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Best of 2013Best of 2013: John Gentile's picksJohn Gentile's picks (2013)
Reviewer Rating: 5
Contributed by: BryneJohnGentile
(others by this writer | submit your own)
YO YO YO PUNKNEWS!!!!!!! Whadduuuuup Punknews?!!!!!! I moved back from Cali to the PA this year, and man, I miss the burritos. I miss the beautiful Cali girls. I miss the insane amount of awesome live music that passes through "da bay." And most of all, I miss the record stores… oh, Stree.
YO YO YO PUNKNEWS!!!!!!!Whadduuuuup Punknews?!!!!!! I moved back from Cali to the PA this year, and man, I miss the burritos. I miss the beautiful Cali girls. I miss the insane amount of awesome live music that passes through "da bay." And most of all, I miss the record stores… oh, Streetlight Records, how I long to finger through your bins, to flick through your CD shelves, to bask in your warm embrace… (*breaks down sobbing*)
But to be fair, in my absence, Philly really has upped its game. There are hella more live venues here now than when I first left, and way more great live music coming through. Plus, there are an exciting crop of new record stores forming, so it ain't all bad. Plus, East Coast pizza annihilates West Coast pizza. Don't even try to debate that. You are wrong.
Punk rock wise, I did some pretty fun stuff. I got to see FLAG at one of their earliest shows and without a doubt, it as one of the GREATEST shows I have ever seen-EVER. I also got to talk to all five members about it which was a true highlight for me. Jack Terricloth of World/ Inferno Friendship Society let me have an extended interview with him and I was really proud of how it turned out. Old school wise, I got to sit down with members of Crass and talk about the Crass re-issues and the band's history.
New school wise, I got to see Jeff Rosenstock play an utterly phenomenal set and after much delay, my now horribly-out-of-date-and- retroactively-innaccurate piece about the end of Bomb the Music Industry! finally went up, thanks to my homegirl Brittany Strummer. Also, I got to talk to a bunch of totally awesome artists, Blag Dahlia let me pick his brain and also, Jello was totally cool.
Honestly, new music wise, I sort of feel like this year was a little bit of a lull. No doubt, there was some awesomely mind-blowing new releases this year (see below), but there wasn't a "Keith Morris is back and doing his best work ever!" or "Amebix Reunion!" or "Jesse Michaels doing hardcore punk!" record that really surprised me. Though, some of the new guys did do some stuff that really was transcendent. I'm thinking 2014 will be a year that makes my head explode. (Dear Amun-Re, Odin, and Ahura Mazda, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let FLAG put out a live album).
THE TOP 20 BEST (NON-MELVINS) ALBUMS OF 2013
Boboso: Grown Ass Man
Phat 'n Phunky
Boboso ups his game. Harder hitting beats. Tighter rhymes. Garfield references. Boboso excels where many emcees fail--he's not gangsta and knows it, but he doesn't overcompensate by going the nerd-core angle nor does he go the played-out- beat-poet-backpack-rapper route. Instead, he samples Morrissey and claims, "Heaven knows I'm a miserable asshole." He finds a way to inject his own style into the music in a way that is honest, original, and damn funny. (Also, Classics of Love's Morgan sings Mariachi music on this.) I didn't think Boboso could top his previous collaboration with Jesse Michaels where Michaels spit the rawest dis ever ("I'm the best and you're just an asshole!"), but when Boboso teams up with Jeff Rosenstock and they rap about sweatshirts and sex toys(?)--well, it's a real Sophie's Choice situation.
Vertigo / Universal
I wanted to hate this record on principle. No Bill Ward = No Black Sabbath. Brad Wilk, the drummer for Rage Against the Machine, replacing perhaps the greatest metal drummer ever? Please.. A cover and title that were designed via focus group (and a rather bland one at that). Laughable. But then, I heard Iommi's massive riffs supported by Geezer Butler's sludgy bass, and I... I had to give props were props were due. Even Ozzy sounds the best he has in three decades. The magic is still there... though it would have been even better magic if Ward was on board...
Burger Records / Gnartapes
Careful, Houndy isn't a perfect record, but when it is perfect, it's damn perfect. The best parts of darker synth-pop mixed with video game style music and classic rock. Also, there are some daring covers that work exceptionally well. Who would have thought that a cheap Casio could sound so sinister?
Ghostface Killah: Twelve Reasons to Die
Soul Temple Records
Let's be real, a lot of Wu-Tang stuff is phoned in. And honestly, I think that maybe, on this release, Ghostface just rapped over some generic bars and the music was added later. What makes this release so surprising is that despite all of this, the album is rich in sonic texture and perfectly weaves with the master emcee's unhinged narrative. Truly, the skills of the emcee and producer are both the reason for this album's success. Few records are recorded in such a slight time frame and have such a lasting sound.
Idle No More would have been in the top 20 of this year if it was just the last track, "Of Darkness I Dream" and 11 tracks of Bette Midler. On that track alone, Khan reaches a level of honesty that is divine and as is so rare in music, creates a true connection with the listener--despite the song's obsequiousness, we know exactly what Khan means. The rest is straight up classic soul meets rock and is icing on the cake.
Integrity: Suicide Black Snake
The tracks on Suicide Black Snake have been floating around in demo and single form for about three years now. But, now that they are packaged together, re- recorded and tightened up, we get what might be the fiercest Integrity album to date, and definitely the darkest one. Frontman Dwid Hellion likes to avoid the term "hardcore" but this album alone represents hardcore in both its most savage and most sophisticated form. Rarely is music this mean so intelligent.
Chrome: Half Machine from the Sun
King of Spades Records
Chrome's fault was that they were 10 years too early. Had they debuted along with NIN, they would be one of the biggest bands in the world- well, actually, probably not, because while groups like NIN and Ministry are fundamentally anchored in pop structure, Chrome are as out there as Hawkwind- not for the faint of heart. Who would have guessed that what essentially amounts to an "Odds and Ends" album, would yield not only some their very best material, but perhaps their tightest album, which mystifyingly, is also their most accessible? This is as far out as it gets and yet it's as easy to listen to as Chuck Berry. Hawkwind meets Bauhaus meets Ministry meets something from out of this world.
KRS-One: Never Forget
The Blastmaster has had a fruitful half decade, releasing about ten albums in that time. Most of them are pretty good, a few have been amazing, and a few have been outtakes compilations or just bloated. But with Never Forget, which is so underground even I couldn't find it, the Teacha drops his hardest, tightest rhymes in a decade. There is no fancy footwork here, or wasted words for the sake of showiness. These are tight as hell, hard rhymes dropped over booming beats. KRS spits metaphysical knowledge that is otherworldly and practical. The fact that this might have been recorded in a day just shows how insanely talented KRS is. The fact that this release is way, way, way underground shows how dedicated to the art he still is. Thirty years on and Knowledge (Still) Reigns Supreme.
The Last: Danger
First-wave LA power-pop-punkers recruit Bill Stevenson and Karl Alvarez and release their first album in 17 years--and get this, not only is it their highest energy, most ripping release to date, but... it... it might be their BEST!. For the most part, this album speeds along in high energy, fun pop-influenced rock, but every so often, when if deeps down into nasty danger, it becomes sublime. This is how to do a comeback!
First of all, I am hella pissed at Bowie. I dropped significant bank (like twice the price of a normal CD) on the so-called "Deluxe" edition so that I could get all the tracks. Then, about six months later, he released a super-deluxe-edition with even more tracks. I got hosed and that's no way to treat a fan. Still though, this album, which winds and twists throughout Bowie's decades of style, is really, really good, and shows that the Main Man creates timeless art. Most of it seems to be set in his Berlin period and for an artist of his age and accomplishments, the cold burn on this LP is perfect.
Nobunny: Secret Songs: Reflections from the Ear Mirror
Nobunny's first record was a shock because not only was it so raw that it sounded like it was recorded on a Walkman, but every song was a perfect, classic rock and roller, supplemented by an unquantifiable weirdness. The follow up was smoother and more polished, but it didn't quite have the danger in the tape hiss. First Blood kept things fairly polished, but the volatile weirdness is back. "Buried in a Bong," "Little Bo Bitch," "Bye, Bye Roxie"--Nobunny is at a new apex and what makes this so rocking and just a little bit scary is unknown, making it that much more threatening and inviting.
Grave Mistake Records
Yesssssssss! Everyone knows that Night Birds rock the hell out (and in fact, are one of the few newer punk bands to really go all out on the berserk rock-n-roll live show). But until this point, they didn't seem to be able to deliver a ful- length that expressed the anger, mania, zaniness, and horror in their live show. Well, not only did they figure out how to spread their message across an entire album, keeping the whole thing ripping from start to finish and constantly engaging, but they knocked it out of the park! It's not easy to craft a full LP that just kicks all the way, but Night Birds made it look easy.
When so many 50+ artists are slowing down, picking up acoustic guitars and basically being old farts, Jello and crew explode back with their most berserk work to date. "Road Rage" is one of J-man's nastiest cuts ever and it is also one of his funniest. The nearly Slayer-style storm of "John Dillinger" is eloquent and just rocks the hell out. Perhaps the best Biafra work since the DKs. Why can't all musicians get this worked up as they age? I also should point out, that despite my repeat mentioning of Jello's age, this doesn't feel like an old dude record--to the contrary, Jello sounds like he's 19 and the album feels like a hot new band's debut.
Joan Jett: Unvarnished
Joan always puts out consistent records, but they don't all have the snap of those first two classics. On Unvarnished, she teams up with Dave Grohl and Laura Jane Grace and cuts, without a doubt, her best release since Bad Reputation. This is all classic Jett, but it feels so fresh. Joan Jett rocks. I'm in love.
Janelle Monae: The Electric Lady
Bad Boy Records
Did Jesus hear my thoughts and send a funky futuristic angel down to serenade me? '70s Stevie Wonder meets '80s Prince meets all eras of George Clinton sung by the classiest yet sassiest vocalist reaping the soul scene right now. SMASH SMASH! BANG BANG! CHALANGALANGALANG! I'm in love.
They've been threatening to do it since The Con, but the Quinn twins finally did it. They made a straight up pop album. And you know what, it rules. It's danceable, it's bouncy, it's snappy, but it also has true heart (what most pop records miss these days) and pays tribute to past dance-pop (a la Madonna) while doing something new (I even taste just a nip of some Factory Records in here.) Intelligent pop at its finest. I'm in love. Twice.
HOLY SNAPS. Rock and roll that is as fresh as it was in the '50's. Riffs that just won't quit. A hilarious and possible mentally disturbed frontman. Wild, out of control shows that are as sloppy as they are enthusiastic. A XYLOPHONE. You might think it's simple to write out simple rock banger after simple rock banger without the tunes getting old, but it's NOT. Each tune here is as clever as it is fun as it is unique. Crazy and the Brains are geniuses of the form. Get hip to it.
Dog Party are giving punk rock a good kick in the ass. These sisters tear along like the Ramones, stomp down like the Weirdoes, and every so often, lament like Patsy Cline. Every track here is just perfect. So many riffs. So many choruses. So much style. Enough of your namby-pamby caterwauling about friendship, flannel, and whisky--THIS is what punk rock is about.
This is no other band in the world that sounds like the Garden. Twin brothers bust out aggressive, cold, scary, punk rock blasts that range from 15 seconds to one minute. One guitar, one drum, one voice. Every song has a meaning but you'd have to be as crazy as Nick Blinko to figure it out. Every second is essential. Every note is interesting. Every lyric is perplexing. You could make a comparison to early Wire, but that's only because no one knew what to make of them then, either. THIS is punk rock- rule breaking, eccentric, unexpected, just completely off the wall. Plus, it sounds HELLA AWESOME. This record will never be replicated, especially because the brothers have moved onto different, but equally interesting things. The whole album might only be about 18 minutes, but that's all they need. THIS is what it's all about.
GWAR are a band that just continue to triumph over adversity after adversity after adversity. When they lost band members Flattus Maximus/Cory Smoot, the band were seriously threatened--the two people that had revitalized the band and brought it into its greatest era suddenly were gone. Instead of accepting defeat, the band charged ahead, brought in Pustulus Maximus, and released an album that is still straight up slamming metal, but is as intricate and dynamic as it is savage. Not every cloud has a silver lining, but GWAR accepted tragedy in the best possible way: By striking out and redoubling their own reserve and cursing the fates. This is victory torn from the jaws of defeat. Who would have ever thought aliens could demonstrate the best aspects of humanity?
THE TOP 10 BEST (NON-MELVINS) EPS AND SINGLES OF 2013
Blowfly: Black in the Sack
Pata Records/ Burger Records
Clarence Reid is a famous composer who wrote hits for K.C. and the Sunshine band, Sam & Dave and Betty Wright. But his alter-ego, Blowfly, is the filthiest soul man that you ever heard and literally invented Dirty Rapp. Despite being halfway through his 70s, he's still cutting the nastiest, filthiest (and most hilarious) originals and parodies, like on Black in the Sack which is best AC/DC cover ever (sorry Exodus) and the grossest version of "Rainy Night in Georgia" ever... "conceived."
Funkadelic: The Naz
George Clinton resurrects the greatest funk band of all time, teams up with Sly Stone, and releases a perfectly wigged out track that features Stone jiving and rapping about Jesus' return in a language that only Stone can understand. The b-side, "Nuclear Dog," is 7 minutes of classic Funkadelic soloing. There's a reason why George is every rapper's favorite musician--it's because he's the greatest. Period.
If you thought Gnarboots were weird before, then you better go out now and buy some more underwear. Gnarboots have always cut unusual tracks, but often, they were based off standard rock/pop structure. On S.I.Z.Z.L.E.R., recorded to commemorate the time that Mike Park bought them dinner for breaking even on an album that had a run of 300 records, shit gets real. A pounding synth thunders in the background while a distorted, almost demonic voice just spouts the restaurant chain's name over and over. You could make a Ween or Captain Beefheart comparison, but neither of those guys were ever this menacing or this tactical. I think Gnarboots are about to evolve into something unlike anything that has come before.
Jeff Rosenstock: Summer Singles
Bomb the Music Industry! might be ending (again?) but the Jeff-meister is at a creative high point. Massive, extended Neil Young cover? Check. Classic exploding bombast tune? Check. Aborted hardcore tune from an aborted hardcore EP? Check. JEFF YOU GO BACK TO YOUR ROOM AND RECORD THAT HARDCORE EP RIGHT NOW, YOUNG MAN!
An amazing title track about overcoming addiction and a flip-side that could be a Chubby Checker tune if Chubby Checker was into blasphemy. The Crack Rock Steady crew have split and maybe it's for the best. Each of the main CR7 rockers are making the best music of their careers.
A collection of tunes that Bag submitted to TV shows that were rejected. Why? OH I DON'T KNOW MAYBE BECAUSE THEY HAVE LYRICS ABOUT BLAG PISSING ON THE HEAD OF BOB AND DOUG MCKENZIE OR HAS HIM RAMBLING ABOUT ADOPTING FOREIGN BABIES. But, that's what makes the Dwarves so great--unrestrained, unrepentant id. So many artists would try to make the blandest, poppiest single possible. But, Blag being Blag, can't help himself and sends a demo to Bob and Doug that is mostly about has Blag has sex with lots of girls and only casually mentions the duo in their own theme in the last few seconds. This is why the Dwarves are rock legends.
Brad Logan cements this band's lineup and releases an EP that is everything that he and his crew do best--charging hardcore, twisting crust riffs, and that Logan-bark... oh that bark. Dark, pessimistic, totally rocking. Also, do I detect just a pinch of Blue Oyster Cult?
Fistolo / Gunner
How far are we gonna go back? WAAAY BACK. Mischief Brew go back to their roots and release a purely acoustic EP, like their earliest recordings. The tunes here could have been written now or just as the black plague was ravaging Europe. Erik Petersen and crew know how to tell the tale of the working man without sounding like ivory tower academics or uber-punk kids that have never had to pay a water bill. Why? It's because they ARE working men... also, I assume they pay water bills.
Books of Love: Space Time
Katy Goodman and Greta Morgan team up to write a tune about how the laws of the universe function to keep them from finding true love. Where the plot sounds something along the lines of the Cure, the girls flip the script by busting out a rollicking but sweet, musical backing that is equal parts Patsy Cline, Ronettes and Stephen Hawking, making the tune an upbeat snapper with an underside that's either depressing or reassuring, depending on how you look at it. Physics majors aren't usually known for writing the best love tunes, but as with all data sets, some anomalies are bound to occur.
World/Inferno are every bit the equal of Queen, the Rolling Stones, or the Stooges. There are good bands and then there are the titans. So much talent. So much skill. So much style. Turnstile Comix finds the band reaching back into their earliest days and to the future from the classic "Second Chance Saloon" which is a Roaring '20s tale of saloons and fighting cops to the charging, massive, re-statement of purpose "The faster you go, the better you think." No one sounds like this band, not even remotely. Sometimes Jupiter does reach down and grant us a boon and here it is. To arms! To arms! GO FASTER!! THINK BETTER!!!
THE TOP 5 MELVINS RELEASES OF 2013
Melvins: Billy Fish Alive [Flexi]
Joyful Noise Recordings
From the same live sessions as the massive Sugar Daddy album, The Melvins show why they are one of the best live bands EVER. Huge, crushing guitars. Drums that stomp like Tiamat. A tempo that storms along like a freight train and is three times as heavy.
Melvins / Napalm Death: Sugar Daddy Split Series Vol. 9 [12-inch]
The Melvins kick out a live version of "The Hawk" that shakes the room. Buzz Osborne calls out in his angry wail that is as much Ozzy as it is a mob of angry zombies. CRUNCHCRUNCHCRUNCH! Meanwhile, Napalm Death, ever self-challenging, do a hella wigged out Cardiacs cover and it rules and then they bust out the grinding, deeply political but equally slamming "Oxygen of Duplicity." Two weirdo heavy groups pairing up. Napalm Death's atheism is hereby disproved because this is a match made in heaven.
Melvins: Live at Third Man Records
Third Man Records
For their 30th anniversary, the Melvins stopped off at Jack White's place and recorded a portion of their birthday tour direct to acetate. Even better, they focused on the pure, rumbling sludge from their first quantum leaps--Bullhead and Eggnog. "Charmicarmicat" even gets a full side of the LP to do its unbelievably massive thing. The real birthday present? The Melvins are even better now then they were when these monumental records first came out.
Melvins: Everybody Loves Sausages
Covers albums are not supposed to be this good. Covers albums... are NOT supposed to this GOOD. I'M FREAKIN' OUT, MAN! The Melvins pick artists that influenced them through their career, some obvious (Venom) some completely unexpected (John Waters' Divine). To make it even better, the Melvins bring in friends like Scott Kelly and J.G. Thirwell to handle parts of some tracks. Even Blondie's Clem Burke shows up! These songs are so tight and lock together so well that it feels like an album of original material, despite that only one track was written by the band. Oh, also--The Jello + Melvins cover of Roxy Music's "In Every Dream Home a Heartache" might be the greatest cover ever--like, for real.
Melvins: Tres Cabrones
The Melvins have entered their Duke Ellington phase. There is no "one" Melvins. Any Melvins recording, or lineup, is merely one expression of an intangible idea. Tres Cabrones is a mutation of the band's earliest lineup, now with usual drummer Dale Crover on bass and original drummer Mike Dillard back behind the kit. The best part? They don't cut an album like it was written in 1983. Instead, they create an alternate reality where Dillard never left the band and had been playing and progressing with them for 30 years. Short, hard punk numbers are abutted next to nine minute long drone stompers. There is also a song called "Tie My Pecker to a Tree." How can one band put out so much music, make so many daring choices, and make every move the least expected one and STILL fundamentally be the same band with the same core concept? Simple--they are true artists. This is as punk as it gets.
Carpe Diem, My Dawwwwwggzzzz!!!And thusly, we shuttle onward into the next year and one year closer to the end of the mortal coil. 2014 is looking pretty hot, that's for sure. I'm looking forward to new albums by World/ Inferno Friendship Society (This Packed Funeral), The Dwarves, OFF!, La Sera, Gnarboots, Mischief Brew, Jeff Rosenstock, Raekwon, Kicker, KRS-One and Mad Lion, Ice Cube, and of course… MELVIIIIIIIIINSSSSSSS!!! I am also super excited about the last Bomb the Music Industry! show (ever)--stay tuned, we've got a few pretty cool things planned.
As for my annual lesson bequeathed upon ye, let me tell you Punknews people, I turned 30 this year and everywhere I look, the Grim Reaper is standing. I look in my rear view mirror and that skeletal visage reflects from my back seat. I open my closet, and that dreadful cloak hangs between my hella fresh Fila track jacket and my mad fresh Adidas track jacket. I take a whiz and that ghastly specter is looking over my shoulder (which is doubly freaky). Listen son, get going on whatever it is that you want to get done, because time moves way quicker than you think. On that fateful morning when you wake up and that ghost leers over your bed, grinning, he will not wait for you to finish the last 80 pages of your novel, he will not give you time to go kiss your loved ones, he will not pause two weeks so you have time to go visit Madrid--you'll open your eyes, he'll laugh, and that scythe will drop--SHUNK!!!--and that's it, baby. Lights out. So, not tomorrow, not next week, but get moving NOW. Right now!. GET TO WORK!!!!
…but in the meantime, I put together a continuous mix of some of my favorite new songs and re- releases from this year. It's got some exclusive songs, some brand news stuff, and tons of shout outs from punk rock celebrities--ALSO IT HAS GEORGE CLINTON--so be sure to listen.
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