Sunday, January 5, 2014

Team Sisson's Best of 2013

Happy holidays from Team Sisson, and congratulations on receiving Chris Schuck's 12th Annual Surprise Birthday Bash for Jesus, this year featuring artwork by our staff graphic designer, and two selections made by the newest member of Team Sisson.  As always, we've picked and exquisitely sequenced tracks from 20 of our favorite records of 2013 for your listening pleasure.  We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

1. Villagers  - "The Waves"
Album: {Awayland}
We first heard {Awayland} early in 2013 and it has remained one of our favorite albums throughout the year.  Villagers are an Irish folk band that, as you can hear, are not shy about using modern music technology to enhance their songs.  I am a big sucker for any song that starts out pretty and swells to a loud conclusion which describes multiple tracks on {Awayland}.
Also check out: "Earthly Pleasure", "The Bell"

2. Jonathan Boulet  - "You're a Animal"
Album: We Keep the Beat Found the Sound See the Need Start the Heart
We had to bend the rules on this one a little bit.  We Keep the Beat actually came out in June of 2012, but we didn't hear it until this year, and we're betting that you've never heard it.  "You're a Animal" first caught our ear as the definite standout track amongst a huge SXSW sampler.  The rest of the record is pretty great too.  Jonathan Boulet is Australian, and honestly that's about all the info I can find on him.  Here's the opening paragraph of the bio from his online store: "A precociously inspired 21 year old skate rat from Northwest Sydney, Jonathan Boulet makes a brand of ceremoniously uplifting, deeply colourful pop that sounds like something for which you’ve been inadvertently searching but never dreamed you’d find."  Birthday Bash've found it!
Also check out: "This Song is Called Ragged"

3. Chance the Rapper - "Good Ass Intro"
Album: Acid Rap
Early in 2013 a Chicago teenager I'd never heard of, Chance the Rapper put out a free album that was getting amazing reviews, so naturally I downloaded it hoping to jump on the bandwagon of the next big thing.  Initially I was not sold.  I didn't care for the nasally sing-songy flow and the constant yelping, although after several listens these are some of the things that make Chance stand out against some of the other young rappers in contention for the bash this year (A$AP Rocky, Earl Sweatshirt).  One thing that gave me a new appreciation for Acid Rap was the amazing two episode series This American Life did on Harper High School in South Chicago (download them here & here).  I thought I had some idea of what it was like for kids growing up in our inner cities, mostly because I've seen Boyz N the Hood and Menace II Society a hundred times.  Those two episodes opened my eyes to the fact that a) I have no idea and b) it is so much worse that whatever idea I though I had.  Now I'm listening to Acid Rap with a much greater appreciation for the stories within, and a new found respect for anyone who can make something so beautiful coming out of there....and then giving it away for free!  Speaking of which, download your own copy here.
Also check out: "Everybody's Something"

4. Typhoon - "Dreams of Cannibalism"
Album: White Lighter
I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard Typhoon.  I was walking Flanders down Cherry St in KC listening to Jim and Greg on Sound Opinions who were doing a show about unknowns from Portland.  They had some local personality on talking about all these bands and when she started describing Typhoon I became very excited.  Basically I was expecting Arcade Fire, but cooler since they were from Portland.  Then they played a song from their most recent record at the time, Hunger & Thirst, which confused me because I didn't like it at all.  I went home and listened to the whole album and hated it.  What I wanted to like about them initially was the amount of people in the band (11) and the presence of horns, but the songs just didn't click with me.  So this summer when I heard there was going to be a new Typhoon record I was ready to be disappointed.  Boy did they turn things around.  If you were to force me to pick my #1 record of 2013 I think it would have to be White Lighter.  Here they are playing an NPR Tiny Desk Concert.
Also check out: "Young Fathers"

5. Laura Mvula - "Green Garden"
Album: Sing To the Moon
OK....let me level with you.  There is a little bit of a formula to the Birthday Bash.  We always try to have a couple hip-hop songs, something heavy, something light, something folky, and a little soul.  Here my friends is your soul.  Laura Mvula is the latest in an ever growing line of English soul singers with serious chops.  This pick is largely due to our love of the track "Green Garden," but the whole record is solid.  It's a nice sunny Sunday afternoon listen.  Here she is doing a Tiny Desk Concert.
Also check out: "She"

6. James Blake - "Retrograde"
Album: Overgrown
Team Sisson was first exposed to English producer, James Blake when the track "Limit To Your Love" appeared on one of Leanna's mix CD's back in 2010.  It sounds like a boring guy and a piano song until the bass kicks in at 0:56.  Her old car used to have pretty good speakers so we would frequently blast that song into the Kansas City air.  Well..maybe not "we".  Anyway, Overgrown is more of the same; fragile vocals, pianos, strings and synths over a superb low end.  And what can I say about "Retrograde"?  I mean just listen to it!  How great is that?  In fact, Overgrown won the 2013 Mercury Prize, which is England's top music award...sort of like our Grammy awards, only not a complete joke.   I believe they "shortlist" 12 Albums every year, and out of those 12 one is crowned the winner.  In fact, a whopping five of the artists on this year's Birthday Bash were on the Mercury Prize "Albums of the Year" list.  Hmmmm....that might make a good trivia question.
Also check out: "Overgrown"

7. Ólafur Arnalds - "Old Skin"
Album: For Now I Am Winter
My obsession with Iceland continues.  Not only is it one of the most beautiful places on Earth, some of the most beautiful music you've ever heard comes from there. Just listen.
Also check out: "For Now I Am Winter"

8. Arcade Fire - "Normal Person"
Album: Reflektor
Arcade Fire made another record and once again it's great.  Big surprise.  Wake me up when they make something that isn't great!  When I heard that James Murphy was going to produce the new Arcade Fire, I thought it could either be a wild success or a spectacular disaster, and the reviews have pretty much followed suit.  Either you love it or you hate it, but it seems like people generally love it.  There are a lot of great songs to choose from, but I picked "Normal Person" because my favorite part about Arcade Fire is when all ten of them go berserk on stage, and this song has the most "berserk potential" (trademarked) on Reflektor. In the spirit of the holidays, here they are as the musical guest on the Between Two Ferns Holiday Spectacular!
Also check out: "Afterlife", "Reflektor"

9. Fury Things - "Vapors"
Album: Fury Things
Fury Things are a Twin Cities three-piece band I first heard this summer listening to The Current at work.  I actually got busted for streaming music in my office so now I have to record long chunks of internet radio using audacity and bring them in on a flash drive.  That probably seems like more work than it's worth right?  Well spend a week in my department without bringing in your own music and you'll be ready to put your head in a vice.  How is it possible that EVERY song on country radio is about drinking beer and driving pickups?!?  Don't believe me?  Watch this.  Anyway, I really don't know much about Fury Things other than they're named after a Dinosaur Jr. song and their brand of loud, fuzzy rock provides sweet relief from the never-ending country "music" which blares just outside my door.

10. Parquet Courts - "Donuts Only"
Album: Light Up Gold
Parquet Courts have been critical darlings all year, and are peppering several best of 2013 lists.  At first I was very suspicious.  It seemed to me this was yet another case of a band becoming popular based solely on a single lyric.  For example, I would bet the farm that if Marcy Playground's hit song was called "Chex & Candy" rather than "Sex & Candy" none of us would have ever heard of them.  In the case of Parquet Courts, the song everyone initially played from Light Up Gold is called "Stoned and Starving."  It seems to me that the only thing stoners love more than smoking weed is hearing songs about weed.  Popularity explained.  However, after several listens, (easy to listen several times when the album is only 39 minutes long) I've come around.  Light Up Gold can be enjoyed not just by potheads, but everyone including sportos, motor heads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, and even dickheads.  They all think Parquet Courts are a righteous band!
Also check out: "Stoned and Starving"

11. Yamantaka//Sonic Titan - "One"
Album: UZU
By a slim margin, Yamantaka//Sonic Titan may have been Team Sisson's favorite band comprised of Japanese-Canadians in 2013.  I checked them out based on the description of their sound in a Pitchfork review and then proceeded to blast UZU on repeat during one of my many trips to and from Springfield. These Canucks have quite an interesting thing going.  Evidently the have two live shows; one a drag rock opera and the other a "full on rock show."  According to their website, "YAMANTAKA // SONIC TITAN are a psychedelic noh-wave opera group fusing noise, metal, pop and folk music into a multidisciplinary hyper-orientalist cesspool of 'east' meets 'west' culture clash in giant monochrome paper sets."  There are only two ways something like this can go, but I think UZU is very, very good, so we hope you enjoy "One"
Also check out: "Windflower"

12. Danny Brown - "Side A"
Album: Old
Danny Brown started making some noise that made it to my ears two years ago, although evidently he's been on the fringes of the rap game for so long he's feeling old, hence the name of the album.  It's easy to laugh him off as some crazy person who got some attention because he looks and sounds different.  I mean he has this crazy hair and is missing some front teeth, but my goodness is Old great.  He has it arranged into two sides, with side A chronicling his life in inner city Detroit, and side B bringing the party jams, although not the kind of party I in my rapidly advancing age will ever attend.  What got me excited about Old was hearing an early release of "Side A."  I must have listened to it ten times in a row.  I just love how the song starts with a drawn out cymbal crash, a simple ominous tone, then Danny coming in almost as soon as the beat kicks in, as though he has a lot to say and he's not going to waste any time.  There are so many other great tracks.  "25 Bucks", "Torture", "Side B", "Kush Coma".  Do yourself a huge favor and check out Old.  I'm telling you......this thing is unfreakingbelievable.
Also check out: "Dope Song", "Dip"

13. Arctic Monkeys - "R U Mine?"
Album: AM
This is actually the second time the Arctic Monkeys have been featured on the Bash. I believe we put their first hit, "I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor" on the 2006 edition.  They've been making solid music ever since then.  The track "Do I Wanna Know" has been all over the top tracks of 2013 lists, but I love "R U Mine?"  Do U Like?
Also check out: "Why'd You Only Call Me When You're High?"

14. The National - "Graceless"
Album: Trouble Will Find Me
Here's some dad rock for you!  The National is actually the first pick by the newest addition to Team Sisson, Charlie.  During his first couple of months with us, we struggled to find a bedtime routine that put him to sleep.  We discovered cradling with butt patting seemed to do the trick.  One night I was playing Boxer during this routine and what a revelation!  I had always thought of The National as a quiet band, so good for putting a baby to sleep right?  But I had never really appreciated the frenetic rhythm of those songs, until I was butt patting along to them.  You should really try it!
Also check out: "Sea of Love", "Don't Swallow the Cap", "Pink Rabbits"

15. Kurt Vile - "Snowflakes Are Dancing"
Album: Wakin On a Pretty Daze
We first became acquainted with Kurt Vile when we heard "Jesus Fever" off his Smoke Ring For My Halo record and included it in the first run of our other mixtape project, Baby Hipster (yes yes yes....Toddler Hipster is in the works...turns out when you actually have a baby, it takes longer to make these things).  Here's something I'll bet you didn't know; Kurt Vile is huge in his hometown of Philadelphia.  So huge in fact that August 28th of this year was officially named Kurt Vile Day in Philly.  The men of Team Sisson love all of Pretty Daze so picking a song to feature was a bit of an adventure, with "Snowflakes" making a late move at the buzzer.  "Wakin on a Pretty Day" may be the best song, but it's over 9 minutes long which doesn't work when we try to get as many tracks on The Bash as possible.  We thought it was going to be "Never Run Away", but at the last minute Charlie decided we needed to bring you "Snowflakes".  You're welcome.
Also check out: "KV Crimes"

16. Laura Marling - "Master Hunter"
Album: Once I Was An Eagle
Last one in.  I actually heard "Master Hunter" for the first time listening to a 2013 wrap up show. I have since familiarized myself the the rest of Once I Was An Eagle and am quite fond of it.  This is also Charlie approved listening.  I've been hearing about Laura Marling for what seems like ages (she's only 23), but just now discovering her music.  Hope you like it.
Also check out: "Devil's Resting Place"

17. Deltron 3030 - "City Rising From the Ashes"
Album: Event II
There were several records we here at Team Sisson were really looking forward to in 2013, like Queens of the Stone Age with the re-united Songs for the Deaf lineup and the new Thom Yorke led Atoms for Peace.  Unfortunately, the only record that actually met our expectations, and in fact far exceeded them was Event II.  We have been big fans of Deltron 3030 since the self-titled debut in 2000.  In fact, the only speeding ticket I've ever gotten from a cop in a car (I've gotten two from cops on foot....true story) was due to me leadfooting it to Deltron on 71 highway near Harrisonville, MO.  Deltron 3030 is comprised of Del the Funky Homosapien, who you may know as the rapper on the first Gorillaz record, Dan the Automator, who is the legendary Bay area producer responsible for several classic albums including Dr. Octagonecologyst, and turntablist Kid Koala. Event II is a continuation of a quasi-futuristic concept.  Whereas Deltron 3030 was set in the year 3030, Event II is set in the year 3040, and chronicles the return (?) of the "dynamic" Deltron who will save the planet maybe?  I don't really know what's going on.  It's about the future.  What I do know is there are some killer guest spots.  There is an opening monologue by Joseph Gordon Levitt, two skits featuring David Cross complaining about the kids these days (in 3040), an appearance by chef David Chang talking about the food in 3040, and best of all, the Lonely Island contribute a hilarious song called "Back In the Day".   The best and most surprising thing about Event II though is just how bouncy the music is compared to what you may expect from Automator.   For my money this is pound for pound the best sounding rap record of the year. There...I said it.
Also check out: "Melding Of The Minds"

18. The Front Bottoms - "Twin Size Mattress"
Album: Talon Of The Hawk
As soon as I heard the track "Au Revoir" on All Songs Considered I knew we would be putting it on the Bash.  Then I listened to the rest of Talon Of The Hawk and suddenly there were a few other contenders, with "Twin Size Mattress" standing out.  So anyway, here's my apology for leaving off what would have probably been your favorite Birthday Bash track this year. On the same All Songs Considered, the host Bob Boilen talked about seeing The Front Bottoms on a whim, having never heard of them and he was the only person in the room that didn't know every word to their songs.  Pretty sure the exact same thing would happen to me if I went to see them play The Holiday here in Olney.
Also check out: "Funny You Should Ask"

19. Eels - "Wonderful, Glorious"
Album: Wonderful, Glorious
I first heard the Eels in high school.  High School!  They actually had a song on the radio back then.  Since then I have heard practically nothing about them.  Imagine my surprise this year when I found out that not only are Eels still a band, they're making excellent music.  I don't know how I've missed them this whole time.  In fact, just yesterday I heard "Fresh Blood" off of a record they released in 2009, Hombre Lobo, and it blew me away.  Hope you like it too.
Also check out: "Kinda Fuzzy", "Peach Blossom"

20. Sigur Rós - Rafstraumur
Album: Kveikur
As I said before, my obsession with Iceland continues.  I have it marked as my #1 fantasy vacation destination, but Leanna states she will NEVER go to Iceland.  Looks like I'm going to have to go with someone else.  Who wants a free trip to Iceland?  Well....not'll have to pay your own way...but we can sit next to each other on the plane.  Ok, Sigur Rós....prior to making Kveikur they lost a member whose name I have no chance of remembering or spelling...but anyway...he was described as their multi-instrumentalist, which reminds me of when Wilco lost (fired) Jay Bennett.  In both cases the subsequent music was more guitar based and lost some of the magic.  This however is not necessarily a bad thing, as you can hear.  I actually thought Sigur Rós was a goner when they went on indefinite hiatus a couple years ago and Jónsi made that amazing solo record.  But they're back baby!  I think I've told this story on this thing before, but waaaaaay back when I was living in Columbia I saw Kurt Loder on MTV news talking about this band from Iceland that had people passing out at their concerts (something about being overwhelmed with emotion?).  That day I went to Streetside records and picked up a copy of Ágætis byrjun, just thinking about buying it (yes kids, buying music).  As I was browsing, some rando who didn't work there (I was there a lot so I knew) asked if I was going to buy it.  I said I was thinking about it.  He then said kind of breathlessly, "It's like...the best thing ever."  That was all I needed to hear.  After some initial confusion (when am I supposed to listen to this?) I was hooked....apparently for life.
Also check out: "Hrafntinna", "Brennisteinn", "Stormur"

Wow....that was awesome!  Could anything make this multimedia experience more interactive? Ummm....only a little thing called THE 5th ANNUAL BIRTHDAY BASH TRIVIA CONTEST!!!!

Last year was a bit of a disappointment as yet again there was no winner.  As you may recall, the question was as follows.  One person pulls double duty by actually appearing in two different tracks on this year’s Bash. Who is it?  Of course the answer was Ronald Reagan, who appeared on the track "Reagan" by Killer Mike (duh), as well as in the intro to Aesop Rock's "Zero Dark Thirty."  You all must be kicking yourselves at this reveal.  Fear not, a new question awaits.  First, the fine print....enlarged for ease of viewing.

To be eligible to participate in the 5th Annual Birthday Bash Trivia Contest:
-You must have yourself received or have had an immediate family member receive the Birthday Bash.
-You may not have any past or present affiliation with the "University" of Kansas. Exceptions may be made on a case by case basis.

Now, the question.  Five of the twenty artists included in the 2013 Birthday Bash were on the "Shortlist" for the 2013 Mercury Prize.  Who are those artists?

The first person to submit a correct response will win a personalized prize-pack of 2013 Birthday Bash artist band merch (t-shirts, mugs, hats....whatever we can find that looks cool).  Please e-mail your responses with "Birthday Bash Trivia Contest" in the subject line to Good luck and have a great 2014!

1/15/14 15:12 CST
We have a winner!  Adam Zentz-Tron is well on his way to having a great 2014 as he has correctly identified the five Birthday Bash artists on the shortlist for the 2013 Mercury Prize!  Those artists, in order of appearance are Villagers, Laura Mvula, James Blake, Arctic Monkeys & Laura Marling. Join me in congratulating him!

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