I promised fun when I relaunched the blog and immediately went heavy. I’d say I feel bad about that, but I don’t. Also, it’s important to realize that my definition of “fun” often includes things like “2000 words on the Byzantine Empire.” So, y’know, YMMV.
Still, there’s plenty of fun stuff. So let’s go with an important tradition here in AH land: the year in music. I used to prefer top 10 lists, but the last few years that’s been somewhat problematic, since I tend to only get about 8-12 albums a year. So this year I’m going to go with a tiered system.
Tier 1: Music I don’t regret getting.
This probably sounds like I’m damning with faint praise, but I didn’t regret any of the music that I got this year, so this is just the base. I would recommend everything on this list to anyone who likes music, but some more than others.
Bad Religion, True North
The thing about Bad Religion is that if you get music by Bad Religion you know exactly what you’re getting. They’re one of the great punk bands and I love them, but, well, if you have one Bad Religion album you have all the Bad Religion albums.
Manic Street Preachers, Rewind the Film
I was a little worried when I learned the Manics were putting out a new album. They tend to alternate albums I love with albums I can’t stand and Postcards from a Young Man, their previous release, was brilliant.
The second half of Rewind the Film is pretty damn good. The first half is pretty damn meh. That’s actually pretty good, given my above theory.
(Most likely NSFW)
I’m not gonna lie: I discovered Fidlar because “Cocaine” is the best fucking song off of the GTA V soundtrack. It makes me want to drive fast and shoot things. Also, once you realize who the dude in the video is it goes from crazy to, HOLY SHIT, AWESOME.
Tier 2: Music that’s slowly growing on me.
Pearl Jam, Lightning Bolt
I have a complicated relationship with Pearl Jam’s studio efforts. Basically, I prefer them live, but I will accept their studio music because the stuff they play live was also once a studio recording. I like Lightning Bolt, but I have it on my random playlists. Every time something comes up I’m all, “Hey, neat.” But I don’t seek it out.
CHVRCHES, The Bones of What You Believe
CHVRCHES is an electronica band fronted by an attractive Irish woman. That’s not bad, really. I like them, but I’m not going to get too crazy just yet.
Tier 3: You ought to be paying attention to this shit, yo.
The Orwells, Who Needs You EP/Other Voices EP
I have a certain level of hometown pride in the boys from the Orwells. They’re a bunch of recent graduates from York High School in Elmhurst, which is a couple towns over from my hometown. I got on the train in the middle of last year because they were on the same list as something from Scott Lucas. They’ve been blowing right the fuck up since, including a recent appearance on Letterman.
They good, yo. They have this aesthetic that’s simultaneously late ‘90s/early 2000s and much older, like, classic punk and videos that are ‘70s exploitation. I’m still amazed that a bunch of 18 year-olds are capable of doing what they do. Pay attention to these guys. They’re going places.
Also, apparently they were on tour with Fidlar in the fall. I’m sorry I missed that show.
Tier 4: That’s pretty much what I expected when I saw you were releasing a new album.
Matt Nathanson, Last of the Great Pretenders
Matt Nathanson flirts with my top ten all-time favorite bands list all the time. He’s always putting out stuff that’s great but not quite…there, y’know? I’ve seen him live twice and he’s easily one of my favorite acts there, as much because he’s amazingly good at crowd banter, which is an important skill.
Alkaline Trio, My Shame is True
Alkaline Trio is yet another in the long line of great Chicago bands. I’ve had a tendency to shortchange them, but over the last couple years I’ve increasingly realized that I’m better off with them in my musical library. Their 2013 release is actually a pretty good place to start for those who aren’t familiar.
Tier 5: Fuck, man, that’s some good shit.
The Fratellis, We Need Medicine
The Fratellis returned with a vengeance in 2013. We Need Medicine is the best of their three albums and I loved the shit out of their first two albums. Seriously, good stuff. Go listen. Now.
The Wheeler Brothers, Gold Boots Glitter
I’m not sure what took me so long to get on the Gold Boots Glitter train. The brothers Wheeler were part of the last show I saw before moving back to Chicago from Dallas and because of that show were one of the first I saw when I got back to Chicago. I’ve missed a couple of opportunities to see them since, but I consider them to be one of the best live acts around.
Their debut, Portraits, was filled with songs I preferred to hear live. Gold Boots Glitter, though, is pretty damn good as a studio album. I’m hoping to see them live the next time they swing through the Midwest.
Tier 6: The Best albums of 2013
Mike Doughty, Circles Super Bon Bon…/Water and Washington
In the middle of 2013 Mike Doughty announced he was doing a Pledgemusic campaign to re-record his songs from the Soul Coughing years. This was a big fucking deal, since Mike Doughty hasn’t been willing to talk about his Soul Coughing years and he sure as shit wasn’t willing to play the songs. I rushed to Pledgemusic to give him all the money for his cause. As I recall, the campaign was fully funded on the first day.
Towards the end Mike offered the chance to grab a collection of stripped down acoustic recordings, including some songs that didn’t make the main collection. I gave him more money in exchange for those. I was not disappointed.
Roddy Woomble, Listen to Keep
This one took me completely by surprise. I mean that in the most literal possible sense. The album came out in March and I found out about it in November or December. The entire album is lovely.
It’s hard to explain the three Woomble solo albums except to say this: they keep getting better. My Secret is My Silence took me by surprise when it came out back in 2006 and I declared it my second best album of the year. In 2011 I declared a three-way tie between Doughty’s Yes and Also Yes, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, and Woomble’s The Impossible Song and Other Songs. 20/20 hindsight says that, although I still like Doughty’s and Gallagher’s effort I’d have to give Woomble the top spot in from that year.
Listen to Keep is still better than The Impossible Song and Other Songs. I can’t even explain it, but holy shit, I love this album. Why it didn’t get more promotion is beyond me.
What I’m looking forward to in 2014.
I know of six things off the top of my head.
1. The Dollyrots are putting out a new album. I’ve pledged it and I’m expecting to get the download in a couple weeks.
2. Sons of Bill are also on Pledgemusic. I think I’ll be getting that one in April.
3. My good buddy James of the Lost Immigrants is planning to release part 3 of An Americana Primer, which means I can actually review the project as a single piece. That’s also April, if I recall correctly.
4. Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers keep putting up pictures from the studio.
5. Idlewild keeps teasing me on Facebook.
6. The big one: Veruca fucking Salt. The original Veruca fucking Salt: Louise, Nina, Jim, and Steve.
Also, too, Q101 is about to return to the airwaves here in Chicagoland as Q101 on 101.1. 2014 is gonna be the best fucking year in music in a long time.