Conan Neutron’s best of 2013 | Hey, look: I like the rock music!
By Conan Neutron
Hey, look: I like the rock music. I get it, a lot of you don’t. You like this sort of “indie rock” that sounds like background music to designing your new recombobulating widget. I get it. I do. But let’s suspend disbelief and say that you want to get beyond the nonsense.
Let’s say that you even don’t feel it’s necessary to have an opinion on Miley Cyrus or Beyonce. Let’s say the idea of talking about Kanye West or Vampire Weekend makes you sick. LET’S SUSPEND DISBELIEF HERE AND SAY THAT… MAYBE.. JUST MAYBE… THERE IS MORE TO LIFE THAN THE ARCADE FUCKING FIRE.
WELL THEN! Come on over and sit a spell and let me break down what I liked about this year in no particular order:
The Rutabega – Brother The Lights Don’t Work
Look, I called this one and I called it early. You are welcome. Exhibit A To quote myself: “This is some music folks. Turn off that tepid fourth generation Crosby, Stills And Nash crap and turn on THIS.
Look: here’s the problem, earnestness has been hijacked by utter idiots and fools, wastoids and shameless marketeers. That isn’t the fault of sincerity; it’s just a systemic problem. The Rutabega singlehandedly states the case for sincerity itself in such a clear and cogent way the only reaction is to softly smile, bob your head a little bit and give into the tidal wave of sad, simple, beauty that issues forth.”
Way to go past me! I agree with you. Now, check out this band, they are worth your time and will pay you dividends.
Federation X – We Do What We Must
Federation X has been around 16 years. SIXTEEN YEARS! Granted they were semi broken up/on hiatus for some of those years, but it’s worth mentioning that albums like American Folk Horror and X-Patriot are two of the finest records of the 00s. Just remarkable music. tribal, driven and relentless. Informed from classic rock, but owing almost nothing to it. I’d be lying to you if I said We Do What We Must is anything less than one of the finest rock albums of the entire year, the Deaf Nephews production (Toshi Kasai and Dale Crover of the Melvins) is so incredible, and so brilliantly encapsulates what they do it’s like hearing them for the first time. That said: I adore their back catalog. Much like Patrick Bateman, I celebrate it… but if you were only to listen to We Do What We Must you would be pretty stoked. It had a quiet release, but if it’s a competition? It kicks the hell out of most other records out there. Get into it, because this is some special stuff. Cool? Cool.
Oh yeah, ‘Anna Mist’ and ‘So Tired’ rank among the best songs in this band’s kickass timespan. Most bands can’t even say that about their second record. This is their fourth… do yourself a favor and check it out ok?
The Night Marchers – Allez! Allez!
It is almost possible to speak of The Night Marchers without the cult/culture of John Reis being involved. Which is a shame, since they are a hell ass rock band of their own. Yes, yes. 3/4 of this band was Hot Snakes which were one of the most fantastic rock/punk bands of the last 14 years or so. But don’t let the resume be all that you think of with this very, very sharp rock’n’roll band. There is homage to Greg Sage and The Wipers, there is common cause with the members other bands… but Allez! Allez! is a pretty great little rock record. ‘All Hits’ is exactly the kind of braggadocio I wish more rock music had (with the skills to back it up, ‘Pain’ and ‘2 Guitars Sing’ show some interesting experimentation and vulnerability that I really love. It’s good man. And I would tell people that this record kicked ass even if the one guy had never been in the one thing. It’s just damn good rock’n’roll. Is that the kind of thing you are into? Well, are you?
Queens Of The Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
What? What? A record that might have some overlap to some other lists out there? Well, for good reason. QOTSA have consistently been making interesting mainstream rock music heavily informed by the genres of the underground for some time. A lot of people hated on Era Vulgaris, their last outing. Those people are wrong, but either way… this is a much different affair, vulnerable and open. Almost David Bowie like in some ways (but far better than Bowie’s “totally ok” The Next Day) this is a QOTSA that isn’t quite going for the throat but is using everything in it’s arsenal to make a hell of a record. I think it’s a damn shame that most people have already made their decision on this band as to whether they like or not, because they are probably the most creative and interesting band operating in the mainstream right now. A record about tribulation, actually near loss of life and feeling alone in a crowded room. You have my attention Josh Homme and company. And this is a far better record than most people in the underground will give credit to it. Sorry about that.
Marnie Stern – The Chronicles Of Marnia
Oh Marnie! Marnie, Marnie, Marnie… how you make me smile. I love how you take the frantic punk prog thing and marry it to your interesting songs. What would be a lot of “saw you up there… rockin’!” technique in lesser hands is solid gold for you. I came in way too late to fly the flag for your last record, the S/T one. Sorry! But damn if this isn’t a hot album too. Nothing is easy? Ain’t it the truth. I like that you can really hear your vocals on this one. They are really great. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise either! Look man: This has a specialized audience, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope there was a whole generation of little girl shredders coming up writing some cool ass songs like this. Frantic, sexy, cool. Probably the best album title of the year too. Go for the gold Marnie. Win “Marnie” Win.
This Neutron is solidly on board.
Future Of The Left – How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident
The fourth record by this incredible adventurous and interesting post-punk, pseudo-noise rock act can be a challenging listen to some. Full disclosure, I am not into the first song very much at all and some of it leaves me flat. That said: Can we just celebrate a band that fucking GOES FOR IT for a minute? Why the fuck does every band need to be the Ramones? Constantly remaking that first record or recreating past glories. No stone unturned with these ones, BURN THE PAST FOR FUEL. and what you end up with is some of the best music you will hear this year. ‘Singing Of The Bonesaws’ and ‘How To Spot A Record Company’, smart as hell and mean in a very fresh and unique way. Visconti-isms and all. Future Of The Left is not a perfect band, but they’re brilliant as hell… they do things full force and they deserve a damn sight more respect than they get. As a catalog band they may be one of the best live acts going right now too. In a slightly more fair world they would be given the credence and respect of those half trick ponies Daft Punk or something and we’d all be sitting pretty with our solar panels and social justice. But… crap, we’re totally in this world aren’t we? Well, so are Future Of The Left, so let’s observe and laugh together.
The Thermals – Desperate Ground
The Thermals, in a total business time aspect. Down and dirty, sharp and concise. In some ways it feels like they don’t get as much credit as they should. They write very catchy and immediate songs that doesn’t cling embarrassingly to trends. Long may they run. This record is good. Do you need more? Hell of a band, great record. Get into it. Cool? Cool!
Obits – Bed & Bugs
Ahhh… Obits! The sensible adult punk rockers at the party. On this Bed & Bugs affair you finally get out of the Nuggets camp and the “punk rock Yardbirds” territory and move into some weird, cool territory that just sounds like you. I can’t lie, Rick Froberg’s alluring alley cat whine is a huge appeal to this band, but one cannot short-sell drummer Alexis Fleisig (Girls Against Boys) energy and ideas that take this very interesting band in another direction. I can’t like, watching guitarist Sohrab Habibion rip it up live is one of my favorite things, he’s like the CPA that can can shred hard but still do your taxes on time. And Greg Simpson just delivers the rock bass like he was born to do it. It’s a crack A-Team of critical thinking rock ‘n roll badasses in this piece. This stuff sounds way younger than it has any right too, and to be clear: I mean that as a compliment. I like rock music and I like Obits. Relevancy doesn’t cease at 30, and Obits are a clear case study for some smart and wildly creative. I hope to be smiling and shaking my head at their audacity as they blow my mind years from now. Because I think they can.
Roomrunner – Ideal Cities
Well! Well… well… well! Baltimore huh. Interesting. Ok, so these cats take everything I loved about In Utero era Nirvana and mix it with golden era KARP. This is heavy, hooky rock. They get the Nirvana thing a lot, so much so that I almost didn’t mention it…. I guess it’s “a thing”. but it’s a good starting point and nothing to bum about. They’re just a little more unhinged and wild.What is there to say? This record gets me pumped. That’s a good thing. It’s on my list isn’t it? Oh yeah, there are parts that remind me of the more immediate and meaner bits of Brainiac. In a good way. I loved Brainiac. I dig Roomrunner too. This band isn’t “Nirvana, I get it”. but they worth checking out. Get into it boppers.
Bottomless Pit – Shade Perennial
Look man: this opening song, ‘Fleece’? This might be one of the best Bottomless Pit songs and that’s saying a lot. Did you know Silkworm? You should have.. maybe you saw the excellent documentary. Or remembered them the first time? Well This is the band that grew out of the tragedy that was that band. It is beautiful, they do amazing things and it can almost be considered a master class in guitar as well. Look man: I ain’t a part of this cult, but I know good music when I hear it… it’s also great to hear a band that takes New Order as an influence and doesn’t sound like a seventh generation synthoid rip off. This record sneaks up on you, like… you think it’s going to pick your pocket or give you a punch, but it just put it’s hand on your shoulder and hands you a beer instead. Fascinating band. Thoughtful and wonderful.
Thoughts Detecting Machines – Forget
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the EP from the incredible Rick Valentin of Poster Children under his TDM alias. Going Home is probably one of my favorite songs of the year. Check out the interactive video, Damn!
The whole EP rules. Inspiring and vital.
SEMINARS – Human Kid EP
Downstrokes, Chowdy, Easy Cuz it Is
Nonagon – The Last Hydronaut
Meaner and a little darker than their last ones, there are few bands that do what they do as well as Nonagon. What is there to say? If you ever loved bands like fugazi, Jawbox or Mission of Burma, this band is your new favorite thing and your new best friends. I don’t know what to tell you, it’s F’ing great. They also did an incredible PJ Harvey cover this year. Wotta band!
Honorable mentions: Mudhoney – Vanishing Point (damn fine!). Waxeater – Baltimore Record (concept record about the Wire!), Minutes – Roland, the Bismarck – Wild Prairie Rose, Man…or Astro-man? – Defcon 54321, The Book-Burners – People’s Songs, Like Like The The The Death – Cave Jenny, The Cell Phones – Get You Alone, Risk/Reward – II: The Deuce, The Knife – Shaking the Habitual (bold, but purposefully obtuse…), Sebadoh – Defend Yourself, Porch – Walking Boss, The Paver – Trust
NOT on the list
Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away. More like: Push the zzzzzs away, amirite? Love you so much Nick and co. but this one was a bummer compared to the last two. Still on your side, though.
Dude, I love you… but Grinderman ruled, and DIG, LAZARUS!!! DIG!!! was so killer… this one put me to sleep. I know you can keep it vital, get it at would you.