It’s been a tradition at the end of each year to round up the most memorable moments in local music, but this year I’m breaking the pattern and spotlighting records by local artists that stood apart from the rest. Records that surprised me with music that compelled me, impressed me, spoke to me and spoke for me. Music that punctuated the narrative of my life during the year that was 2013 and music that changed the direction of my own story and my story as it relates to music — local and otherwise. I’m not saying these are “the best” records, neither are they in any particular order. I’m saying they are the records that I enjoyed, records that I thought about, that sort of attached themselves to my psyche. Thank you for making music, even when it seems impossible and thankless, when it pays no dividend that can be deposited in a financial institution — especially so. Your music saves me every day.
M.E.C.O. by Aaron Orbit
Everyone knows Aaron Johnson has a great voice, excellent range and beautiful hair. When the vocalist of Le Meu Le Purr was reborn as Aaron Orbit his songwriting took the spotlight but the extreme eclecticism of his debut record Sunday Morning Murder Songs was a tad confounding for some, myself included. Then came the M.E.C.O. EP — focused, intense, emotional, austere, confessional. Like plunging naked into frigid water, or perhaps looking back at Earth from the moon, there’s a lonely freedom about M.E.C.O. and its orchestral maneuverings. If glitter was stripped of its frills and thrills, reduced to its purest form, plumbed to its depths, it might sound like this. Orbit reminds me that artists are weird and hard to figure out, but so worth the effort. His songs lend themselves beautifully to theater; I hope one day he writes an epic musical.
Rough Cut by Blues Bullet
There is no shortage of good and very good blues players in this town, but for whatever reason, I could never connect to any of them — until I heard Rough Cut by Blues Bullet as suggested to me by Jim Salzer. I love the blues deeply but I gotta feel ’em, if you know what I mean — physically. And spiritually. Eric Clapton is a highly regarded blues guitarist but I don’t FEEL him. Joe Billingiere may not be Clapton but he gets into my bones and rattles them. This ain’t no run-of-the-mill bar band. And these ain’t no rough cuts.
Massenger by Massenger
There are maybe five local artists whose records have longevity for me. Massenger is one of them. Even though I started listening to this record in 2012, the official release was this year so I’m including it. Also it hasn’t left my everyday playlist since my first listen. This is THE feel-good record of the year, and I never tire of its buoyant melodies. From my car to the treadmill, at the beach, in the office and occasionally at the bar, this record has been the most consistent soundtrack for my year. If Massenger was a season it would be spring. It renews me. I heart Massenger . . . to the max. (P.S. Check out the band’s just-released EP Girl Glass. It’s as good as you’d expect.)
Pine Ridge by The Pullmen
Full disclosure: In 2013 I spent more time in the company of The Pullmen frontman Shane Cohn than anyone else in my life. Working beside the writer/musician had its perks, mainly laughing a lot and being privy to band stuff like recording processes and infighting. Having been fairly clued-in to the evolution of Pine Ridge, it will always hold sentimental sway with me. That said, it also rocks hard. When I’m particularly annoyed with the human race, I put on the title track and scream till my throat bleeds. The first time I heard the ballad “Neon Sins,” I was sitting at my desk typing away when Cohn handed me his phone and a pair of headphones. I cried. The song so beautifully translated my raw emotion (I was nursing a bruised heart) into something I could grasp. That’s what good music does. That’s what art does. That’s what The Pullmen do.
Dual Entendre by Rubberneck Lions
What we hear in a piece/collection of music will either transport us to a place we have no reference for, or it will return us to familiar ground. One is not better than the other and both are entirely dependent on our own perception, the lens out of which we peer. What I get from Rubberneck Lions’ debut full-length as someone who is old enough to have seen Led Zeppelin live (and did) is probably very different from what a 20-something guy who doesn’t remember a pre-digital world might experience. For me, this record is a ticket to a time of my life and a time in music that was unhindered by trend and self-important bloggers. A time when people still played music and listened to it because they LOVED it. Rubberneck Lions would be the band that played all the house parties of my teenage years. I would worship them from afar, crush on at least one of them, and always dance at the front of the stage. They would pass the joint to me, and we would discuss the meaning of their lyrics. Eventually, they would “make it” and get airplay on KMET and I would knowingly smile. For me Dual Entendre is very good updated classic rock. All contemporary music is paying homage, and this band picked the very best to emulate, so to speak. Before there were hipsters, there was “Too Hip.” That’s Rubberneck Lions.
We Had It First the Right Time by Shoddy Cons
The most underachieving Ventura band finally cut a record, and even though I poked fun at it, and it was by no means a perfect record (such a thing does exist), it held my attention and it got my body moving. It’s fun, it’s clever, it’s sexy and it takes chances. It reminds me of the young boy who punches the little girl in the arm because he likes her. It’s a lovable brat.
Eternal Yeah by The Spires
The spirit of The Spires landed on my roof last week in a holographic sled that went jingle-jangle across the horizon. It had a seafoam beard and wore a corduroy jacket and it left me a gift: 11 songs to accompany me through the final days of this strangely beautiful year, a year in which Lou Reed and Billy Jack chose to make their departures from the density of 3-dimensional earth. If these songs were to take physical form, they would be origami. Delicate, precise, graceful geometry. Beautiful math. Bryan Russell’s transcendent guitar (he also plays in Massenger) is becoming one of my favorite things. The Spires should be huge, but there’s something essential about their subterranean status. Like buried treasure or a kiss from a handsome stranger or a secret that mustn’t be told. Shhhhh.
The Sound of Earth by Wooden Nomad
I first caught these guys when they were Gargantua. Someone in the band was wearing a Kyuss T-shirt and I knew I’d found kindred spirits. The band lived up to the name; unfortunately it was already taken. A couple of years later, I received The Sound of Earth by Wooden Nomad, placed it in my car CD player and immediately pulled over. Um, wow. Fittingly recorded in the Coachella Valley, birthplace of Kyuss and its offspring, the band’s debut full-length is a mandatory headphones record (bong sold separately) that leaves me with goosebumps every listen. Angelo Miles deserves a lot more attention as a guitarist then he probably receives. Actually, the whole band does. Swoon.