Music critics have now gushed out their best-of-2013 lists.
Our critics at Nolo Contendere are not impressed, so we’ve compiled our list the year’s overlooked pearls in the oil-slick sea.
2013 was the year our staff of writers missed more real trends than they tried to invent. First, the major perpetrators:
~This was the year pyromaniac and firecracker enthusiast Michael Bay teamed with Baz Lurhmann to remix Shakespeare’s plays into a hip hop invasion-from-space romcom musical bloodfest that was exposionier than last year’s “All’s Well that Ends Dead,” Kenneth Branagh’s reimagining of the Bard’s comedy as a Swedish serial-killer noir. Bay’s choice of foregoing CGI for the wunderkind ammonium nitrate as his director of photography stood him in good stead, despite leaving a gaffer, key grip and two best boys dead—a small price to pay for regressing Shakespeare’s collected works into the nameless hells of the 21st century trainwreck known as A MICHAEL BAY FILM. But Luhrmann’s soundtrack is our concern, and what a strenuous ordeal it was—Elizabethan verse interrupted by jarring freestyles over fresh beats from sampled World War 2 sounds that spawned a dozen way better imitators…who we won’t even try to go into here.
~It was also the year the 8-second “microdrama” debuted on all platforms, from YouTube to Twitter to ITunes—tiny films directed by such legends as Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee, and that tattooed guy with the big glasses who’s always at the coffeeshop. The shopulation downloaded millions of these “emotional sound bites,” and the music behind them—from such varied artists as Coldplay and Coldplay—did boffo biz at $5.99 a crack. Did we care? Did any of it really happen? Who cares—it may as well have, right?
~Product diversification of mega-millionaire pop-stars came into its own with Beyonce foregoing a second surprise album for another fragrance disaster, the rancid Insulte: Ridge Street & Delancey, which is like having a boot smash your nose into a Manhattan subway station platform fouled by mole people on a 100-degree day. Other pop artists quickly flooded the market with their own scents as well, with Sting leading the pack with his foul Sweat Lodge and Kanye with My Dark Twisted Workout Ambrosia #7.
~The neo-trad old-jazz mix-trend known as the “tar-hiccups” shouldn’t have caught on in the hipper Brooklyn venues, but it did, expanding from Bushwick to capture DJs from coast to coast—only to strangle them on their own credulity, because it never actually existed. Shrouded in legend, the supposed trailblazer Effin Foo was said to have literally mixed his great-grandparents’ collection of turn-of-the-century Edison cylinders with Victrola 78s in a superheated smelting vat and died from the resultant fumes—but not before recording the process, which became the defining ethos of the movement: effects processing of the listener’s mind instead of the music. This might sound like old-hat 1960s mumbo-jumbo, but it wasn’t: The music of the future (Foo said in his only manifesto, written hieroglyphically on a napkin with a pink sharpie) will not be aural but chemical: Take the worst drugs you can find and listen to Mantovani & Percy Faith & Vangelis, or the collected Rick Wakeman. Fuck it. It is far more interesting if you just fuck up your mind on petroleum fumes and listen to crap than attempt to create music yourself. Give up. It’s all already been done, or someone else is doing it right now. Regardless, DJs across the nation attempted to meld King Oliver and vintage Okeh pancakes with electro-chill, garnered middling to homicidal effect. For this “trend,” go to the original—go to the Foo’s gold. But don’t forget to smoke some designer bath salts marinated in ammonia first.
~Spoken word resurged with Make no Mistake: Mistakes will be Made a compilation from Radiohead, Lady Gaga, Bruce Springsteen, and U2 re-enacting famous politician sting operations, bathroom gloryhole busts, and mea culpa press conferences (Bruce left the others in the dust with his spot-on rendering of His Highness Marion Barry’s “Ge-yot Dayum Bitch Set Me Up!”). And let’s not forget Daniel Day-Lewis’s Grammy award for his moving 79-CD reading of Dr. Bronner’s Soap label oeuvre. Metaphysics has never been so…gritty.
~The “Music? Not for you, junior” ethic was a rumor at first, then it turned up in LA, Brooklyn, Nashville, and Austin seemingly overnight to challenge the hegemony of the bearded, flannel-wearing set. Economics played a role: the ripples of the financial crash had forced many of these surly vegan cyclists to sell their prized vintage instruments for another tattoo and thus go without meals for weeks, resulting in many arrests for wearing dangerous, unlicensed cheekbones. Left with nothing but their spoons and washboards (in the more affluent circles), “not for you” ethic stepped into the space in a series of reputed InstaTumblTubeFaceFeed PSAs about the burgeoning craze: You’re a hipster, but music—like those 5-pound glasses on the bridge of your now-bent nose—isn’t cool anymore. Don’t resume that mandolin/banjo/uke/fiddle career. Grow kale instead. Brew at home. Make furniture. Just don’t. Ever. Try. Music. Again…Some say it was a record industry plot to stop the direct-to-public interfaces like Soundcloud. Others claim that “not for you, junior” was a plot by a shadowy black metal mafia to destroy acoustic folk music once and for all. We’ll never know, because again, it never existed except in the minds of critics and pundits—and approximately 1.5 million brain-dead “non-conformist” hipster idiots.
~ Detroit’s ascent into receivership dried up pension funds all across Motor City’s wasted landscape. Escape from New York (1981) started looking less an action flick than an ancient act of precognition 600 miles off-target. But the beleaguered birthplace of Motown suddenly became the focus of lefty angst across the nation. Preecher Casy’s existential heroism spearheaded this gesture at relevance, poking the abyss in both eyes with Left Bank café political agitprop 60 years obsolete. Did he care? Hell no—not when audiences can’t tell Camus from Shamu and his Gainsbourgisms were ringing a giant cash register in the aether. The subsequent appearance of new folk-protest acts like Pyotr, Pavel, and Marya, Hi-Fidel Sound, and Leo DiBronstein lending their assistance to the cause didn’t help the image of socialism or folk music but surely increased membership in libertarian survivalist paramilitary hit squads.
~The Hollywood film trailer’s generic sonic anvil-blow came into its own in 2013: 14 Billboard-topping recordings’ worth of variations on the deafening punctuation to which you can buy a strobe light and imagine scenes from your own Hollywood thriller trailer. Which is a pity, because no-one had an imagination left to put the hammer-blows to.
~2013 saw the continuance of the zombie craze, so it was fitting that most major-label artists threw in the towel on actually recording music and instead released their promo pictures through Instagram, their lyrics through Twitter, and let their PR wings sort out the music with the new Obsolute Software 7, by which the public could mix and match beats, samples, and random melodies, mashing the ingredients for each artist into three separate albums apiece that consumers could then choose from. Freedom and all that, right? Mm-hm…Then, in a devastating series of death blows to the recording industry, Mp3 sales continued to eviscerate the CD just as YouTube downloaders destroyed all the Mp3 profits for good, causing the juggernaut to go into government-bailout-mode. But even the most rabid Democrat had no interest in nationalizing these dinosaurs, and when a small Chinese firm snapped up the entire music business for peanuts in June, no-one batted an eye. So this was the year “straight to Soundcloud” replaced “straight to DVD” as the marketplace’s signature of “you’ll never get these moments of your sordid life back, so close your eyes and poke randomly”
But “new” music was also released and we listened to it. Sigh. Here’s our top 20 albums/singles of 2013, plus 10 also-rans:
- 20. After their stunning 2012 debut Not in My House, Timmy, the SoapEaters took a leave of absence to regroup after a disastrous Canadian tour in which mandolinist Teddy Banks died after inhaling his beard in his sleep. They since pared back their already spare arrangements to just singer Henry R. Block’s screeching falsetto and random fist-bangs on a toy piano, melding angular compositions based on famous lumber industry accidents with a sensitivity unseen since DSM-IX’s 2009 tribute to the Texas PEPCON ammonium perchlorate explosion of 1988. B+ (8.6)
- 19. Duluth’s Black Metal demons Tapewurm returned this year with the devastating Red Tympanumb, an amalgam of Helsinki’s sewerdrop sound bedecked in prime-numbered meters and a dash of the Cape Town Aryan Front micro-thrash scene to produce the year’s most satisfying abdominal distress. You’ll be cleaning your ears with an alcohol-filled WaterPik after this one. For your brain, we recommend a cold barrel between the teeth. Singer Offal Skvenkkellerensbinck’s voice improved dramatically since his total laryngectomy, now a whisper amplified 2,000 times and augmented by kazoo, and Stellan Skarsface’s guitars still have yet to reach the artistry of a drunk three-year old’s slappings. A- (8.9)
- 18. Before their live fisticuffs on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts that led to their public meltdown, Batshit, Texas’s Sasquatch Wolf-Bear Yeti seemed destined to conquer subway trains everywhere. Their canny Lomaxian competence with all things Americana on Tie Tight My Flannel Noose was only outdone by their outsized penchant for brawling with each other— anywhere, anytime, baby. There was nowhere for them to go in 2013 but sideways, then sliding downward, slumped, and bleeding profusely—and all in key, too. The percussive sound of banjoist Deek Slayton’s jaw politely breaking on the downbeat of “Ballad of Flannel Joe” on Tiny Desk will live on forever in freak folk’s misty memory. Or until the drugs wear off. A+ (9.3)
- 17. K-Tel Mart’s “Single-Arity” lasts less than a second, clocking in at .59:09:07:04:0007 but what a .59:09:07:04:0007 it is, a mash-up of post-mash-up-epoch mashing that one can theoretically play anywhere, anytime, and that’s its appeal: part of it is playing presently right where you are, only slowed down by a factor of 1,205,380 times, because “S” consists of every single album released by every label in the past 100 years condensed to a tiny pinpoint of sound. Unfortunately, K-Tel recorded it at 176 decibels in five-dimensional aural-holographic hyper-sound and on its debut day sent tens of thousands of listeners to the hospital with ruptured eardrums. Consequently the recording was cordoned off from the public and K-Tel was renditioned to a government black site to be brought up on charges for creating a WMD. No fret though—we hear K’s been hired by the Pentagon to head DARPA’s sonic warfare research wing, so expect a new single soon, to be released perhaps when the Middle East heats up again. B- (8.5)
- 16. King Tupperwhere’s brand of trailer-park “loserfolk” lends itself more than admirably to meth abuse, a song cycle about a carpet glue-addicted amputee-fetishist blowing his $1 million lottery winnings on a mindless killing spree across the South. Standout track is the gutbucket scratch-blues “New Crocs,” a dirge about the travails of falling in love with a junkie transvestite with a taste for wearing other people’s feet. The rest are a bracingly winning series of tales of marathon turpentine-RedBull-krokodil binges and the poetry of dwindling ice-machine chips. The last track, “Grizzled,” in which veteran producer Bass-o-Matic blenders everything that came before on the album is almost worth the price of admission to King’s carnival of pain. Almost. He’s grown as an artist, true—you’re seeing growth here. Like a polyp. A+ (9.4)
- 15. Bleepniks everywhere raved about Pink Needle’s debut Lie, Sergio, Flaccid! Die, Ethel LaMyde!, praising the Sri Lankan duos’ sophomore effort with even more egregious adjectival bluster. 2013’s Floppy Again lashes the Baltic winter sound into a ghost-landscape of sonic textures so low in frequency that adult diapers are legally required with every purchase. Standout track is “Broken HAARP String,” about having one’s junk fried by a remote energy-particle beam and becoming a better person for it—being victim of a secret government death-ray is supposed to build character, after all, isn’t it? A- (8.7)
- 14. $hit-$ac worked with nu-fuck singer Mercedes Bense on 2009’s Cuz after producing her debut PluZ Sized Muff and continued the collaboration on “Mmff, Ff-mff, Mmmfff!” a single about a kidnapped woman’s romantic trip to Stockholm Syndrome. In April’s Karpet Burnz, Bense’s Tarantinesque meta-commentary on the experiences of women on record executive’s couches everywhere (and what concealed exacto knives can do about it) rips into the listener’s duodenum. References to her offstage bouts with sobriety intrude at odd moments, such as the soaring chorus to “Flanged Pipes” when she manages to rhyme “absquatulated” with “tongue-slapped”. Blended over an S&M session sampled live in the studio, $ac’s kinetic beats on Karpet caused controversy for a couple of slow news cycles before sweeping the Grammies and the Disney Corporation licensed $ac & Bense’s songs for their new animated kids’ feature, “Forever Twerk.” B- (10)
- 13. Brutal punk-funk Loyalists British Evasion were infectious as smallpox and just as poppy. And we mean that: guitarist Snarf was diagnosed with the believed-extinct bug in February, was immediately kidnapped by the CIA, smuggled into Tehran, and released there. But BE’s 7’10’’ frontman Slang not so much sang as intimidated audiences from coast to coast into accepting their blend of Elizabethan imperialist politics and almost put fascist Anglophilia on the map as a cultural force to be reckoned with before his onstage suicide during “GG Allin, Pussy.” “Reunion, Jack” and “Plymouth Rock Trebuchet” nevertheless made a compelling case for capitulation to City of London Masonic hegemony and a return to the British standard meter. A (9.2)
- 12. The hot new bubblegum is gasoline-flavored and this year Thee Homewreckers proved capable of pre-chewing a whole pack of it before shoving it down our microbrew-tanged, hand-rolled-harsh throats. After trading in good taste for a gold lame sound drenched in Californian 8.5 aftershock-induced, butt-clenching angst in 2011’s The Gerhard Richter Scale they retooled and brought their sound into 1983 with Johnny Schlepp, then just kept regressing. Their 2013 homage to 1970s glam hard-rock, Split Beanbag Chair Glitter is more than homage, harder than hard, and more than rock: it’s a black-light Slade poster gone three-dimensional. It has wide appeal and even wider lapels. It is a rummage sale masterpiece of retro meanderings in the key of disobedience. Gilbert Pfoph’s Robitussin-slurred readings of censored rent-boy Craigslist hookup postings on standout “Blue Helvetica” only proves that Pfoph should star in John Waters’s next movie. Arff! B+ (8.75)
- 11. Riller Kiff’s The Baying of Pigs brings radical social change to the table with (shot-in-the-dark color metaphor here). Kiff’s sophomore effort “Y. Candida Bieberosis” was a canny juxtaposition of (mention Coltrane, dubstep, Simon Reynolds’s Retromania, D.F. Wallace’s take on hip-hop, a choice 1968 Situationist aphorism, and Semiotexte all in the same sub-Proustian sentence). This time he collaborated with Mumbai impresario Kimba the Whyte Lyin for an entheogenical take on the Goa ex-pat scene that (insert wholly solipsistic comment). Kimba’s pointillist turntablisms echo the facile palette of (shoehorn in a reference to a unimpeachably hip visual artist whose mention in this context could only possibly exist in a mind pining for a girl who collects 1950s bicycle pumps). Although Riller’s beach-life ethic swaddled in sound is as morally suspect as it is barely sustainable, a living testament to politics-practiced-as-sand-in-one’s shoes, it also (insert another gratuitous, review-padding solipsistic meandering). The sharp pinging swoops of Kimba’s “hologrammophone” sound system are as angular as the planes of a (namedrop impossibly obscure Weimar-era Bavarian sculptor). Still, the negation of those planes shouldn’t equal the deracination of our cultural moment, our zeitgeist, our sittlichkeit, our buttelicke. With infinite meticulous anti-craft, Kiffs’s & Kimba’s aural moirés (insert whopping great mass of neuron-droppings that have nothing possible to do with any reader’s assessment of this album and make you doubt this guy has ever tapped his foot in his life). As Wittgenstein said, “if a lion could speak, he couldn’t order Chinese food.” So (a lapse into total incoherence, irrelevance, unemployment checks) B (0.0)
- 10. Phish and their sleepdrool-on-the-frets jam-band ilk are slagged for their brevity and tight focus in some circles. Those circles know nothing about good music. We do. Gangreenus released their epic Dumpster Lullabyes in March, curtailing nine years’ field experimentation with the sonic potential of slapped meat, ballistics, and the B flat diminished chord for an actual studio recording. 17 minutes into the title track, they noodle their way into a startling 14-second pastiche of every existing Disney song as brutally hammered out by an orchestra of dysenteric Cro-Magnons. It’s worth the wait, as the listener is lulled into somnolence by wash after wash of industrial machines and the occasional controlled demolition before band leader/“inceptualist”/international star chef Bo Tocks drops the hammer on the Magic Kingdom’s musical legacy for that glorious quarter-minute. B+ (8.7)
- 9. Fat Baby Bill started this year’s biggest tweet-war when he dissed Lollypop’s “Do You Wuv Mee?” as weak, pandering chart-fodder that “makes Justn Bieber’s poop look like a Baby Ruth.” Lolly, after breaking down in tears at the HEMMIES for this vicious (but true) slander and requiring immediate medication for his “condition,” (which he called in interviews “being alive”) refused to publicly retort Fat Baby but then returned not only with a redesigned persona but one of the year’s best albums, How Do Ya Likee-a Me Now, Bill? a raging paean to righteous revenge on Fat Baby via Apache helicopter and curare blowgun warfare that had all the moral clarity of a bumpersticker. A- (8.5)
- 8. After last year’s I’m Standard and Poor, I. Irving continued his daily mash-ups of the Billboard chart-toppers on his billion-hits YouTube channel, then gifted the world with NASDIQ, a slightly pandering but mostly gut-felt shout-out to the celebrity crisis management firm that resurrected his career after 2011’s disastrous Here, Taste This. His latest terrorist attack, Here, Wolftone! is a 67-minute garbage dump of honking saxophones, Chinese violin scrapings, harmonicas, bagpipes, and didjeridoo drones with only peeks of melody and song structure, but cogent and thoroughly contemporary in annoyance. Need we say that even Simon Cowell liked it? B+ (8.1)
- 7. New Agers Prolepsed Anuus traded in their soothing synth-based aural wallpaper in 2008 for ringing guitars, then downtuned into a crunching species of black metal in 2009, then an even crunchinger mutated Like, How-Much-More Black-Could-This-Be? metal in 2010 with the drunk text-message concept album FATL SYSTM CRSH, and finally (and crunchingest) with 2013’s The Wrath of Con, a song cycle about Hollywood’s flagging romance with LA’s eponymous annual comics convention that name-checks everyone from Alan Moore to Roger Moore at an imaginary mock memorial service for the very-dead-but-still-quipping-profanely-from-beyond-the-grave Kevin Smith. The ensuing chaos when Smith insults Marvel icon Stan Lee for his Bronx accent is the only kind that matters and that axeman King !Kung can shred so viciously. It hurt us listening to this far more than it hurt them making it. Even Simon Cowell hated it. A- (9.1)
- 6. Berlin’s hot Schicklgruberhaus and London’s DJ Klumsifingaz collaborated with notorious Washington, DC street drunk Chicago Jones for the year’s most infectious single, the gloriously incoherent “Bropely Spropes,” whose lyrics are either the confessional tale of a homeless PTSD vet or are the slurred, read-aloud instructions to the Oreck air purifier (which anyone in Jones’s immediate vicinity would reportedly badly need). B (7.8)
- 5. Ipecackle’s Auntie Gein is the perfect soundtrack for backtalking a group of sucrose-deficient cops just to see what happens. This is music that Tasers your cerebellum, hogties it, and sloppily throws it in the backseat without a watch-your-head. Meticulous, grimy, onanistic, inquisitive, ignorant, deeply shallow, Ipecackle’s July release was hotly anticipated and then barely tolerated on arrival, a glorious document of movie-trailer pap and unreconstructed Krautrock as reimagined by Lemmy Kilmister’s evil twin, Kemmy Lil’mister. (By+-Ax)z=7.8
- 4. Rarely has a record cupped this male listener’s balls so lovingly only to twist them into a resultant shriek of repentant angst for possessing a Y chromosome. Neo post-Riot Grrl octet Knives for Nuts’s Wymanifesto combines a robust rejection of patriarchy with an obsession with the tangled Godelian-mindfuck that was Rolling Stones’s bassist’s potential genealogical relation to his son and wife (for those who forget, Bill Wyman’s son was once engaged to marry Wyman’s18-year old wife’s mother. Would that have made him his own father-in-law? His son his own father-in-law? His wife his own daughter-in-law? Does it make him sick? It makes us sick). B+ (8.1, 9.0, 7.8, 9.8, 8.2. In their bikinis: 10., 10., 9.8, 10., 9.7)
- 3. Whorejay claims to have been on ADHD medication since the age of two and it shows in Whatmastumpikastoopidyo? the year’s most unclassifiable and sticky document of chemical bluster. Measure after measure of no-fi snippets seamlessly blended into a musicologist’s vertiginous nightmare, leavened with early-Seussian wordplay and a catalogue of bodily fluid sounds. Twas the year Whorejay’s verbal tics and espousal of the philosophy of “bladhabuldabadab” (which involves massive quantities of Blakean poesy, Salvia Divinorum, and a defibrillator) stole our cheatin’ hearts. A+ (9.8)
- 2. Spazz rode the EDM craze til it needed back surgery. On 2011’s Make a BIG Mistake with Me, Baby the Spazzter seemed satisfied resting on his Laurels—and all the Tiffanys, Ambers, Kileys etc. he interminably name-checked over the course of the album. Lawsuits were inevitable. This year’s Sex: Its Jus To Eazy for M.E. (sic) plumbed new heights of narcissistic monomania, the celebration of our times. The hit “Suspicious Package” (about the qualities of Spazz’s unquenchable member) broke all record sales as well as several new child pornography laws, so it’s back to court and probably jail for the Jester from Manchester. Mercifully, the Sex Tour ended when Spazz was rushed to a Minneapolis ER for an inguinal hernia suffered during one of his famed attempts to sing and clutch his electrified plasma codpiece at the same time. B- (2)
- 1. DC’s Straight-Edge killjoys Germ Theory were once the kings of impeachable humorless political agitprop: five albums detailing the perils of meat eating, alcohol, drugs & cigarettes, touching fellow human beings, making eye contact with the opposite sex, and labeled clothing in the pursuit of authenticity. It was five albums too many. Then they ran afoul of Austin’s Chemical Enthusiast in 2009, producer, BMX champion, and uber-consumer of Saturnalian compounds. GT’s subsequent transformation into wild-eyed, dirty hippies made them the bane of punk Puritan colonies everywhere, becoming less a rock group than a collection of affectations rendered wholly susceptible to the industry’s image-crafters by all the drugs. Water into wine and all that; the Enthusiast did his work and did it well. But 2011’s “Rock Me, Asmodeus” started weak and then petered to barely a squeak by the last track. How that mouse must have suffered. Then they rocketed back to near-relevance with this year’s “Ariel Pink Floyd the Barbershopgirl Lad’s Strap Fairy-Blue Bongwater” that forced pop-punk apologists to choke on the irony and caused hipsters everywhere to second-guess their choice of eyewear. Think 1967 purple bubble glasses that melt down your face now. A (9.9)
- When Christian rock balladeer Brock Elias came out of the closet earlier this year, then retreated, then the closet forcibly ejected him, observers predicted a new culture war in the offing. It never materialized, except for the short-lived boycott that ended when Westboro Baptist, et al finally discovered that it is impossible to boycott anything in our corporate-synergistic hellhole of a world (it was somehow news to them that the company that makes their kids’ plastic Jesus nightlight is owned by the very same conglomerate that puts out the filth they hate). Our response is fight the real power, you haters. But we digress: Elias’s album Is that Hand-Tooled Leather? overtly signaled his new direction, if not orientation, to a stance that embraced both Christian ethics and Frankie Say Money! He came out swinging with the single “Sweaty Benchpress” a tender paean to a remote control, Vaseline, and Season One DVD of “Oz”. Or “Page Me,” the sad tale of a young Virginia rest-stop hustler who ends up gloryholed by a closeted right-wing Congressman, goes public about it to the FBI, and ends up breathing the Potomac. Sad, sad, sad! B- (11)
- The conceit of releasing 27 live EPs and 11 best-of compilations after playing Rotary Club meetings, knitting bees and Amway klatches across the Midwest before even releasing a straight-up album would seem daring for a band formed only twenty years ago from the ashes of TriBeCa’s short-lived 1992 “blue rentboy” scene, but Baby Putti Tatt pulled it off with Money: Just a Concept, a politically impeccable screed for extremists who think veganism involves murder and slime molds are sentient. This is music for the Breatharian set and losers everywhere dedicated to toppling the Fed and replacing it with goat auctions. B- (generate random number here)
- It was an unusual year for BoHole: miraculously, all nine members failed to violate their probations (drummer Fazer, of course, is in the Angola pokey for attempted Presidential assassination and will languish there until 2,221). But BoHole didn’t tour, either. Neither did they release an album to follow up 2011’s Yes, Sir, Officer. Instead, they individually unleashed a series of 8-track tapes that had to be found by a geocaching game their “mastermind,” producer and ventriloquist Rick “no relation, jerk” Rubin released on CD-ROM for $2.99 from QVC-Ronco. Fuck. When assembled (it took me ten months to find all the goddamn tapes, and in fact I’m finally listening to the completed project only now, December 31st, at a cost of $568.67 for buying 11 vintage 8-track players that actually work, so fuck you Rick Rubin—and the Flaming Lips did “your” concept first, you bitch) and it proves to be a stunning example of what an inflated reputation and borderline personality can do together. Did I say fuck you, Rick Rubin? I’m not even gonna comment on the “music.” Fuck you, Rick Rubin. E- (rated a 10 for everyone else. Reviewer is currently in the Tombs awaiting bail. You got any money you could lend him? Call 212-355-8997)
- Hair Quotes’s splendidly yearning tenor massaged our ears and hearts with 2011’s Pen Cap Chewings. Then the company suits got involved. His PR team branded him our first shoegazing nu-folkie in April then branded him again a few weeks later after his bungee jump accident left him a soprano. Nothing left to do put a ukulele in his hands and hope for the best. C- (0.2—in fact, we paid them to take the freebie back).
- Landover, Maryland’s Cool “Disco” Dante singlehandedly made the argument for Go-Go’s true provenance in the wilds of suburban Suitland with the June single “Rug Tweaker,” an irresistibly bouncy anthem about bank accounts emptied at gunpoint by night for crack sprees during the Marion Barry-era late 1980s. Pummeled out on amplified pickle drums and echoplexed to infinity, Dante proved disco don’t need no damn do-not-resuscitate order, bitch, but lay some adrenochrome on that shit, stat! with the squelchy and thumping rave-up EP “LANE CHANGE Benning Road Crew WORK AHEAD”. Party hard attack. A- (9.0)
- The Grinch struck early this year, but this time he went legit—with a FISA warrant in hand. He planned ahead for his annual Whoville ransacking by using the Patriot Act, PRISM, and a Predator to suss the situation—and Mein Moustache Vax, Hans! was there to make sure the tree-ringing chorus was drowned in a barrage of hellfire guitar riffs to prevent the Nauseous One’s cosmic contact. The ’stache’s November release Die, Democracy, Die! openly welcomed the shadow government totalitarian takeover of America with abrasive bromides against the two-party system, zoning laws, Ralph Nader, conspiracist clown Alex Jones, Yanni, libertarianism, Al Sharpton, and window shades, the whole of it couched in vicious sub-Goebbels rhetoric and set to diminished-fifth buzzsaw guitars. “Die” went over very well at the Justice Department, the Denver International Airport’s subterranean Reptilian city, Buckingham Palace and ever-clueless Kansas. Our hearts shrunk three times that day—and dammit, it felt good. –A (-6.9)
- Classic rock reissues, albums, and Viagra-fueled reunion tours after a 45-year hiatus we can understand…But a nostalgia tour from a band whose career was ended by Federal legal action during the last fiscal quarter? Has our collective attention span grown that short? What else can explain the critical and commercial success of Losing My Cortex by Jerkers’ Thumb, a 30-years-late riposte to REM’s “Losing my Religion” that uses voice samples from Stephen Hawking, Christopher Hitchens, Ron Jeremy, Gallagher, Morrissey, Rick James, Jenna Jamison, Richard Dawkins, Richard Dawson, and Emo Phillips as its rhythm tracks? Losing posits ADHD not as illness but the ultimate spiritual awakening, espousing the ultimate New Agey “Be Here Now” ethic through multitasking yourself into an ultimate convulsing mess. C+ (10)
- Redneck country quartet then hick-hop converts Moan Kick Me Sum Aiss dove headfirst into 2013 and promptly knocked theyselves unconcho on a brick wall with January’s The South Rises Again in My Pants, Baby, a record which, after our one and only listen, survived our intervening 11-month trauma-induced amnesia to somehow turn up staring hungrily in the window and end up on this list at gunpoint. A product of late 2012’s hick-hop revival nestled within a retro-alt-Nashville sound bred with a hall-of-mirrors post-LA neocrunge-craze breakbeats and set to grinding pre-nu-EDM guitars to…what was I saying? Where am I? D- (1.3)
- Not being fans of martial music (except when a platoon of Hueys blast it coming in low out of the rising sun), we’d never thought a compilation of Sousa marches digitized and given the cut and paste treatment would end up anywhere other than as a coaster much less this also-ran list. But it did. S&M enthusiasts Maynard, Zed & the Gimp’s Stars and Straps Forever happily redeemed Independence Day and even started a Sousaphone craze until a few tender young backs were broken (or the New York Times retroactively invented the trend, or both). MZG’s take on the dance floor’s timeless boom-thump meshes seamlessly with the rhythms of Sousa’s Americana gems, and this generates a host of disquieting questions…While those questions will never trouble one’s mind on the dance floor, they would make a good freshman term paper in Cultural Studies 101. Aaaaa yeah! (100bpm)
- Salt Lake City’s Church of Latter Day Saints’s BowWow Movement Reckits produced such acts as Got my Stripes, W.I.P.E.D. and S. Kid Mark seemed determined to end any trace of Mormon pimp earnestness in hip-hop once and for all. And BowWow stalwarts MC Haters’s Steal You in yo Mowf continued the trend. The thing kicks off with a drum n bass meltdown in the key of cluster headache and doesn’t let up for 67 agonizing minutes. Syllablesmith $mall Fry’s autotuned caterwauling and ululated rhymes on Joseph Smith’s legacy make a malfunctioning jackhammer sound like James Earl Jones. The textures are abrasive, the timbres creamy; the rhymes boasty, the basslines toasty (and vice versa, of course). Such juxtapositions can only cause dissociative disorder if taken seriously. This leads us to ask what the current ethics exactly are regarding listener schadenfreude when confronted with such glorious toxicity…and the alarming possibility of emotional osmosis. Should we critics share in $mall Fry’s religious agony? Or just laugh because the alternative is just too grim to even think about? B++/A- (3.14)
- When in 2011 fugitive trickster sound collagist The Severatrix made Manacled by calling in police tips on imaginary mobile meth labs at the Gathering of the Juggalos (only to have the subsequent bust turn up real mobile meth labs on the site) no-one thought it a toppable stunt—much less an indefensible one—but she did top it and then some: She called in a slew of false allegations on 2012’s Burning Man ahead of the event to the FBI, DHS, and INS just so she could video/audio document the resulting police-bust mayhem and use it as a soundtrack for March’s Uncle Fester’s Iboga Trip. While Burners inevitably heralded Severatrix a real-life super-villain, others applauded her critique of Burning Man’s packaged “non-conformity,” its having to view a hundred hairy ass-cracks before breakfast, and the playa salt in one’s armpits. Uncle Fester and Manacled raised telephone terrorism to high art. Her second “album,” November’s Whoooosh was almost worthy of Banksy: it was a MoMA gallery installation that 40 eager Wall Streeters & Yupper East Siders paid $4,000 apiece to sit in and experience for its single performance, only to be pummeled by a Rolls Royce 747 turbine engine filled with huge kazoos as her plasma-screen paintings filled all four walls with her nightmares. Our smuggled-out bootlegged copy of the music, made at that one glorious showing, is a piece of heaven. As Ringo once sang, good night, sleep tight. A- (10 to the 10th power)