Top Tracks 2013: July

Over a week into August now and this round-up already feels a little redundant, but here it is nonetheless. A combination of film festival overload, struggling to update the design/layout of this post, and a mild case of hypo-inspiration brought on by a relatively dull month of music held me back a little. When I came around to compiling it all though I settled on some really good new music released throughout July 2013.

Sarah Bareilles

From: The Blessed Unrest
Genre: Pop
Listen: YouTube | Spotify
blessedunrestIt has been a strange and unexpected journey this little ‘Top Tracks’ experiment. If somebody told me before I begun that one of my favourite songs from July 2013 would be an unabashed, full-blown pop single such as this, I would have firmly implored them to reconsider their comment. Yet here we are. Something about this song unleashes the 14-year-old girl inside me and makes me want to scream “Honestly, I want to see you be brave!” at the top of my lungs. It’s not the first pop music to particularly catch my attention this year though, with that honour going to Charli XCX’s True Romance (especially the surprisingly catchy “Stay Away“).

Pet Shop Boys

From: Electric
Genre: Synth-Pop
Listen: YouTube | Spotify
petshoppingI nearly didn’t bother listening to the new Pet Shop Boys’ new album. Their daggy music video for “Go West” and its terrible mid-90s CGI is forever etched in my mind from when I was growing up and it has never really inspired me to dive into their back-catalogue. July wasn’t exactly overflowing with great new releases though, so I thought I’d give Electric a try and it was a surprisingly good retro synth-pop record. I find it difficult to believe that people would dance to this music in a completely non-ironic way in a club today, but its big beats and simple hooks certainly have their charms. Opener “Axis” probably has the most energy on display, but there’s also something highly-infectious about the deadpan vocals of “Love is a Bourgeois Construct“. Bourgeois, bourgeoisie!

Fuck Buttons

From: Slow Focus
Genre: Electronic
Listen: Spotify
slowfuckusOne of my biggest musical regrets is deciding to skip seeing the Fuck Buttons at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in 2009. I remember distantly hearing part of their set while walking up the side of Mt. Buller and thinking they sounded alright, but I dismissed them as being ‘just another electronic band.’ Those familiar with the band know that they are anything but ‘just another electronic band’ though and their latest album Slow Focus continues their noise-drone take on the genre. Opening track “Brainfreeze” is an all-out sensory assault that does not relent for its entire eight minutes. For full effect, be sure to play it so loud that it numbs most of your senses. Although there are a few other standout songs, especially “The Red Wing” with its persistent high-pitched ‘pow’, it’s a shame that they end the album with two very dull songs. Regardless, I definitely won’t be missing these songs when the band visits Melbourne in October for ATP’s upcoming ‘Release the Bats‘.

Chris Schlarb
“The Starry King Hears Laughter”

From: Psychic Temple II
Genre: Psychedelic Jazz
Listen: Bandcamp
tempyiiThe most exciting release from last month was self-proclaimed composer, truck driver, and cult leader Chris Schlarb’s exploratory Psychic Temple II; a sequel-of-sorts to his first visit to the Psychic Temple in 2010. Jazz is the dominant stylistic inspiration throughout the album, highlighted here on the smooth “The Starry King Hears Laughter” and continued later on with “She is the Golden World”. There is something about the vocal delivery in the other songs that lend a very late-60s psychedelic vibe to most of the album though. Fellow Asthmatic Kitty Sufjan Stevens also shows up for a cover of Brian Wilson’s “‘Til I Die“, although the cover of Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out” is probably the strongest vocal-led song.

Daughn Gibson
“Mad Ocean”

From: Me Moan
Genre: Alt-Country
Listen: SoundCloud | Spotify
memoanOn his sophomore outing Me Moan, singer/songwriter Daughn Gibson gives us the most uniquely modern interpretation of traditional American music since perhaps Jeff Tweedy proclaimed he was an American aquarian drinker. Gibson seems to filter all of his country and rockabilly influences through a warped prism to give us what sounds like debauched pop music. It’s difficult to say how much his distinctive baritone is responsible for his success (it really is a delight), but that’s not to say he can’t write a great tune. “Mad Ocean” is my track pick from this collection, if not simply for being able to make the bagpipes not sound out of place amongst this strange mix of sounds.

Guy Clark
“Hell Bent on a Heartache”

From: My Favourite Picture of You
Genre: Americana
Listen: SoundCloud
I nearly got myself into trouble while trying to think about what to write about Guy Clark’s new album My Favourite Picture of You. The first thing that struck me about the album was how terrible that cover art is. Of course, I should have known better. I later found out that the picture Clark is holding up in the foreground is in fact his favourite picture of his wife of 40 years who passed away last year and is the subject of the song “My Favourite Picture of You”. So in that light, I’ll just say it’s a ‘fine’ album cover. Admittedly I’m not overly familiar with country music from his era, but I’ve never actually heard of Clark before this. He doesn’t seem to have entered the general music vernacular with other country music legends like Willie Nelson or Johnny Cash. It’s clear that he has been at this for a long time though, as this is a great collection of honest, introspective country songs.

Ron Block
“Nickel Tree Line”

From: Walking Song
Genre: Bluegrass
Listen: Spotify
walkongAlthough the name might not be familiar, Ron Block played banjo for several songs on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, so there is a good chance you may have heard his picking before. Block has been a member of Alison Krauss’ Union Station band for a number of decades now and occasionally releases his own solo records. He demonstrates that he is a surprisingly good songwriter on Walking Song, in which he also shares the lyric writing duties with poet Rebecca Reynolds. Somehow with “Nickel Tree Line” they have managed to create that rare kind of song which sounds like it could easily be a traditional song instead of contemporary. The entire album is great from start to finish, although the slow melodies of the instrumental “What Wondrous Love Is This?” are another highlight.

About Group
“I Never Lock That Door”

From: Between the Walls
Genre: Experimental Rock
Listen: Spotify
betweenlewallsAbout Group, the semi-experimental indie rock band perhaps most notable for featuring Hot Chip’s front man Alexis Taylor, may have released my favourite album last month with Between the Walls. It’s certainly a messy batch of songs that jumps between moods and textures just as you think you have it pinned down, but that’s part of its charm I guess. The very catchy – and equally kitschy – sing-a-long “I Never Lock That Door” is a late-album highlight, although the hazy funk guitar of “Make the World Laugh” and cheesy bass lines of “Words” shouldn’t be overlooked.

As alluded to above, it was a relatively dry month for notable new music. David Lynch’s new album The Big Dream was pretty average. Although it was far more consistent than Crazy Clown Time from 2011, it had no songs I would ever want to return to (unlike the manic house-party jam “Crazy Clown Time” and atmospheric “The Night Bell With Lightning” from his previous album). Likewise, everybody’s favourite gypsy punks Gogol Bordello delivered the relatively flat Pura Vida Conspiracy. Ever-prolific John Zorn also released Dreamachines late in the month, his fourth album of the year. It should probably have been included on the list above, but he’s likely to release at least another two albums before year’s end so there will be plenty of other opportunities to feature him.

August has a few releases I’m looking forward to, especially Béla Fleck’s The Impostor featuring his concerto for banjo and symphony orchestra. Chick Corea’s newly-released The Vigil is an indulgent fusion fantasy that sounds promising so far, and I’m also looking forward to hearing how The Polyphonic Spree’s new album Yes, It’s True turns out.

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