In a year where many musicians chased modernity and way too many rock bands strived to be dance bands, Dirty Impound finds itself more in love than ever with bread ‘n’ butter rock ‘n’ roll, a sound largely neglected by most critical organs – especially if it was self-released or put out on a smaller indie label, who generally shrink from anything that smacks of classic rock if it’s not by a brand name like Pearl Jam, Neil Young or Bruce Springsteen. Rather than reinvent the wheel a lot of DI’s 2013 picks reminded us what a sweet invention the wheel is and showed how it can roll splendidly in the right hands. Through sturdy, largely flash-free musicianship, strong but unobtrusive production, and most importantly GREAT FUCKING SONGS, these artists sculpted albums that skirted the single-focused, consciously ephemeral zeitgeist that plagues music today, particularly the mainstream lifestyle accessory widget factory. Each of these albums is a life-affirming reminder of what long-form thinking, dedication to craft, undisguised passion, emotional intuitiveness, a dash of daring, and no small measure of natural talent can produce.
Now, on with the show…
Dirty Impound’s 25 Favorite Albums of 2013
[Presented In Alphabetical Order]
Akron/Family: Sub Verses
Like yoga for the mind and ears, the sixth studio outing from this ever-evolving trio resonates in the listener’s meat and bones, alternately thunderous and delicate in its deep vibrations but always unmistakably human. There’s something primordial and ancient to the forces Akak stir and mold, a sound both psychedelic and caveman basic infused with laughter and tears, yearning and abiding satisfaction, music that draws one closer to both the divine and the terrestrial with strokes bold and subtle. As unique and potent a band as this age has produced.
The Bye Bye Blackbirds: We Need The Rain
Give the Big Star nostalgia a rest and grok this superb Oakland descendent. Melding finger-snapping, sock hop inspiring moves with growling, ringing guitars, pleasing, radio-ready vocals, and one terrific tune after another, the Blackbirds raise the spirit of Jesus of Cool-era Nick Lowe and In Color period Cheap Trick on this fiercely catchy, smartly carved collection. [original review]
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds: Push The Sky Away
30 years into an experiment that began with the thoughtful molestation of the blues, Kurt Weill and punk, Nick Cave and his trusty Bad Seeds are still bloody intriguing. Where the previous two releases, Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! (2008) and Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus (2004), were tinged with wildness, as extrovert and blissfully flailing as anything in the group’s catalog, Push The Sky Away is a lovely, subtle exercise in restraint. There is tension and sway but little explicit release, and always the luxurious, gutter-wise language of Sir Nick, his Devil’s molasses voice caressing the undulating moans of his men as they drive pop culture into a mountain of eternal truths.
Ceramic Dog: Your Turn
The clang and closeness of big city streets and contemporary hustle bustle careens around this musically bumptious power trio led by guitarist extraordinaire Marc Ribot (Elvis Costello, John Zorn, Tom Waits). Ceramic Dog renovates the noisy freedom of vintage CBGB’s and uses it to excavate truth and nicely dented vibrancy today. “Those searching for rigorously applied formal constraints may have to wait. Ceramic Dogs just wanna have fun,” says Marc Ribot. “If you listen closely, you can hear the rage, hope, disappointment, ritual excess, love and anarchy that were in our personal and collective airspace during [the making of this album].” [original review]
Clutch: Earth Rocker
Utter pummeling brilliance. Earth Rocker is rock shorn of its excesses and conceits, a creature of ropey muscle, Adamantium bones and snarling, smart things to say. Moving into their third decade together, the quartet is sharper, tougher and more engaging than ever, crafting an album that makes the competition seem lazy and sleepy by comparison. Yes, there’s a nod to the blues, which they’ve exhibited a sweet tooth for on other recent albums, but the accelerator is mostly pressed through the floorboard as Maryland’s finest confirm their spot atop hard rock mountain. (DI Interview with Clutch)
Cold Satellite: Cavalcade
Gutbucket true and gorgeously rowdy, the second offering from Cold Satellite reminds us rock need not be polite to be heady or overtly arty/experimental to break new ground. Swinging on riffs vintage Rolling Stones or Faces would have been proud to stumble into, Jeffrey Foucault and his gifted collaborators swing on the poetry of Lisa Olstein, and the results are intelligently saucy and subtly intoxicating – a work deeply simpatico with tying one on OR having a quality think. (DI Interview with Jeffrey Foucault)
The Del-Lords: Elvis Club
Two guitars, bass and drums. Earthy, streetwise-dappled voices raised in resistant fortitude. Crushingly good songs. Poppin’, hefty production that lets the music come through clean and clear. The return to the studio for this beloved 80s cult band testifies to things getting better with age. It’s not complicated stuff but these guys just do it better than most other bands. One of DI’s favorite driving records in 2013 – a real top-down, glad-to-be-alive vibe that’s perfect for devouring distance and shedding troubles along the white lines. (DI Interview with The Del-Lords)
Dolly Varden: For A While
The Impound’s favorite Chicago rock outfit – Clem Snide/Eef Barzelay being a close second – delivered a beautiful, richly melodic, wonderfully sung, all-around well put together song cycle about memory, history, and how lucky we are even if we don’t know it. Most bands don’t knock out their most off-handedly excellent album 20 years into a career but that’s just what Dolly Varden has done. If you dig folks like Aimee Mann, Badfinger and other top-shelf pop-touched rock then this should be your gateway into one of the finest American bands around. If nothing else, take a focused listen to the track below (especially if you’re a musician – this will resonate with you), which never fails to choke DI up. (DI Interview with Dolly Varden’s Steve Dawson)
Endless Boogie: Long Island
This NYC gang oozes all the undisguised carnality and lick-you-all-over lustiness that the vast majority of rock ‘n’ roll today simply can’t muster. Long Island walks with giants like Blue Cheer and 70s Stones but in ways more subterranean, more crazed-blues inflected than their ancestors. Everything is just the right amounts of sloppy and tight, the whole affair careening with stoned gravity that curls around one and leaves one flushed, moist, grinning and enjoyably off-kilter. (original review) (Endless Boogie is playing a Union Pool Residency in NYC this January)
Beginning with a dance through forked-tongues that cries – simply, directly and prayerfully – “Oh, Lord, be happy,” HGM’s latest salvo finds the fullest, richest distillation of their soulful, pastoral flavors to date. Already kin to Roy Harper, Michael Hurley and Bonnie Prince Billy/Palace, with this album Hiss Golden Messenger – built around the core Mike Taylor and Scott Hirsch – has carved out their identity, that intangible thing that makes them who they are and not just an assemblage of influences and prescribed formulas. Death, life, rebirth, God and Man (in the big sense) stroll Haw’s corridors but with a delicacy and verisimilitude that makes them breathe in ways that palpably inform and uplift us children of the dust. DI’s Favorite Workingman’s Hymnal of 2013. (original review)
Jason Isbell: Southeastern
You’re either not paying attention or have terrible taste in music if you don’t include Isbell’s latest in your list of 2013’s finest releases. From the first staggeringly perfect song on through one fantastic number after another – each delivered with the feeling and refined touch that would make ol’ Charlie Rich smile – Southeastern is as fabulous a singer-songwriter album as anything Kris Kristofferson, John Prine or Townes Van Zandt generated at their best. The heart and human failings are examined with tenderness and clear-eyed truthfulness, and each setting – from bare light bulb intimacy to beer hall ready bravura – suits each song to a tee. Again and again one is inspired to say aloud, “Jeezus, this guy is really fucking good.” Still giving DI shivers after dozens of spins. (original review)
Jerry Joseph: Self-Titled
The way one can truly tell the true merit and measure of a singer-songwriter is when they step into the spotlight with just a guitar, their voice and a tune to share. If it flies in this raw setting then one knows they’ve experienced something real, something of quality descended from troubadours, traveling showmen and deskbound Brill Building scribes. For all the albums he’s made and many forms he’s taken Jerry Joseph has never been so wonderfully exposed as he is on Self-Titled. With the volume down and electricity low, Joseph picks out some of the sturdiest, most gorgeously crafted bits of his vast songbook and lays them at our feet with little fanfare. The effect is tenderizing and thought provoking like weather that steals one’s words and sends their thoughts skywards and backwards in time and ultimately interior to face the feelings Joseph’s crosscut voice, wicked picking and ever-insightful, culturally savvy, wonder chasing, despair shattering music stir up. Self-Titled shares the spirit of Tim Bluhm’s California Way, John Martyn’s Solid Air and Eef Barzelay’s Bitter Honey – works that understand a few things about how people operate and gives that knowledge tuneful, transformative elegance.
(Jerry Joseph begins a solo acoustic tour in support of this fab album in January. Check out tour dates here.)
Nathan Moore: Hippy Fiasco Rides Again
A trickster, a blue jean Buddha, a prestidigitator, a new millennial vaudevillian, a grifter for love. Nathan Moore is all these things but above all he’s one of this generation’s finest singer-songwriters. Few others in his field have etched such distinctive, individual character or bravely gone where the musical currents have carried their feet with little thought to the consequences of surrendering to the fates. Interesting bits stick to Moore, his nature that of spiritual/cosmic Velcro, and Hippy Fiasco Rides Again finds him positively enrobed by cool contributions from players both well-established and amateur – PLAY is essential to the Moore zeitgeist. Yet, this doesn’t feel ramshackle in the slightest. The album has a flow and feel that’s quietly hypnotic, a beckoning wind that teases one to wander and wonder. “Plain As Day,” “Do You Believe In Ghosts?” and “Rollaway Bed” rank amongst his best tunes and they’re hardly lonely here. Nathan Moore is a bard for our troubled times and he’s given us another nourishing Baedecker to stuff in our satchel. (original review)
The Mother Hips: Behind Beyond
If you’re not listening to The Mother Hips then you’re missing out on one of the great American rock bands of our time – and they ably hold their own against the pantheon that came before them, too. Each studio album has shown evolution and metamorphosis. The conversation is never the same twice, so it’s always wise to put one’s expectations out with the trash when it comes to the Hips. But the leap they’ve taken on Behind Beyond hums with future possibilities, their youthful jam tendencies finding deadly solid footing in the fab songs of today with an air of wisdom-touched maturity permeating the proceedings. This is rock for adults crafted by adults. (original review)
Willie Nile: American Ride
Critics have been quick to heap praise on Springsteen’s recent studio work but for DI it’s been hard to swallow some of the populist sentiments and workingman attitude of a guy who’s been a millionaire for decades. True populism comes from the streets and it involves the lived-in ache of struggling to pay bills and find places where one’s voice can be heard. Willie Nile’s American Ride is just the sort of streetwise, struggling-to-make-it joint the ol’ U.S. of A desperately needs right now. There is the clang of bottom up hope born of an inner revolution that finds its fire and purpose in song and hard-won community. Nile has made some great records but this one takes the cake, the culmination of a career duking it out with all the right targets, a man of the people offering us anthems to carry us through our working weeks and workaday woes. (original review)
The Orange Peels: Sun Moon
If the Impound were the Sultans of Radio we’d make this Bay Area under-appreciated gem the benchmark for airplay. Beautifully crafted, lovingly sung, and pared of any fat or distractions, the songs on Sun Moon skip and sigh in ways that make life more fun, more full of feeling, more better. A wistful shimmer gleams in parts but not in a naval gazing, journal entry way. It’s just the bittersweet tang of being alive and the world having its way with us. If you’re a fan of pre-disco Bee Gees, prime Badfinger, or the quality jangle of Slumberland Records then you need to spend some quality time with The Orange Peels. (original review)
Powder Mill: Land of the Free
“You can smell it from the road,” is the inscription that adorns the website of this criminally under-sung Missouri outfit, and there is a whiff of the real coming off them. These guys are comfortably in the lineage of forward thinking Southern rockers like the Drive-By Truckers and The Dexateens, where the concerns of daily life and the colorful characters that surround us even in the tiniest of towns find vibrant, totally rockin’ form in their music. Land of the Free is the best damn long-player yet from a band that’s consistently better with each passing year, their heart and soul growing steadily stronger and surer with each season. The liner notes, penned by yours truly, call them the true sons of Ronnie Van Zant who’ve made a record that “strives to drag Jesus from the dark side of town, eager to bring the good word to every battered, struggling soul living on the ragged, shadowy edge.” Powerful stuff but also utterly relatable to anyone living paycheck to paycheck and wondering if this is all there is to life.
Red Fang: Whales and Leeches
Album number three confirms this Portland quartet as the best thing to hit hard rock/metal since Mastodon. Sharply carved and progressive thinking, Whales and Leeches adds quality complications, little touches that show they’re thinking harder, playing harder, and trying to cram as much good stuff as they can into their music. Produced by The Decemberists’ Chris Funk, who also helmed the band’s previous album Murder The Mountains, this works both blasted hellaciously loud and as a bong-rip, headphone experience. And no stupid Cookie Monster with strep throat vocals because this band has two good singers and lyrics worth hearing and puzzling over – and trust us, nothing unlocks readily in the Fang catalog despite the visceral force they muster. Taken together, especially given the tremendous live versions surfacing on the current tour, Whales and Leeches offers loads of reasons to be excited about heavy music and this band’s future in it. Churn it up, motherfuckers!
The Steepwater Band: Live & Humble
Slow and steady wins the race. It’s an overused cliché but it truly suits Chicago’s The Steepwater Band. Since the late 90s, they’ve steadfastly forged resoundingly solid music from the indestructible raw elements of the blues, classic rock, real country and other flavors. Like kindred spirits The North Mississippi Allstars, pre-Buckingham-Nicks Fleetwood Mac and Marc Ford, The Steepwater Band takes the past and gets it to shimmy in ways that make one stare and lick their lips. Live & Humble is a perfect primer in the best of their rich songbook and a showcase for all the roadhouse earned chops and flair the group has to offer. Again and again here, these guys go for it, presenting the core of the songs and then pushing them into the red in all the right ways. The good news is after you’ve been smilingly flattened by this live set you can get intimate with their ace studio work as the band stretches into fresh rounds of national touring in 2014.
The Stone Foxes: Small Fires
Spend just a few minutes with San Francisco’s The Stone Foxes and one is struck by two things – how freakin’ nice they are AND the unmistakable passion they possess for real deal rock ‘n’ roll. That ardor and their instinctive capacity to deliver it in gut-punch, boot-scootin’ ways was evident on the Foxes’ first two albums and it sparks up regularly on Small Fires but the lads have chosen to consciously add greater depth to their rock stew. The conflict obsessed times we live in are held up to the light and examined in interesting ways on this album, and the takeaway is a need for greater compassion, greater awareness of others, and a commitment to love as hard as one can. It’s inspiring without being preachy, which suits these testifying young dudes to a tee. (DI Questionnaire with The Stone Foxes)
Tea Leaf Green: In The Wake
An album that affirms that rock ‘n’ roll can be truly artful. Repeat spins reveal this SF quintet is perhaps the American answer to Crowded House in their fighting prime, sharing that great band’s intelligence, chops, top-flight songwriting, appealing, varied vocals, and enlivening attention to detail. In The Wake is a song cycle about what we go through and what we do once we’ve arrived on the other side. While such subject matter can weigh a record down, this is so playful, engaged and finely assembled that one exits feeling refreshed and a touch closer to truth with a capital “T”. (original review)
Truth & Salvage Co.: Pick Me Up
This sing-a-long ready, heartwarming, real as rough road, sweet as a sunrise album reminds one how paltry mainstream music has become. In another era, these guys would already have a spate of Number One hits under their belts because this is Everyman (and Everywoman, too – this band really loves the ladies and they love ‘em right back) music that harks back to peak-era Doobie Brothers and Eagles. When so much of today’s music seeks obscurity and obfuscation in order to differentiate itself, Pick Me Up rustles up tune after tune that reaches out a hand to every damn person in earshot, gives them a lil’ spin, and sends them off with a smile. Like a lot of classic radio fare that once defined 70s AM radio, the directness and openness of Truth & Salvage Co. elevates one’s mood in ways that transcend logic – this just FEELS so dang good. (DI Interview with Truth & Salvage Co.)
Typhoon: White Lighter
This is the kind of album that leaves one shaken up no matter how many times one listens to it. But it isn’t the devastation of despair that dominates White Lighter but hope clawing for the surface, gulping air and tunneling through all the wounds, history and rough stuff that stands between one and a life of connection, understanding and believable hope. And the music is so, so, so bloody exciting. Typhoon makes me feel like there are still new things to be done in rock even as they hold down all the necessary fundamentals. The instrumentation choices, the arrangements, and the weird curves that work against expectation add up to something hefty that also doesn’t feel like work for the listener. The voluminous (and in DI’s opinion undeserved) praise heaped on Arcade Fire for their emotional density and musical depth really belongs with Typhoon. The band’s driving force Kyle Morton says, “The record is a collection of seminal life moments, in more or less chronological order, glimpsed backwards in the pale light of certain death, brought to life by a remarkable group of people who hold as I do that the work is somehow important.” Intention is important and when combined with talent and bravery of this order it really does produce music that’s important – a tool for the living as they stretch over life’s abyss.
Chris Velan: The Long Goodbye
As exposed and brave as Joni Mitchell’s Blue or Elliott Smith’s Either/Or, the latest offering from Canadian songsmith Chris Velan tackles the tough but all too common experience of really, really loving someone and realizing you’re not the one for them. Where most of us crawl away to hide in the shadows, Velan took his guitar and notebook to scribble down some wisdom and helpful reflection from within the worst of times. To love and not be loved in return – at least not on the same level – is a pain worse than most blades or bullets can produce. But there is a balm in music that directly addresses the confusion, the lingering I-want-the-best-for-you ache, and undeniable hurt and sadness at knowing that despite one’s best efforts there’s no way to chisel one’s self into something other than what they are. The Long Goodbye is a succinct, beautifully drawn work that may well help folks move on from such hurts and hampering history. (DI Interview with Truth & Salvage Co.)
White Denim: Corsicana Lemonade
If there’s a more exciting guitar rock band emerging today then DI hasn’t encountered them. Long full of fascinating riffs and thought provoking verses, White Denim more fully embraces the Boston/Journey-esque classic rock animal lurking inside them on Corsicana Lemonade, an album that verily screams for oversized vintage Klimt speakers or a booming stereo in a cherry 70s El Camino. Oh, the music is as brainy and early Steely Dan-like as ever but it’s got more red meat in its teeth this time out. More bluntly, this is primo inducement to hip grind and fist pump that also doesn’t make one feel dumber or cheapened in the way it stirs these impulses.
Adam Ant: Adam Is The Blueblack Hussar In Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter
Bad Religion: True North
Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers: self-titled
Barton Carroll: Avery County, I’m Bound To You
The Dirtbombs: Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey!
Dr. Dog: B-Room
Dumpstaphunk: Dirty Word
Futurebirds: Baba Yaga
Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion: Wassaic Way
Robyn Hitchcock: Love From London
Leroy Justice: Above The Weather
Kenny Roby: Memories & Birds
Chris Stamey: Lovesick Blues
This Town Needs Guns (TTNG): 188.8.131.52.0