A few days late, but not a dollar short. Over the past couple years, coming up with a list of my top 20 to 25 new releases has been a struggle. Not terribly agonizing, but still a challenge. The truth is, there are easily that many new albums coming out in any given year that I'm capable of latching onto. My problem is that I'm not being exposed to them, or more accurately I don't have the time or money to pursue such an endeavor. So for the year past, instead of tearing my hair out, I've opted to share with you a list of what's logged the most time on my stereo or in my MP3 player. It's about a 50/50 split between 2013 titles, and those from yesteryear, most of which I listened to for the first time or was fully able to digest in the last twelve months. The following 25 items are ranked based on frequency of listening, roughly anyway. Many of the selections will surprise you, so I request you keep an open ear. I've put together a folder of fifteen tracks based on my playlist from some of the lesser known listees, but will not reveal any track info in this text. Here goes.
01. Lowest of the Low - Shakespeare My Butt (1991) - One of my best Johnny come lately discoveries ever. Why I dismissed this for over two decades I really don't know. John K. Sampson of the Weakerthans puts it's together than I ever could: A relentlessly brimming collection of songs that somehow contain all the desire, anger, camaraderie, politics and humor of being alive.
02. Austra - Feel it Break (2011) - Sleek, aerodynamic techno-pop with a sumptuous dance floor pulse, that turned out to be way more addictive than I could have ever anticipated. You'd swear this was the product of European engineering, but would you believe Toronto? Ironically, Austra's 2013 album, Olympia was a considerable disappointment held up to the standard of this enthralling debut.
04. Saves the Day - s/t (2013) - Album #8 offers a sweet synthesis of everything Chris Conley & Co. have been attempting for the past decade or so, and contains many a song that would befit a perfect Saves the Day mix tape.
05. Cheatahs - Extended Plays (2013). Early Swervedriver by way of '90s American indie rock? I'm in! As it's title would suggest, Extended Plays is comprised of 2012 eps. An album is set to drop in '14.
06. Young Light - Great White Arc ep (2013) The offspring of Amusement Parks on Fire and Giant Drag alumni, Young Light's melancholic spin on ethereal mood-rock was a must-have, day-to-day listen for me last year. Sonic gratification overload.
07. Motion City Soundtrack - Making Moves single (2012) - Available as part of the Making Moves 7" compilation box set or separate digitally. Two poignant as hell originals, and as a bonus with the digital version, a chilly reading of Rilo Kiley's "Pictures of Success."
08. Funeral Advantage - demo (2013) - Four hushed and gracefully melancholic originals steeped in a lite, gaze-pop glow, brimming with the fertile promise of Pains of Being Pure at Heart...and they even tack on a Cure cover to boot.
09. The Crush - Here is Where I Cross My Fingers (2002). Like Jawbreaker never went away. Wish I had known about them at time so I could have taken in a live gig. For further details inquire here.
10. Adam Marsland - The Owl and the Full Moon (2013) - A new Adam Marsland album only drops abut every three years, and luckily our man makes it worth the wait. Taking cues from '70s AM radio pop, Pet Sounds and then some for another endearing platter. Well played.
11. Soundboard prank calls on YouTube - Yes, they're that entertaining! I'm partial to the Deputy Martin, Bail Bondsman and Springfield Pervert calls. Enjoy responsibly, and don't try this at home unless you know your way around a soundboard.
12. The Hobbes Fanclub - "Your Doubting Heart" 7" & s/t ep (2012) - A co-ed trio from Bradford, England stoking the C-86 fires for a new generation. Fingers crossed for an album this year.
13. Red Delicious - The First Cassette By... (2011) - A resplendent five-song set of hooky, four-chord power pop by a Rhode Island by way of Buffalo bunch that I need to hear move of pronto!
14. Microdisney - The Clock Comes Down the Stairs (1984, reissue 2013) From the bowels of the UK indie underground came the surprisingly plush and polished Microdisney. Think the Smiths with a baritone on the mic, with a repertoire that was often as engaging as anything in Mozz's catalog. This is their masterful sophomore LP, reissued for the second time and will hopefully remain in print for awhile.
15. Medicine - To the Happy Few (2013) - Dare I say this damn-near picks up where The Buried Life left off? No squandered reunion here.
16. Nostalgist - Monochromatic 7" (2013) - This doomy Seattle dream-pop outfit sound doubly ominous thanks to singer Asa Eisenhardt's whose pipes sound like they're pitched at 33, while his MBV-induced comrades move along at 45 rpm clip. Odd combination, but it works.
17. StarTropics - "By My Side" 7" (2013) & demo (2012) - Chicago's chiming, post-punk wunderkinds, inspired by Sarah Records and contemporary revisionists The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Awesome.
18. Atlas Genius - When It Was Now (2013) - Souped-up keyboard pop, gleaming like a newly minted BMW. Slick as all-get-out, but a blast to listen to when cruising at 80 mph down the interstate.
19. Turin Brakes - The Optimist LP (2001) If you thought Ether Sound was the shit, do yourself a favor an re(visit) Turin Brakes debut for some lightweight, cosmic enlightening that's sure to clear your head in the best way possible.
20. Lees of Memory 7" - Nu-gaze gold from Superdrag's Johnathan Davis and Brandon Fischer. best thing these guys have put their name on in years.
21. Choo Choo Train - Hey Wimpus -The Early Recordings of Paul Chastain and Ric Menck (1998; rec. 1980s) - Ok, so maybe I didn't encounter this for the first time in 2013, but I played the hell out of it. One of the ten-finest jangle-pop albums ever conceived, by two giants of the form no less. I'd take this over Velvet Crush 90% of the time.
22. Part Time - PDA (2013) - Arresting electro-pop from budding genius, David Speck, who's ripped up the new-romantic palette and retooled it for Millennials. Love the clangy, Bernard Sumner guitar inflections that populate so much of this album.
23. Shy Mirrors - Negative Collector - fuzzed to the hilt punk pop, from former Wolfie guitarist Mike Downey. So what if every songs sounds the same?
24. Twitch - Medicine Ball ep & unreleased second album (199?) - Not exactly sure how this would go over with the bulk of you. Check out the song I supplied in the mix, and maybe I'll give it the Mystery Monday treatment. Righteously heavy (and icy) guitar-rawk suitable for the deadest of winter nights.
25. The Replacements - Songs for Slim ep (2013) - If not for the cause, if not even for the songs that comprise the record, Westerberg and Stinson deserve mucho props for reconvening and playing three much-in-demand concerts, fulfilling the collective wish of tens of thousands of us.