2013 had been a pretty big year for the Joy of Violent Movement and for me both professionally and personally. Over 20,000 readers in over 20 countries across the globe have stopped to read reviews of music and live shows, read interviews, look at photos of live shows or other events in my life. Certainly, when I started this thing almost 4 years ago, I thought that maybe a few people would pay attention besides maybe close friends and family, so the fact that I’ve had readers and musicians write me and tell me that they were fans of the site, and appreciated what I do has been pretty amazing and pretty humbling. And it’s been especially humbling since this site has largely been an insane labor of love.
In any case, though 2014 has been a year old, my year end lists for 2013 have been a little delayed – there are still a few albums to review so that I can make my Best Albums, Worst Albums and Honorable Mentions lists as comprehensive as possible. However, what I can do with some comprehensiveness when it comes to the Best Singles of 2013. Shall we begin?
1. Charles Bradley and the Bullets “Aint’ It a Sin” –Released specifically for Record Store Day, the single which feature the “Screaming Eagle of Soul” himself, Charles Bradley backed the Bullets (which features members of one of Daptone Records phenomenal house bands, the Menahan Street Band. The track has Bradley proudly proclaiming that right now is his time to be loved the way he deserves and that the woman who isn’t treating him the way he needs will be seeing her way out the door.
Bradley’s lyrics feel as though they come from deeply lived in personal experience; the hurt and indignation in the song is palpable and real. And the Bullets manage to evoke the Muscle Shoals sound with equal parts power and a taut groove, punctuated by handclaps and an explosive horn solo. But the song manages a loose, ebullient joy that will make you want to dance.
2. Anika “In The City” – Vocalist Anika spent her professional career as a political journalist living between Berlin and Bristol, UK when she had met producer Geoff Barrow. At the time, Barrow was seeking a vocalist to work with his band Beak> for a side project, and when Barrow first met Anika, they both recognized a shared love of punk, dub music, and 60s girl groups. About a week later, Barrow and Anika and the members of Beak> went into the studio to record, and twelve days later, the result was Anika’s full-length debut, recorded with no overdubs — and completely live with the entire band in the same room.
Some time later, Anika and the members members of Beak> went back to the studio to work on a small collection of covers for a her self-titled EP. Her cover of the Chromatics’ “In the City“ manages to be mysterious, murky, anxious, unsettling and trashy yet seductive while being extremely funky. In some way Anika turns the song into her own by crafting a totally unique interpretation to the song.
3. Disappears "Kone” – Beginning with the distant, ringing and rumbling feedback that feels and sounds much like a brewing storm, the track It builds up in intensity as a tightly syncopated rhythm builds up — until you start to hear some eerie, staggered guitar chords. Vocalist Brian Case sings through layers of reverb as the song is propelled by an almost dub-step groove – but in some way, the song feels as though as though they’re barely holding on to a brewing, tempestuous fury. In some way, much like the band’s four full-length albums, “Kone” manages to evoke an existential dread. TAnd then the song ends with the same feedback with each instrument seemingly fading away. In some way, after listening to the track, I immediately thought of the Church — in particular “Chaos“ off of Priest = Aura.
4. St. Lucia "Elevate” – This track further cements St. Lucia’s creative mastermind, Jean-Philip Grobler’s reputation for slickly produced, densely layered pop songs with shimmering synths and earnest, heartfelt emotions underneath. Grobler’s sound owes a great debt to the synth pop I heard and loved as a child of the 80s, and that’s not a bad thing, especially when it sounds so incredibly crafted. And you can’t help but notice the subtle elements of African percussion throughout. But more importantly, In particular, Grobler has a gift for writing soaring and incredibly catchy hooks – “Elevate” may well have one oft he best hooks i’ve heard all year.
5. Caveman “In The City” – Caveman’s sophomore effort had the band stretching their creative legs with an increasingly atmospheric expansion of their sound while retaining the same eerily haunting beauty, lead vocalist Matthew Iwanusa’s falsetto and Jimmy Carbonetti’s gorgeous guitar solos. However, there’s a greater emphasis on synths — in fact, the synths create a moodiness similar to that of most Peter Gabriel’s 1980s work.
5. Superhuman Happiness “See Me On My Way” – 2013 was a huge year for the Brooklyn-based septet, whose members have played with the likes of Antibalas, Phenomenal Handclap Band, TV on the Radio, Iron and Wine, Martha Wainwright, and others. The band collaborated with the Kronos Quartet, on the score for the documentary film, How to Survive A Plague and on the Red Hot & Fela All-Star compilation. However, the band’s much-anticipated debut effort Hands put them on the national map as they manage to mesh Afrobeat and 80s pop with a goofy, joyful air that’s pretty infectious. The album’s first single is a prime example of the band’s sound – and was a song that i turned to a lot whenever I needed to be pumped up or be in a better state of mind.
5. Don Cavalli “Temperamental” – Writing, performing and recording under the moniker of Don Cavalli, French singer/songwriter/guitarist Fabrice Cavalli’s 2008 solo debut effort Cryland was critically applauded for a sound that employed elements of Zydeco, Cajun, folk, the blues and other world music. And this unique sound won the attention of the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who recruited Cavalli to open for the Black Keys during a leg of one of their extensive tours.
8. Guilty Simpson and Small Professor “On the Run” – Guilty Simpson, one of Detroit’s best emcees collaborated with Philadelphia’s Small Professor, completed with the scratching of DJ Revolution, on a track that is deeply cinematic. It feels as though it should be part of a film noir, portraying the life of a (possibly) innocent man on the run from the long arm of the law. But underneath, the track buzzes with a determined sense of menace. At the end of the day, it’s pure street hip hop — dope beats, stories of crime, and an emcee with an incredible gift for novelistic lyricism.
9. Charles Bradley “You Put The Flame On It” – This track will clearly remind you quite a bit of the Motown era of soul — the Four Tops, the Temptations, Otis Redding, Jackie Wilson and others, thanks to a slick horn line. and super sincere, emotional vocals that come from profound life experience. Sure, Bradley doesn’t have the most mellifluous voice – his voice frays at the edges but it’s the pain and joy in it that come from a real place that will move on. And holy shit, his backing band can play.
10. Guilty Simpson “It’s Nuthin’” – Unlike most contemporary and mainstream hip hop albums where there are several different producers hired for particular tracks and tons useless guest spots, this track, as well as the other singles released off Highway Robbery reveal an album that’s an organic and consistent whole, coming from a shared artistic vision. In this case, the album details the evil deeds of desperate men in a seemingly post-apocalypic Detroit – the sort of place where anything goes out of necessity.
11. De Lux “Better At Making Time” – This track easily sounds as though it could have been played in a disco anytime between roughly 1978-1983 or so and as recently as within the last few years (DFA Records anyone?) thanks in part to that sinuous bass line, angular guitar slashing through the mix, cowbell and seductive lyrics.