2013 was a pretty amazing year for music fans. Great new releases from long established acts like the Arcade Fire, Daft Punk, Deerhunter, Superchunk, Throwing Muses. Exciting new bands making their debuts like Savages, Black Hearted Brother. And new releases from bands that are emerging as lifers like Portugal. The Man, Sin Fang, Foals, Best Coast, The Men. I thought I would highlight some of my favorite things, with a focus primarily on Northwest artists.
Favorite video trend
The house party video. Remember Sonic Youth’s video for 100%? I loved it-so wished that I could know those people and hang out with them at that party with Sonic Youth. Well, several musicians this year put out videos featuring similarly over-the-top house parties, among them Father John Misty, Mikal Cronin, and Battleme. Who wouldn’t want to go to one of these house parties filled with interesting people, great music, and colorful setting?
I was fortunate to see quite a few concerts this year. Not a bad one in the bunch, actually (although I perhaps enjoyed seeing Electric Six at Neumo’s for different reasons than the band intended). Two that stood out from the rest, though, were Mikal Cronin with Shannon and the Clams (both based in the Bay Area), and Battleme with Grizzled Mighty (from Portland and Seattle, respectively). Both shows were at the Tractor Tavern, up in Ballard.
Shannon and the Clams take on punky rockabilly is awfully fun…can’t help thinking they should score a David Lynch or John Waters film.
Mikal Cronin’s live show confirmed that this guy is the real deal-great songwriter and performer. You can not help but be fully engrossed with his band’s show. During Shout It Out and Change, the audience was jumping up and down. Green and Blue, off his first album, was so blisteringly loud and terrifying, it just proved that Cronin can do it all-ferocious, noisy garage rock, and beautiful, summery pop.
Battleme live was a beast. The songs from their self-titled album from 2012 were fleshed out with more guitars, and the new songs from their EP and upcoming album were filled with thumping rhythms and noisy guitar jams. The highlight of their set was Shotgun Song with an expanded intro that built up the tension of the song. It’s pretty awesome to hear about them opening for Metric and Artic Monkeys around the country right now-they deserve all the great exposure they can get.
Grizzled Mighty are a local dynamic duo of guitar, drums, and vocals. Some draw comparisons to the White Stripes-but I find that these guys have a more raucous, bluesier and rawer sound; also slightly less melodic. Live-they bring out two female dancers for their show. With their LBD’s and *very* long hair being whipped all around, you couldn’t help but smile and enjoy this show.
Best NW album
So, it is just an EP, but Weight on the Brain by Battleme has stuck with me now for several months on regular rotation. Consisting of only four songs, this EP, for me, shows Matt Drenik and his band really tightening up their sound and clarifying what they are all about. They’ve added some mid-90’s guitar crunch to their sound, which makes Drenik’s songs even more engaging than his earlier, sparser indie/electronic musings. This EP has one goal-to rock. It succeeds remarkably well.
Best song by NW artist
Kladruby Gold-Seahorse Aquarium. Yes, I’m friends with the band. But this is still one of the best songs of the year off of a great album (Lure of the Stars). The guitars sound like they were recorded underwater on a distant planet, the bass rumbles ominously along underneath everything, and the vocals hook you in with their slightly lurid and surreal lyrics. Sounds like nothing else out there. Go listen at their bandcamp page.
Best non-NW album
This is easy for me. Mikal Cronin-MCII. Probably my favorite album of the last few years. An instant classic-Cronin melds addicting, heartfelt sing-along melodies with a version of garage rock that veers from screaming guitar jams to jangly pop. I can’t really pick a favorite song, as there simply are too many. If forced to choose, though, I’d go with Shout It Out, See It My Way, and Peace of Mind.
Total Slacker-Sometime’s You Gotta Die. It’s as if the early 90’s never went away. Think Nirvana/Sonic Youth/the Breeders/Dinosaur Jr. melded in a blender…like the actual band members. That would be the bloody, rockin’ mess that is this video. Have to say that I am beyond excited to hear their new album when it comes out in the Spring.
Best new band
Cumulus. This band sort of came out of nowhere for me. Their debut album, I Never Meant It To Be Like This, is one of the best albums of the year. It is filled with catchy, guitar-driven indie rock that somehow doesn’t just blend in with the rest of the indie pack. I hope to catch them live in the not-too distant future. I am expecting that when they release a second album, they will be huge stars.
Music event of 2013
Sub Pop 25th Jubilee. On a Saturday in Georgetown this past July, local mavericks Sub Pop threw a free party for their fans. Turns out they really know how to throw a party. With at least four separate stages w/ old and new Sub Pop acts, booths selling merch, food trucks, the Sub Pop megamart, beer gardens, and non-sponsored side stages-this was a day where music fans could find their local tribe. Gorgeous weather simply perfected an already amazing experience. Fans could hear old favorites like Mudhoney, Built to Spill, TAD, J. Mascis, and Greg Dulli; and newer acts like Shabazz Palaces, METZ, King Tuff, Shearwater, Father John Misty, and Rose Windows. People brought their kids and their dogs. I was complaining a while back to a friend that I didn’t really understand “Con” culture-you know, ComicCon, SciFiCons, etc., and she pointed out that this was the same thing, but for independent music fans. She was totally right. I only wish Sub Pop would do this every year.