Music

The Best Noise Rock of 2013

From unforeseen comebacks to heretofore unknown new acts, much of 2013's best noise-rock often came out of nowhere.

Most of the albums on this list are unexpected.

That's not to suggest that they aren't great, or from acts that are themselves quite great. It's just that these picks would hardly have registered had you pointed them out to me a year ago. Some are debut records, records from bands whose names I've known for mere months or less. Others, reunion efforts, comeback releases from bands I'd long since assumed broken up or inactive. Others, new releases from bands I'd not have imagined releasing an album that could reasonably be categorized as noise-rock in 2013.

So if 2013 has been the year of the comeback -- My Bloody Valentine, David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails, and Daft Punk, to name several of the most distinguished -- so has it been a remarkable 12 months for breakout bands with the confidence and swagger of acts twice their age and many times their prestige. Several of them pepper this list; far more go unmentioned.

Finally, honorable mention nods go out to Hunters' Hunters, Crime & the City Solution's American Twilight, and Speedy Ortiz's Major Arcana -- quality LPs that, for reasons of limited space or reluctant genre constraints, do not appear on the list below.

 
Artist: Roomrunner

Album: Ideal Cities

Label: Fan Death

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List Number: 10

Roomrunner
Ideal Cities

Baltimore's Roomrunner supposedly carries a bit of a gripe regarding gratuitous Nirvana comparisons, but Bleach-y guitar tone and occasional quiet-loud dynamic aside, it's a bit of a ruse. Singer Denny Bowen's vocals bear no echoes of Kurt's self-loathing seriousness; Ideal Cities is all snotty delivery and garage-fuzz riffs that lumber in and out of tune ("Bowlth" is about as easy to mimic as its title is to pronounce) and explode in tightly wound bursts of squealing feedback ("Wojtek"). None of which is to underplay the poppiness that's at the core of the record. Ideal Cities' nine tracks are curt, closely trimmed noise-pop nuggets that may well have been delivered in 1993, 2003, or 2013 -- needless evidence that noisiness need not necessitate self-indulgence.

 
Artist: Pissed Jeans

Album: Honeys

Label: Sub Pop

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List Number: 9

Pissed Jeans
Honeys

In the hands of Pissed Jeans vocalist Matt Korvette, everything becomes so terribly, frighteningly urgent. Choosing a health plan, for instance: "You wanna know my secret? / I stay away from doctors!" he yowls on the aptly titled "Health Plan". Or tedious manual labor, as on "Chain Worker", which finds Korvette violently groaning out the plight of one such laborer who is "caught in an infinite loop / Like a compact disc." Or playing dress-up: "It takes a disguise to reveal the real me," the singer shouts on "Vain in Costume". In conclusion, Honeys is the fourth and latest noise tantrum from the band that brought you "Caught Licking Leather" and "Human Upskirt". You'll like it if you liked the last few.

 
Artist: House Party

Album: No Forever / I'm Ready Darling

Label: self-released

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List Number: 8

House Party
No Forever / I'm Ready Darling

Recorded at home over a year's span between January 2012 and January 2013, No Forever / I'm Ready Darling is the first full-length (or fullest length -- it's a curt 33 minutes) by House Party, the joining of Razor Edwards and siblings Tim and Jeff Rovinelli. They describe their work as having been "inspired by mutual love of auto castration and top 40 hits." I can't (and won't) top that, so here's a brief overview of what lays in store: (1) a muted, twitchy mumble of an electro-pop opener; (2) a thundering, near-satanic reimagining of Christina Perri's "A Thousand Years" that will make you despise the Perri track if you're fond of it or convert you wholeheartedly if you detest it; (3) a 15-minute blast of industrial cacophony marked by repeated screams of "I am scum! I am scum!"; (4) a humming ambient respite from the violence; and (5) two more minutes of squalling electronic feedback. Anyway, happy holidays.

 
Artist: Iceage

Album: You're Nothing

Label: Matador

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List Number: 7

Iceage
You're Nothing

I saw Iceage twice in 2013 (once in a college frathouse, once at Brooklyn's Northside Festival), and each time I was thrown off by the quartet's charmingly pubescent appearance. Four boyish, clean-shaven pals from Iceland made this racket? They did, and on You're Nothing, there's a youthful exuberance matching the band's appearance and well suited to the songs' messy aggression. Fuller and richer than the group's 2011 debut New Brigade, You're Nothing packs an impressive amount of sweat and passion into a mere 28-minute runtime, reaching screeching melodic peaks on the thundering "Morals" (practically an epic at three minutes, 20 seconds, this one finds singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt snarling "Where's your morals?" repeatedly) and the closing "You're Nothing".

 
Artist: Yvette

Album: Process

Label: Godmode

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List Number: 6

Yvette
Process

Sort of fitting that Yvette appears on this list alongside Polvo, considering the Brooklyn outfit's full-length debut sounds a bit like the latter group's '90s records if you chopped Ash Bowie's riffs into jagged, terrifyingly precise splices, hired a member of Stomp to drum thunderously over the recordings, and overdubbed a few fire alarms into the mix for the hell of it. All of which is to say Yvette -- a two-piece whose first album was produced by Godmode Records founder Nick Sylvester -- present noise-rock that, even at its most screechingly cacophonous, is still tightly, even frighteningly, controlled, element-by-element. Recommended if you like Pere Ubu, early Liars, or perusing a hellishly industrial factory while new wave albums breathe aggressively into your headphones.

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