Hey, I’m Chris and I play in Young Adults, a band invested in volume, so many of these picks should come as no surprise to those familiar with us. I enjoy all kinds of music, but this year definitely has provided a lot for my constantly aching noise-pop appetite so be forwarned that it’s *heavy* on that side. I also haven’t been more excited about local music than in 2013, and I hope to see all of my friends and peers take over the world in no time. (Chris also writes about music for this here Hassle site. FYI. – Dan)
*** NUMBER ONE (with a bullet) ***
Grooms – Infinity Caller
I can’t say enough about how great Grooms are. 2011’s Prom front-to-back is one of the strongest records I’ve heard in years, an intricate and beautiful work of art for anyone in love with guitars. With Infinity Caller, they’ve decided to call upon the powers of punkrock and deliver an energetic and instantly likable effort. Grooms simultaneously succeed at being both mysterious and intimate, surreal and visceral, emotional and cryptic. In ‘Completely’, they play a fairly straightforward rock song that climaxes into a surreal guitar lift-off that leaves the listener disoriented and awestruck. The thoughtful rhythms shift erratically while being contained in succinct pop song forms and the nuanced production lends a noisy tinge to every snare hit and cymbal splash. Travis Johnson’s lyrics are playful and poetic, enigmatic and often beautifully dreamlike. Above everything, each song has a distinct identity and immediacy that feels comforting while the subtle intricacies of background synths, dreamy vocals courtesy of bassist and main song-collaborator Emily Ambruso, and various sonic accents put the songs into more surreal territory. Ambruso also stars in one of the most buoyant and enjoyable tracks on the record, ‘Iskra Goodbye’, an infectious pop gem that eventually explodes into a triumphant fuzzy guitar solo. The title track even hints at hip-hop in its drumbeat without sounding out-of-place; in fact, it’s one of the catchiest songs on the record. This is music that moved Michael Azzerad to invite Grooms to play the Our Band Could Be Your Life Anniversary show in New York. They decided to include their dreamy interpretation of ‘Something I Learned Today’ just for good measure. This is music that I truly believe was made for me.
P.S. Speaking of Azzerad, Sadie from Speedy Ortiz wrote a review of this album on his new review website.
*** THE REST OF THE BEST ***
Natureboy – The Sweep
Brian from Michigan slowcore friends Shores turned me on to Natureboy when I was looking for awesome new music. The Sweep, her second LP, is surely folk-inspired but elevates a sometimes confining genre by embracing texture and space in both songcraft and production. Sara Kermanshahi’s voice is a distinct presence, perfect in its imperfections. The songs often take on a shimmering post-rock haze while retaining the immediacy of Kermanshahi’s eager delivery. Gorgeous in its layering and craft, accessible in its simplicity but never feeling boring or repetitive. The Sweep hints at an infinite beauty beyond the confines of pop music.
Pity Sex – Feast of Love
Opener ‘Wind-Up’ smashed me in the face for the first time just a few days ago and I’ve been reeling from it since, hungrily soaking in every blissful fuzz-drenched pop-punk-tinged minute. Pity Sex have honed in on what was so amazing about ‘Dogwalk’ from their last EP Dark World and concentrated it over an album while shedding many of the sometimes cringe-y emo-isms of that release. True heart-on-sleeve music cranked to 10.
Bent Shapes – Feels Weird
I’ve watched almost every iteration of Girlfriends (the former Bent Shapes) twist and shout and rock out, and shared the stage with them many of those times. With their debut LP they’ve stripped away the scuziness and tape hiss of their early jams and exposed a clean and direct vein into the heart of pop. Feels Weird feels weird in this day and age of hazy soundscapes and red-lined bombastic production in how shamelessly pure it sounds. The recording is absolutely perfect for what Bent Shapes are aiming for, mainly a clever evolution of pop music using the architecture of the Feelies, the Embarassment, the Homosexuals, and a slew of well-read post-punk and pop influence as the foundation. This is smart and precise while still a little rough around the edges, played by three really talented people.
Krill – Lucky Leaves
Krill’s debut LP Alam no Hris immediately grabbed me and threw me around my feelings for a while. Their follow-up realizes all of that greatness and personality and brings it to new musical heights while feeling even more intimate than before. A unique and slightly demented, truly cynical, but ultimately invigorating take on indie rock. A true creative triumph and instantly relatable, thanks largely in part to Jonah Furman’s soul-bearing and biting but playful lyrics. Krill forever.
Potty Mouth – Hell Bent
The promising debut LP from 4 distinct personalities crafting clever pop-punk with a slightly dreamy and wistful edge. There’s a darkness and playfulness with Hell Bent, a push-and-pull between exuberant punk assaults and more introspective depths, both musically and lyrically. I can’t wait to hear what PM bring to the table in 2014.
California X – s/t
Heavy, heavy, heavy riffs. A distinct pop sensibilitiy crushed and ground into the dirt by Big Muffs and set free to ride a wave of sublime guitar licks into noisy tundras. Frontdude Lemmy cries out into the vortex as he rides. These dudes don’t mess around.
Ovlov – am
Read my review of this heavy fuzz-pop behemoth and while you’re at it, check out the rest of the Exploding in Sound roster, including the newly sworn-in Krill.
No Joy – Wait to Pleasure / Pastel and Pass Out EP
I haven’t heard a shoegaze record this immediately satisfying since I-don’t-remember . No Joy are incredibly well-versed in the genre they so proudly inhabit, and it’s truly joyous. Both Wait to Pleasure and the more recently released Pastel and Pass Out showcase intricately layered and nuanced production, incorporating hypnotic drum loops and electronic flourishes that raise these already strong songs into more blissful highs. They succeed where mediocre shoegaze bands fail, in that they occupy their own special place in the lineage of this often homogenous genre.
My Bloody Valentine – MBV
I’m someone who was changed the moment I heard My Bloody Valentine‘s Loveless. It simultaneously sounded familiar and completely futuristic, and a million years after that game-changing masterpiece, Kevin Shields finally decided to forge new ground. While I can’t really compare it to their ’91 gem, mbv does indeed step into uncharted territory while remaining true-to-form.
*** HONORABLE MENTIONS ***
Unwound – Kid is Gone
Unwound is an unforgettable and timeless band and everyone invested in them or in punk or post-punk should be aware that Kid is Gone, a 3xLP collection of early and out-of-print/rare material, is available right now. Long live Unwound.
Here’s to more greatness in 2014.