The Best of 2013

I love me some lists… so to “celebrate” the conclusion of the first full calendar year of Life in the Vinyl Lane, here’s a recap of my personal “Best of 2013.”  I did one of these for 2012 as well, and I’m more or less sticking with the same categories this time around (though I’m leaving out best websites…).

I did a decent amount of travel in 2013 – Los Angeles, San Diego, Minneapolis, Chicago, Portland (OR), and Reykjavik (X2), and I hit up shops almost everywhere I went.  I know many of us decry the death of the independent record store, but based on my travels it seems like the ones that survived are going pretty strong, with less competition and more inventory.  Fortunately it doesn’t seem like eBay crushed the used music retail market as much as it did in some other hobbies like sports memorabilia.  I think this is due in part to the love of the dig and also the idea of the store as a sort of learning space where you can encounter new things, get recommendations, etc.  At some point we all need to get out of our houses and away from our screen devices and actually talk to real people.

Top 5 New Releases in 2013

1.  Pale Green Ghosts – John Grant
2.  Vanishing Point – Mudhoney
3.  Yesterday’s Graves – The Weir
4.  I’m A Stranger Here – Devil Makes Three
5.  Þorgeirsboli – Slugs

I listened to more new releases this year than I normally do, and there were a few other solid albums like David Bowie’s The Next Day and Omar Souleyman’s Wenu Wenu that could have very easily made it into the Top 5.  The albums in spots two through five could be in any order – they’re my favorites for sure, but I can’t say that any one of them is head and shoulders above the others.  Except, of course, for Pale Green Ghosts.  Which is flat out amazing.  I haven’t been this excited about something new musically in a while.  My current obsession with Pale Green Ghosts means that I’ll probably burn out on it in the next few months, but experience tells me that if I take a bit of a cooling off period after that, when I come back to it I’ll love it even more.  I only have three of these on vinyl, with The Weir on digital download and Slugs on CD.  The one thing all five have in common is that I’ve played the hell out of them this year.

Top 5 “New To Me” Bands

1.  John Grant
2.  Omar Souleyman
3.  Blue
4.  Shiny Darkly
5.  Flower Travelin’ Band

This is a pretty solid mix, not only because they’re all so talented but also because I’m pretty sure all are of different nationalities – American, Syrian, German, Danish, and Japanese.  Grant, Souleyman, and Shiny Darkly I “discovered” by seeing them live at Iceland Airwaves this year, and those performances convinced me to pick up their records. The only one on that list who can be considered truly “new” musically is probably Shiny Darkly, though their latest EP is actually their second release.

Top 5 Vinyl Purchases

1.  Hold – HAM
2.  Maskínan – Purrkur Pillnikk
3.  Bítið Fast Í Vítið – Tappi Tíkarrass
4.  Above – Mad Season
5.  On Wine

Hold was absolutely my best and coolest score of the year, not only because it’s very scarce but also because of how I got it, through a chance encounter with Dr. Gunni while visiting Reykjavik with my family in April.  I wasn’t expecting to get to meet him on that trip, and I certainly didn’t anticipate being invited to his place to buy some of his vinyl collection.  Honorable mention to Mad Season, not only because I’ve always been a huge fan of this record but also because it was while waiting in that insanely long Record Store Day line at Easy Street Records that we met Travis from the Guerrilla Candy blog and a friendship developed that found us record shopping and watching shows together in Iceland six months latter (and burgers together in Fremont upon our return).  The top three on the list are all Icelandic releases and I guess all are considered “collectible”… or if not they should be given how much they cost!  On Wine was a lot of fun for it’s connection to Beastie Boys and they way in which I found it, which was totally random and while in Minneapolis on vacation.

Top 5 Live Shows

1.  John Grant – Harpa, Reykjavik
2.  Mudhoney – Neumo’s, Seattle
3.  Omar Souleyman – Harpa, Reykjavik
4.  Pet Shop Boys – Paramount Theatre, Seattle
5.  Ghostigital – Harpa, Reykjavik

Grant and Souleyman played back-to-back at Airwaves this year, so I had the pleasure of being blown away twice in less than three hours.  Ghostigital’s show was also at Harpa, but not in one of the rooms but instead on a small stage at the top of the stairs on the venue’s top floor, just outside the restaurant and next to the bar (which was convenient).  It was intense, to say the least, with half the small crowd freaking out and unprepared for the onslaught, and the other half getting into it big time.  As for Mudhoney… man, I don’t know what a Mudhoney show looks like outside of Seattle, but here the crowd goes totally ape.  The first half of the set was the entire Vanishing Point album played in order, while the second half was a regular set.  I’m not sure they got five notes into “Touch Me I’m Sick” before the first stage diver went airborne.  Seattle loves it some Mudhoney.

Top 5 Favorite Places to Buy Records

1.  Lucky Records, Reykjavik
2.  Easy Street Records, Seattle
3.  Cheapo Records, Minneapolis
4.  Silver Platters, Seattle
5.  Flea Market, Reykjavik

Man, I got to buy records at a lot of cool places this year.  Lucky and Easy Street are my go-to’s, and I dove into the DJ Masa collection at Silver Platters at least a half dozen times this year.  The flea market in Reykjavik was a big surprise – while I’ve been there before, it seemed like there were a lot more people selling records this year and I came away with some good stuff.  There were some honorable mentions as well like FeeLit (San Diego), Jive Time (Seattle), Port Of Sounds (Costa Mesa, CA), M-Theory (San Diego), Record City (San Diego), Sonic Boom (Seattle), Mississippi Records (Portland, OR)…. I could go on and on.  I’m sure that Lucky and Easy Street will both make the 2014 list too, but we’ll likely be traveling to some new countries in 2014 (Japan and Norway), so we’ll see who else makes the cut.

Top 5 Music Books

1.  Blue Eyed Pop:  The History of Popular Music in Iceland by Dr. Gunni
2.  Rock and the Pop Narcotic by Joe Carducci
3.  How Music Works by David Byrne
4.  Japrocksampler by Julian Cope
5.  Love Rock Revolution by Mark Baumgarten

Sometimes the whole idea of reading about music doesn’t seem to make any sense.  It’s like listening to someone describe a painting while you’re not looking at it.  But I love to read, and I read a lot, and these books have exposed me to bands that I later went out and tracked down on CD and vinyl, leaving me that much richer in musical experience.  So I’ll keep reading music books.

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2013 was a pretty awesome year for Life at the Vinyl Lane.  We traveled a bit, met some cool people, and shopped at some new record stores.  We made some new friends through our interests in vinyl and music in general and had some fantastic experiences.  2014 promises to be even better, with travel to some new places, plus we’re already booked for our sixth consecutive Iceland Airwaves, so our worldwide quest for new music will continue.  Hopefully you’ll join us from time to time.

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