Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013: The year in records

from top to bottom: Sharon Van Etten, 
Nick Cave & three Seeds, Willis Earl Beal

My best of 2013 rundowns begin with a medium I almost never write about but that kind of means more to me than all the others. Kinda. No offence, cinema and literature. More to come over the next three days...

Dream River, Bill Callahan (Drag City)
Mortal joy, love as aviation, names painted on boats, Donald Sutherland making amends on a truck radio: accented by flute, fiddle and feedback, Callahan, his voice ever-deepening, produces poignant, idiosyncratic songs about rivers, trains, animals and beer, complicated connections, and that feeling of traveling forever.

Fade, Yo La Tengo (Matador)
The Hoboken trio’s best record in over a decade balances transcendental guitar sprawl with breezy pop compression; not a fresh start exactly but preparation for new excursions. Building to fanfare of strings and brass, ‘Before We Run’ takes us out on a wave of awe.

The Invisible Way, Low (Sub-pop)
Produced by Jeff Tweedy, these sparely arranged, often hushed songs of faith, regeneration and panic seem designed to get you through a nervous breakdown—the insistent, desperate, sticky ‘Just Make It Stop’ most especially.

Kenya Special: Selected East African Recordings From the 1970s & ’80s, V/A (Soundway)
The master preservationists at Soundway give Kenya the Special treatment previously bestowed upon Nigeria and Ghana, offering a rhythmically intoxicating compilation infused with elements of rhumba, benga and r&b.

Muchacho, Phosphorescent (Dead Oceans)
Pitched somewhere between soaring spirituals and wasted declarations of wounded ardour, most of Matthew Houck’s songs sound like they started before we came in and continue long after the fade-out. This part-swirling/part-stomping record is about heartbroken perseverance, buoyed by alcohol, women and some lost Mexican weekend(s).

Nobody, Willis Earl Beal (XL)
I saw Beal upstage Cat Power last year with lingerie-clad mannequins, a reel-to-reel and some insanely hypnotic hybrid of Tom Waits and hip-hop. His sophomore release is more polished but no less inventive, spellbinding and insular than his lo-fi debut.

Push the Sky Away, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (ANTI-)
Live From KCRW, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (ANTI-)
Largely eschewing narrative in favour of ribbons of fecund imagery, Cave & the Seeds’ latest studio work is a quiet revelation of ticking, rumbles and pulses, nearly pushing the band away as a collective force so as to draw out beautifully accented atmospheres—some songs are so skeletal they consist of only a single chord. The strikingly intimate Live at KCRW takes a similar tack to tracks from all over the catalogue, audaciously opening with Push’s eerie, smoke-like show-stopper ‘Higgs Boson Blues.’

The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You,  Neko Case (ANTI-)
Mothers, daughters, men, listen up: Case nearly matches Middle Cyclone—that’s saying a lot—careening between Honolulu and “Nowhere,” between dizzy, busy, clever pop fury and stark, unnervingly naked a cappella. Plus: Neko covers Nico! But: the cover's kind of ugly, no? Thus my opting for the above pic.

Townes Van Zandt

Untitled mix CD from a friend
Some of us still do this in 2013, take the time to make an object: something to carry, listen to, look at, remember someone by, cherish. My friend filled my ears with Hoagy Carmichael, Townes Van Zandt, Stars, Laura Nyro, Peggy Lee, CocoRosie and Penny & the Quarters. She also turned me onto Sharon Van Etten, who kind of haunts me now in the best way. Thanks. xo 

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