HARDFLOOR - Mahogany Roots
Okay, I’m pretty damn late with this, and don’t have a good excuse for not getting it done 3 weeks ago, but here it is anyway.
2013 was a crazy year for music. There was so much good stuff out there it was next to impossible to both keep up and do any of it justice.
So here are my top ten albums of the year presented in alphabetical order.
Daniel Bachman - Jesus I’m a Sinner
Living in the shadow of probably the greatest American Primitive guitarist after John Fahey can’t be easy, especially when he was your mentor. Despite this challenge, this is the second album in a row of absolutely brilliant guitar playing from this prodigy. I find this album to be much more restrained, for lack of a better word, than Seven Pines and seems to see him becoming more comfortable or confident in his playing (not that he needed it). The duets with Sally Morgan harken back to the master Fahey and I could have listened to an entire album of just these. It continues to amaze me that Bachman has done all that he has at such a young age. The future clearly holds goods things for him and us. Recommended song: Blenheim
Blue Hawaii - Untogether
This is a tremendous debut album of dreamy electro pop that proves the day is at hand when electronic composition will cease being any more unique than is a guitar in popular music. The record uses a rather austere soundscape to convey a sense of longing and loneliness that didn’t seem that appealing to me at first, yet kept bringing me back to tease more out of both the music and vocals. Though each part was written and recorded separately from the other person, you get the sense that they were working to anticipate the other and this thread is perhaps what makes this such an engrossing listen. Recommended song: Try to Be
Burial - Rival Dealer
In what may be a first, I am naming an EP as one of my top ten albums/releases of the year, but given it’s Burial behind it, that should probably come as no surprise to anyone who knows me.
This surprise release right at the end of the year continues the direction he has pursued, from his collaboration/remix of Massive Attack in 2011 through the Kindred and Truant EPs, of longer songs that are more like suites of interlaced ideas rather than your traditional dance tune. And while these three songs definitely contain elements that are easy to identify as Burial, he really expands his sound by going backwards into the Bass Continuum with some dark rave and some serious anthemy sounds but also pushing some almost trip hop sounds while always putting these through the Burial lens.
He just never misses. Ever. Recommended song: Come Down to Us
Darkside - Psychic
This has to be one of the most surprising albums that I listened to in all of 2013. Based on the Daftside remix album and NIcholas Jaar’s other releases I wasn’t prepared for the genre-defying sound contained on this album. Techno, House, Blues, Pink Floyd-style psychedelia, Prog, and much more. It’s probably easy to find a theme in some of my favorite recent albums of combining electronic and acoustic elements without being beholden to existing expectations, but this album is surprising in its ability to do it so seamlessly. Opener Golden Arrow reminds me of some of the excellent work on Matthew Dear’s excellent Forms from last year, but I think it’s guitarist Dave Harrington who really takes this album to another level. Recommended song: Paper Trails
Jon Hopkins - Immunity
With his fourth album, Jon Hopkins is able to make an electronic album that is emotionally engaging and powerful without the need to imbue it flesh and blood in the form of vocalists or acoustic instruments (those exist on this album but aren’t central). What is perhaps more amazing is his ability to do it with songs that comfortably sit inside the techno genre and alongside his more ambient inspired songs. Every time I listen to this album I wonder if it is a bit of a song cycle or ‘soundtrack’ to something as there is the feel of an narrative arc full of tension with bits of release sprinkled through before the closing credits of ‘Immunity.’ Recommended song: Open Eye Signal
Jagwar Ma - Howlin
The first time I heard the ‘Man I Need/Exercise (white label)’ I was instantly transported back to Madchester days and just knew I had to hear this album. If anyone had ever told me a band in 2013 would be as good as the Primal Scream/Andrew Weatherall collaborations of the early 90s, I never would have believed it but here it is. What’s really amazing is that this album is just drenched in the psychedelic haze of that time without ever sounding nostalgic. In its blending of rock with the burgeoning dance/rave scene Madchester was year’s ahead of it’s time and it’s nice to see this come full circle given the success of groups like LCD Soundsystem, Hot Chip and so many more. Recommended song: Come Save Me
Jessy Lanza - Pull My Hair Back
Once again Hyperdub hits it out of the park by introducing the world to a new talent that we’ll be talking about for a while to come. Produced with Jeremy Greenspan of Junior Boys, this album is all minimal electro house with a strong nod to 90s R&B world as well.
One of the best reviews of this album I read referred to Lanza’s ‘aloof sexiness’ and that is probably the best way I can think to describe her. One to watch for sure. Recommended song: Keep Moving
Rhye - Woman
An absolute brilliant re-imagining of Quiet Storm R&B that saw the music almost overshadowed by the ‘mystery’ of singer Mike Milosh’s gender and that’s too bad. The album is intimate and sexy without overt/crass sexualization that plagues so much of today’s top 40 R&B. Ultimately the thing I love the most is the sparse arrangements that are never crowded but always meticulous in their construction without sound devoid of emotion. Recommended song: The Fall
Thundercat - Apocalypse
Coming on like some futuristic combination of jazz fusion, Sun Ra and Parliament; this album is a tour de force of virtuoso performances and emotional release in equal parts. Clearly impacted by the passing of Stacy Peralta from the Brainfeeder Collective, the album seems to be fairly introspective even in it’s goofiness and party jams, like highlight ‘Oh Sheit It’s X.’ What really keeps me coming back to this album over and over though is Bruner’s absolutely jaw dropping performances. So intricate that I constantly find something new each time I listen to them. Recommended song: Heartbreaks + Setbacks
Laura Veirs - Warp and Weft
An absolutely astonishing album of indie folk laced with jazz, rock, and more that left me wondering why I had never listened to her in the past.
A benefit to being new to her music is that it allowed me to look at it through fresh eyes which is perhaps especially good on this album. With her previous works being described as sparse or spare in their arrangements, this album may have been a bit of a surprise for long time fans with Veirs showing a raucous energy that fits her and these songs like a glove.
To be sure there are quieter moments throughout, but there is a confidence and maturity here that is amazing to listen to. Recommended song: Sun Song
We signed up for a CSA this year for the first time, and in addition to the regular box of produce the farm provides an assortment of herbs for us to take as much or as little as we want.
So what do you do when you come home with Lemon Basil, Dill, Savory or many others?
If you answered ‘make a cocktail’ consider yourself a winner.
If you didn’t say that, then read on.
If you want to use your garden in your cocktails, there are a couple easy choices.
- Put whole herbs in a shaker, muddle with other ingredients, and continue with business as usual but double strain when you’re done.
- Make an infused simple syrup.
I tend to go with choice one unless I am having people over and I know that I can go through a batch of infused syrup since they go bad within a couple weeks.
Your choices are really endless, but here are a couple I’ve been digging lately.
Lemon Basil Gin Sour
- 1 1/2oz gin
- 3/4oz lemon
- 3/4oz simple syrup
- 8 lemon basil leaves (or more to taste)
muddle the leaves in a shaker with the simple syrup, add the other ingredients, ice, and shake.Double strain into a coupe or Nick & Nora (I use a tea strainer).
This is a pretty straight forward summer cocktail with the basil taking the place of bitters. I also tend to like it a bit more as it warms up. I think the herb notes come to the fore a bit more. You could obviously sub any basil into this, though I would think that cinnamon basil would work better with a gin like Tanqueray Macalla.
with a couple tweaks and some soda you’ve got yourself a tasty collins as well (I Like 2-1-1/2).
Take your favorite julep recipe and substitute basil, or make it with gin, or make it with another herb. never had a gin julep? I feel bad for you son.
- 2oz spirit (plus some more if you like)
- 1oz simple syrup
- handful herb leaves (going to vary based on your choice) + a nice sprig for garnish
muddle ingredients lightly in a julep glass or double old fashioned. pack with crushed ice like a snow cone (lewis bag or food processor). add spirit to fill if you like. slap the sprig of herbs a couple times, and stick into the ice with a straw so you can smell the herbs with each sip.
remember to always use a high proof spirit as the ice will water it down quick like.
I’m still working on a cocktail that uses summer savory. at this point I’m thinking an aquavit collins might be the way to go.
I also want to try this Tequila and Sage Smash too.
Plus I have some tarragon in my garden that might make things interesting.
Herbs are a great way to roll your own.