Hope to see you at these shows.
For no reason whatsoever, I made a best of list for recorded music in 2013. (Note: This is music I first heard in 2013, not necessarily released this past year.)
Bands I Don’t Personally Know Division (in no particular order):
New History of Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light – Colin Stetson
I loved Stetson’s last album and was so stoked to see him live in Portland this last year. He played the title piece from this album and it was stunning. I’ve spent the better part of this year trying to figure out how to deal with Stetson in my own playing – building on but not copying. There are some tracks on here I often skip – not something I did with his previous release. But the good tracks are incredible.
Random Access Memories – Daft Punk
I have no recollection of every hearing Daft Punk before this year though I’d certainly heard of them. The total Internet freak out over the release of the record and the appearance of a member of Panda Bear from Animal Collective on one song sparked my initial interest. While those are maybe not great reasons to give a record a spin it worked out this time. There’s really no denying how infectious “Instant Crush”, “Get Lucky” and “Doin’ It Right” are. Whenever these songs start I start dancing (to the amusement and embarrassment of all who can see me). It’s not a record I can listen to all the way through for the most part because my attention eventually wanes. But on the other hand, it’s not exactly a guilty pleasure give how absurdly well the record is produced. I’m saying nothing that others haven’t said I’m sure. Perhaps most importantly, this record brought a great deal of joy into my life this year.
Doctor Too-Much – Frank Lowe
It’s called “Doctor Too-Much”. That’s enough right there, yes? I really love a few Frank Lowe records (Black Beings and Duo Exchange among them) and this may end up with my favorites. Lowe is such a great player and he’s backed up by Leo Smith (and three other players I have not heard of). Lowe’s playing on this record is beautiful, particularly on the opening solo.
Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend
I really liked Vampire Weekend’s first album but their second one largely failed to capture my attention. Consequently, I wasn’t expecting much from their third. It didn’t take more than a couple of listens before I was kind of obsessed. It’s one of those records that has such a strong first song that it pulls you into the rest of the record (like “Offspring are Blank” or “Fast Enough for You”). Unlike some other records with an excellent first song, the rest of the record is incredibly strong too (with “Step” being an absurdly good song). This, like Random Access Memories, features some truly remarkable production. The songs are diverse but cohesive making the record a great listen all the way through, which I did more than other record this year by a lot. I don’t know if I’ll be listening to this in ten years but I’ll definitely be listening to this for the next several.
Without a Net – Wayne Shorter
This record came out in February and I finally gave it a listen in late December after it made a bunch of year end best of lists and I’m so glad I did. First and foremost, Brian Blade (on drums) is amazing. He does what the best drummers do: makes his presence very obvious without overtaking the band, propels the music forward without being just the timekeeper and leaves plenty of space for everyone else while making a great deal of noise himself. Of course there’s Shorter whom I haven’t really listened to since…high school? Terrible for sure but I don’t really listen to much jazz. The opening track had me checking to make sure Wayne Shorter is as old as I thought (79!). The power he plays with is amazing. I’ve requested a bunch of his records from the library so I can educate myself on his back catalog. Back to this record though, the band is tight but the live setting is probably what makes this a great record. They stretch out and really amp up for the audience. This is a record of stunning power and intensity.
Raps – Steve Lacy
Lacy is another cannon saxophonist that I’ve been underexposed to. John Savage mentioned that he wanted me to hear this record so I found a copy and realized what a hole in my listening this fills. I really love the interplay between the two saxophonists and the bombastic drumming seals the deal. Like most great music, this makes me want to start a band.
Horses – Patti Smith
I missed the boat on Patti Smith even though she had a song on the No Alternative AIDS benefit compilation that I listened to a million times in high school. Her memoir, Just Kids, was so well reviewed when it came out that I decided to read it. That was back in 2010 of course and I finally got around to reading it in 2013. As advertised, it was great so I picked up a bunch of Patti Smith CDs at the library, Horses being my favorite. It’s kind of bad, right? But in the best way possible. I don’t mean that as an insult but there’s an element of reaching too far that I really enjoy in this music – though it’s something that is terrible in other music. You can hear decades of other people’s music this has inspired when you listen to it.
Friends Division (no particular order):
A lot of my friends released some great records in 2013. Why am I separating them out from non-friends music? I don’t know.
Discography – The Judas Iscariot
I was supposed to help put out this record (including their unreleased LP) in the early 2000s but it never came together (mostly because I had no idea what I was doing). Fortunately I’ve had a digital copy for years and have never grown tired of listening to it. The Judas Iscariot were a hardcore/punk band (drums, bass, vocals/trumpet/radio) perhaps best described as philosophycore. No joke. When a friend played this for me in 1997, I didn’t really get what was going on. I was still just getting into hc/punk and was listening to garbage. A few listens into their 7″, Harrison Bergeron Bound, I felt like I had uncovered a trove of musical secrets. I got to see them play in Manchester, NH with 7ish other people and it was amazing. Fast forward a few years and I started a band with the vocalist that eventually led to my first forays into free jazz. Whenever I listen to this record I always think I should start a band just like this.
Moment in Mythica – John Savage
John is a monster floutist and this record is ridiculous. I don’t think there’s any way for the recorded version of his work to hold a candle to the live version because seeing is believing. Without seeing him do what he does with his horns (various flutes and saxophones) I don’t think I would understand how amazing it is. He’s sort of the Colin Stetson of flute – in the best way possible.
Social Sounds – Catherine Lee
Catherine’s playing is deeply musical and sensitive. You know how oboes can sound like dying cats? They can also sound like the music of the gods when you can produce the tone Catherine can. The CD is named for the title track on which she plays a score paired with recorded whale songs. This kind of thing has the potential to veer deeply into new age territory but here it never does. A beautiful and haunting record.
Senses Sharpened – Ken Ollis
Some technical, fast paced and highly structured jazz can sound devoid of emotion. You can hear the obvious technical prowess but no love of the music. Not the case here as made obvious from the first notes which jump right out of the speakers. Propulsive, joyful, heavy, thoughtful work here. Live is better of course but it’s surprising how well it transfers to the recorded medium.
Fascism is the Frenzy of Sexual Criminals – Ifsh
Sometimes my friends surprise with their skill sets. Having known Ryan for 6 or 7 years and heard his other bands and played music with him he was still able to totally surprise me with this record. Dude has a great ear and it comes through with this set of compositions. It’s a long record so there’s no way I’ve fully digested it but I’m really looking forward to the next time I sit down for a listen.
Swim – Blue Cranes
It’s very difficult to classify the Blue Cranes. They get called jazz a lot but they don’t swing. There’s no vocalist though so they rarely get called indie rock. Experimental jazz gets tossed around but that doesn’t describe the cohesion and composition at the root of the band. Seeing this band live is a beautiful experience. They’ve been playing together for so long now that they speak with one voice. I think I saw them five times this year and it could have been twice as many and I would have been thrilled. Listening to the record shows you where the live set comes from and both experiences feed and enhance the other.
Howl & Bite – 1939 Ensemble
Vibes, electronics and drums duo. So…right there, what? Heavy, groove beats (I kind of hate the word “groove” but I think it’s the right one here), interesting melodies on the vibes, tasteful guest appearances and some electronic noise added to rough it up some. Another great live band that translates well to the record (particularly when played loud).
General Dome – Buke & Gase
Another band I was introduced to by NPR. I have to cop to being a little disappointed on first listen to this, their 2nd full-length. I thought they strayed too far in the pop direction by trying to cut down the number of ideas that appear in one song. But after a few listens I realized it was just that the best ideas made the cut making for really strong song construction. Weird but listenable enough to get stuck in my head, this record got played a lot this year.
I’m playing the Outset Series with It’s OK, Girl (Danielle Ross and me) as well as the Matt Hannafin/Catherine Lee Duo on 2/5.
I’ll be joining the legendary Han Bennink & Mary Oliver on 1/26 for a short set with a few other locals at the Lutheran Redeemer Church on NE Killingsworth and 20th Ave at 7pm. Tickets are available here.