2013: The Year in Review (sort of)

As has been the case over the last few years, we've been quite underwhelmed by the world of pop culture in general, so once again this wrap up is an abridged and personalized version of what we would normally put together at this point of the year. Basically, just a bunch of faves from the past 12 months. So, with that in mind, dig in and enjoy!


Minor Alps Get There [Barsuk]

Released on the last week of October, it showed up late but surely made up for it: the debut album from Minor Alps (aka soft-singing superduo Juliana Hatfield and Nada Surf's Matthew Caws) is a textbook singer/songwriter album for the 21st century: rooted in classic songwriting but imbued with the breezy irreverence of a new era. More please.

Runner up:
David Bowie The Next Day [Columbia]

Took him for granted, eh? The Next Day reminded us all why we should never do such a thing. Quite possibly the best thing to come out all year. (Hated the album cover, tho. Ugh.)


My Bloody Valentine mbv [self-released]

Definitely not worth a 22 year wait, but probably not worth a 2 year wait, either.

Runner up:

Todd Rundgren State [Esoteric]

In what can only be described as an effort to further destroy his recording career by seemingly rescuing the remnants of a discarded electronica record circa 1989, Rundgren confirms he has lost the plot. And the bitter irony of a legendary producer making records that sound like cheesy demos is almost too much to bear.


Nataly Dawn "How I Met Her" [Nonesuch]

Unfortunately, for the most part, Dawn's engaging voice, well-crafted songs, and wistful Americana lack the necessary pull to drag themselves up from their frequent preciousness and occasional forced quirkiness, which is her solo debut album's biggest hindrance.

Oh, but that title track is nothing short of wonderful and arguably, the best constructed piece of pop music released in 2013. Stellar.

FAVORITE NEW MUSIC (from new artists)
Bipolar Sunshine "Fire" from the Aesthetics EP [Polydor]
Chance the Rapper "Juice" from the album Acid Rap [self-released]
Coasts "Oceans" from the Paradise EP [Tidal]
Lapland -self-titled- [Hundred Pockets]
Wolf Alice "Fluffy" [Dirty Hit]



Three 20-something L.A. sisters grow up playing playing street fairs in a band with Mom and Dad. As teenagers 2 of the 3 are in an all-girl band that signs with a major label. When that runs its course, they incorporate their youngest sibling, established/famous people see them play (Julian Casablancas, Jenny Lewis), sign with Jay-Z, potty mouth/filter-lacking older sister makes for good copy ("Bass face"), and...voilá.

That "origin story" is a whole lot more interesting than Haim's music, which resembles somewhat plastic late '80s/early 90s radio-friendly R&B, but has been repeatedly compared to Fleetwood Mac (!!!) by a plethora of so-called music journalists. (Who, btw, are the people Frank Zappa was referring to in his legendary quote: "Most rock journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read." Amen.)

Haim : Music :: Girls (HBO show) : TV


In Utero: 20th Anniversay Edition [DGC]

The main criteria from the fan P.O.V. remains the same for In Utero as any other reissue: Do you love this album enough to repurchase it, along with the extras included in an expanded version? Nirvana’s studio epitaph probably doesn't need an invitation to your collection, one way or another, but the 2013 Albini mixes alone could be reason enough to re-evaluate the album, or at least judge it in a slightly different light.


Jane's Addiction Live in NYC [UMe]

The album version of Live in NYC [Universal] can reasonably hold the listener's attention on its own, but the DVD of the proceedings is as close to a rock and roll circus as we've seen in ages. Or at least, one big awesome party.


Nataly Dawn dissed for not staying on the cheeseball route

Dawn is best known as half of YouTube sensation Pomplamoose--along with fellow multi-instrumentalist Jack Conte--whose claim to fame is funny, classic pop covers of Top 40 hits. Yet her solo debut, How I Met Her [Nonesuch] is a lush collection of singer/songwriter Americana which earned mixed reviews and a Spin magazine "Worst New Music" designation, despite fitting the profile of the type of album that passes for a critical favorite these days. Of course, critical faves tend to be measured by the music and/or the artist's relationship with a certain degree of authenticity and Dawn's viral past hinders that authenticity in the eyes and ears of quite a few reviewers. The same flip-flopping folks who deem it "rockist" to evaluate popular music artists by this standard, mind you.

Something was definitely fishy here. We asked ourselves why the folks at Spin and other like-minded critics weren't eating up Dawn's record? We thought about it for a minute and shortly thereafter arrived at a 'Eureka!' moment.

It seems as if fellow critics' main beef with Dawn and her album is that instead of following her band's cute Lady GaGa and Beyonce covers and going the Carmin route--gimmicky covers on YouTube leading to a trashy Black Eyed Peas/Top 40-type career--Dawn decided to cash in her viral chips as an earnest singer/songwrit­er instead of the abominable cheesy musical theatre geeks fascinated with lowest common denominator hip hop and auto tuned bullshit that is Carmin.

Truth is, if this album had been made by someone plucked out of obscurity and without the stigma of internet inauthenticity, Spin and Pitchfork would be all over it. But they want their viral sensations to stay in their place and continue being their pet monkeys; never attempt to rise above anything Bieber-esque. It's like a perverse variation on the indie rock elitism of not liking an artist as soon as they become popular. And it stinks.


Digital sales are down 2.4% and sales at both chain stores and independents have suffered a 17% drop, as well.


Jack White announced the release of a new Raconteurs album.


The Divinyls' Christina Amphlett; Soft Machine’s Kevin Ayers; original Yes guitarist Peter Banks; singer Bobby “Blue” Bland; Trevor Bolder, bassist for Uriah Heep, Wishbone Ash and David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars; former Iron Maiden drummer Clive BurrBenjamin Curtis, original guitarist for The Secret Machines; jazz great Donald Byrd; singer/songwriter JJ Cale; Chi Cheng, Deftones bassist; Joey Covington, drummer for Jefferson Airplane; jazz keyboardist and Frank Zappa sideman George Duke; Slayer guitarist Jeff Hanneman; singer/songwriter Richie Havens; original Let's Active bassist Faye Hunter; producer/engineer Andy Johns; country legend George Jones; Blue Oyster Cult founding guitarist/keyboardist Allen Lanier; Ten Years After’s Alvin Lee; producer and Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek; Devo drummer Alan Myers; The Troggs’ vocalist Reg Presley; producer Phil Ramone; the one and only Lou Reed; Tonight Show drummer Ed Shaughnessy; singer/guitarist Tony Sheridan, who gave The Beatles their start as his backing band; Stan Tracey, “godfather of British jazz”.


Old Geeks, New Records

The question of relevance, when it comes to a veteran rock outfit is, no doubt, a thorny proposition to ponder. But it comes into sharp focus when said act has been out of the public eye for years, or even decades. One thing is certain, tho: whatever argument in favor of a return is certainly hindered if there really isn’t an audience anticipating the artist’s most recent offerings.

As opposed to the return of The Pixies and My Bloody Valentine—the former getting a tad burned by the recent release of an EP of new material, which follows a sold out reunion tour and subsequent, enthusiastically recieved live jaunts; the latter releasing their first album in 22 years to much praise—seminal hardcore band Black Flag and ‘70s AOR stalwarts Boston—polar opposites if ever, despite their respective leaders being tech geeks who didn’t see a place for themselves in the mid ‘70s rock and roll landscape—have endured much in the way of discord and indifference, respectively, of late. Black Flag’s first album of new material in 28 years seems to exist in a sort of nebulous area: although not a return to form, it's definitely not an embarrassment a la The Weirdness (c’mon, Iggy!) but not exactly vital, either. It doesn’t suck and Black Flag fans should not avoid it, is probably the most accurate if not entirely charitable synopsis. (Vocalist Ron Reyes does kick ass throughout the proceedings.) 

Longtime Boston vocalist Brad Delp committed suicide in March of 2007. Aside from guitarist Tom Scholz’s layered guitar sound Delp was the band’s single most identifiable sonic asset, and some might argue its best. Unfortunately, his posthumous appearance on Life, Love & Hope is wasted on tepid, badly produced material that would’ve sounded dated 20 years ago and could only be of interest to Boston completists. Eventually, even the most talented of athletes have to retire, their bodies no longer responding to the challenges of their chosen profession. Musicians don’t have that obstacle but sometimes, as Boston’s new album particularly proves, it might be a good thing if they had some sort of equivalent.