Best Albums of 2013

Black BugReflecting the Light (Hozac)
The only mark against this album is that many of the songs have already been released as singles. That said, you can’t deny the unstoppable force that is Black Bug. Their essential debut LP may go a couple clicks further in aggression, but Reflecting the Light is every bit as nasty, scuzzed out and terrifying as anything they’ve ever done. Any punk purists that still scoff at synthesizers need to have this monster blasted at their face. The tone is hard and overamped to oblivion, and shreds in a cool detached manner that only the French can muster. Think of it as Metal Urbain 2.0 — which roughly translates to “required listening ” in NFZ English.

BloodbirdsPsychic Surgery  (Self Released)
Made up from some folks with a long line of notable punk/indie/hardcore/avant groups that have kept the KC/Lawrence music scene interesting for over a decade, Bloodbirds is guitar rock built on a sturdy foundation of dialed-in songwriting and the good sense to keep the edges frayed a little with some masterfully applied effects, feedback and squall. The first track “Divorce Sea” alone is enough to make this record an essential part of your sonic diet.

Dan MelchiorCCDE Music (Little Big Chief)
With such a prolific amount of recordings out there it’s easy to overlook some of Mr. Melchior’s efforts. That said, it’s good to remember that he’s never been one to rest on his laurels. Even though he’s definitely got his own sound, he’s constantly tweaking and bending it into new directions — just check out the cut up avant blues of 2011′s Assemblage Blues for instance. The most striking thing about CCDE Music is the lack of Dan’s trademark yelp. Only two songs include his distinct vocals, while the others offer up processed tapes and clips, making this a mostly instrumental record. Shifting the focus from lyrics and vocal delivery allows him to flex his musical muscle here with an outstanding collection of guitar and noise interplay over hypnotic krautrock beats. Definitely one of his best yet. If you think you’ve got enough Melchior records in your collection, think again.

FrustrationUncivilized (Born Bad)
This Parisian band’s aesthetic has become more and more defined over the span of its career, and Uncivilized is the most realized version of their darkwave postpunk oeuvre. Channeling a perfectly balanced stream of their influences like early Devo, Joy Division, and Wire, Frustration has perfected their uniquely severe sound with songs structured enough to be coldly stark, but fleshed out with loosely planted synth flourishes and electronics. The LP version comes with a bonus 7″ that’s got a catchy track “I Can’t Forget You” and an intro B-side.

Indian JewelryPeel It (Reverberation Appreciation Society)
Indian Jewelry has an amazing track record for putting out highly listenable records and 2013′s offering is yet another gift from the psych gods. Read more about them here. As with their other releases, Peel It lets the freak flag fly (the first track “Freak Pride” makes that more than clear) with layers and layers of psych drone and fuzz, this time with a slight lean towards Chrome-like effects and tribal drums versus the pounding Pain Teens punch of records like Free Gold. You’ll dig it if you’re searching for something between the headspace of Peaking Lights and the druggy sludge of Wizzard Sleeve.

Nails - Abandon All Life (Southern Lord)
In 2013, your band has to be relentless if you want to be relevant in hardcore punk or grindcore metal circles. Bands are constantly upping the ante with insane tempo shifts, stops and blistering speed. Of the dozens (maybe hundreds) of hardcore/grindcore releases put out this year, the 10 tracks from Nails’ second album clip along in only 17 minutes, but it’s enough time to be filled with enough full throttled D-beat riffs, breakdowns and blastbeats to keep any listener on their heels. An unrelenting mix of Coalesce precision and internsity, Pig Destroyer complexity and Napalm Death speed make this a new watermark for extreme music.

Oranssi Pazuzu - Olen Aukaissut Uuden Silmän (20 Buck Spin)
There were a ton of great metal records put out in 2013 and the one that really stood out from the pack was this Finnish black metal psych band’s third album. Its buzzing mix of hypnotic synth over churning guitar crescendos and possessed vocals have a composed, confident way that pulls you into their world, sounding something like Hawkwind channeling Emperor. It’s unique in that it doesn’t try too hard. It makes a statement through its deliberate and inventive use of the black metal sonic palette.

PharmakonAbandon – (Sacred Bones)
It’s been a while since something interesting has come from the noise scene, and knowing the quality of output from the Sacred Bones label, I knew it’d be worth checking out. The power electronics and possessed vocals Margaret Chardiet serves up are both harsh and captivating, and best of all masterfully composed to deliver maximum impact. Be sure to track down the 5-track special edition with the 27 minute bonus track “Sour Sap” — a terrifyingly brute example of the Pharmakon sound, which shifts from Merzbow wails to waves of Whitehouse throb and hissing black metal shrieks.

Spray Paint - Rodeo Songs (S.S. Records)
After a pair of killer 7 inches in 2012, Spray Paint released a pair of killer LPs in 2013. While their debut LP was closer in form and sound to their 7 inches, Rodeo Songs adds some depth and space to their short, sharp angular guitar attack. Overall, it’s not as loud. Heavy echo and reverb separating the dual guitars and cleaner production helping balance and distinguish the vocals and drum sounds. Rodeo Songs better captures the sonic textures and punch of the band’s live show. You won’t often hear me praising cleaner production, but in this case it really enhances the Spray Paint experience. Just turn it up!

Thee Oh SeesFloating Coffin (Castleface)
You’d think with their prolific amount of output over the last few years, there’d be a lesser album from Dwyer and crew at some point, but here comes yet another set of 10 killer tunes that made 2013 that much better. And like the last couple LPs they continue to push their sound into new spaces and tempos, like the fuzzy slo-mo glaze of “Toe Cutter” and “Night Crawler” or the sweet pull of the spacious closing track “Minotaur,” enhanced with a string section Breeders-esque background vocals. These mixed with a handful of classic Oh Sees rave ups make this essential listening for 2013 and beyond.

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