About Us


There is a good chance you found us accidentally by using the word “taint” in your search (If you found us on purpose, you deserve our accolades). Of course we don’t know what you were looking for, but you stumbled on a damn cool project. Look around; let us help send you on a musical journey. Here you will find a number of album reviews from the strange and extreme to the tame and mainstream. Our reviewers are a bunch of obsessive miscreants. Most of us are avid music collectors and have been involved in the music world for decades. A couple of us have been in or are still in bands.

There are no rules on Tickle Your Taint Blog. Our reviewers might make you laugh, or piss you off; both results are legitimate. One reviewer might write a glowing review of an album another might tear it apart. We may end up adopting a single review system, such as five stars, or each reviewer may use his own or none at all. We may have a new review every week or we could end up with one every six months. This blog exists as a social experiment to build community among a diverse group of music maniacs – our reviewers and hopefully you. Pull down your knickers, lube up and join us in tickling yours and our taints.

If you are in a band, have released a physical (rather than an MP3) CD or record, and would like us to review your efforts, contact us at tickleyourtaint@yahoo.com

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013 Music Obsessions


Below, you will find our end of the year lists of music-related obsessions for 2013.           

Anita Papsmear

Top 33 CDs of 2013

This year (2013) was a whirlwind and I feel as though I have not kept up with as many new releases. I figured since 2013 ends in a three, I will feature a list of my 33 favorite CDs—13 would not be enough. It also allows me to be a bit lazy and not have to pare the list down further. The first 14 are the “cream of the smear” in order of my favorites—the 19 remaining CDs are in no particular order.

1. Feathers, If All Now Here (NYX/Feathers, 2013).
My favorite disc of 2013—I am a sucker for dream-pop harmonies and angelic voices.

2. How To Destroy Angels, Welcome Oblivian (Columbia, 2013).
Sigh. Aside from my girl crush on Mary Queen Mandig, the creative work she and hubby, Trent Reznor, are doing is shear perfection to my ears. I also got to see HTDA live in 2013 and it was, in a word, enchanting!

3. Andre Obin, The Arsonist (Sky Council, 2013).
I guess it was the year of dreamy, floaty melodies in the Papsmear home. Andre’s 2013 release reached some epic heights.

4. Chvrches, Recover EP/The Bones Of What You Believe CD (Glassnote, 2013).
Admittedly, I am a bigger fan of the EP than the full release. The EP contains 4 perfect tracks. While the full disc is missing something, I love this synth-pop duo from Glasgow and expect some big things from them in the future. Can’t stop listening, dancing and singing.

5. Junip, Junip (Mute/Universal, 2013).
I think Junip is one of my all-time favorite bands and this is only their second full-length official release. Haunting, intelligent lyrics bathed in mysticism. Me likey. Me likey a lot! Junip is one of the few bands where every track on every CD is amazing.

6. Washed Out, Paracosm (SubPop, 2013).
Chillwave at its finest. Another near perfect release from Washed Out—a must for fans of lush, ambient tunes.

7. Django Django, Django Django (Ribbon Music, 2012).
Renewing my love for all things English, this quartet has put together one of the more interesting and melodic CDs of 2012—I didn’t find them until 2013 so they are on the 2013 list.

8. Nine Inch Nails, Hesitation Marks (Columbia, 2013).
Put simply, I think Trent is doing some of the best work he has ever done. With Pretty Hate Machine as the yardstick, that is saying something. In the past, his tendency has been to hide behind a wall of sound and noise. In recent years, the veils have fallen and his sound is more honest and pure. With Hesitation Marks, Trent has taken his place among the great artists of our time.

9. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Mosquito (Interscope, 2013).
Karen O. is a dynamic entertainer. Her live energy shines through on Mosquito—great CD from a great band.

10. Shpongle, Museum Of Consciousness (2013).
One of the best bands most people have never heard of. Formed in 1996, this English outfit are the kings of psychedelic ambience. Awesome and trippy! 

11. Elephant Stone, Elephant Stone (Hidden Pony, 2013).
Another great talent from “up north,” this Canadian band combines rock with some traditional sounds, including sitar, tabla, and dilruba, into the mix for good measure. It makes for an enchanting disc that will have you pushing repeat again and again.

12. Solid Gold, Eat Your Young (Totally Gross National Product, 2012).
Dream pop at its best. This CD was released in 2012—it was another late find.

13. Unknown Mortal Orchestra, II (Jagjaguwar, 2013).
I love the throw back to 70’s influenced rock and roll and UMO adds in some psychedelia for good measure.

14. Still Corners, Strange Pleasures (SubPop, 2013).
For those like me, Still Corner’s first CD was perfection. Their sophomore release doesn’t disappoint. Put your wings on for this one and get ready to fly on heavenly waves of pop ambience.

15. Sigur Ros, Kveikur (XL, 2013).

16. Local Natives, Hummingbird (French Kiss, 2013).

17. The Features, The Features (Serpents & Snakes, 2013).

18. Tricky, False Idols (K7, 2013).

19. Jake Bugg, Jake Bugg (Mercury [American CD version released in 2013]).

20. Broncho, Can’t Get Past The Lips (Fairfax, 2013).

21. Devendra Banhart, Mala (Nonesuch, 2013).

22. Clutch, Earth Rocker (Weathermaker, 2013).

23. Ae Topus, Angels & Machines (12 Ton Productions, 2013).

24. !!! (or Chk Chk Chk), Thriller (Terrorbird, 2013).

25. The Black Angels, Indigo Meadow (Blue Horizon Ventures, 2013).

26. Billy Bragg, Tooth & Nail (Cooking Vinyl, 2013).

27. The National, Trouble Will Find Me (4AD, 2013).

28. Cults, Static (Columbia, 2013).

29. Johnny Marr, The Messenger (Sire, 2013).

30. Caveman, Caveman (Fat Possum, 2013).

31. The Joy Formidable, Wolf’s Law (Atlantic, 2013).

32. Moby, Innocents (Little Idiot, 2013).

33. Various Artists, Echoes (MOJO—amazing compilation, 2013).

Best Comeback CD: The Mission, The Brightest Light (The End, 2013).
Best Holiday CD: Erasure, Snow Globe (Mute/Universal, 2013).
Best Single: Phosphorescent, “Song For Zula” (Dead Oceans. 2013).


Class Warrior

As usual, these are the albums I listened to the most in 2013, regardless of when they were released. I didn’t have much time for music, and when I was listening, often it was to old favorites, but I did expose myself to some new stuff.

Bad Religion, Christmas Songs (2013).
In case you didn’t realize it, Bad Religion is sex music. Music for fucking. Tunes for getting it on! Why would I say such a thing? It’s the harmonies, the oozin’ aahs. Harmonies, when you get right down to it, are all about screwing. The sayings we have in the English language didn’t come from nowhere. “Making beautiful music together,” “being in harmony,” “fucking.” They all have their roots in people singing together. Bad Religion is no exception. So, in general, you can throw on any Bad Religion album when you think the mood is right and expect to get laid. Trust me—the good doctor wouldn’t steer you wrong. You might want to reserve this record for the holidays next year if you have that certain feeling in your loins. Here, Bad Religion serves up some straightforward Xmas ditties done in their trademark style. If you like melody, if the tiniest sliver of your soul enjoys singing the holiday tunes of yore, and, yes, if you like fucking, give this album a try.

They end the album with a rip-roaring version of their nineties song “American Jesus,” so if you were wondering if they had their tongues in their cheeks on the previous eight songs, you have your answer.

Bad Religion, True North (2013).
They’ve still got it. Yes, it is sex music. Yes, the social critique is still there. We’ll be playing Bad Religion when we take this world back from the capitalist pigs. I like this album, but I’ll be rocking out to Suffer. “The anechoic nebula rotating in my brain is persuading me, contritely, to persist, LET’S GO!”

I don’t think I could ever be in a band in which I shared vocal duties with a female member, unless we were already seeing each other. Or maybe I could. Harmonies are sex.

Utter Failure, Eroding Forces (2013).
Do you remember Krupted Peasant Farmerz from the early nineties? This band contains the Fraser brothers who made that band what it was. Now they’re older, but they still know how to write fast, smart, melodic hardcore punk tunes in the vein of Swedish favorites Asta Kask. This smokes! Blows away nearly everything that the youngsters are playing these days. Their seven inch from 2012 is also worth your time.

Hard Skin, On the Balls and Why Do Birds Suddenly Appear? (Both 2013).
Hard Skin are an Oi band from England who have put out two insanely catchy albums in the past. These two are ahead of everything else they’ve done. Melody and skillful wordcrafting abound. They’re not a dumb skinhead band—far from it. These guys are left wing to the core, with a wicked sense of humor to boot (get it?). There’s something special about these two albums that demands your attention: they are the exact same record, with one important exception. On the Balls is Hard Skin. Why Do Birds... is Hard Skin with different female vocalists for each song. It is sheer genius. It worked so well that I haven’t stopped listening to the latter record for months. Some of the guest vocalists are: Joanna Newsom, Alela Diane, a member of Fucked Up, and Beki Bondage of Vice Squad (which is, unfortunately, the most overrated band of the most overrated scene in punk history). The record is brilliant. The female vocalists tend to have much less roughness than Fat Bob and Johnny Takeaway, so their voices bring out the underlying melodies of the original songs to a much greater extent than when the lads are doing their thing on the regular album. Absolutely wonderful. This is the album of 2013 for me. Both records come in beautiful colored vinyl editions, unless you snoozed on it, in which case I guess you get regular black.

Terrible Feelings, Backwoods seven inch (2013).
I don’t like the direction this band is going. Their first two seven inches from a couple years ago were masterful blends of punk, pop, and dark, depressing lyrical depictions. I thought they were something truly special, and that we would be hearing awesome albums from them for the next decade. They’re drifting away from this. Now they are blending in a large amount of twangy western stuff that just makes them sound like every other indie band out there. I don’t hear the punk, and I don’t hear the pop melodies. I’ll get their next album (which is going to come out in 2014), but am not expecting much. If it is in the same mold as this EP, I’m done.

Muncie Girls, Revolution Summer EP (2012).
Just a nice, pleasant punk/pop/indie band from Exeter doing their thing. A female vocalist singing about nothing meaningful except to her, the band keeping pace with basic guitar and rhythm, and...it all comes together to make a hell of a good five songs. “Kasper and Randow” is the highlight. This was the theme to some of my high summer gardening. Good sunny weather music. They’ve got a new EP that I haven’t had a chance to listen to yet—it’s available on Bandcamp.

Robb Johnson, A Man Walks into a Bar (2010).
I saw Robb Johnson, an English political folk singer, play when I lived in Eugene. He shared the bill with David Rovics, a singer who is more straightforward and has less of (or perhaps a different, and less appreciated by me) a sense of humor. Robb’s set was just wonderful. He sat on stage and played song after excellent song. I remember it as one of the five best shows I attended in Eugene. Robb’s albums are hard to find in the United States, so I snapped up this one when I saw it used on a website we all know (<http://necrobestality.com>). It’s not his best stuff, but it’s a nice collection of pub songs. It’s the kind of album you can throw on when you’re drinking beer with friends. Occasionally you’ll stop what you’re saying and pay attention to the song. Good tunes, good times.

El Morgan and the Arteries / Kelly Kemp and Bangers, split EP (2009).
This was one of my great finds this summer, and a constant companion as I hoed weeds and spread chicken manure (and a little human urine fertilizer from yours truly) around the garden. Both the Arteries and Bangers are English punk bands—nothing special, nothing to write to Mum about. El Morgan and Kelly Kemp are English folk singers with a punk background—again, neither is all that remarkable. But put them together and you get fucking fireworks! These four songs are outstanding! Blistering melodic punk rock with the best female vocals this side of...well, you name it! The El Morgan side starts out with “Blah Blah Blah,” a song about whatever, but it’s all in how they do it. Dual guitar melodies, El’s strong vocal performance, and the female/male harmonies (sex music alert!) turn this into a truly special song. The next one is about if she will be playing punk rock when she is elderly. There are varied tempos and a countrified beginning which make this song memorable. The Kelly Kemp side is not quite as strong, but it’s still a very worthy candidate for your attention. Kelly’s vocals are the highlight—higher than her comrade’s on the flip side, but still strong and clear. If only these people would have teamed up to a greater extent—a full album each would have been spectacular. If you want to hear this, I found it on Bandcamp.

Lionel Richie, The Definitive Collection (2003).
I don’t like most of these songs, but I really get into the ones I do. “SAY YOU, SAY ME, SAY IT FOR ALWAYS, THAT’S THE WAY IT SHOULD BE. SAY YOU, SAY ME, SAY IT TOGETHER, NATURALLY.” I hear this and I’m a teen again. Most of my memories of this time are not positive (see my Bad Religion, Suffer review from 2010 for more on that), but I was young and had the world before me. There’s something to be said for that.

Icons of Filth, The Mortarhate Projects (I don’t remember the year).
This is the finest of the eighties British anarcho bands. Intelligent, brutal music with a small shred of melodic sensibility. Plus, their album art is surpassed only by Nick Blinko’s work for Rudimentary Peni. I still have a homemade Icons of Filth shirt I made several years ago. If you haven’t heard this, give it a try. You’re better active today than radioactive tomorrow!

Pete Morton, Mad World Blues (1992).
I cannot get enough of singers or bands performing simple songs with passion, anger, melody, and acoustic guitars. Pete Morton accomplishes this here with skill. His songs are beautiful testimonials to the fragility of human existence. Highlights for me are the title song, “Songbird,” “Kurdistan,” “Patriotic Claptrap,” and “Katie.” We all need to help each other get through this, folks. Let’s do it with love, courage, and outrage.

Gas Huffer, Janitors of Tomorrow (1991).
I saw these yahoos play in Pullman, Washington the year this album was released. Mudhoney was headlining. At that point I didn’t really like Mudhoney that much anymore, so it was no big surprise when Gas Huffer blew them off the stage. Frenzied, energetic, and sideburned singer Matt Wright stole the show. I bought this record not long after and spent many an evening rocking out to it. Once my brother and I played it in our shitty tape player (called “The Baron of Beef,” or “The Baron” for short) and used it as the soundtrack to our skateboard session at the Mormon stake center. I think that was the time I tried to spit on the stake center building, only to have a vengeful God blow it back in my face. We weren’t Mormon—they just had a great parking lot and sidewalks. Anyway, this is a fine album if you like fast and weird rock and roll. I rediscovered it in 2013 after not listening to it for quite a while. (As a side note: drummer Joe Newton draws the art that goes along with everyone’s favorite sex advice column Savage Love.)

Tina Turner, Simply the Best (1991).
This is more a nostalgia trip than anything else, but Tina Turner put out some incredible fucking tunes in the eighties. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be “Private Dancer.” I should play this song for my students when we’re talking about Marx and estranged labor. Also, I think she would have made a fabulous metal singer.

Val Kilmer, Top Secret! soundtrack (1984).
Holy shit, I found this online earlier this year! It’s so great! I’ve loved the film Top Secret ever since I was a lad, but some of the songs on there are actually pretty good. Try not to sing along with “Skeet Surfing” or “Straighten the Rug.” If you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, you’ve got some homework to do, loser.

Iron Maiden, Killers (1981).
Finally I have realized the brilliance of this album. It took me a long time to get past the lack of Bruce here, but once I did I was in for a heavy metal masterpiece! Iron Maiden’s reign in the eighties likely will not be equaled by any other metal band—they demonstrate the sort of sustained skill, talent, and success that one would normally have to sell one’s soul to Satan to achieve (hmm...), but they did it. To see that they are still so humble and human even after playing sold-out shows for decades all over the world is one of the things that keeps me going. There is beauty and meaning in this world. We will find it in each other once we dispense will all the shit that makes us tear at each other’s throats. Thank you, Iron Maiden. (Now, if you have not seen Flight 666, stop what you’re doing and go watch it.)


Dave

1) Vanishing Kids, Spirit Visions (2013).

2) Voivod, Target Earth (2013).

3) Gorguts, Colored Sands (2013).

4) Kayo Dot, Blue Lambency Downward (2008).

5) Mike Watt and the MissingMen, Hyphenated-Man (2011).

5) Minutemen, Double Nickel on the Dime (1984).

6) Battle of Mice, A Day of Nights (2006).

7) Skeleton Key, Obtainium (2002).

8) Pelican, The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw (2005).

9) King Crimson, Larks’ Tongues In Aspic (1973).

10) Neurosis, Through Silver in Blood (1996).


Dismal

Records:

Emir Kusterica and the No Smoking Orchestra, Unza Unza Time (Universal Int'l, 2003).

Leningrad Pirati XXI vek and Tochka (Gala Records, 2002).

Manu Chao, Clandestino (Radio Bemba / Because Music, 1998).

La Mano Negro, Puta's Fever (Parlophone, 1992).

Alice in Chains, Jar of Flies (Sony, 1994).

Los de Abajo, Cybertropic Chilango Power (Luaka Bop, 2002).

Chico Science and Nacao Zumbi, Afrociberdelia and Da Lama ao Caos (Chaos, 2010).

Iron Maiden, Live After Death (Sanctuary Records, 2002—remastered).

Rome, Hate Us and See if We Mind (Trisol, 2013).

Judas Priest, Defenders of the Faith (Sony, 2001—remastered).

Zemial, In Monumentum (Metalhit.com, 2008).

Bathory, Blood on Ice (Black Mark Germany, 1996).

The Zydepunks, Streets Will Flow With Whiskey (CD Baby, 2005).

Inepsy, No Speed Limit for Destruction (Feral Ward, 2007).


Five-Inch Taint

(forthcoming)


Jimmy (Explosive Diarrhea) B.

Shows:

Blue Oyster Cult in Salem, OR.
It is becoming an annual event to load up the family and head out of town to go see BOC. I have seen the band put on better performances, and I was greatly annoyed when Buck cut short the solo on “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” But, it is great watching daughter and Mrs. B rock the fuck out.

Kinski at Dantes, Portland, OR.
The crowd was fucking obnoxious, but Kinski was awesome as always. Kinski might be the best live band the Pacific Northwest has to offer. It was made even better by the appearance of Dave who was strangely excited by the strange headliner (Melt Banana).

Meat Puppets at the Doug Fir, Portland, OR.
I have seen the Meat Puppets before, but they were particularly brilliant on the night Mrs. B and I ventured out into the rain to see them rock. These guys haven’t lost a step. I am a fairly new fan of the MPs and am not very familiar with their older tunes. I didn’t realize how much continuity there is between their first couple of albums (except the first one which is awful) and their more recent offerings until I saw them live. The MPs are becoming like Nomeansno to mea band I will see every chance I get.

Wishbone Ash at the Aladdin Theater, Portland, OR.
This was a fantastic show by a fantastic band in a fantastic venue. I learned something at this show, elderly rock fans get just as drunk and stoned as younger crowdsit was nice to see.

Albums:

Hank III, Lovesick, Broke, and Driftin’ (2002).
I was a very reluctant Hank III fan. I really dislike those country/metal songs he did. I didn’t realize until very recently that much of his music is old style country. I will definitely be digging further into his catalog.

Jayke Orvis, It’s All Been Said (2010).
This is hands down the album I listened most in 2013. If you like Hank III, then you must buy this record.

Wishbone Ash, Wishbone Ash (1970), Argos (1972), Pilgrimage (1971) and Wishbone Four (1973).
Holy shit, how, after all these years of being a music junky, did I miss Wishbone Ash? These dudes play epic rock and roll. Just check out the song “Phoenix” from their self-titled album. Pilgrimage was probably my second most listened to record in 2013.

Kinski, Cozy Moments (2013).
I have been a fan of Kinski for several years, and I love all of their albums, but they have reached new heights of awesomeness with their latest release, Cozy Moments. It is a little more spacey and artistic than their earlier releases.

Jazz-fusion.
I have been a fan of jazz fusion for a long time, but something clicked in my brain in 2013, and I was obsessed with the stuff. I made some great discoveries over the year; here are a few of them: Tony Williamsif you love drummers, check this dude out.
Shaktithis is a John McLaughlin project that combines eastern music with jazz. I really dig it. Al Di Meoladamn fine jazz guitar player.

Circle Jerks, Wonderful (1986).
I am not a big punk fan, but there is something about this album that really grabs me. Listening to it takes me back to my youth when I used to lay in bed late at night listening to some crazy young dudes play punk music on the local college radio station.

Other stuff:
I went to see Exodus, Anthrax, and a bunch of other bands with one of my buds and his wife. My pal’s wife is the tour manager for a band called Coffin Hunter, which almost made my year-end list. The banjo player for Coffin Hunter is none other than Jack Gibson, the bass player for Exodus. She got me and her adoring hubby some face time with Exodus on their tour bus after they finished their set. I am happy to report that Exodus are not a bunch of d-bags, which is what I expected. They are in fact super nice men who genuinely care about their fans. It was a memorable hour. Thank you Exodus.


Kloghole

(forthcoming)


Null
My favorite records, live shows, and musical obsessions: 2013.

Records:

Billy Bragg, Tooth & Nail (Cooking Vinyl, 2013) & live show.
I have loved Billy Bragg for a very long time, so it is not surprising that his wonderful new album makes my “Best of 2013” list. Billy is what I call a 360-degree artist, in that, since 1977 he has been writing songs about girls, love, and radical left politics. His songs are filled with humor, anger, melancholy, love, sarcasm, hope, and even silent resignation. It is all in there, the plethora of emotions and experiences that fill our lives. He has been called “the one man Clash,” as he is as punk as he is folk, or even jangly British pop. He can make you want to throw your body off the Cliffs of Dover or make you want to assemble Molotov cocktails and burn the fucking system down. It depends on the song. This is Billy Bragg. And if you don’t like a strong cockney accent, you’d best look elsewhere.

Tooth & Nail is the a fitting follow up to Fight Songs (2011), a collection of polemic, politically driven songs written over the previous 10 years. Billy tends toward a more acoustic Americana sound these days, which seems like a natural progression, following his work on the Mermaid Ave. records. I have to agree with Woody Guthrie’s daughter, Nora, in that, Billy Bragg is the natural successor of Woody in both talent, style, and scope. On Tooth & Nail, one will find a great record filled with lap and pedal steel, Dobros, mandolins, and the like—as one moves through folk rock strummers, honky-tonk waltzes, and heartbreaking “love song” ballads. The fire and possibility of revolutionary change is still prevalent in his lyrics, as well as, the deep reflections about personal relationships that give meaning to our short lives. And yet again, tear-jerkers actually make good bedfellows with humor and social commentary. Billy wrote 9 out of the 12 songs, with two collaborations with Joe Henry, who produced the record, and one Woody Guthrie cover—which, by the way, will bring you to your knees.

Also, I was able to see Billy Bragg live for the first time in my life in 2013. See Live Shows below. Fucking Billy Bragg, I feel less alone in this world whenever I hear his voice.

Viva la Revolution.


Johnny Marr, The Messenger (New Voodoo, 2013).
I have been an obsessive fan of The Smiths since I was about 15 years old. To me, The Smiths were punk rock—back when punk rock was free and focused more on content than any particular sound. Marr & Morrissey were the principle songwriters for The Smiths and together they created some of the most haunting, beautiful, and subversive British guitar pop/rock that has ever been pressed to vinyl. Morrissey’s lyrics were at once trite and profound all in the same verse, while Johnny Marr’s melodies and guitar playing were almost incomprehensible in their subtle, seemingly simple brilliance. This guy was the Johann Sebastian Bach of British guitar music, as far as I was concerned. The Smiths broke up after only 4 studio albums and a shit ton of near genius singles and B-sides, collected on the double album Louder than Bombs, as well as, an album of live studio sessions etc. When The Smiths broke up in 1987, Marr was only 23 years old!

Marr worked on several projects before and after The Smiths’ break-up, including Electronica, tunes with Billy Bragg, Johnny Marr & the Healers, working with Modest Mouse, The Cribs, and various appearances on peers’ records throughout the years. Some was good and some was forgettable, but none of it blew my mind. I thought that maybe he had used up all of his brilliance in The Smiths, which is why when I heard there was a new solo album coming out, I was hesitant and reserved, and quite frankly, tired of being disappointed over the last 15 years. Johnny Marr can do whatever he wants, I never wanted him to write “Smiths-type tunes” for the rest of his life—if he wants to branch out, well, more power to him. It was just hard for me to comprehend that the guy that was apparently unable to write a bad song in the 80s was meandering around on the sidelines dabbling in mediocrity and really not being that productive—for so long.

Then I picked up The Messenger and was reacquainted with Britain’s greatest guitarist once again. It wasn’t flashy or filled with blistering guitar solos. He wasn’t showing off. But I hadn’t heard this familiar sound since The Smiths’ last record. It was like he came out of hibernation and made a fucking phenomenal record that was Johnny-fucking-Marr from beginning to end. And yes, much of it does sound like The Smiths. Even his singing and phrasing is often reminiscent of Morrissey’s younger days, “Left home a mystery / Leave school for poetry.” However, it doesn’t sound contrived. It feels as natural as the wind on a perfect fall evening.

Not everyone will get Johnny Marr’s brilliance—his way of writing beautiful melodies by layering half-chords and arpeggiations that reside deep in the melancholy, yet hopeful heart. The solos don’t stray too far from the melody, resulting in melodic-guitar-jangle-inner-ear-multiple-orgasms. The crazy thing is—the motherfucker can pull it off live and makes it seems so easy. I waited a long time for this record—let’s hope that he doesn’t go astray and keeps doing what it is he does best—being one of the most subtle, graceful, and brilliant guitar players England has ever produced. If you loved The Smiths, you will go ape-shit over this record. If you never “got” The Smiths, you won’t “get” this either. All those Brit-Pop bands that suck at the Marr teat had better go hide—this is the real deal.

My greatest regret in 2013 was not seeing Johnny Marr live. I have watched video clips from his shows and he kills songs from The Messenger, as well as, songs from The Smiths’ back catalogue. He fucking kills it. Kills it. Though Morrissey has been very prolific in the years since The Smiths broke up—he had better get his shit together because the fucking king has returned.


Roddy Woomble, Listen To Keep (Reveal, 2013).
There must be something in the water of Scotland, something about being surrounded by the North Atlantic and windy rains and the rolling green hills absent of people. Roddy Woomble evokes a hopeful sense of melancholy, like the sunshine is just about to break from behind the grey clouds. You can almost feel the heat on your skin but the cloud doesn’t seem to move. The cloud and the hope remain constant and we teeter on its edge.

Listen to Keep is Roddy Woomble’s third solo album and he once again hits the mark. He simply makes great albums. Like his previous solo albums, Listen to Keep, is filled with acoustic instrumentation, guitars, violins and the like, with melodies that make the heart swoon. His albums are steeped in Scottish folk. His albums make me want to hike in the mountains and be with friends. His lyrics and phrasing are at once direct, sometimes obscure, and take unexpected twists and turns. Once you get inside his “quirky” phrasing, well, that’s where you find the emotional hooks, which will make you a lifelong fan. I fell in love with Roddy as the lead singer of my favorite Scottish rock band, Idlewild (who have come back from a hiatus and are currently recording a new album—yes!).  Listen to Keep isn’t better or worse than his previous solo albums—instead, they are all a little different but consistent in their perfection. Still, the incredibly moving Before the Ruin, a side project with Kris Drever and John McCusker is not to be forgotten. It made my best of list in 2010.

I had to have the CD of Listen to Keep shipped over from Revel Records in Scotland because it is only available in a digital format in the states. I couldn’t have that, not with an artist this fucking good. Everything this guy touches is gold.


Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Unvarnished (Blackheart Records, 2013).
There was always a simple directness to Joan Jett’s first few Blackhearts’ records after the split of The Runaways: 3 chords, handclaps, and an “Oouuuw!” Simple. Direct. Effective.

In many ways, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts have more in common with Little Richard than punk rock. But if “Bad Reputation” isn’t a fucking punk rock song—then I don’t know what is. Yes, they were definitely a catchy pop band with seven-inch singles that burned up the radio for a time. And I am not sure how many times I have heard grown women tell me how much the video for “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” affected their self-perception. But one of the things I love about her records is that she isn’t afraid of space and the classic dynamics between silence and power chords—much like the AC/DC that your younger sister could get into.

Joan Jett never reinvented the wheel, but she sure as shit knows how to roll it. When it comes down to it, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts records are just fuckin’ fun. And Joan has a great voice that is at once, tough as nails and vulnerable. She could sing the ingredients off a cereal box and if it were coupled with a big beat and electric guitars, it would still make me want to smoke cigarettes and ride my bike down to the park just so I could tell the “preppies” to “fuck off.” In the late 80s and 90s her albums weren’t as striking, but they still got the job done. This isn’t rocket science—it is about how it makes you feel in your gut. Pump up your bike tires and hit the sidewalk. Her music reminds me of childhood freedoms and possibilities.

After picking up her 2010 double album of hits, I collected many of the old albums and really enjoyed them. She is pretty consistent. So when the new record, Unvarnished, was release, I picked it up and wasn’t sure what to expect. What I discovered was one of her best records. This album definitely harkens back to the early 80s classic albums with the “Oouuuw”s,” rock chords, and lots of handclaps. It sounds like it could have been recorded in 1982. It is up there with some of her best work. And it isn’t overproduced—a fucking miracle in this day and age.

She also impressed me with some of her new lyrics, in which she directly laments over the increased sexual objectification of female celebrities (willingly by their own hand), the death of loved ones, and the loss of privacy in the “information age.” It is not a “guilty pleasure.” I just dig the Jett.

I have the weird feeling that the first single from the record, “Any Weather (606 Version),” will sound as good in 20 years as “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” still sounds today.

Don’t overthink it. How would Lemmy say it? “She is Joan Jett, and she plays rock ‘n’ roll.” End of fucking story.




Motorhead, Aftershock (UDR, 2013).
I was late to the Motorhead party. I only really got into Motorhead in the last 5 years or so. And if you think I have missed some of the classic Motorhead records, just remember that I am most familiar with the Motorhead line up that has been together the longest— about 20 years. So yell at me if you must, but these last 10 years could be Motorhead’s best. The last few records are some of my favorites. I think this is testimony to the consistent awesomeness that is Motorhead.

Aftershock picks up where the last two records left off. And it is nice to hear Lemmy slow down for a few tracks and even evoke the spirit of Hendrix in the bluesy, “Lost Woman Blues.” The album is still an auditory sandstorm with blistering fast punk-rock stylings and loud electric rock ‘n’ roll. Like any great 3 piece, Lemmy, Philip, and Mikkey each contribute to the sound and swagger with their individual talents. These guys know their instruments.

I know Lemmy has recently been paying the price for his years of hard living and rumor is that he even quit smoking. I wish him the best of health so that they can get back to doing what they do, because they may be older than your grandparents but they still burn with humor, poetry, and powerful insight.



Sofahead, Pre-Marital Predicament (Boss Tuneage, 2006).
This CD is a gem. It is a rather pricy UK Import that compiles both the What a Predicament LP (1990) with the Pre-Marital Yodeling LP (1989). A while back, SoDak turned me on to this great melodic, duel male/female vocal, British punk rock group, Sofahead. However, it was only in 2013 that I bought the Import CD. Though this band had a pretty short life—it was a good one. They are smart and thoughtful with great lyrics about the state of the world and our place in it. The music is super melodic and runs the gamut from mid-tempo sweetness to pissed-off hardcore. Like any great punk rock, I think this album exudes love and hope. There is nothing not to like about this punk band. It is instantaneously infectious and makes one feel less alone. I could play this forever.




Black Sabbath, 13 (Universal Republic, 2013).
For the record, let me state that Geezer and Tony are one of the greatest bass / guitar song writing combos that heavy rock has ever seen. Seriously, think about it. I really love the entire catalog of original Sabbath records with Ozzy, even the last few that people tend to disregard. In 1979, Ozzy was kicked out and original drummer Bill Ward shortly followed suit. The following records with Dio singing and Vinny on drums were a little different but brilliant in their own right. Dio went on to make solo records, as did Ozzy. Geezer and Tony carried on with Black Sabbath in various incarnations, which were very hit and miss. Meanwhile, Dio perfected the art of being Dio and Ozzy has some great solo albums that ebbed and waned in their own way.

Later, Dio returned to Sabbath with Vinny in 2006 and made some of the best music ever with the renamed Heaven & Hell (Black Sabbath under another name). Life is full of tragedy and Dio died in 2010. Fortunately, I was able to see Heaven & Hell live before the fatal end.

When it was announced that there was to be a new Black Sabbath album complete with Geezer, Tony, and Ozzy, I wasn’t sure what to think. Could Ozzy pull it off after all these years? Also, neither Bill Ward nor Vinny were going to play the drums on the new record. I was hesitant and skeptical, so I didn’t get too excited. I heard that the drummer from Rage Against The Machine was going to play drums instead. That could work, right?

With much trepidation and low expectations, I picked up the new record. I couldn’t believe it, it actually picks up there the original Sabbath left off and it was really great. I mean, it was just fantastic. Ozzy’s voice sounded surprisingly strong, emotive, and powerful. Geezer and Tony still have the chops (hadn’t they already written all the greatest guitar riffs ever?) and this all happens while Tony is fighting his battle against cancer! Brad Wilk, from Rage, does a fine job on the drums. It worked. It actually fucking worked. This was the surprise of 2013. I think producer, Rick Rubin, deserves some credit here, as well. It is an amazing record, true to form.

On a side note, the record was release with a bonus disc, in which the songs are as good as any on the record. Why didn’t they just make a double album? The Deluxe Version has 3 extra songs but to get an additional song (4 in total) one has to buy the disc from Best Buy. This is fucking infuriating. Fuck Best Buy and fuck the record companies! Nevertheless, the bonus songs are a must have, just like the record itself. If you don’t want to go to Best Buy then get the extra songs from somewhere. Steal them if you must.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.
Do you have any idea how many great songs Tom Petty has written? After SoDak turned me on to the Running Down a Dream documentary that came out a few years back, I totally freaked out on Petty and the boys in 2013. The documentary is just fantastic for a number of reasons, but Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ discography is simply overwhelming. I used to think Credence Clearwater Revival was the “Beatles” of the United States, but after much consideration, I have to pass that title to Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. People that don’t even like or know who Tom Petty is know several of his songs by heart, whether they know it or not. Over my life I have occasionally bought some of the records and always enjoyed them. I bought all of them in 2013. I was even taken to a Tom Petty concert when I was a senior in high school and it has always remained one of my favorite concerts.

It is strange to look closely at an artist that has sort of just “been there” forever. I can’t remember when Tom Petty songs weren’t played on the radio. It is like discovering a beautiful and complex painting that has been hanging in your house unnoticed and taken for granted. I feel like I owe him an apology. So many great records. I mean, I don’t know how they pick a song from a Petty album to be a single, because, in truth, almost every song on his albums has the makings of a timeless radio classic. Amazing.


Cannibal Corpse, Gore Obsessed (Metal Blade, 2002).
Gore obsessed is one thing I am not. However, this band just keeps stimulating the deep recess of my brain with their incomprehensible, obnoxious, whirlwind riffage and blast beats. It is the heaviest heavy metal that metal has ever seen, resulting in some sort of euphoric-overstimulation. This was the latest album I have been devoting to memory. Ya know, I’m “not a metal guy,” and defiantly not a “death metal guy.” So how is it that the most brutal and talented death metal band became one of my greatest joys? Not just that, but I am like a death metal snob that only likes Cannibal Corpse and thinks all other death metal is pale in comparison. When Cannibal Corpse becomes your first death metal love, it ruins the rest of your metal experiences. It’s like losing your virginity to Prince; the rest of your sexual experiences seem to suck, and not in a good way.


Live shows:

Billy Bragg.
I was able to see Billy Bragg live for the first time. He came to Colorado for the first time since the early 1980s. The weather was horrible but Billy sent me a message online where he specified the time he would hit the stage and encouraged me to make it if it was safe to do so. Yeah, we fucking made it alright, and it was one of my favorite concerts, ever. It was a very small venue, standing room only, front row center with my true love at my side. Yeah. An amazing band complete with petal steel. Billy told funny and humanizing stories between songs. Like Jay Farrar, the man is a fucking rock and never lets me down. It was fucking epic.

Bosnian Rainbows:
I saw these guys at Riot Fest before hearing the album, which is quite good in its own right. The show was hypnotic and I am pretty sure I went into some sort of trance and was levitating in the hot sun.

The Psychedelic Furs. 
After being a pretty hardcore fan of the Furs for most of my life, it finally happened. It was a great show. However, I would have liked to have heard many more “deep cuts” from their long list of unsung classics. On a sillier note, one of the most charming and weirdest things about the show was discovering that Tim Butler has turned into Herman Munster.

Son Volt.
I have seen Son Volt live for almost every album they have released. In 2013, I was lucky enough to have them play at a small venue about 4 miles from my house. I was front row center again. It was fucking awesome, as usual. Awesome.

Honorable mentions:

Jake Bugg, Shangri-La (Island/Def Jam, 2013).
At 19 years old, this kid’s first two albums are pretty much flawless and sound timeless. Plus, if I didn’t add this to my list, my girlfriend would beat me up.

Pearl Jam, Lightning Bolt (Monkeywrench, 2013).
Great album, as usual.

Billie Joe & Norah, Foreverly (Reprise, 2013).
I was pleasantly surprise by this one.

Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine, White People and the Damage Done (Alternative Tentacles, 2013).
Still kicking ass wherever injustice is found.

Mazzy Star, Seasons of the Day (Fantana, 2013).
Seventeen years between albums. It may have made this list just because it finally happened. I am still in shock. They actually got mellower.

Tyranny Is Tyranny, Let It Come From Whom It May (Phratry, 2013).
This Marxist revolutionary noise rock band is the aftermath of The United Sons of Toil breakup. Because a world without them would just suck.

Bad Religion, True North (Epitaph, 2013).
It’s Bad Religion.

F’ke Blood, The Band that Bled Real Blood (UFO Factory / Urinal Cake 2013).
More crazy up-beat garage rock riffage from Dion Fischer and the gang.

Kenny Rogers, Eyes That See In the Dark (RCA, 1983).
This album contains the hit “Islands In the Stream” with Dolly Parton.  It was produced and written by Barry Gibb (of the BeeGees) and others. It is the finest cheese money can buy. Never underestimate the power of your childhood radio experiences.

Superchunk, I Hate Music (Merge, 2013).
Superchunk just kicks ass.

Bob Dylan, Another Self Portrait (1969-1971): The Bootleg Series Vol. 10 (Columbia, 2013).
Columbia’s Dylan Bootleg Series are great. Over the last 10 or so years we have seen that it is true, Dylan often left some of his best tunes off his official albums. It was great to hear these unreleased songs from a period that is often underappreciated.

Son Volt, Honky Tonk (Rounder, 2013).
Jay kind of kicks back for this one and throws down some very traditional country songs on one of his most subtle lyrical albums. He sings about love but still manages to slip in a few lines about the state of the working class. It was not quite what I expected but it is really quite good. It feels really good and I think Jay must have enjoyed making an album that sounds like the stuff he used to hear on AM radio as a kid. It may make you sad and want to drink. To me, Jay remains the old souled wise-man of the working class.

Unexplained Musical Phenomena:
1. Sting.
I don’t want to talk about it.
2. Katy Perry.
I repeatedly listened to Katy Perry’s new Prism album (deluxe version) really loud while driving to school. I like the drums, keyboards, and melodies. Fortunately, I don’t really relate the album to the corporate celebrity puppet. It is weird; these corporate pop albums are made like big Hollywood movies, in that, there are many “cooks in the kitchen” in a desperate attempt to make a hit record. There are tons of “hitmakers” working on production and instrumentation; in that sense, it isn’t really a “Katy Perry” album but an amalgamation of corporate servants. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Done. I would like to remix the record. Shoot me. I can’t imagine the damage I have done to my cognition and self-esteem.


Plainzero

(coming soon)

Scott

Top Ten Musical Things of the Year (2013)

1. WBGO. Throughout my music-listening life, I’ve always liked jazz, but was never a huge jazz fan. I was content with a handful of favorite albums and artists, and would maybe pick up a few new albums every year, far fewer than rock, metal, or other kinds of albums. But this year I went on some kind of jazz kick and found myself listening to WBGO, “the jazz source,” a public radio station based in Newark, NJ. WBGO has been there through my entire life and was where I’d turn for a good variety of jazz, new and old, plus some blues, soul music, etc. This year I spent more hours listening to WBGO than every other year of my life combined. I’m not sure why. But in a time when automated, online streaming “radio” stations are proliferating, it seems especially important to support real public institutions like WBGO. I became a supporting member this year, too, and if you like jazz and public radio, I recommend you check out WBGO and consider lending your support.
 

2.  Season of Changes, Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band. Brian Blade is a fantastic drummer and bandleader, and the music here is fluid and lyrical, swelling and diminishing like the tides of the ocean. My favorite part of their sound, along with Blade’s drumming, is Kurt Rosenwinkel’s guitar: rock solos channeled through a jazz sensibility (or maybe it’s vice versa).

3. The Low Highway, Steve Earle. This guy just shits out great albums, and this, his latest, is among his strongest in years. Every song is suffused with Earle’s persona: his weary sort of wisdom, righteous anger, and humane perspective. A real master. 

4. Live From Austin, TX, Richard Thompson. I found myself listening to a lot of Richard Thompson this year, especially from the 1990s through today, so I’ll let this one stand in for several of his albums. It’s amazing to hear Thompson as part of a trio—it really gives you a sense of what a great performer and guitarist he is.

5. Old Yellow Moon, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell. The Big Popular Americana album of the year, which I really liked. I saw them perform earlier this year, playing songs from the album plus many older ones. Sometimes you see a band that just seems so in control of the material, so professional (in a good way)—this was one of those bands.

6. Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste by Carl Wilson. I like to include at least one music-related book on here, and this one surprised me. It’s part of the 33 and 1/3 series of short books devoted to a single album. Here, Canadian music critic Carl Wilson wrestles with the question of why so many people love Celine Dion—and conversely, why he despises her music so much. It’s a fascinating book that ends up dealing with issues of class, taste, national identity, the mass production of pop music, Quebecois history and political struggle, and more. I learned a lot.

7. Bruce Cockburn live in Princeton, NJ. I also like to include at least one show—this year I didn’t make it to too many shows, but I have to mention this, Bruce Cockburn playing solo in a small theater in Princeton. I sat in the front row. I’ve seen him a handful of times before and every show is great. He’s a treasure. 

8. The Last Ship, Sting. Say what you will about Sting, but it’s hard to deny that the guy is a tremendous pop songwriter and vocalist. Sometimes, at his worst, Sting can be pretty cheesy and self-indulgent—usually these are his upbeat, too-clever songs, or schmaltzy romantic songs. But his best songs are dark and brooding, or feel like intelligent jazz-standards (which, in pop music history, is really the tradition to which Sting belongs). The Last Ship is among his best work, musically, but also lyrically—here he revisits some of the themes of The Soul Cages (another dark, great album), drawing on his working-class upbringing in a shipbuilding town in northern England, and his relationship with his father. It’s no coincidence that this album covers some of the same territory that Sting’s buddy Mark Knopfler often covers, and that it sounds more like a Knopfler album at times, and is the best he’s released in a while. 

9. Whoracle, In Flames. Here’s an album from my past that, for no reason I can figure out, re-emerged in a big way this year. I hadn’t listened to it in a long time. Personally, I think it’s one of their three best albums—Colony and Clayman being the other two—after they found a nice melodic/death balance and before they started to force 80s new wave into the mix. (And before their sound [of which they were only one pioneering band, probably not even the most influential] was copied by a billion other bands and sucked into the entire metalcore subgenre.)

10. The Secret to a Happy Ending (a film about the Drive-By Truckers). Finally saw this documentary about the band this year, and while I enjoyed it, and I got the feeling that you needed to be a fan to really like it. Or for that matter, even get what was going on, sometimes. It’s well done and has a lot of fascinating background, interviews, and concert footage. Worth watching for anyone who likes DBT.  


SoDak

Records:

Son Volt, Honky Tonk (2013).
Son Volt is my heartbeat. It sustains me. I do not think they have faltered yet, which is impressive. I think the rest of their catalog is better than Honky Tonk. Nevertheless, this album is still a central component of what comprises my life. I have seen them perform well over a dozen times. This summer I saw them at the Grand Targhee Festival in Wyoming. As always, they were awesome.

New Model Army, Between Dog and Wolf (2013).
New Model Army is one of my favorite bands. The list is long, but they are among those at the top of the list, along with Son Volt. They also serve as a musical bond to my friends from the Black Hills, as we explored the roads through the pine forests while listening to the band. New Model Army is very much my flesh. With each song, I feel sensations run up and down my body. They give me goosebumps. They are the expression of the range of human emotions, love, anger, sorrow, longing, rage, compassion, sadness, joy, awe, etc. While the band members have changes through the years, there is a New Model Army sound. They have forged their own musical path. They are the perfect rock band. Between Dog and Wolf is mellower than the previous records. It is ancient and contemplative. Many of the songs sound as if they emerged from the earth itself. The drums on the album sound incredible. When I play the record, the drums fill the room. New Model Army remains a very special band for me.

Charles Bradley, No Time for Dreaming (2011).
For two years, I contemplated buying this record. I had not heard anything on it. Recently, I listened to “The World (Is Going Up in Flames)” and went to the record store immediately. This song hit me in the head and heart. It is beautiful and mournful. Charles Bradley has a distinctive voice, which is gritty and soulful, similar to some of the artists on Stax in the heyday. This debut album by a man in his sixties is absolutely thrilling.

Meat Puppets, Rat Farm (2013) and all their other records.
I have been a Meat Puppets fan since the mid-1980s. Since they regrouped, they have been putting out solid records every other year. I get excited to hear each release. There are not any surprises on their records. They are very consistent. They just write super catchy, trippy songs. I am a sucker for Curt’s voice and the strange lyrics. On Rat Farm, I have been hooked on “Down.” I play it over and over. The record has grown on me with each listen. Meat Puppets are a unique band. They have a punk rock attitude and are fiercely independent. The mix of rock, country, and folk music is infectious. Much of 2013, I had a Meat Puppets record on hand, as I was returning to early records. I suppose it was a year of reminiscing. On a long road trip, my wife eventually had to ask if we could listen to something else. This band has been with me a very long time. I saw them perform again in 2013. They played a blistering set. I wish they would have played all night.

Nomeansno.
The past six years, I have been suffering through withdrawal. I used to see Nomeansno about every year or two, when they would do a west coast tour. I got accustomed to this routine. Once I moved away, I started to suffer. It has become more and more evident that I need a regular Nomeansno fix. I have been listening on a regular basis to all of their albums. Over the years, my love of this punk rock band has only grown. I have also come to realize that, yes, Wrong and 0+2=1 are great albums, but the last full-length album, All Roads Lead to Ausfahrt, is my favorite. The driving bass and drums, with the angular guitar, captivate me. Driving in the car, I sing loudly to “In Her Eyes,” as the folks next to me, stare wondering what the hell is wrong, as I strain my voice and bob my head all over the place. I have come to the conclusion that “Heaven Is the Dust Beneath My Shoes” is a perfect song, and it may be my favorite Nomeansno song. This seven-minute song thrills me every time. I often play it three times in a row, which is unusual for me to do with any song. I often check the band’s website, hoping in vain that they will tour the middle part of the United States and will release a new record. Until then, I will attempt to mainline their records. Nomeansno remains one of the best bands in my book.

Jason Isbell, Southeastern (2013).
I loved Jason Isbell’s songwriting in Drive-By Truckers. I was indifferent to his first couple solo records. In 2011, he released a great record called, Here We Rest. He seems to be on a roll, as Southeastern is his best record yet. On this record, he mostly settles into a mellow mood. His voice rises and falls, capturing pain, mourning, personal struggle, and lost love. This record makes me want to jump in the car and just drive across the prairie, or to sit in the dark and just think about friends who I miss. It does all of this at the same time. “Cover Me Up” sets the tone for the record. “Traveling Alone” is both sad and hopeful. Isbell is masterful. He is incredible live. This summer I saw him play at an art festival. He played every song I was hoping to hear.

Baptists, Bushcraft (2013).
Took a chance on this record, as I bought it on a whim. It instantly rattled my brain. For me it blends hardcore and metal. The songs are filled with dissonant riffs and d-beats. The pace of the record is unrelenting. It has the force of a train that has been derailed in a metropolitan area, smashing cars and buildings along the way. It is chaotic. Breaks and sludgy parts are peppered through some of the songs, but you can barely catch your breath before you are propelled forward by the next assault of riffs.

Voivod, Target Earth (2013).
Voivod is a band that released a wonderful trilogy of records in the late 1980s with Killing Technology (1987), Dimension Hatross (1988), and Nothingface (1989). These three records marked a radical departure from the run-of-the-mill thrash on their first two records. They incorporated progressive and punk rock influences to create a very cool sound. Their lyrics included a strong social critique, which separated them from other metal bands at the time. I liked the records that followed, but these three served as markers for me. Their guitar player Piggy died in 2005. Following this, the band completed a couple albums using leftover guitar riffs and songs. Target Earth is the first record to feature guitar work by Daniel Mongrain, who was a fan of the band. It is a great tribute to Piggy, as the guitar tone captures the classic Voivod sound on the trilogy of records in the 1980s. At the same time, the band sounds rejuvenated. The drums and guitar provide complex rhythms. The songs are forceful, twisted, and manic. Voivod remains one of the more creative metal bands.  

Sam Baker, Say Grace (2013).
A friend in Oregon gave me Sam Baker’s first album Mercy when it was released. I was immediately struck by his distinctive voice and songwriting. In 1986, he was a riding a train in Peru, when a bomb exploded. He was seriously injured and suffered severe hearing loss. His songs are marked by reflection, loss, death, love, and hope. His songs tell stories about people struggling to make their way in this world. His guitar parts are contemplative and pull at your heartstrings. The phrasing and cadence of his singing can be unusual at times, which may be in part due to his hearing difficulties. But this delivery is deep with tenderness. I eagerly await each record by him. Say Grace is his fourth record. It is not my favorite by him, but it is a rich record that includes everything that makes a Sam Baker CD powerful.

Guy Clark, My Favorite Picture of You (2013).
Guy Clark is a national treasure. He stands along with Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, Jimmie Dale Gimore, Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, and many others as masterful songwriters and storytellers. For decades, musicians have covered his songs. In 2012, his wife died. She was his rock. His new album, My Favorite Picture of You, has a picture of him holding a photo of her. The title song is also about her. Guy Clark’s voice sounds older and a little tired on this album. Nevertheless, the record is wonderful. The female harmony vocals enrich many songs and add a nice touch to the emotional play in the songs. “Hell Bent on a Heartache” is a beautiful declaration of embracing love in spite of the consequences. The two voices wrap around each other. Check this song out.

The Ex and Brass Unbound, Enormous Door (2013).
The Ex are fuckin’ awesome. This punk band from the Netherlands has been around since 1979. They continue to incorporate diverse musical traditions into their hypnotic sound, including Ethiopian jazz. I loved their early records, but I think they just get better and better. On Enormous Door, they play with a horn section, which fits perfectly with the drive and pulse of their songs. I am pleased that a version of their song, “Our Leaky Homes” appears on this record. It was originally released just on a seven inch. On the new album, the new version includes horn. It kicks ass. This song makes me jump around the house, as I rock the fuck out. Brilliant. You need to give The Ex a listen.

Kelly Willis and Bruce Robinson, Cheater’s Game (2013).
Both Kelly Willis and Bruce Robinson have been releasing solo albums for years. This husband and wife team finally released a duet record. It is the best record either of them have released. “Long Way Home” and “Cheater’s Game” are two of my favorites. This is a solid country album, with deep roots and tender songs.

Terry Allen, Bottom of the World (2013).
It has been fourteen years since Terry Allen’s last record. He writes story songs in the same tradition as Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, Tom Russell, and Guy Clark. I love this group of musicians that straddle country and folk. This record is an interesting mediation on life and its troubles.

The National, Trouble Will Find Me (2013).
I think The Boxer is a perfect record, and I use it as the measuring stick for The National. I listened to Trouble Will Find Me many times when it was released. For The National, I like to reserve my first listen for a night when I have to drive a long distance. This is the space I like to occupy to process their records. There are different textures on the new album. In some ways, it is a more ambitious and diverse record. It is meditative and rocking in a restrained way. The opening track, “I Should Live in Salt,” is quite haunting and has nice vocal textures. “Demons” returns to familiar ground, offering a contemplative and pulsing progression. The drums sound great throughout the record. Wonderful record.

Black Sabbath, 13 (2013).
I had some trepidation regarding this record, but I was also excited. The record is absolutely great. Tony and Geezer are one of the best rock duos. Ozzy sounds good. This record feels like a gift from a very dear friend who has been in your life since childhood. The contemplations on mortality resonate in an interesting way, given Tony’s struggle with cancer. Fuckin’ great. I can’t get enough of this record.

Jason Boland and the Stragglers, Dark & Dirty Mile (2013).
The last couple records by Jason Boland have been great. The new record was co-produced by Shooter Jennings. Jason Boland has a great voice. He plays twangy country music that makes me want to shuffle my feet across a dance floor. Before dismissing the record, given certain assumptions about the subject of country songs, check out the song “Ludlow.” Jason sings about the Ludlow massacre, as well as class inequality and exploitation.

Malcolm Holcombe, To Drink the Rain (2011).
Lately, I have been a couple years behind, whenever Malcolm Holcombe releases a new record. I guess, I will have to start ordering his records, as they are not easy to find in record stores, at least his new records are not. Malcolm has put out a series of acoustic records that combine folk, country, and blues. From time to time, he incorporates a nice swing element. He has a rough voice that fits well with the emotions in his songs. I sometimes image that smoke drifts from his mouth as he sings. Listen to him, and this statement might make sense.

Steve Earle, The Low Highway (2013).
I generally love Steve Earle records. The last several records have been solid, but I did not spend as much time with them. The Low Highway immediately grabbed me. There is quite a bit of variety, as far as styles, on the new record. He offers tender ballads, rocking songs, and gypsy swing. This album is rich with social critique. The sentiment in “Burnin’ It Down” is direct, as he sings, “I’m thinkin’ bout burnin’ it down, boys / Thinkin’ bout burnin’ it down / Nothin’s ever gonna be the same in this town / I’m thinkin’ bout burnin’ the Walmart down / Thinkin’ bout burnin’ the Walmart down / I’m thinkin’ bout burnin’ it down.” This a great song, and it is awesome live. But it is the song “Invisible” that really hits me. Steve Earle depicts how the homeless are ignored within our society, despite the general immiseration we are experiencing.

The Sadies, Internal Sounds (2013).
The Sadies are a fuckin’ great Canadian band. Each record is gem. They are often seen as an alternative country band. They definitely have country elements. But they also incorporate rock, surf, punk, and psychedelic influences. They have forged a very cool sound. Given the range of influences, they are similar to the Meat Puppets and in some ways the Byrds. In fact, every now and then in a few songs, I hear a direct Meat Puppets influence. However, they have more range than the Meat Puppets. If you have not heard The Sadies, check them out.

Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School Of Medicine, White People And The Damage Done (2013).
I am thrilled that Jello is in a band again and is putting out music on a regular basis. This is a great band. This record has everything that you expect from Jello: good lyrics and rockin’ tunes. The world is a much better place with Jello in it. I hope that this band has longevity. We need the social critique that Jello offers.

Holly Williams, The Highway (2013).
Holly Williams is the daughter of Hank Williams Jr. I was curious what she would sound like. The Highway is a solid folk-country record. For the most part it is a contemplative record, filled with ballads and songs of sorrow. Occasional rockers, such as “Railroads,” mix things up. Jackson Browne and Jakob Dylan guest on the record.

Mel Street, Mel Street/Country Soul (2009).
Mel Street killed himself when he was 43 years old. This CD is a two for one release. It includes two records originally released in 1978. Mel Street played smooth country music that was popular in the 1970s. Mel Street is an overlooked country artist.

Thirft Store Cowboys, Light Fighter (2010).
I finally picked up Light Fighter by the Thrift Store Cowboys. It was the one record that I was missing by them. They are an excellent alternative country band. Songs include both male and female vocal leads. If you like music in this vein, check them out and let their songs ramble through your head and heart.

Kris Kristofferson.
Kris Kristoffeson is an acquired taste, mostly because of his vocals. Once you get inside of his songs, his vocals are quite engaging. He is without a doubt an impressive songwriter. He is a solid lefty, as far as his politics. Hell, he even wrote pro-Sandinista songs. In 2013, I spent a lot of time with some of his older records, including Kristofferson (1970), The Silver Tongued Devil and I (1971), Jesus Was a Capricorn (1972), Spooky Lady’s Sideshow (1974), and Shake Hands With the Devil (1979). I was once again amazed by how great he is. His songs have a lot of depth and are executed with great precision. At the same time, the songs feel loose. It is worth picking up these albums and listening to some of the deeper tracks. Of course, the hits are awesome, but there is much more to enjoy.

Concerts:

I attended 56 concerts in 2013. It was a very good year, as far as live music. I was able to attend many shows with Five-Inch Taint and a couple with Null. I was able to see a lot of artists/bands for the first time in my life. Below are some of my favorites shows.

George Strait.
While many of the taint ticklers could care less about George Strait, I was thrilled to finally see him perform, especially given that he is doing his farewell tour. The band was excellent, the crowd was appreciative, and the song selection was impressive. I was pleased that he played “Give It All We Got Tonight” from his most recent record.

James McMurtry.
I have seen James play many shows over the years. This was the first time that I had seen him play a solo acoustic set. He still rocked the joint. His guitar playing is always excellent. Five-Inch Taint and I sat upfront and enjoyed the hell out of this show.

Joe Ely.
I had seen the other Flatlanders play solo shows, but not Joe Ely. Finally in 2013, I saw him perform. He was at ease, told great stories between songs, and selected songs from throughout his career. While watching him, it made me appreciate the whole group of songwriters—Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Guy Clark, Butch Hancock, Sam Baker, Jimmie Dale Gilmore—who fill their performances with rich stories and tales. The show made me wonder if this group of musicians are the last of their kind.

Dwight Yoakam.
Dwight and his band played a blistering set. They went from song to song, packing the two hours with as many songs as possible. My wife did not care for this show, but I knew she would not. Dwight sounded great.

Patterson Hood.
It was a pleasure to see Pattern Hood perform a solo show. He was captivating. He played two nights in a row and only repeated one or two songs. The songs were from his solo and Drive-By Trucker records. He played five or six new songs that might be on the new Truckers record. He was funny and played many requests. Wonderful evening.

Bad Religion.
Finally, after decades of waiting, my wife and I saw Bad Religion. (We even saw them twice last year.) Every song was fuckin’ great. I enjoyed seeing my wife rock the fuck out as she sang along to the songs.

Suicidal Tendencies.
The crowd seemed intense for this show. I was not sure what was going to happen when Suicidal Tendencies took the stage. They got on stage and started rocking out and jumping all over the stage. Between songs Mike Muir talks like a motivational speaker. The crowd was energetic. I was hoping that Five-Inch Taint would jump into the pit, but he stood back and enjoyed the performance with me.

Don Williams.
It had been many years since I had seen Don Williams. My wife and I went for a hike during the day and then to the show to celebrate our anniversary. Don’s baritone voice is still warm and rich. He played twenty songs—every one of them was gold. Incredible.

Psychedelic Furs.
Damn, Null and I had been yearning to see the Furs for a long fuckin’ time. They were one of the bands on our wish lists. Everytime they played in a city close to where I lived, I would be out of town. In 2013, Null and I went with our partners to see the Furs in Denver. We were upfront singing along. It was awesome. I would have loved to hear more songs, as my list of favorites by them is very long. I was excited to hear, “Soap Commercial.”

Graveyard.
The small club was packed for this show. Long hair and moustaches dominated the place. Graveyard took the stage and the crowd went nuts. This Swedish band rocked the house with their 1970s hard rock sound. Many of the songs from the recent albums sounded much more powerful live.

Grand Targhee Music Festival.
This festival was great. It was well organized. The crowd was enthusiastic. I got to see several musicians who I had never seen. Solid line up: Holly Williams, Anders Osborne, John Hiatt & The Combo, Los Lobos, Sarah Jarosz, The Mother Hips, Son Volt, Alejandro Escovedo, Allen Toussaint            , Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers, David Alvin & The Guilty Ones, Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds, The Wood Brothers, JJ Grey & Mofro, Alabama Shakes.

The White Buffalo.
My wife and I saw The White Buffalo twice this year. She had never heard the band before, yet she was willing to go to the show. She was blown away and has been listening to this band a lot the last six months. The White Buffalo are a three piece. The set moves between mellow ballads and energetic songs that make you want to jump around, even though these songs are also played on an acoustic guitar. These dark stories of a mythic west are haunting.

Rush.
This was only my second time seeing Rush. I figure I might as well see them as many times as possible before they call it quits. They played a much different set list than on the Snakes and Arrows tour. I love how they change up the songs and explore different periods of their career. The second set included a string section which added a nice texture to the songs.

Tom Russell.
Tom Russell is one hell of a songwriter. He played in a small bookstore in Salt Lake City. He has a swagger to him. He does not mess around; he is very direct. He shared many stories that inspired the songs he played. He played two sets. I had a long list of additional songs that I wanted to hear. But all of the songs he played were great.

Black Sabbath.
I saw Black Sabbath in Las Vegas. They opened their set with “War Pigs.” The crowd instantly started singing along. The show was fuckin’ outstanding. Finally, got to see them. Well worth it.

Riot Fest.
I always wanted to go to Chicago to attend Riot Fest, but the timing has never worked out for me. One of the Riot Fest shows took place outside of Denver. Null and I went along with our partners and many other friends. The first day was magnificent. Bosnian Rainbows were fascinating and strange. Superchunk still rocks the fuck out. Rocket from the Crypt were unfuckinbelievable. I was still feeling their groove for hours after they played. Many of us gathered tightly in front of the stage to see The Replacements. They had long been on my list of bands I wanted to see and assumed I never would. They were a little sloppy, but fun. It was joy.

Caspian.
I was not expecting Caspian to rock so much. This post-rock band sounds good on CD, but I thought it would be a pretty mellow. Damn, I was wrong. They have a ton of energy and the musical landscapes that they create are very moving.

Documentaries:

Searching for Sugarman (DVD, 2013).
Wanted to see this film in the theater. A friend gave me this film for a present. I watched it several times. The story is awesome. Go watch this film.

I’m Now: The Story of Mudhoney (DVD, 2013).
Great film about the history of this band.


Travis

(forthcoming)