Photo by Adam DeGross
2013 was a year of transition for me. I started going to school for Sound Arts (haven’t been to school since graduating high school in 1997!), I finally decided that I NEED to get out of food service, I grew a beard in September (pictured above), I became a part time karaoke dj (?), and I listened to the least amount of new punk (or punk in general) since I got into the stuff. I’m trying to get a hold of the cynic side that tends to come safety pinned to the punk vest you might say. 2013 was the year I gave contemporary popular music a chance (most of it still doesn’t pass the bullshit detector). But there were some gems, some of which I left off this list cause who wants to read my views on Daft Punk or Pearl Jam? There’s enough press about them anyway. Here’s my 2013 Top Ten Albums in first letter alphabetical order:
• COLIN STETSON - New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light
This is probably my favorite record of the year, and it’s not so much that I’m really into the music, but that I love the “art” of it. Stetson plays alto, tenor, and bass saxophones and records his songs in one take with no pedals. It’s all acoustic. It’s mind blowing. He really pushes the limits on what one can do with harmonics on an acoustic instrument. There are some overdubbed vocals by a guy named Justin Vernon, which doesn’t take anything away from the magic of Stetson’s sax, but adds a nice layer. Stetson has a mic around his neck and “sings” while circular breathing and playing harmonies AND percussion with his fingers! I could get into the recording nerd stuff about mic placement and technique, but I’ll spare ya. Also, the music is really good.
• DARK RIDES - Walk The Floors
This record rules! Power pop, check. Punk earnestness, check. Catchy melodies, check. I love that friends of mine who made my favorite music ten years ago are still doing it, and as we age, the lyrical content does too. I don’t really relate personally that much with really young bands anymore. I’m in my 30s and I’m a father. But I appreciate the rage! Uh, listen to Dark Rides!
I’ve never really been a Bowie “fan”. I grew up with his music, and I’ve always liked it, but I never really bought his records or really gave them a good listen until last year. I’m a fan now. If this record came out in the late 70s or 80s, it would be labeled under “Classic Bowie”. It reminds me of his Berlin recordings.
This is the debut 45 from the newer Minneapolis band Dishpit! They take their influences from Dead Kennedy’s, Crucifucks, and Hickey (but not limited too or intentionally). Dishpit conjours memories of when we had The House and The Perot House in Fargo and bands would come through, play for us and hang out and we’d get into crazy amounts of trouble. We’d also learn about new bad ass ways to live and have fun. Dishpit are pissed and they want to rock yer ass off! Gary is one of the funnest singer/guitarists to watch too!
Remember what I said about Dark Rides? Same applies here. This record shows the Future Virgins maturing in sound and complexity. It’s beautiful. It’s about love. They’re still one of my favorite bands of all time. Playing with them twice this last summer would also be Top Ten list worthy.
This is where I have the biggest conflict with my punk cynic. I shouldn’t like this. I should dismiss it. Yet, I can’t stop listening to it. The songs are constantly stuck in my head. My friend told me to “just give in” and accept it. Why do I feel guilty about liking music? The core of this band are three sisters from the valley in CA who grew up playing percussion. This album is layered with that influence. Danielle Haim’s voice is strong and confident. The harmonies provided by the two other sisters are perfect. This record is pop, but from the 80s or early 90s style. I don’t get the feeling that it’s supposed to be ironic. Este Haim’s bass face is also terrifically amazing! And yes, I “discovered” this band watching SNL. So what?
When visiting my girlfriend’s parents in Iowa, her step-father (who’s got the biggest record collection I’ve ever seen) said “Hey, check this band out, I think you’ll dig it.” When the guitar kicked in on the opening song “Howl”, I knew he was right. Imagine Johnny Marr playing with a soul band. This band is from Chicago and that’s about all I know about them. I saw them live recently and was blown away. It was a shame there were only about fifty people there, cause the amount of talent these ladies and gentlemen have should pack a 250+ room! The sticker on the album claims that they are “post-punk soul”. That’s a pretty good description and I’m glad they said it so I didn’t have to stoop to that level. Check ‘em out.
I first met Nato when his band The Modern Machines played Gainesville on their first tour a long time ago in a pre 9/11 era and he’s been in and out of my life ever since (the way touring friends can be) and now he lives in Minneapolis. This is his crowning achievement! I’ve liked all his bands and projects, but I don’t think they’ve ever been sonically captured the way they should have until now. This record is heavily rooted in Americana like Springsteen and Petty and power pop via Paul Collins. It’s soooo good! They do a really good rendition of the Bent Outta Shape song “Rudes and Cheaps” to boot. Also, Nato is one of the most entertaining front persons in a band in that underground world out there.
This is Nature Boys second full length (it’s not actually titled II, I made that up) and it’s more of the crazy surf-ish, heavy, melodic Kansas City punk that can’t be stopped! This record is a bit darker than their debut (Suzanne sounds so evil on “Dr. Claw!) and it contains the songs from their Rabies 45 that came out in 2012. I think everyone should be into this band and if you haven’t heard them yet, do yourself a favor and pay attention!
I was really into Swingin’ Utters when I was younger and kind of lost track of them after 5 Lessons Learned but still always go back to some of those early albums. They recently came out with a couple new records in the last few years and I gave them a listen (the internet makes checking these things out really easy) and really liked it. They’ve gotten away from the spikey hair and boots ’n braces type stuff and are really more focused on melody and dynamics than I feel they have ever been. Plus, a major thing happened since I used to listen to them: The Marked Men. I feel like fast, tight, sizzle punk has changed since that Texas band came around. Listening to this new Utters record through Marked Men filters puts a fresh and different perspective on it. I don’t know if that makes sense or if the Swingin’ Utters have even ever heard of the Marked Men, but in my mind it produces acceptable sensations.