The COERCEYOU Best of 2013 List
Here we are, having slid down the icy gullet of December, swallowed now and again in cold snaps and polar vortices that seem so sudden, but whose inexorable arrival has advertised itself daily these 365 days of 2013 during which we’ve been listening to pop records instead of making hay. 本当に時間が飛ぶね。
Here is my yearly contribution of lines of code to the internet-clogging social-engineering computer virus that is the year-end best-of list. It’s my unique and special drop in the infinitely redundant server farm heat-sink we once called “the blogosphere.” Anyhow, here’s the drill: These are not necessarily exclusively records that came out this year, but they are records that came under my loving scrutiny this year.
Black Moth Super Rainbow Cobra Juicy (2012)
Sometimes the genius of things your are resistant to seek you out and find you at those odd hours when you’re most susceptible. BMSR emerged in the yinzer metropole a few years ago like a furrier from the backwoods to trade heavy, reverb and delay saturated psychedelia along the Schuylkill. I love few things more than the sound of close, warmly overdriven synthesizers being allowed to ring out, but the first couple records were just too heavy, too repetitive for my tastes. Hearing it on KEXP or in the coffee shop now and again was enough for me. Then, not long ago, I was driving very early in the pitch-black morning with the radio on when the brilliantly sleazy “Hairspray Heart” came on by request. Inside the destroyed cacophony of filtered noise and overdriven guitar samples was the confidently delicate restraint of a brilliant pop song. As brazenly sexual and materialistic as anything Madonna did in her early career, the vocals are delivered from behind a thick, velvety, vocoded curtain, crooning about control and absolute reciprocal commodification as though by Glenn Danzig at a Material Girl drag burlesque held in the Black Lodge. Who knew that’s exactly what the video would be getting at. The mysterious frontman of Black Moth Super Rainbow, a man who goes by the nom de guerre Tobacco, has cultivated something of an Aphex Twin persona with the creepy BMSR grinning skull mask that adorns record sleeves and covers the faces of most people in his videos. Even though it’s been done before, Tobacco is an artist who manages to do something his pop-savvy quick-study contemporaries can’t anymore- he manages to be dangerous, and he does so while delivering the most careful, the most Pop record of his career.
Demon Queen S/T (2013)
I posted about this very recently. More Tobacco. More signs of life from a dying, desert-colored and grey-green sphere.
Translator Collection (2007)
I picked up the Translator debut LP, Heartbeats and Triggers (1982), for $0.30 from a bargain bin set on the street outside my local record store. My New Wave heuristics picked up on the vibe on the vinyl by way of the surprisingly well-preserved cardboard sleeve without the need for a needle. I took it home, amplified it, and my ears just NECKED it. Translator’s original 415 records catalog was reissued by Wounded Bird Records in 2007, but they’ve been out of print since, and the individual discs can be on the pricier end at your local record shop. Luckily, Acadia, an in-label-group imprint of Evangeline records, issued a nearly completely comprehensive two-CD collection of their work the same year that reproduces the debut, Heartbeats and Triggers and the follow-up No Time Like Now (1983) in their entirety, while including B-sides and highlights from Translator (1985) and Evening of the Harvest (1986). Taken as a whole, it’s a self-contained history of the New Wave on its fringes, a Pandora’s box of proleptic hints presaging everything from late eighties clean Brit Pop guitar to Nirvana nineties grunge to the oughts’ Interpol-led indie revival. I still can’t believe I never heard of them until this year. It’s like a group of bodhisattvas secretly unscrewing the dependent world with skillful means and guitar strings.
Bottomless Pit Shade Perennial (2013)
These guys do no wrong.
Annie A&R EP (2013)
With the kids bringing the nineties revival back into full swing (albeit usually the wrong parts of the nineties- those parts with the high pants sucked, guys), it seems fitting to come back the oughts’ one time almost-darling of dance, Annie. It was 2005, and dance Pop was just becoming OK for the indie kids to listen to. Enter Annie Berge-Strand, descending on New York’s newly opened Tribeca Grand for a free US debut show right around the same time that Bloc Party first crossed the pond. Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out” was still playing in every bar in town. Annie’s debut record with producer Richard X is lauded by Pitchfork. And then… and then… And then everyone starts listening to Robyn.
Annie’s work with Richard X has always been her strongest, and this 2013 EP with the producer is as knowingly nostalgic as it is deliciously Pop. Annie has never seemed particularly comfortable on video with choreographed dance and cookie-cutter, meaningless youthful exuberance, and it hasn’t worked when she’s tried it on. There’s a certain endearing shyness and awkwardness to her persona, something that seems genuine, that might be too subtle for Pop audiences trained to experience push-button ecstasy to access. Maybe that’s why Robyn’s rise seemed to coincide with Annie’s fade from the web’s bullshit circulating machine. Annie makes dance music whose stories have a background and a future, something you carry with you. So I wonder, smiling along to “Ralph Macchio”, whether anyone but us late Seventies kids know who she’s talking about, whether the audiences of today can even comprehend what they’re missing when they forego a sentimental education for algorithmically generated 3-minute shocks to the vagus nerve. This is just good pop.
The Go-Betweens Before Hollywood (1983)
I have been a Go-Betweens fan for some time now, but I had never heard this early record containing their breakout single “Cattle and Cane”, a rumination on memory and nostalgia. A friend had passed me a MOJO Magazine compilation of Manchester scene-era music entitled There is a Light that Never Goes Out: Indie Classics 1982-1987, a sort of contextualizing exercise with The Smiths occupying the lacuna at its center to give the uninitiated a glimpse at what was going on at the time The Smiths managed to get so big. Those purveyors of mopey bombast provide a good foil for considering the chronically underrated Go-Betweens and their subtle and angular cast of pop in contrast.
Not available on Spotify, I got hold of the 2002 2-disc reissue of this deeply emotional masterpiece. It’s less immediately accessible than their late-era work, for which hit-it-big TV themers The Rembrandts have reason to be so grateful (an obvious example of which being the Ivy-covered “Streets of your Town”). Its sparseness and breathy atmosphere open a tender and naked space filled with now honest and doleful emotion, now with staccato cacophony. The lament of “Dusty in Here”, a mock dialog between the ghost of someone lost and someone left behind about the father that Grant McLennan lost as a child, moves from denial to acceptance, but the line “Twenty years, and six feet down, I’m told, I know your face, I share your name” could just as easily have been penned by his bandmate Robert Forster about McLennan’s own demise, coming as it did quite suddenly in 2006, about 20 years (23, to be precise) after this song was written.
The way these spare arrangements burst suddenly into torrents of lyrical poetry, like when the moans of the title track (“make me last!”) burst into the soaring chorus about the development of the monolithic cinematic propaganda machine of Hollywood (“In the New West/The orange groves/Grow like a plague/Wherever you go/I told the Heads /We’ll show the World/We’ll film ourselves in history and chrome”), it’s like a drowning rush from a cloudburst, a biblical flood washing away the hapless everyman who doesn’t stand a chance before the power of so much truth.
Roomrunner Ideal Cities (2013)
I like what these guys are doing, and I think it’s fine to sound derivative of beloved bands. People peg them as sounding like Nirvana, but I hear a lot of Hum. In spite of that, people still like them. And for good reason- they fucking rock. Their recent album, Ideal Cities, features a picture of a panoptic city/prison on it. I love it when my indie rock is served up to me on a big Foucaldian platter. I hear it, but it hears ME, too. The whole Roomrunner catalog is free on their Bandcamp.com page for awhile. Get acquainted.
Survival Knife Traces of Me EP, Divine Mob EP
What if Rush got hold of a time machine and went ahead in time with the sole mission of being the Unwound of the future? This.
ARP More (2013)
Do you like Glammy 1970’s Brian Eno? So does ARP. So do I.
Atom™ Pop HD
I don’t think there is anything more I can say about this deeply intellectual and highly technical electronic record than I already said here.
Momus Tender Pervert (1988)
“He draws the angels close to watch that slut the world get hers. God’s a tender pervert, and the angels… the angels are voyeurs.”
Múromuk Museum EP
Don’t know much about this guy, but I like his record.
First the Japandroids, now this. How did Vancouver, B.C. start producing all this midwestern emo?
Daft Punk Random Access Memories
It’s the guys who made sure everyone knows that there is an old guy named Giorgio Moroder for about five minutes or so.
Boards of Canada Tomorrow’s Harvest
Consistently weird and unsettling. Bravo, guys!