2013: Secondary Stars and Other Satellites

on Saturday, December 21, 2013
And so another year is drawing to an end which, as usual, has meant I've been spending the last few days frantically cramming in as many books as possible before compiling my Top 10. Cramageddon was a flop in November, but right now it's going gangbusters. So, once again, here I am buying time with the best of everything that wasn't a book published in 2013.

Every couple of years I stumble across a new writer who so captures my reading heart that I feel compelled to robe up, spend a few weeks in the desert then come back and proselytise about them from a milk carton on every street corner I can possibly find. So listen up, converts-in-waiting. I'm here to share the word of Goncalo G. Tavares. Whether you start with the experimental whimsy of The Neighbourhood, the meta noir of Jerusalem, the cold comeuppance of Learning To Pray In The Age of Technique or the ingenious absurdity of Joseph Walser's Machine, I can almost guarantee that you'll heed the calling. Not since Jesse Ball have I found an author who so seamlessly blends serious literary depth, intellectual gymnastics and pure narrative fun.
Honourable Mentions: David Vogel and Pascal Garnier


Mr. Theodore Mundstock - Ladislav Fuks (1963): An old Czech Jew learns what's in store for the those being deported east so turns his apartment into a concentration camp to help acclimatise. A profoundly disturbing comic masterpiece.

Joseph Walser's Machine - Goncalo M. Tavares (2004): It was hard to choose between Tavares's four books available in English but there's something about Joseph Walser's Machine that manages to lift it ever so slightly above the rest. A cog-in-the-machine everyman rebels against his daily routine with some rather unsettling results.

Dolly City - Orly Castel-Bloom (1991): Wildly imaginative riff on the peace process told via a batshit crazy doctor trying to immunise her baby (one she stole, mind you) against every imaginable illness. Just extraordinary.

The A26 - Pascal Garnier (1999): Crime fiction doesn't get better than this masterpiece of amorality. Having been diagnosed with terminal cancer, Bernard finds himself free from society's shackles. What follows can only be described as a rampage of depravity.

Viennese Romance - David Vogel (1937): Echoes of Hermann Ungar's brilliant novel The Maimed in this story of a young man who rents a room in a house only to be crushed by the landlady's amorous obsession.

Special Mentions: I have deliberately chosen not to include recent rereads but it would be wrong not to give mad props to Cats Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, Trieste by Dasa Drndic, The Complete MAUS by Art Speigleman and Life With A Star by Jiri Weil.

Nothing new here. Still loving Michael Silverblat's KCRW Bookworm, Judge John Hodgman and BBC's A Good Read.

2013 will go down as a great year in music. Sure, there were some stinkers from Avenged Sevenfold, Black Flag and Elvis Costello. There were also way too many decent-but-unremarkable comeback albums from the likes of Black Sabbath, AFI, David Bowie, Manic Street Preachers, Placebo and The Dismemberment Plan (though Daddy Was A Real Good Dancer is one of my favourite songs of the year). But other than those little hiccups, this really was a stellar year... so, stellar that I've really struggled to distill a top 10. Heck, I've even had to jettison albums I really liked by Future of the Left, Dog Party, Vampire Weekend, Old Man Markley and Franz Ferdinand. Oh well. Time to play fast and loose with the definition of the word "ten" again. Here's all 13 albums of my Top 10 of 2013:

13. The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You by Neko Case: Poetic, complex and completely mesmerising. The title has already taken up my allotted words for this entry.

12. Perhaps You'll Deliver This Judgement With Greater Fear Than I Receive It by Crusades: If The Misfits were born into a world of melodic hardcore, they'd sound an awful lot like Crusades. But this isn't some lame schlock horror fest. Crusades mean serious business with their politically-charged, satanist-tinged sonic barrage.

11. The Hands That Thieve by Streetlight Manifesto: Ok, the songs are too long but there's no denying the catchy brilliance of SM's long-awaited return. Speedy ska punk joy.

10. Safety Net by Mad Choice. Blink and you'll miss this super fast skate punk punch in the face. A glorious throwback to the early days of the movement.

9. Infestissumam by Ghost: Picture, if you will, Pete Steele of Type O Negative in a sacrificial orgy with the monks from Enigma. Nine months later, my clear biological ignorance notwithstanding, this is what you'd get.

8. Adult Film by Tim Kasher: By now you know what to expect from the strange bird that is Cursive's frontman. What you probably don't expect is for it to still be this bloody good. Probably the best thing he's done since Happy Hollow.

7. Role Model by Bodyjar: Bands wanting to stage a comeback, take note. This is how it's done. Australian 90s punk legends Bodyjar stormed back with a reminder of everything that made them so great. Forty-year-old men in board shorts? Bring it on!

6. Hungry Ghost by Violent Soho. Brisbane is the new Seattle if this incredibly vibrant grunge record is anything to go by. In under an hour they manage to completely reinvigorate a genre that was ended, quite literally, with a bullet.

5. Anthems by Pure Love: I was never a great Gallows fan, but Frank Carter shows he can rock like few others with this hook laden gem. Brimming with passion and purpose, it is great song after great song after great song. As for Gallows, well, if you'll pardon the pun, he seems to have left them hanging.

4. IV by The Bronx: RAAWWWWK. The Bronx very seldom disappoint but even I wasn't expecting something this awesome. From the outset, IV grabs you by the throat and doesn't let go til long after the music has ended.

3. FIDLAR by FIDLAR: It took seeing them live for me to be sucked into the world of FIDLAR but, once I was there, there was no going back. Surfy garage punk at its most fun and urgent. And while it might not have come from the best song on the album (that goes to No Waves), was there a better chant this year than "I drink cheap beer. So what? Fuck you!"?

2. Unkind by After The Fall. The problem with writing a perfect album so early in your career is that you risk spending the rest of your days chasing your tail. Such was the plight of After The Fall and their sophomore record Fort Orange. After a disappointing EP and album ATF have not only caught up with their tail but wholeheartedly chomped it off with this perfect marriage of ferocity, heart and melody.

1. True North by Bad Religion: I had all but given up on Bad Religion. Sure, I've enjoyed the odd song here and there off their last few records but, by all indication, they had become old men going through the motions, a sad shell of the legends that gave us No Control and Suffer. Seeing them live last year only served to confirm my fears. Well, blow me over with half an hour of punk rock perfection. I should be whipped with nettles for ever doubting. True North is the sound of a band rediscovering what they first set out to do as teenagers. Almost eleven months after it was released it remains urgent, intelligent, and catchy as hell. It also remains my album of the year. Let's just not mention the godawful Christmas Songs record they recently pooped on our heads.

2013 was also the year I finally got out and started seeing live music again. There were quite a few great shows but three stood out.

FIDLAR at The Corner Hotel. I didn't really know the band. I only went because a friend had a spare ticket. Holy shit. It was a transformative experience. As I tried to hoist my jaw from the beer stained carpet I came to know what it must have felt like to watch Nirvana in their early Bleach days.

Good Riddance/ A Wilhelm Scream/ The Flatliners at The East Bunswick Club. To have only seen the reformed Good Riddance would have made my year. But to see two other great bands... well that was just delicious, delicious icing.

Useless ID/ The Decline at The Workers Club. It was a cold, miserable Melbourne night but you wouldn't have known it at The Worker's Club. First up, a couple of awesome sets from local supports Declaration and Up And Atom. Then Perth punk superheroes The Decline tore the room a new one. And, to top it off, Israeli pita punkers Useless ID reminded us all what we'd been missing since they last toured here seven years ago. One of the best nights out I had all year.


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