SOUNDSCAPES STAFF BEST OF 2013
These are the 25 favourite new releases and reissues of 2013 as chosen by the staff of Soundscapes.
Top 25 New Releases of 2013
1. CATE LE BON – Mug Museum
With such a killer follow-up to last year’s Cyrk, Cate LeBon has firmly asserted herself yet again as our very favourite Welsh singer-songwriter. Cate's stately delivery and curious harmonic angles sound a little airier this time around, but she’s still got a heavy record on her hands here.
2. VERONICA FALLS – Waiting For Something To Happen
On their excellent second album, this British quartet has refined the pop melodicism of their debut release. Superb vocal harmonies and sparkling guitar playing power incisive songs about coming to terms with adulthood.
3. CASS McCOMBS – Big Wheel And Others
"Two years after the downer-folk/lighter-rock one-two punch that was WIT'S END soon followed by Humor Risk, McCombs' newest throws all his approaches in the pot, making for an 85-minute-long, double-disc effort that's all over the map in the best of ways." (originally published on November 18, 2013)
4. RHYE – Woman
I was working in the shop early this year, and a customer came in and asked if we had the Rhye album in yet. "What's that?," I inquired. "Oh," they said, "It is basically the sexiest record ever."
5. FUZZ – S/T
Ty Segall’s output can be dizzying to navigate, but the quality control is usually of the highest order. This release, however, soars above the pack. Segall stays planted behind the drum kit and sings while he thumps, but it's Charlie Moothart's guitar playing that stands out on this thick slab of high-octane psychedelia. Fuzz, indeed!
6. MY BLOODY VALENTINE – m b v
"It's been well worth the wait, as m b v delivers not only initially, but even more upon further listens, opening itself up to reveal as many details as one could have hoped for the more often one dives in." (originally published on March 16, 2013)
7. STEVE GUNN – Time Off
"A melodiously drony set of boogie-folk by a fellow who's currently turning heads as guitar slinger-for-hire with Kurt Vile and the Violators, after years of plugging away in the psych underground with a discography that includes multiple releases for Digitalis and Three Lobed Recordings. Highly recommended, and likely to appeal across a wide swath of listeners." (originally published on June 27, 2013)
8. JACCO GARDNER – Cabinet Of Curiosities
Youthful Dutchman Jacco Gardner authentically channels his inner Curt Boettcher and Brian Wilson (or anyone else from the 1960s who mastered a variety of instruments and learned to use the studio to create sweet chamber psych-pop indulgences).
9. SONNY & THE SUNSETS – Antenna To The Afterworld
Sonny Smith has a knack for writing scrappy hook-laden tunes. His formula works no matter what genre filter he throws them through, from garage to country. This time out, it all goes through a broken keyboard that Vangelis might have chucked in the trash. It's still Sonny, but with added New Romantic muscle.
10. HAIM - Days Are Gone
With top-notch production from Ariel Rechtshaid, Ludwig Göransson and James Ford and an omnivorous approach to R&B-influenced pop/rock recalling a wild array of acts from the '70s through to the '00s (Destiny's Child, Cyndi Lauper, Wilson Phillips, Heart, The Bangles, The Pretenders, Fleetwood Mac, and, yes, even Shania Twain), after being initially primed by the release of some of these singles way back last fall, it was hard not to give up and give in to the Haim sisters at some point this past year.
11. DEVON SPROULE & MIKE O'NEILL – Colours
"Coventry, England's Tin Angel Records has spent the past few years pooling the talents of a particular pocket of players within Toronto's leftfield folk/pop-rock/jazz-improv underground, and Colours (a follow-up to Sproule's 2011 effort I Love You Go Easy, likewise produced by Sandro Perri and recorded at T.O.'s 6 Nassau studio) [was one of the] newest results of this cross-Atlantic cultural exchange." (originally published on October 9, 2013)
12. DANIEL HOPE – Spheres
"Hope follows his brilliant appearance as soloist on Max Richter's Recomposed: Vivaldi's Four Seasons (a turn impressive enough to have made our Staff Best Of 2012 list) with this program centred around the concept of planetary movement, the 'music of the spheres,' featuring pieces by Richter himself as well as Arvo Pärt, Philip Glass, Michael Nyman and Gabriel Prokofiev, among others." (originally published on March 15, 2013)
13. THE SADIES – Internal Sounds
The Sadies never fail to deliver with their unique brand of psychedelicized country rock, and Internal Sounds might very well feature their strongest set of tunes to date. Member Dallas Good produced the album, which includes a tribute to '60s Dutch garage greats The Outsiders and a guest appearance by legendary folk singer/songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie on the album's droning closing track.
14. TY SEGALL – Sleeper
Sleeper saw Segall returning to the acoustic guitar without letting up on his heavy psych tendencies. It’s an intense affair, documenting his feelings about the passing of his father and his fractured relationship with his mother.
15. KEVIN MORBY – Harlem River
After a few years of bouncing around the Woodsist sidestages, Kevin Morby has stepped out on his own with a beautifully easy-sounding record. Twangless but rootsy and sorta safe without staleness, Harlem River lets you get comfortable before you take in the tunes. Quite a treat for the weary-eared.
16. ELUVIUM – Nightmare Ending
"A return to form for the producer of one of the alltime great ambient/classical albums, 2007's Copia. After an ill-advised journey into vocal music on his last album, 2010's Similes, Matthew Cooper has returned to his instrumental roots on his latest, with the exception of one track featuring guest vocals from Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo." (originally published on May 31, 2013)
17. KING KHAN & THE SHRINES – Idle No More
Taking its title from the Canadian First Nations protest movement, former Montrealer King Khan's first album since 2007 also refers to the psychological trials and tribulations he's experienced in the last few years. But that doesn’t stop Idle No More from being a fun-filled blast; King Khan has simply added new layers of depth to his party-hardy soul-infused garage frontman persona.
18. SAM AMIDON – Bright Sunny South
"Amidon has stepped up to the major-label plate and delivered what could be his best record yet, with thoughtful, sparse arrangements and a set of adaptations (both trad and not-so-trad) sung with graceful restraint." (originally published on May 15, 2013)
19. THUNDERCAT – Apocalypse
No one can deny the technical prowess of Stephen Bruner's bass playing; it's clearly evident. This time out, however, songs are introduced to the mix, and full-on bangers to boot, with "Oh Sheit It's X" and "Heartbreaks + Setbacks" worthy of any amount of dancefloor sweat.
20. JULIA HOLTER – Loud City Song
Although it's missing a little of the charming home-brew wonkiness of last year's Ekstasis, Loud City Song more than makes up for it with the fresh polish of a killer band. As before, however, it's Holter's voice that draws you in—how could one stop listening after a starkly gorgeous opener like "World"?
21. BRAIDS - Flourish // Perish
"Braids' production and songwriting on sophomore effort Flourish // Perish sounded to these ears like a leap in the right direction past their Native Speaker debut, harkening back to such turn-of-the-millenium leftfield electronic pop touchstones as Kid A and Homogenic while sounding completely of this era." (originally published on September 9, 2013)
22. MAVIS STAPLES - One True Vine
What a joy to be blessed with more music from Mavis Staples, still going strong into her mid-70s. Once again, Jeff Tweedy produces a mix of strong originals and wisely selected covers. Her version of Funkadelic’s "Can You Get To That" was a constant go-to whenever I was DJing in the shop, undoubtedly prompting an enquiry as to what was playing.
23. FOXYGEN – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic
"Not to be overly reductive about this, but anyone into the likes of MGMT (their main contemporary/fellow rearview-glancing American rascal-pop competition, it would seem) and/or Richard Swift (entrusted here with production duties on this official first full-length, following the duo's debut 12", Take The Kids Off Broadway) is urged to give these guys a listen pronto." (originally published January 27, 2013)
24. YO LA TENGO – Fade
"It almost doesn't matter how great Fade is. It's yet another album by one of the most quietly enduring bands of their age. Its worth has been made by decades of already great music. It is an event. However, it is a great album, one that finds the band in a moment where their warm, welcoming qualities are at a most autumnal, late-age bloom. Like many of their best records, you'll love it. It'll help you feel better." (originally published on January 22, 2013)
25. JULIANNA BARWICK – Nepenthe
"Evoking the wordless ethereality of the Cocteau Twins and Sigur Ros, Julianna Barwick's new album is stunningly beautiful. It's not surprising to see she collaborated with Alex Somers, whose 2009 album Riceboy Sleeps similarly captures ambient sounds from the heavens." (originally published on August 21, 2013)
Top 25 Reissues of 2013
1. IRMA THOMAS – In Between Tears
"The out-there graphics on the cover are a little misleading—this is not Irma Thomas' stab at psychedelic soul, rather it's another stunning set of classic deep soul from one of the greatest of all soul vocalists." (originally published on May 23, 2013)
2. WILLIAM ONYEABOR – World Psychedelic Classics 5: Who Is William Onyeabor?
"While [Luaka Bop's] clearly been biding their time since Who Is William Onyeabor? is still only Vol. 5 [in their World Psychedelic Classics series], getting to finally hear such strange, synth-lead-laden Afro-disco dancefloor-filling workout warnings as 'Atomic Bomb' and 'Why Go To War' properly mastered at last has been well worth the wait." (originally published on November 5, 2013)
3. MARCOS VALLE – Garra
"From 1970 to 1973, Marcos Valle released four classic but long-unavailable albums [(1971's Garra among them), and we were glad to have better acquainted] ourselves with each of these early '70s singer-songwriter snapshots!" (originally published on February 21, 2013)
4. MICHAEL HURLEY - Hi Fi Snock Uptown
Light In The Attic did all music fans a serious solid by rectifying the dearth of early Hurley available on CD. Both this album and Armchair Boogie are essential listens for any fans of outsider folk music with a sense of humour to it. Hopefully more in the series to follow soon!
5. STEVE TILSTON – An Acoustic Confusion
"[This] album [...] grabbed the ears of many a staffer here ever since we cracked open a copy out of curiosity. Hopefully you'll be as excited as us upon hearing An Acoustic Confusion, a set stacked with equally arresting vocals and solo guitar accompaniment that honestly rival the likes of Bert Jansch and Davey Graham!" (originally published on June 12, 2013)
6. NATHAN ABSHIRE – Master Of The Cajun Accordion
"Chronicling this legendary Louisianan's work with both the Pine Grove Boys and Balfa Brothers, Master of the Cajun Accordion is an irresistibly swinging slice of '60s and '70s roots revivalism that's lost none of its joyful vitality over the intervening years." (originally published on April 15, 2013)
7. FRANCOISE HARDY – Midnight Blues 1968-1972
This collection brings together tracks from three of Hardy’s English-language albums featuring translations of her own compositions as well as impeccably chosen covers from the likes of Neil Young, Trees, and Randy Newman, though nothing from Nick Drake with whom she reportedly wanted to record an album!
8. VA – Good God! Apocryphal Hymns
Not as funky as the other volumes in this series, Numero focuses here on the pastoral, hazy telling of God’s word. Super mellow and laid back, anyone of any faith can certainly zone out to its otherworldly sounds.
9. MERIDIAN BROTHERS – Devocion (Works 2005-2011)
'Weird' is not often used when describing South American music designed for dancing. And though we're not sure if people dance to this in Colombia, this reissue of tracks from the Brothers' three albums leading up to last year's magnificent Desesperanza shows how surreal tropical music can be.
10. RODION G.A. - The Lost Tapes
"Crackling with distorted organ, synth, guitar, drum machine and live kit, this archival set from Strut reveals a persecution-skirting hybrid made between 1978 and 1984 by Romania's Rodion Rosça, one that in hindsight can be slotted somewhere between Kosmische prog and the punky sci-fi defiance of Heldon's Richard Pinhas, all while maintaining a degree of regional tradition in its scales and melodic lines." (originally published on July 11, 2013)
11. SWAMP DOGG - Total Destruction To Your Mind
Leading off a year’s worth of Swamp Dogg reissues, Total Destruction really lives up to its name. It may not sport the iconic rodent-jockey jacket of follow-up Rat On, but this is the record that puts all of Jerry Williams' charms on display. Poppin' country-funk grooves choogle in high gear throughout, so your butt's gonna boogie no matter how baffled you are by what on earth this guy's singing about.
12. DARK - Dark Round The Edges
The most elusive private-press record in the history of proto-metal finally gets the proper release it deserves. Originally only 50 (?!?) copies were pressed, but as legend grew so did the demand for hearing this record that stands high with any other record in the genre. Fierce guitar workouts and well-crafted songs make this album live up to all the hype and mystery.
13. VA – London Is The Place For Me 5 & 6: Afro-Cubism, Calypso, Highlife, Mento, Jazz
Along with new twofer editions of the previous volumes, Honest Jon's have added on to their excellent series of releases documenting the history of black music in London. Both volumes focus mostly on calypsos, but between a Duke Jordan tune and a solo cowbell track there's enough surprises to keep things interesting.
14. DWIGHT SYKES - Songs Volume 1
This is one of those records that's so ahead of and behind its time that it almost creates its own world. The bedroom-recorded machine-funk of Dwight Sykes has that off-kilter feel that leaves the listener wondering if Sykes had his finger on the pulse of the future, or he was just a guy trying to make normal R&B with an abnormal perspective.
15. VA – The Rojac Story: The Best of Rojac & Tay-ster
Packed with forty-four tracks, this double-disc collection takes an exhaustive look at the gritty, raw-edged output of Jack Taylor's Harlem-based record labels. From scorching '60s soul to '70s funk grooves, with a bit of disco thrown into the mix, it's worth it for Big Maybelle's version of "96 Tears" alone!
16. HAILU MERGIA – Hailu Mergia And His Classical Instrument: Shemonmuanaye
If you can imagine Timmy Thomas making an instrumental album of classic Ethiopian tunes, you’ll have a pretty good handle on what this record is all about. Now imagine accordion. Okay, you’ve got it.
17. MOLLY DRAKE - S/T
Who would have known that Nick Drake's mum made DIY home recordings back in the 1950s? Accompanying herself on piano, Mrs. Drake shows us that Nick's hushed intensity was something that ran in the family.
18. YELLOWMAN - Young, Gifted & Yellow
Since I discovered Yellowman a few years back (way too long in coming), I listen to one of his records almost daily. He is one of the true giants of Jamaican dancehall, and this compilation is a ramjam session of serious jams. I can’t recommend it highly enough!
19. BOBBY WHITLOCK - Where There's A Will, There's A Way: The ABC-Dunhill Recordings
When this reissue first surfaced in June, I dismissed it, feeling it was a poor cousin to Derek & The Dominos' Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs, a record on which Bobby was a key player. It took the magic of hearing "Satisfied" in shuffle play for me to realize the error of my ways and reevaluate this blistering compilation of blues rock intensity.
20. PETER JEFFERIES - The Last Great Challenge In A Dull World
"A punky, piano-led solo debut placing proper emphasis on Jefferies' weathered baritone and world-weary yet outwardly-engaged lyrics, this is a crucial document of the '90s New Zealand cassette underground." (originally published on June 27, 2013)
21. THE ASSOCIATION – S/T (Expanded Edition)
Now Sounds continues its wonderful reissue track record with the fifth studio album from The Association. It's a beautifully lush album that blends the very 1969 sounds of a pop band dipping their toes into FM rock and country with the group's golden harmonies. Nowhere is that expressed better than on "Dubuque Blues," a deceptively gentle ramblin' ode to saudade.
22. VA - New Breed Blues With Black Popcorn
The good folks at Ace Records have compiled a disc full of rough'n'tough late-'50s/mid-'60s r'n'b that's both bursting with melodic hooks and tailor-made for dancefloor action.
23. VA - South Texas Rhythm 'n' Soul Revue
From 1962 to 1973, producer Huey Meaux recorded more soul music than anybody else in the Lone Star State, and what an ear he had for it. Covering well-known figures like Barbara Lynn, Johnny Copeland, and Johnny Adams, along with more obscure r'n'b acts, this Ace/Kent compilation will, as Jackie Paine puts it on his irresistible cut, make you wanna ride on the Go-Go Train!
24. VA – Hall Of Fame Volume 2: More Rare & Unissued Gems From The FAME Vaults
Thanks to the exposure brought on by the superb Muscle Shoals documentary, the wealth of soul music birthed from FAME Studios by Rick Hall has never been more well-known. This set digs a little deeper than the aforementioned film soundtrack, to show that for every Aretha Franklin there was a Marjorie Ingram, for every Wilson Pickett there was a Prince Phillip, singers who, for whatever reason, didn’t quite make it but still recorded classic soul up there with the best.
25. VA - Très Chic: More French Girl Singers Of The 1960s
"Just months after the release of a vinyl issue of 2010's C'est Chic! CD compilation (one of Ace's bestselling titles in our shop these past few years) hit our shelves, the follow-up comp [was] upon us, and as expected, [was] a fun, frug-friendly mix of name artists (such as France Gall, Françoise Hardy, Brigitte Bardot and Anna Karina) and equally strong cuts from a cast of lesser-known yé-yé singers." (originally published on July 15, 2013)