New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: December, 2013

The 100 Best Songs of 2013

One of the most prevalent myths about music is that there is a single, monolithic culture dictated by big record labels and the top 40, which they control. The reality is that it’s been more than twenty years since the American top 40 had any relevance at all. Because there are many cultures around the world where commercial radio isn’t completely off limits to music with genuine artistic content, audiences there haven’t completely tuned out like they have here. Which, ironically, perpetuates the myth of a shared musical culture that everyone can more or less agree on.

At the other end of the telescope is the myth that the culture has splintered, that everyone has his or her own individual playlist that’s completely different from everyone else’s. The truth is that it’s always been like that. Sure, Americans who went deep into niche genres like polkas or Scottish bagpipe music or, for that matter, even reggae, thirty years ago, may have been less likely to share those interests because back then that would have been “weird.” But that didn’t keep people from listening to all that stuff anyway. And much as there are still plenty of folks who can’t get enough of one particular style, from metal to bluegrass, those people have always been the exception rather than the rule. Which is where this list comes in.

Bookmark this page and visit often. Virtually every link here will take you to a stream or a free download of each song. Like this blog’s year-end Best Albums and Best Concerts lists, this isn’t an attempt to be definitive: every year, there are way more songs and albums than anyone can digest and more concerts than anyone can possibly see. This is an attempt to find some of the diamonds in the debris, and if you investigate what’s here, you’ll be reminded that it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Isn’t sharing fun!

The literally most shattering musical moment of 2013 was back in May, at a concert in Chelsea when the One World Symphony premiered a piece for timpani, gongs and bass drum by their composer/conductor Sung Jin Hong, written as a real-time depiction of an atomic bomb detonating. Lingering with a firestorm of waves for what seemed minutes on end, it captured that catastrophic horror more evocatively than words could possibly have expressed. It’s not clear if this has made it to the web or not, although the orchestra has some live footage up at youtube.

Deciding on the best song of the year is a usually a crapshoot. This year, there was one that stood out from all the rest and that’s West Allis, by Matthew Grimm. West Allis is the Wisconsin town where 43-year-old David Carter shot himself, and his body went undiscovered in his own home for four years. What confounds Grimm is that no one had any idea what had happened until the city repossessed the property, broke the lock on the front door and found the body. What’s most striking about this song is how straightforwardly Grimm plays it: it’s a catchy, briskly shuffling powerpop tune, not a dirge. The genius of it is that Grimm just tells the story. He leaves the implications, the crushing alienation and despair, to the listener to consider. From Grimm’s album Songs in the Key of Your Face.

And the rest of the list is pretty fantastic for plenty of other reasons. As with the Best Albums and Best Concerts lists, there’s no numerical ranking here. That’s because trying to rank music from across the musical spectrum – what’s better, art-rock, honkytonk, third-stream jazz or noir folk? – is inevitably apples and oranges. It also pits artists against each other, and pisses off pretty much everybody who isn’t at the very top of the list. Like the two other best-of lists here, these songs are listed more or less in chronological order of when they first appeared here, if at all.

Amanda Palmer – The Bed Song
A sad, elegant chamber pop ghost story that does double duty as cruelly accurate depiction of WASP male-female dynamics. From Palmer’s lavish Theatre Is Evil album. Play it/free download.

Mike Stinson – Lost Side of Town
Most songs about being down and out sound absolutely fake. This has the ring of authenticity, a nonchalantly Dylanesque midtempo tune which manages to be funny but really bleak at the same time. When Stinson hits the refrain “down, down, let myself down,” it’s a moment worthy of Hank Williams. From the Houston Americana songwriter’s album Hell & Half of Georgia. Play it.

LJ Murphy & the Accomplices– Pretty for the Parlor
The legendary New York noir rocker has a reputedly phenomenal new album due out next year and this might or might not be on it; it’s grimly bouncing, Americana-tinged tale of a sniper hellbent on picking off a few poor suckers in some outer-borough hell. Murphy and band slayed with this at the Parkside last month.

Hannah vs. the Many– Poor Leander
A corrosively poignant account of two probably irreparably damaged souls hell-bent on NOT making things work, set to marauding noir cabaret rock: From their latest ep Ghost Stories. Play it.

Beninghove’s Hangmen– Rattlesnake Chopper
This could be the Hells’ Angels’ theme, a slowly marauding, minor-key biker rock groove with lurid neon horn harmonies and an absolutely sick Eyal Maoz guitar solo followed by…a theremin solo. Title track to their 2013 album. Play it.

Walter Ego– Build It Up Again
A wickedly catchy Ray Davies-esque janglerock tune that takes the Sisyphus myth into the 21st century. Not officially recorded, but it’s been a staple of his live show in recent months.

The Kronos Quartet and Mariana Sadovska – Chernobyl: The Harvest
The world premiere of Sadovska’s chiling, angry suite at Lincoln Center Out of Doors in July built to a diabolical dance, the Ukraine-born singer’s voice rising from stunned horror to indignance and wrath. Watch the video.

Mud Blood & Beer – Nasturtiums
A grimly bitter, minor-key, Dream Syndicate-influenced desert rock anthem. From their latest album The Sweet Life. Play it/free download

Mike Rimbaud – Funkyshima
Not particularly funk but creepy as hell: “Got Indian point down the Hudson way, built on a fault line from an earthquake.” No songwriter has chronicled New York more aptly than this guy has over the last couple of years; let’s hope he’s not being prophetic this time. Watch the video

Ward White – Neighbors
Not the minor Rolling Stones hit but a blithely macabre, sarcastically Burt Bacharach-tinged segment from White’s symbolically loaded new surreal murder mystery chamber pop concept album, Bob. Play it.

Sharon Goldman – Silent Lessons
The acoustic tunesmith’s careful, precise but wounded vocals absolutely nail the “four in the morning of your soul” ambience of a woman sleepless and alone, abandoned and embittered and sobered by the reality that she isn’t blameless in how she ended up there. Title track from her latest album. Watch the video.

Bryan & the Aardvarks– These Little Hours
This Lynchian pastoral jazz nocturne starts with a simple, tiptoeing lullaby theme and sends it sailing with a slow ultraviolet swing, part Milt Jackson ballad, part Jeff Lynne anthem. From their album Heroes of Make Believe. Play it.

Fernando Otero – Preludio 4
A crushing, hard-hitting David Lynch-meets Satie theme from the pyrotechnic, eclectic Argentine pianist’s latest album Romance. Watch the video.

Drina Seay – Chase My Blues Away
A slow, torchy, absolutely sultry ballad that wouldn’t be out of place in the Neko Case catalog. Seay has a stripped-down vocals-and-guitar version at her site; she and her full band killed with this at Zirzamin back in March. Play it/free download.

The Lost Patrol – Chance of Rain
A morbidly gorgeous, twangy 60s garage tune lowlit by frontwoman Mollie Israel’s brooding, elegaic vocals: “A chance of rain/Still remains/You tried in vain/To wash away/All the days you left behind.” From the cinematic band’s latest album Driven. Play it.

Jail Weddings – It’s Not Fair
The noir rockers take this from a Bulgarian intro to ba-bump cabaret to a phantasmagorically epic anthem. From their new album Meltdown: A Declaration of Unpopular Emotion. Watch the video

Kotorino – Murderer
Frontman Jeff Morris and harmony singer Ellia Bisker duet luridly on the best and most menacing track track from their new album, Better Than This. It’s a crime-jazz number that illustrates why the perfect crime requires a lone perpetrator. Play it

Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society – Construction-Destruction
The seemingly inevitable decline of New York from world-class city to sterile gentrifier suburb as chronicled via state-of-the-art, cinematic big band jazz, from lushly airy apprehension to a horror film theme. From their majestically grim album Brooklyn Babylon. Play it

The Steep Canyon Rangers – Las Vegas
They’re a bluegrass band, but this is the best track on their latest album Tell the Ones I Love, a twistedly carnivalesque hi-de-ho noir swing tune.

The Snow – Dirty Diamond
Subdued wee-hours duet – part countrypolitan, part noir cabaret, solace for anyone stuck on the corporate treadmill. From the Brooklyn art-rockers’ latest album Disaster Is Your Mistress. Play it

Changing Modes – Down to You
Keyboardist Grace Pulliam sang the hell out of this coldly vengeful chamber pop swipe at a selfish guy, from the band’s latest album In Flight, at Spike Hill back in January. Play it

Chicha Libre – Rica Chica
A wickedly catchy, chromatically bristling, luridly surreal and sexy cover of the Peruvian hit by legendary psychedelic cumbia/surf band Los Shapis. From the all-covers album Cuatro Tigres. Play it

Pierre de Gaillande – Wine
De Gaillande’s translation of Le Vin, by Georges Brassens – one of the alltime great drinking songs – recast as a klezmer-tinged romp. As Brassens tells it, his parents found him under a vine, “not the cabbage patch like all of those average Joes…if cows made red wine, I’d milk them before breakfast.” From the Bad Reputation, Volume 2 Brassens tribute album. Spotify link

Nehedar – Take This World
A snarling guitar-driven garage rock song, about throwing in the towel at full force, from wildly eclectic songwriter Emilia Cataldo’s latest album This Heart. Play it

Tipsy Oxcart – Me First
Trickily original Balkan theme with a hard-hitting, catchy chorus, moody clarinet solos, a a searing violin break and an absolutely sizzling accordion solo from the Brooklyn band’s album Meet TIpsy Oxcart. Play it

The Larch – Welcome to the Institute
The Brooklyn psychedelic popsters slayed at Bowery Electric this summer with this unreleased track, which pokes fun at internet spin doctoring with some LOL funny backing vocals and then finally one of frontman Ian Roure’s signature spiraling, Richard Lloyd-esque guitar solos.

Mark Sinnis– It’s Been a Long Cold Dark Lonely Winter
A darkly slinky minor-key Hudson Valley gothic bluegrass tune by the dark baritone crooner and leader of long-running rockers Ninth House. He killed with this with his acoustic band at his NYC show this past Fall on Houston Street.

Lorraine Leckie – Bliss
A bitterly glimmering tale of an old couple who are anything but loving, from Leckie’s elegant new chamber pop collaboration with social critic/writer Anthony Haden-Guest, Rudely Interrupted. She and the chamber pop version of her band the Demons held the crowd rapt with this at the Rockwood this summer. Play it

Mac McCarty – Henry
“Henry, oh Henry, go down to your mother’s grave,” folk noir songwriter McCarty sang almost gleefully midway through his band’s careening set – at Sidewalk, of all places – this past October.

Lily Frost– Grenade
A menacingly catchy, bouncy noir cabaret tinged song from the diverse, edgy Canadian songwriter’s latest album Do What You Love. Watch the video

Clairy Browne & the Bangin Rackettes– Yellow Bird
Creepy lurid nocturnal tableau. From their album Baby Caught the Bus; they kicked ass with this at the Mercury this past March. Play it

Villa Delirium – Crystal Ship
Frontwoman Tine Kindermann sang the band’s delicously goth version of the Doors’ classic in German at Barbes on Halloween. Watch the video

Dark City– Pillars
An instrumental epic something akin to Iron Maiden covering Iggy’s The Passenger, the highlight of the trio’s set at Otto’s in November. Watch the video

MWE – Kara Gozlu
The Bay Aread band do this Turkish traditional song as a diptych; the first part featuring Balkan sensation Eva Salina on lead vocals, the second part as a long, dancing jam. From their new album Second Wind. Play it

Jerome O’Brien – If I Laugh Anymore I’ll Break
A bouncy reinvention of the former Dog Show leader’s slyly exuberant celebration of pre-gentrification nocturnal entertainment and a highlight of his Zirzamin gig back in May. Play it

Sarah Jarosz and Ran Blake – Tender As a Rose
At Symphony Space this past March, the all-purpose Americana chanteuse and the noir piano legend left absolutely no doubt that the Abbey Lincoln classic was a murder ballad.

Trio Tritticali – Zeima
Violist Leanne Darling’s artful new arrangement of the Mohammed Abdel Wahab bellydance classic, yet another of the many brilliant performances from this past year at Zirzamin

Mary Ellen Childs – The Gathering
The harrowing climactic scene from the composer’s latest album Wreck. about a crew trapped inside the last watertight container of a sunken freighter at the bottom of Lake Superior

Hee Hawk– Cover That Man (Basketball)
Late 50s cool Miles through the prism of Angelo Badalamenti, shifting from a slowly lingering noir sway to swing and back again with a tinge of dusky Ethiopian spice. From the Massachusetts pastoral jazz band’s latest album. Play it

The Blackfeet Braves– Strange Lovers
An echoey, wickedly catchy minor key psych-folk/garage rock with period-perfect, echoey production from the LA band’s self-titled 2013 album. Play it

Little Worlds– Etude No. 79
The Brooklyn avant jazz band’s version of this Bartok etude opens as creepy baroque and builds to a a richly noir theme over drummer Tim Kuhl’s hypnotically tumbling vamp. From their latest collection of Bartok pieces, simply entitled Book 2. Play it

Outernational– Here Is the Rose
The title track from the New York band’s latest ep paints an eerily ambiguous nocturnal desert rock picture that foreshadows as much potential disaster as hope for “messengers of a whole new world” where the children of immigrants might actually be embraced rather than shunned. Play it

The Brooklyn What– Hot Wine
Written by founding member Billy Cohen – who died young in 2010 – this one blasts through a surreal, oldtime swing-spiced Coney Island narrative about saving innocent children from an evil mayor who’s trying to boil them in oil. Title track to the band’s phenomenal 2013 album. Play it

Richard Thompson– The Snow Goose
One of Thompson’s classic epics, a wintry, surreal, emotionally depleted Britfolk tableau from the iconic Britfolk-rock songwriter/guitarist’s brilliant latest album, Electric. Watch the video

Raphael McGregor– Southern Border
The Brooklyn steel guitarist’s instrumental works its way stealthfully from a ghostly desert theme to a biting klezmer clarinet interlude, then morphs into dark, intense, psychedelic Greek surf rock interlude. From his 2013 album Fretless. Play it

Band of Outsiders – Dead Reckoning
Television and Lou Reed may both be history but these 80s New York garage-pychedelic-punk legends are still going strong; this vivid dying-of-the-light epic reflecting on a Lower East Side of the Mind, 1983 or thereabouts is the standout track from their album Sound Beach Time and evokes both those acts. Watch the video

Sean Kershaw– Grass Is Always Bluer
A creepy, galloping, aphoristic southwestern gothic tale set in the here and now that evokes Kershaw’s previous dark rockabilly band the Blind Pharaohs number. From his album The Aussie Sessions. Play it

Rachelle Garniez – God’s Little Acre
At Barbes on her birthday back in March, the inscrutable accordionist/multi-instrumentalist/chanteuse delivered a moody, expansively minimalist soul/gospel take of this cruel exploration of the dilemma of whether or not to reconnect with an old suspect on Facebook. From her latest album Sad Dead Alive Happy. Spotify link

Mumbo Gumbo– Swimming Pool Blue
Here’s another great Rachelle Garniez momemt, from the long-lost, recently reissued 1989 album by the NYC alt-country pioneers and cult favorites, who also springboarded the career of Joe Flood. Play it

Daphne Lee Martin– Sweet & Lowdown
Gorgeously torchy, luridly bluesy organ-drenched noir smash from the New London, Connecticut bandleader’s excellent 2013 album Moxie. Play it

Rita– Yeladem Zim Sincha (Children Are a Joy)
This feral Romany-rock romp is completely at odds with its saccharine title, the band exploding out of a biting Galia Hai viola solo midway through the Israeli art-rock bandleader’s high-voltage show at the United Nations back in March. Rita’s youtube channel

Jeffrey Foucault– Everybody’s Famous
A cynical, bluesy, Leonard Cohen ish look at celebrity and microcelebrity and wannabes up and down the scale, from the Americana rocker’s latest album Horse Latitudes. Watch the video

Henry Wagons– I Still Can’t Find Her
A rustically twisted, Edward Gorey’ish family tale from the Melbourne, Australia noir songwriter’s album Expecting Company? Watch the video

Jeanne Jolly– Round and Round Again
The strongest and hardest-hitting song on the North Carolina Americana singer’s album Angels begins as a gentle, wistful waltz, then explodes in anguish on the chorus. She slayed with this at Drom in December. Watch the video

Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas– Big Town
This oldschool soul song is noir to the core, from a simple bass/piano/baritone sax intro to a gorgeously wounded turnaround, the Detroit singer/bandleader glad that she has such a big city where she can hide away in her misery. From her latest ep Demons. Play it

Preservation Hall Jazz Band – August Nights
A haunting minor-key soul ballad set on the “sorry side of the street,” following a series of modulations with moody sax and trumpet solos – noir music doesn’t get any better than this. From their album That’s It. Watch the video

Tift Merritt & Simone Dinnerstein – Feel of the World
Apoignant, crescendoing, saturnine anthem from the Americana chanteuse and classical pianist’s debut collaboration, Night. Play it

Twin Guns – Teenage Boredom
Lynchian 60s-pop turbocharged with layers and layers of tremoloing, smoldering, pulsing reverb guitar. From the noir garage duo’s album Sweet Dreams. Play it

Chicago Farmer– Everybody in This Town
It sounds like the Wallflowers backing John Prine, frontman Cody Dieckhoff contemplating the rougher side of smalltown life and how everybody’s business is everybody else’s. From the album Backenforth, IL. Play it

Kagero – Rockstar in a Grocery Store
The violin dances down the scale and sets off the tale of a guy who can only afford breakfast in Chinatown and may never be able to take a real vacation, but nothing’s gonna stop him from playing with his band every nigh. From their new album Gumbo du Jour. Watch the video

Lee Feldman– Empty Room
The creepiest track on the chamber pop bandleader/pianist’s latest album is a long, hypnotic drums-and-Rhodes piece, a portrait of isolation and absolute defeat. Play it

Pete Galub– 300 Days in July
This hypnotic art-rock anthem slowly builds a hallucinatory, regret-drenched summer ambience. “So many drugs in the water supply…walking on water, those were the days when we just let it all slide,” the powerpop guitar maven lament. From his album Candy Tears. Play it

Karikatura – Bailarina
Nicking the riff from the famous Algerian freedom fighter anthem Ya Rayyeh, the latin ska band turned it into an unexpectedly angst-fueled reflection by a guy who’s probably more infatuated with a dancing girl than he should be. It’s too loud to talk over the music, all my friends are drunk and I don’t like the idea of other guys hitting on you, the poor dude laments. A highlight of their show at SRB almost a year ago.

Wormburner– Today Might Be Our Day
On the Celtic side of anthemic 80s rock, U2 without the strident vocals and empty slogans. And it’s got a story, in this case a smalltime hood on the run from the law. A limited-edition vinyl single also available digitally. Play it

The Handsome Family – Owls
An acerbically droll Edward Gorey-ish folk tune about an old guy losing it in his McMansion with “the clawfooted tubs, the room of rare orchids, the glass hall for my guns, statues of pharaohs twenty feet tall, crystal chandeliers, rare paintings of clowns.” From the noir Americana duo’s latest album Wilderness. Watch the video

Karen Hudson– Mama Was a Train Wreck
This darkly shuffling Americana rock tune looks back in shellshocked anger at dysfunctional family hell, reaching fever pitch with a smoldering Steve Antonakos guitar solo. From the new album Sonic Bloom. Watch the video

Linda Draper– In Good Hands
A potently caustic sendup of yuppie status-grubbing – and karmic payback – from the literate songwriter’s Americana-rich new Matt Keating-produced album Edgewise. Play it

Avi Fox-Rosen– Plastic Los Angeles
A spot-on spoof of phony-sensitive Counting Crows style janglerock. the cynically sentimental lyrics are a hoot, but the music is even funnier. Fox-Rosen put out an album a month this year, all of them thematic and often hilarious; this is from April’s, which was the best. Play it/free download

Gypsophilia– Horska
The thinly disguised noir ska title track from the Halifax Romany jazz group’s latest album reminds of Tri-State Conspiracy. Watch the video

A Conspiracy of Beards– Who By Fire
The Bay Area choir’s version of the Leonard Cohen classic at Drom this past May began with the lyrics making the rounds of the voices, anchored by a resonant mantra of “who” – the effect was spine-tingling. Watch the video

Mike Marlin– Skull Beneath the Skin
The dark British crooner’s deadpan vocals and allusive lyrics here could be friendly encouragement to hang out and jam, but turn out to have somewhat different implications. From his latest album Grand Reveal. Play it

Amy Allison and David Scott – Coming Up the River
A brief, imagistic, Celtic-inflected narrative that could be about the Civil War or more recent but equally grim events. From their album new album Turn Like the World Does. Spotify link

Raya Brass Band– Let the Crickets Decide
The best song on the Brooklyn Balkan brass band’s latest album This Train Is Now has evilly bubbling trumpet, misterioso alto sax that eventually goes screaming with bent notes and microtones and then a sprint to the finish line. Play it

Emel Mathlouthi – Ma Ikit
The title is Arabic for “Not Found;” “I cannot find a melody strong enough to break human hatred,” the dark Tunisian rock bandleader intoned before building the song to an imploring, exhausted crescendo at the Alliance Française this past May. From her album Kelmti Horra (“Freedom of Speech”). Watch the video

Wooden Indian Burial Ground– Waltz for Eldritch
Funereal, marching, shiveringly twangy guitar set to a zombified acoustic guitar-and-piano tune from the Portland, Oregon dark psychedelic/garage band’s latest self-titled album and cassette. Play it

The Sideshow Tragedy– The Bet
Otis Rush’s Double Trouble remade as noir punk blues – Dimestore Dance Band’s Jack Martin guests on guitar along with the band’s formidable frontman Nathan Singleton. Play it

Big Lazy– Swampesque
A brand-new Bernard Herrmann-style 6/8 blues that noir guitar genius Steve Ulrich’ss recentl resurrected cinematic instrumental trio has been slaying with in concert all year.

Sexmob – Amarcord
Arguably the most epic and sepulchal of the Nino Rota film themes reinvented by trumpeter Steven Bernstein and his noir jazz quartet on their phenomenal Rota tribute album, Cinema Circus & Spaghetti. Watch the video

Dawn Oberg– End of the Continent
The catchiest and most metaphorically crushing tune on the Bay Area pianist/chanteuse’s latest album, Rye, a biting series of earthquake metaphors and gospel-tinged piano. Play it

Eva Salina – Avliga Pe V Gradinka
A Greek tune whose title means “the oriole sings,” it might be the most gripping song on the haunting Balkan singer’s new album Eva Salina Solo, resolute yet fragile and sung completely a-cappella. Play it

Lily Henley– Two Birds
A catchy, wickedly anthemic but doomed series of flight metaphors set to tricky metrics and spiky mandolin. From the eclectic Balkan/Americana singer/violinist’s new album Words Like Yours. Play it

Nat Osborn Band– Little to the Left
An irresistibly hilarious, telling portrait of a trustafarian girl from the jamband leader’s new album The King & the Clown. Play it

Mild Mannered Rebel – You Smiled So Sweetly
A brooding string quartet of sorts and requiem for bandleader Mavrothi Kontanis’ father. sung in a richly low, suspenseful, elegaic alto by the ubiquitously brilliant Eva Salina. From the haunting Greek-flavored psychedelic band’s new album Ear to the Sky. Play it

Serena Jost– Sweet Mystery
Deftly orchestrated powerpop over an irresistible Motown groove enhanced by the sepulchrally soaring vocal harmonies. From the art-rock cellis/bandleader’s album A Bird Will Sing. Play it

New Country Rehab– Luxury Motel
A savage look at native disenfranchisement in third world tourist hotspots from the Canadian Americana rockers’ latest album Ghost of Your Charms. Watch the video

Tribecastan– Gnossienne No. 1
The kitchen-sink rockers’ version of Erik Satie’s iconic theme nicks the Chicha Libre arrangement right down to the bolero rhythm, a wood flute replacing Josh Camp’s Electrovox; still, it’s a great song. From their album New Songs from the Old Country. Play it

Robin O’Brien – Catalina
A haunting, rainy-day psych-folk rock anthem with a delicious George Reisch janglerock guitar solo on the way out. From the cult heroine singer’s new album Dive Into the End of the World. Play it

John Hodel– Tuesday Morning in a Bar
A classic of underground NYC acoustic tunesmithing: “He’s probably still sleeping during his first 150 proof shot; by 7:45 in the AM, there’s probably a few hundred things he forgot.” It was the highlight of the final show this blog booked at the late, lamented Zirzamin last July. Cover version

Eilen Jewell – Only One
The Idaho-born noir Americana chanteuse Jewell brought it down and let her voice tremolo out a little at the end to match lead player Jerry Miller’s creepy guitar on a slow, achingly Lynchian version of this torchy ballad out back of City Winery in July. Watch the video

Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside – They Told Me
“Never gonna apologize for being so intense, how the hell would that make any sense?” the noir garage rocker sneers on the opening track of her band’s new album, Untamed Beast. Play it

The Leisure Society – The Sober Scent of Paper
A morosely waltzing Sylvia Plath homage, Botanica noir filtered through the misty prism of 70s Britfolk. From the British chamber pop band’s new album Alone Aboard the Ark. Play it

Salaam – Lima Sahar
A catchy, Bollywood-flavored shout-out to the first woman to compete on the Afghani verison of American Idol, whose rapid rise to fame was derailed by misogynists in her own family. She subsequently went into hiding and has not been heard from since. From the Indiana-based Middle Eastern ensemble’s latest album Train to Basra. Spotify link

Black Sea Hotel – The Forest Is Shaking and Swaying Part 1
The title track from the innovative Brooklyn Balkan a-cappella trio’s second cd is packed with otherworldly close harmonies, spine-tingling microtones and ornamentation, a new arrangement by the band’s Sarah Small. Play it

The Bright Smoke– Sea Level
A rare song that’s Joy Division-influenced without being slavishily imitative. “Do you know what it’s like to wake up after trying not to wake up again?” frontwoman Mia Wilson asks. From the new album Virginia Et. Al. Play it

The Frank Flight Band– Cat
The longest song on this list echoes Rhode Island psychedelic legends Plan 9’s Dealing with the Dead, the Doors, Stranglers and Blue Oyster Cult in over twenty minutes of savagely guitar-fueled psychedelia. From the British band’s latest album Remains. Play it

Niyaz– Mazar
A hypnotically slinky, hauntingly undulating track from the Persian-Canadian dance/trance band’s Sumud Acoustic ep ( the title is Arabic for “resilience”). Watch the video

Ghosts in the Ocean – Black Eyed Dog
Noir singer Carol Lipnik and pianist Matt Kanelos killed with their jaggedly percussive cover of Nick Drake’s Black-Eyed Dog at several shows this year, a showcase for some cruelly difficult crosshanded work by Kanelos.

Keith Top of the Pops – Morrissey Will Never Forgive Me
Let’s end the list with a funny song: the comedic British crooner’s Smiths spoof is spot-on, right down to the faux Johnny Marr guitar and litany of hilarously recontextualized Morrissey quotes. Watch the video

The 50 Best Albums of 2013

Even in this playlist-oriented era, hundreds of thousands of albums still get released every year. A very ambitious blogger can hear bits and pieces of a few thousand of them, less than one percent of the total. A very, very ambitious blogger can hear, at best, maybe ten percent of that small sample all the way through, at least enough to get the gist of what those albums are about. So consider this list a celebration of good music released in 2013 or thereabouts rather than anything definitive, the sheer volume of what’s available reducing the possibility of a truly definitive list to a pipe dream. Since this is a New York-centric blog, this is a New York-centric list. Because New York Music Daily focuses mainly on rock, this list doesn’t include the many brilliant jazz, classical and avant garde albums released over the past year.

Every year, there are about a couple dozen new albums that rate as genuine classics. But trying to rank them in numerical order is a thankless task. Balkan brass or Nashville gothic? Blazing circus rock or dreamy guitar nocturnes? Depends on what mood you’re in, right? And as much as the artists who make the top ten love lists like this, artists who end up toward the bottom hate it. Who wants to be the #69 artist of 2013? Nobody. So this year, there’s no numerical ranking other than an attempt to lump the first couple dozen very best releases toward the top, roughly in order of when they were reviewed here, which doesn’t necessarily coincide with official release dates. To be clear: the stuff at the bottom of the page isn’t there because it’s the ass end of the list, it’s there because it got written up here in December instead of, say, April.

Virtually all of these albums can be heard in their entirety online and many can be downloaded for free: links to all of them are included here, so you might want to bookmark this page and spend some time with them.

Much as there isn’t any numerical ranking here, there’s one artist who achieved something that no other artist did this year and that’s why Avi Fox-Rosen tops the list for 2013. The eclectic rocker released a new album every month this year and the only one of the twelve that wasn’t excellent was all covers rather than original material. Otherwise, his other eleven thematic collections tackled topics ranging from money, to stupidity (April’s album, the best of the bunch), to existential angst, family dysfunction and rockstar narcissism. Fox-Rosen has an encyclopedic grasp of a vast range of styles, including but not limited to oldschool soul, circus rock, noir cabaret, folk-rock, vintage disco and metal. Many of these songs are parodies of those genres and others, and they are hilarious, especially the “classic rock” and top 40 spoofs. They’re all streaming here.

And here’s the rest. What a great year this was for music: enjoy!

Ward White – Bob
A menacing, nonlinear narrative done as a long suite rather than a collection of songs, in which at least one person and probably several people get killed. Part art-rock, part chamber pop, with White’s signature, corrosively literate lyricism, like a Russell Banks novel come to life in music. Like Fox-Rosen, White is a great guitarist who can play pretty much anything in any style ever invented.

The Brooklyn What– Hot Wine
The third album by NYC’s most consistently exciting rock band – if you count their excellent South Brooklyn Singles collection as an album – mixes punk, soul, doo-wop, indie noise, pensive jangle and a wildly surreal one by their late, great bandmate Billy Cohen. Frontman Jamie Frey is confrontational and often hilarious, as always, but this is the album where the twin guitar attack of Evan O’Donnell and John-Severin Napolillo really crystallizes as one of the alltime great NYC rock guitar lineups.

The Snow– Disaster Is Your Mistress
The first of two Pierre de Gaillande projects here is the most recent album by his lush art-rock band. Lavishly produced with strings, winds, layes of keys and guitars, no verse or chorus is identical, and de Gaillande and co-bandleader Hilary Downes’ songwriting and vocals are sharp and intense.

Hannah vs.the Many– Ghost Stories
If it wasn’t so short – five songs – and if Avi Fox-Rosen hadn’t decided to make 2013 his big year, this album would be at the top of the list. Frontwoman Hannah Fairchild’s searing, literate lyrics and fearsome wail make this mix of savage cabaret-punk and smoldering, torchy songcraft the best ep of 2013.

Mild Mannered Rebel– Ear to the Sky
On which oud virtuoso Mavrothi Kontanis picks up his guitar and collection of lutes and plays fiery, Greek and Middle Eastern-flavored psychedelic rock with sharp, often vengeful lyrics. Kontanis’ vocals turn out to be as strong and eclectic as his fretwork.

Richard Thompson– Electric
The guy who might be the greatest rock guitarist of all time, AND the greatest rock songwriter of all time continues to reinvent himself. This is a power trio album with his characteristic brooding, intense Britfolk-influenced tunesmithing and snarling lyrics.

Serena Jost– A Bird Will Sing
An art-rock masterpiece from the cellist/bandleader/chanteuse who might be this century’s counterpart to Jeff Lynne, a brilliant multi-instrumentalist with equal prowess at blending classic pop tunes with lush, achingly beautiful classically-tinged arrangements.

Kotorino – Better Than This
The Brooklyn band’s first album was surreal chamber pop with a brooding noir edge. Their follow-up is a boisterous, creepily carnivalesque circus rock album with lush four-part vocal harmonies, strings, brass and frontman Jeff Morris’ persistently menacing songwriting.

The Frank Flight Band – Remains
The British psychedelic rockers may have released it this year, but this sounds like a lost classic from the 70s, a ferocious collection of symbolically-charged, death-obsessed epics with sweeping keyboard orchestration and some of the tastiest lead guitar in recent memory.

Beninghove’s Hangmen – Rattlesnake Chopper
Saxophonist/bandleader Bryan Beninghove made his mark in jazz and film music, but he’s unsurpassed at noir surf music. No one else put out a darker or creepier rock instrumental album this year.

Mud Blood & Beer– The Sweet Life
A glorious, guitar-fueled throwback to the days of classic 80s paisley underground bands like the Dream Syndicate, True West and Green on Red. Jon Glover and Jess Hoeffner’s twin guitar sorcery is as intense as it is psychedelic.

Salaam– Train to Basra
Indiana-based violist/multi-instrumentalist Dena El Saffar’s Middle Eastern band’s gorgeously haunting tenth album mixes up slinky levantine vamps, a darkly vivid Bollywood theme and finds the missing link between Chicago blues and Iraq.

Raya Brass Band– This Train Is Now
Their previous album, which also ranked among the year’s best here last year, was mostly traditional material. This is mostly originals, reaffirming that a band from Brooklyn can write and play Balkan music as fast, and furiously, and intensely as anyone in Serbia.

Black Sea Hotel -The Forest Is Shaking and Swaying
The Brooklyn a-cappella trio reinvent otherworldly Bulgarian and Macedonian folk songs with radical new arrangements.

Eva Salina – Eva Salina Solo
With just her meticulously nuanced vocals and accordion, the Balkan chanteuse proves to be just as haunting as the previous group on this list, airing out a mix of traditional Romany and southern Balkan material.

Sarah Alden – Fists of Violets
Since most of the band is on it, the brilliant, eclectic violinist’s latest release is sort of the new Luminescent Orchestrii album, a mix of classic Appalachian and Balkan tunes plus original western swing and torch songs.

The Lost Patrol– Driven
Darkly cinematic surf rock instrumentals and echoey, luridly reverb-driven, Lynchian rock featuring frontwoman Mollie Israel’s haunting, alluring vocals.

The Tea Club– Quickly Quickly Quickly
Epically shapeshifting psychedelic art-rock epics with a sweepingly tuneful surrealism evocative of vintage Genesis, Nektar and prime-era Pink Floyd from this New Jersey band.

Matthew Grimm– Songs in the Key of Your Face
The Stephen Colbert of heartland rock returns with his third solo album, a mix of characteristically hilarious, socially aware and occasionally haunting powerpop and Americana rock anthems.

Pete Galub – Candy Tears
A psychedelic powerpop classic to rival anything Big Star or the Raspberries ever did, with more vigorous, eclectically excellent, richly produced layers of guitars than either of those bands.

Pierre de GaillandeBad Reputation, Volume 2
The Snow frontman’s second collection of his artful, spot-on original English translations of songs by legendary proto-punk French cult songwriter Georges Brassens is just as funny, savagely lyrical and elegantly rearranged as the first one.

Robin O’Brien – Dive into the End of the World
The first collection of all-new material in several years from the cassette underground cult heroine finds her hauntingly mining noir folk, soul and chamber pop, tersely yet lushly produced by Luxtone Records’ George Reisch; Kevin Salem adds a biting guitar edge on several tracks.

The Balkan Arts reissues
Field recordings played by unsung local musicians from across the Balkans, originally released as vinyl singles and ep’s (which are still in stock!) in the 1960s by the predecessor organization to New York’s Center for Traditional Music and Dance. These obscure treasures, newly digitized and reissued, comprise a sort of Eastern European counterpart to the Harry Smith album.

The Brasslands soundtrack
Sizzling new Balkan brass tracks from Dejan Petrovic, Demiran Cerminovic, Slavic Soul Party, Zlatne Uste, Raya Brass Band, Veveritse Brass Band from the indie documentary.

Valerie Kuehne – Phoenix Goes Crazy
A characteristically diverse mix of punk classical, parodies of the High Romantic and classical lieder and a couple of surrealistically sinister narratives from the irrepressible cellist/composer/impresario.

Lee Feldman– Album No. 4: Trying To Put The Things Together That Never Been Together Before
A hauntingly thematic contemplation of the perils of getting old, from the chamber pop songwriter/pianist and creator of the surrealist cult classic musical Starboy.

Kagero – Gumbo du Jour
The Japanese-American Romany-punk band make the missing connection between oldtimey swing and Gogol Bordello, with characteristic black humor and high-voltage, danceable tunes.

Mike Rimbaud– Night Rainbow
Few other songwriters have chronicled New York as savagely and insightfully as this Elvis Costello-esque, psychedelically inclined guitarist and rocker; it’s arguably his best album ever.

Low – The Invisible Way
Yet another gorgeous, harmony-infused, sardonically lyrical album by a band that was pioneering chamber pop and dark Americana back when most of those bands were still in diapers.

Chicha Libre– Cuatro Tigres
That this Brooklyn group would be revered in Peru as being one of the alltime greatest bands in the world of chicha – psychedelic Peruvian surf rock – attests to their cred. This wryly entertaining covers ep includes songs by the Clash, Love and also the version of the Simpsons theme that the band recorded for the show’s 20th anniversary special.

Dawn Oberg– Rye
Darkly bluesy, jazz and gospel-tinged piano-based chamber pop and art-rock from the eclectic, wickedly lyrical Bay Area tunesmith/chanteuse.

Lily Henley– Words Like Yours
A bracing mix of Sephardic, Balkan and Appalachian music from the eclectic violinist and her inspired acoustic band.

Wooden Indian Burial Ground– s/t
Long, creepily psychedelic noir surf rock and punk blues jams from this menacing Portland instrumental rock crew.

Guided by Voices– English Little League
The iconic indie rockers saved the best for last, with their fourth release in the previous twelve months, a droll, bitingly witty mix of Britrock, psychedelia, catchy powerpop and confoundingly weird miniatures, i.e. classic GBV.

Linda Draper– Edgewise
The seventh album by the lyrically intense acoustic tunesmith finds her amping up the guitars and going deeper into dark Americana than ever before, richly produced by guitarist Matt Keating.

The Del-Lords – Elvis Club
Their first new album in twenty years reveals that the legendary roots rockers – pioneers of alt-country before alt-country existed – haven’t lost a step. And co-frontman/guitarist Eric Ambel’s rich, analog-style production gives them a deep, purist studio sound they never really got back when they were on big labels back in the 80s.

Willie Nile – American Ride
The king of the underground NYC powerpop anthem at the top of his sardonically lyrical, tunefully rich game, backed by a lush, hard-hitting, sympatico band.

The Handsome Family – Wilderness
Arguably the most noir of all of Brett and Rennie Sparks’ gleefully noir Americana albums, which they’ve been making since the 90s.

Tribecastan – New Songs from the Old Country
A return to the dizzyingly eclectic, psychedelic Central Asian/Balkan/Middle Eastern/tango-influenced original sounds that multi-instrumentalists Jeff Greene, John Kruth and their vast cast of accomplices worked on their debut album.

Tipsy Oxcart– Meet Tipsy Oxcart
Original and classic Bulgarian, Serbian and Romanian sounds from this hard-hitting Brooklyn Balkan band with a rock rhythm section.

Nehedar – This Heart
Darkly lyrical, vocally gorgeous, eclectic tunesmithing that ranges from classic soul to neosoul, noir cabaret, Nashville gothic, garage rock and new wave.

The Martha’s Vineyard Ferries– debut album
Broodingly catchy, pensively guitar-driven songs from the vintage-era indie supergroup of Kahoots’ Elisha Wiesner, Shellac’s Bob Weston and Come’s Chris Brokaw.

Inna Barmash– Yiddish Lullabies and Love Songs
The frontwoman of sizzling Romany/Balkan party band Romashka pulled together a brilliant horn and string-driven band for haunting new arrangements of brilliant, obscure Jewish folk songs from the Ukraine and points further west.

Don Peris– The Old Century
Gently haunting, rustically cinematic blue-sky themes and nocturnal acoustic waltzes from the Innocence Mission guitarist.

Sharon Goldman– Silent Lessons
Metaphorically-charged, vividly lyrical, intense narratives from the brilliant acoustic pop tunesmith and singer.

Eidetic Seeing– Against Nature
A surreal, guitar-driven blend of stoner metal, psychedelia and noisy indie jangle from this edgy, uncategorizably tuneful Brooklyn band.

Sean Kershaw– The Aussie Sessions
Creepy, carnivalesque Nashville gothic, spaghetti western and highway rock sounds from the Brooklyn baritone crooner and leader of all-star country crew the New Jack Ramblers.

Band of Outsiders– Sound Beach Time
The CBGB-era psychedelic punk legends’ most epic, most darkly lyrical and possibly best album in a thirty-plus year career: Marc Jeffrey and Jim McCarthy’s intertwining, Television-esque guitars have never been more psychedelic or more tuneful.

The Bright Smoke– Virginia Et. Al.
Haunting, Joy Division-influenced noir blues and murky Americana from the powerful, brooding former frontwoman of dark NYC art-rockers the French Exit.

The 30 Best NYC Concerts of 2013

Of all the year-end lists here, which also include the year’s best songs and best albums, the best New York concerts list is usually the most fun to pull together. For one, it’s the most individual. The Bushwick indie rock clique may go to all the same shows together because they’re terrified of giving anyone the impression that they can think for themselves, but among the 99%, everybody has their own unique bunch of favorites from the past year.

This is also the easiest list to assemble. Every year, there are thousands of songs and hundreds of albums to sift through; the number of shows is thankfully a lot more manageable.

But this year, tragedy struck. The night of January 19, arguably the best New York rock show of 2013 featured a headline act whose core members would be murdered only a few months later. Lush art-rock/dance-rock band the Yellow Dogs topped the bill at the now-shuttered Public Assembly as part of a phenomenal lineup which began with female-fronted dreampop band Butter the Children, then reggae/soul band Osekre & the Lucky Bastards and the Brooklyn What playing a scorching, intense album release show for their latest one, Hot Wine. The Brooklyn What would go on to share another bill with the Iranian expats before a disgruntled ex-bandmate ambushed the group in their sleep in south Williamsburg in mid-November.

Otherwise, the game plan for this page was to list twenty shows. In the process of whittling the number down, it became obvious that there was no way to fairly choose any less than thirty. This city may be mired in a crushing economic depression, but somehow New York musicians rose above it and made 2013 a year to remember. The 29 other best shows of the year, from this perspective anyway, in chronological order:

Changing Modes at Spike Hill, 1/19/13. It was cool to be able to sneak away from the Brooklyn What/Yellow Dogs extravaganza around the corner to see this slashingly lyrical, female-fronted, keyboard-driven art-rock/new wave rock crew. They were missing one of their three singers, but the music was still killer.

Molly Ruth at Zirzamin, 1/27/13. From November of 2012 through this past July, when the club closed suddenly, this blog booked a lot of shows at the basement space on Houston Street. Given a supportive venue and unlimited access to New York’s best talent, what an amazing time that was! Molly Ruth’s fearless charisma and wickedly acerbic, assaultive punk-blues songs made for one of the best nights there.

Richard Thompson at Joe’s Pub, 2/5/13. Absolutely no plans to see this, tickets being as ridiculously overpriced as they were. Publicist sends an eleventh-hour email: wanna go? Sure! The veteran rocker who might be the greatest guitarist of all time – and maybe the greatest rock songwriter of all time – was at the top of his game, leading a power trio.

Jerome O’Brien and Beninghove’s Hangmen at Zirzamin, 2/18/13. This wasn’t one of the nights booked by this blog, but it could have been: the former frontman of literate punk/R&B rockers the Dog Show airing out old classics and deviously witty new material, solo acoustic on 12-string guitar, followed by saxophonist/composer Bryan Beninghove’s careening, menacing, psychedelic noir surf/crime jazz band.

The Polyse Project and Shofar at the Lincoln Center Atrium, 2/21/13. The two Polish groups made their US debut playing obscure, haunting folk tunes from the pre-Holocaust Polish-Jewish badlands along with equally haunting, lingering jazz reinventions of some of those themes.

Trio Tritticali at Zirzamin, 2/24/13. Of all the shows booked by this blog at this venue, this was the most fun. Not only did the eclectic string trio play a sizzling mix of original indie classical, tango and Middle Eastern material, they also served as house band. Lorraine Leckie, Walter Ego and a bunch of other A-list songwriters got the benefit of a brilliant string section behind them.

Black Sea Hotel and Lorraine Leckie at Zirzamin, 3/3/13. The three women of the otherworldly Balkan a-cappella group and the Canadian gothic songstress might not seem like the ideal segue, but they built a dark ambience that Leckie and her band set ablaze.

Daphne Lee Martin at the Way Station, 3/6/13. The torchy, deviously literate songwriter and her killer band aired out songs from Martin’s excellent new album, refusing to let a horrible sound mix and a loud bar crowd that wouldn’t listen distract them from their sultry, sometimes luridly swinging intensity.

Tift Merritt and Simone Dinnerstein at Merkin Concert Hall, 3/21/13. The Americana chanteuse and classical pianist began their duo show with the lights off and kept them low throughout a deliciously nocturnal mix of chamber pop and art-rock.

Drina Seay at Zirzamin, 3/24/13. One of the great voices in Americana brought her sophisticated countrypolitan band for a mix of noir blues, honkytonk and more rocking songs.

Serena Jost at Joe’s Pub, 4/9/13. The cellist and art-rock songwriter brought her brilliant band and burned through songs from her equally brilliant new album A Bird Will Sing.

Brazda and Big Lazy at Barbes, 4/12/13. Eclectic singer Shelley Thomas’ edgy Balkan group followed by the first live show in six years by NYC’s most thrilling noir instrumental band.

The Sweet Bitters at Zirzamin, 4/21/13. A rare, impromptu NYC show by A-list tunesmith Sharon Goldman and Nina Schmir’s folk-pop duo plus cellist Martha Colby, mixing otherworldly harmonies, edgy lyrics and a triumphant good-to-be-back vibe.

Eva Salina at the American Folk Art Museum, 5/3/13. One of the most intense, original voices in Balkan music, in a riveting, rare solo show: just vocals and accordion.

Bryan & the Aardvarks at Subculture, 5/14/13. The glimmering, nocturnal, vibraphone-driven Americana jazz sextet put on one of the most lushly evocative, richly noir shows of the year.

Emel Mathlouthi at the Alliance Française, 5/22/13. Even without her full band – who were absent due to visa issues – the Tunisian Siouxsie Sioux played a subtle yet ferociously intense mix of Middle Eastern art-rock and Arabic liberation anthems.

A Conspiracy of Beards at Drom, 5/24/13. The mighty all-male San Francisco choir sang their own imaginative large-scale arrangements of Leonard Cohen classics that were haunting and intense but  just as often playful and funny.

Eilen Jewell at City Winery, 7/9/13. The Queen of the Minor Key with her amazing band featuring lead guitarist Jerry Miller, one of the most sizzling players in Americana.

The Go-Go’s at Coney Island, 8/1/13. Who would have thought that the original, breakthrough all-female new wave band would still be together (with a new bassist) thirty-three years after they started…and that they’d sound more rambunctious than ever?

El Gusto at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, 8/3/13. While we’re on the topic of old bands, this bunch of virtuoso Algerian chaabi musicians were making their US debut fifty-three years after they’d broken up, in 1960. And they picked up right where they left off.

The Larch at Bowery Electric, 8/8/13. Playing mostly new, unrecorded material, Brooklyn’s finest psychedelic new wave outfit were at the top of their sardonically lyrical, guitar-fueled game.

Rosin Coven and Amanda Palmer at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, 8/9/13. AFP was as fearless and charismatic and fun to watch as you could possibly want, but the story here was the opening act, whose wild, canivalesque art-rock upstaged the headliners.

Kotorino at Joe’s Pub, 8/29/13. Speaking of carnivalesque, this Brooklyn circus-rock outfit keeps getting larger and more menacing, this time out playing the album release show for their excellent second album Better Than This.

Till By Turning playing bassoonist Katherine Young’s Four-Chambered Heart at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Brooklyn, 9/6/13. This isn’t a classical music blog, but Young – who has made a name for herself in jazz improvisation as well as chamber music – established herself as one of the most individualistic and powerful composers in town with this chilling suite, inspired by Olivier Messiaen’s prison camp epic, Quartet for the End of Time.

Matthew Grimm at Rodeo Bar, 9/13/13. The former and occasionally current Hangdogs frontman – who’s sort of the Stephen Colbert of heartland rock – played a mix of wryly hilarious and white-knuckle intense Americana rock and powerpop numbers from his latest album Songs in the Key of Your Face.

Salaam at Alwan for the Arts, 10/26/13. Multi-instrumentalist Dena El Saffar’s eclectic Middle Eastern band burned through a mix of originals and classics from Iran, with special guests from her brother Amir’s equally intense jazz quintet.

Carol Lipnik, Villa Delirium, Big Lazy and Mamie Minch at Barbes, 10/31/13. The queen of Coney Island phantasmagoria with her noir chamber pop band, followed by John Kruth’s gleefully twisted circus rock outfit, NYC’s creepiest crime jazz/noir instrumental band (yeah, they made this list twice – they’re that good) with all-purpose retro Americana siren Minch taking a characteristically lurid turn in front of the mic.

Kayhan Kalhor and Ali Bahrami Fard at the Asia Society, 11/16/13. The Iranian fiddle player and composer joined with the santoor virtuoso for a glimmering, wrenchingly intense suite inspired by the harrowing experiences of their fellow citizens during the Khomeini years.

LJ Murphy & the Accomplices at the Parkside, 11/23/13. This list ends on a high note with this city’s most politically aware, charismatic noir rocker and his scorching, blues-infused band, careening through a mix of old classics and newly reworked material.

The Best NYC Concerts of 2013 That This Blog Didn’t Cover

A chronicle of missed opportunities taken from the pages of this blog’s monthly NYC live music calendar. It would be great to be able to go out every night, but…you know the drill. It’s called having a life.

In the meantime, to put the Best NYC Concerts of 2013 list in perspective, this is a cut-and-paste job of the year’s most enticing concerts that were not covered here for various reasons. Some of these artists have been featured on this page before, but most haven’t. Consider this a wish list…and maybe a sneak peek at some of the live music coverage here in 2014:

1/3, 7 PM haunting Aimee Mann-esque pianist/songwriter Jodi Shaw at the small room at the Rockwood

1/3-13, 8 PM Preservation Hall Jazz Band play a ten-night stand at the McKittrick Hotel, 542 W 27th St., $25.

1/6, 6 PM Zozulka (Ukrainian for cuckoo) featuring Eva Salina Primack, Black Sea Hotel’s Willa Roberts and the Debutante Hour’s Maria Sonevytsky at Barbes singing haunting, otherworldly Ukrainin songs followed at 9 by gypsy guitar paradigm-shifter Stephane Wrembel at Barbes

1/8 6 PM edgy lyrical intense Nina Simone-influenced soul siren Alice Lee at the small room at the Rockwood

1/11, 7:30 PM last year’s Maqam Fest was arguably the best NYC concert of 2012 and this one promised to be as good. On the bill: haunting, cutting-edge pan-levantine band Salaam; brilliant Turkish classical multi-instrumentliast Ahmet Erdogdular; New Andalucia, who blend flamenco and Arabic styles; Balkan/gypsy rockers Eva Salina fronted by charismatic, bewitching singer Eva Salina Primack; Amino Belyamani’s SSAHHA playing microtonal Moroccan grooves; and the all-star Alwan Arab Music Ensemble jamming out classical music from Cairo, Aleppo and Baghdad at Alwan for the Arts.

1/11, 11 PM half of the Golden Festival’s best Balkan brass acts: Zlatne Uste, Raya Brass Band, Frank London’s Klezmer All-Stars and the NY Gypsy All-Stars play a benefit for the Turkish Miles Davis, Selim Sesler (who needs a heart transplant) at Drom

1/11 twin trombone deep dub band Super Hi-Fi at 7, wild Mexican polka crew Banda Sinaloense de los Muertos at 8, Black Masala (a spinoff of dub reggae band See-I) at 9, the incomparably fun Peruvian psychedelic surfsters Chicha Libre at 10, intense metal cumbia band MAKU Soundsystem at 11 at Drom.

1/12, 8 PM holy mother of G-d, what a doublebill: Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra and the Klezmatics at the 92YTribeca, $20.

1/12, 8 PM snarling Bollywood-influenced punk rockers Yankee Bang Bang followed eventually at 10 by the sizzling Taiwanese art-metal instrumentals of the Hsu-Nami at the Knitting Factory, $8.

1/13, 8 PM a phenomenal free doublebill: haunting Turkish and Armenian string band the Secret Trio followed by Bulgarian chanteuse Vlada Tomova’s equally gripping Balkan Tales at Drom.

1/15, 7 PM wild violin/brass Balkan band Sherita at Barbes followed at 9 by the considerably larger and even louder Slavic Soul Party

1/18 the annual Balkan music extravaganza Golden Festival at Grand Prospect Hall, 263 Prospect Avenue in Brooklyn that somehow this blog has missed for the previous few years. Ouch.

1/19, 8 PM excellent torchy noir doublebill at le Poisson Rouge with inscrutable dark Americana chanteuse Marissa Nadler and torchy, lurid gothic art-rockers Elysian Fields, $15

1/19, 9 PM OMG what an amazing triplebill: Wendy Grifffiths’ dark, edgy, lyrical new wave-influenced rockers Changing Modes [who actually got a review out of this show, although the others on the bill conflicted with the Brooklyn What album release show around the corner at Public Assembly] followed by intense, majestic, hauntingly anthemic art-rock band Of Earth followed by dark blues band Jane Lee Hooker at Spike Hill. These acts have absolutely nothing in common except that they are all brilliant.

1/20, 5 PM a wild and crazy Golden Fest afterparty concert with Pontic Firebird, the Wind of Anatolia at 6, Inspector Gadje at 7, psychedelic Balkan rockers Choban Electrik at 8 and then gypsy punks Kagero at Drom, $10

2/2, 9 PM an especially killer night of surf bands at Otto’s with the increasingly eclectic, increasingly noir TarantinosNYC, ferocious Connecticut Dick Dale-style 9th Wave at 10, Surfer Joe & His Boss Combo (sounds suspiciously like a Supertones spinoff) at 11 and sometime after midnight, the macabre pyrotechnics of amazing Boston band Beware the Dangers of a Ghost Scorpion.

2/13, 6:30 PM (early arrival obviously advised) Judy Collins sings popular songs of the Civil War era at the great hall at Cooper Union, 7 E 7th St. (3rd and 4th Aves), free. [Collins was preceded by several people reading poems and such; with somewhere to go afterward, it was impossible to stick around long enough to see her. Not fair!]

2/27, 10 PM Anderson Council at Otto’s. No idea what they sound like, if they do the obvious or not so obvious (which would be fingerstyle blues), but they get a thumbs-up for having the balls to call themselves that.

2/28, 8 PM briliant oud player/composer Mavrothi Kontanis’ new band Mild Mannered Rebel, playing all original music, followed at 10 by haunting, torchy Romany singer Sanda Weigl and band at Barbes.

3/8, 7 PM Argentinian surf/cumbia act Simja followed at 8 by French chanteuse Fredda and then at 10 by psychedelic funk band the People’s Champs at Barbes..

3/14, 9 PM one of the year’s best doublebills: clarinet star Vasko Dukovski’s brilliant new gypsy/Balkan band TavChe GravChe with oud virtuoso Rachid Halihal followed by ten-piece Balkan brass jammers Veveritse Brass Band at the Jalopy, $10

3/29, 9 PM dark doublebill straight out of the late 90s: cello rockers Rasputina and one of the original gypsy punk bands, World Inferno at Irving Plaza, $33.50.

3/29, 9 PM sizzling oldtimey/Balkan/bluegrass violinist Sarah Alden & the Red Hot Rubies followed at 10:30 by brilliant, sometimes hilarious Tipsy Oxcart,

3/30, 6 PM a Nawrooz celebration , Vatan’s Persian-meets-country-rock sounds and a blast into the past with Mitra Sumara’s NYC supergroup playing now-illegal 60s/70s pre-revolution sounds, $17 adv tix

4/4, 8 PM composer Clint Mansell played his first-ever NYC show – the album release show for his amazingly creepy soundtrack to the film Stoker – with an ensemble at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, 405 W 59th St (at Columbus), $30

4/4, 8 PM two very smart, very different, retro-minded chanteuses: dark, charismatic, deviously witty literate keyboardist/accordionist Rachelle Garniez followed at 10 by intense, plaintive, purist Americana songwriter/maven Jan Bell at Barbes

4/7, 7 PM brilliant Moroccan oudist Rachid Halihal and his haunting acoustic ensemble Layali El Andalus at Barbes followed at 9 by gypsy guitar paradigm-shifter Stephane Wrembel.

4/20, 7:30 PM a killer Balkan triplebill with fiery Raya Brass Band spinoff Sherita, Tipsy Oxcart, and hip-hop brass band grooves with PitchBlak Brass Band in the room out back of the Ukrainian Village Restaurant, 140 2nd Ave.

4/21, 9:30 PM noir jazz band Silencio played classic David Lynch soundtrack music from Twin Peaks, Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Mulholland Drive, and Lost Highway at le Poisson Rouge, $20 adv tix highly rec.

4/23, 7:30 PM SoCorpo (Sasha Bogdanowitsch & Sabrina Lastman) played characteristically gripping, innovative new works for two voices from their new album Inelement at le Poisson Rouge

4/30, 7:30 PM brilliant lyrical janglerocker/composer Ward White leading a band playing his impossibly complicated, brilliant new album Bob, a film noir for the ears at the Mercury. The best concert of the year possibly?

4/30, 10 PM deliciously twangy, jangly twin-guitar paisley underground/psychedelic Americana rockers Mud Blood & Beer playing songs from their killer new paisley underground/roots rock album The Sweet Life at at Hank’s

5/9, 9 PM edgy oldtimey swing and C&W with Miss Tess & the Talkbacks followed by Lake Street Dive at Maxwell’s, $12 adv tix rec. 5/10 they’re at the Bell House for the same price

5/11 the house concert doublebill with bewitching Balkan chanteuse Eva Salina Primack and badass resonator guitarist/blues chanteuse Mamie Minch quickly sold out.

5/24 9ish exhilarating, assaultive, monster surf/psychedelic/noir garage band Wooden Indian Burial Ground at Grand Victory in Williamsburg

5/29, 7ish you want eclectic? Lush, slinky Middle Eastern film music ensemble Zikrayat, Balkan brass behemoth (and Ellington reinterpreters) Slavic Soul Party and the Toomai String Quintet at Highline Ballroom

Leonard Cohen at Madison Square Garden sometime in June. Yeah, tickets were beyond-the-pale expensive: hundreds of dollars, and no concert is worth that much. But somebody knew someebody, and if this blog had been more alert…

6/15, 8 PM ageless NYC oi punks Blanks 77, the original gypsy punk band World Inferno and then first-wave reggae-punk legends the Subhumans at Bowery Ballroom, $15.

6/15, 9 PM a rare reunion by legendary LES dance/punk/instrumental trio Moisturizer (baritone sax, bass and drums) followed by brilliant new jazz/jamband trio Anderson Henderson White (Moist Paula Henderson on bari sax, Rev. Vince Anderson on keys and Jim White on drums) followed by funky jamband/Steely Dan reinventors Burnt Sugar at 11 at BPM, 237 Kent Ave. Williamsburg

6/15, 9ish first-class third-wave ska triplebill: Los Skarroneros, the Void Union and the Toasters at Grand Victory in Williamsburg

6/17, 8 PM Veveritse Brass Band and psychedelic 18-piece all-female accordion group the Main Squeeze Orchestra at Brooklyn Bowl, $7

6/18-19, 8 PM Laurie Anderson at Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City.

6/27, 8 PM ferocious female-fronted Americana punk rockers Spanking Charlene plus a rare one-off NYC reunion show by high-voltage 80s roots-rock legends the Del-Lords playing the album releaase party for their new one (first in 20 years!), Elvis Club, at Bowery Electric, $15 adv tix rec

6/28, 9 PM fearlessly intense indie rock songwriter/guitarslinger Jennifer O’Connor followed by Thalia Zedek’s recently reunited, iconic dark 90s indie band Come at Bowery Ballroom, $15.

6/30, 8 PM the original Geto Boys at B.B. King’s. Houston’s greatest hip-hop group, one of the classic units from the golden age, who knows when if ever they’ll hit NYC again. Three first-class, macabre lyricists: Bushwick Bill, Scarface and Willie D., a must see show if rap is your thing, $30 adv tix rec.

6/30, 9 PM cynical, catchy, lyrically-driven Boston powerpop four-piece the Fatal Flaw at Union Hall.

7/6, 9 PM the Byzan-tones‘ wild psychedelic Greek surf music at Otto’s followed at 10 by Dick Dale-influenced 9th Wave, the Nebulas and Radio Birdman-influenced garage punks Thee Icepicks.

7/11, 8 PM oldtime harmony band the Weal and the Woe followed at 10 by dark Romany rock/chamber pop group Kotorino at Barbes

7/11, 8ish Mexican folk revivalist/chanteuse Lila Downs at Central Park Summerstage

7/18, 7:30 PM haunting female-fronted Canadian-Turkish art-rock/psychedelic band Minor Empire at Drom, $10 adv tix req

8/4, 9 PM dark female-fronted Americana/psychedelic rockers Mesiko at the Mercury $10

8/6, 7 PM sizzling oldtimey/Balkan/bluegrass violinist Sarah Alden & the Red Hot Rubies at Barbes followed at 9 by hot Romany band Romsk Boji.

8/7, 7:30 PM Panamanian salsa legend Ruben Blades at Damrosch Park.

8/9, 10 PM powerpop guitar genius Chuck Prophet at the Bell House, $12 adv tix rec.

8/10, 8:30 PM rockabilly guitarslinger/chanteuse Kim Lenz & the Jaguars at Joe’s Pub

8/11, 9:30ish what’s left of queercore legends Velvet Mafia followed by reunions of first-wave retro torch song revivalists Boo Boo’s Lounge and then the legendary Maul Girls at Bowery Electric.

8/16, 11:30 PM reverb-addicted haunting noir garage rock duo Twin Guns and LES noir glampunk/noiserock legends the Chrome Cranks at the Mercury, $12 adv tix rec

8/29, 8 PM an amazing quadruplebill at Spike Hill: hilarious Tipsy Oxcart, gypsy/latin/ska rockers Karikatura and charismatic gypsy punk/metal cumbia band Escarioka, $7.

9/12, 7:30 PM haunting Lynchian soundtrack/dreampop band the Lost Patrol followed at 9 by the Pitchblak Brass Band album release show at Bowery Electric, $10.

9/12, 7:30/10 PM Debbie Davies – one of the most amazing electric blues players in history – at Lucille’s

9/18, 8 PM haunting Romany/klezmer/art-rock instrumentalists Barbez playing the album release show for their new one Bella Ciao, a suite of music inspired by both ancient Roman Jewish melodies and the Italian Resistance during the Second World War at le Poisson Rouge, $10 adv tix rec

10/3, 8 PM haunting Tunisian chanteuse Sonia M’Barek with Syrian oudist Kinan Idnawi and the brilliant Alwan Arab Music Ensemble at Alwan for the Arts, $25

10/3, 8 PM a repeat of the best doublebill of 2013: inscrutable lyrical haunting charismatic accordionist/chanteuse Rachelle Garniez at 8 at Barbes followed at 10 by the world’s #1 noir/crime jazz/psychedelic guitar jamband, Big Lazy.

10/20, 11 PM accordionist Alec K Redfearn & the Eyesores – whose lush, Lynchian album Sister Death might have been the best of 2012 – at Bowery Electric, $8

10/31, 11ish scorching, Radio Birdman-style garage punk with the Mess Around at Hank’s.

11/7, 9:30 PM haunting Americana/Tex-Mex chanteuse/bandleader Patricia Vonne at Hill Country, free. Wow!

11/16, 9ish perennially vital CBGB-era psychedelic punks Band of Outsiders and dark Swedish garage/psych rockers the Plastic Pals at the Ding Dong Lounge, 106th/Columbus

12/14, 6 PM all-star Middle Eastern group the Alwan Ensemble performs music of iconic Lebanese tunesmiths the Rahbani Brothers – early, more traditional works as well as their later, paradigm-shifting Middle Eastern/European art-rock songs – at Alwan for the Arts.

12/14, 6:45 PM the 21st anniversary of Phil Kline’s shimmery, gamelanesque participatory antiwar composition/parade Unsilent Night,

12/19, 9 PM a rare reunion of hellraising, politically astute Americana rockers the Hangdogs (who were sort of the Dead Kennedys of highway rock) with frontman Matthew Grimm doing some tunes off his insightful and hilarious new powerpop/Americana rock album Songs in the Key of Your Face at Rodeo Bar.

12/20, 10 PM catchy, anthemic post-REM janglerockers Electric Engine followed by a rare reunion show by ferocious, politically aware Americana rockers American Ambulance – one of NYC’s best zeros bands – at Lit

Black Sea Hotel Delivers Hauntingly Innovative Versions of Classic Balkan Songs

This blog’s predecessor affectionately dubbed Black Sea Hotel “a punk rock version of Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares.” The Brooklyn a-cappella trio sing haunting, bracingly intense folk songs from the Balkans, specializing in Bulgarian and Macedonian tunes. That they were invited to perform at the Bulgarian Consulate attests to their cred and grasp of Balkan languages (none of the trio are native speakers). That it’s impossible to tell from the album who’s singing what testifies to the meticulously nuanced, otherworldly vocal sorcery of Willa Roberts, Sarah Small and Corinna Snyder (who has since left the ensemble). Their second cd, The Forest Is Shaking and Swaying, might well be the most magical album put out by any New York group in the past several years, let alone 2013.  The three women swoop and dive from stratospheric highs to resonant lows, with eerie close harmonies, ornamented trills, the occasional whoop of delight or dread suddenly cut off cold.

If their music sounds troubled, that’s because times were hard back when these songs were a central part of village life. Yet the themes are universal: girls want their guys to buy them stuff (and they like to strut it), neighbors are nosy, and everybody wants someone and something they can’t have. Much of the album was recorded at Temple Beth Emeth in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, whose rich natural reverb adds to the songs’ lingering mystery. The group’s favorite harmony is A-Bflat-B – can anything possibly be any cooler than that? And not to dis founding member Joy Radish, who left the group in around 2010, but these trio arrangements, most of them by the members themselves, are just as inventive as the charts sung by the quartet on their 2009 debut album. Some are beefed-up folk melodies, others are scaled-down versions of works typically sung by large choirs.

If you’re not Bulgarian. you’d probably never guess that the gist of the tricky metrics, pinpoint staccato and acidic harmonies of the opening track describes a guy promising to buy shoes and a dress for his sweetheart. Likewise, Small’s conspiratorial arrangement of a Macedonian song, where a guy asks for a bunch of basil from a girl’s garden and she basically tells him to get lost…unless he’s single. But a lot of the melodies and arrangements deliver a message that transcends language. There’s a wartime ache and longing in a brooding, atmospheric Macedonian tune whose message is essentially, “Come meet the rebels, they’re coming down from the mountain.” A Snyder arrangement of a song about a surreal dream concerning (symbolism alert) two doves being killed by bullets has the livewire intensity of a brass band. Roberts’ arrangement of a Bulgarian song about a woman asking a cuckoo where her lost love might be has a distantly imploring quality, as well as a sense of flight vividly captured in the vocals’ slides and atmospherics. There are eight other tracks here dealing with supernatural dragonmen, nobles greedily awaiting the death of a rival, flirtatious guys and their consequences in, maybe, the 17th century, a bitter contemplation of old age, and one song partially in tersely poetic English translation.  All of these have a similarly crystalline beauty and persistent unease. For non Bulgarian and Macedonian speakers, the album comes with a helpful digest of song meanings.

What is the future for these three edgy singers? Snyder has a career in academia; Roberts is also an accomplished violinist; and Small – daughter of acclaimed, individualistic pianist/composer Haskell Small – may actually be better known as a photographer. Her elegant largescale tableaux are sort of a classier counterpart to Spencer Tunick’s work.

Adrian Raso and Fanfare Ciocarlia Blast Through Their Devil’s Tale

Hearing explosive Romanian brass orchestra Fanfare Ciocarlia relegated to the role of backing band is surreal. But guitarist Adrian Raso is a spectacular and eclectic player, to the extent that he doesn’t get overshadowed by the legendary Romany party monsters. Their new collaboration, Devil’s Tale, due out next month, is in many respects as noir as noir gets: it’s both the roots of noir and the cutting edge as well, along with a couple of more lighthearted, more pop-oriented tracks. Raso distinguishes himself as a bearer of the Django Reinhardt legacy as well as a searing soloist whose signature style draws on decades of Americana.

The opening track, Ulm St. Tavern is sort of St. James Infirmary transplanted to Bucharest – people have died in this bar. It’s a Kurt Weill-style noir blues theme driven by banjo and tremolo-bar guitar early on, the orchestra looming in and then receding, Raso peeling off a snarling slide guitar solo, the band speeding it up at the end although the song is over before it gets completely out of hand. It sets the stage for pretty much everything that comes afterward.

Swing Sagarese is the first of the Romany jazz numbers, the band adding a circus rock edge with a delicious handoff between alto sax and trumpet. The Absinthe-Minded Gypsy, another noir blues, opens with ominous banjo and a wash of horns, like a more ornate take on the Dimestore Dance Band, bristling with eerie chromatics and bitingly brief solos from banjo, dobro and tuba. C’Est La Vie goes back to spiraling, flurrying, wickedly catchy Romany guitar jazz, while Quattro Cicci brings in a high-voltage flamenco feel with a lush bed of guitars bolstered by the orchestra’s signature pinpoint, precise brass. After Raso’s done wailing, it builds to a big, anthemic stadium-rock outro.

Charlatan’s Waltz is more low key and creepy, like Beninghove’s Hangmen in especially brooding mode, a carnivalesque waltz with pulsing staccato horns, accordion and a judicously spiky Romany jazz guitar solo. The arguably most surreal number here is the title track, a Romany jazz orchestra doing Duane Eddy, or vice versa; Raso’s hammering, staccato solo over rimshot drums midway through adds both unexpected humor and suspense. Likewise, there’s both twistedness and drollery in the slowly swaying Leezard’s Lament, with its darkly rustic banjo, lingering slow-burn tremolo guitar, weird jawharp and samples in the background.

Both Cafe Con Leche and Spirtissimo venture toward Gipsy Kings territory, the first with hints of a bolero, the second more of a flamenco-flavorred tune. Birelli’s Waltz starts out as an elegantly moody theme and then warms as it moves into more straightforward guitar jazz. The album ends with the briskly marching, playful Django, with its gritty horn pointillisms and wry quotes from famous themes from across the ages. Fanfare Ciocarlia are at Webster Hall in the main room at 9:40 PM on Jan 12 as part of Globalfest.

Haunting, Atmospheric, Blues-Infused Intensity from the Bright Smoke

The Bright Smoke is the more-or-less solo project from Mia Wilson, whose raw, wounded wail and menacing minor-key songwriting made her previous band the French Exit one of New York’s most riveting live acts for a couple of years in the late zeros. Her songwriting on the Bright Smoke’s new album Virginia Et. Al. is more blues-infused, in the same vein as a young PJ Harvey but more atmospheric. Likewise, her vocals here are more low-key and world-weary but no less haunted and intense. The recording quality is lush yet direct: organic instrumentation, darkly enveloping sonics. Along with Wilson’s guitars and vocals, producer Q. Ledbetter adds guitar and bass tracks over lo-fi percussion samples and loops.

Wilson’s stark blues lines resonate with a rustic, haunting quality on the opening track, God Willing. “God willing the creek don’t rise,” becomes a mantra. “My hands are shaking,” Wilson intones as simple, biting guitar layers linger in the background like a coiled snake that’s about to strike.

Sea Level is the rare song that’s Joy Division-influenced without being slavishily imitative. With its ba-BUMP beat and catchy, mournfully bluesy melody, it also brings to mind the Stooges classic I Need Somebody. “Do you know what it’s like to wake up after trying not to wake up again?” Wilson asks. Slow Burn is slightly more upbeat, like the Banana Album-era Velvets taking a stab at a classic country song. The ache in Wilson’s voice is visceral as she waves someone away for good.

Pure Light is the longest, most hypnotic track here, the low resonance of Wilson’s voice contrasting with the guitars’ overtones, gentle but uneasy slides and creepily tinkling piano overhead. “Can you feel the wind come to make you wild again?” Wilson asks on the next track – but the answer isn’t clear, and it’s as if the wind she’s talking about could freeze everything over, again with a minor-key, minimalist Joy Division intensity. The last track, Free, is ostensibly a demo, but Wilson obviously knew she had a gem when she recorded it. It’s a dirge, just simple guitar, vocals and a piano drenched in natural reverb and enough out of tune that it maxes out the horror factor: “What a beautiful means to an otherwise painful end,” Wilson muses, a vivid elegy for someone who chose to kill himself or herself by drowning. You want intense? The Bright Smoke’s next gig is at Lit on Second Ave. at 8 PM on Jan 18.

Libel Put Their Fiery Guitar-Fueled Stamp on Classic Glamrock

Libel is the kind of band you picture up on a big stage, all dressed in black leather, everybody except the drummer with his foot up on a monitor, half-obscured in mist from the smoke machine. They’re from Brooklyn, but their sound is 100% British. Their sardonically titled album Music for Car Commercials is stagy and dramatic, a mix of wickedly catchy vintage glamrock tunes whose influences run from Bowie, to Spacehog, to more swirling and psychedelic, with an unexpectedly impressive socially conscious edge. Unless somebody in the band owns a studio, this must have cost a fortune to produce: layers and layers of big, raging, echoing guitars; Nick Brzoza’s boomy big-room drums; Brian LaRue’s dynamic, melodic bass, and frontman/guitarist Gavin Dunaway’s Bowie vocal theatrics, which are often a dead ringer for the real thing. The whole album is up at Libel’s Bandcamp page as a name-your-price download.

This Is Love sets the stage: with its uneasy, chromatically-fueled verse making its way methodically up to a big, catchy, upbeat chorus, it’s a good way to start the album. It segues into Golden Child, which is Supergrass with lusher sonics, a sardonic look at showbiz machinations lit up by a paint-peeling slide guitar solo that burns out with a shriek of feedback. Old Boy also makes fun of the entertainment-industrial complex and its clueless consumers, opening with a quote from Daydream Nation and going straight into oldschool Bowie after that. Broken Wine Glass, a kiss-off anthem, has more of a jangly 80s feel, Dunaway dropping his stagy falsetto for a more somber delivery.

Tomorrow’s Children is part Oasis, part glam, a triumphant shout-out to Millennial optimism in the face of adversity. Perceptions, with its blazing, lingering minor-key riffage, is one of the strongest tracks here, with a deliciously backward-masked guitar solo midway through. Empath juxtaposes a grim video game narrative against richly swirling, anthemic atmospherics that echo the Church at their most envelopingly psychedelic.

Filthy Mouth, another screaming minor-key anthem, might be the best song on the album, musically at least; it’s too bad that the lyrics never rise above “I love it when you talk dirty” cliches. No Past Tense goes back to relatively quiet and pensive, again reflecting on the shallowness of corporate music marketing. It segues into the cynical final track, Thoroughly Modern Milieu, which sounds like mid-90s Blur with louder guitars. The Thin White Duke may be past 70 now, but his legacy still resonates, particularly with this bnad. Libel are at Radio Bushwick, 22 Wyckoff Ave. between Troutman and Starr in Brooklyn on Jan 17 at 8 PM.

Avi Fox-Rosen’s Monthly Album Marathon Reaches the Finish Line

Avi Fox-Rosen set out this past January to release an album a month this year. That he achieved his goal is noteworthy enough; that the music has been so consistently good is mind-boggling, except for the fact that he’s always been a strong songwriter and a hell of a guitarist. Did he simply have a huge backlog of unrecorded songs waiting and decide to get it all out there this year, or are all of them brand new? The answer isn’t clear. Whatever the case, you can guess for yourself and enjoy everything he released because it’s all up at his Bandcamp page as a name-your-price download..

Fox-Rosen approached this project thematically. January’s album contemplated getting old, February’s was about love, followed by – in monthly order – money, stupidity (April’s album, the pick of the litter), fairy tales, teen angst, nationalism, sex, religion and fear (the existential kind),

November’s album focuses on family dysfunction. Oh boy, does it ever. Fox-Rosen’s tunesmithing is as eclectic as always, his cynicism at redline as it has been throughout much of this past year. And so is his snide sense of humor.The most LMFAO funny song here is Eat. It’s a noir cabaret tune about a mother who equates food with love. But that’s only part of the story. One of Fox-Rosen’s most effective tropes is to take a straightforwardly comedic song and use it to deliver savage sociopolitical commentary, and this is a prime example. Halfway through, he turns the story away from the ridiculous mom and launches into a litany of ridiculous food, a parody of fussy foodie trends. The jokes are too good to spoil.

Together Again is a sardonic gospel rock song about a family that likes to bond: their bonding mechanism happens to be fighting, the physical kind. We Ain’t Never Gonna Forget (What a Shit You Were) is a new wave tune and much as it it’s a little obvious, it’s irresistibly funny:

Well you were just two feet tall
You took out your penis and pissed on the wall
And everybody in town thought I cussed
When I said, “Hey, that little shit is pissing on the wall!”

Intertwined, a pensive folk-rock ballad, is a lot more subtle, contemplating some of the quieter ways a child’s individuality gets crushed. The album ends with one of the longer songs in this project, Demon Inside (Corporate Family), a big, enveloping art-rock anthem set in a surreal, futuristic, grey Orwellian world that is actually the here and now, Fox-Rosen offering a quietly revolutionary message. On another level, it might also be a Coldplay parody.

December’s album hints at being triumphant coda to all of this, but the central theme is rockstar narcissism: an easy target, and Fox-Rosen takes full advantage. Listen closely and decide for yourself which of these parodies might be outtakes from previous themes.  As he will do occasionally, Fox-Rosen occasionally drops his guard – in the first song, So Fucking Happy, a wry spin on generic Bad Company-style riff-rock, he admits that “I’ve never been happy quite this long, I’m either doing something very right or doing something very wrong.”

Where Is My Parade is a warped circus rock song that gets more over-the-top, and funnier, as it goes along – and the big brass band Fox-Rosen assembled for the track matches that surrealism. With Sisyphus, Fox-Rosen goes back to the classic radio rock for a spoof of optimistic “keep on keepin’ on” cliches. You Think That Was Something straddles the line between powerpop parody, a Spinal Tap-style narrative about an aging rocker mounting a dubious comeback, and a defiantly triumphant message that Fox-Rosen may be done with this project, but his best days are still to come. The album ends with Thank You, a generic blues ballad which on one level makes fun of musicians onstage pandering to an audience, but on the other puts both a scowl and a self-effacing shrug on the grim reality that most guys with guitars face. Fox-Rosen and band play a celebratory end-of-marathon show at Rock Shop in Gowanus at around 9 PM on Jan 9; explosive Balkan brass jamband Raya Brass Band, who put out one of the most phenomenal albums of 2013, open the festivities at 8.

Marianne Dissard Makes a Stormy, Brilliantly Twisted Art-Rock Album

Much as Marianne Dissard has established herself as one of the most distinctive voices in southwestern gothic rock – she even made a film about Giant Sand – she’s always had an art-rock side. Her latest album, due out in a couple of weeks – titled The Cat. Not Me – has a mighty, majestic, orchestral grandeur. A lot of is up at her Soundcloud page. Her world-weary, breathy, often whispery vocals are more nuanced and yet more powerful than ever. Although there’s guitar on this album, and it’s excellent, piano is the central instrument out in front of towering strings, woodwinds and brass, with an explosive rhythm section. Can you say grand guignol? Yet despite the prevalent menace, there’s incredible subtlety and often grim, surreal humor here. Dissard sings in her native French, moving from a purr to a wail with split-second grace. Although her lyrics sometimes get subsumed by the orchestration, that’s part of the allure: her dark imagery draws you in and won’t let you go. That seems to be the point of the album – but you don’t have to speak French to enjoy it [you can blame this blog for any errors in translation].

The opening track, Heureusement sans Heurt (rough translation: Happily without Accident) sets the tone, Dissard entering with a breathy whoosh along with the drums over insistent, dramatic piano chords anchored by low, resonant hass clarinet. Dissard’s litarny of surreal imagery ends with someone “melting in the road.” Her tender, elegaic vocals mingle with a gorgeously wounded, flamenco-tinged backdrop on Am Letzen: “The sun rises so it can set, I go out so I can can come back, I have no time left in my heart,” she whispers: the “last morning of the year” refrain carries a ton of weight. The song’s poignancy reminds a lot of Rachelle Garniez.

Dissard shifts gears abruptly with Mouton Bercail (Domestic Sheep), a twisted, noisily guitar-fueled minor-key new wave surf-rock number, sardonically beating herself up for not putting an end to something that’s obviously not working out. Then she goes into gospel-tinged art-rock – with some absolutely gorgeous piano – with Pomme (Apple), a disturbing tableau that seems to be a 21st century update on William Tell, its anxious prisoner awaiting some sign from a nameless commandant.

Je Ne Le Savais Pas (I Didn’t Know) is the loudest song on the album, a wrathful, anvil-of-the-gods anthem that winds out with the whole orchestra blasting at full steam. Oiseau (Bird) brings back that gorgeous gospel piano over an altered trip-hop beat, with a vividly gliding harmonica solo, Dissard working the doomed avian imagery for an understatedly imploring intensity.

Tortue (Turtle) builds a phantasmagorical, Kafkaesque tableau, Dissard’s torrential, hip-hop inflected lyrics against blustery orchestration and stately but slashing block chords from the piano. By now, if you’re paying attention, all this animal imagery makes perfect sense if you consider the album title. Election, which might well have the political subtext the title implies, is the poppiest number here, capped by a dirty, wickedly noisy guitar solo midway through. The most sweeping, angst-fueled and cinematic song is Salamandre, rising and falling, hushed and whispering before it picks up with a regret-laden blast from the orchestra. The season of the salamander may be summer, but this isn’t exactly a summery song.

Doll Circa (Terra) is the creepiest: the “little girl on the carpet, all alone” with the screams in the background as the last verse opens will give you goosebumps. As usual, Dissard unveils her images rather than expressly stating what’s happening, adding to the suspense. The album ends with La Partie De Puzzle Du Jardin A la Francaise (c’mon, that’s an easy translation), a strange, beautiful, brooding anthem that sounds like a cross between Botanica and something from Pink Floyd’s The Wall, complete with sardonic samples from old movies in the background. Meticulous arrangements, wrenchingly emotional musicianship, and Dissard at the top of her uneasy game: an early contender for best album of 2014.