Staff Favorites of 2013

Calexico – Spiritoso

My staff pick for the year 2013 would have to be Calexico’s Spiritoso. Released 10 years after their seminal album Feast of Wire (my introduction to Calexico, given to me by my cousin Rex), Spirtoso draws from that release as well as their entire catalougue to create a live album that any fan of the southwest (it was recorded in Germany) should enjoy.

Add to that the fact that the band is backed by two differing orchestras, Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien and Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg, and you have the recipe for success in my book. Sure, there have been complaints that Calexico did not take enough risks with the added orchestration on this album but in my opinion, just hearing the band live with these giant ensembles, playing music from a career spanning two decades, is a beautiful culmination in song and spirit.

There is Danger- Living Dreams
This album didn’t blow me away on the first listen, but it lived with me all year in a way that only a truly great album can live with you. The songs contained on Living Dreams move seamlessly from effervescent pop anthems to somber reflections on the encapsulated moments that make up our days. “Passport” could easily contend for my favorite single of the year as well.
Illya Riske is the master songwriter behind nearly all the tracks put forth by There is Danger. With other bands to his name like the Whisperlights (RIP) and the Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra, Illya might be one to keep an eye (or ear) on, but for me, this year, it was all about There is Danger’s Living Dreams.
The Haymarket Squares – Righteous Ruckus

What do you get when you cross the DNA of Woody Guthrie, Joan Biaz and The Sex Pistols? You get one of my favorite groups, not just locally, but all-time: The Haymarket Squares. I saw the Squares for the first time in a church parking and from that moment I was hooked.

John, Marc, Mark S., Mark A, and Aaron, have put together a fantastic album, Righteous Ruckus, and it’s worth a listen. Many in fact. The harmonies, guitar, drums, bass, mandolin, and freakin’ accordion – really? freakin’ accordion? – simply make me want to get up, grab a protest poster and stick it to the man, man.

Good job guys. Anytime you want to play a house party, my doors are always open.

Dry River Yacht Club – El Tigre

El Tigre is the Arizona album that held me in awe in 2013. Dry River Yacht Club have been playing together for a while now, and they know how to get the best out of all the elements in their songs. From the twisted fairy tale of “Dead Mother Dearest” to the country-tinged love song “Garden,” the killer tunes on El Tigre made it my favorite album of the year.

Playboy Manbaby – Obsessive Repulsive
Anyone paying attention to the local music scene here probably doesn’t need me to tell them about Playboy Manbaby, so in a way this album is somewhat of an obvious choice. Although I loved plenty of releases this year, this one has stuck with me for the longest; I really just can’t get enough of it. The songs here are a perfect mix of fun, catchy hooks paired with aggression, ferocity, and an overwhelming energy that cannot be ignored. The opening chords for “Beer Gut” hype me up every time!

Album of the Year: Slider by decker

Cryptic and tinged with darkness, Slider is a desert gospel masterpiece and our winner for Album of the Year. decker. released the album last February and promptly received a torrent of positive reviews from the local press. So much, in fact, we didn’t even cover Slider. Nay, we covered the coverage of Slider there was so much of it going around (see here). No surprise. This record hits hard and lives with you. It breathes.

Slider is beautiful and mystical and pensive and unique. Each song moves fluidly to create a singular vision, more landscape than story, and yet each track can be held apart as an individual creation. Brandon Decker is a fierce songwriter. Although the band has gone through some lineup changes in the past year, they remain a force of reckoning. Guitarist Kelly Cole remains a constant and we’re grateful for that.

You can listen to Slider in its entirety here. This album marked the year as one to remember. And, we couldn’t be more excited for the releases to come in 2014, decker. already has plans for a Valentine’s Day dual-release with Field Tripp at the Sail Inn.

Best EP: Of the Painted Choir

Drawing from 60s pop music to create a truly unique style of southwestern indie rock, Of the Painted Choir continued their recording efforts last year with a stellar, self-titled EP. Of the Painted Choir had been on our radar for a while before the band handed over their much-anticipated EP to eager fans in April.

Of the Painted Choir provides listeners with one of the best examples of what can be accomplished through DIY recording, but, to be fair, Frederick Huang (frontman and originator of OTPC) did intern with Wavelab Studios in Tucson so he might have a jump on the rest of the DIYers.

“Lula, My Baby”, which opens the EP, is already an Of the Painted Choir classic. The tracks are nuanced, distinctive, and fluid; all marks of contemplative construction. At the same time, they are totally listenable, danceable even, in the way good pop songs should be, making it our pick for 2013. You can hear it for yourself right here.

Songwriter of the Year: Jeff Gonzales

Songwriting is not just the composition of compelling lyrics; it is also the about finding the perfect pairing of melody and structure for those words you so painstakingly chose. Jeff Gonzales has shown mastery of maintaining this fine balance and earned our award for Songwriter of the Year.

When we heard the 6-track EP Jeff released in April of last year we were immediately captivated, but it was the songwriting that held us there, beginning to end. The Lights Just Went Out lulls you with charming melodies and, before you realize, completely envelops you in the poetry of the lyrics. Somber, deeply reflective, but tinged with beauty brought on by unique perspective like dust caught in a shaft of sunlight.

A few tracks from Jeff’s EP can be heard here. If you haven’t spent time with these songs, do so now. Purchasing the full 6-track album is an investment you won’t regret. And, get out to hear Jeff perform live when the opportunity presents itself. He doesn’t do many shows so each one is worth the extra effort.

Best Debut Album: Jared & the Mill

Some bands rush to record and the music tends not to be fully-ripened. Some wait and then the result isn’t worth it because it leads to an over-produced record.

Western Expansion by Jared & the Mill is the perfect blend of the two. Western Expansion is one of the best debut albums locally to date. The theme is not only a story of westward migration, underneath it all Jared & the Mill weave tales of personal relationships and the blossoming of the soul within.

The record is perfectly arced in that the first track takes the listener above the clouds, filling the mind with hope of new adventure. The middle songs leave us wandering a bit and it ends with a crescendo that leaves us with the feeling like there is indeed hope in the end.

Here‘s where you can give Western Expansion a listen. Congrats Jared & the Mill, you certainly have a lot to live up to and personally, we can’t wait for the next record.

Best New Band: Fairy Bones

Some bands start by making the bar rounds. Others write an album’s worth of songs and hit the studio first. And there are those that are out the gate at the sound of the gun and just keep running without looking back. That’s Fairy Bones.

Just last week the band celebrated their first anniversary and, in that time, they’ve gone from scrambling to get added to any gig to sharing their record release show with the likes of The Love Me Nots, which is just about the biggest name you can draw from the local pool. They’ve been signed to 80/20 Records. They put out their first music video and have more on the way. And they’ve developed an eclectic following of die-hard fans, and I do mean die-hard. Don’t cross a Fairy Bones’ fan. They lurk among you. Bar owners, musicians, YabYum staffers…

Comprised of odd assortment hooligans (lifemates Robert and Chelsey along with the brothers Foos), Fairy Bones provide something totally refreshing in a scene plagued by rehashed sounds. If you want to make something really memorable, be different.  This band does different fabulously. We can’t wait for Year Two.

The Music Video Awards: Best of 2013!!

Best Band Gone Wild Video:
Bogan Via “Kanye”

We love the video for “Kanye” by Bogan Via (directed by Freddie Paull) but it does offer a disturbing look at the band’s career should the whole music thing not work out.

Best Debut Video:
Sara Robinson & the Midnight Special “Down by the Water”

Sara Robinson & the Midnight Special launched their music video career with this stellar number just back in December. Directed by Matty Steinkamp of Sundawg Media, “Down by the Water” delivers a powerful performance.

Best HipHop Video:
Hexs & Miranda “Down”

Directed by Michael Cardoza of Glasswork Media, “Down” has some of that style and pizzazz that you want to see in a HipHop video… minus the nearly naked honeys (good job, boys). We’re about it.

Best Collaborative Project:
Future Loves Past “Grow Up Tall”

Eric Palmer worked on illustrations and production design, Tristan Dede added animation and editing, and even some photographs of clouds by Bill Goodman and S. Cole Kiburz got thrown into the mix. Together, it became “Grow Up Tall” from Future Loves Past.

Trippiest Video: 
Mergence “The Nerve”

We’re not even entirely sure what’s taking place here; something occult, maybe involving the consumption of devil drugs. Whatever it is, we’re about this video made entirely by the band.

 Best Transplant Video:
Michelle Blades “Lava Boy”

Gone but not forgotten, we like to keep tabs on the folks that have passed our way here in Arizona. Directed by Chloé Bourgès, the video for “Lava Boy” enchanted us from across the big blue.

Best Party Video:
Wolvves “Live Forever”

Wolvves makes for a great house party and the spirit of which can be found in their video for “Live Forever”.  Directed by frontman Aydin the Immortal. Good times had by all.

Happiest Sad Song:
Human Behavior “Crag”

We’re totally enamored with this video from Human Behavior.  The problem with repeated listenings is that we began to really hear how truly depressing this upbeat number really is. Beautiful but depressing. “Crag” was directed by MJ Watz.

 Best Continuing Saga:
decker. “Killing Me” / “Weight in Gold Pt. 2”

decker. has put out some stellar videos this year including this two-parter we can’t seem to get enough of. Another masterful undertaking from Matty Steinkamp with the aid of six cameramen. We love all the appearances from local rockstars like PC and Melody.

Best Animation:
Brian Lopez “Montjuic”

This was a surprisingly contentious category this year, but the video created by Gary Dumbill for Brian Lopez’s “Montjuic” came out ahead as our pick for Best Animation. Eerie and imaginative.

Strangest Video:
Emby Alexander “Drag the Long Way Home”

From its Lynchian opening to its sudden submersion in water, “Drag the Long Way Home” directed by Trevvor Riley is definitely one of the strangest videos we’ve seen in a long time. Definitely the Strangest Video of 2013.

The Best Place to See a Show That Doesn’t Serve Alcohol but You Can Go Next Door and Get a Drink: The Trunk Space (with help from The Bikini Lounge)

OK, sure, ya can’t get a drink at The Trunk Space unless you count coffee, but you can’t deny that it is one of the best venues to see local and touring bands. And while their bar is of the coffee variety, they’ve masterfully located their place next one of the best dive bars in the Valley: The Bikini Lounge.

The drinks at the Bikini? Cheap. The atmosphere? Dive-y. And that adds up to a really, really good time.

So, the next time you’re itching for some great music from locals and national acts, don’t think twice, head on over to The Trunk Space and get your drink on right next door at the Bikini. Win-win.

Top 5 Shows of the Week!!

Don’t lead some miserable, boring life that will leave you in thirty years asking, “Why didn’t I attend more live music events?” Don’t be that person. Be the lively, fun-loving, good-time gal we know lives in your heart of hearts. See a show.
For more Upcoming AZ Shows, head here!!