Thursday, September 4, 2014

MCQ'S FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2013 - UPDATED RANKINGS

All right, here's an updated list of where I would rank all the 2013 albums I was able to spend a decent amount of time with.  Everything here has merit, regardless of ranking.  Obviously I'm way higher on Trouble Will Find Me and Light Up Gold than Major Arcana, but this list only contains albums I found worthwhile.

Biggest surprise for me is how much some of the years folkier releases - Once I Was An Eagle, American Kid, Dream River - grew on me as year went on, and how hard it was for me to truly buy into two of the year's most celebrated releases - MBV and Disclosure's Settle.

HIGHEST RECOMMENDS
1. Trouble Will Find Me - The National
2. Push The Sky Away - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
3. Light Up Gold - Parquet Courts

STRONG RECOMMENDS
4. Southeastern - Jason Isbell
5. Modern Vampires Of The City - Vampire Weekend
6. Sunbather - Deafhaven

SOLID RECOMMENDS
7. New Moon - The Men
8. Psychic - DARKSIDE
9. Women - Rhye
10. Holy Fire - Foals
11. The Silver Gymnasium - Okkervil River
12. Howlin - Jagwar Ma
13. Silence Yourself - Savages
14. Once I Was An Eagle - Laura Marling
15. Dream River - Bill Callahan
16. American Kid - Patty Griffin
17. Pearl Mystic - Hookworms
18. Excavation - The Haxan Cloak
19. Random Access Memories - Daft Punk
20. Immunity - Jon Hopkins
21. MCII - Mikal Cronin
22. The Worse Things Get... - Neko Case
23. The Bones Of What You Believe - Chvrches
24. Shaking The Habitual - The Knife
25. Yeezus - Kanye West
26. Reflektor - Arcade Fire
27. Cerulean Salt - Waxahatchee
28. More Light - Primal Scream
29. Absolute Zero - Little Green Cars
30. We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors - Foxygen
31. The Electric Lady - Janelle Monae
32. Muchacho - Phosphorescent
33. Pale Green Ghosts - John Grant
34. Signed And Sealed In Blood - Dropkick Murphy's
35. Virgins - Tim Hecker
36. Days Are Gone - Haim
37. Floating Coffin - Thee Oh Sees
38. Wakin On A Pretty Daze - Kurt Vile
39. Pedestrian Verse - Frightened Rabbit
40. Fade - Yo La Tengo
41. The Next Day - David Bowie
42. Kveikur - Sigur Ros
43. Slow Focus - Fuck Buttons
44. AM - Arctic Monkeys
45. ...Like Clockwork - Queens Of The Stone Age
46. Pure Heroine - Lorde
47. The Terror - The Flaming Lips
48. Innocence Is Kinky - Jenny Hval

MILD RECOMMENDS
49. The Messenger - Johnny Marr
50. Welcome To Oblivion - How To Destroy Angles
51. Monomania - Deerhunter
52. Pushin' Against A Stone - Valerie June
53. Same Trailer, Different Park - Kacey Musgraves
54. Hummingbird - Local Natives
55. Wonderful, Glorious - Eels
56. Overgrown - James Blake
57. In Guards We Trust - Guards
58. Head In The Dirt - Hanni El Khatib
59. The Bomb Shelter Sessions - Vintage Trouble
60. Settle - Disclosure
61. Jake Bugg
62. Old - Danny Brown
63. The Blowout - The So So Glos
64. Mosquito - The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
65. Wise Up Ghost - Elvis Costello & The Rootsr
66. Anxiety - Autre Ne Veut
67. Nepenthe - Julianna Barwick
68. I Hate Music - Superchunk
69. Loud City Song - Julia Holte
70. Tomorrow's Harvest - Boards Of Canada
71. Run The Jewels
72. Wondrous Bughouse - Youth Lagoon
73. Twelve Reasons To Die - Ghostface Killah
74. Grownass Man - The Shouting Matches
75. MBV - My Bloody Valentine
76. Nomad - Bombino
77. Every Kingdom - Ben Howard
78. 6 Feet Beneath The Moon - King Krule
79. Repave - Volcano Choir
80. You're Nothing - Iceage
81. 180 - Palma Violets
82. Major Arcana - Speedy Ortiz

Last Updated 09.04.2014

Friday, June 13, 2014

McQ's Best Of 2013 Mix Collection

What can I say, friends, this year life just got in the way.

But after many delays, it's time to once again look back at some of the best musical moments from  the year that just...er, some time ago...transpired.

In truth, 2013 was a down year, strong in the less accessible fringes and the ongoing psych rock movement, but otherwise weaker than normal across the board.

But even in the worst of years, there are always gems to be found, and Nancy and I have done our best to aggregate those songs that stuck with us here.

And hey, despite the lateness, summer listening is better than no listening at all, right?

So without further ado, I give to you McQ's Best Of 2013 Mix Collection.

Enjoy!

Volume 1 - Best Of The Best:
We start 2013 the same way we have the last two years, with selects representing my favorite albums and singles of the year.




Volume 2 - Groovy:
As stated above, the ongoing psychedelic revival continued to show considerable legs.  Many of my favorite 2013 moments from this movement are included here.



Volume 3 - Earnest:
Though not devoid of humor, this eclectic mix focus primarily on those 2013 artists most known for their seriousness of intent and straightforward, heart-on-their-sleeves passion.  Oh, and it also rocks.



Volume 4 - Playful:
My favorite lighter electro-pop, punk-pop, indie-pop, and mainstream hip-hop/R&B moments of 2013.



Volume 5 - Creepy / Classless / Angry / Pissed:
A mish-mash of raging punk, decadent hip-hop, axe-to-grind confessionals, troubling art rock, and searing black metal...all things off-putting are celebrated here.



Volume 6 - Mild:
Where some of 2013's best folk, alt-county, yacht-rock, choral ambient, and singer-songwriter efforts get their due.



Volume 7 - Coachella Starters:
One of my favorite editions in our annual celebration of the lesser known international and up-and-coming artists that make the early hours of each Coachella festival such a joy.



Volume 8 - Textural Marvels:
My favorite mix of this year's collection.  It just felt like all the creative energy of the world music community was channelled towards the fringes this year, with no genre benefitting more than experimental electronica, which makes up a big portion of this mix.



Volume 9 - Nancy's Favorites:
With a few dynamite exceptions, Nancy's went very mellow this year, but her song choices couldn't be stronger.



Volume 10 - Goodnight, Sweet Prince:
A tribute to Velvet Underground founder Lou Reed.

McQ's Best Of 2013 Volume 1 - Best Of The Best

Volume 1 - Best of the Best gathers my favorite singles and choice cuts from most of my favorite albums of 2013.

1. Obvious Bicycle - Vampire Weekend: From the moment I heard those amazing backing vocals, I sensed this song, my favorite from 2013’s best pop-album Modern Vampires Of The City (Strong Recommend), would open this collection. It wasn’t until later, as I focused on the lyrics, that I realized this sad micro-portrait of a struggling New York twenty-something the morning of his eviction marked the second year running I had started these mixes with a song about white economic plight.  A sign of the times? Personal fixation? Who knows? For me it really was about those backing vocals.


2. KV Crimes - Kurt Vile: A beneficiary of Nancy’s track poaching, this, the shortest track from Kurt Vile’s long and hazy but wonderfully produced stoner-mantra Wakin’ On Pretty Daze (Solid Recommend) seemed the best replacement for the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Sacrilege, which was originally slotted here.





3. Get Lucky - Daft Punk:
 Yeah, I know, you’ve heard this track from Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories (Solid Recommend) 1,000 times and you’re sick to death of it.  I don’t care.  If any throwaway summer dance hit of recent years deserves its fame, it’s this one.  As a closet Chic fan, I just never tire of that Niles Rodgers guitar. So you’ll have to listen to it one more time.





4. Tears O Plenty - Parquet Courts: My favorite track from my favorite punk album of the year, Parquet Courts often hysterical, Minutemen-flavored Light Up Gold (Highest Recommend).






5. This Is The Last Time - The National: Is this the best track from Trouble Will Find Me (Highest Recommend), my choice for album of the year?  I’m not sure, as my favorite track from Trouble changes almost daily.  What I do know is that the opening minute of this song, with its killer bass intro, gets me every time.






6. Black Skinhead - Kanye West: I’ve got mixed feelings about Yeezus (Solid Recommend), Kanye’s attempt to bring the in-your-face sonic palette of the Death Grips-inspired industrial rap movement to mainstream hip-hop. On the one hand, I admire his adventurousness and willingness to follow 2010’s brilliant My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy with an intentionally imperfect album, but as with U2’s Pop twenty years ago, I fear this marks the point in a true original’s career where he starts chasing trends rather than initiating them himself. Still, this track, with its fun Gary Glitter sample, is “Kanye, the master beat producer” at his best.

7. The Stars (Are Out Tonight) - David Bowie: Easily one of my top ten tracks of the year, this ambiguous “one foot in, one foot out” examination of the celebrity bubble from late career effort The Next Day (Solid Recommend) shows David Bowie still capable of delivering those odd but fantastic vocals that have always made him such a unique recording artist.

 


8. Down Down The Deep River - Okkervil River: God bless Okkervil River.  Now deep into their second decade, it has become clear they are one of this era’s American Music Club type acts, consistently near-brilliant, mostly accessible, should-be-huge lifers who, because of a few quirks in their style, will just never enjoy significant commercial success. This song, a Stand By Me-like reflection on bandleader Will Scheff’s childhood in rural New Hampshire from 2013’s warm, 80s nostalgia-drenched The Silver Gymnasium (Solid Recommend), is one of the band’s all-time bests. I hope you like it. They could use a few more fans.

9. Late Night - Foals: Most of the critical attention for Foal’s latest release Holy Fire (Solid Recommend) focused on its two most divergent cuts, the straight-up pop track My Number, and the bordering-on heavy metal Inhaler (featured on Vol 3 - Earnest), but this slow-burner is my personal favorite.  Note for note / sound for sound perfect, it gets my vote for the best produced song of the year.




10. Gun - Chvrches: In a down year for M83/Robin-esque electro-pop, the bright sounding but lyrically downcast Scottish act Chvrches was as good as it got. The Mother We Share (included on Volume 4 - Playful) and Recover were their 2013 debut’s (The Bones Of What You Believe (Solid Recommend)) most popular singles, but for me, when it comes to electro-pop, it’s all about the hooks, and I found Gun to be the catchiest track of them all.



11. Freaky - The Men: My favorite track from my favorite hard-rock album of the year, The Men’s Crazy Horse-inspired, country-tinged slop-fest New Moon (Solid Recommend).








12. Song For Zula - Phosphorescent: One of the year’s most celebrated songs, and definitely the year’s best rumored to have been inspire by a gorilla, Matthew Houck’s impassioned, no-verse-no-chorus alt-country ballad from Muchacho (Solid Recommend) challenges Johnny Cash’s assertion that “love is a burning ring of fire,” suggesting it instead as a soul-crushing agent of personal entrapment…a “caging” thing as powerful and impervious to will as the metal bars that restrain sad Zula of the song’s title.



13. Kinda Fuzzy - Eels: It’s not a personalized “Best Of” mix until you’ve included that one song no one else would consider, and Kinda Fuzzy from Wonderful, Glorious (Mild Recommend) fills that role for me here, just as Red Kross’s Uglier did in 2012. I’ve always loved Eels’ plainspoken, beaten-down but still-in-the-fight persona, and in particular love the escalating, herky-jerky feistiness of this song here.





14. Nitrous Gas - Frightened Rabbit: Frightened Rabbit’s 2013 release Pedestrian Verse (Solid Recommend) was much more a lyrical than a musical accomplishment, but I love the flow and acoustic feel of this tiny Celtic-tinged ballad.







15. Normal Person - Arcade Fire: One my two fav tracks from Arcade Fire’s uneven but great-in-its-best-moments fourth release Reflektor (Solid Recommend), this Stones-y throwaway captures the sense of jammy, irreverent fun the band was going for this time out better than anything else on the record. 






16. Higgs Boson Blues - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: A surreal, fever-dream evocation of late-nights on the road, focused mainly on the sinful, post-gig allure of various American cities, Higgs-Boson Blues is my favorite song of the year. Released just months before “twerk-gate” on 2013’s second best album Push The Sky Away (Highest Recommend), its creepy closing lines of “Miley Cyrus floats in a swimming pool in Toluca Lake / and you’re the best girl I’ve ever had” garnered a lot of attention, and inspired more than one critic, oddly, to label it the most prescient song of 2013 (as if a fifty-plus industry outsider like Cave gives a damn about the direction of pop culture). I…having actually passed Ms. Cyrus outside her home a couple times while on lunchtime walks (I used to work in that Toluca Lake neighborhood), and having seen the surprising number of young starlets Cave attracts to his L.A. Bad Seeds/Grinderman shows…interpret the song’s ending a bit, um, shall we say, less metaphorically. Whether I’m right or not…still the best song of 2013.

17. Relatively Easy - Jason Isbell2013 may have been a down year musically, but it was an exceptional year for lyrics. Parquet Courts, The National, Frightened Rabbit, Okkervil River, John Grant, and Vampire Weekend, just to name the obvious, left indelible impressions with their words. But in the end, no wordsmith was as impressive in 2013 as one-time Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbell on his marvelous singer-songwriter release Southeastern (Strong Recommend), and this track, the album’s moving, “be grateful for what you have” closer, seemed a fine way to end this mix.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

McQ's Best Of 2013 Volume 2 - Groovy

The decade’s still fertile psych-rock revival kept it going in 2013, and this mix assembles cuts from some of genre’s best releases…along with a few tracks from other genres that made sense to include here…to form the hardest-rocking set in this year’s collection.

1. Away/Towards - Hookworms: Though barley recognized in the States, secretive, “we only go by our initials” U.K. act Hookworms debut Pearl Mystic (Solid Recommend), with its heady mix of druggy shoegaze and “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” organ-drenched psychedelia, may be 2013’s heaviest album. Half a great record, the hard-charging numbers like Form And Function and Preservation outshine the album’s slower, quieter passages, but one listen to explosive opener Away / Towards should be all it takes to understand why, even with its flaws, Pearl Mystic was one of my favorite psych-rock releases of 2013.

2. Half Angel Half Light - The Men: One of the best and most prolific indie-rock bands going, New York lo-fi noise/punkers The Men went crazy on Crazy Horse for their 2013 release New Moon (Solid Recommend), crafting a ramshackle country rocker that starts out slow and then just builds and builds and builds until it literally threatens to blow out your speakers by closing sludge-fest Supermoon, a track I almost ended this mix with before settling on Mikal Cronin’s softer Piano Mantra. Half Angel Half Light, another personal favorite, stands in here as a representative on New Moon’s mellower first half.

3. On Blue Mountain - Foxygen: A working duo since their early high school days in L.A. suburb Westlake Village, Foxygen’s proper full-length debut We Are The 21st Century Ambassador’s Of Peace And Magic (Solid Recommend), takes irreverent, playful, 60s-era retro-thievery to new levels, turning a combustible, constantly muting pastiche of stolen sounds into one of 2013’s freshest, most joyous albums.  How the record retains any sense of hook with its rapid fire shifts and scattershot, Jagger-esque vocals, I don’t know, but it does…though it’s definitely an album that takes a few listens to stick. On Blue Mountain, my favorite up-tempo number, appears here. San Francisco, the album’s best ballad and most popular song, appears on Volume 4 - Playful.

4. Shout It Out - Mikal Cronin: Playing like this decade’s variation on Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend, multi-instrumentalist and Ty Segall bandmember Cronin’s sophomore release MCII (Solid Recommend) might be the best power-pop album of 2013. Combing sweet, breezy, cleanly recorded surf-pop with massive quiet-loud guitar dynamics reminiscent of early Nirvana, it packs quite a punch.  Shout It Out appears here, representing the album’s many good high-energy numbers. The already mentioned Piano Mantra, the album’s slow-building closing anthem, appears later on this mix.

5. Donuts Only - Parquet Courts: Parquet Courts Light Up Gold (Highest Recommend) was one of 2013’s special releases, a minor slacker/cowboy-punk classic from a group of transplanted Jewish Texans now day-jobbing as bicycle messengers in New York that forges elements from a variety of obvious influences…Pavement, The Minutemen, Sonic Youth, The Velvet Underground, Kraftwerk…into a relaxed punk style uniquely their own.  Loaded with laugh-out-loud, irreverent lyrics, marvelous, unusual guitar solos, and propulsive motorik grooves, it’s almost impossible to single out favorites amongst its fifteen ninety-second songs.  But if I must, Donuts Only would be one of them…detailing the band’s heart-breaking re-realization upon a return to Texas that scoring bagels at donut shops is a New York-only kind of thing.

6. If I Had A Tail - Queens Of The Stone Age: Touted as a return to Rated-R / Songs For The Deaf form, I found Queens Of The Stone Ages’ Like Clockwork…(Solid Recommend) to be more a hit-and-miss affair. As always, the production work by band leader Josh Homme is spectacular, and the album displays a nifty fluidity of styles, shifting from its core hard rock sound into other genres with a dexterity not unlike that on Refused’s The Shape Of Punk To Come. But Homme’s singing, never a strong point, is bland at times, and I failed to connect with some of Clockwork’s wonky riffs. It does contain some excellent, Stones-y rockers, though, especially I Sat ByThe Ocean and this track here.

7. Amidinine - Bombino: Niger-based desert bluesman Bombino’s life story is the stuff of legend, having had to flee his native country multiple times during periods of political upheaval, the last a 2007 Islamic fundamentalist crack down on the playing of the blues itself.  Having worked with famous western artists before, most notably Keith Richards, Bombino teamed up with The Black Keys Dan Auerbach in Nashville to create this aptly titled 2013 release Nomad (Mild Recommend), an engaging, if ultimately somewhat repetitive album that combines his native land’s Tuareg rhythms with the Delta blues of the Deep South.

8. That Loneliness - Jagwar Ma: Updating the neo-psychedelic flavors of the Manchester rave scene circa 1989 with contemporary electronic textures, U.K. act Jagwar Ma’s debut Howlin’ (Solid Recommend) is a lot of loose, high-spirited fun. Some songs settle into extended, funky grooves, others, like That Loneliness here, are “Madchester” pop perfection. Anyone who occasionally returns to their old Stone Roses, Charlatan UK, or Happy Monday records will find much to like with this band.



9. Mosquito - Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Yes, once one gets past unreal opener Sacrilege, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ 2013 release Mosquito (Mild Recommend) is a disappointment, but I don’t think it’s quite the disaster many reviews have made it out to be. For one, I like the album’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink aesthetic. Second, Sacrilege is not the only decent song.  Case in point, this silly, rocking throwaway. It may just be a lazy excuse for Karen O to serve up a heaping dose of punk-pop attitude, but it’s a lazy excuse done well.


10. So Good At Being In Trouble - Unknown Mortal Orchestra: One of many fine, home-recorded psychedelic pop tracks offered up on Unknown Mortal Orchestra II, the second release from Oregonian solo artist Ruban Neilson.  If you like the easy, light vibe of this track, you’ll probably like the album in full.





11. Tunnel Time - Thee Oh Sees: San Francisco’s ultra-prolific psych-rockers Thee Oh Sees mixed things up more on 2013’s Floating Coffin (Solid Recommend) than on the last album we profiled here, 2011’s awesome Carrion Crawler/The Dream double EP. This time out, the tempo is often more relaxed, as on the epically plodding Toe Cutter / Thumb Buster, and the humorous Minotaur.  But for me, it’s still those full throttled, fuzzed-out, garage-rock burners that play best, as evidenced by I Come From The Mountain (on Volume 7 – Coachella Starters) and the Jethro Tull-ish Tunnel Time included here.

12. Mute - Youth Lagoon: No album disappointed me more upon first listen this year more than Youth Lagoon’s kaleidoscopically deranged Wondrous Bughouse (Mild Recommend).  A first class act of producer hi-jacking, gone were the gentle, earnest bedroom pop anthems that made debut The Year Of Hibernation such a charmer, replace by emotionally inert oddities drowned in a manically overstuffed freak-folk production design courtesy of regular Animal Collective collaborator Ben H. Allen. But with repeat listens, some of that first album’s charm does rise out of the blippy flotsam, especially on Mute, the album’s one track where everything seems to come together for the greater good. I’m still hoping principal songwriter Trevor Powers finds a less meddlesome producer to work with on the next one, though.

13. At Night In Dreams - White Denim: I’ve featured White Denim albums multiple times in the past, but am disappointed with the more conventional and polished southern-fried direction of their 2013 release Corsicana Lemonade following the less predictable, punkier nature of their previous efforts.  However, this rollicking opener grabbed me from the get go, both on record and when I saw them play it live opening for the Flaming Lips last Halloween, so I wanted to include it here.



14. Dream Captain - Deerhunter: Deerhunter kept it simple this time out on their fourth full-length Monomania (Mild Recommend), abandoning the lush, wide-ranging orchestrations of prior (and better) releases Microcastle and Halycon Digest for a lean, spiky, garage sound. The result was a consistent record loaded with decent songs - THM, Pensacola, Back To The Middle, the title track, Dream Captain here - but bereft of anything exceptional.



15. First Shot - The Love Language: Last profiled here on 2011’s Coachella Starters and Nancy’s Favorites mixes, North Carolinian Stuart McLamb’s indie-rock outfit The Love Language had a distinct, romantic, Walkmen-esque vibe back then, but on new release Ruby Red, McLamb takes his band in a more psychedelic direction, particularly on album opener Calm Down and the lively First Shot profiled here.




16. Air Bud - Kurt Vile: Kurt Vile’s Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze (Solid Recommend) is a minor stylistic shift from previous effort Smoke Ring For My Halo, hazily electric where Halo was hazily acoustic, and challengingly long where Halo was just kinda long.  Full of rambling, marvelously produced, druggy rockers…many that push the ten-minute mark…it’s got killer opening and closing couplets in Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze / KV Crimes and Air Bud / Goldtones, but is much less effective in its meandering middle section.  Either way, this is an album best experienced on the road, when one has the time…and patience…to kick back and soak in its subtle instrumental detail.

17. Stoned And Starving - Parquet Courts: My only question regarding Parquet Courts’ most highly regarded song is how in the hell did it take the rock ‘n’ roll world sixty years to come up with this title?  One of my favorite tracks of the year.






18. Piano Manta - Mikal Cronin: This second selection from Mikal Cronin’s MCII was basically the last track, along with Frightened Rabbit’s Late March Death March, that Nancy dropped from her mix, and I was more than happy to snatch it back up. It’s a fantastic, moving closer.



















Saturday, June 7, 2014

McQ's Best Of 2013 Volume 7 - Coachella Starters

Our annual celebration of the lesser known acts that make the early hours of the each Coachella festival so memorable.  While always among the most eclectic of the our yearly mixes, this year’s edition, just like the 2013 festival itself, has a stronger than usual hard-rock lean.

1. Let Me Come The River Flow - Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra: An institution in Japan for over thirty years, this white-suited, vibrant, ten-man ska orchestra was a perfect choice to open the main stage on day one. For many who attended Coachella 2013, this was the first thing they heard.







2. I Come From The Mountain - Thee Oh Sees: Few bands presently touring bring as much manic, rubber-necking (see them, and you’ll know what I mean) energy as San Francisco psych-rock’s finest. Their early Sunday set was one my all-time Coachella favs, represented here by the best track from their 2013 release Floating Coffin (Solid Recommend).







3. Nobody Told Me - Vintage Trouble: We originally profiled L.A.-based Vintage Trouble and their 2012 album The Bomb Shelter Sessions (Mild Recommend) last year on Nancy’s Favorites with the single Blues Hand Me Down, but they were so good at Coachella (only Nick Cave and The Stone Roses were better), I had to throw in another song this year to celebrate that performance.  Combining a front man with a voice and moves worthy of James Brown with a backing band whose guitar-slinging prowess approaches Led Zeppelin levels, they are the very definition of a high-energy act.  If their songwriting skills ever rise to match their performance chops - watch out!


4. Prisoner's Song - Dropkick Murphy's: If you’re a movie fan, this song might sound familiar, as it was used to score the title sequence to Martin Scorcese’s The Departed.  But the song wasn’t given a proper album release until 2013 on the Boston-based act’s Signed and Sealed in Blood (Solid Recommend). Combining traditional Celtic folk and punk in a manner similar to The Pogues or Flogging Molly, but taking things a touch more hard-core, Dropkick Murphys’ feisty main stage set was made all the more poignant by coming just days after the Boston Marathon bombing.




5. Dark Star - Polica: Hailing from Minnesota, this band…an outcropping from the Gayngs collaboration a few years back…blends jazz accents, R&B, and a heavy use of auto-tuned vocals to create a fresh sounding brand of synth-pop.  Aside for this song here and Violent Games, I wasn’t blown away by their 2012 debut Give Up The Ghost (Mild Recommend), but word is their more recent release Shulamith is stronger. Either way, they sounded great when I saw them in the desert.





6. The Right Thing Right - Johnny Marr: There’s a reason Morrissey did most of the singing for Smiths, Johnny’s voice will never be more than merely adequate, but what Marr lacks in vocal prowess he more than makes up for with a masterful command of rock ‘n’ roll’s guitar vocabulary.  This song was my favorite from his hard-charging Friday afternoon set.







7. Fix This - The Colourist: Ah, the trials and tribulations of a young band trying to make its name. Having pulled an all-nighter driving down from a San Francisco gig the previous evening, these twee poppers still managed to summon enough bleary-eyed energy to make their noon Saturday set one of the day’s most delightful.  They have only a few singles and EPs to their name at present, but I hope to hear more from them soon.






8. Outsiders - IO Echo: One of my favorite songs on this mix, it perfectly captures the light Asian accents and industrial touches that differentiates this young L.A. band’s very pretty brand of synth-pop.









9. Best Of Friends - Palma Violets: Palma Violets 2013 debut 180 (Mild Recommend) is one of the weakest albums profiled in this year’s collection, but see them live, and you get why they are such a buzz band in the U.K. Bringing a highly engaging, spontaneous hippie vibe to their otherwise very Strokes/Franz Ferdinand-like songs, even their weakest recorded material springs to life on stage, and when they pulled out one of their few really good songs like Best Of Friends, their show was a joy to behold.

 


10. My Love Took Me Down To The River - Little Green Cars: My favorite discovery of Coachella 2013, this young Dublin act is one of those recent mega-fest early afternoon regulars like Fanfarlo, Gardens and Villa, Guards, Wolf Gang, White Arrows, etc., etc., whose indie sound feels like a amalgam of dozens of past and present influences.  But in this case, they bottle all those influences…the arena-folk of Mumford and Sons, the twee flavors of Soft Bulletin-era Flaming Lips, Volcano Choir auto-tuned soft-rock, Arcade Fire uplift, and especially the So-Cal harmonies of peak-era Fleetwood Mac…into a very appealing confection.  This track from their debut Absolute Zero (Solid Recommend) showcases the group’s fine, folksy, five-part vocals.


11. Year Zero - Ghost B.C.: Decked out in skull paint and black papal robes and hoisting inverted cross scepters, it was hard to tell if Sweden’s Ghost B.C. take their bubblegum Satanism seriously, or if it is all just theatrics. Either way, when lead singer Papa Emeritus and the Faceless Ghouls came onto the main stage early Sunday back by a thundering, pre-recorded Latin chorus, then launched into their hooky brand of Beelzebub-championing Euro-metal, it proved to be the start of a surprisingly entertaining set, with Year Zero, from their 2013 release Infestissumam, being my favorite moment.


12. Baby I Call Hell - Deap Vally: A duo of L.A. lasses putting an all-female spin on the contemporary blues-pop movement dominated by the likes of The White Stripes, and The Black Keys, these young ladies whipped up quite a racket in their Mojave Tent opening Sunday set.








13. Summerscent - Kids These Days: It’s too bad this young, Chicago-based rap outfit has already broken up, because I genuinely enjoyed their Saturday morning set, and thought…in they way they were fusing rap with that classic, ultra-positive Sly & The Family Stone multi-racial, multi-gender dynamic…that they were onto something fresh.
 





14. Two Fingers - Jake Bugg: Brit Jake Bugg might not even be twenty yet, but he’s got the sounds and moves of the early Beatles and 60s folk-rockers like Bob Dylan and Donovan down pat. For me, his self-titled debut (Mild Recommend) is too reverential, lacking any real sense of personal identity to differentiate his work from that of his idols…other than lesser quality…but I have to admit his catchiest songs, most notably Lightning Bolt and this track here, were loads of fun when I caught him Friday in the Mojave.




15. Listen To Your Love - Mona: Blending arena-sized, Kings Of Leon chops with a heavy dose of earnest U2 uplift, Dayton, Ohio’s spiritually driven Mona comes off as the epitome of bombastic, mainstream, good-guy rock.  As such, they can be quite cheesy, but if you let your rock-snob guard down, a number of their tracks are also plenty of fun.  Case in point: Listen To Your Love from their self-titled debut.






16. Husbands - Savages: Due to schedule conflicts, I only caught the last 10 minutes of Savages’ set…but oh, what righteous, fist-clenching fury. For more on the band and their excellent debut Silence Yourself (Solid Recommend), see the write-up for Volume 5 - Creepy Classless Angry Pissed.







17. Penny - Hanni El Khatib: Yet another artist brought to the fore through collaboration with The Black Keys Dan Auerbach, Khatib delivered a rousing, multi-faceted blues-rock/garage-pop set that seemed ready to splinter at the seams. This track is my favorite of the poppier efforts from his Auerbach-produced sophomore effort Head In The Dirt (Mild Recommend).






18. I Know It's You - Guards: One of the most entertaining indie-rock acts on the daytime lineup, these New Yorkers put on a nifty early afternoon set, which peaked with this joyous Los Campesinos-styled cut from their uneven but strong-in-its-best-moments debut In Guards We Trust (Mild Recommend, but be sure to also check out Nightmare, Ready To Go, and Can’t Explain). One of my fav pops songs of 2013.





19. The Loop Closes - How To Destroy Angels: Dismissed by many as a vanity project allowing Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor to perform with en feugo wife Mariqueen Maandig, I actually enjoyed several tracks on debut Welcome Oblivion (Mild Recommend).  Yes, Maandig’s vocals are less than spectacular, and the songs are more chill than most Nine Inch Nails efforts, but come on, it’s still Trent Reznor writing and producing the music, and their set design, burying the band behind layers of low-wattage, ceiling hung light cables, was fantastic.  A fine way to close 2013’s opening night after Blur wrapped its headlining set early.