to strip their sound to the ground level and then rebuild it – not stylistically so much as in production. And why not? Anyone who has ever seen DEP live knows these guys pull the ridiculousness of the music off PERFECTLY in person, but the studio versions always follow the live songs on the more traditional rock line-up stuff or, on tracks that incorporate less-conventional elements (programming, keyboard) the live tends to follow the studio. But there’s never really been a concentrated effort to integrate the two sides of the band into one cohesive entity until now. One of Us is the Killer is, if you’ll excuse the unintentional hyperbole, possibly the best heavy music record anyone has recorded in a decade. The songs are tight to the point of reaching a heretofore unimagined harmonic with themselves – the guitars, bass and drums are all so perfectly captured that they transcend the sound of the actual instrumentation and take on a tone of their own, almost a caricature. Nothing sounds like this record. Let me repeat and specify, no band comprised of traditional instrumentation sound like this on record. Structure and songwriting wise Dillinger utilize this newfound studio mastery to push their previously established sound even further and the result is something that resembles their previous work but is actually a volatile and super-charged re-imagining of it. With this under their belt DEP are perfectly situated to travel another fifteen years into the future, making nothing but better and more interesting music every single time. If, that is, they survive their increasingly insane live shows that long. Here’s to hoping.

image courtesy of thebesnardlakes.com

6) The Besnard Lakes: Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO - After 2010’s The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night I knew as soon as I caught wind of a new record that it would further add to the band’s enigmatic sound. The Besnard Lakes have developed something that is all their own and with it they’ve also developed a confidence in crafting emotionally complex records that simply ooze tone. Each record’s synesthetic core is carried in the title, the artwork, and of course the song craft, which continues to get more unique and more infatuating at the same time. Until In Excess is a deep, syrupy jaunt into the minds and emotional heart of a hardworking band that literally plays its heart out (see them live). In equal measure their sound conjures the reverent beauty of Brian Wilson-era Beach Boys, the warm and fuzzy swirl of My Bloody Valentine and the Forlorn jangle of The Pixies. That said, those comparisons – while very much an adequate primer for their previous records – further break down on this record as all of these seemingly disparate elements further congeal into a sound truly belonging to The Lakes themselves. Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO is beautiful, moving and unbelievably catchy; a joy from start to finish.

5) Savages: Silence Yourself – The first time I pushed play on this record the lead-in dialogue sample from John Cassavettes’ film Opening Night immediately brought to mind The Cure’s Pornography - one of my favorite records ever. Silence Yourself, while not trafficking in the lush, downtrodden tone of early Cure, does indeed bear some resemblance, at least in the gasps of oft-staggering hopelessness and domestic rage that vents out from around the record’s edges.  This debut is a tight, stark post punk masterpiece, a record made to play start to finish but also one where each individual song rips through that overall fabric to shine momentarily for itself, if only until the next track begins. And these eleven individual cataclysms never damage the overall continuity of the piece as a whole. A lot of bands try to do this but take years to succeed. The Savages did it on their first time out. That’s beyond impressive – that’s remarkable. Silence Yourself evokes a lot of great music from thirty years ago while simultaneously sounding fresh and progressive. I find myself wondering if this is how people felt after hearing Wire’s Pink Flag?

4) The Neighbourhood: I Love You - This record came to me quite by accident. The first time I actually took notice of the single, “Sweater Weather” I thought it was an unreleased Amy Winehouse song. Lead singer Jesse Rutherford no longer evokes the late R&B singer to me but I believe there is, at times, still a comparison to be made. It’s the combination of angst and wonderment, reflection and poise. But on this, The Neighbourhood’s debut, Rutherford and his bandmates have made a name for themselves with a very distinct, unique style that I believe a lot of people are going to fall all over themselves attempting to imitate very soon. These guys are California slick all the way – but good California slick. There’s a definite rap element on the record – it hides in the flow of the lyrics and the occasional braggadocio of the beats. But I Love You is not a rap record. It’s  something new amalgamated from bits and pieces of things you already know, re-arranged into what I have come to call California Noir. Moody and atmospheric, some songs appear out of dissonant, sonic fog (Female Robbery) while others kind of stalk up behind you like a hood in an alley (Afraid). The whole record has an electric, ionic charge,  like the moments spent on the beach directly after an evening thunderstorm. And there’s even a little bit of friendly danger, like your old roommate who likes to show up unannounced with a little bag of drugs.

I Love You is not only an absolute joy to listen to over and over again, but its compelling enough to slowly assimilate into a story. A story the band is continuing with a flurry of new singles and the announcement of a forthcoming second record. Apparently there’s no stopping these guys, and hey, that’s alright by me.

3) The Bronx: The Bronx IV – This was a last minute addition to this list – The Bronx’s fourth album came and went with very little publicity even within the underground, and I had actually forgot about it these last few months. After my good friend Jacob gave me a copy several weeks ago I found that I simply could not stop listening to it. This is everything great about The Bronx: it’s razor sharp and yet still anthemic and FUN! Yes, fun! The guys’ song craft has gotten better over the course of four albums; often when bands that begin as the Bronx did – pissed off and throwing sonic fists – the hooks eventually get better but only at the expense of the power and mayhem. Not these guys. The Bronx might not sound nearly as angry as they did on The Bronx (II) but they don’t sound like they’re lying down either. They’ve really just come into their own and learned how to work together in more elegant ways. Out of this entire list The Bronx (IV) may be the easiest record to listen to – it starts, flows, ends and starts again on my iPod day after day at work and I am never able to stop it until about the end of the third run through. That says something.

2) Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Push the Sky Away – I do not really understand how Nick Cave – in every single thing he does  – gets better and better with age. Well, that’s  a lie. I have my theories, and chief among them is Mr. Cave simply lives and breathes music, studies it, in ways that grant him an almost occult understanding of how it connects throughout history to the place the storyteller holds in a society’s heart. This arcane understanding of music in all its forms, in so many societies and eras is the secret key that  keeps him relative. Whereas other musicians are musicians first and storytellers second, Cave has interest only in telling stories for the most part, however in order to do that he absorbs everything he can about the medium he uses. The music is Nick Caves canvas, his chisel and stone, his pen and paper. And he keeps himself surrounded at all times by one master craftsmen (Mick Harvey, Warren Ellis) and several more seasoned veterans who help translate his stories into increasingly sophisticated, timeless music. Push the Sky Away is a dark and methodological contemplation of the modern qualms of our existence – what it means to be a man or a woman, what roles we choose to identify with or assign ourselves and how the dull, unceasing throb of our own history will eventually undo us all. And its timeless, just as Nick Cave himself appears to be.

1) Queens of the Stone Age:  … Like Clockwork – Just like last year’s number one – Koi No Yokan by the Deftones – everything truly poignant that I have to say about this amazing record is right here. However I will add that after roughly eight months of living with the latest QOTSA I still find it an incredibly emotional experience to listen to it. …Like Clockwork has not lost its punch and sits very firmly as my second favorite album by Queens, bumping Era Vulgaris from the number two spot but still coming in behind Rated R, which I doubt will ever be topped simply for time and place. That said, in terms of sheer craftsmanship …Like Clockwork is – in my opinion – the band’s greatest effort to date and definitively one for the ages.

 

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

5 Responses to Shawn’s Top 11 Albums of 2013
  1. [...] Of The Stone Age – …Like Clockwork (2013) – Is the only album to appear on both my and Bakes... joup.co/grez-top-albums-2013-remember-regardless-release-date
  2. Shawn C. Baker Reply

    Oh, there is definitely nothing wrong with Songs for the deaf, tho I would have arranged the.tracks a bit differently. Queens does not have a bad record. They are all awesome.

    • Masanobu Reply

      , so she could never be able to identify her Romeo in Blue’.the Shoe-In': thuogh A. Eisenstaedt was not sure when they came forward, some features stood out over time her legs, and the birthmark of his hand, easily seen in the picture.the Aftermath: both E. Shain and C. Muscarello had their reasons, but they did not want to identify themselves until 1980 and 1995, respectively. She went on to move to L.A. and became a full-time nurse followed by many years spent as a kindergarten and 1st grade teacher before retiring from public service. She died 20 June 2010 at 91. Her family of three sons, six grandchildren, and eight grand-children fondly remembers the matriarchal figure who ended up using her late-found fame to encourage and enlighten generation of an era gone by. He was no different. He stayed on in NYC until his retirement as a police detective and is now living with his wife in Plantation, FL.

  3. Chester Whelks Reply

    Okay, I give up. What’s wrong with ‘Songs For The Deaf’?

  4. Thomas H Williams

    Thomas H Williams Reply

    Excellent list my friend. I had not heard of a couple of these, so will definitely be checking out The Callas and Author & Punisher.

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