Scott never writes anymore.
Every year, I get too busy around the holidays, and I don’t get around to my Top Ten Records of the Year list. And, every year, Scott writes to remind me.
This year, he didn’t. The love is gone.
Anyway, it being halfway through January, I figure I’d better finally type it up, for the three or four of you who give a shit. Here it is.
1. Palma Violets – 180: I know, I know. You think I’ve put them up top because (a) they have covered the Hot Nasties (b) they close every show with a Hot Nasties tune and (c) they have had me onstage with them in Toronto and L.A. I know. But I loved these guys before I ever knew they knew about me. A year ago this month, I was on my way to a Sun TV hit, and Jian Ghomeshi, who knows music, had this band on, live. They were incredible. They were amazing. I tweeted at him to ask who they are; he tweeted back, saying the Palma Violets. “Blew me away,” I told him. And they still do – and still would, even if I hadn’t found out from Toronto music scene friends that Nardwuar had interviewed them about their mutual love of the Hot Nasties. The Palma Violets are much more than NME (and Warren Kinsella) darlings: they are the real thing. They are, I swear, one of the best bands on the planet. And this album – which takes some getting used to, being quieter than their live shows – is an enduring classic. The best album of the year, from best friends.
2. Fidlar – Fidlar: Until I got my hands on the Palma Violets’ 180, this crazed Los Angeles’ band’s LP was going to be number one. There is not a bad song on it – and what songs! The subject matter resembles a Rob Ford ‘What I Did With My Summer Vacation’ essay – coke, heroin, pills, booze, and starting all over again. In rock’n’roll, writing about that stuff isn’t exactly breaking new ground: it’s been done before, plenty of times. But what makes this album so fucking amazing is Fidlar’s songwriting. Despite their age, despite their scruffy skateboard culture pedigree, Fidlar are truly gifted songwriters, and every tune here is catchy as a drawer full of fish hooks. Their name stands for Fuck It, Dog, Life’s A Risk. This record isn’t. Get it!
3. Guided By Voices – English Little League: Some bands are great live. Some bands are great when they make records. GBV – now reunited with the classic Tobin Sprout line-up – squeeze out records like rabbits squeeze out baby rabbits, and almost all of them are amazing. English Little League, one of a few they put out in 2013, is Robert Pollard at his best: little lo-fi gems that are simultaneously Beatlesque and punk, with some Beefheart thrown in. In concert – and Lala and I saw them at Riot Fest in Chicago in September – they are perfectly awful. They are hard to watch, in fact. But albums like this one more than make up for their onstage sins.
4. Bad Religion – True North: Being about as old as me, I keep waiting for them to lose their edge, and to put out a stinker. They haven’t yet. Ever since The Empire Strikes First, these oldsters have never sounded so pissed off – and therefore bona fide punk – in their three-decade-long time together. One is a Ph.D, another is a millionaire, one is a grandfather. Despite that – or maybe because of it – they continue to put out stuff like True North, which sounds like the last shortwave broadcast from a bunch of rebels, before the fascist overlords close in. They make me feel young, because BR never get old.
5. Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt: It probably isn’t cool for a punk to openly love an arena rock band, but every single punk I know loves these guys. They are so true and so honest about their craft, they make Anti-Flag look like capitalist cynics. Lightning Bolt sees them (like BR) older, but still raging against the dying of the light. Mind Your Manners, indeed. Play it at eleven, and know why these guys have still got the spark.
6. David Bowie – The Next Day: Given that he’s closing in on 70, The Next Day of course isn’t. When it was unleashed (by surprise) on the world, I worried that The Next Day would be his last day. Perhaps he had been moping around Soho in sunglasses for the past few years because he knew something we didn’t (or didn’t want to accept): that he didn’t have any good songs left in him. But this record, with its appropriately defaced Heroes cover, shows that he does. Not a Low or a Spiders From Mars, of course, but that kind of perfection is seldoim achieved by most artists even once in their lifetime. So glad he came back, and so glad that it wasn’t an embarrassment. It was, in fact, a great day.
7. Cold Specks – I Predict A Graceful Expulsion: The album actually came out in 2012, but I didn’t hear her until 2013, again (like the Palma Violets) on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning show. Tweeted to the host (like I did with Jian about PV), Matt Galloway, and he tweeted back who she/they are – Cold Specks, of London, from Toronto. Pseudonym: Al Spx, which is a pretty cool handle, if you ask me. The record itself is kind of doom soul, with nary a Top Ten single to be heard. Despite that, I predict she will be a star, because her voice is unlike any other in this universe. She won a Polaris for this record, and she deserved it. Greatness awaits.
8. Wire – Change Becomes Us: Surveying my list so far, it’s evident that 2013 will be remembered (by me) as a year of arty pop. Wire, who we saw at Lee’s in 2013, are part of that. Since 1978’s Chairs Missing – and particularly after 1979’s 154 – this band has always been at or near the top of my art band hit parade. In their later years, they’ve adopted a kind of machinist metal Rammstein thing, but without losing their talent for melody. Change Becomes Us? It does.
9. Major Lazer – Free the Universe: On the wonderfully-named Secretly Canadian label, it’s poppier than Diplo’s past stuff – Pitchfork et al. sniffed that he was selling out, seeking commercial success, etc. – but I don’t think they’re right. Diplo, to my mind, is a genius of production, and he could’ve been a bazillionaire by now, if he had wanted to be. He caught my attention a few years back with his Santigold project, and he hasn’t ever let go. Makes sounds you will hear nowhere else.
10. SFH – Mayor On Crack: Okay, it won’t be released by Ugly Pop until 2014, but much of it was done in 2013, as Mayor Crackhead pulled Canada’s largest city ever-downward with crack, smack and whack. The flipside is ‘Rob – The Rob Ford Song,’ with Davey Snot screaming, a la Ford crack video, and the Broken Shit Scene Children’s Chorus providing a catchy melody. Buy it! Help send Rob Ford back to the trailer park, where he belongs!