Goddamn there's maybe an end in sight here. I'm not counting my chickens, but I am counting my blessings.
I mentioned in 2003 that some of the biggest albums of my life were released that year, and as luck would have it, 2013 would see 10 year "album" tours for two of them. The first was Andrew WK, touring with a full band for the first time in a while for the 10th anniversary tour of I Get Wet. It was a monumental success, and lots of good friends came to the show with me. AWK brought his wife and his new Pizza Guitar.
Less than a month later, the RX Bandits came through with a 10 year anniversary full album show of The Resignation, which was equally fantastic. I've talked enough about them / that album, but it was great to get some old friends together and live in 2003 for a little bit.
In either late 2011 or early 2012 Greg hooked me up with a big zip file of music that he thought I'd like. I'm just now getting into some of the bands from it, but two that grabbed me pretty right away were Phosphorescent and The Tallest Man On Earth. I listened to both of their 2010 releases (Here's to Taking it Easy, and The Wild Hunt, respectively) a lot in the early spring. Both are kind of melancholy but breezy folk / country, a genre which I was and am being increasingly drawn to. Here's a nice Phosphorescent track:
The spring saw two releases of solo projects from bands I was into.
Gene Ween sobered up, quit the band, and released an album of covers of songs by a guy named Rod McKuen. Brief diversion here:
When I was a kid, my mom was teaching in the small town of Haines about 10 miles from Baker. She had help every now and then in the classroom from a guy we all called "Crazy Eddie". He was a bit off his rocker, but he was a nice enough guy. I remember at some point in my early years he gave my sister and I an audio tape that had a lot of weird late 70's / early 80's music on it. I know "Video Killed the Radio Star" was there, but I don't remember anything else. It was a weird and nice gesture. Eddie drove around an old converted ambulance that was covered in stickers and art, and painted on one side of it was the phrase "Listen To The Warm". I never thought much about it, until one day I was browsing through a used book store in Eugene when I found a book of poems with that same title, by a guy named Rod McKuen. I bought the book because I found it interesting, and it's full of a lot of typical 60's hippie poems. I never knew he was a songwriter, but Gene apparently did, and this covers album is sort of a further full circle loop of happenstance.
Here's a nice one:
The other solo project was Nick Zammuto's first album after the Books turfed out. It's more organic and has a lot of the same more angular intense sounds that were on the final Books album, but some of it finds some pop perfection. Here's my favorite track:
And finally this spring, we got a new release from Joe Pug. After seeing him live 4 or 5 times on a pretty short discography, it was great to finally get something new to listen to. Not only was it new, it was great. I'm way more likely to listen to this album now than any of his older stuff, and I'm super excited for whatever he releases next (hopefully next year).
In May, Emily finished graduate school with her MAT. I kind of didn't mention that she had quit her old job and gone back to school. I guess there was no music involved.
As a celebration, we took a weekish long trip to New Orleans, where we stayed with some friends, rode bikes, and checked out lots of local music. Each night we would just wander up and down the major music streets, finding bars to pop into, listening to street performers, and having a heck of a time.
The upcoming summer saw some new releases from Sigur Ros, Langhorne Slim, and The Tallest Man on Earth. I don't want to talk about them, because I need to get into probably the biggest musical event of the year, which was our first Pickathon.
I'll spare the hyperbole- I'm always fearful of being "that guy" who oversells a thing and ultimately ends up turning people off of it. Pickathon is a great music festival with a unique point of view and one of the best curated lineups I've seen. We finally went this year after realizing that if Emily got a job we'd be unable to attend Strawberry over Labor Day, and it was nice to find a festival so close to town.
A few highlights from that first year:
The Barr Brothers- this was a completely unexpected / unresearched one for me, and as such is one of my favorite memories. They went on around midnight of the first night on the "Starlight Stage", just when everyone is starting to ramp up or zonk out. As they were setting up, you could see that they had a lot of strange homemade instruments, along with a custom drum set and a harp. They totally wowed us with both beautiful mellow drifting songs and rocking pseudo-blues stuff. At the end of the set, I kept having a nagging feeling that the guy's voice sounded familiar, so I did a little research. Turns out that the Barr Brothers are a new project from the members of The Slip, who randomly impressed me a few years back! Maybe my highlight of the festival.
Blitzen Trapper and Langhorne Slim both got the crowd moving. Phosphorescent opened his set with a 15 minute song with few words and noodled around while they fixed a large structure overhanging the stage. The lady from Lake Street Dive blew us all away with her voice. Dr. Dog closed out Saturday night, and gave another one of my favorite performances. We had been listening to their newest at the time "Be The Void" after one of their songs made it on a Mix Tape, and more than anything that performance just kind of cemented Pickathon in my mind as a happy, great time. Highlight was their cover of an Architecture in Helsinki song.
The final band I want to talk about (as they ended up being my favorite album of the year) were the Bowerbirds out of North Carolina. I'm sure the live performance played a big effect on my love of the album. It's not that it was totally mindblowing, but I think more that it just captured a feeling that felt really right to me in this time and place. It's organic instrumentation, with a little experimentation. The songs are Earthy and sweet, but not too sweet, and just really hit a perfect sweet spot for me. I can't explain it, and I shouldn't have to. I love it.
Pickathon totally exhausted us in the best way, and so far current consensus is that we'll never miss another. It was such a great experience, that when Music Fest NW rolled around a month later, we thought we'd roll the dice again and try out the city festival thing. MFNW is a totally different animal- bands play shows all over town across 4 or 5 nights, and you have a wristband that gets you into shows (depending on capacity). Emily had just gotten hired at Lincoln, and this was her first week of school, which made going to shows every night somewhat complicated. She rallied hard though, and we're all very proud of her.
Over the course of the week/weekend, we saw:
- Against Me! (I went to this one alone) immediately after the lead singer came out as transgender, which I think added a level of intensity to her performance and brought back some of the excitement and energy from earlier times
- Trampled By Turtles- a great bluegrass band that we'd heard in passing but never had the chance to see live
- Joe Pug- midnight show at Mississippi studios, Emily took a nap on the couch up until the last second she could and then went into go mode for the late show
- Beirut- got to see them play in Pioneer Square on a Friday night as the sun set, pretty priceless.
- Strand of Oaks- hadn't listened to them yet, but they opened up for The Tallest Man on Earth and intrigued and excited me. Spent a lot of time listening to them the rest of the year.
- Tallest Man on Earth- great performance, unfortunately at the Crystal and for kind of a quiet set people just wouldn't shut up.
I have to take a brief diversion becuase I semi-intentionally left out seeing Sigur Ros at Edgefield in mid August. I left it out because it was a really frustrating show along the same lines as the Tallest Man show, where the crowd essentially ruined it for me. The older I get, the less tolerance I have for a talkative crowd. It keeps me away from certain venues and probably certain shows, and is always such a bummer to be brought down by something so dumb. WHY ARE YOU AT THIS SHOW, TALKERS?!
In October, Bowerbirds and Strand of Oaks came back through and played at the Doug Fir, which is my favorite venue. Emily wasn't feeling well, so I went by my lonesome, but still had a great time. Strand of Oaks has become one of my favorite bands, and so far every time they have come through they've opened for another band that I absolutely love.
The only other two shows I saw this year were without Emily as well. Mostly because it was music that I was a lot more into than her, and because it was on school nights.
I got some buddies to come with me to Zammuto, which was a ton of fun. He played a few Books songs, but the highlight was sort of the now touring standard for them, The Greatest Autoharp Solo In The World
The other show was Titus Andronicus at this constantly name-changing rock club in SE currently called Branx. They shredded the hell out of it with 4 guitars, played the greatest songs from their new album and the Monitor, and closed with a rollicking cover of Brown Sugar by the Rolling Stones. My ears still hurt.
And then it was December. The Mix Tape Club was kind of going on through a lot of this year, but was essentially over. Submissions were lacking and I was losing steam on the project.
From the ashes, however, rose another beast: my annual top albums of the year project.
I have always been a fan of lists. I like making them, and (like the rest of the internet, apparently) I like reading them. Whenever a year would end, I loved reading all of the best of lists that music publications put out, but usually I had only heard a small handful of the albums on them. This year, I decided to change that. In December, I decided that I would listen to 60 albums from the year that were being touted as "best of", and rank them myself on my website. I polled various sources and set to work, mostly focusing on genres that I already cottoned to. I have the opportunity for a lot of "headphone time" at work, so it's a convenient enough project for a working man.
In the end, I discovered some amazing stuff that would totally soundtrack my 2013. The full list is HERE- album cover and brief description only. I think I mentioned most of the big ones already if I was into them this year, and a few more took a few months to sink in. I'll talk about them in 2013.
I want to close off this year with a sort of melancholy but ultimately good musical experience. The Mountain Goats came back through in late December, touring on their new album "Transcendental Youth". It's a really great album, my favorite in maybe a couple of theirs, which features horn arrangements on a few tracks by the guy who opened for them at this show. His name is Matthew E White, and I love his first album "Big Inner" which also came out this year.
This show was 2 days after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which hit everyone hard and especially a lot of teacher friends and just people with hearts in general. It's a bummer of a thing, and no one was really able to wrap our heads around it. I don't remember exactly what was said, but both bands said a little piece and sent out some musical condolonces that I felt were really tasteful and really moving. I think all of us in the room there together sort of had a little catharsis through the communal experience of being devastated and trying to move on and have something positive happen. And I think that music is a good healing tool in general, and I hope that it can help people find peace sometimes when it isn't always easy.