As I mentioned back in December, the time I have available to dedicate to this blog has become less than years past. A new job and other real-life responsibilities have taken precedence over my daily ingest of music and pop culture. I have been working long (full) days for the past few months, and although it has been extremely rewarding to be in a role where I’m learning something new every day, it has been extremely challenging to do much more than consume culture. I am lucky if I have time to crack a couple beers, watch some tv, or read and listen to a few songs before crashing out each night. That being said, March 28th marked the last day of our fiscal year and I’m finally able to exhale — the pressure is off for just enough time to allow me to share what I’ve taken away from the first quarter of 2013.
This post will focus on music, but first I wanted to share a few other items that have provided much needed downtime over the past three months. First off, the many breweries of Denver. Having already established myself as a regular at Great Divide, Copper Kettle, Denver Beer Co., TRVE, and the beer-Mecca that is Falling Rock, the discovery of Crooked Stave (Origins is liquid candy), Hogshead (Gilpin Black Gold on cask gives Guinness a bad name), Our Mutual Friend and River North Brewery were essential to those crucial hours between work and family life. If you live in Denver, there is no excuse not to become familiar with all these amazing breweries/taphouses we are lucky enough to have in our midst.
Crafting a story about the first 90 days of 2013 wouldn’t be possible without including the tv shows and movies that provided sweet relief from reality. Silver Linings Playbook, Beasts of the Southern Wild and Searching for Sugarman were the “Oscar-worthy” films that really held my attention — causing me to go through Jennifer Lawrence’s back catalog and rediscover the excellent Winter’s Bone, as well as buy tickets to see Rodriguez perform live on April 30th. If you haven’t seen those films, I highly recommend them — especially Beasts…it will change you. As for the other films the Academy thought worthy, I can’t say I agree. Flight started out amazing, but took a nosedive in the middle. Argo was a good (not great) film, but all it really did for me was ignite an old desire to visit Iran. Zero Dark Thirty bored the crap out of me — I think a straight up documentary would have had more soul and excitement that than film did.
A Pixar marathon solidified Up as my favorite from that studio, although my daughter put The Incredibles in the top spot. Oliver Stone’s Savages was embarrassing. Seven Psychopaths was enough to take my mind off work, but not even Tom Waits could make it live up to In Bruges. Unfortunately I didn’t get around to any other underground/independent films, so if you have any recommendations, please share them in the comments section.
On the small screen I witnessed the somewhat disappointing return of Community, the perfectly timed (and well done) closure of Fringe, and “people fighting and the occasional zombie” on The Walking Dead. I know there are those who are turning away from Rick, the Governor and the rest of the crew, but for my money (and cable bill), it’s still the best thing on tv. I also believe FX has a winner in The Americans, even though there is something about Keri Russell that makes me angry. House of Cards was the best decision Kevin Spacey and NetFlix have made since 1999, and although Season 4 of Justified hints that the show might be on its way downhill, the 10 episodes I had DVR’d made me a little less suicidal on a Sunday with an extreme hangover. But with all these shows wrapping up shortly, and nothing but Game of Thrones on my horizon, I might show my respect to the recently deceased Robert F. Chew (Prop Joe) and break out The Wire DVDs to take another stroll through the back alleys of Baltimore.
As for the written word, I am surprised by how much I liked Neil Young’s stream-0f-consciousness Waging Heavy Peace. It was almost as good as Will Oldham on Bonnie “Prince” Billy was bad — what an incredibly boring piece of work that was. Oldham’s ramblings about how much he hates performing live made me check him off my bucket list of artists I need to see.
I finished up the second part of the The Passage/The Twelve trilogy, and while I agree Justin Cronin could be arrested for theft when it comes to his ideas, I do find these books extremely entertaining. And then there was A Nation of Deadbeats, a book about America’s history of financial disasters — showing history repeat itself in a somewhat depressing, dry manner. Quiet, a study by Susan Cain, verified some of my own thoughts about being an introvert in a world that seems to glorify the Type A personality. But it was the first two novels in the Century Series by Ken Follett that really made my year so far — Fall of Giants and Winter of the World have taken me from the days that led up to WWI, all the way to the cold peace that led to the Cold War. I’m very much looking forward to the final novel next year.
The past few months of live music have been more about quality than quantity– no complaints about that, but I do wish I was able to get out as often as I used to. Hell, it’s been over a month since I’ve stepped foot in a venue! But the 2 sets from Mike Cooley at Larimer Lounge, as well as the prior interview with the Drive-By Truckers’ songsmith, more than made up for the nights when my schedule precluded me from attending the show. Cooley’s incredible ‘storyteller’ solo sets, one of them while blizzard raged outside, were performed in front of attentive sold-out crowds. Having seen Drive-By Truckers countless times, it was a real treat to see Cooley take center stage. Talk about a dream setlist! This was one of those shows I had convinced myself would never happen, and even then, it exceeded expectations.
Chelsea Wolfe, another of my favorite songwriters (coming from a completely different world than Cooley) wasn’t able to pull off the acoustic set quite so well. I’m being completely biased here, but after seeing Chelsea play so many shows in the past, the set at Great American Music Hall (as beautiful as it might have been) did not move me in the way I am used to being moved by her music. The first night of this tour just did not provide the same hypnotic intensity that Chelsea Wolfe shows are known for, although it did showcase the songstress in a brave new light. I appreciate what she was trying to do, and I recommend it for a mellow evening out, but I do hope the next album/tour continue down the road that started with Ἀποκάλυψις.
A few ‘straight-up fun’ shows this year came in unexpected forms. Bloc Party, a band I wrote off a long time ago, absolutely killed it at the Ogden, reminding me that despite their recent studio work, they are one of the truly great live bands working today. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis brought their thrift store furs out for a Winter night on the Rocks — allowing me to steal a little time at my favorite venue before the season got started. I was also able to catch Doro. Acting as my first show at Moe’s BBQ, Doro’s North American tour allowed me to come face to face with a woman I was in love with when I was 12 years old. I don’t know if any of you remember Warlock, but I do, and I will never forgot falling for the blonde Doro Pesch in the “All We Are” video. She has aged (as have I), but she’s still doing the same thing — wearing black leather and banging her head to old school heavy metal.
Enslaved, Pallbearer, Royal Thunder and Ancient VVisdom made for an obscene line-up at the tiny Marquis Theater, but it was 10 days later when the metal show of 2013 came through town — Neurosis is a band I’ve had on repeat all year, and their set at Summit proved that visuals are no longer needed. Their music pounds the body — it’s a beating that is equally visceral and physical. I literally ached for days after that show. Neurosis is a band I took way too long to discover. This year I’ve been making up for lost time.
Now, I’d be lying if I said any one album has knocked me on my ass lately. Sure, there have been plenty of good albums, but if I’m being honest, I’d have to say my favorite album of the past few months actually came out last year. American Aquarium’s Burn. Flicker. Die. manages to bridge the gap between my life in San Francisco (half a decade ago) and my reality in Colorado today. This band from Raleigh, NC would be in good company with Drive-By Truckers, Glossary, Lucero, and anybody on Suburban Home Records, but I would argue Burn. Flicker. Die. is better than anything those bands have done in the past year or two. They are playing Moe’s on April 16th. I suggest you be there.
I’ve also been listening to Kasey Anderson’s Let the Bloody Moon Rise, Fistful of Beard’s Until We Know Better and Uncle Leon and the Alibis’ Wild Ways (all thanks to NineBullets.net). Rodriguez’s Searching For Sugar Man soundtrack, Burial’s Truant / Rough Sleeper, Saturnus’ Saturn in Ascension and Nine Covens’ On the Dawning of Light are a few more from last year that I can’t get enough of. Neurosis has been nonstop, as has a ton of older metal (Death, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Candlemass, Sabbath, etc.). Sigur Rós’ Ágætis byrjun and Takk... have been on heavy rotation, along with Nick Cave’s discography. Cooley’s solo record is an essential listen, as is everything from all of Jason Molina’s projects in the wake of his death.
I guess what I’m saying is that I’ve been spending a lot of time looking back, rather than trying to keep up on every release every Tuesday. Having said that, here are 15 recent albums that are worth investing some time in — something I don’t say lightly, due to my severe lack of it these days.
Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety
(Mexican Summer, 2013)
When I first recommended Autre Ne Veut back in 2011, I didn’t even know who the dude was. I just knew his self-titled debut sounded like Tom Krell invested in some real recording equipment. Somehow I completely missed Arthur Ashin’s coming out party, but there’s no way I could’ve missed his latest release, out on Mexican Summer. After being praised by many, a friend saw him at the Independent in San Francisco and convinced me to spend some time with this album. I’ll admit I wasn’t immediately blown away, preferring the subtly of Autre Ne Veut, but now I must agree that Anxiety is an amazing album — possibly the best new release to grace my headphones this year.
Autre Ne Veut – Play by Play
David Bowie – The Next Day
The return of David Bowies is something I have been waiting on for quite a few years now. I didn’t give a shit about a new album, I just wanted to see him live — something I was never able to do in the past. So when the announcements starting flooding my screen on his birthday this year, it was kind of a big deal for me. When I heard there wouldn’t be a tour, the air went out of me like a balloon and I went on with my day. Sure, I’d listen to the new album when it came out, but I would leave my expectations at the door. I mean, how good could it be? Turns out it’s pretty damn good. Much better than Bowie has any right to be in 2013. I’m still hoping for a tour, but The Next Day is making the wait that much more enjoyable.
David Bowie – The Stars (Are Out Tonight)
Caladan Brood – Echoes of Battle
(Northern Silence, 2013)
You would be forgiven for assuming Caladan Brood hail from Scandinavia, but you would also be wrong. This black metal band actually comes from Utah — Salt Lake City to be exact. The lyrics (and echoes of battle) are not based on local folklore either, they are actually based on a Canadian(?!!!) fantasy series call The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Yeah, pretty damn strange, but that doesn’t change the fact that Echoes of Battle is a damn fine example of epic black metal.
Caladan Brood – City of Azure Fire
Inter Arma – Sky Burial
I have witnessed a sky burial from afar. In fact, we passed by a few sites where this funerary practice was taking place while traveling through Tibet. And I can assure you that nothing I heard while in Tibet sounded anything like Inter Arma’s second LP. The closest similarity would be the wind howling through the Himalayas on a few cold sleepless nights at an elevation that made the stars look attainable. That being said, the imagery of a sky burial is perfectly fitting for the 8 tracks on this monster of a release by a band from Richmond, VA.
Inter Arma – The Survival Fires
In Vain – Ænigma
Progressive death/black metal from Norway, Ænigma is In Vain’s third full length release. A lot of this material reminds me of Enslaved, but with brighter rays of light to serve as transitional gateways between the oppressing darkness. Solid album from a solid band. Hoping to see them tour the U.S. soon.
In Vain – Against the Grain
Kavinsky – OutRun
Yes, this is an absolutely over-the-top, ridiculous ode to the 80’s, and yes, the best track is “Nightcall” from the Drive soundtrack, but that doesn’t stop this concept album about the (literal) bond between a man and his car any less fun. Let’s just call this my guilty pleasure of the moment.
Kavinsky – Nightcall
Kvelertak – Meir
Kvelertak are back! And they are ready to party!!! At least I think they are. The truth is, I have absolutely no idea what Erlend Hjelvik is screaming about, or what his band of Norwegians are going on about, but damn it if it doesn’t sound like a party! This is pure hard/black/heavy/arena rock ‘n roll for those who like their rock ‘n roll with a little hammer to the skull. Get this album now! And see these guys live if you get a chance, it’s always a good time.
Kvelertak – Bruane Brenn
The Men – New Moon
(Sacred Bones, 2013)
If we didn’t have Open Your Heart to bridge the gap between Leave Home and New Moon, I would not believe this was the same band — a band I described as fusing “the harshest elements of doom, hardcore and noise rock” when I listed their debut album in my top ten of 2011. New Moon is a different The Men, one hinted at during the few psychedelic-country tracks on Open Your Heart. I can see how this album might piss some people off, but I see it as another ‘fuck you’ from a band who doesn’t give a shit what you think — proving the other point I made back in 2011 about this band being something special…”something rarely found this side of the year punk broke”.
The Men – Half Angel Half Light
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away
(Bad Seed Ltd., 2013)
Push The Sky Away took me awhile to come around to, as do most Nick Cave albums, but after immersing myself into his world of prostitutes, Miley Cyrus, elementary particles and justified paranoia, I can chalk it up to another great collection of tracks from one of the master songwriters of our time. I just wish I would have snagged a ticket for his Ogden show before it sold-out. Still hoping the prices will drop below $100 before Wednesday night.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – We No Who U R
Omnium Gatherum – Beyond
Extremely melodic death metal is something I usually steer clear of, but I do not write it off completely. Bands like Finland’s Omnium Gatherum are exactly why I keep my ears open — bands that can pull off the melding of cookie monster growls with melody and clean singing. Beyond is a perfect example of how these elements can combine light and dark to create something epic and worthy.
Omnium Gatherum – New Dynamic
Daniel Romano – Come Cry With Me
I don’t know much about Daniel Romano, and I’m not sure if his hipster rhinestone cowboy shtick is supposed to be ironic or not, but what I do know is that Come Cry With Me is one of the best country albums I have heard in a very long time. Everything from serious ‘tears in your beers’ ballads to adventures with Chicken Bill — this album is all kinds of awesome!
Daniel Romano – I’m Not Crying Over You
Rorcal – Vilagvege
(Cal of Ror, 2013)
It’s fitting that the Swiss would see vilagvege (the end of the world) as a contentious combination of ice and furry. I know it’s been said many times before, but this is the soundtrack to your own demise, and the obliteration of everything you’ve known to be true. You stand alone in the last blizzard while the demons from beyond announce your arrival.
Rorcal – IV
William Tyler – Impossible Truth
It’s not often I will recommend an entirely instrumental guitar album that does not feature Rodrigo y Gabriela. Being more of a vocal type of guy, it should speak volumes that I’m hooked on William Tyler’s Impossible Truth. When it comes to this album, each chord is worth a thousand words.
William Tyler – Cadillac Desert
Wardruna – Yggdrasil
Wardruna is a Norwegian pagan folk project that composes music based on sets of runes, with Gaahl of Gorgoroth employed as lead vocalist. Chelsea Wolfe introduced me to the first album in a planned trilogy, Gap Var Ginnunga. The second session in this epic series comes four years later, but picks up right where the first left off.
Wardruna – Fehu
Wooden Wand – Blood Oaths of the New Blues
James Jackson Toth’s latest chapter in the book of Wooden Wand is the first new album I listened to in the new year. A subdued folk album at first glance, further listens uncover something splintered and dangerous.
Wooden Wand – Southern Colorado Song
Other recent albums that have been on rotation:
A$AP Rocky – LONG.LIVE.A$AP, Æther Realm – One Chosen by the Gods, Julianna Barwick – Pacing, California X – California X, CHVRCHES – Recover EP, Clipping – Midcity, Comrade – Self Titled, Cult of Luna – Vertikal, Eternal Tears of Sorrow – Saivon Lapsi, Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse, Grave Babies – Crusher, Joel Grind – The Yellowgoat Sessions, Helloween – Straight Out Of Hell, Iceage – You’re Nothing, Inc. – No World, Indians – Somewhere Else, The Joy Formidable – Wolf’s Law, KEN Mode – Entrench, Low – The Invisible Way, Nails – Abandon All Life, October Falls – The Plague of a Coming Age, Phosphorescent – Muchacho, Rhye – Woman, Dawn Richard – Goldenheart, Shout Out Louds – Optica, Soap&Skin – Sugarbread, Sons of Aeon – Sons of Aeon, Speck Mountain – Slow So Long / Run Honey Run, Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience, Toro Y Moi – Anything In Return, Tribulation – The Formulas of Death, Wavves – Afraid Of Heights, Woodkid – The Golden Age.
Thanks for taking the time. Hopefully you picked up something new — something you wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. Please share anything you think I might have missed out on.