Friday, December 27, 2013

Top 10 for 2013, by Gian ("John") the sound guy for Frank's Power Plant

Hi everyone, looking forward to seeing you all at Frank's on Sunday for the big party. I'll be there helping out with getting peoples' phones and ipods and whatnot hooked up to the sound system, and we'll have the turntables set up for you too.
As usual when confronted with some geeky listmaking chore, I threw myself into it with obsessive abandon, going through my CD and vinyl collections as well as my shopping list (physical and digital) and ending up with a list of 80-some titles, numerous of which I don't actually own yet. As a sound guy, much of what I buy (or sometimes get for free) is either from a locals or an out-of-towners who are unsigned or signed to an obscure record label, so there is a preponderance of such music on my list. But hey, that's what I ended up spending my money on instead of Waxahatchee. Some albums I've sampled really ought to be at the top (Speedy Ortiz, Psychic by Darkside, RJD2...) but I can't quite do that yet...
To assist in the process of understanding my list, I have added notes on the album's genre and availability (local, downloadable, etc).
In the process of rearranging my Top 10 by gut, three titles were removed as they are not full albums: 3 of Swords by The 57s (MKE) (melodic 70s punk/hard rock), Demos by Straya ( ) (agile indie with virtuosic fingerstyle guitar and odd time signatures), and How To Find Light by Scowler (MKE) (post-hardcore). In the process, other titles switched places as they ended up fighting for higher spots. Putting these lists together forces you to reconsider how important some musical elements really are to you.

1. Shiloh - Mrs. ( )
At first blush, Mrs. seems like just another twee-indie pop record with jangly guitars, glockenspiels and slacker vocals...and though it has all these things it uses them in much more interesting ways than any of their peers. Weaving around the finely-crafted pop songs and wistful coming-of-age mood are seemingly endless musical left-turns that never seem showy or overly cerebral. The drum performance is particularly masterful, shifting the grooves in surprising ways and creating "riffs" as memorable as the vocal hooks. It brings to mind albums as diverse as Transmissions From The Satellite HeartThe Ugly Organ and Contra...and the more you listen to it the more you realize that these similarities are more than just skin deep.

2. Vic Mensa - Innanetape (free download mixtape)
The perfect combination of all the best styles and eras of hip-hop...from old school beats and soul samples to breezy psychedelic washes a la early Outkast...from natural soul vocalizing and Drake-style introspection to the claustrophobic experimentalism of Death Grips.

3. Like Like The The The Death - Cave Jenny (MKE)
Unpredictable noise-rock with dueling guitars and catchy hooks.

4. Calliope - Calliope (MKE)
Nick Cavey Southern Gothic rock with trashy organs, harmonica, and little dabs of psychedelia, '60s R&B and shoegazing arena rock.

5. Against The Grain - Surrounded By Snakes (Self Destructo Records)
Detroit speedrock chock-full of bluesy riffs, Thin Lizzy harmonized guitar melodies and Zeke-style drunken Southern punk attitude.

6. Cloud Rat - Moksha (Halo of Flies Records)
Few records this year combined chaotic, dissonant brutality and melodic beauty as effectively...every riff, groove, and cadence serves the song, and these songs never veer into the structural randomness that plagues extreme metal. It must also be one of the most stylistically wide albums of its genre ever recorded, encompassing well-chosen sound effects, a spooky "ballad" with a Lisa Gerard angle to it, and a Neil Young cover without either seeming out of place. Even an overly long ambient piece at the end can't diminish the emotional power of the 22 minutes that precede it.

7. Woe - Withdrawal (Candlelight Records)
Now that Deafheaven is on so many year-end lists, it has become controversial in the metal community all over again. But this record delivers where that one falls short, incapable of being called anything but black metal yet introducing unique new compositional elements.

8. Space Collector - Space Collector (MKE)
Stoner rock/jazz fusion/Polvo-style noise-pop.

9. Barrence Whitfield and the Savages - Dig Thy Savage Soul (Bloodshot Records)
Old school soul with dashes of filthy garage rock...a return to form from one of the greats of the original mid-'80s soul revival.

10. Wisconsin Beef Commission - Drankin' Songs (MKE)
Long-awaited recording by this cowpunk trio...certainly not as insane as their live show but it hits you with one short-sharp shock after another.

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