Rolling Stone did a thing about the 27 best albums you didn’t hear in 2013 – I did hear some of them, but many I didn’t. So I read the whole feature and when I found an album that sounded interesting, I looked it up on Spotify and made a playlist of the album to remind myself to listen to it. (Brief rabbit trail: This is absolutely the best feature of Spotify. A seemingly endless music library provides a staggering amount of access to new, little known bands. I don’t support their fee structure and do try to purchase music I end up loving because of Spotify, but as a music discovery service it is unbeatable.)
That was a couple of weeks ago. Then, today, I got back to work and was able to listen to pretty much all of the music I selected. And, um, it’s all amazing. Kvelertak, Mikal Cronin, Richard Buckner, Polvo, Rachid Taha, the Uncluded (holy goodness especially the Uncluded), and Upset. See more below.
I also discovered CoCo Stereo’s latest feature about breakout bands you shouldn’t have slept on in 2013. From there I have a new obsession with Ty Segall’s Fuzz. (An aptly titled autobiography about my relationship to his fuzz is soon to follow.)
And fear not, indie-haters. There are lots of genres represented here. Don’t be the Robin of 2009 and dismiss artists out of hand based on their choosing a quirky hipster name. If I did that I would have totally missed out on loving the Front Bottoms, Strand of Oaks, Moon Hooch, Foxygen, and for that matter probably Pearl Jam, Pink Floyd, the Beatles, Velvet Underground, Grateful Dead, etc. There are some great great bands that start out sounding quirky and immature. It’s like that whole book and its cover thing.
FUZZ – What’s In My Head?
Ty Segall is my new bromance. He’s kind of like a lesser known Jack White of the west coast. Bay Area dude that already has a blistering rock outfit under his own moniker, now has a psychedelic mind-meld side project called Fuzz. Of course. And it completely rocks. And don’t forget his close relative…
Mikal Cronin – Weight
Mikal often plays backup vocals and bass for Ty Segall, but that’s a huge misrepresentation of his true merit. On MCII he and the guys sound like the Beach Boys meet Buffalo Springfield meet some other type of gritty dreamy garage band from the 60s that couldn’t exist yet. “Weight” also has some pretty heavy lyrics.
Richard Buckner – Surrounded
A gentle voice, a plodding guitar-picking melody and some nice background vocal fills. This is not folk – it’s more like the simple, classic rock-pop ballad – think “Blackbird” instead of “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Then you get to the second track on the album and it sounds much more like Bill Callahan-ified Jefferson Airplane than the Beatles. Definitely a guy to keep watching.
Kvelertak – Åpenbaring
OK, indie folk haters, in case I put you to sleep, here’s some Norwegian sludge metal. I liked this right away for the punishing guitar licks and ghoulish vocals. (Name translates to “Chokehold” – song title means something like “Revelation”) Also, in this video their singer appears to be wearing some kind of a viking falcon on his head. This is never a bad thing.
Mutual Benefit – Strong River
Now for a palette cleanser. The first track here sets out to sound basically like a river flowing, but with regular instruments (i.e. this is not Ravi Shankar yoga music or throat-singing). Then the vocals come in a bit distorted, layered in well with the blissed-out summer afternoon mood that’s already been set. Then a woodpecker makes its presence known in the last 5 seconds or so. Basically this is your soundtrack for a nature hike that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
William Onyeabor – Body and Soul
So what we have here is some funky and boundary-less Nigerian roots music…. I think. William Onyeabor is a legend in his hometown of Lagos, and has been making some type of West African psychedelic disco music since the 1970s – and before I try to string anymore words together that do not seem to go together to try to explain this nigh-upon ineffable music, just listen to this awesome ten minute song.
Polvo – Total Immersion
Time for some straight-ahead indie rock onslaught. But let’s do it in an intelligent way. These guys hail from the early 90s in the research triangle area of NC, and have this really awesome blend of progressive punk & rock ala David Bowie, staccato math rock ala Tool and just general buzzy noise that they make really, really, listenable.
Rachid Taha – Wesh (N’amal)
So the story goes like this – a mad scientist finds a way to combine the best of Tom Waits and Josh Ritter and the result turns out to pre-date either of those guys, and he’s Algerian. (I know, right?) That’s the sound you have here. You get some of the otherworldliness of Zeppelin (honestly, to Rachid, regular Western music probably sounds “otherworldly”), his vocals are expressive, and his instrumentation complex. He also has apparently covered “Rock the Casbah” and did some soundtrack for the film Black Hawk Down. Definitely one of those “how did I not know??” moments.
The Uncluded – Delicate Cycle
Almost rapid-fire spoken word tracks laid over quirky indie hip-hop beats – the vocals are not quite sung, not exactly rapped, and it’s a call and response between the only two members of this outfit, one male, one female. Stream of consciousness really isn’t the right word either – there’s just someone talking about their life and reflecting thoughtfully, and there’s some music in the background – but it’s really really catchy. This is the track that resonates with me the most of the whole list.
Upset – She’s Gone
Ah, finally some really refreshing youthful pop punk that starts with one guitar doing a riff, and then a second guitar doing exactly the same riff, but louder! 🙂 The all-female band Upset fits in the genre easily, but they manage to avoid being derivative. They’re also not whiny or overly relationship-fraught, which is a frequent pitfall of pop-punk. Basically, whatever your drama is, just please try to shrug it off and just enjoy the music.
If you made it all the way to the end, thank you! Now get onto enjoying some of these albums in all their fullness.