2013 in review: MusicLots of winners, and some disappointments.
By: Tony Bennett, for the News Tribune
Year-end best-of lists are almost always intolerable. They’re like music’s version of a homecoming assembly, where the latest version of the same old thing is hauled out and draped with a sash and told it’s the best there is. People who know better see that most of the stuff that people are saying is great is just a rehash of 1980s teen-flick pop (Chvrches), Blondie (Sky Ferreira), or — ugh — Wilson Philips (Haim).
Now that we’ve established that your humble music reviewer here is a grumpy old crank, let’s talk about what he thought rocked, rotted or ruled in 2013, both local and national. In no particular order, here’s some of the cream of the crop.
Duck Duck Punch — 'Human Chemistry'
Right as 2013 came lumbering in, Duck Duck Punch overcame the odds by putting out a great album under a terrible band name. “Human Chemistry” had one of the songs of the year in “RGB,” and much of the rest of the album was similarly strong. Pet Shop Boys, look out.
Southwire — 'Southwire'
The odd-couple vocal pairing of Jerree Small and Ben Larson led to lots of buzz, some high-profile gigs and an album that contains some of the most notable music to come out of Duluth. Folk mixed with a kind of country-church preach-hop vibe? It doesn’t work on paper, but lots of great things don’t. Like peanut butter and celery — what is that, and why is it so good?
Retribution Gospel Choir — '3'
The album that Sub Pop rejected, RGC’s latest had two songs on it, both long as hell. In a year where main man Alan Sparhawk also released a killer Low album, the sheer audacity of this record makes it the better of the two releases. And Wilco’s Nels Cline on guitar. Really, come on. Nels Cline shreds.
Marcus Loren Matthews — 'Requiem'
Speaking of audacity, a local indie-rock veteran makes a heroically depressed, hourlong MIDI symphony album full of stripped-bare emotions? Let’s not go overboard, but this kind of artistic ambition is rare and righteous.
Christoph Bruhn — 'Weekends on the Frontier'
In a town where an acoustic troubadour is serenading you with a folky lament on every street corner, it’s great to hear a guy who has nothing to sing about, who just wants to play some acoustic guitar in the style of greats like John Fahey. Transportative, if that’s a word. (Let’s say it is.)
Motorpsycho — 'Still Life with Eggplant'
Turns out that one of the best rock bands on the planet is Motorpsycho, a trio from Norway that quietly have been building up an immense discography of space rock for 20 years that is almost without peer. Their latest demonstrates the band’s dynamite chemistry and patience as well as any of their other stuff, and it’s got a killer Love cover, too. In a just world, these guys would be huge.
Flaming Lips — 'The Terror'
The second Lips album in a row to completely discard their award-winning pop approach, “The Terror” is a suitably scary collection of songs about death and little else. First time you hear it, it almost seems like a bunch of sounds and little else, but the album reveals itself to be an emotional powerhouse. “Try to Explain” is triumphantly sad, if that’s a thing. (Let’s say it is.)
Earthless — 'From the Ages'
Earthless; they’re just triumphant. In an age where “bands” often are just a collection of nerds huddled around a laptop, Earthless is a power trio (emphasis on “power”) who play instrumental, improvisational hard rock. Lead guitarist Isaiah Mitchell isn’t the fastest gun in the west, but he knows how to make a guitar sing just right. “Feel” can’t be taught, but this guy learned it.
Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats — 'Mind Control'
It’s amazing that a band in this day and age can put out music, not play any gigs and still end up opening for Black Sabbath on the strength of their art and not their Web presence. The latest from Uncle Acid might not be as good as “Blood Lust,” the small-pressing LP that made them the talk of the Internet, but it’s got their sound in spades. Great Beatles vocals over Sabbath riffs, recorded like crap. Now we’re talkin’.
Robert Pollard — 'Blazing Gentlemen'
Another year, another hundred Pollard albums. But this one’s got something special, especially if you like the rock and the roll. Big drums. Big guitars. Big hooks. Guided by Voices may be Pollard’s main gig, but this collection of tunes probably is stronger overall than any of their recent reunion discs.
This was a big year for disappointments, too: Ghost B.C., Pearl Jam, Nine Inch Nails, White Denim and Tomahawk all put out records that took potential and threw it away in favor of safety and inspiration-free wheel-spinning.
And there you have it: some highs and lows from music both near and far, and with absolutely no mention whatsoever of the reviewer’s own band (Cars & Trucks) or their 2013 release (“Theatre Stardusk”). Now that’s class.
Tony Bennett reviews music for the News Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.