December 30, 2013

Tapes on the Floor's Favorite Tracks of 2013 (Pt. II)

One year, 50 tracks. If you read part one, you'll probably want to round things off with part two.

"Going Back To East Montgomery" - Glenn Jones
It was a banner year for American Primitivism, but no guitarist crafted a more beautiful tribute to the music of John Fahey than his friend and former collaborator. Jones’ delicate plucked ode to his home county drips with unspoken nostalgia, expressed in the form of wistful melodies.

"Line of Fire" – Junip
This song scored one of my favorite placements of the year when it provided the soundtrack for the preview of the final episode of Breaking Bad. I’m sure Walter White would have appreciated the song’s crystalline synths and pure vocals. Perhaps he should have taken a few of the track’s lyrics to heart.

"Perfect Fit" – LAKE
Every two years, LAKE puts out an album that simultaneously lifts my spirits and gets under my skin. The highlight of the band’s 2013 release was this track, a bouncing, Rhodes-fueled pop song that contrasts Eli Moore’s clam delivery with Ashley Eriksson’s beautiful backing vocals. Once you hear the synthesizer solo, you’ll know why I’m classifying with one as “prog-twee.”

"The Pit (Part 1)” - Land of Kush
Acting as the centerpiece of Osama Shalabi’s tribute to the music of Cairo, “The Pit (Part 1)” is a multifaceted composition that demonstrates the full range of the 20-piece ensemble that was assembled to perform it. Combining elements of jazz, rock and desert blues, Land of Kush turns in an entrancing track with worldly ambitions. 

"Just Make It Stop" – Low
The amazing thing about Low is how they can take an extremely simple musical idea and create something that is endlessly listenable. With Jeff Tweedy behind the boards, the only production trick present amid the piano, guitar and drums of “Just Make It Stop” is Mimi Parker’s layered vocal harmonies. It's another sparse, haunting addition to Low’s catalog.

"Carios Kelleyi I" - Julian Lynch
There’s a clam, calculated quality to the twisting stomp and muffled vocals of “Carios Kelleyi I,” which could be explained by its solitary, home-recorded origins. Then again, perhaps it takes a guy studying ethnomusicology to create something that exemplifies precision without becoming austere. However he does it, Lynch is on to something.

"Provider" – Midlake
I doubt that Dave Matthews has ever heard a Camel record, but the record label he founded had the good sense to sign a Texas group that has clearly been inspired by the English prog-rockers. Wrapping cascading drum fills and wailing guitars around a Moog groove, “Provider” is fitting comeback for Midlake that captures a new side of the band’s evolving sound.

"Tilt" – Mountains
While it’s easy to differentiate between the acoustic guitars and analog synths that populate “Tilt,” there are moments in track when the duo manages to blend its instruments into a glorious, unified drone. It’s telling that even when I put this song on in the background, I often couldn’t keep myself from turning it up and paying attention.

"Miracle Temple Holiness" - Mount Moriah
It only took me five minutes to decide that Heather McEntire was one of my favorite vocalists of 2013. This was the track that sealed the deal; a twangy ode to redemption capped off by one of the most gut-wrenching choruses recorded within the last year. 

"Threnody" – Pelican
On a record full of dark, foreboding tracks, the riff-filled passages of “Threnody” are somehow the most sinister. Over the course of eight minutes, the Chicago quartet creates a shifting composition that pays tribute to the band’s past while introducing listeners to its formidable current configuration.

"Trying To Be Cool" – Phoenix
Thomas Mars is married to a Coppola. Laurent Brancowitz used to be in a band with the Daft Punk dudes. Do they really need to try to be cool? Not really. Can they write a catchy tune about the repercussions of fame? Absolutely.

"One Town at a Time" - Pokey LaFarge
It’s quite possible that Pokey LaFarge is a time traveler from the 1920’s. I’m not sure who installed the flux capacitor in his Model T, but he made it to the 21st century with a steamer trunk full of timeless tracks, including this little ditty. It’s a jaunty tune about all the places he’s been—hopefully your town is next on his itinerary. 

"Mercury Retrograde" - Purling Hiss
The Philly rockers pulled a fast one when they released an album that doesn’t sound like a cassette being played back on a Teddy Ruxpin. “Mercury Retrograde” reveals the lean pop melodies that were formerly hidden underneath layer upon layer of tape hiss. It's a new adventure in hi-fi.

"Lebaron" - Russian Circles
There’s a real sense of dread that permeates the latest Russian Circles record, as if it was composed to soundtrack calving glaciers. “Lebaron” is full of uneasy chord changes and ringing notes that crash into one another like skyscraper-sized chunks of ice. If this is what the beginning of the end sounds like, so be it.

"No Better Time Than Now" – Shigeto
The title track of Shigeto’s third full-length LP is a comprehensive assessment of his most admirable tendencies as an electronic producer. He takes his time, let’s the track find its own shape and then layers his composition with as many memorable flourishes as possible. It’s an unpredictable process, but the results are worth it. 

"Illusions" - Shout Out Louds
It was nice to hear the Shout Out Louds to get back to buoyant indie pop this year after the overwhelming blandness of their 2010 LP, Work. “Illusions” gets back to the group’s beginnings, combining captivating melodies with impassioned lyricism. It’s a song that’s sturdier than that coffee table you picked up at Ikea.

"This Evil Embrace" – Skeletonwitch
I don’t listen to whole lot of metal, but I’ve got a soft spot for this southeast Ohio band that was a fixture of my college town. Whenever I want to hear razor sharp riffs, thundering kick drums and some guttural moaning about demons, this is the song I put on.

"Welcome To Japan" - The Strokes
There are some great tunes on the Strokes’ largely overlooked 2013 LP, Comedown Machine, but only one of them included the lyric, “what kind of asshole drives a Lotus?” For the first time in a while, these guys sound like they’re having fun.

"The Keepers" - Ty Segall
Segall’s collection of heartfelt acoustic songs didn’t immediately capture my attention, but when this track showed up at a particularly poignant moment in an episode of Eastbound and Down, I started listening to it on a daily basis. It reveals an introspective side of the longhaired rocker and easily qualifies as one of the year’s most sincere songs.

"Swim and Sleep (Like A Shark) - Unknown Mortal Orchestra
It’s possible to make psych rock without effects pedals and synth patches. For proof, just listen to this song; a warm, effervescent composition that finds strangeness in arpeggiated bass lines and stilted guitar riffs instead of technicolor soundscapes.

"Linens" - Water Liars
There’s a palpable sense of longing that comes across through the shuffling chords and wistful harmonies of “Linens.” It’s a ballad about life away from home that every touring musician has likely been tempted to write, but Justin Kinkel-Schuster finds the perfect way to express his restless regret. It's also a song that works even when it's sped up a bit.

"Physical Consciousness Went In" - Dustin Wong
Is Dustin Wong an alien sent from a dying planet to teach humanity about the divine secrets of the electric guitar? The world may never know, but this cathartic five-minute track sounds like something only he could have conceived. If you like your loops frantic and fluctuating, you’ll dig Wong’s latest creation.

"Ruins" - Wooden Shjips
Does anyone in this band sail? I ask because this track would be the perfect accompaniment to a day of cruising across the waves. That’s assuming that you live by a body of water and know someone with a shjip (wooden or otherwise). Don’t forget to pack munchies. 

"Well You Better" - Yo La Tengo
The shortest track on Yo La Tengo’s latest release, “Well You Better” harkens back to the concise songcraft of I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One. Ira Kaplan practically whispers the lyrics as elevator music organs drone in the background. Only a 29-year-old band could make a song this cool and collected. 

"Mute" - Youth Lagoon
There are moments in “Mute” when it feels like the whole song is malfunctioning. Synths blend together in crackling bursts of static and each component seems slightly out of tune. But when Trevor Powers’ unassuming voice joins the fray, the whole jumbled mess begins to make sense. 

Are you sick of music yet? Me neither. Go re-acquaint yourself with Part I while you wait for the unveiling of my Favorite Records of 2013.

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