The Obelisk Presents: The Top 20 of 2013

Posted in Features on December 16th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Please note:  These are my picks, not the results of the Readers Poll, which is still going on. If you haven’t added your list yet, please do.

It’s always strange to think of something so utterly arbitrary as also being really, really difficult, but I think 2013 posed the biggest challenge yet in terms of getting together a final list of my favorite records. As ever, I had a post-it note on my office wall (when I moved, it moved with me) and I did my best to keep track of everything that resonated throughout the year. I wound up with over 40 picks and had to start putting them in order to whittle the list down.

I wound up with a top 20 that, even though it feels somewhat incomplete, I’ve found that I can at very least live with. That’s what I’ve done for the last week: Just lived with it. Even up to this morning, I was making changes, but in general, I think this gives some scope about what hit me hard in 2013. Of course, these are just my picks, and while things like my own critical appreciation factor in because that affects how I ultimately listen to a record, sometimes it just comes down to what was stuck in my head most often or what I kept putting on over and over.

That’s a simple formula to apply, but still, 2013 didn’t make it easy. Please note as you go through that there are some real gems in the honorable mentions. I thought about expanding the list to 30 this year, but the thought made my skull start to cave in, so I reconsidered.

Anyway, it only comes around once a year, so let’s do this thing. Thanks in advance for reading:

 

20. All Them Witches, Lightning at the Door

Self-released.

Traditionally, I’ve reserved #20 for a sentimental pick. An album that’s hard to place numerically because of some personal or emotional connection. This year wasn’t short on those, but when it came to it, I knew I couldn’t make this list without Lightning at the Door included, and since it was released just last month as the follow-up to the earlier-2013 Elektrohasch reissue of the Nashville, Tennessee, outfit’s 2012 debut, Our Mother Electricity (review here), I didn’t feel like I’ve had enough time with it to really put it anywhere else. It needed to be here, and so it is, and though I’ve listened to it plenty in the month since its release, I still feel like I’m getting to know Lightning at the Door, and exploring its open-spaced blues rocking grooves. All Them Witches are hands down one of the best bands I heard for the first time this year, and I’m looking forward to following their work as they continue to progress.

19. Queens of the Stone Age, …Like Clockwork

Released by Matador Records. Reviewed June 4.

For a while after I first heard …Like Clockwork and around the time I reviewed it, I sweated it pretty hard. By mid-June, I had it as one of the year’s best without a doubt in my mind. Then I put it away. I don’t know if I burnt myself out on it or what, but I still haven’t really gone back to it, and while the brilliance of cuts like “Kalopsia” and “Fairweather Friends” and “I Appear Missing” still stands out and puts Josh Homme‘s songwriting as some of the most accomplished I encountered in 2013, that hasn’t been enough to make me take it off the shelf. I doubt Queens of the Stone Age will cry about it as they tour arenas and get nominated for Grammy awards, but there it is. I wouldn’t have expected …Like Clockwork to be so low on the list, certainly not when I was listening to “My God is the Sun” six times in a row just to try and get my head around the chorus.

18. I are Droid, The Winter Ward

Released by Razzia Records. Reviewed Sept. 19.

Gorgeously produced and impeccably textured, The Winter Ward by Stockholm-based I are Droid aren’t generally the kind of thing I’d reach for, but the quality of the craft in songs like “Constrict Contract” and “Feathers and Dust” made it essential. Bits and pieces within harkened back to frontman Peder Bergstrand‘s tenure in Lowrider, but ultimately The Winter Ward emerged with a varied and rich personality all its own, and that became the basis for the appeal. As the weather has gotten colder and it’s gotten dark earlier, I’ve returned to The Winter Ward for repeat visits, and as much as I’ve got my fingers crossed for another Lowrider album in 2014, I hope I are Droid continue to run parallel, since the progressive take on alternative influences they managed to concoct was carried across with proportionate accessibility. It was as audience friendly and satisfying a listen as it was complex and ripe for active engagement.

17. Magic Circle, Magic Circle


Released by Armageddon Shop. Reviewed Feb. 18.

There was just nothing to argue about when it came to the self-titled debut from Massachusetts-based doomers Magic Circle, but what worked best about the album was that although the songs were strong on their own and seemed to have lurching hooks to spare, everything throughout fed into an overarching atmosphere that was denser than the straightforwardness of the structures might lead the listener to initially believe. It was a record worth going back to, worth getting lost in the nod of, and as the members are experienced players in a variety of New England acts from The Rival Mob to Doomriders, it should be interesting to find out what demons they may conjure in following-up Magic Circle, if they’ll continue down the path of deceptively subversive “traditionalism” or expand their sound into more progressive reaches. Either way they may choose, the material on their first outing showed an ability to craft an enigmatic, individualized sonic persona that never veered into cultish caricature.

16. Iron Man, South of the Earth

Released by Rise Above/Metal Blade Records. Reviewed Oct. 14.

If you’re into doom and you have a soul, I don’t know how you could not be rooting for Iron Man in 2013. Produced by Frank Marchand and the first full-length from the long-running Maryland doomers to feature vocalist Dee Calhoun and drummer Jason “Mot” Waldmann alongside guitarist/founder “Iron” Al Morris III (interview here) and longtime bassist Louis Strachan. The difference in South of the Earth was palpable even in comparison to 2009’s I Have Returned (review here). With more professional production, excellent performances all around in the lineup, memorable songs like “Hail to the Haze” and “The Worst and Longest Day,” and the considerable endorsement of a release through Rise Above/Metal Blade behind them, the four-piece sounded like the statesmen they are in the Maryland scene and showed themselves every bit worthy of inclusion in the discussion of America’s finest in traditional, Sabbathian doom. May they continue to get their due.

15. Sasquatch, IV


Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Sept. 16.

Whether it was what the lyrics were talking about or not, the message of “The Message” was clear: Never count out a catchy chorus. Now in operation for a decade, Sasquatch practice an arcane artistry with their songwriting. Void of pretense, heavy on boogie, they are as genuine a modern extension of classic heavy rock as you’re likely to find. The Los Angeles power trio outdid themselves with IV, veering boldly into psychedelia on “Smoke Signal” and honing their craft over various moods and themes on “Sweet Lady,” “Me and You” and “Eye of the Storm.” They remain one of American heavy rock’s key and consistently underestimated components, and the three years since the release of their third album, III (review here), seemed like an eternity once the quality grooves of “Money” and “Drawing Flies” got moving, the former an insistent rush and the latter open, dreamy and atmospheric, but both executed with precision and confidence born of Sasquatch‘s familiarity with the methods and means of kicking ass.

14. Black Pyramid, Adversarial

Released by Hydro-Phonic Records. Reviewed April 12.

It was hard to know what to expect from Black Pyramid‘s Adversarial, their first release with guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard at the fore with bassist Dave Gein and drummer/engineer Clay Neely, but the Massachusetts outfit flourished on tracks like “Swing the Scimitar,” incorporating a heavy jamming sensibility with marauding riffs and grooves carried over from the style of their first two albums. Adversarial took the band to Hellfest in France this past summer, where they shared a stage with Neurosis and Sleep, and whether it was the raging chorus of “Bleed Out” or the clarion guitar line of “Aphelion,” the band showed their war ensemble could not be stopped. Their future is uncertain with Neely having relocated and Gein having an impending move of his own, but if Adversarial is to stand as the final Black Pyramid outing, they will at very least have claimed enough heads in their time to line fence-posts for miles. Still, hopefully they can find some way to continue to make it work.

13. Across Tundras, Electric Relics

Released by Electric Relics Records. Reviewed July 11.

Even the interlude “Seasick Serenade,” just over a minute and a half long, was haunting. Electric Relics marked the first full-length from Nashville’s Across Tundras to be released on their own label and the first since they issued Sage through Neurot in 2011 (review here), and as rolling and exploratory as its vibe was, songs like “Solar Ark,” “Pining for the Gravel Roads” and “Den of Poison Snakes” also represented a solidification of Across Tundras‘ sound, another step in their development that refined their blend of rural landscapes and heavy tones. Issued in April, it’s been an album that throughout the course of the year I’ve returned to time and again, and the more I’ve sat with it and the more comfortable it’s become, the more its songs have come to feel like home, which it’s easy to read as being their intent all along. Guitarist/vocalist Tanner Olson (read his questionnaire answers here), bassist/vocalist Mikey Allred and drummer Casey Perry hit on something special in these tracks, and one gets the sense their influence is just beginning to be felt.

12. Borracho, Oculus

Released by Strange Magic/No Balls/AM Records. Reviewed July 26.

Initially a digital self-release by the Washington, D.C. riff purveyors, Oculus just this month got a tri-color, tri-label and tri-continental vinyl issue, and the fanfare with which it arrived was well earned by the five songs contained on the two sides. Borracho‘s second album behind 2011’s Splitting Sky (review here) also marked a lineup shift in the band that saw them go from a four-piece to a trio, with guitarist Steve Fisher (interview here) stepping to the fore as vocalist in the new incarnation with Tim Martin on bass and Mario Trubiano on drums. The results in songs like “Know the Score” and closer “I’ve Come for it All” were in line stylistically with the straightforward approach they showed on their first offering, but tighter overall in their presentation, and Fisher‘s voice was a natural fit with the band’s stated ethic of “repetitive heavy grooves” — a neat summary, if perhaps underselling their appeal somewhat. Oculus showed both that the appeal of Splitting Sky was no fluke and that Borracho with four members or three was not a band to be taken lightly.

11. Ice Dragon, Born a Heavy Morning

Released by Navalorama Records. Reviewed Aug. 14.

Like the bulk of Ice Dragon‘s work to date, Born a Heavy Morning was put out first digitally, for free or pay-what-you-want download. A CD version would follow soon enough on Navalorama, with intricate packaging to match the album’s understated achievements, taking the Boston genre-crossers into and through heavy psychedelic atmospheres added to and played off in longer pieces like “The Past Plus the Future is Present” and the gorgeously ethereal “Square Triangle” by thematic slice-of-life set-pieces like “In Which a Man Daydreams about a Girl from His Youth” and “In Which a Man Ends His Workweek with a Great Carouse” that only enriched the listening experience and furthered Ice Dragon‘s experimental appeal. Ever-prolific, Born a Heavy Morning wasn’t the only Ice Dragon outing this year, physical or digital, but it stood in a place of its own within their constantly-expanding catalog and showcased a stylistic fearlessness that can only be an asset in their favor as they continue to chase down whatever the hell it is they’re after in their songs and make genuine originality sound so natural.

10. Devil to Pay, Fate is Your Muse

Released by Ripple Music. Reviewed March 19.

It seemed like no matter where I turned in 2013, Devil to Pay‘s Fate is Your Muse was there. Not that it was the highest-profile release of the year or bolstered by some consciousness-invading viral campaign or anything, just that once the songs locked into my head, there was no removing them, and whether it was straightforward rockers like “This Train Won’t Stop,” “Savonarola” and “Tie One On,” the moodier “Black Black Heart” or the charm-soaked “Ten Lizardmen and One Pocketknife” — which might also be the best song title I came across this year — it was a pretty safe bet that something from the Indianapolis four-piece was going to make a showing on the mental jukebox if not in the actual player (it showed up plenty there as well). Devil to Pay‘s first album since 2009, first for Ripple and fourth overall, Fate is Your Muse was a grower listen whose appeal only deepened over the months after its release, the layered vocals of guitarist Steve Janiak (interview here) adaptable to the varying vibes of “Wearin’ You Down” and “Already Dead” and soulful in classic fashion. They’ve been underrated as a live act for some time, and Fate is Your Muse translated well their light-on-frills, heavy-on-riffs appeal to a studio setting.

9. Beast in the Field, The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below

Released by Saw Her Ghost Records. Reviewed May 30.

Such devastation. Even now, every time I put on Beast in the Field‘s The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below, it makes me want to hang my head and wonder at the horror of it all like Marlon Brando hiding out in a cave. If anything at all, there wasn’t much I heard in 2013 that hit harder than the Michigan duo’s fifth long-player, released on CD in March through Saw Her Ghost with vinyl reportedly on the way now. Toward the middle of the year, it got to the point where I wanted to go door to door and say to people, “Uh excuse me, but this is absurdly heavy and you should check it out.” I settled for streaming the album in full and it still feels like a compromise. I tried to interview the band, to no avail — sometimes instrumental acts just don’t want to talk about it — but what guitarist Jordan Pries and drummer Jamie Jahr were able to accomplish tonally, atmospherically and bombastically in expansive and overwhelmingly heavy cuts like the 22-minute “Oncoming Avalanche” or the noise-soaked riffing of “Hollow Horn” put The Sacred Above, the Sacred Below into a weight class that it had pretty much to itself this year. It’s a good thing they had no trouble filling that space. I still feel like I haven’t recommended the album enough and that more people need to be made aware of its existence.

8. Beelzefuzz, Beelzefuzz

Released by The Church Within Records. Reviewed Aug. 30.

When I finally listened to Beelzefuzz‘s self-titled debut, I was really, really glad I had seen the three-piece — its members based in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania — play some of the material live. I don’t know if otherwise I’d have been able to distinguish between the progress elements of effects and looping and the live creation of layers and organ sounds through the guitar of Dana Ortt (interview here) and the simple humdrum of studio layering one finds all the time. I almost think for their next record they should track it live, just the three of them, and heavily advertise that fact to help get the point across that it’s actually just three players — Ortt, bassist Pug Kirby and drummer Darin McCloskey (also of Pale Divine) — creating the richness of sound on “All the Feeling Returns” and the eerie, gleefully weird progressive stomp on “Lonely Creatures.” The album became a morning go-to for me, and I don’t know how many times I’ve been through it at this point, but “Reborn” and “Hypnotize” and “Lotus Jam” continue to echo in my head even when it’s been a few days. That said, it’s rarely been a few days, because while I appreciate what the trio accomplish on their first record on an analytical level, the reason it is where it is on this list is because I can’t stop listening to the damn thing. Another one that more people should hear than have heard.

7. Samsara Blues Experiment, Waiting for the Flood

Released by World in Sound/Electric Magic Records. Reviewed Oct. 22.

One of the aspects of Samsara Blues Experiment‘s third offering that I most enjoyed was that it wasn’t the album I expected German four-piece to make. After their 2011 sophomore album, Revelation and Mystery (review here), shifted its focus away from the jam-minded heavy psychedelia of their 2009 debut, Long Distance Trip (review here), my thinking was that they would continue down that path and coalesce into a more straightforward brand of heavy rock. Instead, when the four extended tracks of Waiting for the Flood showed up with no shortage of swirl or sitar or open-ended expansion in their midst, it was a legitimate surprise. Repeat visits to “Shringara” and “Don’t Belong” show that actually it’s not so much that Samsara Blues Experiment turned around and were hell-bent on jamming out all the time, but that rather for their third, they took elements of what worked on their first two LPs and built lush movements on top of those ideas. As a happy bonus, this having grown more and more into their sound has helped push the band — guitarist/vocalist Christian Peters, guitarist Hans Eiselt, bassist Richard Behrens and drummer Thomas Vedder — into their own niche within the wider European heavy psych scene, and they’ve begun to emerge as one of its most enjoyable and consistent acts.

6. Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Mind Control

Released by Rise Above/Metal Blade Records. Reviewed April 8.

Kind of inevitable that there would be a lot of comparisons made between Mind Control and the preceding Uncle Acid album, Blood Lust. Certainly the newer outing — their third and first for Rise Above/Metal Blade — is more psychedelic, more tripped out and less obscure feeling than its predecessor. It didn’t have the same kind of crunch to the guitar tone, or the same kind of horror-film atmosphere or psychosexual foreboding, but the thing was, it wasn’t supposed to. The UK outfit continue to prod cult mentality even as their own cult grows, and as I see it, Mind Control made a lot of sense coming off Blood Lust in terms of the band not wanting to repeat the same ideas over again, but grow from them and expand their sound. Of course, with the strut at the end of opener “Mt. Abraxas,” they’ve set a high standard on their albums for leadoff tracks, but where Mind Control really made its impression was in the hypnosis of cuts like the Beatlesian “Follow the Leader,” the lysergic “Valley of the Dolls” or the maddening “Devil’s Work.” The deeper you went into side B, the more the band had you in their grasp. It was a different kind of accomplishment than the preceding effort — though “Mind Crawler” kept a lot of that vibe alive — and it showed Uncle Acid had more in their arsenal than VHS ambience and garage doom malevolence while keeping the infectiousness that helped Blood Lust make such an impression.

5. Lumbar, The First and Last Days of Unwelcome

Released by Southern Lord. Reviewed Dec. 3.

Of the ones reviewed, Lumbar‘s The First and Last Days of Unwelcome was the most recent inclusion on this list. Having worked with Lumbar multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Aaron Edge (interview here) in the past with his band Roareth releasing what would be their only album on The Maple Forum, this was a project to which I felt an immediate connection given the circumstances of its creation: Being written almost in its entirety and recorded in everything but vocals during a bedridden period following Edge‘s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. The contributions of YOB/Vhöl frontman Mike Scheidt and Tad Doyle of TAD and Brothers of the Sonic Cloth were what got a lot of people’s attention for Lumbar‘s The First and Last Days of Unwelcome, but with the situation are the core of the seven tracks named “Day One” through “Day Seven,” what stood out to me even more than those performances was the utter lack of distance and the level of rawness in the album’s presentation. It puts you there. What you get with Lumbar is the direct translation of a range of emotions from hopeful to hopeless, angry, sad, beaten down and wanting answers, wanting more. There’s no shield from it, and as much in concept as in its execution, there’s no other word for it than “heavy.” The intensity Edge packed into just 24 minutes — and not all of it loud or over the top doomed or anything more than atmospherics — was unmatched by anything else I heard this year.

4. Vista Chino, Peace

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed July 30.

From just about any angle you want to view it, the situation that turned Kyuss Lives! into Vista Chino was unfortunate. However — and I know I’ve said this before — I really do believe that becoming Vista Chino, that furthering the distance from the Kyuss moniker, brand, legacy, and so on, was for the better of the band creatively. And not because the songs don’t stand up. I doubt it helped their draw much, but for vocalist John Garcia and drummer Brant Bjork (interview here), working as Vista Chino for the creation of Peace, and especially or Bjork working with guitarist Bruno Fevery for the first time in the writing process, it allowed them to step outside of what would’ve been insurmountable expectations for a “fifth Kyuss album” and create something honest, new, and ultimately, more true to the spirit of that now-legendary band. Let’s face it, you hear John Garcia, Brant Bjork and Nick Oliveri are working on a project together, you’re immediately comparing it to Kyuss anyway. At least with Vista Chino, they’ve given themselves the potential for growth beyond a preconceived idea of what Kyuss should sound like. Well what does Vista Chino sound like? It sounds like whatever the hell they want. On Peace, though many of the lyrics dealt with their legal battles over the Kyuss name, the vibe stayed true to a desert rock ethic of laid back heavy, and the round-out jam in “Acidize/The Gambling Moose” left Peace with the feeling that maybe that’s where they’ve ended up after all. Fingers crossed Mike Dean (of C.O.C. and the latest live incarnation of Vista Chino) winds up playing bass on the record, but other than that, wherever they want to go with it, as a fan, I’m happy to follow along.

3. Gozu, The Fury of a Patient Man

Released by Small Stone Records. Reviewed Jan. 24.

The second outing from Gozu on Small Stone, The Fury of a Patient Man tapped into so much of what made the Boston band’s 2010 Locust Season label debut (review here) work so right on and just did it better. Don’t get me wrong, I still dig on “Meat Charger,” but with tracks like “Snake Plissken,” “Bald Bull,” “Signed, Epstein’s Mom” (note: it was “signed, Epstein’s mother” on Welcome Back Kotter) and the thrashing “Charles Bronson Pinchot,” Gozu put forth a collection of some of 2013’s finest heavy rock and did so with not only their own soulful spin on the tropes of the genre, but a mature and varied approach that was no less comfortable giving High on Fire a run for their money than reveling in the grandiose chorus of “Ghost Wipe,” which was also one of the best hooks of the year, guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney (interview here) delivering lines in crisp, confident layers, perfectly mixed by Benny Grotto at Mad Oak Studios and cutting through the fray of his own and Doug Sherman‘s guitars, the bass of Paul Dallaire (who split duties with J. Canava; Joe Grotto has since taken over the position) and Barry Spillberg‘s drumming. What the future might hold for Gozu with the recent shift in lineup that replaced Spillberg with drummer Mike Hubbard (ex-Warhorse) and added third guitarist Jeff Fultz (Mellow Bravo) remains to be seen, but with European touring on the horizon for 2014 and appearances slated for Roadburn and Desertfest, the band seem to be looking only to expand their reach, and with the material from The Fury of a Patient Man as a foundation, they’ve got some major considerations acting in their favor. Another album from which I simply could not escape this year, and from which I didn’t want to.

2. Monster Magnet, Last Patrol

Released by Napalm Records. Reviewed Sept. 12.

Billed largely and at least in-part accurately as a return to the group’s psychedelic roots, Last Patrol was Monster Magnet‘s ninth full-length, their first in three years and their second for Napalm. The New Jersey outfit led by guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, founder and, in this case, co-producer Dave Wyndorf (interview here) did indeed delve into the space rock side of their sound more than they have in over a decade, and the effect that doing so had was like a great shaking-off of dust, as though the Bullgod in the John Sumrow cover art just woke up after a long slumber. Perhaps even more than tripping on the Donovan cover “Three Kingfishers” or on the more extended freakouts “Last Patrol” and “End of Time,” what really made Last Patrol such a complete experience was the depth of emotion. Wyndorf wasn’t just standing above an overproduced wall of distortion talking about how he’s the best lay in the galaxy or whatever — fun though that kind of stuff is and has been in the past — but songs like “I Live behind the Clouds,” “The Duke (of Supernature),” “Paradise” and “Stay Tuned” offered a humbler take, a spirit of melancholy that rested well alongside the unmitigated stomp of “Hallelujah” or the driving heavy rock of “Mindless Ones.” Even in its most riotous stretches, Last Patrol was a humbler affair, with a more honest vibe than their last four, maybe five albums. A Monster Magnet release would’ve been noteworthy no matter what it actually sounded like, because that’s the level of impact they’ve had on heavy psych and underground rock over the last two decades-plus. The difference with Last Patrol was that it was a refreshing change from what had started to sound like a formula going stale, and it was  just so damn good to have them be weird again.

1. Clutch, Earth Rocker

Released by Weathermaker Music. Reviewed Feb. 28.

Finally, an album that asked the question, “What it was I’m going to do I haven’t done?” I knew at the year’s halfway point that Clutch‘s Earth Rocker was going to be the one to beat, and that it wasn’t going to be easy for anyone else to top the Maryland kings of groove, who sounded so reinvigorated on songs like “Crucial Velocity,” “Book, Saddle and Go,” “Unto the Breach,” and “Cyborg Bette,” and on funkfied pushers like “D.C. Sound Attack!,” “The Wolfman Kindly Requests…” and “The Face.” They’d hardly been in hibernation since 2009’s Strange Cousins from the West, but four years was the longest they’d ever gone between albums, and it was past time for a new one. To have it arrive as such a boot to the ass just made it that much better, the band shifting away from some of the blues/jam influences that emerged over the course of 2005’s Robot Hive/Exodus and 2007’s From Beale Street to Oblivion — though those certainly showed up as well in the subdued “Gone Cold” and elsewhere — but thanks in no small part to the production of Machine, with whom the band last worked for 2004’s Blast Tyrant, Earth Rocker was huge where it wanted to be and that gave Clutch‘s faster, more active material all the more urgency, where although the songwriting was quality as always, Strange Cousins from the West languished a bit at a more relaxed pace. The difference made all the difference. Whether it was the hellhounds on your trail (what a pity!) in “D.C. Sound Attack!” or the Jazzmasters erupting from the bottom of the sea to take flight, Clutch‘s 10th album was brimming with live, vibrant, heavy on action and heavy on groove, and on a sheer song-by-song level, a classic in the making from a band who’ve already had a few. At very least, it’s a landmark in their discography, and though vocalist Neil Fallon (interview here), guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster always change from record, but it’s the unmistakable stamp they put on all their outings that have earned them such a loyal following, and that stamp is all over Earth Rocker. Front to back, it is a pure Clutch record, and while I’ll happily acknowledge that it’s an obvious pick for album of the year, I don’t see how I possibly could’ve chosen anything else. Like the best of the best, Earth Rocker will deliver for years to come.

The Next 10 and Honorable Mentions

I said at the outset I had 40 picks. The reality was more than that, but here’s the next 10 anyway:

21. Blaak Heat Shujaa, The Edge of an Era
22. The Freeks, Full On
23. Luder, Adelphophagia
24. The Flying Eyes, Lowlands
25. Black Skies, Circadian Meditations
26. At Devil Dirt, Plan B: Sin Revolucion No Hay Evolucion
27. Kadavar, Abra Kadavar
28. Naam, Vow
29. Mühr, Messiah
30. Uzala, Tales of Blood and Fire

Further honorable mention has to go to Pelican, Endless Boogie, Earthless, Phantom Glue, Goatess, Windhand, GongaToner Low, Jesu and Sandrider.

Two More Special Records

I’d be unforgivably remiss if I didn’t note the release in 2013 of two albums that wound up being incredibly special to me personally: I vs. the Glacier by Clamfight and A Time of Hunting by Kings Destroy. Since it came out on this site’s in-house label, I didn’t consider the Clamfight eligible for list consideration and while I didn’t help put it out, the Kings Destroy I also felt very, very close to — probably as close as I’ve felt to a record I didn’t actually perform on — so it didn’t seem fair on a critical level, but I consider both of these to be records that in a large part helped define my year, as well as being exceptional in and of themselves, and they needed very much to be singled out as such. These are people whom I feel whatever-the-godless-heathen-equivalent-of-blessed-is to know.

Before I end this post, I want to say thank you for reading, this, anything else you may have caught this year, whatever it might be. To say it means a lot to me personally is understating it, but it’s true all the same. I’m not quite done wrapping up the year — I’ll have a list of the best album covers, another for EPs and singles and demos, and of course the albums I didn’t hear — so please stay tuned over the next couple weeks, but it seemed only fair to show my appreciation now as well. Thank you.

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Borracho Release Oculus on Vinyl

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 9th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

You gotta give it to Borracho for going all out with the vinyl version of their second album, Oculus (review here). Not only is it available in a limited LP edition of 300, but those 300 copies are available through three separate labels on three separate continents and in three separate colors. And hey, there are three dudes in the band! Do you think it could mean something? Whether intentional or not, the fact that the record is out in physical form after being such a digital delight throughout the second half of this year comes as good news for the band and their growing number of followers, who are that much less likely to have to worry about international shipping charges upon picking up a copy.

Borracho sent the announcement down the PR wire:

Oculus LP now available!

Capital City riffers Borracho today release their latest heavy slab Oculus on three gorgeous, limited edition colors of 12″ vinyl — 100 copies each on No Balls Records transparent yellow, AM Records purple, and Strange Magic Records blue/green. The collaboration between three labels on three continents extends the release’s availability onto the Asian continent, in addition to North America and Europe. Check out the LP trailer, shot and directed by Deuce to 7, featuring album closer “I’ve Come for it All.”

The record is now available from the band’s Bandcamp page, with an immediate download, and from each label in their respective territory.

The band will celebrate the launch of the vinyl edition of Oculus at Port City Brewing Company’s Heavy Metal Night V, December 14 at The Pinch in Washington DC. They’ve brewed up another super limited batch of Borracho Smokin’ Brown Ale, and DCHeavyMetal.com’s Metal Chris and Port City’s Will Cook will be spinning the best metal tunes of 2013.

For more information on the band, reviews, and music, visit their website at BorrachoMusic.com.

https://www.facebook.com/BorrachoDC/
http://borracho.bandcamp.com/

Borracho, Oculus Vinyl Trailer

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Borracho to Release Oculus on Vinyl in November

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 5th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Straight out of today’s “huzzah” file, D.C.-based riffers Borracho have announced that their second album, Oculus (review here), is headed for a November vinyl release through Strange Magic Records, No Balls Records and AM Records. All told, that gives the band three continents of distribution, and the limited yellow, purple and blue/green LPs are available for pre-order now. Not one you want to sleep on.

Borracho also have a handful of dates booked with a slew of killer acts, from Corsair and Beelzefuzz to Geezer and Midnight Eye as they continue to wreak havoc along the Eastern Seaboard.

Dig it:

Borracho’s Oculus to see worldwide vinyl release in November

Capital City riff-slingers Borracho today announce the November worldwide vinyl release of their critically acclaimed sophomore effort Oculus. Germany’s No Balls Records, Japan’s AM Records, and the United States’ own Strange Magic Records have conspired to release the record on three continents in three exclusive limited edition colors of 12″ vinyl ? transparent yellow, purple and blue/green. The record is now available for pre-order from each of the labels or via the band’s Bandcamp page where it can be streamed in full.

Pre-order Oculus limited edition colored vinyl!

Oculus shows no let up from Borracho. Just a barrelful of their signature fuzzed out jams, and raw, power-trio energy served with no pretense. Right from its instrumental start, the record unleashes a barrage of riffs that twist through a labyrinth of classic rock, doom and stonerly grooves. Along the way, guitarist Steve Fisher cements his role as the band’s new singer, ushering the band into its trio era with conviction.

“With this new album Borracho really takes things to the next level?songwriting, production, performance, everything. In a crowded scene of stoner rock sound-a-likes they really stand out with this kick ass new record,” said Carey Neill from Strange Magic Records. “To work with them again on this release is a huge pleasure.” Neill was instrumental in bringing the three labels together for this special release, and his label released Borracho’s 2012 10″ single for “Plunge/Return.” No Balls Records has been part of the band’s family since their debut split 7″ in 2008. AM Records is a recently founded label focusing on vinyl, and this is one of their first releases.

The band will be out for a trio of shows September 12 – 14 starting in their hometown, and stopping in Brooklyn, NY and Fredrerick, MD, playing with heavy-riffing stalwarts Corsair, Thinning the Herd, Geezer, Weed is Weed, Admiral Browning, and Beelzefuzz along the way. They will also be playing the DCHeavyMetal.com 4th Anniversary party at The Fillmore in Silver Spring, MD on September 26. For more dates this fall check their show calendar.

SEPTEMBER 12, 2013 – 8:00 PM
The Pinch
Washington, DC
w/ Corsair (VA) & Cavern (MD)

SEPTEMBER 13, 2013 – 7:00 PM
The Grand Victory
Brooklyn, NY
w/ Thinning the Herd
& Geezer (CD Release)

SEPTEMBER 14, 2013 – 7:00 PM
Lallos
Frederick, MD
w/Beelzefuzz, Weed is Weed,
Admiral Browning & Fortress

SEPTEMBER 26, 2013 – 7:00 PM
The Fillmore
Silver Spring, MD
w/ Vektor, Midnight Eye & Asthma Castle

https://www.facebook.com/BorrachoDC

Borracho, Oculus (2013)

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Borracho Interview with Steve Fisher: Grabbing the Reins and Knowing the Score

Posted in Features on August 22nd, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Guitarist/vocalist Steve Fisher of Washington, D.C.-based riff rockers Borracho cuts an imposing figure on stage. There are just these moments where he looks like he wants to jump off the stage and punch everyone in the face. It’s intense — especially since Borracho‘s music, thick though it is, is so welcoming in its grooving mentality, based around his riffs and the right-on chemistry shared between him, bassist Tim Martin and drummer Mario Trubiano. It’s not a contradiction, necessarily, or an inconsistency, but as he tilts his head back to sing up into the mic Motörhead-style, he certainly leaves an impression.

Over the last year-plus, Fisher has come to take on the vocalist and lone-guitarist role after the departure of guitarist/vocalist Noah, who fronted the band on their 2011 debut full-length, Splitting Sky (review here). That album, while long, garnered the band a fervent response, which meant that as they transitioned from a four-piece to the trio they are now, there was added pressure on Fisher as he stepped into his new position. Over the course of the back half of 2012, Borracho went from playing almost entirely instrumentally (as they did at SHoD XII), to gradually incorporating more vocals (as they did in Manhattan last October), to Fisher taking fuller responsibility as the band’s singer by Spring 2013 (as seen in Philly).

It’s a narrative that leads to the release of the band’s second album, Oculus (review here), and the delivery of a performance like that at the recent Eye of the Stoned Goat 3 in Brooklyn, which found Fisher in comfortable command of his part as the guitarist and vocalist, and the band functioning seamlessly as a trio, the guitar and bass tones meshing to one massive whole of rich low-end fuzz, the drums behind punctuating and at time propelling the nod of new songs like “Know the Score” and the jam-laden “Stockpile.” You could call it a victory in progress for Borracho — I’ll gladly argue Oculus is one of the year’s best heavy rock records — but it’s been one hard fought for them.

In the interview that follows, Fisher recounts openly and honestly a year of personal upheaval from 2012-2013, including a bout with cancer and a nasty divorce that both fed into and helped inspire his work alongside Martin and Trubiano, and helped him to stay positive through what were and still are no doubt trying times. He also talks about the process of putting Oculus together after Noah left the band and how the decision came about for him to take on singing instead of bringing someone else in. And I’ll say too that as intimidating as he can be on stage, he was as sincere and positive in his answers, stating explicitly that he wasn’t looking for sympathy, but trying to move forward and work through these issues in the best way he knew how:  with music.

Please find the complete Q&A with Fisher and pics from Eye of the Stoned Goat 3 after the jump, and please enjoy:

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Borracho, Oculus: Into the Eye

Posted in Reviews on July 26th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Released digitally as a prelude to vinyl coming this fall on Strange Magic Records in the US and No Balls Records in Germany, Oculus is the second full-length album from Washington, D.C.-based heavy riffers Borracho. Strictly speaking, it’s the first new material they’ve presented since their 2011 debut, Splitting Sky (review here), though they’ve had numerous outings between to keep up the rather considerable momentum that album brought them, including the Circulos Concentricos 7″, A 10″ EP for the track “Plunge/Return,” which was left off the vinyl version of Splitting Sky, and earlier this year, a 7″ called Mob Gathering that included some of their earliest recordings, but more important, it’s the first release they’ve had as a trio since losing guitarist/vocalist Noah last year. Continuing on playing shows instrumentally at first, guitarist Steve Fisher gradually stepped into the vocal role, backed occasionally as Noah was by bassist Tim Martin, with Mario Trubiano holding down the band’s prime stonerly groove on drums. That’s not the only difference either. Where Splitting Sky reached close to an hour in length, as much as it continues to follow Borracho‘s rallying cry of “repetitive heavy grooves,” Oculus checks in at a vinyl-prime 35:49, over 21 minutes shorter, and is comprised of four extended tracks and the brief penultimate “Eye” noisy instrumental interlude leading the way to closer “I’ve Come for it All.” In no small part because of its length, Splitting Sky was a big time grower for me, but between the more concise feel of Oculus and the ease with which Fisher has made the transition to handling vocals in addition to guitar, the second outing makes an immediate positive impression. As regards the overall sound of it and the production, Borracho‘s methodology hasn’t much changed — strong hooks over heavy riffs — and the recording here sounds full and professional as did that of Splitting Sky, but with two years of growth, some touring and the experience of the first album behind them, Oculus wins out over its predecessor in every category but length — and in terms of letting each track make the most lasting individual impression, it wins out in that as well.

The album takes its title from the Latin word for eye, though in what context Borracho mean to use it — the phrase “eye of the storm” comes to mind first, particularly with the shifts they’ve undergone in the roughly two years since their first album — I don’t know. Opener “Empty” (7:30) starts out calmly enough, with Martin setting an intro pattern through the bassline that Trubiano soon punctuates, Fisher following shortly thereafter with ambient lead notes. There is a layer early into the track either of synth or far-back vocals that adds to the atmosphere, and soon, Borracho are underway with a build and a crash into thick, open-feeling riffing that serves as the central progression for most of the song, the band building, working around it, returning, playing off a riff worthy of the attention over the course of more than the first four minutes until two hits right around 4:40 bring in a faster, purely stoner figure that will carry them through the remainder. It’s almost as though “Empty” were two tracks, the one leading to the next, but ultimately it matters little, since what though it actually makes up most of the track turns out to be the intro is so easy to get lost in and since Fisher‘s vocals are so right on once the verse starts. With Martin‘s righteously thickened Fu Manchu groove behind, he follows the riff for the verse and switches to layered shouting in the chorus. Stylistically and on paper, it’s not so different from what Noah did on Splitting Sky, but Fisher‘s approach is less gravelly and seems natural in the context of the material. That proves no less the case as highlight “Know the Score” (7:18) starts up with a light Southern touch of acoustic guitar and unfolds to one of Oculus‘ several landmark riffs. Fisher is more immediately forward, and he, Trubiano and Martin are locked into the movement of the song from the start, but the turn to the chorus makes for a genuine demonstration both of their chemistry and of the strength in songcraft that has led to their finding such welcome reception in the heavy rock underground. It is organic, readily familiar, more complex than it sounds and more than ably delivered. Following a round of “yeah-yeah”s the second time through, a long-sustained organ note — a little out of nowhere but not at all interrupting the flow — eases the transition into the insistent next section, the line “I think you missed again” repeated as Borracho march past the midpoint en route to a raucous bridge that returns to the chorus riff. As they build up, Trubiano tosses in some double-kick to add to the rush, and when they turn back to the initial verse riff and follow with a final chorus, it’s a surprise and a bookend that once again shows their songwriting prowess. The end with a crash and a well-earned ringout.

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Borracho to Release Oculus July 18

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 11th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Washington D.C. heavy riffers Borracho — now a trio from their original four-piece incarnation — will release their new album, Oculus, on July 18 through Strange Matter Records in the US and No Balls Records in Germany. That same day they’ll hit the road to support the new full-length, which is previewing at Heavy Planet, playing as ever with some killer like-minded acts such as Lo-Pan, Weed is Weed and Kingsnake, all on their way to a slot at The Eye of the Stoned Goat 3 at The Acheron in Brooklyn on July 27.

Details follow:

New album Oculus available July 18

The album is available now for free preview exclusively on Heavy Planet. The digital release will be available for download from major online retailers and from our Bandcamp page on July 18, and will see a limited edition 12” vinyl release in the fall courtesy of our long-time label co-conspirators No Balls Records (Germany) and Strange Magic Records (US).

Oculus delivers Borracho’s signature fuzzed out, dynamic grooves with heaping helpings of the low-and-heavy you’ve come to expect. The songs are sonically familiar, with a clear emphasis on riffs and rhythms, but the vibe the band achieves is a step in a freer power-trio direction. The album doesn’t lack for hooks, either, and captures us stretching out to epic proportions as we are wont to do.

Stream the record now at Heavy Planet, and preorder from Bandcamp to get an immediate download of “Stockpile”! The digital download is only $5!

July Shows

We’re hitting the road in support of the new record, so come see us if you can and hear some new tunes live! We’re happy to join Lo-Pan for five shows, and our buds Kingsnake and Weed is Weed get in on it for a killer Oculus release party on July 19 at Rock and Roll Hotel in DC! (facebook event page) The show is being presented by Heavy Planet and Port City Brewing Company, and we’ll be giving some stuff away, so don’t miss a killer bill on a Friday night on a great occasion! Plus, visit our merch table to get a free download card at any of the upcoming shows! That means your ticket gets you entry to the show AND the latest Borracho music!

*With Lo-Pan
July 18, 2013* Howlers Coyote Cafe Pittsburgh, PA w/ SuperVoid & Sistered
July 19, 2013* Rock and Roll Hotel Washington, DC w/ Weed is Weed & Kingsnake
July 20, 2013* StaVentFest 2013 The Sherman Theater Stroudsburgh, PA w/ Kingsnake
July 21, 2013* The Depot York, PA w/ Baltica
July 26, 2013 North Star Bar Philadelphia, PA w/ Weed is Weed, Wizard Eye & Thee Nosebleeds
July 27, 2013* Eye of the Stoned Goat 3 The Acheron Brooklyn, NY w/ Gozu, Lord Fowl, Supermachine, and more!

http://borracho.bandcamp.com/
https://www.facebook.com/BorrachoDC

Borracho, “Stockpile” from Oculus

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