ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Patrick Wall is the man whose name you’d love to touch. But you mustn’t touch. People pay him to write things.
KNEE MEETS JERK
In Which a Beleaguered Music Journalist Attempts — and Fails — to Identify Ten Records Released Between December 2012 and December 2013 That Were Better Than All Other Releases in the Same Time Period. Listed in alphabetical order. Results subject to change. In seven acts.
Or, Twenty-Three Records for Twelve Months
Action Bronson, Blue Chips 2 (Atlantic/Vice)
The knock on Action Bronson is that he’s almost a Kenny Powers-ish caricature of Ghostface Killah, that he amplifies Tony Starks’ swagger, flow and gift for storytelling to cartoonish levels. I fail to see the problem with that: Blue Chips 2 is freewheeling and fun, and over the 19 sprawling tracks, Bronsoliño’s got the mind of a fucking scientist.
Alpoko Don, The Ol Soul EP (Kidfire)
Randrickas Young is from Greenville, S.C. He started posting YouTube videos under the name Alpoko Don sometime last year, his fluid lyrical facility — buoyed by stories and jokes about the coke trade and paeans to the Almighty and Technicolor metaphors — laid naked with just his gruff voice over barely-there beats he makes by pounding his fists on tables and front-porch railings. It’s equal parts trap rap and field hollers. It’s amazing, and proves rap music’s inherent but oft-doubted musicality.
Daniel Bachman, Jesus I’m a Sinner (Tompkins Square)
What Colin Stetson is to the saxophone, Daniel Bachman is to the guitar. That is to say: He is of his tradition — in Bachman’s case, post-Takoma school American primitive guitar — but supersedes it, recalling Basho’s spiritual heft and Rose’s whirling-dervish dexterity while suprassing them. Bachman encompasses, and he eclipses.
Boards of Canada, Tomorrow’s Harvest (Warp)
The Earth is not a cold, dead place, but Boards of Canada makes it seem like one. Tomorrow’s Harvest implies in its title reap-what-we’ve-sown mortality; its disintegrating loops invoking dust storms and abandoned freeway gas stations and scorched landscapes and the Earth reclaiming itself anew. It is music for Thunderdone.
Brokeback, Brokeback and the Black Rock (Thrill Jockey)
Brokeback’s from Chicago — Tortoise’s Douglas McCombs leads the group, and his band features members of Windy City faves Pinebender and The Zincs — but its growling instrumental rock evokes the lonesome, crowded west. Drums roll like tumbleweeds. Guitars whip like desert winds. The reverb — oh, how there’s reverb! — sounds like echoes bouncing off canyon walls.
Richard Buckner, Surrounded (Merge)
I used to go to church once a year. Then, I started seeing Richard Buckner in concert about once a year. I’m happier now.
Chance the Rapper, Acid Rap (self-released)
Great rap is evocative of time and place: New York City in the early ’80s. Los Angeles in the early ’90s. Atlanta in the mid ’90s. New Orleans in the late ’90s. Memphis in 2003. Like Kendrick Lamar’s sprawling good kid, M.A.A.D. City (Compton, mid-late ’00s), Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap (Chicago, 2013) stamps the emcee as one of the most astounding street-poet storytellers of this generation.
Deafheaven, Sunbather (Deathwish)
The album My Bloody Valentine should’ve made.
Chris Forsyth, Solar Motel (Paradise of Bachelors)
This is probably what the first few Television jam sessions were like, I’d imagine.
Steve Gunn, Time Off (Paradise of Bachelors)
Music for quittin’ time, for gettin’ outdoors and sittin’ on the porch and kickin’ off the shoes and crackin’ open a beer and watchin’ the sunset and shootin’ the shit and droppin’ the velar nasal and lettin’ time just kinda go by. (Side note: Between Gunn’s Time Off, Forsyth’s Solar Motel and Hiss Golden Messenger’s Haw, Paradise of Bachelors kind of killed it this year.)
Tim Hecker, Virgins (Kranky)
Dark. Spectral. Haunting. Austere. Tense. Primal. Eerie. Forcefully so, like the sounds are alive, and trying to claw out of the speakers. You might be able to listen to this one with the lights off. I won’t.
Glenn Jones, My Garden State (Thrill Jockey)
My dad loves Harry Chapin. My dad loves Harry Chapin, he says, because his songs are stories, rich and vibrant and infinitesimally detailed. I love Glenn Jones for the same reason. Thing is, Jones’ songs tell stories without any words.
KEN Mode, Entrench (Season of Mist)
The best songs hit you the hardest.
“Figure your life out,” KEN Mode’s Jesse Matthewson sneers on the song of the same name, from the Winnipeg noise-rock trio’s awesome, impassioned Entrench.
I turned 31 this year. I sold my house. I quit my job. I passed up an opportunity to move to the West Coast. I moved, but stayed in the South — from a city in which I was eminently comfortable to one where I live but, as Travis Morrison once quipped, have never felt less at home.
I watched my friends have more successful, more fulfilling years than I did. Some of my friends got married. Some of my friends had children. I put off learning to play the pedal steel guitar another year. I felt undeniable pangs of jealousy as I watched longtime friends in successful bands play on late-night television shows while I slummed and struggled in dive bars. I drank with friends on last nights in town, before they moved to find fulfillment in their work as I slowly lost gratification in mine. As friends and one-time objects of affection reinvented themselves in mind or body or spirit, I just got older, just felt sorry for myself.
So, yeah, I got depressed in 2013. I stopped drinking, then started again. I stopped exercising. For five days a week for nearly six months, I drove 100 miles to work, then another 100 back. I gained 20 pounds.
So, now, on the cusp of a new year, I’m about to be jobless, perhaps careerless, and without health insurance. And all I have to fall back on is a lousy liberal arts diploma, a few guitars, a couple amplifiers and nagging, gnawing, crippling doubt that maybe it’s too late, maybe I’m too old to start fresh.
“Figure your life out,” Jesse Matthewson sneers. I’m trying, dude. I’m trying.
The Necks, Open (Northern Spy)
Without fail, I always miscalculate the denouement of The Neck’s graceful, meditative Open. I always think it’s wrapping up, finally winding down its blissful, captivating calm. I always look at the time remaining, and I always see that there are at least 20 minutes remaining in the most subtle and musically sensitive 68 minutes of music released in 2013. I’m never so happy to make a mistake.
Oneohtrix Point Never, R Plus Seven (Warp)
When I was just out of college, before I started working in earnest, I house-sat for some friends of mine. They had a pool, and their stereo system ran cables to speakers on their back porch, meaning I could, ostensibly, listen to music in the pool. One night, I got really high, put on Nobukazu Takemura’s “Icefall” and floated for ten minutes. I want to do something similar with Oneohtrix Point Never’s R Plus Seven, particularly “Problem Areas,” except with DMT and a top-down shooter. (Aside: I’m pretty sure a lot of the instrument samples come from Mario Paint.)
William Onyeabor, Who Is William Onyeabor? (Luaka Bop)
Who is William Onyeabor? An elusive and obscure Nigerian funk musician who made a few records in the 1970s and 1980s. Who is William Onyeabor? A musician rediscovered by Luaka Bop, who reissued his impossible-to-find futuristic synth funk on its exemplary World Psychedelic Classics series. Who is William Onyeabor? A mysterious musician on par with Fela Kuti in terms of how and where they pushed funk and electro music. Who is William Onyeabor? A man finally getting his due.
Polvo, Siberia (Merge)
My favorite Polvo album, 1996’s Exploded Drawing, takes a long time to get started. “Fast Canoe” sputters at its outset, like an old lawnmower that needs a few good tugs to really get going — guitar lines stab and dart tentatively, drums tiptoe but don’t tighten. When it finally roars at about the minute-forty-five mark, its locks into a skull-crushing groove. My second-favorite Polvo record, this year’s Siberia, doesn’t wait — it throttles from the get-go, “Total Immersion” beginning seemingly in the throes of an epic jam session that finally got going. And it doesn’t let up.
Puig Destroyer, Puig Destroyer / Wait for Spring EPs (The Ghost is Clear)
Why do I like Puig Destroyer, which writes grindcore songs about baseball, so much? Because I like grindcore and baseball. Because fuck you, that’s why. #STOPFUCKINGBUNTING #ONEMANFIVETOOLS
Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels (Fool’s Gold)
El Producto sets the tone right off the bat: “Oh dear, what the fuck have we here? / These motherfuckers all thorn, no rose.” Run the Jewels, ten tracks of speaker-obliterating beats and razor sharp verses laced with searingly honest emotion and pitch-black humor, was supposed to be a one-off fuckaround for El-P and Killer Mike following a banner 2012 for both. But when everyone was sweating Kanye’s blown-out Yeezus and Drake’s tepid Nothing Was the Same this summer, Run the Jewels burst through brick walls like the Kool-Aid Man. While Ye and Drizzy were just unlikeable, Mike and El were downright villainous, downright merciless, went Darth Vader on the rap game, force-choking the shit out of sucker emcees. I find everyone else’s lack of faith disturbing.
Savages, Silence Yourself (Matador/Pop Noire)
Maybe this year really was a banner year for women in rock and rock-derived and rock-esque musics. Maybe it was just a banner year for thinkpieces about women in rock and rock-derived and rock-esque musics this year. Either way, women helmed some really great records (Torres’ Torres; Neko Case’s The Worse Things Get…; Beyonce’s Beyonce) and wrote some really great songs (Case’s “Man”; Janelle Monae’s “Q.U.E.E.N.”; Tegan and Sara’s “I Was a Fool) in 2013. But it all starts and ends with Savages, four nails-tough British women playing the best and darkest post-punk since Joy Division.
Wayne Shorter, Without a Net (Blue Note)
Wayne Shorter is jazz’s greatest living saxophonist and improviser and, at 80 years old plays circles around the rest of the blue-chip crew assembled on the fertile Without a Net. Blue Note, nearly 30 years after its relaunch following a lengthy hiatus, remains one of the most essential jazz labels. You do the math.
Speedy Ortiz, Major Arcana (Carpark)
RIYL: Stephen Malkmus, if he were a woman with an MFA in poetry, and she fronted Nirvana instead of Pavement.
William Tyler, Impossible Truth (Merge)
It was a great and fashionable year for instrumental guitar music. Hell, I put three other instrumental guitar records on this list. But William Tyler’s Impossible Truth is the best because it’s the most nuanced. It’s a rangy record obsessed with open highways and desert heat, a nimble record that heaves big open sighs of drone and purring fingerpicking patterns, a spacious record that calls to mind Ennio Morricone and Daniel Lanois and Willie Nelson in equal measure. I’ve never seen the Grand Canyon, but I’ve seen William Tyler perform Invisible Truth. That’s good enough for me.
Or, Bonus Tracks!: 25 Great Songs From Albums Not on the Above List
A$AP Rocky, “1 Train” feat. Kendrick Lamar, Joey Badass, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson and Big K.R.I.T.
Big Sean, “Control” feat. Kendrick Lamar & Jay Electronica
Captain Murphy, “Between Villains” feat. Viktor Vaughn, Earl Sweatshirt, Thundercat
Charles Bradley, “Changes”
CFCF, “Forest at Night”
Dads, “My Crass Patch”
Haim, “The Wire”
Earl Sweatshirt, “Chum”
The Front Bottoms, “Twin Sized Mattress”
Ghostface Killah, “Blood on the Cobblestone”
Jason Isbell, “Live Oak”
Juicy J, “One of Those Nights”
Mystikal, “Hit Me”
Pelican, “Immutable Dusk”
Prince, “Breakfast Can Wait”
Pusha T, “40 Acres”
Robin Thicke, “Blurred Lines”
Rich Homie Quan, “Type of Way”
Schoolboy Q, “Collard Greens”
Superchunk, “Me and You and Jackie Mittoo”
Toro Y Moi, “Campo”
Whores., “Cougars, Not Kittens”
Bo White, “National Love and Other Tyrants”
Yo La Tengo, “Ohm”
Or, Honorable Mentions and/or Apologies To
A$AP Rocky, LONG.LIVE.A$AP; Califone, Stitches; Bill Callahan, Dream River; The Body, Christs, Redeemers; Charles Bradley, Victim of Love; CFCF, Music for Objects EP; Dads, Pretty Good EP; Earl Sweatshirt, Doris; Four Tet, Beautiful Rewind; Helado Negro, Invisible Life; Lonnie Holley, Keeping a Record of It; Hiss Golden Messenger, Haw; Jason Isbell, Southeastern; Keefe Jackson’s Likely So, A Round Goal; Kylesa, Ultraviolet; The Littlest Viking, The Littlest Viking; Low, The Invisible Way; Magnetic Flowers, Old, Cold. Losing It.; Mount Moriah, Miracle Temple; Mountains, Centralia; The National, Trouble Will Find Me; Owen, L’Ami du Peuple; Pelican, Forever Becoming; Phosphorescent, Muchacho; Pusha T, My Name Is My Name; Russian Circles, Memorial; Sigur Ros, Kveikur; Southern Femisphere, Houses; Colin Stetson, New History Warfare Vol 3; Superchunk, I Hate Music; Torres, Torres; Toro Y Moi, Anything in Return; Touche Amore, Is Survived By; Vattnet Viskar, Sky Swallower; Washed Out, Paracosm; Bo White, Adornment; Whores., Clean; Dustin Wong, Mediation of Ecstatic Energy; The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, Whenever If Ever; Yo La Tengo, Fade
Or, Critically Acclaimed Records I Did Not Care For But Expected I Would or Thought I Might
Action Bronson, Saaab Stories; Arcade Fire, Reflektor; Big Boi, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors; David Bowie, The Next Day; CFCF, Outside; Lorde, Pure Heroine; The Men, New Moon; My Bloody Valentine, mbv; Rhye, Woman; Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City; Kurt Vile, Walkin’ On a Pretty Daze; Waxahatchee, Cerulean Salt; Kanye West, Yeezus
Or, Critically Acclaimed Records I Did Not Listen To Enough (Or, In Some Cases, At All) And I’m Still Unsure How Much I Like
Burial, Rival Dealer; Chvrches, The Bones of What You Believe; Daft Punk, Random Access Memories; Death Grips, Government Plates; Disclosure, Settle; Arnold Dreyblatt & Megafaun, Appalachian Extinction; Forest Swords, Engravings; Ben Goldberg, Unfold Ordinary Mind; John Grant, Pale Green Ghosts; Haim, Days Are Gone; Ka, The Night’s Gambit; The Knife, Shaking the Habitual; Laura Marling, Once I Was an Eagle; Matmos, The Marriage of Two Minds; Migos, YRN; Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer Different Park; Pharmakon, Abandon; DJ Rashad, I Don’t Give a Fuck
Or, The Thirteen Best Live Sets I Saw in 2013
Alpoko Don @ Lincoln Theatre, Raleigh, N.C. (Sept. 6)
Richard Buckner @ The Pinhook, Durham, N.C. (Oct. 10)
Code Orange Kids @ Foxfield Bar & Grille, Columbia, S.C. (July 15)
Steve Gunn @ Raleigh Little Theatre, Raleigh, N.C. (Sept. 7)
Keefe Jackson Trio @ Dialect Design, Charlotte, N.C. (Oct. 29)
Low @ Rock the Garden, Minneapolis, Minn. (June 17)
The Littlest Viking @ Headhunters, Austin, Tex. (March 16)
Sigur Rós @ Asheville Civic Center, Asheville, N.C. (Sept. 28)
Taylor Swift @ Colonial Life Arena, Columbia, S.C. (March 20)
William Tyler @ The Parish, Austin, Tex. (March 14)
Ken Vandermark & Tim Daisy @ The Hive at Busy Bee Café, Raleigh, N.C. (Sept. 5)
Whores. @ New Brookland Tavern, Columbia, S.C. (Jan. 27)
Dustin Wong @ Central Presbyterian Church, Austin, Tex. (March 16)
Or, The Year’s Biggest Disappointment
Dismemberment Plan, The Uncanney Valley (Partisan)
The Dismemberment Plan is my favorite band. The Dismemberment Plan that made Uncanney Valley is not The Dismemberment Plan.