I never felt I listened to enough new albums in a year to justify putting a best albums of the year list. It seems everyone writes one, including two my friends Eric and Kevin — both lists of which I’ve discovered a lot of new bands. I wasn’t a fan of either of theirs this year, and I let them know — so here’s my response, in no particular order.
Artist: Little Big League
Album: Tropical Jinx
My friend Rachel told me her cousin was a drummer in a band. And he used to play for Titus Andronicus.
So, I asked what band and it’s Little Big League from Philadelphia. They’re led by Michelle Zauner whose voice reminds me of Belly’s Tanya Donelly and The Sundays’ Harriet Wheeler combined with the ferocity of Liz Phair. Deven Craige (bass) Kevin O’Halloran (guitar) and my friend’s cousin Ian Dykstra fills out the band on drums. Zauner’s screaming puts the band over the top for me.
As I was buying the CD at the merch table at Shea Stadium (small Brooklyn venue, not the Mets former home) I told Zauner she reminded me of Belly, and I was surprised when she told me she never listened to them. I’m old.
Track: Dixie Gun
Artist: Sharon Van Etten
Album: Are We There
Certain songs make me stop what I’m doing and just zone. Afraid of Nothing has that quality that takes me to a really peaceful place — and that place could be where she’ going sitting in that car with her head out the window.
Having grown up in Nutley, NJ, Sharon Van Etten’s Bowery Ballroom stint last summer was sort of a homecoming. She shouted out her dad in the audience and he responded.
It was a sweet moment. I have a four year old daughter, so that really stuck with me.
Track: Afraid of Nothing
Artist: Cloud Nothings
Album: Here and Nowhere Else
Any band that’s highly influenced by the Replacements will immediately get my attention. Lead singer and guitarist Dylan Baldi does a pretty good Paul Westerberg.
The Cleveland band recorded Here and Nowhere Else at Hoboken’s Water Studios, which is right across from the Shop Rite I go to almost every day — a fact I informed Baldi of on Twitter — to which he replied that he forgot his suitcase and had to buy clothes there.
The only clothes I’m aware of that are sold there are “I’m a Jersey Girl” shirts. He didn’t wear it when I saw him perform so that’s the only disappointment.
Track: I’m Not Part of Me
Artist: Radiator Hospital
Album: Torch Song
So, back to Philly. There’s a really great punk scene going on there. Bands play in each others bands, perform at basement shows, and all seem to be friends with each other.
Lead vocalist and guitarist Sam Cook-Parrott’s voice resembles Apples in Stereo’s Rob Schneider, and his writing style reminds me of Guided by Voices and the Minutemen in that it’s really low-fi and generally in the two minute range.
Guitarist and supporting vocalist Cynthia Schemmer gives Cook a cool Kim Deal-type interplay.
Track: Honeymoon Phase
Album: Nervous Like Me
Michael Azerrad’s book, Our Band Could Be Your Life documents bands like the Minutemen, Hüsker Dü, and the Replacements during the American indie underground punk scene in the 80s. Here’s the flap copy:
Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life vividly traces the arc of the American indie underground in the Eighties, from obscure beginnings to the point a decade later when the mainstream sat up and took notice. Beginning with the pioneering Black Flag, the story continues with the MInutemen, Mission of Burma, Minor Threat, Hüsker Dü, the Replacements, Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers, Big Black, Dinosaur Jr, Fugazi, Mudhoney, and Beat Happening, among others. Without major label support, these band depended on resourcefulness creativity, and an all-powerful sense of community to survive.
I feel like these Philly bands have the same thing going on. Augusta Koch, Allegra Anka, and Kelly Olsen form a power trio that has a more polished sound than their fellow Philly brethren and seem close to breaking out as evidenced by their NPR taping.
Track: Madame B
Album: Dark Arc
I discovered Columbus Ohio’s Saintseneca while reading a post that Little Big League’s Michelle Zauner wrote. (See? It all goes back to Philly). They have a bit of Decemberists, the Head and the Heart and the Lumineers in them. I occasionally have a soft spot for that Americana stuff.