As the year end best-of lists roll in, I've noticed a few things notably missing: 1) the risk that most reviewers are taking (e.g. turning over rocks, looking at digital-only and self-released records) continues to shrink and 2) the flyover country of U.S. is woefully underrepresented, while places like Los Angeles, Brooklyn and San Francisco continue to snatch up most of our national bandwidth. It strikes me more and more that if one isn't from coastal America, it's harder to reach much more than a regional audience, regardless of the quality of your art. Of course, all this is somewhat speculative, not based on a particular data set or something, but it's what's informing our year end list. The following are the records we listened to a bunch in 2013, were moved by, and felt like needed to be talked about a bit more.
BEST RECORD OF 2013: Federation X: We Do What We Must. Always a bit of an outsider within the world of stoner/loud rock circles because of their melodies, strong audible vocals and vulnerablity, in 2013 Bellingham, Washington's Federation X released a record that sits well atop a roughly ten year career of putting out really good records. We Do What We Must marks the bands biggest investment in recording, and boasts the best set of sounds on records recorded by greats like Tim Green and Steve Albini. Songs wise, this record hasn't got a single dud. This record more than any other has this band fully comfortable with their sound, and only sounding like themselves, which is to say like a hard rock band with no bassist*, a burley drummer and Bill singing. (*actually, there's bass guitar on this record).
RUNNER UP: Gay Witch Abortion: Opportunistic Smokescreen Behavior. If you're a man who longs for his cotton/poly thrift-acquired fertilizer company jacket, gallons of domestic lager, cigarettes, gasoline that cost about $1.05 and all the other trappings of 1990s underground life, let me introduce you to the time-warp of a band that is Gay Witch Abortion. Two pieces, guitar and drums, a heap of cool shit like octave pedals and songs with names like Congolese Freedom Taxi*, Gay Witch Abortion isn't trying to remind me of the best of the Dope Guns and Fucking comps, they just are playing tunes that would easily stand up to the best of the Cows, Hammerhead and all the rest. (*not an actual song title).
RUNNER UP: Miss Lana Rebel and Kevin Michael Mayfield: A Real Subtle Beauty. It's hard as hell to deny the power of (Tucson, AZ's) Lana and Kevin's music, even if it's delivered on a pretty simple CDR in a paper sleeve, it's a good reminder that some of the best music out there isn't striving for anybody's attention, doesn't have media nor radio campaigns behind it, and even without those trappings it can have the haunting beauty of a sunrise in a saguaro-studded valley in southern Arizona.
Mr. Dad: Deadliest Catch 5". Well, it's not an long-player, but it's great. This Minot, ND band's renewed our faith that good things occasionally come from small places. Mr. Dad's deal is kind of spazzy punk rock, thoroughly informed by the great local scene that is Minot, ND. I'm really looking forward to a full length.
Ben Von Wildenhaus: Great Melodies from Around. Rainy Seattle has always been a cultural backwater, at least on the national scene. Sub Pop used this fact to their advantage and made it seem like all their late '80s/early '90s groups were erstwhile loggers and millworkers, which nobody really was. Ben Von Wildenhaus has been plying his solo guitar music for a lot of years now, and this record actually was released in late 2011, but I'm in favor of calling it a 2013 release, because that's when I got my copy. It's a goddamn winner of a record, with a familiarity that means that you'll flip it about half a dozen times before realizing it's what you've been listening to exclusively
Mordecai: College Rock. Butte, Montana shit rock whose tunes make me think of groups like the Swell Maps and the Fall, though those comparisons are a little weak, mostly because Mordecai sounds like a Rustbelt American psych band, somehow misplaced in the Rockies in the 2010s. What's nice about Mordecai is their vibe, which they've comfortably fit into from day one. I still regularly listen to their first CDR.
Needlecraft: S/T. Hana and Mikki are two of our favorite Missoulians, and this record marks one of the most fruitful collaborations we've seen come from Western Montana is at least a decade. Needlecraft have some girl group Ronnie Spector stuff happening, some Shags fumbling, and awesome attitude.
The Blind Shake: Key To A False Door. Minneapolis' Blind Shake spent a month and a half on the road with the Oh Sees, which probably roughly sextuppled their audience and gave us some hope for the kind of annoying garage scene with its itchy-eBay fingered fanboys, tight jeaned Pabst drinkers, Ray Bans and all the other recycled cultural offal from whenever. I mean, fuck it, some of the stuff like Warm Soda, Shannon and the Clams and Thee Oh Sees is really well done and fun, and some of it's just overhyped, and thoroughly mediocre. So it goes, but the Blind Shake we're sure, with their non-partying cold stun-guitar shit don't really fit in with most of what is going on in the nouveau garage world, and we like their outsiderness and moreover we like their songs and their live show. The Blaha bros and Jim Roper are a serious force to be reckoned with.
Dreamsalon: Thirteen Nights. Craig Chambers' (the Lights) and Min Yee's, (A-Frames) newish group is a great example that a band can be great, and have the modest aim of making great music, and that's about it. Actually, I'm speculating that's the case because I didn't read anywhere near enough about this record, which is excellent in pretty much every way.
INTERNATIONAL FLYOVER NOTE: Dead: Idiots. Dead are the one Melbourne, Australia band that fit pretty squarely outside of the world of the Eddy Currents, the Cunts and all the rest of the garage guys who've been reviving the attention that message boards like Terminal Boredom seem to give the southern hemisphere. Dead are like a weirder Motorhead or something, thoroughly fans of the Melvins and Karp, and making loud weird bassy, riffed out tunes about cats.
NON FLYOVER SPECIAL MENTIONS: Vaz: Visiting Hours. Vaz do currently have a cool zip code (Brooklyn) that they call home, but it's important to note, as with Lord Dying, they're from as un-cool a part of the country (Fargo/Moorehead) as one really can be from, so, they made the list. And their weird space race, soviet futuristic paranoiac rock and roll fits into a genre currently populated by only Vaz, and we love that fact.
Lord Dying: Summon the Faithless. Lord Dying is a Portland band, which officially isn't flyover country, but with half of its members from Utah, and one from Memphis, they're pretty much a stocked with flyover dudes whose hard work shows through pretty much from the first note. There's an unquestionable nod to Tom Warrior and Martin Ain's collaborations, but this thing gives us some hope that metal isn't all godawful backlooking hesher bullshit, or of the dreaded nu variety these days.
Shannon and the Clams: Dreams in the Rat House. This record grew and grew and grew on me in a way that kind of left me needing to hear it at least once a day to be reminded again how good it is. The talent runs incredibly deep with Shannon and Cody, and this record is their third, and runs equally deep with their themes of sleep, agoraphobia and anxiety
Hundred Visions: Permanent Basement. Austin group Hundred Visions deserves to immediately double its audience, strictly for the pop genius and great video associated with Where Do I Sign from their self-released (we think) Permanent Basement LP. This record is the recorded music version of books "pager turner" which is to say, it's a flipper. Kept getting flipped for about 5 weeks in our house. Kind of a power pop/British invasion deal, kind of a handful of things, but at the end of the day, it's a sound they wear well and own completely.
If you’ve traveled much around the country, you know that Missoula has a reputation. Say you’re from Missoula, and people will instantly bring up fly fishing or the Testicle Festival. It’s awkward to explain that, um, I don’t really do any of those things. When I think Missoula, I think basement rock shows, beardy dude metal bands and non-ironic country swing dances. I think of thumping dubstep beats and brainy hip-hop emcees. I think of weird experimental noise-rock and banjo players on the sidewalk. Yes, I live here for the music. Seriously. And a look back at some highlights of 2013 makes me proud to say that if you love live music, Missoula is a great place to be.
Firstly, if it’s intimate, cozy shows where you can get close enough to smell the lead singer’s whiskey breath and buy him a beer afterward, we have those in spades. Fucked Up and the Menzingers, two of the biggest names in punk rock, played to raucous crowds within a few days of each other in February. Rocker-turned-motivational-party-maestro Andrew W.K. inspired a packed Palace crowd to pogo in spring. Rappers Aesop Rock and Busdriver performed for a packed house at the Badlander. And Drag the River, one of my all-time favorite bands, played a super intimate (read: boozy) set at Monk's on the Sunday after Total Fest.
When it comes to small spaces containing big sounds, not much could beat the twelfth edition of Total Fest. It was full of countless memorable moments, like when comedian Reggie Watts performed a surprise set that packed the VFW on Saturday. Or when the singer from Brain Tumors writhed around, crowd-surfed and almost kicked a certain Indy staffer in the head. And Red Fang closed out the last night of Total Fest with heavy-as-hell metal in a beyond-capacity venue that felt well over 100 degrees. The mosh pit was a joyous slip-and-side of sweat, and I, for one, had to wring out my shirt after the set.
We routinely host awesome touring acts, but I’m proud of our talented locals, too. Missoula denizens above a certain age fondly remember Jay’s Upstairs, a small punk venue above a laundromat that closed in 2006. Some of that magic was recreated when the space, now the swanky private Loft of Missoula club, reopened as Jay’s for one night as a fundraiser. Reptile Dysfunction, J.C. Auto and other venerated bands from the Jay’s days got back together to rock out. It was a good thing they put away the blown glass artwork for the evening, because that show certainly got rowdy.
Nostalgia aside, Missoulians remain happy to get together to try something weird, as we saw at Rock 'n Roll Lotto. This noble experiment brought together local musicians into randomly assigned bands, who then had a few weeks to practice together for a one-off show at the VFW. Argentinean flute players wound up with punk rock bassists. Metalheads worked with folkies. The night drew together representatives from almost every music scene in town to party down. And while the excellence of Vomit Cop and Traumaboner might never be repeated again, I’m stoked to see how Rock Lotto II, slated for Feb. 1 at the Palace, brings the weird.
And it’s hard to talk about concerts without the necessary vehicle for them: venues. Spaces come and go, but we rounded out the year better than we started. It was a blow to DIY, all-ages shows when Zoo City Apparel closed its brick-and-mortar storefront on Main Street, but thankfully, the ZACC basement came back online to help fill the gap. (Notably, Northwest punk faves RVIVR played a heartfelt set there surrounded by an earnest crowd.) The Top Hat re-opened after a thorough remodel and a new venue, Stage 112, opened inside the Elk’s Lodge, adding spruced-up spaces and sound systems to the mix.
It’s hard to pick my favorite moment from this past year, but one particular evening in mid-October will stay with me for a long time—at least, what I remember through the PBR haze. At the Palace, sludge-rock-destroyers Kylesa played a ferocious set at the Palace. After Kylesa, I scooted over to the VFW, a few blocks away, to catch most of Thee Oh Sees’ bouncy surf-rock set. There’s not many cities in the country where that would be so easy or cheap to do. When I visit cities like Seattle or LA, I’m always excited to go see bands that don’t often play in Missoula, until I remember frustrating logistics like battling traffic to get to the venue, finding parking, expensive cover charges and pricey drinks. By a trick of our geography—and the hard work of dozens of promoters and venue managers—we host established national acts, cutting-edge independent bands and creative local minds, all within a small distance.
Missoula has room to improve, certainly. (If someone wants to start an all-woman rock band called The Ellen Degenerates, I would absolutely buy that T-shirt. Just saying.) Looking ahead, early 2014 is already filling up with events I’m unashamedly stoked about, like Reel Big Fish. Rock on, Missoula.
While I don't believe that Fullerton, California's Audacity (or the Audacity, there seems to be both on the internet) is named for the president's memoir, they're still all right in my book. Why? Well, mostly because of the fact that they take two kinds of music that I quite prefer, pop and punk, and prove that occasionally, yes on very rare occasions, you can do both things at once. Pumping melody into punk energy, or vice versa. Or something.
I refuse to believe the words "pop punk" to have anything but a pejorative connotation, so I guess I don't know how to neatly file them for you. Punk energy. Pop melody. Great songs, don't worry about it, I guess. They're a DIY rock band, man. They remind me of Red Kross. There should be an opportunity for pogoing.
Audacity played behind one of my all-time favorite musicians, Todd Congelliere at Total Fest IX, back in 2010, and were pretty awesome then. That three years has passed and they've released this incredible Mellow Cruisers record in the interim only makes me pretty sure this show's going to thoroughly slay. It happens this Saturday, December 7th at the ZACC Below, 232 N. 1st West, is all-ages welcomed, and starts with a pot-luck at 7PM. $6 at the door.
Here are five more reasons (hey, who doesn't love a list!)
1) Armaund Hammer: a new Missoula band with John Samuel Brown, longtime KBGA guy, belting out great punk rock tunes.
2) The Whoopass Girls: Ethan from King Elephant's other band. Their 2013 release More Soda is a total ripper.
3) My Two Dads: Thug Nasties guys' new thing, pretty much 80s California hardcore.
4) 64 Tuna: Barrow bros outfit. Food, bodily function obsessed. Sort of like the Descendents!
5) All-Ages: One price. If you're a tween, a full-fledged teen, twenty-something-or-other, or a fill-in-the-blank-old-ass grump like me, there are prescious few opportunities for folks of all-ages to get together and enjoy some loud rock and roll in 2013. Thanks to the ZACC for providing their space for this kind of thing.
A wordpress blog called "secrets from a historic diary" reveals excerpts from a 100-year-old diary found in a Missoula dumpster. The blog writer is an unnamed ethnoarcheologist who also comments on the diary's contents, which offer a look into a woman's life on the ranch plus details about hangings, home births, streetcars and fashion, like boys in dresses. It's an interesting look at Missoula from a different time, given context by a pretty engaging blogger.
In a recent blog post, on Nov. 23, the writer reveals an entry from March 1922 and adds some commentary:
Diary: "Glen came down on the stage with Jay & he came up here & took Ruth down town for supper & the show. Mama & Aunt Lue decided about nine p.m. they better get busy with a few little necessities for my room so flew at it.
Ruth spent the night at Rubys & I spent the night in pains. Dr. Thornton came about 10:30 & 2:30 Dorma Ruth arrived with quite a voice.”
Ethnoarcheologist: A couple thoughts on giving birth in the Roaring 20s: in 1900, our diarist’s Mama and 90% of all American women had given birth at home assisted by experienced women. But the 1920s marked a watershed when the medical profession declared war on mid-wives. In the interests of ‘modern’ medicine, most mothers went along with this (although scholars now agree that fatalities actually increased for 15 years or so before antibiotics were understood).
You can keep up with the diary entries here.