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.
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