Top 10 Songs of 2013

Cover of the Year: Grimes’s “Oblivion” by Katie and Allison Crutchfield

It was a banner year for sisters Katie and Allison Crutchfield, who both produced fantastic albums (as Waxahatchee and part of Swearin’, respectively) and shockingly upset the Tegan and Sara Quin to earn the top spot in the (just made up) musical sisters power rankings. In addition to the work of their primary bands, the sisters also turned out 2013’s best cover when they covered Grimes’s “Oblivion” for Rookie Mag. Their version maintains the frenetic, danceable spirit of the original, but swaps the dark electronic soundscape for layers of blissful jangly guitar. It’s enough to make one long for the P.S. Eliot days.
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10. “Window Sill” – Pickwick

After years of building a Northwest fan base with their terrific live shows, Pickwick finally released its first LP, Can’t Talk Medicine, in 2013, and “Window Sill” captures the band’s wild live energy better than any other track on the record. The band’s tight R&B influenced sound teems with anticipatory energy during the verses, setting the table for singer Galen Disston to explode in a fury of soulful vocal howls on the chorus. It’s the fullest distillation of Pickwick in recorded audio form to date.

9. “Close to You” – Colleen Green

With its brooding sound, “Close to You” is somewhat of a dark outlier on Colleen Green’s sunny Sock It To Me. But the mysterious vibe created by Green’s near whisper vocals, the consistency of the bass line, a colorful bells accent, and the waves of synth sound make it stick out for all the right reasons.

8. “Second Son” – Mikey and Matty

The Gervais brother have had a lifetime to perfect their harmonizing ways, and “Second Son” finds them at their absolute best. While the track bears many hallmarks of modern folky pop music, the blending of Mikey and Matty’s voices elevate this song above the offerings of their peers.

7. “Au Revoir” – The Front Bottoms

An underlying sense of condescension can fester throughout a relationship and come to a head during a breakup. “Au Revoir” by The Front Bottoms makes that ugly breakup moment painfully palpable. With not much beyond a few strummed notes, a snotty-nosed lo-fi aesthetic, and some deceivingly simple lyrics, the band is able to capture the cutting condescension and tension of two young parties headed their separate ways.

6. “Dixie Cups and Jars” – Waxahatchee

Sonic complexity isn’t Waxahatchee’s aesthetic; it’s more about Katie Crutchfield vocally delivering a gut punch. No track on Cerulean Salt better drives this home than “Dixie Cups and Jars.” The guitar progression she repeatedly strums seems to defiantly march forward as she tactfully throws on lyrical layers southern grieving without a hint of heavy-handedness.

5. “I Love You” – Said the Whale

When I first heard “I Love You” at a Said the Whale show in March (before the song’s release), my first thought was, “Wow, that song that sounds kinda like ‘My Sharona’ rocks.” My stance remains unchanged. The crunchy palm muted guitar on the verses sounds great, and the distorted “ooo” refrains in the chorus are undeniable. In the most mind-numbingly simple terms, “I Love You” is a love song that’s easy to love.

4. “Repeat” – Wimps

There was no more aptly named song in 2013 than “Repeat.” After hearing the call-and-echo-response chorus of this bratty melodic punk ditty, it’s an absolute chore getting it to stop looping around inside your head. It’s equal parts hooky and delightfully messy, and that’s a combo that’s hard to execute.

3. “Kicking Me Out of the Band” – Sean Nelson

Sean Nelson has seen his shares of high and lows in the indie rock game, so it should come as no surprise how well he crafts this sung tale of a hotshot musician gone astray in a haze ego and uppers. Nelson narrates the tale with snarky bite, from the singers description that “NME said we were quintessential power pop–meets–rock–meets–folk–meets–punk–meets–alt-country, but with a healthy sense of metal,” to his plans of forming “a supergroup side project… like Velvet Revolver.” It’s Nelson doing what he does best; cheekily hacking away at our culture with unrelenting aggression.

2. “A World Alone” – Lorde

Lorde’s debut LP Pure Heroine wouldn’t totally work as a cohesive whole if it wasn’t closed by “A World Alone.” With a slow burning style, the track encapsulates all of the albums best features: Lorde’s powerful and emotive voice, the minimal electronic musical backing, savvy lyricism, themes of isolationism with a “you and me against the world” edge, and moments of pure dance exultation. It’s the perfect end to an album marking a career’s beginning.

1. “Climbers” – Mansions

One drum beat. That’s all listeners get before Mansions unleashes a vicious wall of overdriven guitar and thick bass fuzz on “Climbers.” The song plays on the soft/loud dynamic, with singer Christopher Browder’s withheld emotions and exhausted scrapper mentality dropping like a bomb and bursting into sonic fits of angst each chorus. After “Climbers” Mansions really has nothing left to prove, and it’s a damn good thing Browder got too tired to be the nice guy.

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Fiendish Conversation with Pickwick’s Galen Disston

By Jenny Jimenez
I chatted with Pickwick’s frontman about the group’s busy year, howling, and plans for a new album. Check it out.

Can’t Talk Medicine – Pickwick

Pickwick - Can't Talk MedicineIt’s hard to think of a more radical and welcome change than the one Pickwick made about two and a half years ago. At the time, the group was a fairly mediocre indie folk band in an oversaturated Seattle scene. And the guys in Pickwick knew it. Rather than give up, they stepped back, reevaluated their strengths, and reinvented Pickwick as a soul act. Since then they’ve been wowing audiences around Seattle with killer live sets, and building a substantial fan base despite only having released a few 7-inch records. This month Pickwick finally delivered Can’t Talk Medicine, a debut LP that was worth the wait.

Pickwick’s sound centers around Galen Disston’s dynamite vocals. Simply put, he’s the best singer in the Seattle music scene. His voice soars octaves, from a rich low register to falsetto coos and the occasional energetic guttural wail. Disston slides in smoothly on both slower numbers (“Well, Well”) and barnburners (“Window Sill”). One of my only real quibbles with Can’t Talk Medicine is that it doesn’t fully capture the totality of his range; Disston’s vocals come off ever so slightly reserved on the album when compared to Pickwick’s untamed live shows.

As for instrumentals, it sounds like the band has been playing these songs for years (because, well, it has). Garrett Parker leads with standout bass lines, be it the slick fretboard sliding on “Halls of Columbia” or bouncy plucking on “The Round.” The consistently sharp guitar work of Michael Parker adds a spring to the band’s step, particularly on upbeat numbers like “Hacienda Motel.”

The record takes a slight misstep with the duet cover of Richard Swift’s “Lady Luck,” featuring singer-songwiter Sharon Van Etten. Even though the track has a distinctly Pickwick flavor, showcasing Disston’s highest notes, it still comes off drab compared to the buoyancy of the rest of the album. (When the hyper-talented Van Etten can’t save a song, that’s saying something.)

Pickwick took its time to release its first full length, but thanks to years cutting its teeth on stages around Seattle, the group now has some well-deserved swagger, a “we nailed this” vibe. Like Allen Stone before them, Can’t Talk Medicine positions Pickwick to break out beyond the comfortable confines of the Northwest. Seattle soul is alive and thriving.

Review Score: 7.1

*Original version published on SeattleMet.com.*

Fiendish Conversation with Allen Stone

2011.07.08: Allen Stone @ The Crocodile, Seattle, WA

I chatted with Allen Stone, the reigning king of Seattle’s soul revival scene, about hiding the fact he could sing from his school classmates, the Muppets, and more. Check it out.