You know the deal. Here comes another year end list, this one highlighting the best local releases (anything from the state of Georgia) of 2013. Ranked in a mostly arbitrary fashion by local music director WIll Guerin, with special consideration to input from Patrick Boyle and Alec Livaditis, as well as a handful of other WUOG staffers. Don’t read too much into the individual rankings, we just put the numbers there so you’ll (hopefully) read the list. So go ahead and enjoy 20 of our favorite 2013 local releases, edited by Dafna Kaufman and Will Guerin.
Also, big ol’ Honorable Mention shout-out to Rene Le Conte’s Young & Dumb, sad such a great album just missed out.
20. L00k – L()()k
Pretty much every photo you’ll find of the boys in the curiously titled L()()k (Google searches have to be pretty particular to find ‘em) feature them sprawled out on the ground, surrounded by a mess of cables and keyboards in that clichéd pose of EDM DJ’s: arms outstretched, brows furrowed in concentration. And it’s hard not to carry that snapshot with you when you listen to Graham Ulicny and William Kennedy’s (of Reptar fame) analog-love child, L00k.
Beats and melodies that seem to flow extemporaneously behind the steady kick of the drum machines that rattle on behind the beeps and the boops (I had to sound like an idiot somewhere in the review, didn’t I?). Building momentum as samples are triggered and released, working best as the play-times stretch out into what feels less and less like a song and more like a James Murphy inspired dance extravaganza (I’m so pissed no one invited me to the last one). Climaxing in the the sprawling and excellent “loque gred” (oh yeah, there are some pretty strange titles to be had here) trilogy that showcases the transition from clean electronics to the chaotic, noisy mess of that stereotpyical “oh no, all the computer have gone haywire!”. - Will Guerin
19. Veloce – Dana Swimmer
No one really wants another rock band out of Athens that has anything to do with the rootsy Americana movement that’s overrun the town with its southern drawl. And Dana Swimmer, functioning as a distant, southern relative of The Strokes, realizes this and embraces whatever reception greets their lo-fi, anthemic rock.
The group laughed off any hard feelings that could’ve emerged from Gordon Lamb’s infamous “run of the mill dad-rock” comment in “Threats and Promises” when they proudly adopted the title and hung it on their mantle piece – their Facebook ‘about’ section now quoting the dismissive remark that regularly gets shouted out by the house party audience that’s embraced and popularized the This Is American Music act. It’s a crowd that lends a stigma as well, making it easy to forget that the drunken immediacy of their cymbal heavy licks masks the involved songwriting that allow for the 5-minute plus play times. Twists and turns that reshape the straightforward pop-rock riffage into something you can hold onto. - Will Guerin
18. scooterbabe – scooterbabe
I was among the first to express displeasure at the band name scooterbabe (I assume there were more to follow, because I’m mean). But hey, for some reason, JJ Posway’s artistic endeavors don’t always revolve around me and at any rate, here we are with an EP and a cassette release to follow (through Pizza Tomb Records).
Posway finding himself exactly where he wants to be: author of some of the year’s catchiest, sugar-high romps fuzzed out by the noisey reverb of his beloved shoegaze. A collection of earworm, jangle-pop hooks that peaks with the dueling vocal melodies and pitch-shifted My Bloody Valentine inspired guitar centerpiece of “Annelise.” Transforming cheesy into adorable, boy-meets-girl innocence a la twee-inspired Pains of Being Pure At Heart. And the serious to cutesy ratio is fucking right. - Will Guerin
17. Another Noise Walks In – SIMUVAC
Grafton Tanner’s a busy guy. Recently adding Programs (whose Promises EP deserves an honorable mention), to an already lengthy list of bands he took up drumming duties for in 2013: The Desarios (now defunct), scooterbabe and Tedo Stone. Not to mention his role as the frontman and creator of the on again, off again, post-punk/shoegaze band Dylar. And then there’s SIMUVAC, his formerly solo-electronic project that’s recently been re-worked as a full band undertaking – Another Noise Walks In finding us in this earlier period, reflecting the largely-sample based output.
It could be construed as dancey, but it doesn’t seem to be it’s true function (though a head-bob here or there wouldn’t be out of place). Instead, working more as a dark-lit, elevator ride to the top of some skyscraper, rushing away from the glow of the city below it. An amalgamation of both original compositions and lifted samples that showcase Tanner’s musical library (why yes, that is Radiohead’s “National Anthem” paired up against the dulcet baritone of Interpol’s Paul Banks in “Leif Erikson”). An unassuming release that was once relegated to a Bandcamp-only release, but has since been pulled as Tanner works towards SIMUVAC’s first full band release. - Will Guerin
16. Lives – FUTURE APE TAPES
It’s hard to imagine taking a stand-alone track from Lives and hearing it the same way you would amidst the momentum of the full album. Even using the word transition to describe the movement from track to track would be misleading as the psychedelic, noisey haze shifts directions so subtley, almost irregardless of the self-imposed separations. Using maximalist walls of distorted guitars, looped feedback and echoed vocals in a minimalist drone that makes focusing on any one point in the album difficult. Instead, working inwards to assume an almost camouflaged non-existence that drifts in and out of your consciousness.
And it’s hard not to marvel at an album that unravels without the friction of the studio, playing out like one-long, drug induced take that captures the thought behind every muffled, lyrical murmuring. An intuitive and fundamental knowledge at work, aware of which experimental discordance will lead into the next. - Will Guerin
15. Lord of Talk – Hand Sand Hands
Chances are, if your friend gets flown out to St. Petersburg, Russia for sound design and recording duties, he’s probably pretty good. And fifty takes later, the monologue from George Buchner’sclicks with saliva, crackling mechanics of the mouth laid in front of Lord of Talk’sopening track, “Before Home.” It’s an offensive pairing, with the overblown sludge of looping electronics and jilted percussion violating the crisp air that precedes it. Production that mutilates and scrapes clean with deafening volume – pushing the levels to distort the fidelity and render the samples beyond the point of recognition, like a serial killer ripping the teeth out of a corpse before chucking it into the river. “Is it supposed to sound like this?”
And with his samples, Jon Miller (Athens transplant via-Minneapolis) forces layers, step-by-step, into an inter-locking, throbbing mess that gets constructed and demolished in the course of a song. Incorporating his own primal moans and droning wails, breathless screams and chants that struggle to top the noise mechanically grinding away around him. Repeated sequences of collected sounds that juxtapose the carnival-esque fluorescents that twinkle and chime with cataclysms of speaker rattling bass. It’s one step removed from the immediacy of human emotion, given just enough melody and structure to make it a palatable translation. - Will Guerin
14. Street Names EP – Brothers
Nostalgia is swinging back and forth between regret and pleasure as you look over a spread of photographs of rooms you can’t laugh in and people you don’t know anymore. Street Names, in its emotional fatigue, chooses not to unequivocally cherish rosy-eyed retrospection. Instead, decidedly reminding you more and more of the love and innocence carried away by time, in exchange for a detached sort of pain. It’s the dark side to reminiscing over your wide-eyed innocence, to realize a shell of happiness that you’ve outgrown and lost in time as you stare ahead uncertainly.
And the obvious sentimental attraction to the sun-bleached fuzz of Ryan Gray Moore’s guitar tone – like running your fingers over the burnt covers of books yellowed by years of disuse– is part empathic connection and part catharsis. Moore’s vocals reminding you with their brittle glow of vulnerability and shrill honesty that “With that line of sight, you’ll need a light to hold / When the street feels cold and they all fold, I won’t.” Wounded and maze-like poetry that calmly posits the loneliness of “How far alone I will run tonight” without lapsing into a depressive finality. Knowing that out of the aching disconnect of nostalgic benders into old birthday cards develops a beauty of maturity. Recognition that within the grieving horns and rejected sounds of crumpled and discarded paper at the beginning of “New Walls,” there still beats the heart of the foundation, a pulsating bass line that triumphantly admits to the pain -“I caught you, I swallowed you, some part of me is you.”
A line that in effect, answers Peter Bjorn and John’s, “Objects of My Affection,” debate, “was I more alive then than I am now?” with a confident “I happily have to disagree…I cry more often now, I am more me.” A realization that Moore’s cathartic build – the technical wizardry of his swirling guitar interplay that satisfies as it crashes into a unified climax – is the resulting exploration inward and the re-birth of self, shaped, not crippled by the pain of nostalgia. - Will Guerin
13. In The Middle Of Everything – Nurture
First off, shout-out to Russell Koons for releasing this on his own jump-start label, Pizza Tomb Records. We should all take a moment to recognize Russell and the countless others in Athens who are willing to use their own money to put out music for other bands. Mad props to them because while it may not be easy, it’s certainly badass.
Second of all, drummer Sasha’s artwork stands out on its own. I’ve always been very fond over the presentation of his album artwork (maybe it’s because of my admiration for Jacob Bannon of Converge). The package art for this 10” is ridiculously cool, and I definitely think that kind of stuff goes a long way. It may be cheesy, but I’m down with aesthetics.
Finally, Nurture keeps getting better. Not only does the genre of “screamo” get a bad rep, but, if history repeats itself, it will probably die out in Athens in a few years. For the time being, Nurture doesn’t care about either of these factors. Their first demo kind of reminded me of a more poppy I Hate Myself, with some mathy lead parts thrown in there. This newest release certainly doesn’t shy away from complicated song structures and reliance on really sweet high guitar parts, but does so in a more accesible and mature way.
In The Middle Of Everything is definitely an underappreciated Athens release, given the lack of similar bands in Athens and the heavy/soft dynamic not seen very often. If you’ve seen the band over the past few months, you’ve probably noticed they even expanded on their sound. I definitely can’t wait for them to written about next year in one of these end-of-the-year lists. - Brian McGhee
12. Almost Nothing – Places to Hide
Proceeding with the brash insolence of youth, “the summer is so hot and I just want to have sex with you,” Places To Hide strikes a balance between whine and angst. Establishing the dreadful nothingness of generation elsewhere in lines like “I sleep like I’ve lived to long, fucked up six days a week” and cutting straight to the emotion of “the dirt that they call young blood.”
And what better than scuzzy guitars, off-the-wall drumming and screamed choruses to score the embarrassingly confessional lyricism of Kyle Swick, explaining in their Facebook about section that “Crying in public is completely acceptable when it’s backed by a melody.” And when you’re able to weep so eloquently, with an endless stream of quotable lyrics, I can’t disagree. I’m just thankful that all their lyrics are up on their Bandcamp page. - Will Guerin
11. Bodyfather – Bodyfather
I remember playing with this band back in June and being blown away by how great they were. If I had to describe their sound, I can’t help but to think of a mix between Twelve Hour Turn’s “Perfect Progress, Perfect Destruction” and some off-breed The Jesus Lizard sound. The thing I always enjoyed about both of those bands (and also most Steve Albini bands) is they 1) manage to write really catchy, heavy riffs 2) rely upon simple and effective bass parts to carry the songs, and 3) just write good, rock-inspired songs.
Take for example the opening track “Tongue Flux” – it manages to follow a pretty formulaic song structure, based around the open G-string, octave chords, and a simple bass line (please exclude the insane riffs that come through near the end). AAANNNDDD this isn’t even a knock! They just know how to write REALLY well-written songs that flow, which to me is perfect. I love the fact I can listen to non-awkward transitions, well-written bridge parts, and dissonant riffs (my favorite) over foundational bass parts or simple palm muted power chords.
90’s inspired rock riffs live on in a day convoluted by bad indie that will never sound like Pavement, “music” similar to me getting my phone too close to a dial-up connection, and poorly-written Pitchfork reviews (I’ve never even heard of most of those adjectives). With New Year’s right around the corner, my resolution is booking Bodyfather with Athens’ very own The Powder Room. - Brian McGhee
10. holey smokes – el hollín
One thing I love about Athens is the immediacy of its music. Big production values and ostentation are often traded for raw emotion. Lo-fi folk-pop outfit el hollín leaves the pretense behind on their latest full length Holey Smokes. You would be hard pressed to find a collection of songs more earnest than these. The songs themselves are not long, but each one succeeds in evoking the passion and melancholy of a fairytale youth. I’m not embarrassed to admit this was the album I found myself listening to alone on bus rides or in my bedroom while daydreaming of days gone by.
It’s easy to picture frontwoman Dena Zilber singing her heart out in the back room of someone’s 80 year old house to a crowd of twenty-somethings that won’t let their youth escape them so quickly. There are a couple awkward stumbles during the album that don’t detract from its overall quality. If anything, the awkward moments make it even more endearing. There’s quite a bit of heartfelt honesty in the lyrics, and it’s because of that honesty that listeners are so eager to buy into the picture being depicted. el hollín knows how to connect to people with their music, and Holey Smokes contains the group’s best songwriting to date – making listeners actually feel something, and we’re better for it. - Patrick Boyle
9. Tunes of Glory – Faster Circuits
On Tunes of Glory, the debut album from Faster Circuits, project of Derek Almstead, Almstead’s songwriting takes center stage. Almstead is perhaps best known as a bassist of of Montreal and as a sound engineer and producer closely tied to the Elephant 6 collective, and he also shared songwriting duties with Anthony Gonzales on one of my all time personal favorite Athens records, M Coast’s Say It In Slang.
Tunes of Glory consists of intimate, psychedelic pop songs, and Almstead’s songwriting voice distinctly emerges, while sharing stylistic comparisons with Elephant 6 recordings. “Relativity Obscurity” will stay in your head for weeks, “Liebe fur Machinen” is anthemic, something to wake up to, and “Festival Echoes”, perhaps the album’s most poignant track and my favorite local track of the year, unfolds as a somber love letter to Athens and its people: “Some of you can’t drink anymore, some of you want too much of the score, some of you get to close to the sun, some of you don’t have anything but the one…”. An excellent album from one of Athens most talented musicians.
- Alec Livaditis
8. Nom De Plume – TaterZandra
The soft, strummed opening of “Phalanges” that warmly clicks on the rim of the snare wouldn’t sound out of place on Dana Swimmer’s Veloce. A comparison the band would probably hate, assuming they even know who Dana Swimmer is – a comment not to be taken as a jab, because why would they? The members of TaterZandra are elder statesman of the Athens scene, professionals far removed from house parties and my trivial, post Live in the Lobby interview questions. And the vicious escape that follows on “Phalanges” punches home this ideal – an escalating build of cascading guitar noise that collapses upon itself, bridging a new melody out of the wreckage.
And it’s the band’s ability that allows them to pair the playful flair of moments like McKenna Mackie’s school-yard chanted vocals on songs like “Ururme” with the noisy, yet contained complexity of their mathy and post-harcore inspired builds. Contradictory positions that dissolve and remerge seamlessly – Mackie’s cooing, femme fatale whisper opening on “Bahrain” resolving into Kim Gordon-esque outbursts and throat wrenching shrieks. A disparity that dynamically plots its movements, lending more meaning to when the shit actually hits the fan with a calm before the storm mentality. - Will Guerin
7. Impressions – Quiet Evenings
Quiet Evenings is the electronic project consisting of the combined efforts of married couple, Rachel and Grant Evans. It is easy to label the music on Impressions as just “ambient” but in doing so, the scope of this two track album might be lost. Impressions is not a hollow, Eno-derivative to serve as a backdrop to your life (not that I don’t love Brian Eno). Instead, Impressions grabs you by the hair and holds you, floating in its synth and loop filled space.
Each track is repetitive – taking a passage or an idea and slowly repeating it with slight variations on each repetition until the final product feels nothing like the original. Noises, melodic lines, synths, and vocal bits all undergo this transformation as each part builds upon the last. In less capable hands, this could be cause for criticism, but the Evans duo know exactly what they are doing. The way each sound fades in and out creates a tension and release that prevents anyone who plays this record from giving anything but their full attention. It’s the kind of music that will make a person pause for moment and drift into a 40 minute daze without realizing it. Their live show only reinforces the authenticity of the music on Impressions as they meticulously create sounds in sync. The experimental music scene is one that is really starting to grow and take hold in Athens, and fortunately, Quiet Evenings is part of it. - Patrick Boyle
6. Audition Tapes – T. Hardy Morris
With Audition Tapes, we see the Dead Confederate frontman trading in the mountainous walls of dark, Southern nightmares for a life as the western drifter turned singer-songwriter. Yes, the type that would always have a toothpick dangling from his mouth as he looks out westward, wistfully considering the fading sunset. And yes, I fulfilled my obligatory quota for Dead Confederate mentions, continuing what must be an annoying trend for someone so obviously striking anew from that other band.
But with the strength of his solo debut, you kind of have to wonder how much longer the comparisons will be relevant. Catchy and confident songwriting that begs the question – where was this on the thunderous In The Marrow? Maybe it’s the desolate loneliness of the slide guitar or the raw grit of Hardy’s bare vocals paired against Thayer Sarrano’s grey intonations that make the difference here. But it’s hard not to take songs like “Disaster Proof” and re-imagine them fleshed out, brooding and towering under the control of…well you know who. - Will Guerin
5. Baba Yaga - Futurebirds
At Futurebirds shows, the drunken masses crammed into the Georgia Theatre and the accompanying showers of Natty Light (that are just as likely to come from the guys on stage as they are from the frat guys behind you) don’t scream maturity. A silly album title like Baba Yaga doesn’t help their case either. Until you hear the name’s Slavic folklore background that functions as a metaphorical nod to the intangible mystique of an album that floated out in the abyss for months until it was picked up by Fat Possum Records and made into a reality.
And with the caterwauling country-rock cats restlessly anticipating the green light for their second LP, it’s hard to gear yourself up for what a patient album Baba Yagabecame. Despite the enormous pressure of a sophomore release that’s forced to deal with it’s near-perfect predecessor, a big-boy label like Fat Possum Records looking over their shoulders and a “this might be our one shot at making it” mentality. It’s an album devoid of nervous studio energy, allowing each song to develop naturally, tentatively exploring and poking about. A constructive form that’s not afraid to offer a glimpse of it’s own creation and growth as the song takes shape within itself. Confident that their collective work, a trade-off of songwriting duties between Carter King, Thomas Johnson and Daniel Womack, will bring about some fruitful end-results as long as they keep toying with the slide-guitar and plucking away at their banjos. With a lyrical spectrum that juxtaposes morbidity (“Death Awaits”, “Heavy Weights”) with careless youth (“Tan Lines”, “Virginia Slims”) in a swath of stream-of-consciousness honesty that chooses not to censor what a life on tour means – knowing full well that it could all dissolve away into the after-glow of Baba Yaga’s sunset, St. Summercamp. – Will Guerin
4. Invisible Magnetic – The New Sound of Numbers
In her essay on the often unheralded, early Athens band Oh-Ok, Grace Elizabeth Haley comments on the role of child’s play as aesthetic in early Athens music culture: “I felt that many of the musicians and artists I knew somehow hung on to a magical, let’s pretend approach to interacting with the world common among children. Revisiting the music, performance styles, and visual art of the period, I found references to children’s play everywhere: in songs, paintings, photographs, installations, and films, in a pervasive celebration of amateurism and primitivism, and in the crazy free form dancing that erupted wherever bands played”.
Bands such as Pylon, the Method Actors, and Limbo District shared this performance aesthetic, and the New Sound of Numbers’ Invisible Magnetic, through the creative vision and vibrant artwork of Hannah Jones, reflects these styles. Invisible Magnetic is full of wonder, well-arranged, and rhythmically-focused. The combination of brass, 12-string guitar, violin, and synth tones come together in a way that sonically resembles Krautrock, often evoking moments of music concrète. More importantly, it is hard to imagine a record like this being made anywhere but Athens. Spiritually, Invisible Magnetic screams Athens thick and thin, yet it asserts itself as an entity as its own. Invisible Magnetic is positive, catchy, percussively-driving, brimming with creativity, and creates its own world to invite you into. In my opinion, it’s the best record to come out of Athens in 2013. - Alec Livaditis
3. No One Is On My Side (For You)/Withdrawn/I’ll Never Be The Same – Muuy Biien
Is it a cop out to pair these two EPs together in our list? You betcha, but we did it anyway. And chances are, you’ll recognize the name Muuy Biien and slap the hardcore punker label on these guys, famous for the spectacle of their live performances and personalities. So it’s a bit hard to explain the low-lit, slow moving ambient pieces that comprise Muuy Biien’s 2013 releases. Sure, This Is What Your Mind Imagines took a few breathers with some noisey interludes but it’s a far cry from the soft washes of honeyed color that subtly drift above some black abyss on No One… and Withdrawn/I’ll Never Be The Same. It’d seem to make more sense to categorize these releases under a different monicker, as both appear to be the solo work of Joshua Evans, Muuy Biien’s front-man.
But regardless of such a departure in genre, they still function surprisingly well in the overall discography of the young band. It’s a different take on the raw, barren emotion of their first album, focusing on the serene gloom of loneliness rather than brawling fist fights and guttural roars. Pure tones that float in slow-motion, subtly shaped by the light breeze of the glowing static that unconsciously frames each piece. Frustratingly beautiful in the sense that I’ll never be able to throw enough words into this review to capture the mood and thought such minimalism can evoke. Forgive my attempts to do so. - Will Guerin
2. King Baby – Green Gerry
When he’s not shirking behind the ghostly hiss and echo of the tape recorder, Gerry Green of Green Gerry splits his time between Los Angeles and Athens, making him a questionable addition to this list of everything Georgia. But Los Angeles already has enough going on, so we figured we could quietly stake our claim in what used to be exclusively ours.
At any rate, it seems like he’d be spiritually closer to Georgia given his experimental-production leanings that run parallel to Atlanta’s Atlas Sound. Emphasizing what Bradford Cox has made a career out of: that the song structure and development is just as important as the world surrounding it. Soundscapes that give Green’s noisey folk the languid and faded dejection of distorted vocals, overexposed guitars and cathedral-echoed reverb. Collages of sound often held together by the light, insistent beat of a half-heartedly shook tambourine. And maybe that’s the thread that holds together the lush discordance and fragile emotion of King Baby – sorrow mixed with an apathy of hopelessness that’s glossed over and cast aside. Occasionally erupting in a blackened cloud of anxiety and fear, struggling to reach a resolution that never comes. – Will Guerin
1. Monomania – Deerhunter
With the lyric “finding the fluorescents in the junk,” Bradford Cox wrenches the soft, Northern Lights exposure of shoegaze-heavy Halycon Digest into the harsh, neon-red sign welcoming the gritty, refuse littered wasteland that is Monomania. The songwriting is as strong as ever, but such emphasis is put on the guitar and vocal tonality whose lo-fi, discordant crunch reverberates and peaks with the textural feedback of stepping on broken glass. And as the readings drift further into the red it seems to paradoxically punch harder at what Cox works towards. Something about the percussive guitar abuse makes the open road of “Pensacola” feel so expansive, alive and green. Strangulation that makes the foaming mouth, obsessive insanity of title track, “Monomania” so consuming as it builds to its hair-pulling psychosis.
It’s the instability of his own cult of personality that he is mining, the notion that everything could fall apart mid-onstage rant about child labor – that the weakness and insecurity of television appearances in drag could fatally devastate. A patient decay of mind that allows for the vanity of an ego worth exposing, worth emulating in your own unconscious lapse of ad nauseam, ‘monomania’ chanting. -Will Guerin