Every year, a few great albums slip through the cracks. That’s sad but inevitable — you just can’t hear ’em all, especially when more than 75,000 albums are released every year. But musicians get exposed to a lot of music that the rest of us don’t. So we asked some of our favorite Talkhouse writers to tell us about a great, overlooked album that came out in 2013. Here’s what they came up with.
— Michael Azerrad, Talkhouse editor-in-chief
Obnox — Canabible Ohio
From out of the recesses of the storied Ohio musical legacy (Bassholes! This Moment in Black History!), Obnox really let it loose in 2013. Not only did Bim Thomas’ one-man gang release the fantastic Corrupt Free Enterprise double LP, he/they also ejected this bewildering three-song EP. Mr. Thomas’ psychedelic punk rock seems to live at the exact crux of good trip/very, very bad trip, wobbling from side to side of the divide. “Flying” is two minutes of exhilarating, deformed garage rock — over in an instant, yet threatening infinite sprawl. Maybe it’s like if the Lyres were super into Chrome or Red Transistor (sorry to get all Dennis Miller on you there). You could do way worse than allowing yourself the handful of minutes it takes to listen to this trio of tuneful, burning, stained jams.
— James McNew (Yo La Tengo, Dump)
Wire — Change Becomes Us
I recently read a Q & A with Wire’s Colin Newman about the band and their thirteenth studio album Change Becomes Us. Rolling Stone asks, “What do you feel Wire has yet to do?”
And Newman answers, “Achieve real recognition…”
Wire has had a big impact on me ever since I heard Minor Threat cover “12XU.” Shortly thereafter, I dubbed 1977’s Pink Flag from a friend. I rocked that cassette repeatedly for many years. It took a little more time to discover 1978’s Chairs Missing and 1979’s 154 (I had mistakenly listened to the advice of a then friend who pronounced Pink Flag as the only good Wire record) but I’m so glad that I finally did. The fact that these three records came out back to back in a span of three years is astonishing — especially since they’re so diverse in style and sound. These records, all of which came out before 1980, had a massive impact on so many musicians and on the “post-punk/art punk” world in general. Not punk, not new wave, not pop, Wire was and is uniquely their own.
Change Becomes Us sounds like the record that should have come after 154. It has moments that are very Chairs Missing, it has their electronic vibe and it has a very trance-like, trippy feel that I’m a sucker for. When “old” bands release new records, generally no one (especially the media) really cares. But people should care because Change Becomes Us sounds both relevant and in the now — all the while nodding its head to the young men of 1977.
— Laura Pleasants (Kylesa)
Heatsick — Re-Engineering
The thing that appeals about Steven Warwick, who is Heatsick, is the child-like quality of his music-making. I don’t mean that in a bad way but in terms of its naiveté. Produced with intent and awareness but not over-rehearsed, there is an undeniable genuineness in it as he seemingly clings to the edge of the universe. The thing that makes Warwick so unpopular with some of his critics is his tendency to be hit-or-miss, but this stems from the distinct feeling that he’s not afraid of making mistakes. He is a risky musician who responds to his immediate surroundings, and if all the world’s a stage, Steven Warwick uses it as his lab. I enjoy partaking of his experiments. Shouldn’t that be the fun of music?
Baths — Obsidian
I’m familiar with the music of Baths (aka Will Wiesenfeld), or at least I thought I was. A few years back I was tuned into his 2010 debut Cerulean and casually enjoyed its heliotropic reach into light and dreamy atmospheres. As such, I wasn’t quite sure what I thought of the greasier gears of Obsidian at first, but after repeated dives into its blackened slip, Obsidian unexpectedly reveals itself as the monstrous Hyde to Cerulean‘s much meeker Jekyll. Blown-out psych-rocker “Ossuary” dovetails flirtatiously with hoodwinked club-banger “No Eyes.” The unironically exposed “Incompatible” and undigested mince of “Earth Death” are lightless plunges into nano-lows of inspiration whence more beautifully blighted songs like these will undoubtedly emerge. The collapsing roll of “Phaedra” and confrontational churn of “No Past Lives” leaves you well aware that Wiesenfeld’s balls have officially dropped and now there’s some pubes stuck on the soap bar.
— Liam Wilson (The Dillinger Escape Plan)
Guerrilla Toss — Gay Disco
Gay Disco is a stunning caboodle of abnormally braided sonic ambiguity. As if materializing from another dimension of reality, Allston, Massachusetts’ Guerrilla Toss have given the world something that sounds peeled from the actual nightmares of every smooth-buttocked Boston University sports scholar. I know what you’re thinking: “This is so Western Mass., so Hampshire College” — and there are traces of a Pioneer Valley streetwise chicanery that’s fueled arguments over what music “is” since, you know, Sonic Youth laid roots there or whatever, but I like that Gay Disco is an “Allston record.” I like that a band of Guerilla Toss’ sort is so heroically waving its freak flag for Allston, which has such a meaningful punk legacy. One that’s been tormented by police and that has to regularly resituate itself among a constantly matriculating and graduating swarm of twentysomethings who make up the majority of the population. If the best bet Allston has to center itself is to rear an occasional outstanding gem, Guerilla Toss might just be it right now.
— Sean Yeaton (Parquet Courts)
Explosions in the Sky / David Wingo — Prince Avalanche OST
Soundtrack albums are often judged unfairly, especially when the music is written specifically for the screen; you’re only hearing part of a complete cinematic idea. That’s unfortunate since those symbiotic relationships make for some of the most creative moments in film — or any collaborative art form, for that matter. Explosions in the Sky and composer David Wingo (Mud, George Washington) do a great job of helping bring to life David Gordon Green’s modest existential comedy Prince Avalanche. Tones shift unexpectedly from slapstick scenes to abstract nature montages, and EitS and Wingo make Green’s narrative experiments work with surprising subtlety for a band whose sound is frequently described as “epic.” There’s also clever use of diegetic music, where what seems to be a stock cock-rock jam blasting from a radio in an early scene is later recontextualized as an absurd in-joke, thanks to the cheekiness of EitS/Wingo/Green’s working relationship. It’s inspired, but you have to see the film to get the whole picture. (And there’s nothing wrong with that).
— Brian Betancourt (Hospitality)