Three Imaginary Girls

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RSD2013 release, and quite possibly one of the best things I heard all year, AKA Shearon van Ettenwater.

In years past, I've looked forward to the construction of my end-of-year lists, especially during years that ran toward the fuller side of new (and new-to-me) music that I was excited to compile and share. Since the days of digital music management, my standard operating procedure has been as follows: pull up my iTunes, sort by "date added" and take a stroll through the year in what I've added to my library — which all worked fine and well in conjunction with a scan through that year's photo sets to jog my memory — until last year, when I transferred libraries to a new computer, and my whole library had a singular import date. Hrmph.

As square as it is to admit — and I'm sure I can't be the only person who does this! — with a computer fix on the horizon, the only thing that made sense (and seemed remotely idiot-proof) to assist with the process this year was keeping track of the best things I came across over the course of the year in a spreadsheet in my Google drive. It worked pretty well, and I wound up with notes from every album that struck my fancy, every live show I saw (since I could access it remotely on my phone), and every uptick in a particular record's rotation, new or otherwise. I suppose in another era I would have done something more along the lines of, say, writing it down in a notebook or something archaic — but knowing me, I'd likely misplace the notebook at some point. Is this where we talk about the pros and cons of how the internet never forgets? Anyway.

So, without further ado: of the fifty-odd things this year saw fit for me to be moved by to the point of making note of them, here's what ranked the highest, in chronological order.

{Fathery John Misty / by Victoria VanBruinisse}
Baby's First Father John Misty Show, at the Neptune in January.

The beginning of the year saw new releases from Telekinesis, Hey Marseilles, Wimps, Sallie Ford, the Heligoats, and Pickwick; as I was still steeped in Greg Vandy's best of 2012 show and releases from bands like the Allah Las, Jake Bugg, Nick Waterhouse, and the Orwells. While all of those releases were good (if not excellent!) a few stood out above the rest, which I covered back in March.

{Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside}

Regarding Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside's Untamed Beast, I noted it was […] clear from the nuance of the songs that Sallie (and/or her in-song character) is ready to rumble, drink, fuck, and pony up — at least, that's the story her voice tells as we take the trip from the first to last track. It's a good listen with a delicate balance of vulnerability and toughness coming through from song to song, and I'm excited to see what this band puts out over their next release or two as they continue to grow, grow up, and evolve.

Well, we won't get a chance to keep on this trajectory with the band, as they announced a few weeks ago that they were breaking up for good. Hopefully they all keep on with individual projects and don't stop making music! (I was really stoked for those next two imaginary albums, y'all.) Pick up Untamed Beast, Dirty Radio, and that sweet Not An Animal EP while you still can here.

Another early year obsession was the demo (followed by proper full-length) from local punk band Wimps. I couldn't get it out of my brain, specifically, the track "Repeat" in the video above. Plainly stated: […] this shit is good. The thing about Wimps is that there's no buffer, no… shtick, nothing but the sounds and the delivery. It's almost as if they've all dialed in to exactly what they need and want to be doing musically right now, one of those seemingly effortless phases that's actually the result of a lot of hard work. On top of putting out a great recording, Wimps translates live, putting on a just-tight-enough performance that manages to be equal parts fun and kickass.

They've continued momentum over the year, you've likely seen them live by this point — but on the odd chance you haven't, upcoming dates are in their Facebook 'about' section here.

Longstanding imaginary BFF-band The Heligoats put out a proper full-length this year, Back To The Ache, and "Drai Zich" promptly went on almost every mix I made over the year: […] my love for Chris Otepka's bizarre, beautiful songwriting knows no bounds, so it's no surprise that I'm legitimately whipped on a few tracks from The Heligoats' latest release, Back To The Ache. Out last week with a video premiere on IFC for the most solid takeaway from the album, "Drai Zich," BTTA is a start-to-finish journey of the inner workings of Otepka's brainspace. It's a welcome follow-up to 2010's Goodness Gracious…

{Eef Barzelay / by Victoria VanBruinisse}
Eef Barzelay with Chris Otepka, at an art gallery in Bellingham this past winter.

Indeed! Otepka is fresh off a fall tour with Eef Barzelay (above), but you can keep an eye out for his next round of dates here (and I promise to post anything I hear about, dates- or release-wise, post haste).

And ps, speaking of the end of 2012 and being hooked on the Orwells — I'm not too enamored with the releases they put out this year (maybe they'll grow on me?), but 2012's Remember When is fast approaching modern-day staple for me, not dissimilar to Meadowlands territory. It's happily filed under not-new-but-new-to-me for 2013, and I expect it to stay in rotation for quite some time to come. From earlier this year:

If you've been within shouting distance of me anytime in the last two weeks, you've undoubtedly heard me talking about The Orwells, specifically their 2012 release, Remember When. I first heard these kids on Greg Vandy's Best-Of-The-Year Roadhouse show on KEXP at the end of December, and now that I've got the album in-hand, I can't listen to anything else. It's gritty, sloppy-tight Chicago post-garage, mostly about girls and death. [They] make me want to bust out of a high school classroom and blow off my classes to take pills, hang out with my friends, and pretend to be disinterested in girls — all in some kind of lo-fi frame-skipping movie sequence.

All the band has up on their official site are the new releases, but you can pick up Remember When {Autumn Tone} on Amazon here.

{The Orwells / by Victoria VanBruinisse}

Side note: that show these dudes did with Wimps at the Crocodile was one of the best of the entire year, no doubt.

As the second quarter came upon us, spring fever hit, and with it, a slew of excellent releases and videos from Pickwick, Sean Nelson, and Charles Bradley; along with a new Phosphorescent album. Plus, if we're going by listening counts, my top pick of the entire year — the Shearwater / Sharon van Etten combo cover of "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" as performed for The A.V. Club:

Damn. I don't even know what to comment here, outside of the fact that I like it better than the original, and that I'm not quite sure where to buy it on the internet if you didn't it up on Record Store Day. (You can come over my house and listen to my copy anytime, though!)

Sharon's a double winner on my favorites list this year, appearing not only in her Shearon van Ettenwater incarnation, but also guesting on my favorite track off of Pickwick's 2013 release, Can't Talk Medicine. Here's the commentary on both the video and the album from earlier this year: […] an outstanding feat of mini-moviemaking for one of the best tracks on Can't Talk Medicine, "Lady Luck". (In the event you missed earlier praise, it's a Richard Swift cover featuring Sharon Van Etten that slays with sultry, buttery vocals; more here.) The band has a habit of working with killer directors, so it's no surprise that the visual presentation of the song is seamless: the framing is gorgeous, the cues are on point, and the whole thing is just teeming with that rare blend understated powerfulness. And really, did anyone expect that a bunch of straight beardy dudes would do such an excellent job portraying a day in the life of a crossdresser? Welp, not only did these dudes do it, they did it really, really well.

After blasting through a ton of tour dates this year, Pickwick is back on the road in early 2014, with our old pals Elliott Brood. More information, ticket links, and the like on their website here.

Charles Bradley is just SO GOOD. I can't even. Here's my copy after first seeing this explode across my computer screen one fateful morning at work: […] he's an experience. He's a feeling in your guts that all will be right with the world if we just love each other and try hard enough, that we can simultaneously transcend our heartbreak and embrace those sharp corners of our hearts that shape us. And his latest single, "Strictly Reserved For You," manages to embody his one-of-a-kind essence in the most beautiful and complete of ways — it's a fully legit track, whether for your next mixtape or your next party playlist, and leads me to believe that the new album (Victim of Love, Daptone) is going to do some serious damage on this year's best-of lists.

With that said, we've got to take a minute to talk about this gem of a video. It seriously creates a near-indescribable level of joy that translates the heartburst-y bliss of Charles as we know and love him, presented with a hip, beautiful, clean-but-not-sterile vision that almost feels like we're following him through a week of his life. We see the streets he walks every day, we see his coffeeshop moments, his dance moves and work days and park days: Charles In His Van, Charles On His Street, Charles In His Jacket, Charles On A Soundstage, Charles In The Grass. (And ugh, can someone please make a .gif out of Charles Being Birthed By A Hydrangea Bush?? SO GOOD.) It's a three-and-a-half minute capture of the best of Charles Bradley, and if you've had the pleasure of seeing him perform live, you know just how well this is doing him justice. He's got the love, alright. Strictly reserved for you, and you, and you too! (Yes, YOU.)

Well, the motherfucking .gif stopped working properly, but let me assure you it was most excellent while it lasted. Buy everything Charles has released here, and see if you can catch a tour date (east coast and Europe from January – March) in your city here.

And last for the first half of the year, but certainly not least, Sean Nelson's video for "Make Good Choices" {the title track for his 2013 release} hit our radar: It's an incredibly catchy rendering of a specific relationship lifecycle, a timeline of pain and clarity stitched together with some of the most concise post-'Fuck off, ex!' storytelling ever. The whole song is excellent, but the last ~45 seconds or so showcase both Sean's lung capacity and his unfuckwithable verbal precision, leaving the listener (or this listener, at least) a bit transfixed. It's the perfect power-anthem punctuation on a breakup mix that's so good you wind up keeping it for yourself, and the video is no slouch either: the song's sharp edges are accentuated sweetly by a Clyde Peterson-animated video, starring Paper Cutout Sean and now-wife Shenandoah (Davis) Nelson.

Pick up your copy here, and stay tuned for part two of the year in review — this winter > spring > summer-fringe recap keeps trucking along for the second half of 2013, and gem-moments like that John Vanderslice house show, Tom Brosseau's trip through town, Pickathon, Paul McCartney at Safeco, the Barsuk anniversary shows, Jeff Tweedy at the Moore, and releases from The Moondoggies, Andy Fitts, Jacco Gardner, Neko Case, XVIII Eyes, along with all the buzz band releases I'm hoping sustain on into the new year (plus a few guilty pleasures).

{This is part one of my 2013 year in review — check out part two here, and the accompanying Spotify playlist here. Don't forget, if you like something you hear on the Spotify, BUY THE MUSIC. That's how it works! Photo of Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside courtesy of the band. Photos of Father John Misty, Eef Barzelay, and the Orwells by Victoria VanBruinisse.}