Side A: Todd’s Picks
Side B: Chris’ Picks
The Music or Space Shuttle? braintrust rolls out its top albums of 2013 this week! Today we unveil our individual picks for #2-4. We’ll reveal our top 10 throughout the week, culminating with our top pick on Friday, Dec. 20. Don’t miss our picks for #11-20, #8-10, and #5-7.
#4: Waxahatchee, Cerulean Salt
Waxahatchee is the solo project of songwriter Katie Crutchfield and is for the most part very simple. One vocal, one guitar and occasionally some drums. The songs ebb and flow from soft acoustic to droning distortion filled guitars and her vocals float effortlessly overtop all of them.
I started listening to Cerulean Salt a few weeks after the new My Bloody Valentine record was released. Like anything else that was released post m b v, I assumed I would be over it quickly and back listening to the masters of shoegaze. I was wrong. I was stuck on this album almost as long as I was on m b v.
Waxahatchee toured this year with Katie’s sister’s band, Swearin’, which you may remember had my #15 album of the year. Of course, they came nowhere close to were I live. I would urge the great folks at the Mission Creek Music Festival to book these two bands. Do whatever it takes to get them on a stage near me. Thanks in advance.
#3: Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City
Vampire Weekend’s 3rd album Modern Vampires of the City picks up right were they left off with 2010’s Contra which you may recall holds the #36 spot on my Undisputed Best albums of all time list. Both albums are full of songs that are incredibly intelligent lyrically, frequently comical and always catchy as hell. And just like previous Vampire Weekend releases, this one took me a few listens to get into it. Other than the instantly likable “Step”, every song took me awhile to truly enjoy. That was especially true with the rocker “Diane Young.” The machine gun drums and use of auto-tune kind of threw me at first. By the 3rd or 4th listen I was pitching up my sing along vocals to match the records.
One of my biggest regrets this year is not working out a way to catch Vampire Weekend in concert. They have been one of my favorite bands since their self titled debut album in 2008. I had a few chances. Kansas City, Chicago, the Twin Cities and St. Louis all hosted them this year. All within reasonable driving distance. The St. Louis show was even at my favorite venue, The Pageant. Unfortunately, work schedules and other commitments got in the way. Luckily, I got to live vicariously through Chris and his son who caught them in Kansas City. I am definitely going to catch them next time around.
After 3 excellent albums under their belts, I’m curious to know if Vampire Weekend can keep it up over a long career. If I had to lay money down I would bet on yes.
#2: Chvrches, The Bones of What You Believe
The Glaswegian group with the weird spelling. Their name is pronounced “churches” (Cha-verches in my house) but spelled Chvrches to help with Google searches I would presume. Before the release of The Bones of What You Believe, Chvrches put out several excellent singles. “The Mother We Share” for instance, caught my attention right off. Lead vocalist Lauren Mayberry’s voice can both cut you to the bone and make you fall in love at the same time.
All of the songs I heard prior to the albums release featured Lauren on vocals, so when I eventually listened to the whole album I was surprised to find songs featuring male member (well, male band member, not an actual phallus), Martin Doherty on lead vocals. His songs “Under the Tide” and “You Caught the Light” are two of my favorites on the album.
This album had a real good chance at being my #1 album of the year but it lost points in my book for its length. There are 16 songs on it and I generally punch-out by song 12. Get rid of a few clunkers and remix/alternate versions of songs and they are looking at an album of the year win.
#4: My Bloody Valentine, m b v
It’s not unusual for a parent to have a panic attack at Chuck E. Cheese. The place is a fucking nuthouse. You cringe as you watch the juvenile behavior play out, with yelling and pushing and cursing and general disregard for decency everywhere around you. And that’s just the adults.
Although I try to avoid the Cheese house whenever possible, I felt obligated to honor my son’s birthday wishes to take two of his friends there for pizza and video games before a sleepover. I endured as much of the atmosphere and the pizza as I could before I finally fled for the sanctuary of my phone.
And there I found the announcement years (decades!) overdue: Hello, this is Kevin Shields, and even though I’ve hinted at a new album since 1997 with a straight face only to disappear again, I really put out a new record and you have to download it from our website, which currently uses something resembling a Commodore 64 as its server. Good luck with that!
It was time to go. Five hours of computer frustration later, I finally had permission to pay the Sam Goody-priced ($16!) new album and download the nine songs to my PC. Certainly worth the money, and so good that I pretty much forgive the 22-year gap in output.
The first three songs sound like a natural continuation of Loveless. The middle third reminds me of stuff the band released on the various EPs from 1988 to 1991. And the final third showed where the band could go if it damn well wanted: jungle beats, devilish swirls of guitar, soaring synths. A longer examination of an instant classic can be found in a post from February.
Just don’t take 22 more years to make and release the next album…
#3: Savages, Silence Yourself
It took about one minute for Silence Yourself to get its hooks into me. The first song begins with a sampling of dialogue from a John Cassavetes movie (paired with eerie squalls of guitar) before a rumbling bass line throws things into high gear. A stuttering guitar joins the proceedings, and at the 1:02 mark, the bass and guitar interlock perfectly and for about 39 minutes you race through a world of shadows and fear and anger and passion, all punctuated by sharp drum shots, gut-punching bass notes, fierce guitar, and the push-you-to-the-edge voice of Jehnny Beth.
While the music is tight and forceful, the lyrics give Savages that extra edge. A reader asked me in July why I thought Savages was getting so much good press, and more specifically, what about their lyrics set them apart. My response:
The lyrics are just an emotional purge, an astute observation without a turning point, but that’s OK—I think many people can identify. I know I admire emotional content regardless of whether a solution comes with it.
And it’s all done through the carefully crafted black-and-white lens that Savages uses as its identity. It’s a very consistent identity, from the shadowy album cover to the rather monochromatic tone of the music. The low rumble of the rhythm section provides the “black” image; the piercing guitar squalls and sneered vocals serve as the “white” part.
Perhaps it could be summed up as this: Savages are documentarians of the bleak, and they don’t pretend to have any answers.
In a year when I’ve seen some great live shows, one of my greatest regrets is not driving up to Madison to see these guys this fall. After this sort of debut, I’m guessing I’ll have plenty of chances to see them again.
#2: The Civil Wars, The Civil Wars
The day before the Civil Wars’ eponymous album came out, I remarked to friend and fellow CW fan Sondra that “I look forward to being emotionally destroyed tomorrow.” We had heard a couple of tracks in advance, giving us a taste of what we had in store. And the next day came, and the album came, and I was emotionally destroyed as predicted, and it was most excellent.
The music could have been buried by the soap opera of Joy Williams and John Paul White. And in much of the press around the album’s release, it kinda did. That’s truly sad. “The One That Got Away” has one of their best choruses to date, Joy’s voice taking the lead, her voice descending slowly before jumping to new heights, with John Paul punctuating certain words before harmonizing the second verse. “Same Old Same Old” has ever so slight instrumentation backing some of the most tender vocals (and lyrics) in their discography.
Not every moment is quiet and fragile. “I Had Me a Girl” is a rollicking tune that is tailor-made for singing along, especially the “ooooooooh-ooooooooh-oooooooooh” chorus. Not only is a it a great song, it provides one of those moments that the fans can grab hold of and say “See, you two can have fun making music together! Now get back together and play some live shows! And make some more albums! Please?!” And “Eavesdrop” might start off quietly, but it picks up steam by the first chorus and simply explodes by the second one. It’s nice to hear John Paul singing on this one too, as Joy does a lot of the vocal work on the album as a whole.
My favorite song? The one sung in French, “Sacred Heart.” I can’t decide if it is my top song of 2013 or not; “Step” by Vampire Weekend is the only competitor. The song is absolutely gorgeous on its face. On top of that, I found the lyrics online and plugged them into Google Translate, and for one reason or another, they melted my heart. Yes, it’s hard to sing along since I don’t speak the language, but that never stopped me with Sigur Ros, so, you know, why not?
(Lone criticism: their version of Smashing Pumpkins’ “Disarm” doesn’t work.)
At the beginning of June, many music sites started posting their “Best Albums of the Year So Far” lists. They considered June 1st the perfect time do so. It being the halfway point of the year and all. Well, we here at Music or Space Shuttle? actually own and know how to operate a calendar. Bear with me here, I’m going to do some math. You see, there are actually twelve months in a year. The halfway point would be after six months. That would make the the end of June or early July the perfect time for a “Best Albums of the Year So Far” list. Enough snark. Let’s get to the list!
Deap Vally, Get Deap! EP – Get Deap! is probably my biggest guilty pleasure record this year. The rock duo’s EP is four songs of dirty guitars, screaming vocals and questionable feminine hygiene. Don’t get me wrong, I’m crushing hard on the both of them. They’re like a cross between PJ Harvey, The White Stripes and Led Zeppelin. Hoping they come to the area for a live show soon. I may just run away with them. –T
Key Track(s) – “Lies”, “Gonna Make My Own Money”
Ducktails, The Flower Lane – This one surprised me. I was never a big fan of Ducktails in the past. The last LP was fine but never really kept my interest. Pitchfork streamed this record for free last prior to the release and I couldn’t stop playing it. The mastermind behind Ducktails is the guitarist for Real Estate so there are some similarities between the two but this record stands up well on its own. Chris’ former pretend girlfriend Madeline Follin from Cults even makes a cameo on my favorite song from the record “Sedan Magic.” They were in Iowa City in April and put on a great show. Chris wrote about it here. -T
Key Track(s) – “Sedan Magic”
My Bloody Valentine, m b v – What was almost as unbelievable as the release of a new My Bloody Valentine album is the fact that somehow it was not an absolute letdown. In fact, it was brilliant. The first three songs sound like a natural continuation of Loveless. The middle third reminds me of stuff the band released on the various EPs from 1988 to 1991. And the final third showed where the band could go if it damn well wanted: jungle beats, devilish swirls of guitar, soaring synths. A longer examination of an instant classic can be found in a post from February. –C
Key track(s) – “in another way,” “wonder 2”
Palma Violets, 180 – When I hear hype surrounding bands like Arctic Monkeys or the Vaccines or the like, I give their records a spin and often come away disappointed. This isn’t at all what I thought I would hear! Yet when I listened to a band that lacked the “next big thing” tag, one called Palma Violets, lo and behold, there it was! 180 is the album I’d always thought I’d hear from the buzz bands. “No-frills” rock, but punctuated with a charismatic singer and nice use of keyboard among the garage rock sounds. I’m starting to rethink my declaration of seeing Wild Belle instead of these guys at Lolla. –C
Key track: “Best of Friends”
Rhye, Woman – Reminiscent of The Weeknd in a couple of ways: one, is the singer a guy or a girl (answer: guy); two, regardless, this is really freakin’ great. Slinky, sexy, smooth as silk. “The Fall” is a vocal treasure, while “Last Dance” parts the smoky haze of the record for a few minutes to allow for moments of upbeat groove. While the vocals are natural to pair with slow and low tempo, it’s the juxtaposition of the emotion against the more up-tempo instrumentation that keep this collection from coming off as one-note. The comparisons to Sade and the xx are fair both in terms of similar sound and similar quality. –C
Key track: “The Fall”
Savages, Silence Yourself – The savage (ahem) rumble of the drums and bass is what does it for me when it comes to Savages’ music. Of course, that alone isn’t going to get the job done, and thankfully the vocals and guitar work provide sharp contrast. That’s not to say the drumming is some sort of sloppy, tribal, Meg White-kind of stuff (which I like as well, in that context); Fay Milton snaps off precise snare hits and provides a tight, fast backbone. Anyway, this is what you get when you get four people dedicated to art but aren’t afraid to also make tight, listenable songs in the process. –C
Key track(s): “Shut Up”
Sigur Ros, Kveikur – I love that one of the coolest, heaviest records of the year was created by three dudes from Iceland, including the pixie-like Jonsi. It’s not like the band had to reinvent itself to sound this way; songs from the early albums have been intense, bordering on metallic at times. Even on the relatively chill album ( ), they showed they could deconstruct into harsh madness (“Untitled 8,” anyone?). As one reviewer put it, perhaps Georg (bass) and Orri (drums) were sick of never getting any credit, and just went buck wild on all our asses. It worked. –C
Key track: “Brennisteinn”
Small Black, Limits of Desire – I had big hopes for this album after loving their first full length album New Chain and subsequent Moon Killer MixTape. After the first listen, I was less than impressed. Maybe it was their bizarre album cover. Maybe it was because the chillwave vibes of the first album were mostly gone and what was left was mainly a synth pop record. It took a few additional listens for me to remember, “I f’ing love synth pop records!” -T
Key Track(s) – “No Stranger”
Tegan and Sara, Heartthrob – This one is a shoo-in for a #2 spot on my overall Best of 2013 list since their previous two records had that title in 2007 and 2009. This time the ladies changed up their style a bit and released this synth-pop gem. It took me a few listens to warm up to the new direction. At first, it seemed like an attempt to cash in with a Katy Perry-ish type record. Hidden behind those up-beat hooks they have some seriously dark and painful lyrics. In a way it is a perfect pop record but with some depth behind it. -T
Key Track(s) – “How Come You Don’t Want Me”, “Closer”
Thee Oh Sees, Floating Coffin – Let’s say Tame Impala had a love-child band with one of those garage rock groups you might find on an old Lenny Kaye Nuggets compilation. Sounds as dreamy as chocolate and peanut butter coming together, no? Thee Oh Sees pretty much sounds like the spawn of the aforementioned scenario, doing its thing at an incredibly prolific rate, to boot. Floating Coffin seems like their fourth album in three years–probably because it is!–and each output continues to satisfy. Not only is there energy galore in the tunes, you won’t find a much better use of the vocal weapons “Whoooo!” and “Owwwwww!” anywhere. –C
Key track: “Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster”
Torres, Torres – I know I’m supposed to use these single paragraphs to sing the praises of our favorite albums thus far in 2013, but with Torres, I’m having trouble pinpointing. Perhaps it’s the way her voice melts throughout the opening song, “Mother Earth, Father God.” Or the lyric “Honey, while you were ashing in your coffee, I was thinking about telling you what you’ve done to me” on “Honey.” Or how there is a sinister element to her songs. Or how the chorus just falls out of her mouth so wonderfully on “Jealousy and I.” Or that someone named Mackenzie Scott decided, “You know what? I’m going to go by the moniker ‘Torres’!” (shrug) Oh, look what I just did. I guess it’s all pretty great. –C
Key track: “Jealousy and I”
Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City – This might be the year that Vampire Weekend finally drops its bridesmaid status on my end-of-year lists and moves up one slot to the top. (Finished second to Portishead in 2008; Crystal Castles in 2010.) The tracks that came out early (“Unbelievers,” “Diane Young,” and “Step”) are fantastic (“Step” in particular), and songs on the second half of the album (“Worship You,” “Finger Back,” “Hudson,” and even the quirky “Ya Hey”) get better with each listen. The esoteric lyrics are still here, but the most moving words come on “Step,” where Ezra declares “I feel it in my bones” and “I can’t do it alone.” –C
Key track(s): Pretty much all of them
Waxahatchee, Cerulean Salt – Waxahatchee is the solo project of songwriter Katie Crutchfield and is for the most part very simple. One vocal, one guitar and occasionally some drums. The songs ebb and flow from soft acoustic to droning distortion filled guitars and her vocals float effortlessly overtop all of them. I started listening to Cerulean Salt a few weeks after the new My Bloody Valentine record was released. Like anything else that was released post m b v, I assumed I would be over it quickly and back listening to the masters of shoegaze. I was wrong. I was stuck on this album almost as long as I was on m b v. It was tough picking a “key track” for this one because this is one of those rare records that I find all the songs to be equally as good. Take a listen to “Peace and Quiet” below and judge for yourself. -T
Key Track(s) – “Peace and Quiet”
I’m just gonna get right to introducing the music this month because after last months post I had quite a few complaints.
@2indastink wrote, “Quit messing around and get to the music!”
@5nuckshuff wrote, “Todd sux. Space shuttle rules!”
@peaceandlove wrote, “I fucking hate your guts. Who gives a shit about your thoughts and feelings?!! Get to the music already.”
And that is just a small sample. Now, far be it from me to keep you all from the music you long for, so here you go…
Because I don’t want to be the guy that upsets your day. I know you’re in a hurry and have limited time at the computer/tablet/smartphone for exploring interesting new things. I too hate having to wait one maybe two whole minutes for something that I should have access to immediately. It’s like when you’re at the local grocery store, fast food restaurant or Gap-type clothing outfitter and waiting in line to pay. The people in front of you should just get out of the way. We have shit to do! Instead, they selfishly pay for their own items and make us all wait. Insufferable. That’s why I’m getting straight to the music today, no messing around…
No waiting. No delays. No sifting through poorly written stories about music and non-music related topics. Who wants to read that stuff? Not me. No sir, I will not read for enjoyment. I’ve read too much already. Besides, there’s no time to read when you’ve got livin’ to do…“L.I.V.I.N.”… We should be out having real world experiences. Back packing through exotic locals. Meeting new and interesting people. Having great love affairs. Sleeping in hostels. Nearly dying in said hostel because it is actually a backer packer slaughterhouse. Come to think of it, because I’ve taken time to read things in the past, I’ve not lived my life to its fullest. I’ve never been caught with a pound of hash duct taped to my belly in a Turkish airport. I’ve never done time in a Malaysian prison for a crime I didn’t commit. Do you know how many criminal plots I’ve foiled with just my wits and my never say die attitude? Two. Only two. I’m 38 years old. My father had twice as many under his belt at that age. But it’s a different time now. My father didn’t have things like video games, the internet and Honey Boo Boo re-runs to distract him from his destiny. I’ll not be to blame for your wasted lives. So I’m getting right to it…
Well, is anyone ever really to blame for something like this? To quote the late great Howard Jones, “No one is to blame.”…Wait…This just in…Turns out Howard Jones isn’t dead. Who knew? Well the sentiment is still the same. Some things are just out of our hands. We can’t control time. We can only do the best with what little free time we have. There never seems to be enough of it does there? So to avoid any anxiety attacks à la Jessie Spano from Saved by the Bell…
I’m getting right to the music this week…
Dig right into it. Immerse yourself in the awesomeness. You need a little “Me Time.” Put the kids to bed early. Wear your headphones so they can’t distract you. Listen while you drink a latte from Starbucks. Treat yourself. You deserve it. Life is fleeting. Me? I’m going to be listening while simultaneously training for the Iron Man Triathlon, learning Japanese and teaching my son how to throw a curveball. Well, I may have to shorten that list. There’s probably not enough time for everything. Uh oh. Anxiety attack time. No time. No time! Never any time!I’m so excited and I just can’t hide it I’m so excited I’m so…scared
Ok… Took my Lexapro… I feel better now.
Crap. Looks like I really am out of time. Didn’t get to the music. Well, I don’t want to leave you hanging. Here’s a quick list of some albums you can check out. Enjoy…
Palma Violets, 180
Waxhatchee, Cerulean Salt
Youth Lagoon, Wondrous Bughouse
CHVRCHES, Recover EP
Side A : Todd’s Picks
1. Palma Violets, “Best of Friends”
2. Waxahatchee, “Peace and Quite”
3. Parquet Courts, “Stoned and Starving”
4. Foxygen, “Shuggie”
5. Small Black, “Free at Dawn”
Side B : Chris’ Picks
1. Alpine, “Gasoline”
2. Cotillon, “Talk to Her”
3. Fantasmas, “No Soul”
4. Kate Boy, “In Your Eyes”
5. Vampire Weekend, “Step”