After spending last week presenting you with our staff’s Top 25 Albums of 2013, we’d like to return our focus to the always- active Richmond music scene with RVA Mag contributing writer Shannon Cleary’s list of Top 10 RVA Releases of 2013.
After spending last week presenting you with our staff’s Top 25 Albums of 2013, we’d like to return our focus to the always- active Richmond music scene with RVA Mag contributing writer Shannon Cleary’s list of Top 10 RVA Releases of 2013. Read on to see who made the grade in the local scene!
In one of the more ambitious releases this city saw this year, Todd Herrington made a record that does many things all at once. It celebrates his talent as one of the best players Richmond has ever seen. It also assembles a classic group of musicians, the combination of which could easily tell the story of Richmond music through their respective biographies. Herrington has explained that what he wanted to achieve on Things was the feel of a flowing mixtape. Not only does he succeed, he showcases his eclectic sense of style and flair as a musician. Minds like Herrington don’t come around too often and Things is a triumph for this Richmond talent.
This isn’t just a punk record. The songs on So Am I might find a perfect home in the basements of Richmond, but there’s also an intrinsic quality that sets Close Talker apart from the rest. You can hear influences that span from the lover laments of groups like Lucero or The Replacements to the nineties bliss of The Gin Blossoms or the Lemonheads. “Mop Water” is an instant classic, and songs like “Tales of Distrust and Cynicism” or “Can’t Stand Your Laugh” could find their way onto a number of mixes made for close friends. “Chinese Sunday” is an even greater example of how much this record fluctuates in style and tone on each track. This isn’t just a huge step for bands within the punk community. This is a huge evolution for the rock scene in Richmond, and something to take note of for sure.
Lobo Marino is as known for their traveling as they are for their unique songwriting. It’s why their approach for this new record makes so much sense. They set up field recordings around the globe and recorded their songs in the most organic way imaginable. The result is a travelogue of a band that inspires communities around the world. Each song also seems to find their inspiration in the places where they were recorded. The rhythmic base for “Rainbow Tipi” is incredible and finds a fitting home in Albujaras, Spain. It’s also fitting that one of their more minimalist cuts, “Crooked Road,” would be recorded in Floyd, Virgina; a not so distant journey from their home here in Richmond. Laney Sullivan’s voice just glistens and haunts as a simple stomp and dissonant strings move the song along. With each of their releases, Lobo Marino has challenged the medium in which they work, and Fields is no exception. I am eager to see what they deliver next.
There was a lot riding on Canary Oh Canary’s proper full-length debut. The group had spent the better part of two years laying the groundwork for their craft and developing a strong reputation as a result. So many new songs materialized in their set that you didn’t know what was going to end up on the album. Thankfully, this release is a grand assessment of the band from their early days to their most recent work. “Gypsy Hermosa” and “Needle’s Shadow” date back to Canary Oh Canary’s first year as a band, and the resounding success of their appearance on Sleep is due to their noticeable evolution. Meanwhile, songs like “Valley of Secrets” and “Catholic” show the engagement of new ideas and a better understanding of the trio’s strengths. Their brand of pop is unlike anything else in Richmond, and Sleep is a crowning achievement for these princes and princess of darkwave.
Richmond is a place filled with a spectacular, dense history. There are parts of it that may forever haunt us, but there are more instances where it shines unlike any other place. Positive No explores the sounds and places that help develop an aesthetic for this city. Via Florum is an exploration of the hidden parks and streets with historic relevance, as well as a delightful fascination with the works of Carl Sagan. “Pocket Park” and “Georgia Purchase Agreement” are easy standouts, but the entire EP feels complete at every twist and turn. Their take on dreamy nineties pop is an effervescent sensation that fits perfectly within several niches around the Richmond scene. Positive No had a champagne year, to say the least, and Via Florum is the perfect toast to them.
I don’t even know where to begin when describing how awesome Dumb Waiter is. I could start by just saying “Holy shit,” but that doesn’t give you a great assessment for the immaculate talent that makes up this imaginative quartet. Is This Chocolate? is the place where acid jazz meets instrumental freak-outs then transforms itself into the dark recesses of your nightmares involving carnivals, and then rolls out an inspiring moment that can only be described as triumphant. I know that’s a jam-packed, drawn out sentence, but the truth is that Dumb Waiter can’t be described in just a single phrase. And there lies the beauty. “Vegan Mustache Jazz” is a perfect calling card for the group, with their induced lush moments of driving bass lines, spiraling guitar parts, distorted saxophone, inverted break beats, and superb gang vocals. When you hear Dumb Waiter, you might immediately think “where did these guys come from?” You should be proud to say Richmond, Virginia.
I still find myself reminded of the first time I heard “Giant Sounds” by the Low Branches. Feelings like that don’t stray too far when you fall in love with a band. I couldn’t tell you how long I waited for One Hundred Years Old. It felt like an eternity. I knew whenever it arrived, it would be worth the wait. All of the devastation, hope, endurance, and romance I have found to adore about The Low Branches is at play on this proper debut full-length. Christina Gleixner’s voice has never sounded grander, and her tales have the precision needed to tug at heartstrings you didn’t even know you had. The title track sets the mood perfectly as the record sways through cuts like “Empty Hands,” “Like A Glove,” and “Rock Bottom” with a confidence that you might not have previously expected from The Low Branches. The wait was worth it, considering the results, and the The Low Branches have re-set the bar for alluring, ambitious, and sentimental folk lullabies.
Tap Water is the perfect representation of the craft and musical imagination of Swordplay, aka Isaac Ramsey. There are nice nods to the many different identities that make up his creative mind. There are acoustic flourishes that act as backdrops for tracks like “When The Hurricane Comes” and “No T.S. Eliot.” “Stop Lying To Us” could be the sequel to 2005’s “I’m Sorry, Ociffer.” Cuts like “Songs for the Dead” and “No Sleep” are perfect examples of how far he has come as one of this city’s most talented emcees. But a release like Tap Water isn’t solely dependent on the talents of one man. This is where French producer Pierre the Motionless comes in. Their collaboration over several years provides the true glory of this release. They test the medium of whichever genre they encounter and throw all the rules to the side. Tap Water is the invention of a sound celebrated through its diversity, wordplay, and sense of surprise. Ramsey was already someone we should be discussing as a part of the music legacy of this city. Tap Water is the strongest argument to date for his impact on this city’s music scene.
There are so many things to love about this Sports Bar EP. Tyler Perry’s Sports Bar is their catchiest release to date and that’s saying something. The kickoff of “My Friends” sets the tone for what lies ahead. Loud gang vocals, jangly guitars, and driving beats provide your new favorite anthem about why our friends can be our one and only saving grace. The best song title of the year easily goes to “I Was Going To Shave My Beard, But I Took A Nap Instead,” and the song completely destroys. Outliers like “Movie Screams” and “Oh No” feel right at home in the mix despite their slower tempos. The harmonies and choruses on “Like Like Him” and “Biscuits Too” are quintessentially Richmond. Sports Bar is easily one of the best Richmond bands around and Tyler Perry’s Sports Bar might be their most cunning release to date. This record sounds perfect and has been stuck in my head since its release in January of this year.
Since 2009, Nick Coward and the Last Battle have been leaving an impression on me. Whether it was through their two promising EPs or their intricate live performances, the music of the Last Battle seemed like nothing else. The influences of Rocky Votolato, Okkervil River, Beirut, Arcade Fire, and several others set the tone for what the group sought to achieve. During their final year as a band, they finally delivered what they had long been promising–a full-length, entitled Thieves, that acts as the appropriate swan song for this Richmond collective. The songs on this record feel balanced, matured, thoughtful, ambitious, and resonant with the moods the groups has purveyed in their past efforts. “Thieves (Something from Nothing)” opens with a radio signal distressed with static before the exuberant opening chords take over. The resounding chorus of voices led by Coward’s lyrical aptitude is a strong trait of The Last Battle that kept them reputable for their defined narratives. The rest of the record puts all of their best traits on display.
“Impatient Hearts” is an inspired nod to the days of an acoustic Last Battle. Though the song is largely electric, the instrumentation feels like it could have been removed from sessions years ago. “Ghola” is a nice nod to Dune, displaying once again that the literary nerd references of yesteryear have not left Coward’s subconscious. The quieter moments sting, allowing the songs to focus strictly on guitar and voice until the rest of the band enters the scene, completing the musical crescendo of tracks like “Tides I” and “Something from Nothing (Builders).” The standout track for me will always be “Darkness.” This is The Last Battle at their best. With layers upon layers of vocals, dissonant guitars, and contemplative musings, these are the instances that remind me why I was drawn to The Last Battle in the first place. They played their final moment in the sun perfectly by releasing the polished Thieves just before calling it a day. They will surely be missed, but what a musical gift they left Richmond. Their mark will not be forgotten anytime soon.