So many great albums have dropped in the past year that I don’t know how to even make a list of the ones that I liked. How many can I list? Fifty? Sixty? More? Music blogs and magazines have already put out their top albums of 2013 lists. Some, such as Rolling Stone, have listed 50; NPR has 100 favourite songs and 50 favourite records; PopMatters lists 75 best albums of 2013; and many others have lists for every genre (tip: if you want to get a smattering of what was happening in metal last year, do check out Stereogum’s top 50 in that loud genre; I was happy when I took a peek there to see the only metal album of last year that I bought, Deafheaven’s Sunbather, was No.1). Read more
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I’m writing this with my headphones jammed on my ears and the volume cranked up high. It is an ill-advised thing to do. Because I’m listening to a band called Pig Destroyer. They’re from Washington DC and they play a genre of music that is known as grindcore. Grindcore is loud. LOUD. It is probably the heaviest, most distorted and abrasive kind of music that I have ever heard. I’ve heard various types of heavy metal–doom, death and thrash metal, Japanese bands that routinely blow out the audience’s eardrums and cause nosebleeds and heart attacks and others of their ilk from the US and Europe. But nothing comes close to what I’m getting fed into my ears via my headphones right now. Read more

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I’d thought I’d be able to give Bob Dylan’s new album a good long listen and then perhaps write my two bits about it in this instalment of DC. Tempest, Dylan’s 35th album, came out on September 11; I managed to get hold of it a couple of days later but before I could properly listen to it, the deadline of this column was upon me (Brunch goes to press really early in the week and its editor is quite a strict disciplinarian when it comes to deadlines). I don’t know about you but I just can’t casually listen to any of Dylan’s albums, particularly a brand new one from a living legend who is now 71. Dylan’s isn’t by any stretch ambient music. It requires focused listening. Read more

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If you’ve ever heard Gogol Bordello play, particularly at one of their adrenalin charged live concerts, the last thing you’ll do is classify them as folk musicians. This nine-member band from New York’s gritty Lower East Side is raucous and boisterous and I’ve seen them described somewhere as “demented”. After listening to a couple of live recordings, I wouldn’t dream of calling their gypsy infused, non-stop, high-energy performances folk music, at least not by the conventional yardstick of what that genre represents. Their music has elements of East European gypsy music, western punk and alternative rock. Not surprisingly, Gogol Bordello, led by frontman and singer Eugene Hutz, an Ukrainian-American, is described as a gypsy-punk band. I’ll tell you why I mentioned the folk music genre in a few seconds but first a bit about Gogol Bordello. Read more

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When I was small and taking the first baby steps into the world of popular music, it was a few vinyls that one of my uncles played on which I cut my teeth. Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley… he even had a Nana Mouskouri album. I actually remember the Nat King Cole album that he had—a 10-inch LP named Nat King Cole Sings For Two in Love (the slightly tattered cover—it was released in the early1950—didn’t show King Cole but a white couple who seemed to be out on a date). The eight or ten songs on that album, as on most of my uncle’s vinyls, were about love. I was seven or eight when I heard those records and quite possibly didn’t know what the heck they were about but they were an introduction to pop songs, jazz, blues and all of what shaped my later taste in music. Read more

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Ten years; nine studio albums; two live ones; a couple of collaborations; and a reputation for serving up live concerts that never disappoint. Yet this is a band that still remains below the radar. That’s what I like about the hard-working southern rockers from the US, Drive-By Truckers. That and the fact that this is a band that is unabashedly upfront about their red-neckish background – they are based in Athens (Georgia) but originally hail from Alabama. I also like the fact that they nearly always record their albums on retro analog tapes. And insist on vinyl releases. Read more

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I think it was some time in 2002 that a tech-forward friend dropped by to show off his newly-acquired toy, an iPod. It was a first-generation model with a capacity of 10 gigabytes. That meant, he bragged to me, that he could carry in his pocket 2000 songs and listen to them via a pair of white ear-buds anywhere he wanted to. “Just listen to the sound,” he gloated, “it’s like carrying an entire library of music with you.” I was skeptical (and, I must admit, a bit of Luddite too) when I popped the ear-buds in and heard his classic rock selections. I think it was Cream’s SWLABR (which deliciously expands into She Was Like A Bearded Rainbow, circa 1967) that got piped in first and I complained about how the bass was muted; the treble was tinny and so on. “Go away and take that stupid iPod with you,” I sneered. Read more

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On my long commute to and from work, I’m often faced with a dilemma: what do I listen to? Sometimes it’s not hard to find an answer. A new album could be out and I’d give it a spin on the iPod or on the car stereo. Or I’d be obsessed with a new band that I’d discovered and go through everything on their back catalogue, listening to every album they’d released. This has happened with a few bands that I just couldn’t get out of my head for weeks. Some bands have that effect on you. Early this year, The National did that to me—I couldn’t stop listening to them–as did Broken Social Scene, the Canadian collective that makes great orchestrated, experimental music. But, at other times choosing a playlist for a commute that is at its best an hour long and at its worst nearly double that can be quite difficult. Read more

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Sometimes there comes along a week that you wish you could rewind and do it again in a better way. Last week was one of those. Stress, tension, unhappiness, frustration all rolled into one big bad week. It’s over now, thankfully but I’m still reeling from the collateral damage it wrought: for the greater part of last week I couldn’t find time to listen to music. Of course, there was enough stuff coming my direction—via RSS feeds, my online music store accounts and a host of mp3 blogs—but I just couldn’t get down to exploring them. Up until the very end of the week when my mood was suddenly and very pleasantly lifted by a donkey’s jawbone. Read more

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As I write this (and roughly a week before you read it), the mother of all music festivals is underway at Austin, Texas. It’s the South by South-West festival, commonly referred to as SXSW, and has been on for the past 23 years. In 1994, in addition to music, SXSW included film and interactive media conferences and has now become an important fixture on the world’s film festival circuit. But it is the music that is at the core of SXSW and what really excites me about this annual festival that happens in March. Read more

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