Them Blue Midnights’ 20 Best Albums of 2013

A lot of good stuff came out this year, so let me add myself to a seemingly interminable amount of best-of 2013 lists appearing on our information superhighway.

What you’ll see, and you’ve seen in many lists, is the amount of great comeback records this year has produced. From Queens Of The Stone Age to Paul McCartney, there was something in the water this year.

Click on the band name/album title for a worthy youtube track. 

The list, in alphabetical order:

ASG – Blood Drive

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This band sounds like Jane’s Addiction meeting Kyuss, and I got hooked. At once atmospheric and driving, heavy and melodic, this is one of the best hard rock releases of the year.

Babyshambles – Sequel To The Prequel

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This was a breath of fresh air.  Pete Doherty wisely gave much space to his bandmates for the songwriting on this album, which carries none of the missteps of 2007’s darker ‘Shotter’s Nation’. So that was my summer album this year.

Bad Rabbits – American Love

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Now these dudes know how to do it. They remind you of Prince & The NPG without ever sounding nostalgic about it. While the album is a bit overproduced for my taste, I’ll take it: At the foundation is a band that plays their instruments like few bands do now and succulent songs lie underneath some of the synth-heavy moments. Also, check out their amazing cover of Smashing Pumpkins’ 1979

Black Sabbath – 13

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Black Sabbath returns with an album worthy of closing its legendary career, but get it on vinyl if you can: the cd/mp3 versions are over-compressed and miss the organic flow of some of the jams.

Bombino – Nomad

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The Niger-born guitarist employs The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach as a producer and the result is a great jam record with nice touches on the instrumentation. Another definite summer record.

Charles Bradley – Victim Of Love

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The dude’s got soul. Released his first album at the age of 63, this, his second is simply the best soul album of the year, and is even produced like a 60s record: the drums are even channeled in 1-ear/mono! From the hurtin’ in ”Cryin’ In The Chapel” to what sounds like what would happen if James Brown were coked out of his mind writing about the state of the world in ”Confusion”, the guy’s got the sound, but most importantly, he’s got the songs.

Clutch – Earth Rocker

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Clutch returns and rocks your face off with rock. You can’t really ask for more out of life, and this album in particular finds the band more focused and heavy than it has been in years.

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

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Everything has already been written about this record and I’m sure you’ve already read everything you need to know about except this: At a certain point, I drank beer and started dancing while tipsy in front of my cat while listening to this. I use the word dancing very, very loosely.

David Bowie – The Next Day

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Best album cover of all time or the worst? Better than Heathen? Will he ever tour again? Dunno, don’t care, this is pure Bowie and a very, very consistent album.

Ghost – Infestissumam

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One of my favourite bands of all time already, I think. Get the vinyl, it’s red and it’s real pretty. Check out the video I linked, it’s my contender for best video of the year, actually. It’s KISS if KISS was Mercyful Fate with an evil pope as a frontman and nameless ghouls as, shall we say, sidekicks. If you like your metal and you like a good pop song too, this band will more than do it for you. Show review can be found here.

Imaginary Cities – Fall Of Romance

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I don’t want to repeat myself and re-write an existing post, but this release is ridiculously under the radar and may actually be my favourite album of the year. If you haven’t heard this, please check it out and tell your friends/start a revolution. Check out my feature on this band here.

In Solitude – Sister

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This band sounds like mid 80s The Cult + Mother-era Danzig but then with some of the atmospherics of Sisters Of Mercy. In my ears at least. So there isn’t anything really not to like. Big drum sound + echo in voice makes you feel like this was actually released in 1985, without ever being tacky, so points for that. Another awesome metal release.

My Bloody Valentine – m b v

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Everything has already been written about this record and I’m sure you’ve already read everything you need to know about except this: At a certain point, I drank beer and started gazing at my shoes very intensely while this album played. Except I wasn’t wearing shoes, just socks.

Paul McCartney – NEW

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I was expecting a really generic album, to be honest, and instead McCartney writes a few songs that may actually be solo-career standouts. I guess I should have known better. He is Paul McCartney after all. A really fun album that finds some nice introspective lyrics at times from him. Not a dull track on there.

Philip H Anselmo & The Illegals – Walk Through Exits Only

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Phil Anselmo made an album of what can only be described as anti-music. In his mid-40s, the guy is still pushing the envolope for metal, because nothing I know of sounds like this. I think that for the metal genre, this is one of the most important releases of the year. Check out my show review here.

Queens Of The Stone Age – …Like Clockwork

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Like every QOTSA release, I didn’t really like it at first. But then, like every QOTSA release, after a few spins you start to get it, and you becoming gradually more and more obsessed with it. Worth all the praise and attention it got.

Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time

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Sky Ferreira‘s album will put you in the mood to have a night out as much as it will be the perfect soundtrack to going back home. It’s dancy, poppy, druggy, hazy and it has a style all of its own. She’s a great singer, a great songwriter, stylistically all over the place and I’m looking forward to hearing her next album because I have no idea what she’ll do next.

The Bronx – The Bronx (IV)

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The Bronx  started out more like a hardcore band, but every subsquent release finds them getting better at what they do without losing the initial edge and hunger they started out with, with an increased focus on songwriting.

The Growlers – Hung At Heart

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I looooove the Growlers. I think I saw them twice this year. An early 2013 release will not be an excuse of forgetfulness on my end, for the mighty Growlers have made their best album so far and deserve mighty mighty praise. They’re being written about in the same vein as bands like the Black Lips/nu-psychedelia, but there is much more than meets the eye with these guys.

Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats – Mind Control

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A lot of bands are currently trying to replicate the early-70s feel of Sabbath, but this band isn’t trying to do anything, this is just who they are. I dunno how you label this though: post proto-metal? No clue. You must give this album a listen. You must. MMMkay??

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Review: Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals @ Heavy Mtl Aug. 11 2013

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The final guttural growl emerges from the beast that is Phil Anselmo right before the song ends. He is performing one of the 8 songs that appear on his very first solo album, Walk Through Exits Only with his new backing band, The Illegals.  We’ve just heard some of the most brutal, extreme and difficult music to have ever graced the stage of Heavy Mtl, with no head left unbanged (Yes, that is a new word) and now that the song has ended we find Anselmo, in no shortage of breath talking about…middle age. In a self-deprecating, funny way.

Today, we find a sober-looking albeit beer-swigging Phil Anselmo having fun and, quite honestly, surprising us with a ridiculous amount of charisma. He’s cleaned up long ago, he’s cleaned up his image, and he’s hungry for what seems to be a rebirth of some sorts. It isn’t that he has not been active since the Pantera days – his band Down has recently released The Purple EP, and in the early  00’s he kept busy with the ever-aggressive Superjoint Ritual.  But it is clear that right now Phil Anselmo is doing what he wants to be doing (as he should), and what he wants to be doing, musically or otherwise is what most of us have not been expecting. He’s not too busy revisiting the Pantera classics (at least, as far as this show proved). We had the cutup of Domination/Hollow as you can find it on Pantera‘s Official Live: 101 Proof album, but otherwise this 45 minute set was purely focused on Philip H. Anselmo & The Illegals material. It should be noted that he’s also been busy founding his own record label, Housecore Records and October 24-27 will see the inauguration of the first ever Housecore Horror Film Festival. Pretty cool stuff.

This was my first time seeing Phil (yep, I call him by his first name). Phil’s been around for a very long time in my life, starting at the age of 12 when I first discovered Cowboys From Hell. 15 years later, I finally get to see him live, after years of watching live clips from dvds or youtube. That’s great, but then what do you get when you finally get to see a metal legend when said legend is now at a musical age where so many dwell in a comfort zone? I didn’t really know. I mean, I’d read reviews and comments of this tour, and they were generally positive. Well, I will say, even though I’ll sound like a tired old cliché, that I wasn’t expecting something this good. His stage presence is as commanding as anything I’ve ever seen, his band is musically ridiculously tight and technically proficient – this is another thing that could have fallen flat, with the amount of time signature changes each song has, and Anselmo’s voice itself sounds as aggressive as it’s ever been.

Here’s the thing about his current project: Your mind is used to the 4/4 metal breakdowns and song structures, even if only subconsciously, so when the band somehow switches it up to one of its many odd time signatures, you’re not seeing it coming. You’re just not used to it. You get locked in a groove and then suddenly, bang, another part abruptly starts. It makes the entire band sound insanely heavier, as a result. I have to admit that on record it’s hard to digest at first, but I guess it’s designed to be that way. When you see it live it’s very different, somehow. It’s like you “get” it. It’s in your face and you can’t help but go along with it.  I was grinning while headbanging for 45 minutes, and judging from the crowd I wasn’t the only one. I even saw all 4 members of Godsmack by the side of the stage for the entire duration of the show, smiling from ear to ear. They weren’t just smiling with empathy at Phil Anselmo’s lyrics (How’s about “It’s ruined/Everybody ruins music/Not just me” or “Rant with me/Rant!/And I’ll slip/And shake/then slip/And stick/Let them fall on their asses/With a fist and a fuck you/Rant!”), they, Godsmack, were just smiling with admiration. I saw Shannon Larkin, a super-influencial drummer, grinning at what the Illegals’ drummer Joe Gonzalez was playing – I mean, he makes it look so damn easy. The entire band does. I swear I even saw a glimpse of Rob Zombie taking a picture by the side of the stage (I may be wrong, as tall dudes with dreads and beards often look like Rob Zombie).

You see, by making an album void of first-listen noticeable melodies, Anselmo shows at what point a lot of metal right now is in a safe and repetitive state.  He’s pointing out a problem by showing a solution. He isn’t saying all metal should sound like what he’s doing, but he’s showing that there are still ways to make it sound fresh, which in itself is innovative. I believe this album, Walk Through Exits Only, will be regarded as quite influential in a few years time. I believe this tour proves that although you don’t see him jumping around anymore, Anselmo can still show you how it’s done. That’s important for a style of music that is so physically demanding. The ” I can’t see myself doing this at 50” argument has now been completely rendered false, and that selfishly gives me hope that some of my favorite metal bands right now will still be around in 20 years, cranking out albums and touring.

I don’t think this is lost on Anselmo. His new album is often about music, or the state of music. Even though he is a household name in the world of metal, the massive fan he is deep down shows someone trying to keep a style of music close to his heart very much alive and well – and most importantly, honest. Second best thing to watching this live? Watching Phil Anselmo watching Mastodon by the side of the stage live. See Phil geeking out by playing air guitar, air drums, headbanging, singing along while making stage moves. That was in itself worth the price of admission alone. They don’t nickname him “The Kid” for nothing.

And there you have it: the show, like the album itself is uncompromising, extreme, vulgar (he doesn’t just spit on stage, but snots too! Hits himself on the forehead with the mic and bleeds!) but it’s also very smart, and very true and not without a sense of humor. It’s not always the case that, after seeing the show, you really want to listen to the album again. It’s even rarer that on top of this, you feel like after seeing the show you will understand the album better.

Job well done, sir.

Sound City Review/Winter 2013 Playlist

I’ll start this off by saying that anyone who has not seen it should stop reading this and check out Dave Grohl’s Sound City documentary. It’s rare to see a film that is so passionate. And I might not be a multi-million selling rock star, but for anyone who has an interest in music but does not play an instrument, I can tell you that the parts where the musicians are playing together in the studio are so genuine that I felt like yelling: DUDE, THAT’S REALLY HOW IT IS!

If anything, it was gratifying to see that the feeling of 4-5 people just playing music together pretty much seems to remain the same if the passion is there, regardless of status.

Though I wouldn’t mind some free time in Grohl’s 606 studio. Just putting it out there.

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Me with Dave Grohl, 2009. I gained a little bit of weight since then, looking back. Hmmm.

The reviews I have read about the Sound City soundtrack were extremely underwhelming and unrealistic. I’ll offer my own brief take.

First off, let’s set up decent expectations. You listen to the soundtrack after watching the movie, you see that these songs seemed to be 1 day individual sessions. So to anyone expecting the Grohl+Stevie Nicks combination to be as good as anything on Rumours, that is not happening. How could it? No tension between band members, no cocaine binges. I mean, not to go off on a tangent here, but imagine a typical scenario for that recording session:

Stevie Nicks: Hey Lindsey Buckingham, I wrote this song called Dreams. Let me sing it for you, it has a great melody and it’s all about you! Find the prettiest guitar chords, please. Especially during the line ”Players only love you when they’re playing”

Lindsey Buckingham: No problem, Stevie Nicks. By the way, I need you to add back vocals to this new song I wrote called GO YOUR OWN WAY.

I would pay good money to see this happen.

But what was I saying? Ahhhh yes.

Ok, so the idea behind the Sound City Soundtrack is not to make the greatest album with the greatest songs of all time. To begin with, it is about celebrating the art of making music, about musicians playing together and all the while paying tribute to a studio that helped shape them.

So if the songs sound more like sketches, well, that’s normal. Just like a real live performance, it’s not meant to be perfect and these songs can be interpreted differently in that respect.

I think it’s a great album. I think it might be worth doing the opposite of what I did though: If you haven’t seen the movie or heard the soundtrack, see the movie first. I think you might hear the soundtrack a bit differently and a bit more accurately that way. My two cents.

END OF REVIEW. PLAYLIST TIME.

Here’s what I’ve been listening to during this never ending winter.

http://grooveshark.com/playlist/Them+Blew+Midnites+Winter+13/84465094

Just press play!

Tracklist:

The Growlers – Naked Kids

California X – Sucker

Autre Ne Veut – Counting

Night Beats – A Night With Nefertiti

The Bronx – Style Over Everything

Ufesas – Goin’ To The Mountain

Mikal Cronin – Apathy

Psychic Ills – Take Me With You

New Model Army – The Hunt

Jorge Drexler – Rio Abajo

Fun Lovin’ Criminals – The Fun Lovin’ Criminal

Fugees – No Woman,No Cry

Fitz And The Tantrums – Moneygrabber

Clutch – Electric Worry

The Virginmarys – Dead Man’s Shoes

Bad Religion – Robin Hood In Reverse

2013: The Year That Rock Fought Back?

Through many polls and surveys, it is conducted that 1994 was perhaps the last (as of yet) important year for music.

An industry poll made for Rolling Stone magazine showed that 1994 may indeed have been the best year for music. Whether or not we like these albums, I think, is irrelvant. We are talking about their relevance in musical history.

Jeff Buckley  Grace

Lagwagon- Trashed

Dogman – King’s X

Whiskey For The Holy Ghost – Mark Lanegan

Cleansing – Prong

Jar Of Flies – Alice In Chains

Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain – Pavement

Troublegum – Therapy?

The Donward Spiral – Nine Inch Nails

Superunknown – Soundgarden

Far Byond Driven – Pantera

The Division Bell – Pink Floyd

Smash – The Offspring

Live Through This – Hole

Illmatic – Nas

Parklife – Blur

Johnny Cash – American Recordings (I)

Live – Throwing Copper

Diary – Sunny Day Real Estate

Weezer – Weezer

Ill Communication – Beastie Boys

Purple – Stone Temple Pilots

Split – Lush

Let’s Go – Rancid

Viva Zapata – 7 Year Bitch

Welcome To Sky Valley – Kyuss

Music for The Jilted Generation – The Prodigy

Hungry For Stink – L7

Burn My Eyes – Machine Head

Dummy – Portishead

The Holy Bible – Manic Street Preachers

Stranger Than Fiction – Bad Religion

Ready To Die – Notorious B.I.G.

Monster – REM

No Need To Argue – The Cranberries

Korn – Korn

Nirvana – MTV Unplugged In New York

TLC – CrazySexyCool

Vitalogy – Pearl Jam

With this list (and there are more), I think it’s objectively possible to combine all these different albums and realize that pretty much everything that came after them, to this day (in their respective genres) might owe something to them, whether the artists were conscious of it or not.

One thing is sure: as far as rock music was concerned, this may have been the last great year to this day.

Sure, there have been landmark albums since then.

In 1994, Radiohead has released neither OK Computer or Kid A (two great albums that I sometimes wish did not exist if only for the very high amount of attemped bullshit copies made by musicians who, it seems, could only transpose this to the same 4 chords).

My purpose here is not an attempt to revisit the past and say that music as we know it is dead and blah blah blah in my days we used to ride the horse to school.

What I’m interested in is what contemporary music means.

When I started this website, I thought it’d be cool to review shows, meet the bands, and write about it. And it was. But man was it a disillusion.

It’s a known fact that anyone who can hit Enter on their keyboard now has the capacity to make an album (yes, I am exaggerating) . But what does that mean for live music? How do you present yourself in front of the people that really want to hear you play? Usually, it’s pretty fucking dull. Records don’t sell, so people try to do anything they can in a live show to stick out.

Well, in the last year, the real musicians that I met that were tried and true limited themselves to being Davila 666, Wooden Shjips, Frank Turner, And also Future Islands, because the singer made his indie-rock-electronic project turn into a total shambolic mess, and you can blame the drugs – but seriously, when you can turn a soft song’s vocals into cocaine-fueled death metal…there’s just something very rock n roll about it. Blame the drugs or don’t, whatever, I’m not criticizing, I’m pointing out that at least they provided a live experience worth remembering.

I could say the same about Deer Tick. That’s honest-to-God rock n roll. It felt like what I read about Neil Young‘s early to mid seventies period was presenting itself in front of me.

Enough name-dropping.

My point, dear reader, is that I think we’re onto something good this year. Music as product is a cliche I am tired of hearing because quite honestly, some of the so-called product music I actually really like. Yup, I like Rihanna.

A good song is a good song. Label it what you will.

Yet, the music that first spoke to me as a kid was rock n roll. I dare to put a label on this type of music that can regroup at once…..country, soul, r&b, etc….

The expression of musicians just doing what they do best: playing music. That’s rock n roll. Oh, they have different labels for it now – and quite honestly looking at the current musical landscape, the scene that currently best represents what rock n roll stood for, I think, is electronic music.

In the last 15 years, is there no style of music that could have given less of a shit about how it presented itself, while being self-conscious (that’s rock n roll, aint it? Spend an hour making yourself look like you just got out of bed) than electronic music? Makes sense, the way technology has evolved, makes you not have to hit the same guitar pedal over again.

Ok, so there is still interesting music out there, rock isn’t dead and punk did not lie to us.

We are left with a very basic principle?

What about rock ‘n roll?

You know, not the style, but the 4 guys playing guitars, bass and drums?

What about them?

Rock n roll for the last 15 years has been a rehash of 1994, hasn’t it?

More and more, record labels see that the way they can survive is by repressing originals, remastering them, throwing in a bonus dvd, sticker, pin, sample of blood, used condom, WHATEVER MAKES YOU FEEL LIKE THE REAL EXPERIENCE.

What started out as an apparent cash grab through hipsters is apparently paying off? Been to an HMV lately? Nope, they all closed down and the music section could easily be renamed to ”HERE’S WHAT WE USED TO SELL”.

Instead, your local mom and pop store stocking vinyls which were at first just a way to get by, became popular again. Now, people seem to actually care about how their music sounds and want it in the best possible format possible to be able to *gasp* fucking listen to it the way it was meant to be heard as opposed to background music.

MADNESS!

Ok, so what does this mean for current music, what does this means for 2013, and how the hell does this relate to 1994?

Well, for one, 2012 was the first year since the year 1999 that music sales went up. Rock N Roll is dwelling in nostalgia in a way that makes me very excited. With bands as diverse as The Gaslight Anthem, and more recently what Dave Grohl has done with Sound City, there is finally, after a long absence, a thirst for rock n roll.

It seems like an invitation with open arms to bands new and old, to jump back on this musical ship of fools, and learn to once again, have fun through music. Fun, something that  most music has not been in a very long time.

Queens Of The Stone Age, David Bowie, My Bloody Valentine, Black Sabbath... (at this point, I think we can include QOTSA in this) are only part of the handful of bands set to release new material this year – with some already released.

10 years ago, every bar you went to was playing ironic 80s music. Look what happened, we have synth-pop, folk-dance, cabaret-ham, electro-indie-in E minor”… We’re rehashing the 80s though most bands apparently have never heard of Ultravox and still base their findings on the dynamic of Kid A.

1994 turned into a joke, it was a great year that only has its own greatness to blame: pale imitators came along and made this great music seem typical.

2013 may be the year where 1994 becomes fresh again. The wealth of bands coming back , working hard on new material seem, at the very least, to be a sort of call with open arms any new bands that can follow.