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Monday, January 6, 2014

Toby's Top Ten of 2013


Well what do you know?  Here we are back at the beginning yet again…a new year.  And you know what that means, right?  Well around here, it means that it's a time for celebration and discovery.  As each member of our staff takes a look back at the vast, eclectic, and truly incredible output of fine tuneage that was released in 2013, you'll likely spot something that was not previously on your musical radar.  If not, then perhaps we'll jog your memory and re-introduce you to an album that you'd unknowingly forgotten.  At the very least, maybe we'll just piss you off as you vehemently disagree with our "best of" selections and wonder how the fuck we managed to leave Kvelertak off the list?!?  Regardless, I can assure you that within our ranks, we'll cover the entire spectrum of heavy music, from spaced out psychedelia to fuzzed out grooves and from swamp-stomp rhythms to the blackest of doom.  So get your pencil and paper ready, because what follows are the 10 records that polluted my ears the most in 2013.  Happy New Year.  

10 Queens of the Stone Age - …Like Clockwork


I don't profess to know the details behind the legal battle (or threat of one) that went down between Joshua Homme and his former bandmates from Kyuss over the latter's use of the name last year while touring as Kyuss Lives!.  I will however admit that my perception of the issue was that it seemed to be a rather unnecessary affair, especially for someone of Homme's stature.  Because of all that, I'll be honest and say that I really didn't want to like this album.  So perhaps that fact alone should tell you all you need to know about …Like Clockwork, given that it still managed to make its way into my top 10 list.  Right from the start with the album opener "Keep Your Eyes Peeled", it's evident that Mr. Homme and company have regained a measure of the quirkiness that made albums like Rated R and Songs for the Deaf the classics that they've become.  And while I'll still maintain that the band was better off when Homme's "too cool for school" demeanor could be compared alongside the batshit crazy antics of Nick Oliveri and the haunting earnestness of Mark Lanegan (both of whom make brief vocal appearances on this album), there's just no denying that tracks like "I Sat by the Ocean" and "If I Had a Tail" are among some of the best that QOTSA have ever written.  So I'll admit, …Like Clockwork was a triumphant return for what is arguably stoner rock's biggest star and it's an album well deserving of a place on this list.    

09 Lullwater - Self Titled


Apparently this Athens, Georgia based band was so enamored with the history and aura surrounding the early 90's Seattle grunge movement, they packed up their shit and moved across the country to record this at the famed London Bridges Studio where Soundgarden recorded Louder Than Love, Alice in Chains made Dirt and Pearl Jam created a little record by the name of Ten.  The result was an album that not only showcases those Pacific Northwest influences, but also maintains a strong foothold in the Southern alternative rock scene of their own home state.  Combine the bluesy emotion of Drivin' n' Cryin' with the feedback and dissonance of Nirvana and you have Lullwater.  That duality, which can be heard on tracks like "The Dream" and "A Plane", is what makes this self-titled release such an interesting listen, and it's why I couldn't get enough of it in 2013. 

08 Borracho - Oculus



Back in the fall of 2012, we asked Borracho to headline our Heavy Planet CMJ Showcase in the Big Apple and they were more than happy to oblige.  Much to our surprise however, the Washington DC based band showed up to the event without their vocalist and proceeded to rumble through a (mostly) instrumental set of thunderous riffs and bowel rumbling grooves.  Little did we know at the time that what we were actually hearing in that grimy New York City basement were the beginnings of what would become Oculus.  Now a year later, with the band having officially "restructured" as a three-piece, with guitarist Steve Fisher taking over vocal duties, the band sounds even tighter than they did on their 2011 debut Splitting Sky…and if you've heard that masterpiece, you know that's saying something.  Furthermore, with the addition of little embellishments like the haunting feminine vocal that hovers over the album opener "Empty" or the organ that seems hidden amidst the riffs in "Know the Score", Borracho have managed to add a sense of depth to their arsenal on this sophomore release.  With only four actual songs (along with the eerie segue "Eye"), this is an album that is meant to be taken as a singular musical movement.  As such, I'd suggest you hear it in its entirety and see for yourself why it made it's way into my top 10 of 2013.   

07 Deville - Hydra



I kind of think the cover shot on this one says all that you need to know about what's to be found within.  Swedish stoner rockers Deville dropped all pretense on Hydra and got straight to the fucking point.  No extended buildups, no ten minute jam sessions and no filler…this my friends is a rock album.  With heavy doses of meaty riffs (check out "The Knife" and "Let it Go"), catchy choruses (see "In Vain") and those all important guitar solos stuck in just the right places ("Over the Edge"), this is an album that I could not put down in 2013.  There are a lot of bands who may have a similar sound and style to the straight forward stoner rock approach that Deville employ, but very few who can lay down eleven equally infectious tracks in a single album.  For that reason, I made sure to reserve Hydra a well earned place amongst my top LPs of the year.  

06 Kings Destroy - A Time of Hunting



Apparently made up of members from various New York hardcore acts who came together with a combined vision to slow shit down, Brooklyn's Kings Destroy were definitely onto something with A Time of Hunting.  The band incorporates a steady, bruising attack with enough melody and emotion (particularly from vocalist Steve Murphy) to warrant the invention of a new sub-genre that I'd call alt-doom.  Head bobbing grooves, crawling tempos and searing guitar solos collide with vocals that transition seamlessly from mid to high range, at times calling to mind the late, great Layne Staley (see "Shattered Pattern").  But it's the band's ability to diversify and veer away from the monotony of a simple chug-a-lug doom approach that places A Time of Hunting on this list.  "Blood of Recompense" could easily be dubbed a stoner rock classic and even manages to introduce psychedelic elements into the mix via the guitar work.  And the album closing "Turul" is quite simply a mind-fuck with it's bouncy, dare-I-say, System of a Down like bridge.  No…classifying Kings Destroy as "just" a doom band would be a disservice to them, because they're quite obviously much more than that.  For that reason, I found A Time of Hunting well deserving of this spot on my top 10 of 2013.

05 Vista Chino - Peace



There really isn't much that needs to be said about Vista Chino (formerly Kyuss Lives!), but I'll say a few words anyway.  For starters, Peace doesn't come off sounding like a rehash of past glories, but instead feels like a new start.  In fact, despite the way it happened (see my writeup on …Like Clockwork above) I'm glad to see John Garcia, Brant Bjork and Bruno Fevery adopt a new moniker and get moving on the next chapter in their already impressive musical legacy (Nick Oliveri played bass on the album, but has unfortunately, since left the band).  Having said that, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that the signature fuzz and desert grooves associated with Kyuss are here in spades, which is an obvious reason for Peace having a spot on this list.  Tracks like "Dargona Dragona" and the epic suite "Planets 1 & 2", the latter of which features vocals from both Bjork and Garcia, are quite simply…bad-fucking-ass.  And speaking of Bjork, who is the primary songwriter in this band, I totally dug songs like "Adara" and "Barcelonian" which just oozed that cool vibe we've come to expect from his multitude of non-Kyuss related projects.  But ultimately, the reason that Peace is one of my top 10 albums of 2013 is because it represents the sum of four equally impressive parts that need to be making music together.  The soulful vocals of John Garcia, the jazzy fills and resonant crashes from Brant Bjork, the fuzzy tones of Oliveri's bass and the meaty riffs from Bruno Fevery belong together and hopefully Peace is just the beginning.  Also, where else can you hear John Garcia croon "I'm gonna stroke my 'stache"?  Nuff said.

04 Sasquatch - IV



Sasquatch made the quintessential "driving record" when they made IV.  With power chords layered on top of more power chords, a devastatingly thunderous rhythm section and truly soulful vocals slathered right on top of it all, these nine tracks just demanded that you twist the volume knob to the right and slam the gas pedal to the floor.  Want a sample?  Check out the first three tracks, which are as solid an opening barrage as I can recall from any album in recent memory.  From the blitzkrieg opener "The Message" to the dissonant harmony of "Eye of the Storm" (possibly my favorite song of the year from this or any album) to the bluesy Hendrix worship of "Sweet Lady", these three tracks will give you a solid idea of the heavy fuzz that lies ahead.  IV is quite simply an onslaught from this veteran power trio and I reached for it time and again in 2013. 

03 Clutch - Earth Rocker



This one almost seems too easy.  In fact, I probably don't even need to say anything about Clutch's Earth Rocker because my guess is that if you're reading this site and you haven't already heard it, then you must not be interested.  On this, their tenth studio album, these veterans of the trade revved up the riff machine and went back to the future…so to speak.  What I mean to say is that besides the bluesy ballad "Gone Cold" (which is waaay fucking cool), the band seemingly abandoned the road they'd been heading down since…well, "Gravel Road" closed out 2005's Robot Hive/Exodus, veering instead into the much more straightforward rock n' roll territory we last heard on 2001's Pure Rock Fury.  It's all here people.  Neil Fallon's barking vocal attack is stronger than ever, as is his lyrical prowess, which is unmatched in this or any other genre in my humble opinion.  Tim Sult brings the riffs in yet another virtuosic performance.  And the rhythm section of Dan Maines and Jean-Paul Gaster remains the best in the business.  Give a listen to the album's title track with it's spacey intro, killer groove and raw intensity.  And if you happen to be a fan of the bluesier side of Clutch, fear not, there's still plenty of harmonica to be found on "D.C. Sound Attack!".  It's just that the heavier, faster cuts make up the majority of this opus, and while tracks like "Crucial Velocity" and "Oh, Isabella" stand out as examples of the album's direction, there's honestly not a bad one to be found in this bunch.  Earth Rocker was a welcome return to a golden era in the impressive history of one of the greatest bands of all time, and for that reason alone, it deserves a spot in my top 10.

02 Supervoid - Filaments



I knew very little about Pittsburgh's Supervoid prior to seeing them live in their home digs last spring, but it was that very set that started them down the path of landing on this list.  When the band took the stage, I was totally mesmerized by their progressive song structures and their mastery of subtlety and nuance as they bobbed and weaved from stoner rock fuzz into crushing metal passages.  Combining harmony with dissonance, this five piece understands the power of the buildup as they develop songs using quiet, introspective musicianship before pummeling your eardrums with gargantuan riffs and monstrous fucking vocals…just listen to "Arcane Groves" for the love of God.  Needless to say, I was counting the days until the release of Supervoid's debut LP in October and once I got my hands on it, I was not disappointed.  Far different than anything else released in 2013, Filaments lived up to the promise I heard that night in the Steel City with songs like "Coat of Luminous" and "Braymerian: War Elephant" which highlight the polarity of the band's attack.  Give a listen to "Ladders" which features a clean vocal style…and please understand, this motherfucker can sing…over shimmering guitars and an ever evolving rhythm.  Or check out the juggernaut stomp of "Wake of the Smoke Jumper" which pairs oh so well with its guttural growls, before shifting gears to become a pseudo black metal number with the addition of a high pitched backing vocal.  So yeah, Filaments had a little bit of everything that we love here at Heavy Planet, but at the end of the day, it was Supervoid's ability to mesh all of those components into such a cohesive final product that puts this album so far up my list of the top 10 albums of 2013.  Don't miss out on this one.     

01 ASG - Blood Drive



And that brings me to my top pick for 2013.  Now ASG aren't exactly a new band on the scene, having come up as a sort of East Coast answer to Fu Manchu back in the early 00's.  Rising from the ranks of the surf and skate crowd in their native Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, the band garnered a respectable amount of success as their music got hand picked for "Viva La Bam" and other TV shows of that ilk.  But aside from a split release (with Black Tusk) about four years ago, it's been since 2007's Win Us Over that we saw a full length album from the band.  Well I'm here to tell you that this ain't your daddy's ASG.  Blood Drive is of course loaded with tasty hooks, but you should also understand that these are sophisticated compositions.  Spin the excellent album opener "Avalanche" and listen as the band hammers out a huge stoner riff and then builds on it with psychedelic effects and vocalist Jason Shi's insistent bellow and otherworldly lyrics.  Or check out "Castlestorm" where they amp up the intensity and the pace as Shi unleashes a roar that'll have hairs standing on the back of your neck.  And so what if "Earthwalk" is an obvious homage to Jane's Addiction, can you honestly tell me that's a bad thing?  Listen to the intricate acoustic guitar that opens "Children's Music" before the band tears into another trance inducing groove.  These songs have depth and as you make your way through Blood Drive, you'll hear a band that is weaving a tapestry of psychedelic stoner rock that won't soon be forgotten.  Simply put, I wore this album out last year and continue to do so to this day.  For that reason, ASG's Blood Drive is my top album of 2013. 


6 comments:

  1. Excellent Toby! Deville was in Heavy Rotation at my pad as well and just missed a spot on my favorites.

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  2. Way psyched to have one of our bands on your list!
    BORRACHO is tits!

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  3. Loved Deville, thanks for the turn on man.

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  4. You let everyone know at Heavy Planet, they fucking rock shit-ass. Whatever the fuck that means. Keep this bastard online.

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