Hey, there. We’ve done this annual music podcast thing for a few years now, so let’s be clear on what’s happening here, eh?
I’m Nate—the man behind the podcasting curtain. If you’re a regular listener, you’ve almost certainly heard Chad and/or Tom refer to “Nate” on numerous occasions. If they are the “talent” (scare quotes intended), then I am the producer. Nevertheless, twice a year I slink out from behind said curtain for the music podcast (this!) and the movie podcast with Tom (soon!).
All apologies, as always, for having to hear my non-radio-friendly voice talk about songs and my thoughts on them (thoughts that may be slightly shaded by a bit of podcast whiskey). That being said: Hey! Take a look at these ten things because they are ten good things, and you might think so, too!
This is my expanded year-end list of music from the Three Percent Music Podcast. They’re not all necessarily my most listened-to albums of the year, nor what I would call a “best of” list, although it’s not far from either. I’ve included a link to one exemplar from each album to give you the gist, but, to really get a good overview of each, we made a Spotify playlist at which you can conveniently listen to a few songs from each of these albums, as well of the songs from Chad and Kaija’s lists, too. (And, of course, listen to the podcast!)
So, here we go, in no particular order of operations:
Best Album to Remind You about that Rock ‘n’ Roll Is All We Need:
Idle No More by King Kahn & The Shrines
I was never too, too much of a Rolling Stones fan (team Beatles, man), but I do have a weakness for bands that have the sort-of throwback style and attitude that reminds us of the “it’s just about pure rock ‘n’ roll” attitude that they represented. Well, this King Khan album is soaking in that. Clean guitars, a driving backbeat, back-up “ba baba ba” singing parts, and just enough reverb and horns thrown in the mix all make this your favorite album of 1968 that came out in 2013. Basically, if you can listen to the first 30 second of this and say, “Goo, I just hate that.” Then, you, my friend, do not much like rock ‘n’ roll.
Best Album to Intrigue You from the First Notes:
Magic Trix by Xenia Rubinos
When you first listen to this, —the top cut on the album—you naturally try to categorize it, but the song makes that a bit of a twisty challenge. Beginning with a soft a cappella voice, the track shortly transforms when the drums and keyboard kick in. As with much of this album, the instruments (notably, there is no guitar to be found) create abrupt, syncopated rhythms that fit perfectly with Xenia’s staccato delivery and layered vocal tracks. By the time you reach the second track, you realize this album has even more tricks up its sleeve . . .
Best Album by Man Man in Years:
On Oni Pond by Man Man
I won’t say too much about Man Man, primarily because I could say far too much about them. Although I’ve been fan of there’s for many years, now, I do understand that they can be one of those bands that are either one’s taste or just . . . not. I’m drawn to what I call “persona singers,” so Man Man definitely strikes a chord with me. Filled with kinetic energy, eclectic tastes in gypsy-infused hurky-jerky beats, amazing live shows, and a voice that sounds like Frank Zappa ate Tom Waits . . . Well, just listen to a bit of this. If you like it even a little, then give the them a long listen. They’ll suck you in if you let them. Man Man have spent years creating a fascinating world of albums for you to explore, and this one is a great place to start.
Best Album That’s Easy to Love from the First Notes:
We the Common by Thao & The Get Down Stay Down
If the above category name is accurate, there’s no need to sell this one. If you haven’t heard it already, just give this about a minute. It shouldn’t take much more than that before you’re looking up the whole album.
Best Album from Someone I’ve been listening to since 1998:
Surrounded by Richard Buckner
When Pitchfork music—our favorite whipping boy—reviewed this album, they called the sound of Richard Buckner’s guitar “splintery as a raw plank.” Credit where credit is due: I have been trying to find the perfect words to describe the particular sound in Buckner’s guitar playing/recording style since I first heard it on his 1998 album Since, and “splintery as a raw plank” is exactly what it sounds like. Take a listen (at 30 seconds in). That, paired with his alternately rough/cracking and soothingly smooth voice, makes him an artist who is never less than intimately close to the listener. He was alt-country before alt-country was really a thing, and he made a couple experimental/concept albums when he seemed like a straight-up 3:30-long song kind of guy. Basically, he has never been anything less than himself, and, in many ways, this album is a return to the same form that made me fall for his stuff 15 years ago, so it’s a great place to dive in.
Best Album That Also Has One of the Best Tracks of the Year on It:
Muchacho by Phosphorescent
Don’t mistake me: This entire album is magnificent. In fact, this standout track is a bit of a bad example of what the whole album actually sounds like, since every other song is of a distinctively different style than this one—think old Will Oldham stuff with better production value—and I love that style. That being said, this song flows for over six minutes so gracefully that you may think it all washed over you too quickly, and you might just go back to listen to it, again, right after.
Best Album with Unapologetically Catchy Melodies:
The Speed of Things by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Yes, their name is awful—so bad, in fact, that I avoided them for a long time, assuming they must be awful, as well. Turns out I was wrong. If you want some upbeat pop that you can dance to with bouncy melodies that you can fall for upon first listen, this you can definitely do worse than this.
Best Album Written in a Subway Station:
Moon Hooch by Moon Hooch
Two saxophonists and a drummer and all the squeaky, unbridled energy you can ask for is what you’re going to get here in this album of instrumental tracks. They started by busking in New York subway stations until they were recently discovered, and they definitely deserve a wider audience because this is some addictive, propulsive stuff.
Best Album from My Hard-Rockin’ Days:
Found by Rival Schools
The NY post-punk and post-hrdcore pedigree of this band is simply too long to get into here (that’s what the podcast is for. Go listen to it!), so I’ll just say that the lead singer and songwriter was in two of my favorite bands when I was a high-school skateboarder punk. We’re all older now, but he’s still got it.
Best Album by a Legend:
Push the Sky Away by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
With decades of albums under his belt, Push the Sky Away finds Cave at his most quietly reflective and paced. That’s not to say that the songs don’t still carry all the weight and otherworldliness that we expect from him, though. In fact, the sparse arrangements and low-tempo songs only increase the eerie uneasiness. What can I say? It’s Nick Cave, man. Just listen.
Upon completing Albertine Sarrazin’s Astragal I was left to wonder why it ever fell from print. Aside from the location, Astragal could pass as the great American novel. Its edginess and rawness capture the angst and desires we all had. . .
When my eyes first crossed the back cover of Fabio Genovesi’s novel Live Bait, I was caught by a blurb nestled between accolades, a few words from a reviewer for La Repubblica stating that the novel was, however magically, “[b]eyond. . .
“I preferred the war to the plague,” writes Curzio Malaparte in his 1949 novel, The Skin. He speaks of World War II and the destruction it has wrought on Italy, the city of Naples in particular. But the plague he. . .
With the steady rise of feminist scholarship and criticism in recent decades, it is little wonder that the work of Louise Labé should be attracting, as Richard Sieburth tells us in the Afterword to his translation, a “wide and thriving”. . .
In Conversations, we find ourselves again in the protagonist’s conscious and subconscious, which is mostly likely that of Mr. César Aira and consistent with prototypical Aira style. This style never fails because each time Aira is able to develop a. . .
You are not ashamed of what you do, but of what they see you do. Without realizing it, life can be an accumulation of secrets that permeates every last minute of our routine . . .
The narrative history of. . .
Literature in translation often comes with a certain pedigree. In this little corner of the world, with so few books making it into this comforting nook, it is often those of the highest quality that cross through, and attention is. . .
Alessandro Baricco’s Mr. Gwyn is a set of two loosely interlinked novellas that play with narrative and the construction of character. Ably translated by Ann Goldstein, Mr. Gwyn plays some subtle metafictional games as Baricco delves into what it means. . .
I must admit upfront that I went into reading Saadat Hasan Manto’s Bombay Stories almost entirely blind. I have not read Salman Rushdie. I have read, perhaps, two short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri. I might shamefully add that I really. . .
Throughout his work The Gray Notebook, Josep Pla mentions many different authors, some of whom have inspired him to pick up a pen. One of them is Marcel Proust. Even though Pla normally prefers nonfiction, he lauds the French novelist. . .