Best of 2013: Joe Pelone's picksJoe Pelone's picks (2013) staff picks
Reviewer Rating: 5
Contributed by: BryneJelone (others by this writer | submit your own) [Joe Pelone is a staff reviewer for and former reviews editor of Punknews.org.]
COME ON GET LOW WITH ME
While there are some things I miss since stepping down as reviews editor last year (free music forever), I gotta say I've had a blast being a dad. It feels like every day my son learns s.
[Joe Pelone is a staff reviewer for and former reviews editor of Punknews.org.]
COME ON GET LOW WITH ME
While there are some things I miss since stepping down as reviews editor last year (free music forever), I gotta say I've had a blast being a dad. It feels like every day my son learns something new, and watching him develop into a person has been one of my greatest experiences. I've actually documented some of those experiences on Dad's Not Punk with other 'Org alumni. Granted, I feel less connected to underground music now that I participate in the 'Org less (and this is the first year my tastes have synched up with commercial radio since I was like 13), but it's really not something worth worrying over.
Basically, instead of seeking approval in the comments section, I listened to a lot of boss tunes with my family. Below are the records that soundtracked my baby's bedroom mosh. Sometimes his mother joined in. Fuck you, get pumped.
I've had some weird fits of nostalgia this year. Big D's Strictly Rude only came out in 2007, but I still got super stoked to hear the band reference that recent past with Stomp. Frontman David McWane continues to sing about the best and worst drunks he knows, and I am A-OK with that. Big D have been my favorite ska band for so long simply because they managed to honor two-tone while still referencing '90s ska-punk. That skill shouldn't be that versatile, but there you go. Stomp showcases ska at its most fun and tightly composed; Stroll is the more unfocused, jammed out second part. While they're wildly uneven at times, they also got me thinking about the D again, and for that I am grateful.
Baby Memory: Listening to "Moment of Weakness" like 20 times in a row.
While I think going for a double album was a mistake, Arcade Fire still made a pretty catchy effort out of Reflektor. They've been dubbed the new U2 before, but here they get to be the new Talking Heads, dropping jittery yet soulful post-punk dance floor fillers. The first disc brings "the hits," as "Reflektor," "Here Comes the Night Time" and "Normal Person" combine dance beats with lyrics about alienation. The second disc goes off on an experimental tangent (just like Big D!), but that's part of the charm. Reflektor is formatted to encourage exploration, but it also allows for ease of use as well.
Baby Memory: Pretending to know the French lyrics from that one verse on "Reflektor."
It started when noted curmudgeon Bryne Yancey endorsed Burials in his 'Org review. Then my friends started talking about it. Soon, I learned for myself something important: AFI may waver and wander, but they've always got more ideas. Burials boasts plenty of gothic mood. At times it recalls the catchier cuts from The Art of Drowning and Sing the Sorrow. But mostly, I just love how awesomely heavy Adam Carson's drums sound. Jade Puget drops all kinds of guitar tricks, but Carson is the one who holds the songs together. Hazy and haunting, Burials is a grower by design; Carson's playing is what first hooked me.
Baby Memory: Explaining to my son why we need to listen to the remixes on the Best Buy edition.
I think Red Fang might secretly be a grunge band, because they have got some Soundgardeny bits going on with Whales and Leeches. Either that or they're just courting a bigger audience, a la Kylesa circa Spiral Shadow. Either way, I'm down to clown. Whales combines Dirty South sludge riffs and Northwestern grunge howls, making for a most pleasing listen. Relapse drops a lot of discordant metal every year; it's cool to hear something a little more melodic come out of their gates, as they've done with Baroness last year and with Red Fang now.
Baby Memory: We rocked Whales and Leeches in the car every day for like two weeks.
While I loved the Get Up Kids' reunion, I'm also really enjoying Matt Pryor's solo run. Between last year's May Day and this year's Wrist Slitter, he's established a nice cache of low key yet insanely catchy pop songs. If May Day is a one-man band, then Wrist Slitter aims to bring in friends (specifically Bob Nanna, Chris Conley and Steve Soboslai). The added flourishes allow Pryor to showcase his musical interests outside of the emos, and the songs range from bluegrass ("Before My Tongue Becomes a Sword") to straight up Cure worship ("Words Get in the Way"). There are also plenty of indie pop rockers. The album cover is about as tossed off as you can get (Seriously? You wrote the title on a crumpled piece of paper?), but the music contained within is so good.
Sometimes I feel like I'm not a true Dillinger Escape Plan fan simply because I think they got better after Calculating Infinity. And while I liked Option Paralysis, DEP came off as a little ADD-addled at times. One of Us is the Killer finds the band settling into grooves more. Opener "Prancer" is pretty spastic, but elsewhere the record takes time to just let a rhythm play out. Hell, sometimes it's a surprisingly melodic, soulful collection. But that just makes the brutal parts more brutal. By allowing the songs to breathe, Killer is much more successful, and quite possibly my favorite DEP release.
Baby Memory: Exclusively listening to this album with headphones while my son slept because I knew my wife would kill me otherwise.
Mike Birbiglia: My Girlfriend's Boyfriend
New Wave Dynamics
On Sleepwalk With Me, Mike Birbiglia stepped away from standup in favor of a more spoken word, long form story approach. It made for a great story, but My Girlfriend's Boyfriend feels superior. Birbiglia seems even more comfortable with the story approach this time around, and he more organically weaves jokes into his one-man play about failed relationships. Boyfriend is about finding a compromise between who you want to be and who you probably should try to be. That it can work in a few jokes about topics ranging from puke ("carnival salsa") to politics (his non-sequitur about lesbian terrorists) is a nice bonus.
Baby Memory: We watched this special on Netflix as a family. I was the only one awake by the end.
The local boys done good in Restorations have been steadily dropping vinyl releases of various sizes for a few years now, and it's so dang awesome that they're getting a push from Side One Dummy now. LP2 finds the band continuing away from post-rock in favor of Springsteenian rock 'n' roll. That is totally cool with me. I don't really listen to music digitally when I'm at home, but my wife and I keep turntables upstairs and downstairs. No matter where I am in the house, my son and I listen to records. We spent a ton of time dancing to side one of LP2. The record gradually builds itself into a tizzy, especially "D." A fitting continuation of their anthemic 7-inch A/B from last year, LP2 rocks, straight up.
Baby Memory: Besides the story I already told? Restorations are the first band I went to see live after becoming a dad.
Tig Notaro: Live / Live at the Moth
Released digitally last year, Tig Notaro's bold set on Live (as in "live life") was supplemented this year with a related story, Live at the Moth. Both performances are bracingly honest. Live earned huge accolades last year for the way Notaro unflinchingly discussed her recent breast cancer diagnosis, and how it capped off a shit storm of a year (Notaro was hospitalized previously, she broke up with her girlfriend and her mom died in rapid succession). At the time of the record, Notaro didn't know if she was going to live, but somehow in the darkness that comes with not knowing, she found humor. Live at the Moth tells a related story in which Notaro finally connects with her stepfather after her mother passed away. Both sets capture the swirling highs and lows that come with life, and are as heavy as they are humorous. Oh yeah, I mentioned all these ruminations on death were supposed to be comedy, right?
Baby Memory: Trying to play Live while feeding the boy breakfast was a bad idea. Or a cathartic one. Both?
It's been less than a decade since NIN's other comeback album, With Teeth, but I'm gonna celebrate Hesitation Marks as a welcome return to form anyway. If nothing else, it's Trent Reznor's first album to hearken back to Pretty Hate Machine's synthy darkwave jams. See, the thing about NIN is that for all their noise, they were always secretly just an angrier version of Depeche Mode, dance beats and all. But for all its computer blips, bleeps and bloops, Hesitation Marks also lent itself to live performance. T-Rez quit touring a few years because he want to go out on top; Hesitation Marks proves he's still up there.
Baby Memory: Watching NIN's set at Philadelphia's Made in America festival via live stream, as a got-damn family.
I barely understand what constitutes "true" black metal, but I feel pretty confident in calling Vattnet Viskar post-black metal. They blew my fragile mind when I saw them open for Altar of Plagues and the Atlas Moth last year, as did their EP. To finally have something meatier to take in like Sky Swallower was worth the wait. Breaking freely from the galloping grind of their self-titled EP, Vattnet Viskar pursue a sound that is at once spacier and heavier here. But for all the post-rock flourishes, they can still get thoroughly brutal, as evidenced on tracks like "Fog of Apathy" and "Breath of the Almighty." Sky Swallower didn't get as much hype as, say, Carcass or Deafheaven, but their work is definitely in that league.
Baby Memory: Ordering this from Century Media along with Black Sabbath's Dehumanizer while driving with my wife, son and mother-in-law to Canada for a wedding. Fuck yeah Dio. Fuck yeah Canada. Fuck yeah Vattnet Viskar.
After the radio-baiting Spiral Shadow, it came as a genuine shock when Kylesa returned with Ultraviolet, a dark, murky record that's barely metal. But diving into those layers of noise are what make Ultraviolet such a rewarding listen. There's a bit of riffage on tracks like "Grounded," but generally this album moves towards spacy Pink Floyd fare. Laura Pleasants' vocals blur with the guitars, creating a dreamy atmosphere to match the band's depressing lyrics. This album is a clear departure for the band stylistically. Up until now you could kind of draw a line connecting all of their records, but sometimes a clean break is necessary to move on from trauma, something that Kylesa discusses lyrically at length on Ultraviolet.
Baby Memory: Leaving this album on repeat while reading as my son slept next to me.
I love that David Bowie called his first album in a decade The Next Day. Despite the huge gap, he still picked up where he left off after the creative one-two punch of Heathen and Reality, as if belatedly completing a new (Berlin) trilogy. His voice might sound more weathered, but The Next Day harkens back to Bowie's '70s golden period. All the alien atmosphere and huge choruses and sax flourishes are intact. Plenty of journalists wrote about Bowie over the last few years as if his discography was complete. Turns out he's still got plenty of songs to sing.
Baby Memory: Playing this and the Labyrinth soundtrack over and over. David Bowie's love injection is strong...
Waxahatchee / Swearin': Cerulean Salt / Surfing Strange
Don Giovanni Records / Salinas Records
Exploring the Crutchfield sisters' discography has been a real joy this year. While they might not be in PS Eliot anymore, they still collaborated quite a bit this year, releasing a split and guesting on each other's albums. In fact, most of Allison's band, Swearin', appears on Katie's second album under the Waxahatchee moniker. It's easy to view Cerulean Salt and Surfing Strange as parts of a whole. Both deal in '90s alt-rock. Waxahatchee skews towards the pop end of the spectrum, while Swearin' pursues a noiser, almost lo-fi aesthetic. While I'm sad I slept on PS Eliot, the Crutchfield sisters have doubled their output since then, ultimately dominating my ears all year. Cerulean Salt soundtracked my spring; Surfing Strange defined my fall.
Baby Memory: Crawling on the floor and humming "Dust in the Gold Sack" over and over and over. Giggles forever.
Given that Dave Grohl and Nick Oliveri returned, maybe I shouldn't be surprised that ...Like Clockwork was the most consistent Queens release since 2002's Songs For the Deaf. Then again, maybe I should just be a grateful for any new Queens at all. Josh Homme stayed busy with other bands, but he's at his best under this particular moniker. Clockwork shifts for more of a midtempo shuffle than previous efforts, but it works fine. There's still a threatening heaviness present. I feel like Homme cherry picked his favorites '70s Bowie moments here, but that's cool. Clockwork is a little glammy, a little cold, a little awesome.
Baby Memory: Talking about this album A LOT in Canada.
I was introduced to Plow United when they reunited at Riot Fest East, and it's paid huge dividends ever since. Marching Band proves the reunions shows weren't just a nostalgia trip; that it could so thoroughly rock my skull is nice too. At 12 tracks, it's a tight, catchy collection, to the point that I almost forget that songs like "Water Rights" and "The War is Over and Our Side Won" have a sociopolitical connotation. Mostly, Marching Band just analyzes how people operate and adds some infectious choruses along the way. I love screaming the outro to "Cui Bono?" at inappropriate times.
Baby Memory: Pogo dancing to "Shaking." Aggressive finger pointing to "Get Low." Explaining the importance of tofu hoagies while listening to "The War is Over..."
A lot of bands turned releasing records into heavily advertised spectacles (including the act behind my favorite album of the year). Kevin Shields went more low key: He dumped m b v, the much belated follow-up to My Bloody Valentine's much loved Loveless from 1991, on the Internet with barely a warning. Loveless just so happens to be one of my favorite albums of all time, but I never expected to hear another set of swirling guitars and ethereal vocals from MBV. Which is a big factor in why I lost my shit when I found out the band was selling the album while I was at work. And then I lost my shit again when the band's web site crashed. And then I finally, blissfully lost my shit when I heard the damn thing. m b v picks up where Loveless left off. It feels less like a guitar record and more the longest electronica crescendo. At nine tracks, the album essentially exists in three parts, gradually shifting from dream pop to jungle techno around "In Another Way." I'm beyond asking what took so long; I'm just grateful it's here.
Baby Memory: Listening to this album with headphones after putting my son to bed every night for a month straight.
Surgical Steel might actually be my favorite Carcass record. I thought it was crazy to think that the first day I played it, but months later, I still come back to it more than Heartworks or Necroticism. It's just so brutal and direct, and Jeff Walker's growl has only gotten more demonic with age. But Carcass still manage to cram in righteous guitar solos and even the occasional hook. Surgical Steel makes me so dang happy, which it shouldn't because it's all dark and spooky and whatever, but sheesh these tunes make me feel empowered. Nothing says "I can do this" like a bunch of metal songs about disemboweling hipsters.
Baby Memory: I can't believe this baby could sleep with this album on.
Altar of Plagues are done, but they went out on an incredible swansong. Teethed Glory & Injury was a total surprise from the band, given their penchant for lengthy, cold black metal tunes. Here instead were electronic-tinged, self-contained tunes that proved black metal could still groove. Hindsight reveals plenty of signs AoP were going to break up, from the "Our journey / Our terms / Our choices" quote in the liner notes to the realization that Glory shares elements with frontman James Kelly's electronic project WIFE. But that doesn't take the sting off. Topping Mammal was a big enough task, but I wonder how AoP would have followed up this album, with its mix of funeral chants, brutal riffs and surprisingly effective dance breaks.
Baby Memory: This is the first metal record I played my son.
Daft Punk: Random Access Memories
It's been a while since I found an album to be inescapable. And not just in an "Oh all my friends like the same local punk band" way. Daft Punk's Random Access Memories was a got-damn event, and my family, friends and coworkers all had strong opinions. In the Internet age, I'm not sure I've ever experienced a contemporary record that everyone cared about at the same time. Like, I love Plow United and Carcass, but I don't expect to sing their songs with my in-laws. I've heard criticisms that R.A.M. is too indebted to Chic and Giorgio Moroder, to the point that Daft Punk lost their identity, but I don't think that's fair. Instead, they crafted a dance record that harkens back to disco, rock and soul circa the '70s. Sure, they maybe oversold the hype, to their detriment, but in a few years, I think people will love this album even more. R.A.M. is a party rocker from start to finish. Daft Punk have consistently subverted expectations with each record, as if they were still reacting against the success of 2001's Discovery. R.A.M. is no different, and I love it more for it.
Baby Memory: Singing "Get Lucky" with my wife and mother-in-law somewhere in upstate New York, with my baby grinning from ear to ear the whole time.
Super catchy pop rock, but we can argue if it's indie rock and/or emo if you'd prefer. Lawnmower have a classic '90s pop-punk name and sound to boot, and the Whack Yer Brain 7" is just loads of fun. I'm excited to see if these guys keep going.
Desaparecidos kept issuing 7-inch singles in 2013. While I'd prefer they just knock out a second full-length, going the 7" route is totally tru punx, so props. Plus they kept writing catchy political missives that damn the man and save the Empire.
Mean Jeans / Underground Railroad to Candyland: Split [7-inch]
The mighty Mean Jeans didn't issue a full-length this year, but they did drop a couple of splits that warm the cockles of my heart. Their split with Underground Railroad to Candyland boasts some sweet, sweet Ramonesy pop-punk. So much fun.
The Bouncing Souls / The Menzingers: Split [7-inch]
Two of my favorite punk bands are best friends! The world is an alright place! The Souls make perhaps their final recorded appearance with former drummer Michael McDermott here, and they do his legacy proud with the catchy "Blackout." Their cover of the Menzingers' "Burn After Writing" is pretty faithful, but they add this hooky call-and-response to the end of the song that kicks everything up to notches unknown. Not to be outdone, the Menzingers offer up a drankin' song ("The Shakes") and a cover of my favorite Souls song ("Kate is Great").
Yet another awesome Mean Jeans 7-inch. I prefer this one to the Underground Railroad to Candyland split for the following reasons: 1) "I Miss Outer Space" is perfect, from the catchy guitar lead to the chorus to everything else. 2) Big Eyes do an awesome cover of Mean Jeans' "2 Twisted 2 Luv U." 3) THERE IS A WEREWOLF ON THE COVER.
Their full-length won't get distribution until next year, but Ex Friends (featuring Joel Tannenbaum of Plow United) cranked out a ton o' tunes in 2013. Pop-punk of the highest order was readily available on the Twisted Around 7-inch. Plus they worked in a riotous cover of Plow United's "West Chester Nuclear Winter." Plow might be slowing down, but Ex Friends are just getting started.
Yeah it's just a single for LP2. Yeah it's the jam. Plus the B-side is most righteous. Restorations are on the up 'n' up.
Technically this came out in 2012, but I don't count music until it's physically available. Solange Knowles has quietly established herself as Beyonce's underground artsy sister. True has an icy veneer of electronic beats and isolated lyrics that give the songs an '80s vibe. It suits Solange well. The breakout hit was clearly opener "Losing You," but the EP as a whole has that same hooky vibe. At seven songs, I partially wish Solange had penned a few more songs and shot for a full-length, but this EP is pretty dang perfect. Plus, she proved True wasn't a fluke later this year with the Saint Heron compilation
Bryne Yancey said it best when he opened his review for this 7-inch with "Torche keep banging out the hits." More melodic, sludgy fun. I've heard frontman Steve Brooks treats lyrics as an afterthought, but you'd never know it from the way he treats vocals and guitars like collaborators. I am consistently stoked on being pumped for this band.
Look, I think about Paint It Black the way some people think about Kid Dynamite. That's how much their shorter/faster/louder hardcore defined my youth. And while I call shenanigans on their refusal to issue a proper fourth full-length, I'm also just glad they're back at all. Invisible picks up where the band's 2009 EPs left off (it's even got a similar layout). Basically, PIB continue to perform brutal tunes about personal struggles and mental health. But they're also maturing and touching on stuff like OMG BABIES ("Little Fists"). I'm not as angry as I used to be, but I still relate to PIB's passion plenty.
On the one hand, I get why the Souls kept this out of print for so long. On the other hand, I love the Souls. Green Ball Crew was a goofy yet charming EP. The Souls definitely got better afterwards, but hot dang am I still glad to finally own a copy of this EP.
Ridiculously catchy pop-punk band that I accidentally reported broke up. Fudge. Their 2012 album Meta-Pop got the vinyl treatment in 2013, and rightfully so. This record proves that tru punx can have fun too.
Rilo Kiley made two perfect indie rock albums (More Adventurous and The Execution of All Things) in their day. Rkives reveals that they probably had another gold winner in them if they could have just gotten past their emotional bullshit. Also apparently Jenny Lewis can rap?
1. Alcest - Shelter [French metal for your dreams]
2. Against Me - Transgender Dysphoria Blues [I HAVE TO KNOW]
3. The Horrors - TBA [More shoegaze plz]
4. Jay Z and Kanye West - Watch the Throne II [I have serious thoughts on rap music!]
5. The Lawrence Arms - Metropole [Arguably the most Orgcore band of all time]
6. The Menzingers - TBA [write political songs again!]
7. Rancid - Honor Is All We Know [This has been on my year-end lists since 2011]
8. The Rentals - TBA [Because I'm still down with P.]
9. Bruce Springsteen - High Hopes [First Springsteen rarities comp since the Tracks box set]
10. Tool - TBA [Lateralus is the best! C'mon!]