Monday, October 13, 2014

Music Worth Checking Out: 2014, 3rd Quarter

Hello out there, all you kids and slow adults. Below you will find the music I discovered and enjoyed most from July through September 2014, no matter when it came out. Thanks to school and work, I have less time than usual so this is going to be quick. I'm really looking forward to having the semester be over and having time to write my year-end list before my internship starts. We've got another strong contender for the top 5 in this installment. The hip-hop is all grouped at the end this time.

Prawn - Kingfisher



This is a modern emo/post-rock masterpiece that adds the cherry on top to an already formidable and hiccup-less discography. The second track, "First As Tragedy, Second As Farce", is my favorite song of the year so far. "Dialect of..." and "Thalassa" are superb as well.

Listen

Gameday Regulars/Guerrilla Monsoon - split 7"



I must admit I have not yet listened to the Guerrilla Monsoon side of this (though my brother says it's decent), but the Gameday side gives me exactly what I'm looking for from them, and I appreciate that. In case you haven't noticed from this year's previous posts, they're yet another gravel-voiced mid-tempo emo/post-hardcore-tinged punk band, which is my bread and butter. Of their tracks, I think "Banks" is tops.

Listen (Gameday)
Listen (Guerrilla)

Park - Jacob The Rabbit



One of my favorite rocking emo bands from the early 00's has triumphantly returned after an 8-year break. They mostly picked up right where they left off, although I would say this is more rocking and technical than their last album. At 3 tracks, it's such a dick-tease, hopefully to be followed by another full-length. It's probably also worth mentioning that it's a concept EP with an accompanying short story that's way less wack than that sounds. I usually don't have any patience for/interest in such things, but I definitely found more meaning in the music the first time after having read the well-written and intriguing story. The leadoff track "Lepus Fugam" is the standout for me.

Listen

Dikembe - Mediumship




Much like tour mates Weatherbox's latest, I was really looking forward to this....and was really let down here as well. I only like about half of this, but the second track, "Hood Rat Messiah" is so good that it warrants this being posted here. Overall the energy level has been turned way way down and the 90's alterna-radio worship has become too prominent for my tastes. I sincerely hope you enjoy it more than I do overall. The re-worked version of "Donuts In A Six Speed" (previously released on 7") is another highlight.


Braid - No Coast


I wasn't too terribly impressed by the first full-length in 16 years from these emo codgers, but overall it's a solid,enjoyable listen that probably won't go above an honorable mention for me. The fact that both tracks from their split with Balance & Composure are on this was a bit disappointing, but there are enough new tracks to make it worth your while if you've ever been a fan.


My Iron Lung - Relief


This one's for any fans of (old) Pianos Become The Teeth and other emo-influenced screamy post-hardcore. Although he was only used as the studio drummer and is not a member of the band, ex-Such Gold drummer Devan Bentley gets loose all over this, and it's cool to hear one of my all-time favorite drummers kill a different style from what I'm used to hearing him play.


Since I'm shooting for brevity (for once), and since you should know by now what type of hip-hop I like (that ol' boom-bap) and that I don't stray outside those lines, I'm pretty much just going to highlight songs (if any) for the following hip-hop releases.

EdO. G. - After All These Years


"Da Anthem", "Make Music", and "Two Turntables & A Mic" (produced by Pete Rock).


Cormega & Large Professor - Mega Philosophy


"Industry" (a lyrical and conceptual grand slam) and "Honorable (ft. Raekwon".


Statik Selektah - What Goes Around


You almost literally can't go wrong here. All good except 1-2 tracks.


Souls of Mischief & Adrian Younge - There Is Only Now


Concept/storytelling album, basically an audio movie. Zero bad songs, and a rare-form Busta Rhymes.


Fel Sweetenberg - The Invisible Garden



All solid, no huge standouts.


CJ Fly - Thee Way Eye See It


Pro Era member. FREE download. Go for "FlintroCK", "Ernee", "Loco Motives", or "Side (ft. Buckshot)".


NehruvianDOOM - NehruvianDOOM


MF Doom does the beats and a couple verses, and young Bishop Nehru handles the rest. Pretty solid throughout.


That's all for now, folks. Check for me again in early January! Thanks for reading, and please let me know if you find anything you like. I love bonding with people through music!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Music Worth Checking Out: 2014, 2nd Quarter

Well hello, kids. I've been as busy as ever trolling the internet for new stuff to listen to for the past 3 months, and below you will find the releases I enjoyed the most out of what I found. It doesn't matter if it came out in 1973 or last week. If I first heard it in the past 3 months, it's here. There are a lot of good candidates for my year-end list included. Let's roll.

Anti-Lilly & Phoniks – Stories From The Brass Section


THIS, my friends, is about as true of an emulation of jazzy mid-90s’s boom-bap as you’ll ever find. HUGE props are owed to Doc Browne for notifying me of its existence. It’s quite rare that I get scooped on finding great hip-hop like this, and when it’s this fucking great, it’s even more surprising. At least half of this is outstanding, including tracks “Blue In Green”, “Respiration” (an ode to the Black Star & Common joint), “Descension”, and “Young G”, thanks mainly to producer Phoniks being the only post-2010 beatmaker who nails the sound I love as well as Doc Browne does. Be sure to check out Phoniks’ bandcamp site and other projects as well. None of them top this, but they’re still far better than most hip-hop of the day.


Water Canvas – At Least


I forget the other 90’s emo bands that were referenced in the post that alerted me to this band, but it definitely has elements of Texas Is The Reason embedded within. This is a really good EP that has at least one great song (seriously, check the chorus on “Memorial Drive”) and a strong potential to be a grower.


Banner Pilot - Souvenir



One of the most consistent bands in modern punk rock have returned triumphantly with what may be their best effort yet (only time will tell if it tops Collapser for me). Their ability to cultivate and tweak their core sound results in pretty much the perfect amount of change for me from album to album. It’s just enough to sound fresh every time but still familiar. I’m sure their ever-present themes of upper Midwest gloom and the weary perseverance it takes to get through it helps my love for their music. Unfortunately all I can find for listening is a single YouTube video that’s the whole album. Fortunately the whole album is good, but if can access individual songs elsewhere, my top recommendations would be “Effigy”, “Dead Tracks”, “Heat Rash”, “Fireproof”, “Shoreline”, “Colfax”, and especially “Letterbox” and “Matchstick”.


Willie The Kid & Lee Bannon – Never A Dull Moment


The title of this 2010 EP is apt, and it’s a shame I wasn’t aware of it sooner. I really love the way Willie is representing Gun Rule aka G-Rap aka Grand Rapids, MI. He seems dedicated to his lyrical craft, and I can’t help but geek out when those lyrics include him rhyming “venison” with “Jenison” when rapping about being in camo out in the West Michigan suburbs. Lee Bannon is a decent producer from Cali, and for me this is his most enjoyable work. Lead-off track “News Flash” is a banger with a beat that’s got the perfect bounce to offset its repetitiveness.


Banquets/Nightmares For A Week – Split LP


I’m sure NFAW are nice lads and all, but I really don’t understand their music or what the appeal could be. Accordingly, this release is all about Banquets for me, and you should by now that I, in turn, am all about Banquets and their catchy punk-tinged rock. Their five songs here would’ve all been welcome on last year’s self titled effort (my #2 LP of 2013). So naturally they hit my ear perfectly and travel through my aural nerves to the brain, which directs the facial muscles to smile, the leg/foot muscles to tap, and the arm/hand muscles to fist-pump. “Matters” and “Come Home Ragged” are my two favorites here.


Koss & A.G. – Natural High


DITC veteran A.G. teams up with Euro DJ/producer Koss on this EP, and frankly I think this is the best thing A.G. has been a part of since 1995’s Goodfellas with his longtime cohort Show(biz). I haven’t had enough listens to pick out favorites, but you really can’t go wrong with any of the songs…if you can find them to stream, that is. This might be the most poorly promoted and scarcely available release of the year so far. I can’t even find where to buy it. Accordingly, I offer you the few tracks I could find for your listening enjoyment.


Dikembe/The Jazz June – Split 7”


Dikembe put out Broad Shoulders in 2012 (my #3 LP) and will be following it up later this year with Mediumship. They have put out three splits in between, with this being the third. “Healer of the Pride”  is on the more low-key end of their repertoire and falls in the “really good but not great” category for me. It certainly whets the appetite for the full length though. The Jazz June experienced very limited success in their original run during my first college era, and I think part of their obscurity can be tied to never nailing down a fan base because they were one of those bands that jerked their listeners around from album to album, although thankfully they never pandered. They pretty much nailed it on 2000’s The Medicine, a Midwest emo banger if there ever was one, but I never enjoyed anything else of theirs. That’s why it’s kind of a surprise that I like their track here as much as I do, especially since it’s closer to quirky indie rock like Pavement (I think) or Archers of Loaf than anything I’d usually listen to. It wouldn’t have made this list on its own, but it’s nicely tacked on to the solid Dikembe track.


MindsOne & Kev Brown - Pillars


It’s a damn shame that this is only an EP because it definitely leaves me wanting more. Kev is the producer and MindsOne is an MC duo. I was very into Kev Brown’s sound in the mid-00’s when he really started picking up steam & popularity, but in the latter part of that decade and the early part of this one, I can't recall hearing much I liked from him. Beginning with Sean Born’s excellent Behind The Scale album in 2012 (my #16 LP for that year) , on which Kev did all the production, he began to re-emerge as one of my favorite producers. This EP solidifies that resurgence, with “Pop (ft. Homeboy Sandman)” being my #1 highlight.


Luca Brasi – By A Thread


This group of lads from Tasmania came into my awareness thanks to a Facebook post from Australian band Paper Arms (creators of my #7 EP & #21 LP of 2013). They don’t have the gravelly vocals quite like PA do, but they still fall under the punk rock umbrella (probably skewing more toward the mid-tempo pop-punk designation) with vocals still on the raspy/brash side of "normal". A lot of the aesthetic, tempos, guitar work, and vocal cadence remind me of Transit’s Keep This To Yourself, although I really can’t say its quality comes close to that almost unmatchable personal classic. There are also shades of parts from the few Listen & Forgive songs I like. This is another album where all songs are good while none are really sticking out yet. Gun to my head, I’d say try “Death Rattle” or "One Set of Rules" first. Oh, and I should probably warn that dudes’ accents are thick, but I find it refreshing and endearing.


Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Pinata


Want to hear some of the best hip-hop production of both the year and of Madlib’s career? Hell yeah, I know I do. Want to hear somebody rhyme over it who often sounds like a mentally challenged middle school student from the South (despite being from lovely Gary, Indiana) championing thug life and being proud of what a society-ruining degenerate he has been? Want to hear him say his brilliant catch phrase “beeeetch” over and over? Yeah, I’m not that hot on that part of it either. He’s a grossly overrated tool in the vein of 2Pac, and people use the same rationale of “he raps like a thug but occasionally has some insight you wouldn’t expect from a total moron” to tell you why you should love him too. It’s the Special Olympics conciliatory scale of appreciation. "Look, he only knocked down half the hurdles! Great job, buddy!" But the fact that this album appears here is a testament to two things: 1.) When Madlib is on, he’s fucking ON, so much so that I’d probably even listen to Eminem wannabes from Flat Rock or Cedar Springs rap over it, and 2.) My inability to listen to (most) instrumental hip-hop for more than a few minutes without getting bored. Thankfully for those of you who can do that, there’s an instrumental version of this available. And if you want a really good laugh, I dare you to try to listen to Freddie’s previous full-length ESGN (the G stands for “gangster”, get it? lol omg #trill). I didn’t pick out any tracks because, despite Freddie, it’s a pretty enjoyable listen all the way through, even if I need to break it into chunks because of him.


Souvenirs – Tired Of Defending You


I first heard this band via their 2011 EP, Sadder Days, which was promising but very uneven (and had fucking great cover art). They followed it up with this in 2013, and somehow it unfortunately slipped under my radar until about a month ago. That might’ve been due to an unconscious bias because this came out on my favorite label in music today (fuck you and your shady/incompetent business practices very much, 6131!). It’s an engaging take on 90’s emo- & indie-influenced rock, with more emphasis on the brooding, moody side of that sound. I can’t pick a particular track, so just listen to the whole damn thing and like it.


J-Live – Around The Sun


I’ve come full circle on J-Live in his career. His debut, The Best Part, was phenomenal. After that his releases seemed to get progressively more dull (production-wise at least; his lyrics have ALWAYS been on point), and I stopped paying much attention until 2011’s S.P.T.A. (my #11 LP) when he really fully returned to my radar. This album is an extension of that return, although right now I don’t dig it as much as S.P.T.A., but that could easily change. “Top of the Food Chain” is my favorite joint so far thanks to it sharing a sample with one of my favorite DJ Premier-produced songs ever, but “Money Matters” is also great lyrically.


People Under The Stairs – 12 Step Program


Nothing pleases me more than when a favorite group of mine rebounds after a misstep or two and re-adapts the sounds that made me love them in the first place. This a total return to form for one of the most consistent hip-hop groups of the previous decade. They’re never going to wow you with their lyrics, but they’re adequate. Their strength has always been in the production, thanks to Thes One’s sublime instrumentals. The only track I don’t like on this is their Nintendo ode “1 Up ‘Til Sun Up”, and that was the first song they put up for preview. Accordingly I was expecting another flop like their 2011 effort Highlighter only to be very pleasantly surprised by songs like leadoff “Roundabouts” (I have no idea what context it holds, but I love the goofy ass intro with the guy talking about his bath water being ready), and the absolutely magnificent “The Strand” which is already one of my favorite songs ever by them.


Low Cloud - Dust Collection


This is the second and final EP from this solid Grand Rapids gravel-gargling slow-punk band who sadly broke up recently (as did the band they share two members with, Cain Marko). This type of sound is my bread and butter, and they do a simple but enjoyable take on it. All six songs are good but there are no real standouts.


Pawz One – Face The Facts


I don’t know where the hell this dude came from (left field for me), but this is a very good boom-bap hip-hop album that sounds like it came from a vet with 3 or 4 albums under his belt. He’s no Black Thought on the mic (speaking of which, maaaaaan was that new Roots album a transparently poor effort), but he gets the job done, and multiple producers provide an adequate to great sonic backdrop. For me the highlight is “My Night”.


Blu – Good To Be Home


This double album can get a bit monotonous at times (there’s maybe 5 songs I’m bored by but none that are awful) but overall I think it's a pretty comprehensive representation of the best parts of the West Coast hip-hop sounds of the 90’s and early 00’s. I haven’t listened enough yet to have favorites, but posse cut “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” might be a good place to start.


Skyzoo & Torae – Barrel Brothers


This is a very solid slab of New York boom-bap by a couple of guys whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I’m not floored by the album overall, but I am floored by how Sean Price consistently destroys on his guest appearances, as he does on “All In Together”, my highlight here.


Gameday Regulars – It’s Hell In The Hallway


When it comes to gravel-gargling beard-punk voices, you can’t get much rougher than this dude. I know it turns a lot of people off, but it’s music to my ears, naturally. This 2011 EP isn’t as strong as the Nobody Likes A Quitter EP from 2013 (which I’m liking more with each listen), but it’s still worthy of your attention if you’re into this type of punk.


Odys – Start From Scratch


This is just some kid from Germany remixing some staples of 90’s boom-bap by the likes of Gang Starr, Sean Price, Mobb Deep, Common, Artifacts, Fugees, Mos Def and Big L. Usually these projects comes across like “OK, that’s kind of a cool twist but it just makes me want to listen to the original”, and I never listen again. But there’s something different about this kid’s beats that holds my attention. Peep it.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Music Worth Checking Out: 2014, 1st Quarter

Hi folks. It occurred to me that throwing 45-ish releases at you once a year only results in you having too much to process. It also results in you being a year behind in terms of getting into the wealth of great currently available music. I hope to do one of these for each of the first three quarters of this year and then the usual big list at the end of the year. I’ve done my best to keep the blurbs short and then expand on what I have to say about each release after I’ve had the rest of the year to digest. There are already some really great releases this year. I would have to believe that Doc Browne, Confidence presents…, Somos, and Sport are locks for the top 10 (as is the new Banner Pilot that comes out on 4/15, which I’ll include in the next update since there’s not even a stream up for it yet). Thanks for reading, and as always, PLEASE let me know if you dig any of this. There’s not much I love more than discussing great music with my friends.

Doc Browne – Mixtape Vol. 1


Tracks: All. Can’t go wrong here.
Boom-bap like it’s supposed to be. So consistent it’s ridiculous.

You Blew It – Keep Doing What You’re Doing


Tracks: All solid, no real standouts.
Slouchy emo with a nice punch they didn’t display on previous material.

Gameday Regulars – Nobody Likes A Quitter


Tracks: “Kids of the Cove” gets it started nicely.
Think Fuel For The Hate Game-era Hot Water Music and you’ve got a good starting point. Grows on me more with every listen.

Paranom & Purpose – Life Outside The Frame


Tracks: “Days Go By” (video), “I Remember”
This Purpose dude keeps producing some of the best Golden Era sounds of the new millennium. Paranom provides the thoughtful lyrics to triumphantly accompany the soundscapes.

Bluebird – Giraffidae


Tracks: All solid, no standouts.
Somewhere in (90’s) Emo County between the cities of This Town Needs Guns and Mineral with yelpy vocals.

Sport  - Bon Voyage


Tracks: “Reggie Lewis”, “Florence Griffith-Joyner”, “Ulrike Maier”, “Doris Sams”, and motherfucking “Jacques Mayol”, my song of the year so far.
Generally faster emo-punk showing influence by practically all of my favorite late 90’s & early 00’s bands like Braid, Latterman, Hot Water Music, & Small Brown Bike. GREAT fucking energy, man. Parts also remind of the Algernon Cadwallader style.

In Between – Still


Tracks: All solid, no standouts
More gravelly, beardy post-hardcore/punk-rock/emo. Some parts are awesome but some are head scratchers. Overall it evens out, making this a band to keep an eye/ear on.

Big Awesome – Better Than Numbers


Tracks: “Pay Attention” & “Chariots”
This was released in 2011 before Birdfeeder, which was my #2 EP of 2013 (but came out in 2012). It’s similar to that in the emo-rock vein but is not quite as fun of a listen. Still worth a free download, ya dummies.

9th Wonder – Jamla Is The Squad


Tracks: None stand out. Watch out for landmines.
There are plenty of solid tracks here (way more than expected) but also a few total shit piles. Definitely worth checking out. Stay away from tracks 3, 8, 11, & 18 if you know what’s good for you.

Confidence presents G.Dot & Born featuring EdO. G.


Tracks: “Grammers Strong” (sigh), “Manhunt”, “It’s Real”, “Class Is In Session”, & “Confidence”
This fucker is STACKED with awesome production thanks to Confidence. Between him, Purpose, and Doc Browne, my ears think it’s 1994 and I’m watching Yo! MTV Raps (but with no fucking E-40 videos). This album leans more in a direction akin to Group Home’s Livin’ Proof where the production is light years ahead of the lyrics in most parts, but GOD DAMN are these some tasty beats. The videos look like they might be awful though (I didn't dare watch because I love this so much), so be careful not to ruin a good thing.

Willie The Kid & Bronze Nazareth – The Living Daylights


Tracks: No real standouts but many really good tracks, a couple OK ones and no landmines
It’s really fucking cool to finally see Grand Rapids a.k.a. Gun Rule a.k.a. G-Rap represented so well when it comes to hip-hop. Bronze’s soulful samples are the perfect backdrop I’ve been for Willie to bless. He’s not my favorite MC ever or anything (although he can certainly wipe the floor with older brother La The Darkman in present day), but he gets the job done. The video for “The Guilt” is worth your time.

Such Gold – 2 split 7”s



Tracks: Both are solid
These two tracks are going to please their existing fans as they generally give you what you need/expect from SG, although “Choosing Cages” is one of the most angular things they’ve done yet and even contains a guitar solo that adds a new twist. Also worthy of note here is the Wax Packs deal that the Placeholder split is a part of. The label got a whole bunch of bands to do split 7”s, made a few different colors of each split (with varying degrees of rarity), and is selling them in packs, like sports cards. So you buy a pack and have no idea which records you’ll get or which variant it will be. Cool idea that I wish I had more disposable funds to take part in.

Somos – Temple Of Plenty


Tracks: “Domestic”, “Dead Wrong”, & “Distorted Vision”
I hate this album for what it’s not, and at the same time I’m growing to love it for what it is. Make no mistake, the loss of energy and balls compared to their demo is quite disappointing. However, when examined completely on its own, this is an example of yet another young band coalescing a wide range of my favorite sounds of the last 20 years into a very cohesive record that brings to mind Alkaline Trio, Park, Name Taken, Jimmy Eat World, Texas Is The Reason, The Swellers, Balance & Composure, and Moving Mountains (Waves era). Thankfully the rhythm section maintains some groove and urgency even if the overall feel of the music isn't as crunchy. It also strikes me as a sound that could’ve been the bridge between Transit’s Keep This To Yourself and the third of Listen & Forgive that I enjoy. I’m sure I’ll have more to say on my year-end list because I can’t imagine this baby not being in the top 5.

Prawn – 2 splits



The first is a split 12” with two track from 4 bands. The second is a split 7” with slow-emo purveyors Joie De Vivre, who are worth checking out even if they don’t entirely float my boat. All four of these Prawn tracks are on the mellower, more straight-ahead side of their emo/indie rock sound, so they’re not my favorites of theirs but are still worthy additions to the catalog.

Thanks for reading! See you in July.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

MY FAVORITE MUSIC OF 2013

2013 was a year that started out slow for good music in the first half but rebounded fiercely, contributing some strong contenders with potential to become some of my favorite music of all time. As usual I listened to a ton of music. The total is somewhere around 3700 songs. Out of all that, I was able to pick my favorites and break them down with unprecedented verbosity, and I’m grateful to have the time and effort spent result in anyone taking their own time to read any of it. I mainly write this for the friends I’ve made over the years who share some or all of my music tastes but don’t have the time or the impetus to dig for new stuff. Some of my best memories throughout my life consist of bonding with friends over music, whether that be playing, listening, or going to shows, so I’m always happy to expose people to new stuff they enjoy. I sincerely believe any of you who like any of the same (sub)genres I do should be able to find at least one new thing worth adding to your iPod or phone. Better yet, buy some sweet looking vinyl & throw it on the turntable. I've provided links to streams of everything, and I'm sure most of this can be found on Spotify. However you listen, be sure to give me a shout and let me know what you liked. Enough jibber jabber, let’s get on to what you people came here for, the countdown. Let’s start with EP’s & 7”s.

EP's & 7"s

20. Supastition - The Blackboard


This dude from North Carolina has been in the game for 11+ years, with his fairly mediocre debut album 7 Years of Bad Luck having dropped in 2002. He then followed in 2004 with Chain Letters, to me his best & most consistent output, which contained the banger "Soul Control" from volume 12 of my hip-hop mixes. Along with producer Nicolay, he also contributed the fantastic "The Williams" to the Okayplayer comp back in 2004. The trials & tribulations of the music industry & the struggle to make a living as an artist always seemed to really get to him & cause bitterness that permeated his career decisions, causing him to switch to using his birth name (Kam Moye)  in 2009 and then leaving the industry altogether in 2010. Everybody knows a true MC never really retires (only way out is dying) , so in 2012 he announced he was returning as Supastition and then dropped this EP in early 2013. I'm glad I decided to give him another try after not feeling the Kam Moye material because this is a very solid EP with much improved production. I won't ruin the ending of it for you, but "Best Worst Day" tells a cool story with a twist ending that, while not entirely original, is used well & makes some great points about how hip-hop treats those who create it. Hopefully in 2014 he drops an album that rivals Chain Letters.


19. Reservoir - I Heard You As I Walked Away


These four young blokes from Pennsylvania do a great job of paying respect to and faithfully recreating the Midwest 90's emo of such bands as Mineral & Small Brown Bike. I guess there's some bicoastal influence as well, as I also hear some Sunny Day Real Estate & early Thursday in the mix. There's not much here that's particularly catchy or poppy, just a driving, cathartic interwoven tapestry of melancholy that speaks to your bum-out or fatigue. I was much higher on these songs after having my first listen be in a live setting back in early January 2013, so I'm eager to hear what they could do with an outside producer and better recording budget to capture that extra something they have live. Hopefully those things will come to fruition in 2014, as well as getting another chance to see them play. "In Passing" is my favorite song on this EP.


18. Former States - Heritage


This young band from southeast Michigan describes themselves as "Midwestern gloompop". The Swellers' Nick Diener with recording this, their debut EP. To me, they lie in the overlap of mid-tempo pop-punk & crunchy, more aggressive emo. I'd say they lie about halfway between Balance & Composure and The Story So Far while incorporating the more savory elements of 90's "alternative" rock a la Title Fight. The vibe is fairly similar to what fellow Michigan band Citizen went for with their Youth album this year, but I find this infinitely more powerful & engaging. There's definitely room for improvement (the spoken word part comes off a little clunky) but also huge promise laid out over these five tracks. The leadoff track, "Stone Angel" is my standout.


17. Half Hearted Hero - Whatever


This band is a perfect example of how a path toward musical maturity doesn't have to follow the progression toward pop that is all too well-traveled. Their debut LP in 2010, along with a split & an EP in 2011, showed promise but too much reliance on typical pop-punk tenets to warrant much distinction or recognition, but they've returned with this new EP that lends more of an edge to their melding of pop-punk & skate-punk with twists of melodic hardcore. The result is a significantly more memorable release for me. "Vessel" is my favorite cut, with its slower sludgy groove playing foil to the otherwise faster pace. The breakneck beginning of "River" is them at their best as well. This is no-guilt pop-punk with zero cringe-worthy moments.


16. Misser - Distancing


For those not in the know, Misser is the side project of Transit guitarist Tim Landers, and this is their third release, following last year's Every Day I Tell Myself… LP and the Problems... EP. The leadoff track, "Goddamn, Salad Days" blew me away upon first listen and, combined with fellow ripper "Burn Out", comprises the most aggressive material Mr. Landers has written since Keep This To Yourself. The closing track detracts from the overall likability for me, but overall it's still a highly enjoyable listen.


15. Arrows In Her/Gifts - split


Arrows In Her just cannot catch a break. Their debut EP, the fantastic leaving. (#10 on my 2012 list), still has not come out on vinyl over a year after the pre-order was launched because the guy running Glass Nail Records took their fans' hard-earned money and turned out nothing but endless excuses for his incompetence. On top of that, he turned out to be a pederast (allegedly). Seems fitting. What a creep. The task of putting out the leaving. vinyl was graciously taken over by Meadowbrook Records, the same label putting this split out, as a pro-bono deal. The only problem is that neither have come out yet because Meadowbrook decided to shut down while promising to make sure these still got out as their final releases, but they still haven't delivered. At least photos of the test press for leaving. surfaced in December. (Edit: The day after I typed this I got shipping notice for what I believe is this split from MB. Hooray!) It's a real crying shame that such a promising band has had their legs cut out from under them while they're trying to gain footing. They play a particularly gripping and well-executed take on semi-noodly 90's emo with twists of pop-punk & post-hardcore. They definitely take the spotlight on this release, but Gifts are no slouches either. Musically I would approximate them as somewhat of a poor man's Hey Mercedes crossed with the more subdued sounds of The River Bed-era Small Brown Bike. I'll definitely be checking for more from them in the future, and Arrows have already solidified themselves as a small band destined for larger audiences and even greater music (assuming they can get somebody fully competent to put out a god damn record for them). None of the 4 tracks here really stands much above the rest; they're all good.


14. Lions - Roosevelt/Forgettingism


For my money, these chaps from Tennessee are the best band not currently signed to any label in all of the good ol' US & A. While their name is woefully mundane (probably to the degree that it's hurting their notoriety due to the plethora of other bands with "Lion" in their names), vocalist Josiah's voice is unique enough to be memorable. When he really belts it out, you can't help but take notice, and dude can fucking sing. Thankfully the music is intricate, mathy, and memorable enough to demand notice as well, with jangly noodly guitars laid over roller-coaster rhythms loosely rooted in 90's emo with enough progressiveness to not come off as simple worship & tribute. These two EPs are comprised of a total of six songs which build upon and go beyond the foundations they constructed on their debut  MTNZ (see below), which came out on UK label Enjoyment Records. I would really love to see them get picked up by a label like Topshelf so these two EP's can get the vinyl treatment they deserve. The leadoff track from Forgettingism, "Defeating Verbs" is my favorite song off of these.


13. The Weeds - Roots/Routes


After the Promise Nothing 7" that Transit put out between KTTY and Listen And Forgive, they and guitarist Joe Lacy parted ways. Mr. Lacy experienced some rough spots with trying to get his Sleepsick project off the ground, but the premature death of that project allowed the birth of this one. Thankfully my favorite Sleepsick demo was salvaged to become the second track here, "Attention", which features the lone double-time beat on the EP, as most of it leans much more toward 90's emo than pop-punk. The vocals are co-ed in nature, with Joe trading off duties with his co-pilot Justine. There are very few female singers that catch my ear, but she is definitely one of them, especially after having had the pleasure of seeing them live (where she claimed she was sick and somehow still sounded great). Opener "Sunset Eyes" is another highlight here. To top it off, the vinyl is one of the coolest looking of the year. This is a solid debut, but one that also leaves room to grow. I look forward to more from them.


12. Gnarwolves - Funemployed


These English blokes' goofy band name and neon cover art made me steer clear of them for over a year, until a random facebook post by a friend (thanks, Joel!) alerted me to the possibility of them not sucking. As it turns out, I did myself a great disservice by not checking them out sooner, as their previous EP CRU is also damn good. They play a dirty, jagged, & brash style of pop-punk (the "pop" part being de-emphasized) with a slightly tongue-in-cheek feel at times. They sound like an old locomotive barreling down the tracks so hard that all nuts and bolts are about to fly off, but somehow it all stays together and reaches the destination platform looking ragged but triumphant. Most of all, it's a fucking fun listen that inspires air guitar and at-home fist-pumping. They come off like a British Latterman at times, while also bringing an old Rancid-esque approach to bass and drums and occasional metal flourishes in the guitar riffs. Please allow them to rip at your eardrums. You'll be better off for it. Sky's the limit for these boys.


11. Pentimento - Inside The Sea


If you're aware of Pentimento & have an opinion about them, this EP will do nothing to change it. It's another refinement of the sound they've been building on since Wrecked, and I for one am glad to have a great dependable band like this that doesn't think they need to reinvent the god damned wheel every time they put out a new record. Their secret weapon is drummer Mike Hansen, who not only provides an impressive rhythmic backbone but also the well-paced guttural screams and shouts that accentuate singer Jeremiah Pauly's singing, which also takes on its own bark at appropriate times. Still, I've always felt their music to be a tiny bit disposable despite the obvious sincerity and passion they obviously pour into it, so I'm not as passionate about them as one might expect based on their similarities to my most loved bands of late. All that said, they're still highly recommended for anyone looking for incredibly well-crafted emo-rock with mid-tempo punk leanings and catchy-as-fuck choruses. I go back and forth between "Any Minute Now" and "Just Friends" being my favorite song off this.


10. Alkaline Trio - Broken Wing


2013 was the year I fully let an old friend whom I felt had wronged me back into my life. It pained me greatly to dismiss this friend after the grossness of Agony & Irony, but it had to be done so I could move on with my life. Then this friend came back around showing hints of the former self I once adored with This Addiction, but I was not fully convinced I should let him back in as the effort seemed somewhat insincere and transparent. However, when this friend knocked at my door again in 2013, he was holding not one but two offerings of friendship, and both were worthy of full attention. That initial trust has long been broken beyond full repair, but based on these new offerings a new, looser friendship has evolved which acknowledges that things can be great again without being the same as they once were.  Alkaline Trio, I'm glad to have you back in my life. When you came back around singing "I Wanna Be A Warhol", my ears perked up while maintaining a leering uneasiness, but when "Torture Doctor" came out of your beautiful mouth, I knew I needed you around again. Then you gave me this glorious EP primarily featuring your Dan personality, and offerings like "Balanced On A Shelf" further substantiated the value of your return to prominence in my ears.


9. Iron Chic - Spooky Action 7”


I'll save most of my gloating praise for this band for the LP which also contains the absolutely stupendous title track of this 7", but suffice it to say that the non-album track "Less Rest For The Restless" is also damn good. To top it off, there's a Ramones cover on the US version that’s decent. The style of the new songs is right in line with their previous LP Not Like This, which is to say it’s expertly executed emotive punk rock with killer hooks and memorable lyrics built for sloshing your beer or holding your jay in the air while singing along.


8. Sean Born & Dunc - Organic


Mr. Born is quickly becoming one of my favorite MC's currently making music, and this superb EP only helps to supplement the greatness he put forth on last year's BehindThe Scale LP (which I grossly underrated on my list). Dunc is the beat-making half of duo DTMD, who also made my list last year. Put these two together, and great things were bound to happen. Sean has just the right ratio of swagger to smarts, and Dunc lays down a beautiful sample-based boom-bap bed for Sean to lay his rhymes out on. My only real complaint with this is that it should've been an LP with a few more songs. "Hardship (ft. Hassaan Mackey)" is my favorite cut here.


7. Paper Arms/Nothington – split 7"


Nothington is a band I have been aware of for a while but haven’t ever sought out because the few songs I’ve sampled weren’t doing it for me, despite employing the gruff vocal style I enjoy. Australian post-hardcore lads Paper Arms also employ that vocal style, and while I enjoyed most of their debut LP Days Above Ground in 2010, it didn’t leave a lasting impression. Upon hearing they had new material out, I first heard “Run Away” from this and was floored at how far they’d come. The chorus is damn near perfect. It’s hard not to conjure up names like Hot Water Music (particularly Caution-era), The Draft, Small Brown Bike (The River Bed), Title Fight (Shed), & Polar Bear Club when attempting to compare their sound, so of course I’m going to like it. If that’s not enough for you, consider that Walter Schreifels of Quicksand thought enough of their demo to produce their first album. So suck on that, Sanchez. Their side alone is good enough to warrant the overseas postage to get it from German label Uncle M, but the only actual song (the other is just a voice mail over music) by Nothington, “Save This” is way more enjoyable than anything else I’ve heard by them.


6. Polar Bear Club – Blood Balloon 7”


I’ll save most of my thoughts on PBC in 2013 for the LP list below, but the fact that one half of this is my favorite song from the LP certainly helps its spot here. On top of that, the b-side “Saw Blade” would’ve been my second or third favorite on the album had it been included. And while we’re mentioning songs that were inexplicably left off the album in favor of others that made it, be sure to check for “New Hollywood” from the Off TheBoard Compilation.


5. Pianos Become The Teeth/Touche Amore – split 7”


I’ve been a huge huge fan of Pianos’ brand of crushing, melodic, emotive post-hardcore (some call it “screamo”) since before they signed to Topshelf, but they threw everybody a little bit of a curveball with this one…and I loved it. The first time I heard it was on their tour with Title Fight a few months before this came out, and I was instantly into it enough to rewatch the video multiple times leading up to the release. The song is notably more somber and incorporates much more singing than before, although the trademark yelps/screams are there too. As usual the subject matter is as weighty as the vibe of the music. I love the opening lines, “There’s no good in your eyes anymore/And it makes you want to drive home drunk and alone/Curse the faces in the wheat/Drown yourself in the gold, ‘cause you can’t let it go”. They go on to paint a picture of watching someone you care about destroy his/her life with his/her own anger and a lack of ability to cope with it, and it’s delivered in captivating, agonizing fashion. On the flip side, I’ve never been a Touche fan, but their contribution here, "Gravity, Metaphorically" (which should be subtitled "That's Heavy, Doc") is outside their normal wheelhouse and is a rewarding listen because of that. They get going hard out of the gate as usual but go longer and slower than ever before, and it sounds fucking great. If you’ve heard of them and want a song to start out with, I can’t recommend this one enough.


4. NGOD – Bait Head 7”


I realized something about myself in 2013: I can presumably only enjoy a falsetto voice if it’s accompanied by a British accent. It’s a purely evidence-based assumption, and this record is Exhibit A for the argument. “Probably Not” is a good song, but “Bait Head” really steals the show here. I learned of these guys thanks to the same Enjoyment Records digital comp on which I discovered Lions. It had been years since I discovered a band via a comp, and it was pretty damn cool to get two whoppers off that one.  The rhythm section is above average if not great and does an ample job of laying down mathy emo beats upon which the noodly guitars and aforementioned vocals are layered. The breadth of their capabilities is showcased on “Bait Head” where a sparse passage instantly builds to a climax of screamed, anguished vocals and stabbing rhythms. Give it a spin already. There are some other digital releases of theirs included on the linked playlist. It’s pretty much all recommended.


3. Prawn – Short Stay, Long Road


Along with their NJ state-mates Gates, Prawn are one of the best bands around at blending 90’s emo and post-rock, and nowhere is that more apparent than on this 2-song instrumental digital EP. This is essentially a throwaway release that pre-dates Ships, as both songs are basically demos that either died in the garage they were recorded in (“Your One Is My Half Mile”) or got significantly overhauled before vocals were eventually added and it became the album version (“Spring River” from Ships ). The latter is a cool reimagining of an already great song, but "Half Mile" is absolute gold. It’s a shame it never got recorded properly in a real studio, because it has to be my favorite post-rock song ever. When things all come crashing together at the 0:39 mark, the guitars are heavier (in the intensity sense, not the metal sense) than anything else I’ve heard in post-rock, and the drummer beats the living shit out of his set as well. Despite the short shrift these songs were given in terms of proper recording & release, they are welcome additions to Prawn’s already killer catalog.


2. Big Awesome – Birdfeeder 7”


I made an absolutely egregious error in 2012 when I passed over this release on one of the blogs I peruse with not even so much as a cursory listen. Then in January 2013 I was checking out the blog of a friend with similarly great music tastes who included this on his 2012 list. Upon giving it an actual chance to touch my eardrums, I was completely blown away and ordered the 7” almost immediately. The upbeat feel of the music and the rollicking drum beats really drew me in, and I heard traces of what I love about bands like Latterman, Carpenter, & Algernon Cadwallader overtaking me. Even though the lyrics are almost overly simple and direct, they’re still effective at getting the point across and fit the music well. The line “I know it’s your kindness that helps me fly” and the way it's sung resonate with me when I think about all the kind people whose support have helped me through the career/life transition I’ve undertaken these past two years. I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite from this because it’s always changing, but for a first listen I guess I’d recommend “Birdfeeder” (and its killer bass line) or “Living With Love”.


1. Somos – Demo 2012


Yes, that’s correct. I must’ve been asleep for part of 2012 because here’s another incredible slice of divine music that I was ignorant of until 2013. Major props to Mr. Joe Lacy for urging me to listen and awakening me from my slumber. I swear to you that if I had the clarity of mind to be able to dissect the sounds of my more aggressive favorite bands of the last 15 years (especially Polar Bear Club & Strike Anywhere) and then piece together the best parts, this is the Frankenstein’s monster that would result. As a matter of fact, when I listen to this demo, I feel like I have bolts in my neck and electricity coursing through my body, and I feel the urge to run about and scare the townsfolk. I really love all 4 songs, but “Embrace The Spare Change” & “Showed Up Late” are particularly badass. The “woah-oh-oh, that’s just my selfish side” line from “Showed Up Late” fills me with such fist-shaking enthusiasm that I want to stage dive off the nearest table or countertop. I had the pleasure of hearing a couple songs off their forthcoming LP (dropping sometime in 2014 on Tiny Engines, the label that brought you CSTVT), and even though they’ve allegedly made the decision to ditch the growly end of the vocal spectrum (bummer), I can assure you they will still be kicking major ass this year. The closing track here, “The Strangest Example” is possibly going to be redone for the LP. My only complaint with this release is that it’s not available on vinyl, and given that it’s a demo (though you’d never know it by the quality) I’m doubtful that will never change. Anybody want to do a sit-in with me at Tiny Engines’ office until they agree to press it on wax?


LP's


25. Worship This! – Tomorrow, I’ll Miss You


Hey kids, it's only fitting that we start out the LP countdown with a band that has that raspy, glass-gargling vocal style. This not-so-young group of dudes is from Akron, Ohio, and they rep the Midwest well. Much like the preceding EP The Nard Years, the music is more of the punk-n-roll variety than with most bands I like that employ that vocal style, but there are still significant minor elements of HWM/SBB/Leatherface influence in the music. My only complaint is that they could use a greater sense of urgency to help cut out some of the mediocre, aimlessly meandering parts. Those don’t come terribly often though. My favorite song here is "Whatever Happened To You Melissa", and the video for “Indifferent” is pretty cool too. I also have to shout out the Get Up Kids reference in the title of "Jen, with 2 N's". Nice touch.


24. Have Mercy – The Earth Pushed Back


These fellas are Reservoir’s rivals in terms of faithfully recreating that Midwest 90’s emo, not only sonically but in aesthetic as well. Thankfully it has been a long time since I went through the dissolution of a romantic relationship, but I remember the intense hopelessness & anguish of such an event going up against the minimal coping skills (and 8-month winter-related depression) in my early-twentysomething brain. If you could drag a record needle back and forth against the part of my brain that stores that memory, I’m pretty sure the vibrations that would come out would sound just like “Let’s Talk About YourHair”. “Ancient West” is another highlight which really typifies everything I’ve loved about the emo genre, especially in the guitar work. However, overall the biggest detriment to this album is the seventh-grade poetry feel in much of the lyrics. It just sounds like he goes for the most obvious rhyme every time (“You used to love to hear me sing/And we would talk about everything”), and he barely gets beyond monosyllabic words in too many cases. That’s OK though, because the talent is there and the sky is the limit for these kids. I think the lyric-writing improvement will come with time.


23. Polar Bear Club – Death Chorus


Oh, where to begin. If you know me, you know I’ve had an intense love for this band since 2006, and a large part of that has been because of the range of emotion conveyed by Jimmy Stadt’s vocal delivery as he transitioned between singing and throaty bark. Thanks to years of touring and abusing vocal chords that may not have been built for such things (not everyone can be Chuck Ragan), the growl is now gone and clean singing seems here to stay. Given that other vocalists have faced similar challenges and persevered to scream/growl again (Chino Moreno from Deftones comes to mind), I can hold out hope that Jimmy can also re-learn how to do so without ruining his throat, but I’m not holding my breath. That drastic change is coupled with a noticeably stronger stylistic leaning toward pop-rock. Some of the “whoa-oh-ohs” sound more akin to radio pop than punk this time around, which just doesn’t hit my old, decrepit, hairy ears right. As a result of all the change, I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around this album. It’s definitely good, and outside of least favorites “Siouxsie Jeanne” & “Upstate Mosquito” I enjoy the other 8 songs to varying degrees of like to love. But besides the aforementioned “Blood Balloon”, there’s nothing else here that I feel any big passion for. Still, “Twang (Blister To Burn)” is a great song that gets second place here because of the unorthodox riff in the verse which just fits my ear perfectly. It’s one curveball I can hang with. A lot of the rest of the album reminds me of post-Clarity Jimmy Eat World (including “Chicago Spring”), which makes sense in light of my feelings of firm like but not much passion (how anyone can say Bleed American is better than Clarity is beyond me). Much like Chasing Hamburg, I think this record unfairly but unavoidably takes a hit because of how incredibly awesome its predecessor was and the associated inevitable letdown, but in no way is it deserving of a full write-off of the band. I’m hoping the vitriolic backlash against this album by a segment of their fanbase might piss them off enough to write some not-so-nice sounding tunes next time around. And even if they venture further out into territory I’m not comfortable with (not a forgone conclusion), much like Transit I wish them all the success in the world no matter how much I might personally dislike what they put out in the future. They deserve as much for sleeping on hardwood floors for years, putting out some of my most cherished music ever, and coming home to “how much longerwritten on your face”. Go get ‘em, boys, and thanks for all you’ve done so far. And if nothing else, the dislike some have for this album just proves the value and importance of always digging for new bands to fill in the gaps when others leave your listening range.


22. Rapsody – The Idea Of Beautiful


Here’s another 2012 release (reissued in 2013) I slept on for too long. If you want poignant, honest lyricism over boom-bap beats with a soulful touch, look no further. You can tell this young lady puts a ton of thought into her rhymes, and she makes it clear that her goal is to be recognized as one of the best MC’s of all time. She’s a founding member of the group Kooley High (who put out a decent but largely unmemorable album in 2011), and she’s on 9th Wonder’s label. 9th produces a number of songs here, including my favorite jam “The Drums” (naturally). Fellow North Carolinians Khrysis and Amp also lend some solid to great beats to round things out. 


21. Paper Arms – The Smoke Will Clear


While I don’t find anything on this album to be quite as sweet as the previously mentioned “Run Away” from the split 7”, this is still a straight run of good to really good songs with occasional great parts and no duds. Check out “Tanks of Dust”, double-time banger “Choke”, or my favorite “These Nights” with the killer gang vocals.


20. Paranom – Five Seasons


Here’s another one that came out of nowhere to blindside me near the end of the year. I became aware of dude when browsing the new releases section of UndergroundHipHop.com and saw that he did an album with one of my two favorite (relatively) new producers, Purpose (who contributed the rhymes for my #7 album of 2012 with beats by my other new favorite, Confidence). I wasn’t able to locate said album at that time, but did stumble upon P-nom’s bandcamp site. I was in love from the first few seconds, as opener “Gifts From Above” is built on the same sample as one of my all-time favorite hip-hop instrumentals.  Dude’s got an ill voice and a nice flow too. It’s great that sometimes things work out like that. The real highlights of the album are “Let It Bang” and “Respects” so don’t sleep on those. I have really high hopes for the album with Purpose after this kicked my ass like hitting a deer at 45 mph on a bicycle.


19. Alkaline Trio – My Shame Is True


There's probably not much more that needs to be said about the Trio's full return to relevance for me beyond what I wrote for the Broken Wing EP. The corniness that accompanied the full integration of the goth gimmick is still present in spots (most notably in Skiba's delivery), but the earnestness of Andriano's offerings more than offsets it. For me, "Torture Doctor" & "Young Lovers" stand above the rest here.


18. Lions – MTNZ


I guess this is listed as an EP on the label's site, but considering the vinyl version I own has two bonus tracks, bringing the total to ten, I'm considering it a full-length album, and one of the best debuts on the list (it preceded both EP's previously mentioned). More mathy emo-punk/indie rock with noodly MTB-ish guitars and unique vocals are what you'll find here. Help me spread the word about these guys. It's about time they got some well-deserved recognition. For sampling I'd recommend "Stuck In Our Small Town" & "Arizona The Second". Hurry up.


17. Implants – From Chaos To Order


This was the year I got to suspend myself in the mid to late 90's not only in emo and hip-hop, but punk rock as well thanks to this wonderful offering from a new band of old dudes featuring guitarist Rob Ramos from Strung Out as well as dudes from Pulley & Ten Foot Pole. Naturally the sounds don't stray very far from the well-crafted technical metal-tinged skate-punk of Strung Out, so if you are looking for a sonic trip to the heydays of Fat Wreck Chords , this record is your time machine. In addition to the obvious Strung Out comparison, I hear a lot of my favorite parts of No Use For A Name songs here as well. Be advised that the vocals may leave something to be desired and seem to the the only reason fans of the style can't get into this, but for me they were fine and didn't affect my enjoyment at all. "Parallels", "Through The Window", & "Once Was I" are all good starting points. Side note: Just look at that fucking cover art. It has to be one of the worst covers of all time. I seriously can't imagine someone green-lighting that, like "Yeah! That looks great! That will really catch the eye of the prospective buyer in a positive way." 


16. The Story So Far - What You Don't See


Previous output by this young band of whippersnappers had me casting them off as cookie-cutter kiddie punk-pop that was way too angrily focused on crimes of the heart perpetrated by teenage girls on their male counterparts. In fact, moments on their debut full-length Under Soil And Dirt (soil and dirt are the same thing; call the Department of Redundancy Department, kids) brought the slut-shaming to downright awkward levels to the point where all my adult brain could think was, "Dude! No relationship dissolution could be this one-sided. Please just show me one track where you admit your part and show some self-awareness beyond self-pity." Thankfully the subject matter is more varied here, and while the music doesn't avoid the cookie-cutter construction completely, the cuts do not conform to tired and well-worn patterns anywhere near as much. So no, they're still not all that original, but holy fuck is the execution expertly done this time, to the point that literally everything feels improved and fleshed out for maximum foot-tapping and fist-shaking. I enjoy every song, but "The Glass" is especially good. It will be very interesting to see where they take their sound from here. It could get ugly, or it could get even greater if they keep an edge.


15. The Swellers - The Light Under Closed Doors


After the mild letdown of Good For Me, the punk/rock darlings of Flint put out a 7" and EP in 2012 that fully redeemed them for me. Accordingly, I was eagerly awaiting this LP, and for the most part it delivers. There's not much resembling the groove of something like "Running Out of Places To Go" (save maybe the ending of closer "Call It A Night") , but overall it's an even listen traversing from good to great (but nothing I could really call "excellent").  I think it's a good representation of every sound they've pursued on their previous efforts being thrown into a blender and repurposed. Suffice it to say that if you bailed on them with Good For Me, I can reassure you it's now fully safe to get back on the train. Now let's just hope they never let the suited sharks of the music industry handicap them again. Favorite songs here are "Should", "Big Hearts", & "Call It A Night".


14. The Cabs – Regenerative Landscape


Language barriers are a bitch. Given what incredible musicians this group of Japanese dudes are and how utterly enjoyable their music should be to most fans of 90's emo, frantic/jagged punk (in the At The Drive-In vein), and math rock, the fact that they sing exclusively in Japanese is the only logical reason I can surmise for why they seem to be such a well-kept secret in the U.S. & A. The guitar work occasionally matches the mastery of Minus The Bear's Dave Knudson but also sometimes sounds like a 33-1/3 Mineral record played at 45 rpm (a very good thing). And the drumming…holy fuck, the drumming! I don't know dude's name but he makes up my current top 4 with Such Gold's Devan Bentley, This Town Needs Guns’ Chris Collis, and Crash Of Rhinos' Oli Craven. This, their first full-length, follows up two EP's (surely you remember me gushing incessantly about the latter last year), and while it seems to falter a bit compared to the impossibly high watermark of Recur Breath, it's still another fun rollercoaster ride. If you can get past the awkwardness of listening to someone sing in a foreign language, I swear you will be infinitely rewarded with aural bliss. My favorite jam here is "Our Failure".


13. Pro Era – Peep: The Aprocalypse


Somehow I had no idea until a couple months ago that Joey Bada$$ was part of a crew. I was fully aware of his reverence and respect for the same hip-hop icons I grew up on despite being born in 1995, and it shows in his music. Still, I didn’t think there was anything extraordinary on his mixtapes, just mostly solid tracks. That changed when I saw the video for this mixtape’s leadoff track “Like Water” featuring two other members of the Pro Era crew, CJ Fly & the now sadly deceased (suicide at 19…senseless) Capital STEEZ, and production by Mr. Extraordinary Beats himself, Statik Selektah. It’s a masterful creation, and although it can’t quite be topped by the rest of this mixtape, there are a couple other extremely noteworthy joints that come damn close. “Last Cypher” is a posse cut to rival the classics, with an instrumental that could’ve been a lost track from Midnight Marauders, and “Resurrection of Real” features a sublime piano loop and the perfect head-nodding drums to complement it. The rhymes are not exactly all next-level shit, but they’re more than adequate and far better than most of the garbage that passes for popular rap (not to be confused with hip-hop) these days.  The best part is it’s a free download, so you have no excuse to not check it out.


12. CM Jones - Perfect Hand Off


Here is a perfect example of the rewards of digging far beyond the mainstream. Some of the brightest flecks of gold might be off along the banks of the river, out of normal sight. The main hip-hop blog I peruse is based somewhere in Europe and accordingly posts a lot of amateurish crap from overseas which I almost always skip past with extreme prejudice if I haven't heard of them before. I guess something about the group name & album art here intrigued me enough to give a song a listen, and man am I glad I did because this is easily one of the best hip-hop releases of the year. The MC is MoShadee from New Jersey, and the producer/beatsmith is Creestal (an unfitting name to say the least) from France. Europe has always had a greater appreciation for the boom-bap than the States, and it appears obvious that Creestal was studying the scrolls of the Golden Era of American hip-hop. I really haven't had enough time with this to properly characterize the rhymes, but I can confidently say they don't detract from the overall greatness of this at all. "On The Way" & "On The Real" (no, seriously) are standouts here.


11. Seven G.E.M.S. (Tragic Allies + Tragedy Khadafi) - Golden Era Music Sciences


Previously mentioned producer Confidence's label Ill Adrenaline Records, who put this out, is the best thing going in hip-hop today. Get past the pseudo-enlightened bullshit on the intro to this record (seriously, it's as bad as Poppa Wu on Wu-Tang Forever), and you will be met with more boom-bap goodness with a street-hardened (but not thug-moron) perspective. The functional catalyst to all this (despite the inclusion of Queensbridge veteran MC Tragedy, who has worked with Nas & Capone-N-Noreaga among many others) is my boy Purpose, who produced this entire thing, proving he's just as adept behind the boards as he is on the mic. The other three hold their weight on the mic as well, and the finished product is something to behold if you love true-school hip-hop like I do. Bangers like "Time ToPonder" & "Wild Militants" (which breathes new life into the killer sample The Roots used for "Thought At Work") prove why this is my third favorite hip-hop LP of the year.


10. Moving Mountains - Moving Mountains


It's so sad to see this band go, but this is a fitting goodbye to endcap their existence. After the more aggressive Waves, singer Greg Dunn has stated in interviews that he wanted to get back to the mental place he was in when creating their emo/post-rock debut masterpiece Pneuma and do something a little more nuanced. Initially I was completely underwhelmed by the restraint shown here (there's not much in the way of the epic moments of something like "Ode…"), but further listens proved more rewarding each time once those nuances could be differentiated. It's definitely their mellowest release, so it doesn't really reach right out & grab the listener, and you may have to give it the benefit of the doubt and 4-5 spins before it starts to sink in. "Burn Pile" is really good, but to me the crowning achievement here is "Eastern Leaves". Once that baby kicks in with the drums, ohhhhh man are my eardrums in a state of bliss. Thanks for all you've given us over the years, Mr. Dunn & company. You will be missed.


9. This Town Needs Guns - 13.0.0.0


Here’s Exhibit B for the evidence supporting my realization about falsetto with a British accent (see the NGOD blurb above). This is the follow-up to the 7” they released in 2011 (my #5). I’ve adored this band since catching a case of drop-jaw while watching them play at Bled Fest 2010. Much like The Cabs, the musicianship is absolutely outstanding. When I saw them in 2010 they were a 4-piece but now play as a 3-piece, and it seems impossible that they achieve a sound so full & intricate with just three guys. I already mentioned my love for the drummer, but his guitarist brother is just as talented, taking the finger-tapping style of Minus The Bear and making other finger-tappers look like Muggsy Bogues compared to Michael Jordan. It’s also worth mentioning that this is their first recording with new vocalist Henry Tremain. I was concerned when I read old vocalist Stu Smith was leaving, since I couldn’t imagine them finding another young chap whose voice could match their music so well. All fears were assuaged upon hearing this record though, because his voice is eerily similar, he has even more range than Stu, and he plays a mean bass on top of it. He sounds fantastic live as well (I saw them again in 2013, and it was most triumphant – they even got a standing ovation from the crowd BEFORE playing), and I don’t understand how he does it while playing complicated math-rock on the bass. Based on what I’ve heard from others, playing 3-chord punk and singing is hard enough. Hopefully this lineup stays intact for many years, because they’re absolutely hitting on all cylinders right now, and I dare say I enjoy this album even more than Animals. Blasphemy, I know. Favorites here are “Cat Fantastic” & “Left Aligned”.


8. Balance And Composure – The Things We Think We’re Missing


This is the first release from this band that I’ve really loved through and through. I dug their 2011 debut LP, Separation, but in my memory that album exists as “I Tore You Apart In My Head” and then a bunch of other songs that didn’t stick so much. However, on this one the riffs are alternately crunchier and more memorably melodic, and the rhythms are more driving. The palpable emotions main songwriter and vocalist Jon Simmons has so effectively put forth in their previous music finally has a consistently strong foundation and accompaniment to aid in its expression. Make no mistake, this album is moody and angsty as fuck and makes no apologies for it. Furthermore, the anguished screams sparsely peppered throughout are incredibly well-placed to emphasize that aspect. This has 90’s emo influence all over it like their previous works, but I see a lot of fans & reviewers referencing this as a 90’s “alternative” (I really hate that term) rock throwback. I’m not sure if those people were even old enough to remember much of the 90’s, but I don’t remember any alternative bands sounding like this. Now, if we’re talking about Daylight’s Jar album from this year (ugh), then yes I can hear the Nirvana worship (by way of Puddle of Mudd), but nothing sticks out to me like that here. Shit, I wish more bands of the 90’s had sounded like this. If extraordinary songs like “Reflection”, “I’m Swimming”, & “Enemy” were around back then, I wouldn’t have had to pretend like Pearl Jam was actually good. 


7. Doppelgangaz – Hark


One of the most unique hip-hop acts of the past five years has returned with another offering of neck-snapping boom-bap, killer flow, and “What the fuck did he just say?” lyrics. The quality of the music that the ghastly duo of EP & Matter Ov Fact make has been superb from jump (please tell me you didn’t sleep on their 2009 debut LP 2012: The NewBeginning, which I finally acquired on vinyl from Deutschland recently), and it’s so impressive that they’ve built a sizeable fanbase (especially in Europe, where they now tour regularly) and garnered significant industry attention without any features from more well-known MC’s (save for one non-album remix with Apathy) or any outside production work. They’ve also done everything DIY style (up the hip-hop punx) including their low-budget videos, with no label backing. That has enabled them to call all their own shots in terms of creative direction, so they can still spit lines like “He bagged a cougar named Mabel at a Peter Luger’s table/Or was it a Bruegger’s Bagel?/He knew he could include her to the stable/Shorty was pierced out from her hooters to her cooter to her navel/She was a looter of her cable/Plus a litterbug, add polluter to her label/He once saw her ram her pooter with a ladle/This old freak should’ve gotten neutered from the cradle/He knew she was slower hack/When he saw those letters tramp stamped on her lower back/It said Roe vs. Wade/The color of the text matched her lipstick and purse’s shade, jade”. Instead of flaunting their swag and jewelry, they endorse the Black Cloak lifestyle, which consists of living in vans, dumpster diving for food, and bagging the grossest chicks out there. Check: “It’s Matt ov Fact, the moocher & the future diabetic/Just finished opening his 27th line of credit/He’s burdened with that skinny fat/He’s out here tryin’ to shed it/He stuffs his face and uses a laxative & diuretic/But ask your auntie Allison the medic/She’ll tell you ladies lining up to help him with his calisthenics/His newest friend’s a thin hag with some skin tags/Who walks around with everything she owns inside a gym bag”. Fucking brilliant. The production here is my least favorite of their three main albums (they also have more mainly instrumental releases), but that’s really not saying much considering how much I love everything they’ve done. Overall I would put this at one tiny crab-infested pubic hair beneath Lone Sharks & 2012. That said, “Barbiturates”, my #1 joint here, might be their crowning achievement beat-wise thus far. “OnThe Rag” and “Sun Shine” are also good starting points for new listeners. Join the Shark Nation and get behind these guys already.


6. Vasudeva – Life In Cycles


I never knew I could be so into instrumental music before catching this band opening for Gates in 2012. The guitar work and rhythms are reminiscent of Highly Refined Pirates-era Minus The Bear to the point of being downright danceable at times, and I know it would shock more than a few of you to hear I like music that can be danced to. If their debut EP Roots Of The Tree from 2012 (my #3) was a Super Mario type effort (and it definitely was), then this is the raccoon suit that propelled them into the stratosphere (where hopefully lots of gold coins await them for their superior efforts). The drummer is a huge strength, as can readily be heard on the intro “Ritual”. He’s the backbone of everything they do, even more so than most drummers. This album begs to be listened to all the way through, but if you only have time for one song, I’d go with “Stop Making Yourself Miserable”. (Note: I realize this has only 8 songs and should probably be considered an EP, but the band and this review refer to it as a full-length so here it stays.


5. A Wilhelm Scream – Partycrasher


Here’s a band I never would’ve expected to be on this list at all, let alone top 5, despite the gravelly bark of the primary vocals. They’ve always been a band that has fittingly toured with other bands I enjoy and their style is not far off from most of the punk/melodic hardcore stuff I like, but I’ve never been able to get into anything of theirs besides a few songs from their 2004 album Mute Print (especially the stupendous “Anchor End”). Obtuse guitar theatrics bordering on hair-metal solos are my least favorite part of Strung Out’s repertoire, but these guys managed to push it to levels I really couldn’t handle on 2005’s Ruiner. After that I wrote them off until, on a whim, I checked out the track “Boat Builders” off the 2012 7” of the same name and found it to be a welcome surprise of enjoyment. That led me to want to check the album out, though I assumed that would be the only song I’d like from it. I couldn’t have been more wrong. A re-recorded version of “Boat Builders” leads off what is an absolute fucking RIPPER of a punk rock album that manages to pummel the listener while still maintaining catchy choruses and instantly memorable lyrics perfect for fist shaking & finger pointing. I haven’t had time to sit down with the lyrics yet, but with more listens as I’ve worked on this blog, I’m noticing themes of realizing what a crippling burden it can be to hold on to anger and a shitty attitude, along with the clarity that can result from leaving such things behind. That’s stuff I can relate to, so this record is really starting to hit home for me, and thankfully the guitar theatrics aren’t so obtuse this time, so I can really get into it. If you need an album to get you fired the fuck up, this is it. Besides “Boat Builders”, my favorites are “Devil Don’t Know” & “Sassequin” (the “don’t blame meeeee” part is absolute perfection). Hurry up and rock your face off with this.


4. Ghostface Killah & Apollo Brown – Twelve Reasons To Die: The Brown Tape


Leave it up to Ghost to continue to keep the Wu-Tang name relevant and respectable almost singlehandedly. Take away his output for the last 15 years, and all you're left with from solo and group albums is a widely distributed smattering of relatively few solid songs, a couple decent albums, and a large pile of dung made of poor efforts, non-existent quality control, ill-advised mainstream crossover attempts, and plenty of good lyrics wasted by lackluster delivery and weak production (coughGZAcough). So it's not like Ghost needed to separate himself further from the pack, but he has indeed done so by adding an expertly executed concept album to his resume. I find this remixed version to be far superior to the original Adrian Younge production, which still stands on its own as a solid album. I think Apollo Brown really killed it with the beats on this, stepping far outside his usually rigid formula for most of these songs. He definitely has a signature sound that, while still being quality boom-bap that doesn't chase today's trends, often tends to be too mathematical and repetitive to be truly memorable for me. I think the difference here is in how he had to approach this one. Without ever hearing the original Younge mixes, he was asked to take Ghost's a capella verses and create music to fit around them, which is totally ass-backwards and was likely an enormous challenge. To go about it that way and have this turn out so well is a major feat that Mr. Brown should be proud of. "Rise Of The Black Suits", "The Center Of Attraction" and especially "Blood On The Cobblestones" (5 stars all the way despite the U-God appearance) are unfuckwittable.


3. Iron Chic - The Constant One


I normally don't get really into a band if the rhythms and drumming are on the more mundane side, but when the total package is as appealing as this, I can't front on how awesome it is. It is literally impossible for me to not tap my foot, bob my leg, and nod my head to these songs. I can't listen to it while walking because those involuntary movements inhibit my ability to do so. There's just something that feels so right about the simple riffs and thoughtful lyrics that I can't help but get sucked in. It has been a while since I listened to Not Like This, their very solid first LP, but I know I'm way more enamored with this one. Most of it is mid-tempo melodic punk rock, but they change it up enough by going full-bore with "Prototypes" and then slowing it down and bringing out the groove and post-rock riffs on "A Serious House On Serious Earth". I also really love when they turn up the disparity between the catchiness of the music and the introverted lyrics, such as in "(Castle) Numbskull" with the female guest vocals leading the "ba-dut, ba-da-da" in the background underneath the refrain of "There's a darkness inside of me/And it's starting to frighten me". Thankfully they include a re-do of the excellent "Spooky Action At A Distance" from the aforementioned 7", which is one of my favorites along with "A Serious House…" and "Bogus Journey". If you like Latterman or Banner Pilot and haven't given these guys a full chance yet, you are destroying your own life. Recognize.


2. Banquets - Banquets


Way too many good bands come out of New Jersey, and here's another one to pile on the heap. I can't even recall what made me give them a listen after being ignorant to them and their previous full-length Top Button, Bottom Shelf and debut EP This Is Our Concern, Dude (be still my heart), but I instantly liked what I heard and grew to absolutely adore it over the following months. I would call this equal parts rock n' roll and (mostly) mid-tempo punk, with a heaping helping of melody and hooks that begets way more accessibility than most stuff I listen to and just begs you to sing along to it. I hear elements of many of my favorite bands of the past, such as Face To Face, Alkaline Trio, and Carpenter (I've also seen The Loved Ones referenced, but to me this blows them out of the water), plus there's something I can't place that reminds me of super-catchy 80's band The Outfield. The band themselves list The Get Up Kids, The Promise Ring, and Hot Rod Circuit as influences, so there's pretty much no way that I could not love this. "Little Shallow", "March 19th", "Bums In The Breeze", "The Flicker & The Flame", and especially "Daggers" and "Big Big Waves" really get me going and I hope they do the same for you.


1. Crash Of Rhinos - Knots


After grossly underrating their somewhat uneven but delightfully ambitious debut LP Distal back in 2011 and subsequently growing to love it (should've been top 5 in retrospect), I had very high expectations for this album. The fact that they had signed to my favorite label, Topshelf Records, who I knew would do a bang-up job with the release, only made me more excited. This is grown man's mathy emo with twists of angular punk, managing to convey heavy emotion without the slightest hint of wimpy sentimentality or self-indulgence that I will admit is present in some of the emo stuff I like. This is a record that reminds you that the term "emo" is short for emotional hardcore, and the emotions conveyed here are perfectly fitting for something called Knots. If life has ever gotten you all twisted up like a little wiener package, you should find something relateable here. This album manages to come off both beautiful and hard-hitting, the latter being due in large part to the stellar drumming and thundering dual bass action. All five guys sing, with one of them possessing the raspy glass-gargling voice, which only helps to add different textures to the already engaging & dynamic music. They also make great use of buildups and payoffs. At times it's like watching a team of skilled artisans building a sand sculpture. From your starting vantage point, you may only have a good look at one artist working on his part (a single guitar riff), and then you circle around and start to glimpse another artist whose part is starting to approach the first one (second guitar overlaying the first riff). You start to think, "Huh, I wonder what this is going to look like when it's done", and as you continue circling and a third artist's part comes into a view (drums come in subtly with escalating urgency), you think, "Holy fuck. This is going to be awesome, whatever it is". And then eventually the whole thing comes together and you're blown away by the beauty and intricacy of it all; the whole being far greater than the sum of its parts. It is indeed “fucking awesome”, in the truest sense of those overused words. This is another record where my favorite song has changed a lot, and really it's one that just begs to be listened to all the way through. But if you really want to understand what I'm trying to convey in a nutshell, listen to "Impasses". The part where the sand sculpture reaches fruition is at about 2:15, with just the smallest pause giving way to the crashing chorus crescendo of "Could've been a waste of your time". Ironically enough, my friends, this album is the absolute antithesis of a waste of time. Your time could not be better spent than giving this 3-4 listens to let it sink in and give your brain a chance to make sense of all the moving parts. I know it took that many for me to get a handle on it and start to really love it. As I was writing the first part of this paragraph, I started to feel like I couldn't properly explain my love for this, so I asked someone who loves it as much as I do, my brother, to give me a paragraph or two. He managed to finish it while I was finishing this, so these were totally independent reviews. Picture this like Q-Tip handing the mic off to Phife Dawg. You on point, T?

All the time, R. Crash of Rhinos is apparently part of this (Midwest) emo revival thing going on right now. I think that idea is a limiting label to put on these guys, and I’m reasonably certain it wasn’t their intentions. The kind of beauty about entertainment as art is that none of it is original - it’s all just recycled parts put back together. Sometimes it’s a big shitty kindergarten safety scissors and paste eating giraffe that not even the parents can tell what the fuck it is. Sometimes it’s some sort of a flawless dick hammer with a brain sculpture suspended triumphantly over a wasteland of weathered, broken shit that at one point was good for something or another. Crash of Rhinos has taken everything I’ve loved in post-hardcore-punk-emo-indie-something-or-another over the past 15 years and made one hell of a collection of music that is greater than the sum of all those parts - I can’t stress that part enough - “is greater than the sum of all those parts.” I like music that lyrically addresses introspective human problems ambiguously, and musically brings the aggression, motivation, and tenacity to be hopeful and functional in tackling them. Knots balances those aspects in ways classics like Small Brown Bike’s Dead Reckoning and Hot Water Music’s Forever and Counting accomplished. In the interim, I’d be hard pressed to say CoR has not refined that balance with this record. Musically, they incorporate enough technical playing to keep it interesting and engaging after repeated listens (six months constant for me), once again utilizing that sense of balance, never allowing it to over shadow hooks or more accessible aspects of their music. Oli on the kit alone is enough to keep your ears busy for years. Each song has a balance and each song contributes to the reflection of the record’s balance as a piece. Staccato rhythms somehow morph into lullabies; layered, raspy yells dissolve into introspective singing; and contemplative, repetitive signatures explode into steering-wheel-pounding crescendos. It’s a beautiful thing when the words and music seem to envelope and encircle and complement each other in an intimate way that only those people at that time in that place can create. Knots is a true, honest document of real life with a finesse never attained by most, and it's untainted by a depletion of creativity or frustrating years in the business. These boys are young and hungry and doing it way better than their assigned history would have anyone believe.


Well, there you have it, kids. I know I’ve already given you more than enough to chew on, but there are a few more releases I thought were worthy of an honorable mention and your awareness. The first three are Michigan bands that I have to give some “home state represent” love to.
Bike Tuff – Into Shore


Cheeseless pop-punk with emo & beard-punk overtones. Check “This Canada House Is Not A Home”.

Louder Than Bombs – What Resonates

Harder edged pop-punk and beardy melodic/post-hardcore (go figure).
Lawnmower – Whack Yer Brain

Lighter-hearted indie rock with slight emo/pop-punk influence. "Team Spirit" is a great lead-off track.

Braid + Balance & Composure – split 7”

In the 90’s emo world, this is like Ric Flair teaming up with CM Punk.

Castle – Gasface

This new jack comes correct with the boom-bap courtesy of the second best label in hip-hop today, Mello Music Group (not to be confused with the other MMG that puts out ignorant bullshit music). Don’t miss “Orientation”.

Durag Dynasty – 360 Waves

Planet Asia & crew won’t wow you with the lyrics, but Alchemist did really well with the beats.

Gatherer – Between A Rock & A Sad Place

Wickedly sweet emo/post-rock-ish music with screamed/shouted vocals. Call it “screamo” if you will.

Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge – Twelve Reasons To Die

I love the cinematic feel of Mr. Younge’s production, but too much of it was boring & repetitive to make the countdown.

Heartsounds – Internal Eyes

Male/female-fronted punk rock mixing melodic hardcore with skate-punk & pop-punk. Highly recommended for fans of Strung Out & A Wilhelm Scream.

Ivy League TX – Transparency

Most fans of newer The Story So Far and old Transit should dig this mix of melodic hardcore & pop-punk, put out by the scummiest label in punk rock today. Fuck you, 6131!

Lewis Parker – The Puzzle, Episode Two: The Glass Ceiling

Quality honest boom-bap from the UK.

Pete Rock & Camp Lo – 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s Pt. 2


All-new material that’s extremely uneven, but as a result you get some really high points to balance out the clunkers. Features one of the all-time worst verses I’ve ever heard, thanks to Uncle Murda on “Clean Getaway”, which is otherwise a highlight, as is “Ladies & Gentlemen (ft. Talib Kweli)”.

Red City Radio – Titles

Still a good album from a band I will continue to love, but a little underwhelming for me. It seems like they lost the bombast and some of the energy in favor of more traditional punk song structures.

Reks – Revolution Cocktail

Here’s another mild disappointment from one of my favorites of years past, though there are mostly solid tracks here. No Statik production hurts it. “Melancholy” (track 19) stands out.

Slum Village – Evolution

This was a big pleasant surprise. When it comes to Detroit hip-hop, I’ll still take Elzhi any day, but there are 7-8 good songs here, especially “Bout That” (9).

Spectac & Amiri – Soul Beautiful

This dude Spectac has been around the NC hip-hop scene for a while and was affiliated with Little Brother’s crew. Amiri provides some solid simple boom-bap backdrops for him, and it sounds real real nice.

Turnover – Magnolia

These guys moved on from pop-punk really quickly and went with a way more alterna-emo sound. It’s still a solid listen for me even if I think they were better at the old style.

OK, that’s officially all I have for you. See you next year. Thanks again for reading.