Best of 2013: Brian Shultz's picksBrian Shultz's picks (2013) staff picks
Reviewer Rating: 5
Contributed by: BryneInaGreendase (others by this writer | submit your own) [Brian Shultz is the longest-tenured reviews editor in Punknews.org history (2004-2011).]
It's safe to assume that Punknews' readership forgets about me a little more with each passing year. That is A-OK. If you're one of those, Hi. I was the reviews editor here from 2004 until 201.
[Brian Shultz is the longest-tenured reviews editor in Punknews.org history (2004-2011).]
It's safe to assume that Punknews' readership forgets about me a little more with each passing year. That is A-OK. If you're one of those, Hi. I was the reviews editor here from 2004 until 2011. Admittedly, I haven't done much to uphold a presence here since, with my involvement dwindling to a handful of compulsory reviews of both albums and live shows when both my personal time and willingness allows for them. It's nice, however, to keep getting asked back to join in on the year-end festivities, keeping this feature like a bit of a family reunion for me.
I continue to work full-time at Bridge Nine Records, wrapping up a second full year. So to spare both you and myself the conflicts of interests and revealing biases, you won't see any of our 2013 releases in this, but rest assured they're all great and you should buy them all on every available format ; ). I'm also still freelancing for Alternative Press which, believe it or not, does continue to overlap with whatever you're into in some regard. Yes, you, reading this.
As always, I digested an intense amount of music this year. Void of effort to prop up who "deserves" a spot more over better marketed and hyped acts (though such a ploy wouldn't be a bad idea), here's what I legitimately enjoyed the most in 2013.
The Dodos are a band whose name has lingered on my radar for some time but whose music has eluded me despite the reliably steady rate they've been churning out records at since forming. When they signed on with Polyvinyl, I finally invested some time with them on Carrier and was taken by their easygoing, occasionally taut, somewhat baroque indie pop. Guess I should be checking out those other records now.
Foals have progressed steadily since 2008's math-rock party Antidotes, finding catharsis and realization in more somber spaces. They've learned how to straddle rhythms both abrasively demanding and heart-wrenchingly endearing ("Late Night"), build up smartly and intently to The Big Moment ("Inhaler"), and still have fun while expressing harsh truths ("My Number"), thus emerging as one of the most consistent and successfully genre-mashing bands in the indie/alternative sphere.
City and Colour fans might continue to hold Dallas Green's first two albums in highest regard, but his last two boast the most majestic and diverse material he's composed yet. The Hurry and the Harm, though a little more one-track-minded than 2011's arresting, versatile Little Hell, is an elegant indie-folk album about restraint, so it's appropriate that it has the usual sort of patience and beauty Green tends to imbue his albums with while exposing all the self-doubt and concern that hampers his ever-wounded ego.
October 15 on Devinyl Records / Favorite Gentlemen / Procrastinate! Music Traitors
Not long after a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign came two brand new albums from Kevin Devine. One was a carefully ornate and delightful solo affair, Bulldozer, produced by Rob Schnapf (Elliott Smith, Saves the Day, and also Devine's 2006 major label one-off, Put Your Ghost to Rest) and featured help from a couple folks including a member of Belle and Sebastian. But Bubblegum's slightly less star-studded lineup produces an even better effort. Produced by Brand New's Jesse Lacey (who also plays bass) and backed by a stripped-down Goddamn Band (long-time guitarist Mike Strandberg and drummer Mike Fadem), it's Devine's finest hour, with some of his most raucous and fuzzily punked-up moments ("Fiscal Cliff") and some of his most protracted and beautifully dark ("Redbird").
Never mind that HRVRD is yet another act partaking in the vowel-less caps lock band name craze, because they're probably the best. They echo the textured, spacey post-hardcore/sort-of-proggy rock Equal Vision was doling out in the mid-2000s (Coheed and Cambria, Codeseven, YouInSeries, Circa Survive especially), only way better and more consistent in some regards, effortlessly building mood and tension across quietly intricate atmospheres. [my AltPress.com review]
At some point this year, "emo revival" became a strangely popular talking point for major music blogs and even more general online publications. As redundant and anachronistic as it felt, Knots is worthy of the notice it should get from the "scene"'s elevated platform, as it's one of the best albums of the year you could arguably say it derives from. Two parts Braid with a dash of Sunny Day Real Estate, it's just an endearing and excellently shouty, spazzy, riffy concoction.
Fantastically mopey beard-emo in the key of Small Brown Bike. An excerpt from my Punknews review: "Songs to Drive To; Cry, and Make Love To is steered by plaintive vocals delivering deathly serious, ideally therapeutic musings, and a deceptively dynamic musical backdrop to carry it all. That means there's lots of self-loathing, of course, whether it be personal crises of complacency ("Dormant Dreams") or imbalanced relationships ("Stranger Than Fiction")."
While the members of INVSN kinda resemble an '80s goth catwalk and their self-titled debut at times feels a decade late to the '00s post-punk revival trend, it's hard to deny how well-crafted and diverse this criminally overlooked album is. Half of it sounds like playful goth-pop somewhere between a poppier Interpol and the Cure's commercially successful singles, and the other half is a darker, more aggressive and carnal space that seriously hints at the cathartic intensity conveyed by that other band frontman Dennis Lyxzén was in. It's probably the best thing he's been involved with since 2001's A New Morning, Changing Weather, even.
A surprisingly renewed Appleseed Cast. An excerpt from my Punknews review: "Illumination Ritual sounds less like a compromise and more like a refocused strain of what the Appleseed Cast do so well: effortless vocal melodies punctuating undulating, intricately decorated rhythms, with an easier-going feeling that sounds oddly natural for them now."
November 29 on Svart Records
Climax is not a hard sell. Figure Joy Division continuing on without Ian Curtis and bringing on Danzig in his place. There. That's it. Throw it on, throw your fist and shout along to the Finnish quartet's dark, fun-as-hell anthems about inhumanity, emotional absence and living in low temperatures.
Rosetta's 2010 full-length, A Determinism of Morality, was a wonderful, melodic refinement of the Philadelphia band's slightly spacey, atmospheric sludge/post-metal, and their unrelenting, throat-searing followup here tweaks the details enough to make it a worthy successor. It pounds along ferociously with chilling, jarring transitions cutting through at any given moment, compelling effects pedals manipulation, and greater reasons to grunt along to every unexpectedly, increasingly strained moment. Best heard at loud volumes.
Though not quite as sprawling and epic as 2011's Garden Window, O'Brother's sophomore LP is hardly sophomoric, stewing out more of their sinewy, progressive, sludgy alt-metal/rock that churns along and thickly marches through with unexpected twists and turns and harrowing existential crises. Call them ThrIsis or Cave In the Stone Age or Radio(rock)head for easy recommendation if you must, but O'Brother's truly melding the best of all melodically heavy worlds here into their own fresh batch of brute force.
Full disclosure: I was commissioned to write the official bio for this record, so some might argue this as a conflict-of-interest pick. But you'll just have to trust me: Moving Mountains is the best full-length this band has done. It's an elegiac, breathy narrative that culls the restrained ebb and flow of Jimmy Eat World's Clarity, Thrice's Water/Earth/Air EPs, and even some of Rocky Votolato's soft, folky flair.
My personal investment in AFI has been a rollercoaster since 2003's excellent Sing the Sorrow. 2006's Decemberunderground delved too far into the mall-goth imagery for my liking, while 2009's Crash Love brought it back some with suave Morrissey-isms. Burials blows away either of those efforts, though, boasting straightforward, pained songs with tastefully subtle hints of the band's synthy post-punk/new wave influences and many times almost sounding like an "active rock radio" extension of The Art of Drowning's most anthemic moments, masking the potentially cheesy tropes with total stone-faced conviction.
Lifetime had Lifetime. Modern Life Is War has Fever Hunting: a return from hiatus with a strong fourth full-length effort that also may not reach their artistic apex, but nonetheless provides another stinging, anthemic reminder of how much more force a punk band can provide with some brains behind their brawn.
A deeply penetrating, anguished collection of sorrowful material, Daughter orchestrate a tapestry of atmospheric, folk-tinged art pop that makes simple heartbreak sound like the end of the earth on If You Leave. It's an album of contradictions, delivering patient and breathy torch songs that reek of neediness and bitter, unresolved tension, all wrapped up in a rather clever band name metaphor about having someone else to grow with(in) and wishing that development could paradoxically remain in permanence.
Deafheaven have staked out their place as the marquee name for the changing face of modern black metal, but it's likely because they don't really fit the template that cleanly. Pulling in elements of post-rock and screamo, Sunbather toys with the formula laid out on 2011's Roads to Judah just enough to deliver astounding moments of brightness and a greater abundance of climactic payoff for investing in their epic, sprawling compositions. Something about George Clarke's poetic screeds seem melodramatic, but when he delivers them in these cacophonous cackles while guitarist Kerry McCoy delivers a furiously rippling wave behind them, it's a wild, emotional punch.
The title of Balance and Composure's cavernous debut LP, 2011's Separation seemed to reference an increased distance between frontman Jon Simmons and some unknown object of desire, whether it be physical or intellectual. Two years later, they release another full-length whose title is the logically matured perspective from that, implying that the object of desire was perhaps never a necessity in the first place. Ironic, now that the band has solidified its place as a band who is a total necessity and tasteful guiding light for the current '90s alt-rock revival trend. More direct and aggressive than Separation, the band loosen up a little with some of their influences-the progressive, artful alternative/indie acts mixer Brad Wood's worked with like Smashing Pumpkins, mewithoutYou, and Sunny Day Real Estate-just enough to uniquely plow through a mostly straightforward but nonetheless complex sophomore effort that's as bold, broken down, and immersive as its predecessor.
It feels a little dishonest to say that my reaction upon hearing Trouble Will Find Me was that of everyone else's: "Well, they did it again." That's only because I wasn't acclimated to the National's deceptively unique brand of no-bullshit (but nonetheless quirky), baritone-crooned indie rock musings on anxious adult crises until a couple months after the release of 2010's High Violet. But it was a love that grew strong quickly, and by the time the ramp-up to Trouble Will Find Me had started, I was wrapped up in the same fever pitch as everyone else-and boy did it deliver. When you can pen a ballad resembling what present-day U2 might cook up and still knock it out of the park ("Heavenfaced"), you know you're on fire. Indie rock's most consistently impressive and heartbreaking veterans have built another rustic chamber stocked with dusty Replacements, Nirvana and Elliott Smith records decorating the walls and weathered seats; you'll never want to leave it.
I never would have guessed that Sigur Rós would become this much darker and abrasive, yet majestic and theatrical only a year removed from the pleasant but largely ambient safety of Valtari. No less, seven albums and about two decades into a celebrated career. Impossibly more accessible and ambitious, if there's a mood Kveikur puts one in, it's what the phrase "through hell and back" refers to. This is exactly the sort of hauntingly foreboding, deeply emotionally wrenching experience I've been hoping for from them since I first heard the heart-stopping "Untitled #1" so many years ago, despite meeting and confounding expectations based on anything else helping comprise their already highlight reel-worthy catalog. Granted, I still have no idea what sort of lyrical topics they address, but the feeling they convey here from one vocal or instrumental melody to another is beyond comprehension. Incredible album, from the clanging, industrial brood of "Brennisteinn" to the 1-2 finish of the chilling "Blįžrįšur" and piano coda "Var".
An excellent melodic punk/hardcore melange in the key of often overlooked '90s favorites like Avail and Silent Majority, with enough hints of Lifetime and Polar Bear Club for the modern listener. [my AltPress.com review]
Take SDF member Caroline Corrigan's soothing, Chan Marshall-like vibe, let it take over for Patrick Kindlon's raspy croak on select cuts from the band's 2010 full-length You Are Beneath Me (then-released under End of a Year), and greatness results.
That's more like it. Best Coast's sophomore full-length, 2012's The Only Place was pretty all right, but everyone generally agrees that it was nowhere near as fun or engaging as their smash debut, 2010's Crazy for You. Fade Away leapfrogs both; it's the best thing they've done, recapturing the energy, focus, confidence, and repetitive, inviting melodies of their debut from track to sun-kissed surf-pop track. There even seems to be a smidgen of musical progression.
A 7" that could only be acquired physically by buying a vinyl release from RfC as summer wound down (but available digitally, too), this split featured four of the more unconventional post-punk acts from RfC's expanded roster contributing strong tracks (its highlight being ANNE's darkwave take on Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City").
Sure, it's no Floral Green, but at least they aren't resting on their laurels. Nicely integrated '90s slacker-rock/Dinosaur Jr. vibes and the odd spot of maudlin abrasion does them well on this fuzzy four-song release.
I'm the rare fraud who thinks Braid's reunion material is more or less on par with what they left us with in 1998, so I'm more than happy to hear this pair of energetic, scrappy tracks from the hugely influential emo act. But Balance and Composure is one of my favorite bands of recent memory, and their contributions offer an alternate but nonetheless enjoyable production tone and restrained, seething mood from their equally excellent 2013 LP (see above).
Ex-Daytrader vocalist Tym teams up with visual artist and noodly guitarist Daniel Danger for this sprightly debut with charged emotion and intermittently eerie atmosphere, strangely positing Michael Jackson growing up on early '00s alt-rock (At the Drive-In, Cave In). Sort of like that last Damiera album, but better. [my AltPress.com review]
Guiltmaker built a little buzz with a couple releases that stood out well on Florida punk standby Kiss of Death Recordings, with deliberate, measured material full of effects pedals that shifted seamlessly in style from EP to LP and drew far more from the '90s emo/post-hardcore spectrum than PBR punk. But they never toured much or succumbed to current musical trends, and the gaps between releases were deep (2006 to 2009 to the present); few seemed to discover them as a result. So it goes that Hidden Affinity is their farewell release, but it's an incredible goodbye: expansive, passionate and emotional rock with melancholic, dreamy atmospheres that occasionally hint at the ethereal tapestries Tears for Fears and U2 were devising in the '80s.
Touché Amoré nab my #1 EP spot with a split recording for the second year in a row. And while their opening salvo, "Gravity Metaphorically", is an excellent and unusually prolonged mutation of their slightly spazzy, emotional melodic hardcore, Pianos Become the Teeth's thoroughly chilling "Hiding" is a stunning, multi-part suite that retains their cathartic shudder while reaching for the stars in the process.
A collection of brand new, unreleased songs not available anywhere else that goes to benefit producer/engineer Will Yip putting a down payment on a partnership for the studio he works in where he records acts like Circa Survive, Balance and Composure, and Polar Bear Club (all of whom contribute songs to this). Mostly excellent material here, especially from None More Black, Title Fight, and Anthony Green.
This tracklisting is limited to songs I particularly enjoyed from releases you don't see listed above, since you'll probably be checking all of those out anyway. Figure most of these as honorable honorable mentions.
Coliseum - Doing Time
The Dangerous Summer - Sins
Kevin Devine - Couldn't Be Happier
Discourse - Curse of Consciousness
football, etc. - Blackout
Hausu - Gardenia
Have Mercy - Level Head
Dustin Kensrue - It's Not Enough
Lavinia - Drop [Red House Painters cover]
Local Natives - Heavy Feet
Make Do and Mend - Tell Me
The Menzingers - The Shakes
Nightmares for a Week - Bloodshot Monday
No Joy - Lizard Kids
Off with Their Heads - Nightlife
Owen - Blues to Black
Paramore - Now
Placeholder - Above
Polyenso - Dog Radio
Matt Pryor & James Dewees - Failing You
Reverse the Curse - The Hum Heard
Russian Circles - Memorial (ft. Chelsea Wolfe)
Saintseneca - Uppercutter
Self Defense Family - Turn the Fan On
This Is Hell - The Enforcer
Touché Amoré - Harbor
Matthew Vincent - Wicked Thirst
Volcano Choir - Byegone
Weekend - July
Yuck - Rebirth
Most Anticipated for 2014
As usual, there's roughly a million records I'm looking forward to next year (these are all great-to-good, so check them out when they drop: Somos; Nothing; Have a Nice Life; Death of Lovers; Warpaint; XO). Here's a small assortment of what I'm looking forward to most, off the top of my head: