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.