Monday, December 30, 2013

Heavy Rotation: 2013 a Rad Year in Music

I asked some friends what were their favorite music was for this past year: be it the release they've been anticipating or background music that gets them motivated in their studio. These are friends (many I've known half my life) whose work I've always admired. The results gave a transcendent spectrum: from 1970's Nigerian Funk to Drone Noise and everything in between. 2013 was clearly a good year in music.

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1. ERIC SHEA currently fronts Bay Area punk 'n' roll band Hot Lunch and volume-cranking country-rockers Sweet Chariot. He enjoys motorcycles, skateboards and record collecting, but not necessarily in that order. When not putting around the Oakland hills, he likes sipping whiskey and putting the finishing touches on his first book, Living Mod: Berkeley In The 1980s (out mid 2014).

Eric (that's him in the stripey sweater below) turned me on to countless bands and made the raddest mixed tapes while we were house mates in SF. He seriously brings the heavy with Hot Lunch. Watch their video for "She Wants More" which is "kind of a love letter to skating in SF." 

top: Hot Lunch photographed by Marcell Turner; middle: artwork available on skateboard decks and other paraphernalia; above: Eric's room growing up and sneak peak photo from "Living Mod: Berkeley In The 1980's" 

Here are Eric's four favorite records of 2013:

Earthless - From The Ages (Tee Pee Records)
I'm really proud of these guys. They've made what I believe is the best LP of 2013 and they did it without a singer. Sure, guitarist Isaiah Mitchell sings in his other bands Golden Void and Harderships. But with Earthless, he lets his guitar do the all singing. As instrumental space-rock goes, From The Ages is built like a 1969 Harley Davidson Shovelhead trike. At first you might be blinded by all the chrome and metal-flake, but you really have to kick-start this thing and take a ride to realize that all thee wheels are essential to the voyage. Bass player Mike Eginton puts the roll back in rock 'n' roll and Mario Rubalcaba throttles and rumbles like a finely tuned V-twin. I feel sorry for anyone who hasn't listened to this album yet. hear "Violence of the Red Sea"

Black Hearted Brother - Stars Are Our Home (Slumberland Records)
Neil Halstead is one of my favorite contemporary songwriters. After his 2012 solo heart-breaker Palindrome Hunches renewed my faith in the cathartic power of sad songs, I heard that he was forming a new band that nodded to his shoegazing roots in Slowdive. Back in the early 1990s Slowdive was easily my favorite band. They had it all - style, songs, harmonies and an innovative approach to driving electric guitar feeedback into the stratosphere. But Stars Are Our Home isn't so much a homecoming as it is a blend of familiar sounds and new ideas. There are moments like in "(I Don't Mean To) Wander" where Neil's howling guitars take me right back to 1992 when I was a Slowdive fanboy with a greasy fringe of man-bob hair and more effect pedals than friends. But the accompaniment of Mark Van Hoen and Nick Holton provide a chemistry that's very different from Slowdive. The textures are more effervescent and the songs aren't hinged to the post-goth romance that made those early Slowdive EP's so beautifully haunting.

Fuzz - Fuzz (In The Red)
I'm just going to admit that I think today's garage-rock scene has become as stale and predictable as heating up those hangover-helper burrito-scraps on a late Sunday morning. But I'm biased - in the late 1980s I got to hear more hard rocking garage bands like The Event, Los Creeple People, The Horseless Headmen and The Morlocks. This was before art-school kids were playing twee-pop through vintage Silvertone gear and calling it garage-rock (if I sound like an old man, that's because I am). So when Ty Segall formed Fuzz and cranked out this amazing self-titled album, I was really curious to hear how he'd make the transition from surfy guitar-pop to hard psych. Then I saw them play at Burgermania in Oakland and I was sold. These recordings are just as powerful as Fuzz's live performances. And the trace elements of Ty's penchant for cranking the spring reverb on old tube amps only makes for a more honest listening experience. Imagine Blue Cheer crashing a Malibu beach-blanket go-go party and you're half way there. hear "Preacher"

Beachwood Sparks - Desert Skies (Alive Records)
Though I absolutely love what they've become (and at the risk of sounding like some insufferable indie snob), I prefer Beachwood Sparks' early material. Admittedly, this stupid opinion of mine is half rooted in nostalgia. Dropping the needle on these early recordings takes me back when my old band Mover played the occasional show with these good dudes in the late 1990s. We'd go back to their place after hours, drink beers, get high and listen to records until the sun came up. Those were some sweet times. But back then the band also boasted Josh "Summertime" Schwartz on lead guitar. He gave them this Neil Young flavored snarl that beautifully balanced their feathery, West Coast, psychedelic twang. And he also gave them songs like the infectiously catchy "Make It Together" and the soaring space-rock serenade "Sweet Julie Ann." Back then they were like the sons of Buffalo Springfield and Spiritualized. To my ears, the real gem of this album is bassist Brent Rademaker's "Time." Lucky for me, there are two versions here. I just wish two things: that they had included the B-side "Windows 69" and that Brent would record a solo album. He's an inspiring songwriter and musician. 

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2. LINDA ALDREDGE of Lulu Organics creates homegrown and handmade beauty products. She also designs all the beautiful packaging. Small batch goodness and she's rad to boot.
top: Linda up in her tree house that she and friends built in Upstate New York, photographed by Food + Wine magazine; above left to right: Hair Powder available in 4 dreamy scents, Lavender + Oatmeal Soap, Lip Balm in 2 flavors: Ruby Mint and Cardamom (!)

Song: First Aid Kit - Diamonds + Rust
This year was, personally, very rough for me—life upheavals and the like. This song pretty much sums it all up.  Recorded in 2012, I had only discovered it this year. These girls know how to absolutely KILL with a cover.  

Live Performance: Circuit des Yeux
I've seen Haley perform around three times this year and every time is completely different and every time carves my heart out. She is overflowing with talent. [She will be playing the Austin Psych Fest 2014] 

Raising a 12 yr old daughter and learning how to drive at 39 (yes you read right) I have fell in love with top 40 again.  FOR REAL.  Who knew acid house would be on every god damn station when we were this old?  We had to schlep to 3 checkpoints just to hear it back in the day.  I'm also just too fucking old to be cool.  I just want a dance-y / bouncy jam! Everyone seems to think this song is misogynist I feel the opposite—that man is NOT my mother fucking maker!  AMEN.

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3. TREVOR SCHOONMAKER is the Chief Curator and Patsy R. and Raymond D. Nasher Curator of Contemporary Art at the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke UniversityHe has curated numerous exhibitions there including Wangechi Mutu: A Fantastic Journey (2013), presently on view at the Brooklyn Museum, NY (with a Nasher commissioned video Wangechi created with Santigold); as well as The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl (2010), Christian Marclay: Video Quartet (2009),  Barkley L. Hendricks: Birth of the Cool (2008) and Street Level: Mark Bradford, William Cordova & Robin Rhode (2007). At the Nasher he has worked with musicians such as Laurie Anderson, David Byrne, Les Savy Fav, 9th Wonder, Questlove, DJ Rekha, Santigold, Superchunk, Greg Tate, and Randy Weston. In 2001 he co-founded Jump n Funk with DJ Rich Medina, New York’s first Fela-inspired club night. Exhibitions prior to joining the Nasher include The Beautiful Game: Contemporary Art and Fútbol (2006), DTroit (2003), Black President: The Art and Legacy of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti (2003) and The Magic City (2000). Schoonmaker is the editor of several exhibition catalogues as well as the book Fela: From West Africa to West Broadway (2003). Most recently, he curated the artwork for Luaka Bop’s (October 2013) LP release of Who is William Onyeabor? with original works by John Akomfrah & Trevor Mathison, Njideka Akunyili, Harrison Haynes, Dave Muller, Odili Donald Odita, and Xaviera Simmons.

Trevor was my first friend when I moved to New York City in 1999. I've been fortunate to experience many of his exhibitions, dance away at Jump n Funk back-in-the day and sit down for a proper southern New Year's Day breakfast with him.

images via Duke University and Trevor Schoonmaker

top: Tuggar Fatimah from The Record: Contemporary Art and Vinyl, Trevor photographed by Hank Willis Thomas; middle:  Wangechi Mutu from "A Fantastic Journey" exhibit; above: Xaviera-Simmon artwork for Who Is William Onyeabor? compilation, cover of Black President, the Art & Legacy of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti

Music Video: Taiyo Kimura for Superchunk’s “Staying Home” 

Show: Janelle Monáe at Ritz, Raleigh, NC
plus her killer video for Q.U.E.E.N.

Album: Who Is William Onyeabor? 

Album: Valerie June Pushin' Against A Stone

Show: Alabama Shakes at Koka Booth Amphitheatre, Cary, NC

Music Video: M.I.A. - Bad Girls
Yeah, it was released in early 2012, but the album only finally made it out in November 2013. The video rocks harder than anything else this year.

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4. GORDON HARRISON HULL is a co-founder of Surface to Air, content creative director at Ralph Lauren, artist, director and husband. Not only is he incredibly talented with every medium, Gordon is also an all-around gentleman.

images courtesy of Gordon Harrison Hull

top: self portrait; middle top: "Random Forms of Flattery", "The Mystery is a Promise to Keep"middle bottom: Phantoms Revisited, Pt 1above: "You Are The Tempo" film version created from his original gif here

My favorite tunes of the year run more than just a little on the pop side. I spend most of my time listening to old rocksteady, rockabilly and jazz but whenever something new makes it onto my playlists its always some pop tune. Some are blatantly commercial, some are more indie... doesn't make a difference. If it moves... I'm in. That said, here were my guilty pleasures in no particular order:

I'm a sucker for a great commercial pop tune. This one just wouldn't quit. I'm ok on Drake but this song was on massive rotation. 
This guy slays. that bass... 
Like a futuristically minded Willie Nelson. My wife turned me on to this. 
This guy is amazing. This was a demo of some sort that leaked or something... I don't think its had an official release but everything he does is pretty fantastic. Trippy weirdo world pop. 

YeezusCupid DeluxeBorn SinnerReflektorRival Dealer

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5. CAITLIN MOCIUN has fearlessly and successfully delved into every endeavor with the same beautiful and individualistic sensibility: beginning in 2006 with her clothing and accessories line, then to printed fabrics and fine jewelry, and just last year with her retail shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. 

I met Caitlin almost 10 years ago when Cal Patch had brought together many like-minded artists, designers and makers whose intention it was (and still is) to support each other in our efforts to be as independent, locally made, ecologically sustainable and socially conscious as possible. I am in love with every collection she has thoughtfully created and curated.

images courtesy of Caitlin Mociun

top: Caitlin photographed by Backyard Bill; middle top: custom-made bling, "Caravan" textile print; middle bottom: Mociun store table and fixture displays by Fort Standard; above: Suzanne Sullivan Ceramics available in-store, Mociun shop tabletop

Album: I've been listening a lot to Delicate Steve's Positive Force released in 2012, but really got into it this year.

Song: I love Nightlight by Little Dragon from their Ritual Union album. It's another older song but I've been into that lately.

Song: Still love the Rihanna song Stay – just doesn't seem to tire for me!

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6.  DEVIN SARNO creates sound through his solo bass project focusing on improvised subsonics. Over the better part of a decade, this music has evolved from high volume feedback experimentation to a sonic examination of the meditative properties of low-end drone music. Sarno has toured both coasts of the United States, sharing concert bills with artists as diverse as: Thurston Moore, Charles Gayle, Z’EV, Nels Cline, Foetus, Merzbow, Borbetomagus, Blonde Redhead, Pauline Oliveros, Masonna, Ben Harper, Gus Gus, William Hooker, Kato Hideki, Carla Bozulich, Banyan (feat. Mike Watt & Stephen Perkins) & more. More recently, Sarno’s work has been featured in several short film projects which have been screened at the Toronto & Venice Film Festivals and broadcast on network television.

photo courtesy of Devin Sarno

Linear Bells is French composer David Teboul. I found myself particularly immersed in his work this year. There's a fair amount of Linear Bells releases out there to investigate online, but i found myself gravitating toward this one particular track quite heavily...especially when the rhythm track kicks in around 11:27Undeniable.

Show: Noveller - at Bootleg Theater
A recent event for me (December 17th, in fact). This was my first time catching Noveller (NY-based guitarist/composer Sarah Lipstate) in a live context. Suffice to say, it was well worth the wait and i found myself completely floored and inspired by the sonics she laid down. It's no mystery (to those who know me) that i'm drawn to the drone and Noveller knows how to bring it. The dynamics (from solo guitar, mind you) were simply staggering. From the shimmering, bowed-string highs to the PA rumbling lows, it was a venue-consuming-swirl of loveliness. Her new album on Important Records was a top for me this year too.

"Oblivion Hymns" is the latest release from Hammock (Marc Byrd & Andrew Thompson.)
I've been a fan of the Tennessee-based duo for quite some time now and with each album, their sound seems to bloom and expand into even more beautiful territory. This evocative track is certainly no exception and its accompanying video is equally as devastating. 

Show: Mattson 2 (w/ Money Mark) - at The Satellite
The Brothers Mattson (i.e. drummer Jonathan & guitarist Jared) were joined by one time Beastie Boy/keyboard phenom Money Mark at this special show. Special too, i suppose, because i found myself front and center for the action. Watching the trio unleash their unique compositions was awesome to behold. I'm reluctant to call it "Jazz" or label it at all, frankly. That would be a bit too easy. The Mattson 2 have evolved quite a bit over the years and i have a feeling that way more complex, genre bending material is on the horizon from these guys. Stay tuned.

With bated breath i await the forthcoming album from San Francisco-based Tycho (composer Scott Hansen). The first track, "Awake" was released this past October and has been on steady rotation since. Looking forward to the full length coming March 2014.

Limited to 50 lathe cut 8" vinyl copies (Brian Records/UK), this is, hands down, one of my favorite new acts. Anna Rose Carter and Christopher Brett Bailey weave a glorious web. The marriage of piano + subtle electronics has seldom been so my ears, at least. Be sure to check out each of their solo work as well. Highly recommended.

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7. JEN GARRIDO is a painter in San Francisco who also creates graphics and prints under the pseudonym of Jenny PennywoodHer Instagram feed gives insightful peaks to her studio, painting process and life with daughter, Jemma. As both Jen Garrido and Jenny Pennywood, her usage of color and space is stunning and inspiring. I would love my walls covered with her paintings and my kitchen stocked with her linens!

images courtesy of Jen Garrido

top: Jen in the studio; middle: Dashes and Moons Tea Towel in Charcoal,  close-up of her recent work-in-progress exploring indigo; above: paintings on paper + sketchbook

In my studio lately, I've been listening to The Staves and Bahamas over and over again. When I really like something, I just listen to it to death and learn all the words and sing while I'm painting. I'm sure the entire building can hear me!

As for music that I listen to with Jemma, it's all pop radio music that we sing to in the car. It is so funny hearing her sing Lady Gaga. In general, I like music that feels warm so once I find something I like, I just listen to it a lot.

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8. DAVID J. WEISSBERG has been designing, art directing and illustrating for the better part of long time. Often referred to as ‘the man behind the scenes’, happy clients include The Standard Hotel, Just One Eye, Nike, Adidas, Jane Mayle, Eames, Silas (& Maria) UK, Dr Romanelli, 2K, Shepard Fairey, as well as publications like Diner Journal, Anthem, Z!nc, Sleazenation and XLR8R (where he was both the Creative Director as well as the Arts, Style and Culture editor). He currently lives in Echo Park, Los Angeles with his fiance Kristen Elspeth, ornery dachshund Ira and and absurd collection of coffee mugs.

I met David and Kristen a few years ago at a friend's wedding. We were reunited recently at the Outside the Lines book launch at MOCA this past September. (Here we are on slide 18 with Silvio Porretta) The book is awesome for anyone of any age who appreciates any kind of art.

images courtesy of David J. Weissberg

top: David amongst his designs; top middle: "the shop" for The Standard, artwork for album covers "Ready. Set. Go!" Vol I and II; middle bottom: logo design for Anaïse, "there's a party in my head (and no one else is invited)" illustration for Outside the Lines book, design for Just One Eye; above: gif for Just One Eye x The MOCA

TOPSTender Opposites
Jane Penny and Co hit that sweet spot for me from the unremembered 80s called C86; wherein a just born indie and twee were swaddled in a cardigan and left on the porch for the world to collectively  go 'sigh'.

The lo fi red headed stepchild of Morrissey, Badly Drawn Boy and Billy Bragg. At 19 you're allowed to wallow in angst but mein gott how does someone so young sing words so sad?

I know it's no longer fashionable to like these guys (they had a 5 minute window of insider electronic snob cache earlier this year), but I love how they managed to effortlessly decant the last 15 years of mercurial UK dance genres into an instant classic (at least in this house anyway).
See also SBTRKT  

Nightflight to Mali, with layovers in Peshawar and JouJouka. What caught my ear when I first heard them was 'Hey, wait, what Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan album is THIS?!? And why isn't it in my collection?!?!' Boasting a dozen plus members plus a rotating caste of  at least a dozen more (with TV On The Radio recently dropping by their tent), you'll often catch me dancing around to this as much any techno.

These guys hit me this year like a slow moving semi of dread. I'm picky about my psych and my personal Space Rock Hall of Fame only allows for a new inductee once like every 5 years. They're sharing a spot alongside my other drawn faced drug idols, Jason Pierce (Spacemen 3/Spiritualized), Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream), Roger Waters (circa Ummagumma), uh Eric (uh, Killing Zoe). The black sheep to Tame Impala's summertime psychedelia. (also new inductees mind you)

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9. JON PRUETT is an editor/writer/curator/father/husband based out of San Francisco. He’s been working in an editorial capacity at iTunes and Rhapsody since 1999 where he also led pioneering efforts in the world of cat gifs. He currently has the title “International Curator” and works for Music Unlimited.

Over the past twenty years, I've been consistently asking Jon what he's listening to at the moment, and always liked what I've heard. He also includes the record I completely spaced out putting on my favorites: Kurt Vile. Last but certainly not least, this is a list I'll certainly be playing on heavy rotation.

images courtesy of Jon Pruett

2013 was the year in which I quit my completely secure job and entered an eight month freefall. Because anxiety is fun, right? Not really, but I also started to care about a dog for the first time in my life and now I’m in a better position than I’ve ever been. Coincidence? I have no idea. Lessons learned? There are a few. To a more obvious point, we are living in a GOLDEN AGE of music. Realize it. Never before has so much greatness been available at any given time. The past is being excavated and in a way that does not involved black lung and/or decimated communities. Below is a list of awards I have invented to thank the music makers and curators of 2013.

Best Album By A Guy Who Really Does Keep Getting Better and Better
Bill Callahan – Dream River
Best Soundtrack to Abyss-Gazing
Date Palms – The Dusted Sessions
Bitchin’ Bajas – Bitchitronics
Best Album for Waking on a Pretty Day
Kurt Vile - Wakin on a Pretty Daze
Best Eerie British Library-influenced Album: TIE
The Focus Group - The Elektrik Karousel
Broadcast - Berberian Sound System OST
Best Humanity-Bettering Reissue Because Holy Shit This Is Amazing
Least Credible Evidence That Dylan Had Actually Lost the Muse in 1970
Bob Dylan - Another Self Portrait (1969-1971): The Bootleg Series Vol. 10 Rock
Best Saxophone Squawk
Autre Ne Veut – “Counting”
Best Album for Pondering Things, Preferably Rural Things:
William Tyler - Impossible Truth
Best Invocation of Hissing of Summer Lawns-era Joni Mitchell
Julia Holter - Loud City Song
Most Welsh!
Cate Le Bon - Mug Museum
Pretty Much Just The Best
The Velvet Underground - White Light / White Heat (Super Deluxe)
Best Ethiopian Keyboard Work:
Best Social and Personal History in Under 50 Minutes
Matana Roberts - Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile
If Wolf Eyes Were Daft Punk, This Would Be Their “Get Lucky” (not an award, just an observation)
Most Pure Music:
Endless Boogie - Long Island
Best Revelatory Reissue (non-African)
Rodion G.A. - The Lost Tapes New Age
Best Sierra Leone Guitar Bliss
Best Fuzz Guitar (East)
Super Onze – Gao 
Best Fuzz Guitar (West)
Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin
Best Example of 21st Century Madness
Best Fusion of Joseph Spence and Derek Bailey
Filled With the Most Dreamy Reverie (Dark)
Filled With the Most Dreamy Reverie (Light)
Best Very Necessary Private Press Reissues
Best Cassette To Vinyl Transfer
Alice Coltrane - Turiyasangitananda

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Many thanks to everyone who contributed. I'm stoked to have so much new tunes to discover and hope others enjoyed this list, too. Here's to another rad year in music!