The Best of 2013 (So Far)

We’re not even halfway done, and, musically, 2013 is already better than 2012.

The Best Performance of a Song

Soundgarden, “Jesus Christ Pose,” The Paramount

It took barely three songs for all the awkwardness of Soundgarden’s reunion to be forgotten. Then they brought in “Jesus Christ Pose” to bat cleanup.

It’s an athletic, technically demanding song that sits perfectly in Soundgarden’s sweet spot, calling for musical dexterity and melodic accessibility that roars toward its finish. As drummer Matt Cameron and bassist Ben Shepherd locked into their complicated dance, I turned to a friend and said, “This may be the best performance of a song I’ve ever heard.”

But I was skeptical of my own emotions. It’s easy to get carried away when a favorite band nails it. After some affirmation, I’m not sure I was wrong.

On Twitter, friend and fellow music blogger Travis Hay told me: “Right after ‘Jesus Christ Pose,’ I told [my friend] we could leave because I was more than satisfied.”

The next morning I saw Presidents of the United States of America frontman Chris Ballew, and before I could say hello I informed him that I was still recovering from the previous night’s Soundgarden set, which had been of a caliber I’d rarely encountered. “Oh, I know,” Ballew said. “I was so overcome during ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ that I had to sit down.”

The Best Tracks

Cave Singers

Track: “It’s a Crime”

Label: Jagjaguwar

The brightest spots on Cave Singers’ latest, Naomi, are when the band is looking forward. On “It’s a Crime,” the group that was in on the ground floor of Seattle indie-folk indulges its riff-rock tendencies and ends up in arena-folk territory. It’s the best thing they’ve done since “Beach House.” More of this, please.

Rose Windows

Track: “Native Dreams”

Label: Sub Pop

Metal, psychedelia, and folk have intermingled around the country and in Seattle for years. But the elements are converging in Rose Windows in a way we haven’t heard before. “Native Dreams,” the first single from the band’s Sub Pop debut, The Sun Dogs (out June 25), is the emissary for what’ll be one of the summer’s—if not the year’s—best local releases. If it’s been a few years since you were glad to hear a cello on a record, you’ll welcome this track.

Pickwick

Track: “Well, Well”

Label: Small Press

It’s short—just two minutes and 43 seconds. It could have been tinkered with to death. It could have been hitched onto the end of another chorus. Instead “Well, Well” was left alone, a simple little ditty that neatly captures Pickwick’s full-length debut, Can’t Talk Medicine: rock and roll in the age of indie from a band that has run through the neo-soul sprinkler. Its casual momentum makes it easy to toss on repeat. And you’ll want to.

The Best Album

Youth Lagoon’s Wondrous Bughouse is the best thing I’ve heard in 2013—or 2012.

When Trevor Powers committed to writing the follow-up to Youth Lagoon’s critically lauded self-titled debut, he told himself he wasn’t writing a record, he was only writing songs. It wasn’t until he was finished writing and took a step back that he saw what he’d done.

Wondrous Bughouse is a singular piece of music. Its songs aren’t album installments, they’re movements in an opus—more likes scenes within acts of a play than episodes in a TV series. After several spins, it’s impossible to imagine one song without the other.

“My conscious mind over-evaluates things,” Powers says from the road, at a pit stop in San Bernardino, Calif. “I wanted things to just flow and come out. A lot [of the writing process] was eliminating filters on this record and trying to see what would happen.”

The instrumentation is standard rock-band fare—drums, guitar, bass, and vocals, among a number of accessories—but the application of these tools is more closely aligned to that of a string quartet buried under an ocean of distortion. The melodies don’t feel like the collaborations of a group of musicians, but the holistic visions—the articulation of a specific sound—elicited by a composer and conductor.

“I wanted it to sound like one foot in reality and one foot in the metaphysical,” Powers says. “Some things you can relate to and sound human, and some things sound very foreign.”

It’s true, Powers didn’t write a record. He created a masterpiece.

Youth Lagoon plays Seattle University’s Quadstock on May 18 and Sasquatch! on May 24.

 
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