Life Melters 2013

Words: Kevin Stebner

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Once again, I’m coming late to the game for the best jams of the year. But, as always, I needed that extra month to let things stew, lest we lose all music that came out in December (like the Self Defense Family LP, for instance). I like to choose songs over albums, and am prone to find a jam and listen to it over and over. Why let a perfect song get lost just because an album is uneven? That said, were I to make a best of albums list, a great many of these would top it as well. But I just wanted to share my favourite jams of 2013 with you.

~ Love, Kevin

Self Defense Family – “Aletta”
From: Try Me (Deathwish Inc.)

~ This is truth: Self Defense Family are the most exciting thing in punk right now — whether measured in terms of ethic, output schedule, band structure, no-fucks-given outspoken confidence, lyrical character, whim-taking, or even just song quality. They have no contemporaries, their shit is just better. And in 2013, SDF put out a ton of releases, each one filled with jams. If I can’t pick the one I released, then I’ll pick my second favourite: With “Aletta” they wrote the best love song by ripping apart the love song. Tear it down to bring it up.

Lucid 44 – “Torture Film”
From: Sweep/Sweep (Tonto is Jesus/Isolated Now Waves)

~ Easily one of the best (and certainly the most underrated) songwriters in Calgary, Markus Overland dropped a grumbly and understated monster with Sweep/Sweep from his Lucid 44 project. Fidelity-wise, this is his most assured release, to coincide with the level of writing. “Torture Film” is a re-recording of an old song with a harrowing vocal timbre and slow groove into impromptu jam, done with the confidence of following a decade-long labour of love.

Endless Rope – “Deterritoralise This”
From: Negi Surf (Self-Released/Common Thread)

~ This is a killer tape from the UK, and somehow related to Facel Vega, so I had to have it. Utterly snotty-nosed vocal styles growl over ripping guitars that are aptly described by the tape title: Negi Surf. It’s got Rev. Summer charge, UK post-punk and goth cool. Not since “Moon Over Marin” has this kind of thing sounded so pissed and rad.

Dasher – “Sodium”
From: Yeah, I Know (Self-Released)

~ Another unknown and killer punk tape. Dasher do that thing — fuzzed out guitars, shouted vocals, semi-grunge throwback — that’s hot with the kidlets and totally ruling the underground now, but Dasher do it better. “Sodium” has a sailing, pedal-laden lead matched with totally badass androgo-vocal bark. It’s got all the pieces that a thousand other bands have, but Dasher know how to correctly put ’em together.

Fiver – “Undertaker”
From: Lost the Plot (Triple Crown Recordings)

~ Were I forced to pick an Album of the Year, Lost the Plot is undeniably the one. Simone Schmidt actually released TWO of the best albums of 2013, and I could have easily picked “Widow” from the Highest Order LP, which came as a close second as favourite Schmidt jammer. For slow, smoke-ridden, deep-voiced, country/folk, Lost the Plot is perfect. Pick any song, they’re all jams. But for me, the record’s closer “Undertaker” possibly hits hardest. Two chords plodding along, poetess in-chanting, ending with a Dirty Three-like violin wail. Must grip.

Shahman – “Like an Old Friend”
From: Sounds That Look Like Us (Revolution Winter)

~ I’m too close, but that’s only because I had no choice. I don’t care. In my opinion, Shahman created the finest hardcore statement in this country in 2013. It’s astounding to me how little people have picked up on this record. Shahman run the gamut between quiet and loud, introspective and hard, all done by just two boys. Is it hardcore, sludge, post-rock, what? All I know is that it’s beautiful, and so singular in vision, with the assumed psychic interplay between the brothers Johnson. Put a spell on me.

The Courtneys – “90210”
From: The Courtneys (Hockey Dad)

~ Cousins gave us the theme song for summer with “Thunder” last year, and the Courtneys provided it for 2013. “90210” is astonishing in its simplicity: upbeat melody, memorable vocal hook, four-on-the-floor the whole way. Sonic Youth were at their best when they were having fun. This is like that. These ladies brought the soundtrack to chill evenings and biking through flood-tides.

Roboctopus – “Disco.txt”
From: Disco.txt (Cheap Beats)

~ No question about it, Endless Fantasy is dope, but Roboctopus put out the best chiptune release of 2013. This song has a totally funky shuffle, fun melody, unreal LSDJ instument use, pounding kicks, and the sneakiest drop a minute in. I listen to a lot of chiptune, and in a genre easily mired in same-y-ness, trust me: “Disco.txt” is THE chip jam.

Raein – “Amore e Morte”
From: Loma Prieta/Raein split 7″ (Deathwish Inc.)

~ When it’s juxtaposed like this, it becomes apparent that American hardcore has taken the wrong turn. Because placed alongside the inventiveness of Raein, the angle North America has taken, even by the masters at the moment, pales. Raein take that Italian chaotic thing and have honed it, bettered it, slowed it, added melody and dash, kept the noodles in check, and ultimately run circles around their contemporaries.

Lab Coast – “Recognize I’m Wrong”
From: Walking on Ayr (Mammoth Cave Recording Co.)

~ I suppose the GBV comparison is obvious, if apropos. The thing is, Lab Coast have bettered anything Pollard & co. have released in the last 15 years. Only after 40 listens do you even realize the intricacy of these songs. Everything appears as simple pop, yet changes so swiftly and deftly. You don’t realize anything repeats, you don’t know you just listened to a perfect indie rock song — but you did.

Life Melters 2012

Words: Kevin Stebner

Yeah, I’m late this year. But let’s be honest, all these year-end lists get churned out so fast, leaving no time for perspective, they basically miss all of December in their compiling. I needed the time to let it stew. Normally, these features have the same boring 40 records that are on every other list, leading one to believe that only 50 albums got made last year or the impression that the underground has ceased to exist. So, let’s be clear, top lists are boring — they rehash the same records, never ever focus on individual songs, and COMPLETELY ignores singles. I want to avoid that and illuminate some things you may have missed. I can’t say too many “albums” per se really struck me, but there were a ton of individual songs that wrecked me.

So, here are the 12 best songs I heard in 2012; 6 hardcore, 6 otherwise, that made my life melt and really rewarded all the time I spent digging and listening. Enjoy!

Jason Molina – “No Hand Was at the Wheel”
From: Autumn Bird Songs (Graveface)

How was this recording not big news? Three years since the last Magnolia Electric Co. recordings, on hiatus for a number of reasons. Many of the new songs come off as no more than demos, but Molina has always shone in that form. Just put his voice up front and it’s already perfect. Molina is the master of being sad-sack, yet never melodramatic, and “No Hand” is just that: almost genre-free in his sombre and naked songs.

Gold – “Losing Your Hair”
From: Losing Your Hair EP (self-released)

Gold

I just know that when Gold gets spoken about it’s going to be for the Women connection or to focus on the front-women’s looks, but put that away, because it’s the music that makes them worth your time and love. I’m rarely a fan of dreamy pop music, but Gold bore to the kernel of strong writing, luminescent grooves, and slight vocals. “Lose Your Hair” has such a wonderful interweave with the ladies’ voices and guitars.

Cousins – “Thunder”
From: The Palm at the End of the Mind (Saved By Vinyl)

Cousins

Easily the jam of the summer. Just slow, plodding and beautiful. The most simple of riffs, repetitive love song sentiments — the soundtrack to backyard fires or driving into sunsets in slow motion. Three-chord perfection.

Mac DeMarco – “Ode to Viceroy”
From: 2 (Captured Tracks)

Mac is too fun. How is it possible that this hokey and jokey lounge music is so enjoyable? I just can’t deny it; Mac makes me feel like I’m in on it. The sweet groove and tape warble of “Viceroy” is the crown jewel of 2, hilarious yet soothing. A love song to cigarettes? Sure, why not, Mac – you can sell it to me.

Eamon McGrath – “Great Lakes”
From: Young Canadians (White Whale)

Eamon McGrath

Canadiana at its finest. In an age where people would rather sing about dancing or shoes than their world around them, Eamon may well be the torch-bearer for Rock’n Roll in this country. “Great Lakes” begins as a quiet acoustic song and crescendos with a pulsing stomp and noisy guitars into gruff sublimity. I’d submit this track as the new national anthem.

Fiver – “Calm & Collected”
From: Two Songs 7″ (Indoor Shoes)

Fiver

Simone Schmidt’s voice, once again, conquers. Ever-powerful in storyteller mode, “Calm & Collected” weaves yet another sombre tale of quiet fear. Put away all your hang-ups you may have regarding country, because this track carries more emotional weight in a single song than all of 2012 pop music combined. The pulsing wash of the trem, the haunting voices, the whole MOOD is just miles above any “alt-country” act in the world.

Catlin Elm – “Make This Your Life”
From: Catlin Elm/Coma Regalia split 7″ (Middle Man)

Catlin Elm

Without a doubt, THE emo jam of the year. I suggest bands listen to what Catlin Elm are doing here. See, it’s not technicality or heaviness that a good hardcore band makes, but the TENSION they’re able to weave. Catlin Elm do this so deftly, it’s truly a marvel to have been captured on wax. The hand claps harken back to Hawkes, and that vocal is still as perfectly haggard as ever. Moving.

Fell to Low – “Sartoris”
From: Sensible Sounds of Men 7″ (React)

Fell to Low

Wow. Fell to Low could be the best new hardcore band in the states right now. Really sharp guitars, hard rhythms. Somewhere in between Chicago noise-rock and Damages, with enough D.C. to keep it smart. “Sartoris” arcs like a movement, starts with a math-heavy riff, marching steadily to its hard-hitting conclusion. I wish this were the direction hardcore was heading, but I’m glad at least glad Fell to Low are able to least hammer it out for us.

Ten Thousand Leagues – “Guillotine Pipe”
From: 2012 demo (self released)

Ten Thousand Leagues

No one does chaos anymore, or when they do, it’s calculated to the point where chaos is merely a pretense. “Guillotine Pipe” is an utter mess, the guitars are completely out of tune, and 10K Leagues actually sound scary and dangerous. In this world of Touche’s, it’s a blessing to be hit with this cacophony.

Facel Vega – “Gertrude”
From: The Body (Art for Blind)

Facel Vega

I’ve championed this record before, and were I to pick a favourite album of the year (even though it’s technically a 2011 release, but no matter), The Body might be it. “Gertrude” is probably my jam on this record. Rollicking and almost off the rails. Not to beat the Rites of Spring comparison into the ground, but Facel Vega take that revolution summer thing and crash it to the ground.

Baader Brains – “New Era Hope Colony”
From: New Era Hope Colony (Clean Plate)

New Era Hope Colony is a searing bread basket of assortments; it’s got that revolutionary Nation of Ulysses-like swagger, it’s political, and perhaps polemical, but undeniably blazing and fun. Incredible use of jazz, soul and political speech samples, absolutely tearing riffs. Sarah/Mike Kirsch has been mining this style of post-hardcore for decades, and it’s as good as it’s ever been. RIP Sarah Kirsch!

Veneers – “Gold Nails”
From: Similar Stories (Anteduvia)

Veneers

Easily one of the most unique and interesting post-hardcore statements made in this country this year. “Gold Nails” is packed full: guitar tones I’ve never heard, phone-recorded vocals, curious drum patterns. It’s not easy listening, in a genre that’s already not easy listening… thankfully so.