The first time I can remember encountering Tom Chick, it was in a UseNet group about 15 years ago. It was a thread about some real-time strategy (RTS, to those who play them) computer game. I think it might’ve been Age Of Kings. I can’t even remember whether I liked the game or not, or what I said, but Tom vaguely disagreed with my comments. I do remember how I felt when he took issue, however: “Who the hell is this Tom Chick jerk?” It got under my skin a little. When Tom challenged me those many years ago, he didn’t get personal, but he got into my head, if that makes sense. It’s easy to deal with if some internet toolbag gets personal. You fire off a snide remark back, or you ignore it.
The way Tom got under my skin was to ask me why I felt the way I did about whatever game it was. He didn’t say “You’re wrong.” He didn’t tell me I was an idiot. He wasn’t dismissive of my opinion. He simply wanted to know why I felt the way I felt about the game, and explained why he had a differing opinion of its quality. Think for a minute about how having someone seriously (and with genuine curiosity) ask you why you like or dislike something, how that can get inside you. The person who asks you “why?” is asking you to examine the complex ways in which you experience things and then wants you to try to externalize it in a way that makes sense. When someone with a differing opinion does that to you, if it catches you in just the right frame of mind it can put you back on your heels a bit. I remember that such was the case here.
I discovered pretty quickly that this Tom Chick jerk reviewed games for a living. (I was also sort of flabbergasted to find out that he played Reporter Gordon on The West Wing, and had a brief stint as Oscar’s boyfriend on The Office.) I’d see reviews he’d write in magazines or online sites. I discovered he and another games journalist were starting up a website. I started reading there a lot. Eventually, a music discussion on whether it was possible for rock and roll musicians to create great music while under the influence of drugs (someone was arguing vehemently against it) created enough nerd rage to cause me to register and start posting on the forums. Tom and I crossed paths there. Occasionally we cracked one another up. We played a few games together. (Want to be humbled? Play Tom Chick in an RTS game where he knows secret hotkeys, like Rise Of Nations. You’re frantically trying to herd your on-screen guys like cats at a tuna cannery, while he’s calmly doing this ALT-right-click hotkey voodoo thing and mopping the floor with you.) We got to be that most modern of characters of the information age. We became internet friends.
I’ve always marveled at how effortlessly (seemingly) Tom writes things in a unique style and voice, like this piece that came out as our troops on the ground in Iraq began to come under regular fire. Tom also writes his share of controversial reviews. He’s infamous as the guy who hated Deus Ex. When he gave a game from the popular Killzone franchise a negative review while running a gaming blog for NBC’s SyFy online presence a few years ago, the deluge of angry commenters nearly crashed the host’s server. Chick actively campaigns against the evils of the 7-9 scale (that scale is the tendency of game reviewers to simply bunch up reviews between 7 and 9 on a 10-point scale to satisfy publisher PR departments and continue to get review copies and free dinners at conventions). His reviews–now exclusively on Quarter To Three–stick to a 5-star system. When Tom gives a game three stars out of five, he means that the game is good, but flawed in some way. When Metacritic adds it into their aggregator, it’s a 60%. That’s associated with a failing grade in our consciousness. Tom doesn’t apologize for it. Metacritic is happy with it. And so it goes.
What’s even more interesting to me as I rediscover a love of movies is that Tom is a skillful reviewer and commentator on films. You can see plenty of his reviews online at Quarter To Three. For the last five years he’s been the host of the QT3 Movie podcast. Now, you may think that doing a weekly podcast is an easy thing. I’m here to tell you it’s tough. Doing one, and doing one well is almost impossible. Listening to Tom on a podcast is like watching 1970s Johnny Carson, a maestro at work. He says interesting things that are amusing, yes. More importantly though, is that he asks really interesting questions. I guess he’s scripted some of the points to discuss, but he’s willing to go far down intriguing rabbit hole tangents with his cohorts on the podcast (Christien Murawski and Kelly Wand, who are excellent co-conspirators to the most entertaining movie podcast on the internet) that it seems that most of what’s going on is unscripted. It’s kind of cool seeing a mind that works in interesting ways, giving us a peek into how that curiosity works.
For my own self, I like to write criticism and essays occasionally. I try to learn and imitate from folks I admire who do it better. For decades, what I’ve consciously borrowed, emulated, or blatantly stolen from other writers was style. Maybe a little Ira Robbins here, perhaps a smidge of Nik Cohn there, a turn of phrase from Greil Marcus, etc. I’m not ashamed to say that any ability I have with words is derived mostly from reading a lot and appropriating style elements I like. What I realize now is that a lot of the time I was sounding the notes, but not really playing the song, so to speak. What’s been most valuable to me in the 15 years that I’ve known Tom Chick is that from him I’ve learned–finally, after years of teachers and professors trying to drill it into my head through high school and college–how to truly think critically. I try to imitate some of what Tom does, whether reviewing a movie or a game or a TV show or whatever. He has an approach in which he simply articulates “Here’s how I felt about this, and here’s why it clicked with me–or didn’t.” It sounds simple. I don’t think it is. Roger Ebert wrote the same way. There aren’t a whole lot of Tom Chicks or Roger Eberts around, as far as I can tell.
Last year, Tom and I co-wrote movie impressions covering 30 years of horror movies. It was both great fun and daunting challenge. As a writer, I thought I’d do OK. As a thinker with interesting things to say, though, I knew I’d have to step up my game. I had my moments, I had some whiffs. It was also an amazing learning experience to see a first-rate critical thinker go through his process of coherently explaining why something was or was not worth seeing. Because of all that, and because I enjoy scaring the crap outta myself around Halloween, I wanted to give writing about horror films another go this October. I contacted Tom earlier in the summer, and he said he was all in on doing it again. I began to get things set up for the project, including an arduous task of getting a list of almost a hundred movies down to 31.
About a month ago, Tom contacted me back again. He was unsure he’d be able to go for the movie thing. He said he’d just been diagnosed with cancer, stage 4, in his pharynx. I think he said something about wondering if I would still do the project. I think I said I would. Those emails were exchanged in a daze; how do you respond coherently to news like that? It took nearly a week for Tom to casually mention that he had good healthcare, and that despite the dire news, his doctors felt he had a good chance of being rid of the cancer through aggressive treatment (maybe lead with that, huh?) He’d be losing his voice during treatment and recovery, and that meant he’d have to leave his podcasts for a while. He expressed that while he still planned to write, he’d need to do it on his own pace and wasn’t sure he was up to the grueling schedule of watching a movie a day and then generating interesting thoughts about them. This month-long marathon of horror movies isn’t easy, fun though it can be. It requires a time commitment (I really am watching–and in some cases rewatching–movies and taking notes daily), and then a mental sharpness to crank out content that isn’t crashingly dull. Daily deadlines can be incredibly taxing to be honest, and something I wouldn’t do if I wasn’t in love with doing it. As it is, I’m barely suited for the task, and I don’t have chemotherapy and radiation treatments to deal with.
Thankfully, I was able to find some amazing volunteers who are excellent writers, horror aficionados, and importantly, internet friends. They agreed to step in and give me excellent writing partners for the task ahead. And so tomorrow we’ll start writing about horror films, just like last October. We’ll have a lot of things to say, and if you’re reading this here, we’d love for you to join us there in discussion in the comments. I’m sad that Tom won’t be participating, but overjoyed that the reason for that is him getting better and beating a disease he’s got a puncher’s chance at having completely purged from his system. And if Tom isn’t present there in the words themselves, I know it’ll be apparent that his obvious influence will be visible in everything we write.
A GoFundMe page to help Tom deal with expenses while undergoing treatment and recovery is right here. Go give a little.
“Wanna see something really scary?” (Dan Aykroyd, The Twilight Zone)
I know I do, especially at this time of year. In fact, last year I spent October buried in horror films. Over at Quarter To Three, Tom Chick and I dual-blogged our impressions of 30 selected horror movies covering 30 years, from 1957-1987. It was a blast.
This year, I’m going to be doing something similar, but with a modified theme. For 2014’s horror movies in October, we’re going to cover the best 31 horror movies of the last 15 years. The premise–and I don’t want to spoil too much just now–is that the last 15 years for horror film have been a golden age in the genre, covering a wide variety of sub-genres. We’ve got found footage, fake documentaries, creature features, psycho killers, ghost stalkers and even a good ol’ fashioned werewolf or vampire, too. Oh yeah–we also got zombies. Boy howdy, do we have zombies!
I think we’ll be up again at Qt3, and so each day a friend and I will write about a new movie over there, and I’d love for you to show up and offer your own opinions in the frequently lively discussions that ensue. Consider this your invitation to join in!
On the movies chosen: I crowd-sourced it with some of the horror aficionados at Quarter To Three over the last few weeks. We started with nearly 100 films to fill 31 spaces. We wanted to get culturally significant movies in, we wanted a representative cross section of films, we wanted to give a leg up to artistically interesting movies, etc. etc. I can’t tell you how bummed I was to have to leave great flicks like Zombieland or Trollhunter off the list, but that’s just how strong the last 15 years have been. If your favorite movie isn’t covered, well…maybe we’ll get to it some other time? In the meantime, here are the 31 movies we’ll talk about in October, in the order we’ll discuss them.
The Blair Witch Project
The Ring (US)
28 days/Weeks Later (A two-fer!)
A Tale of Two Sisters
Shaun Of The Dead
Call Of Cthulhu
Let The Right One In
Cabin In The Woods
House Of The Devil
Berberian Sound Studio
The Last Will and Testament Of Rosalind Leigh
The Banshee Chapter
Trick R Treat
In the last few days I’ve sort of stumbled upon a recently added Netflix TV series. The show is called “The Returned”. It’s a French show based on a 2004 movie, and I’m finding it absolutely absorbing, almost in the way that True Detective and Twin Peaks once got their respective hooks in to me.
The premise of the show is simple: a small mountain town in Alpine France suddenly has selected dead folks coming back, exactly as they were before they died. They appear healthy, in mostly sound mind…and fairly confused and blanked out on where they’ve been and what happened to them that they died in the first place. If you’re expecting that to be warm and fuzzy, don’t. Living people react to folks who’ve been dead for a decade or more just showing up at the house in unpredictable ways.
Also, apparently one of the returned dead is a serial killer.
And then there’s Victor. Yeesh.
It’s a haunting and beautiful show that I cannot recommend enough. That being said, if you’re not careful, you’re going to get caught in this weird net of Returned-isms, because apparently every intellectual property publisher and their Uncle Bob wants a version of this premise. Let us fine folk at Popnarcotic help you navigate this nonsense.
1. We begin with Les Revenants, a 2004 French film.
Les Revenants was directed by Robin Campillo. It received middling reviews. Many critics thought the premise was interesting, but not particularly well-executed. The movie was retitled “They Came Back” for English-speaking audiences.
2. The Returned (the French TV series THAT IS SERIOUSLY GREAT AND TOTALLY WORTH WATCHING!) is an adaptation of that 2004 movie.
The show is called “Les Revenants” in France, but on Channel 4 in the UK and on the Sundance Channel and Netflix in the US it is called “The Returned”. The first 8-episode season aired in 2012. The second season airs later this year. The series is created by (or adapted, or however is the proper way to put it) by a fellow with outstanding taste in music named Fabrice Gobert. In one of Fabrice’s previous movies, he got Sonic Youth to do the score (apparently just by asking); Mogwai does the score for The Returned, and it is outstandingly beautiful and haunting.
3. In 2013 a very bright young filmmaker named Manuel Carballo made a movie called–wait for it–The Returned.
Carballo’s movie is also excellent, and although it’s a zombie movie, as Tom Chick points out in his interview and podcast with Carballo, it’s so much more. This Returned is actually about healthcare issues, rationing, and medical ethics. Other than the title, it has no relationship to the French TV series or movie.
4. August of 2013 saw the release of a book called–come on, you’ve already guessed–“The Returned”.
The book is by a guy named Jason Mott, who as far as I know never saved any games in the 2011 World Series. In Mott’s book, he apparently presents a scenario where he explores how a family copes with having a long-dead child suddenly return to them, alive and exactly the way he was when he died. Stop me if this all sounds familiar to you. I guess in this novel, the rising from the dead thing is also a bit of a global phenomenon. Or something. Frankly, I’m stunned that Jason Mott wasn’t sued to the ends of the earth for what sounds like a blatant bit of plagiarism.
5. ABC here in America optioned Mott’s book for a TV series called Resurrection.
“Hey, but wait,” I can hear you thinking. “This show will be based on the novel, so it won’t be like the awesome French TV series that is suddenly getting ripped off by everyone who brushes up against it. Indeed, in this interview the executive producers of “Resurrection” claim that not only have they totally never EVER seen the French show, but they’ve deliberately avoided watching it for fear of ripping it off. The producers of the ABC show say that, in fact, to try to be totally original, they’re only using Mott’s book as a jumping off point, but that their TV show will go in its own unique direction. In fact, their original vision of Mott’s novel involves them setting Resurrection in a mountain village in Colorado, and making the initial season of the series only 8 episodes. If I am a lawyer for Canal+, I’m on the phone with everyone at ABC at this point, because they’re completely lying here. The show is an obvious ripoff of the French show, and it’s so boldly crass the way they’re doing it that I can’t help but root for this show to fall flat on its face. What, are they waiting until they see the next season of Les Revenants in November before deciding on a second season?
6. But wait, there’s more!
Just when you thought you could tell one Returned from another, it turns out that the A&E Channel has actually secured the rights to the French TV series (which you really should be watching right now instead of reading this). A&E has a show runner attached to the series and is apparently moving full steam ahead on bringing an Enlish-language American adaptation of the show to American cable TV. Oddly enough, A&E is majority-owned by Disney/ABC. Talk about hedging your bets.
At any rate, there’s one Returned I recommend, and that’s the French TV show. It is beautifully, cinematically shot. The dialogue is painful and real-sounding. The acting is superb. The production values are through the roof. It can be seen on Netflix (which is where I discovered it), the Sundance Channel on cable, or you can buy individual episodes from Amazon and iTunes. If my fanboying over how great the show is hasn’t yet convinced you, let me show you the title sequence, which spoils nothing about the show, but does tell you everything about how beautiful and weird and amazing it is:
Like lots of folks, I’m quite smitten with the HBO show True Detective. As a fan of Ellroy, Pelecanos, and Ligotti (the latter I’ve just started reading in the past year, and hoo-boy), I’ve found myself right at home in its swampy, noir charms. As a die-hard Angel Heart fanboy, I can’t help but see True Detective as a 21st Century update of that setting and theme.
I’ve also really dug the music in the show. HBO sometimes just wins me over based on a theme song–like using the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s “Straight Up And Straight Down” for Boardwalk Empire–and they couldn’t have picked better music than the haunting Handsome Family tune that opens every True Detective episode this season. I still maintain that T-Bone Burnett’s signature production sheen spackles on some of the dullest sonic layering and compression you’ll ever hear (I liken it to someone taking sandpaper to smooth out any rough edges which is usually a terrible thing to do with rock and blues and soul; if he’d produced the White Stripes, “Fell In Love With A Girl” would’ve been played through a capo’d guitar turned down to 4, with Jack White’s vocals auto-tuned). Despite that beef I have with him, there’s no disputing the dude has good taste in the music he picks.
Something I forgot about until recently is that I sort of made my own True Detective soundtrack over four years ago. I uploaded it here, too! For Halloween in 2009 I made two music mixes. I did one for a small get-together that involved watching a couple of bayou/backwoods horror films and also drinks and cards. It was a pretty downcast mix, and I think I was going for haunted and rustic and creepy as a feel. I called it Rosedale At Midnight, the title of the mix referring to the crossroads in Mississippi where Robert Johnson is alleged to have sold his soul.
When I put that mix together, I was reading and influenced by George Pelecanos’ most existential novel, The Night Gardener (about retired homicide detectives haunted by unsolved serial killings…sound familiar?) I remembered it over the weekend and gave it a couple of listens today and as a mix it holds up, and as a nice “Gimme more of that True Detective-sounding music” it really works.
So, in case you missed it back when, I hope you’ll indulge me exhuming it this week, as we await a visit to Lost Carcosa.
2. Cary Hudson, “Haunted House Blues”
3. Syd Barrett, “Late Night”
4. Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians, “Raymond Chandler Evening”
5. Califone, “Funeral Singers”
6. House Of Freaks “Lonesome Graveyard”
7. The Velvet Underground “Ocean”
8. Neko Case “Ghost Writer”
9. Hank Williams Sr. “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”
10. Blitzen Tripper, “Black River Killer”
11. The Clientele, “Graven Wood”
12. Outrageous Cherry, “Out There In The Dark”
13. The Cobbs, “Deathcapades”
14. Matt Murphy D/B/A Guy Terrifico, “Friend Of The Devil”
15. Gene Austin, “Girl Of My Dreams”
16. Sparklehorse, “Spirit Ditch”
17. The Rolling Stones, “Midnight Rambler”
18. Mark Lanegan, “The Winding Sheet”
19. Cat Power, “Werewolf”
20. The Rain Parade, “A Broken Horse”
21. jennyanykind, “Ghostly White”
1. It Hugs Back, “Sa-Sa-Sa-Sails”
The first time I heard this song–which opens IHB’s 2013 album Recommended Record–it felt like a year-old lab puppy had just jumped into my lap and smothered me with affection, totally unaware of its own gloriously clumsy and over-the-top power. This song is a tidal wave of awesome. http://ithugsback.bigcartel.com/
2. The Men “Without A Face”
Obviously wearing a Neil Young influence elsewhere on their album New Moon, this particular song sports that influence a bit while still nicely recalling their noisier previous efforts. http://wearethemen.blogspot.com/
3. Emiliana Torrini, “Speed Of Dark”
This is here because Glenn Boothe tweeted about how good her record was last week, and I’ve been listening in a fairly obsessive endless loop since. Slinky and dark and sleek yet not without some rough edges, this Icelandic singer/songwriter album Tookah would be a for sure entrance in a year end top ten albums list, if I still did such things. http://emilianatorrini.com/
4. Superchunk, “Trees Of Barcelona”
Don’t call it a comeback. Superchunk’s second record after a hiatus continues the standards of excellence they’ve always had. One thing that people who write about Superchunk never seem to play up enough to my mind is just how well-built your typical Superchunk song is. This track, for instance is a genius exemplar of how you put verses, choruses, vocal clusters, bridges, and fadeouts together into a near-perfect whole. http://www.superchunk.com/
5. Temples, “Keep In The Dark”
Here in America we try, we really do. American bands try hard to look like rock stars before they’ve sold a record, try hard to get that 70s feel just right…but we’ve never, not ever done that as well as the Brits. Take Temples, for example, with the Bolan curls and gold lame pants and leather shirts…THESE guys are rock stars. This is a teaser single for a 2014 album that looks like it’ll be an absolute monster. Even better, it deserves to be. This is how you write a fantastic pop single. Dig those harps! http://templestheband.com/music
6. Guided By Voices, “Islands (She Talks In Rainbows)”
Well, WELCOME BACK, TOBIN SPROUT! Holy crap, what a song this is. You know how cool and lush and amazing the song that ends the first GBV album ever–“Captains Dead”–sounds? This is that, again, and it feels like some amazing transmission from an alternate guitar rock universe. I know a lot of folks who were stoked that the old GBV lineup were recording again. This is why. From the album English Little League, http://rockathonrecords.com/guided_by_voices.html
7. Leisure Society, “All I Have Seen”
Let’s put something to rest: The Leisure Society aren’t a folk band. On their 2013 album, Alone Before The Ark, they both pare down their instrumentation a bit while filling out their sound. It’s a rock record with forays into folk, punk (no really!), and even–like here–a bit of blue-eyed soul. Wanna know why they’re Ray Davies’ favorite band? Give this a listen and then ask yourself if any other band could pull off a song this graceful, soulful, muscular and yet delicate. http://www.theleisuresociety.co.uk/
8. Euros Childs, “Holiday From Myself”
No idea what it is, but something about Euros’s beautiful, winsome voice makes me instantly nostalgic and happy. It conveys a sense of longing and whimsy and sadness somehow all rolled into one. This is music the adjective “lovely” was created to describe. From the 2013 album Situation Comedy, website is here: http://euroschilds.co.uk/
9. Mikal Cronin, “Shout It Out”
We live in wonderful times, times where a beautifully constructed hook like the one here captures the hearts of hipsters and cranky old men like me alike. Mikal Cronin at this point in his career seems to be tapping into a talent without boundaries. This song, from the sort of latin-guitar opening to the handclaps and noise closing, is just amazing. From the album MCII, available here: http://www.mergerecords.com/mcii
10. The Martha’s Vineyard Ferries, “She’s A Fucking Angel (From Fucking Heaven)”
Not sure what’s more amazing, the song title (which is clearly the song title of the year) or that the music actually lives up to it. This has a bit of a 90s indie noise punch married to a postpunk whirr of guitars and bass and a song that totally succeeds at making that title pay off. From the 2013 album Mass. Grave, check it here: http://kiamrecords.bandcamp.com/album/mass-grave
11. Eleanor Friedberger, “Stare At The Sun”
The excellence of her solo album, Personal Record, has me thinking about going back to listen to Fiery Furnaces and seeing if that band retcons. There’s none of the affected preciousness I’ve always associated with FF here, just a meaty, wonderfully executed song and album. Check it here: http://www.eleanorfriedberger.com/
12. Polvo, “Light Raking”
How great is this song? I mean it comes off sounding like the most pop thing Polvo’s ever done…and then after that first chorus they remind us “Hey, you’re listening Polvo, cheese.” Love the way this songs subverts expectations constanstly throughout, with those Don Henley synths on the chorus to the way they deconstruct and rebuild it all again. From the 2013 album Siberia, check it here: http://www.mergerecords.com/polvo
13. Brendan Benson, “Oh My Love”
Benson’s consistency became almost (don’t tell anyone I said this) dull in the past few years. In 2013, he released a single each month, and the unique approach seems to have fueled a new creative spark in his work. This song is like a swaying, swinging Pachelbel’s Canon with clever lyrics and brilliant execution. Benson collected all his 2013 singles onto an album at year’s end called You Were Right. Check it out here: http://www.brendanbenson.com/
14. The Parquet Courts, “Borrowed Time”
Yes, I know. You’ve heard this song dozens of times over the last year. So what? When a group of young NYC area rockers gets together and perfectly distills the things I loved so much 20 years ago in Big Dipper and Hypnolovewheel and this time the whole world notices…well we’re taking that for a victory lap here. http://parquetcourts.wordpress.com/
15. Dragoon, “Be In My Movie”
After waiting for a couple of years for the first Dragoon album, this one just sort of seemed to spontaneously appear last winter. Astonishingly, the album–The Galaxy Is But A Nursery–is better than the debut. This song is emblematic–loud, raucous, hook-filled, and clever. Check it out: http://dragoongalaxy.bandcamp.com/
16. Franz Ferdinand, “Right Action”
We promised you hits, hits you get. Yes, this song is all over cooler radio stations–but with good reason. This is how you write an outstanding, butt-shaking, anthemic post punk anthem…and we’ll ignore that it completely rips off That Petrol Emotions “Big Decision” for now. http://www.franzferdinand.com/
17. My Bloody Valentine, “In Another Way”
Of all the tracks on My Bloody Valentine’s surprising return to the land of the living sort of self-title album MBV, none sounded so much like a continuation of themes from Loveless than this track. Interestingly though, this song also best shows the way to a future MBV sound and future records, if they feel like it. A beautiful, sensual assault. http://www.mybloodyvalentine.org/Catalogue.aspx
18. The Elephant Stone, “The Sacred Sound”
The Elephant Stone’s self-titled 2013 album might be one of the best two or three records that came out in 2013, and what makes it striking is how often it both hews close to a formula before then breaking away from such constraints. For instance, this song is all feedback and noise that gives way to woozy strings and Rishi Dhir’s echoed voice closing out our look at the past year with one of the most gorgeous songs that came out in the last 12 months. http://www.elephantstonemusic.com/
That’s it, we’re done! Thanks for reading or listening or tolerating. Have a lovely 2014, y’all.
Time to flip the tape from 2013 to 2014, and then roll another 17 songs into this mix! (As in, click me.)
1. Sean Nelson, “The World Owes Me A Living (And I Intend To Collect)”
If Sean’s name or voice sounds familiar, it’s because he was the frontman of the underrated Harvey Danger, and occasional sideman to his buddy John Roderick in The Long Winters. Here, Sean steps out with a wonderfully pissy, tuneful, and brilliant solo record (that features help from a who’s who of luminaries from around the industry) that plays up his strengths as a songcrafter. From the album Make Good Decisions, check it out here: http://reallyrecords.bigcartel.com/product/sean-nelson-make-good-choices
2. Light Heat “Dance The Cosmos Light”
Light Heat is the new music project of former Mazarin frontman Quentin Stolzfus. While I liked the idea of his previous band, for whatever reason Light Heat’s updated take on dreampop totally rings my bells a whole lot harder. The album is self-titled, and Light Heat’s homes are here: http://www.ribbonmusic.com/label/artists/light-heat/ and here: http://www.light-heat.com/
3. Bottomless Pit, “Incurable Feeling”
Bottomless Pit is Andy and Tim from Silkworm, who wisely decided not to carry on under that moniker after the senseless death of drummer Michael Dahlquist. This is the third full Bottomless Pit album, and I think it’s the most full-sounding longplayer they’ve done under this incarnation. This is taken from the album Shade Perennial, and the band’s website with listens and links to buy is here: http://www.bottomlesspit.us/music.php Also, the excellent documentary about Silkworm, Couldn’t You Wait, is available here: http://buy.couldntyouwait.com/
4. The Go, “Voices Rant On”
The Go are a Detroit band long championed by Jack White his own self. They may have originally been all raw and garage-y, but here and throughout their 2013 album Fiesta they just effortlessly trip through a joyous variety of heavy 60s and 70s awesomeness. Check out more here: http://listentothego.bandcamp.com/album/fiesta
5. Charles Bradley, “Where Do We Go From Here”
Once again ably backed by the Menahan Street Band and other Daptone folks, Bradley continues his career renaissance with the excellent album Victim Of Love. This particular song has a delicious, almost garage-rock feel to it with the dirty guitar sound and beats. Check out more here at Bradley’s site here: http://thecharlesbradley.com/
6. Boogarins, “Lucifernandis”
Leave it to a band of Brazilian kids to take that Os Mutantes sound and update it and make it sound just as interesting and new. I love the way the guitar and drums seem to chase one another around with too many notes and beats all over this. Ingenious. This is from their debut, As Plantas Que Curam. Check out the band’s US/English language label/hub: http://www.othermusicrecordingco.com/collections/boogarins
7. Kurt Vile, “KV Crimes”
While I’ve always liked Kurt Vile well enough, it was on the 2013 album Wakin On A Pretty Daze that his amalgam of indie rock and 70s icon influences coalesced into a completely brilliant whole. I mean, dig that fat, greasy guitar riff here, and you’re definitely going to want ALL that cowbell. All of it. I don’t do records of the year anymore, but this one would be a strong contender if I did. Kurt’s homepage can be found right here: http://kurtvile.com/
8. Cheap Time, “8:05″
God bless Jeffrey Novak for carving out his own niche in a crowded indie scene in Tennessee years ago, and then sticking with it and growing it. Here on “8:05″ and throughout the rest of their 2013 album Exit Smiles, Novak and his cohorts twirl glam and punk through their slamming, collapsing raw rock and it’s one of the most invigorating sounds anyone made on record this past year. Stream and buy here: http://www.spin.com/articles/cheap-time-exit-smiles-album-stream/
9. The Blakes, “Chernobyl”
It took me a few albums to figure out exactly where The Blakes were headed, but “Chernobyl” wonderfully evokes everything they’re on about. Imagine if you took some of the best 1980s UK postpunk pop songs from folks like New Order or Talk Talk or The Chameleons or Echo & The Bunnymen and played it raw and rippy, and distorted and rocked the hell out of it. That’s what the Blakes do here and all over their 2013 record Junko. The band’s excellent website is here: http://www.theblakesband.com/store/
10. Vampire Weekend, “Step”
Remember how I said there was some great music that moved a lot of units in 2013? That’s absolutely the case with Vampire Weekend, who–doubters be damned–continue to write brilliant songs and offer them up with fascinating arrangements. I know this band has doubters and haters galore, but here’s the thing: when I listen to a song like “Step”, I hear an absolute obvious connection to a group of scruffs like The Blakes and Cheap Time, and I will fight you over that. From the 2013 album Modern Vampires Of The City, the band’s website is here: http://www.vampireweekend.com/
11. Be, “Adventurine”
Be is the band helmed by songwriter/guitarist David Hawkins. They’re a band I’d not heard of until Rob Galgano, the guy who runs All Over The Place Radio mentioned them a month ago. This song is indicative of the gorgeous and evocative melodies and craftsmanship to be found on Be’s self-titled 2013 debut. Reminds me a great deal of what you’d get if Thin White Rope’s Guy Kyser was (plaintively and beautifully) singing for Calexico, and everyone involved was from some northern prairie state. Band’s webpage is here: http://www.beband.net/index.html
12. Bleached, “Dreaming Without You”
Bleached is the Clavin sisters, Jennifer and Jessica, doing a wonderful update of what you might get if the Shangri Las had heard a couple of Throwing Muses records at some point, which isn’t to say they’re not writing brilliant songs of their own (For instance dig the way they toss in a little bridge on this before heading into a massive stomp on the chorus into a final coda.) This is from their debut, Ride Your Heart. The band’s hub is right this way: http://hellobleached.tumblr.com/
13. Yuck, “Lose My Breath”
Ok, if you’re going to shoegaze and then lift verbatim a song title from My Bloody Valentine, the song better be freaking fantastic. That’s absolutely the case here. I figured Yuck’s 90s revivalism was all over when Daniel Blumberg left the band after their debut, but they picked up the pieces, got much more swirly in a Lush or Ride kinda way. Wanna know why this is great? Dig that last time through the chorus, where the vocals sing the same melody, but the guitars and bass and drums do something entirely new in the same key. That’s how you bring something new to the table, folks. Their 2013 record Glow And Behold is absolutely fantastic. Band’s website is here: http://yuckband.com/
14. Lubec, “Local Celebrity”
While I’ve seen Lubec (named, I guess, for the easternmost town in the contiguous United States in Maine) described as also being in the shoegaze camp, to these ears that know they have more in common with the C86 and anorak twee-pop of folks like The Pastels or The Charlottes. Especially love the the way the vocals call and response either to one another, or in the verses to that great guitar riff hook. This song is a teaser single for the band’s 2014 record, and you can find it and their other releases right here: http://lubec.bandcamp.com/
15. Joanna Gruesome, “Do You Really Wanna Know Why Yr Still In Love With Me?”
Speaking of C86, these Welsh noise poppers delivered what might be one of my favorite start-to-finish delights of 2013 on their album Weird Sister. Alternating sweet songs and songs about…let’s just say darker themes, this track is a perfect mashup of those themes–it would be too sweet by half, except there’s a swaggering, sexy confidence here. I loved the Flatmates in 1988. This absolutely, massively scratches that same itch. Nice hub for their music right here: http://joannagruesome.bandcamp.com/releases
16. The Bevis Frond, “This One”
I was a fan of Nick Saloman–a/k/a The Bevis Frond–going back over 20 years now, but sort of lost track of him as his releases became more and more oblique to my ears. His 2013 double-lp White Numbers is his first new record in 7 years, and a pretty amazing return to the sounds I once loved from The Frond back when: lovely guitar arpeggios, heavy arrangements, and Saloman’s hangdog-but-wonderful vocals. Webhub here: http://bevisfrond.bandcamp.com/
17. The Ne’er Dowells, “I Won’t”
This song right here–this one. This is why rock and roll is so great. The Ne’er Dowells are teenagers from the NYC area, and the apparent influences on them is pretty clearly music created about the time each band member was being conceived in the early 1990s. Doesn’t matter. They know a great music vibe when they hear it, and on the epic, sprawling, amazing, “I Won’t”, they make a beautiful racket that gives me chills. This is from their excellent 2013 album Are You Still Down. Check them out here: http://youneredowells.bandcamp.com/album/are-you-still-down
Tomorrow’s final mixtape is all my favorite songs from The National.
1. The Future Of the Left, “Singing Of The Bonesaws”
This song made me laugh out loud the first time I heard it. Like early Art Brut, only crankier. Taken from their album How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident. Band webpage here: http://futureoftheleft.net/
2. Mazes, “Hayfever Wristband”
I just discovered Mazes this past year, and all their records are outstanding. I like this song for especially feeling sorta like what you’d get if Michael Quercio of the Three O’Clock was the lead singer of the Volcano Suns. From their album Better Ghosts. Band webpage here: http://www.wearemazes.com/
3. Dutch Barn, “Come Down”
If there’s a trend to 2013 I stand firmly in favor of, it’s a return to the amazing music and style of the 1990’s. Dutch Barn are a UK band who totally nail a sound that feels like late-period Feelies covering Pale Saints. This is a great song to drive/play air drums to as well, just saying. Band website here: http://dutchbarnband.com/
4. Mark Mulcahy, “She Makes The World Turn Backwards”
Mulcahy was the leader of the great 1980s band Miracle Legion. The tragic loss of his wife a few years back seems to have pushed him back to making music, and his 2013 record Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You might be the best thing he’s ever done, which is saying something. Website here: http://mezzotint.com/markmulcahypreorder.html
5. Youth Lagoon, “Mute”
There are some Youth Lagoon songs that don’t do much for me, but on this track when the that weird synthy fanfare kicks in (is that a mellotron?) it’s so woozy and swoony that it makes my heart catch. From the evocatively titled album Wondrous Bughouse, webpage here: http://www.fatpossum.com/artists/youth-lagoon
6. Sam Phillips, “Pretty Timebomb”
Every few years Sam Phillips makes an album, and since divorcing herself literally and figuratively from the over-blandness of former husband T-Bone Burnett’s production, her records are unfailingly interesting and excellent. From her latest album, Push Any Button. Her web site is here: http://samphillips.com/
7. British Sea Power, “Guillemot Girls”
I’ve always liked the idea of this UK band more than I’ve liked their records, but in 2013 they did the soundtrack to a film called From The Sea To The Land Beyond and it all just clicked perfectly. The album has the same title as the film, the webpage is here: http://www.britishseapower.co.uk/
8. Sweet Apple “I Wish You Could Stay (A Little Longer)”
Sweet Apple is the collaboration of some old school indie vets, notably John Petkovic of Cobra Verde and J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. Their previous record was a bit hit or miss, but this single, a preview track from a forthcoming 2014 album, is one of the best songs I heard all year. Just a brilliant job of pop song craftsmanship, where everything is just PERFECT…including the guest duet vocal from Mark Lanegan. Band Website (with the single) is here: http://sweetapplesongs.com/
9. The Resonars “Tomorrow Gears”
God bless Matt Rendon and his band The Resonars. As you can tell by listening, The Resonars live in a world where The Creation, The Action, and The Move still rule and 1967 loops back on itself again and again. From their excellent 2013 album Crummy Desert Sound (one of my favorite album titles in recent memory, that.) Available here: http://burgerrecords.11spot.com/search-by-artist-2/the-resonars/the-resonars-crummy-desert-sound.html
10. The Limiñanas, “La Meloncolie”
A great Francopop cut of sheer Gainsbourg-ian genius, this is the slinky seductive catsuit beat you’ve been looking for. From the album Costa Brava, website here: http://troubleinmindrecs.com/bands/liminanas.html
11. Unknown Mortal Orchestra, “Secret Xtians”
As great as UMO’s debut album was, the follow-up seemed destined to disappoint. It’s actually very solid, and this track rules. The record is called II, and the band’s site is here: http://unknownmortalorchestra.com/
12. Ex Cops “You Are Lion I Am Lamb”
The teaser singles for this NY-area dreampop band in 2012 hinted at great promise, and their January record delivered. This is one of the most gorgeous hooks of the year, period. Don’t trust Spotify’s year date on this, it’s 2013, from the outstanding album True Hallucinations. Trust me on this. Web page is here: http://excopsband.com/index.html
13. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, “Nightwater Girlfriend”
Every year it feels like SSLYBY puts out a great record that deserves to be a hit. These folks from my old home state of Missouri are just amazingly, consistently excellent. Dig the way they sway and swing the beat here halfway through. From the 2013 album Fly By Wire, the band page is here: http://sslyby.com/
14. Minor Alps, “I Don’t Know What To Do With My Hands”
2013’s “Had me at hello” moment was finding out that this band was a collaborative project of Juliana Hatfield and Matthew Caws (of the excellent Nada Surf). All over this record I kept feeling like “They should’ve done this years ago”, so perfectly do their voices and writing styles blend into a glorious whole. From their album Get There, here’s hoping they do this again. Band’s hub is right here: http://minoralps.tumblr.com/
15. David Bowie “Valentine’s Day”
A bittersweet discovery, as I’ve not given many latter-day Bowie projects the time of day. Upon the tragic death of Scott Miller, however, I discovered that his favorite record of the year to that point was this astonishing return to form here. And so here it is: Bowie’s record, The Next Day, really is terrific and has some of his best songs in decades. Website here: http://www.davidbowie.com/
16. Smith Westerns, “Glossed” and “XIII”
I started out loving these Chicago suburb wiseacres, and then I sort of got tired of them equally quickly. Imagine my surprise at discovering their growth and evolution on their 2013 album Soft Will. This track is absolutely gorgeous with a monstrous melodic hook that should’ve made it a massive hit. Better still, “Glossed” flows seamlessly into “XIII” on the record, giving this mix a delirious two-fer to close out the first tape. Band’s website is here: http://www.smithwesternsmusic.com/
Tomorrow, Mix Tape 2, which is all Arcade Fire songs in a loop.