Best Santa Fe Albums of 2013

Date January 3, 2014 at 3:38 PM

Author Staff


Categories Community Culture Entertainment & Nightlife


“Think global, act local.” In 2013, few phrases summed up music making in Santa Fe like this little affirmation. It was a year in which many of our town’s resident music makers embraced a melting pot of styles, both in terms of drawing global inspiration and creating world-class music.

West African-infused acoustic folk, British art rock, minimalist ambient techno, acid-induced cowboy country, gonzo roots punk, avant-garde pop, contemporary Balkan: These are just a few flavors you will find in this year’s list of Santa Fe’s Best Albums of 2013.

To compile this year’s list of winners, the editorial team of and members of Hutton Broadcasting carefully scrutinized and scored more than 40 albums released in 2013. We tallied votes in a community poll and consulted with leading voices in the music scene–a diverse bunch consisting of music writers, radio station program directors, DJs, entertainment lawyers, sound engineers and other music aficionados.

In our sonic journey, we observed four noteworthy trends among Santa Fe’s musical contingent.

We can’t say no to an exotic instrument

No dark corner of a pawn shop is safe from our creative impulses and no instrument is off limits in the recording studio. Prominent musical roles were given to exotic instruments such as the kora, bouzouki, cajón, djembe, dunun, steam wand, tupan, saz, gaida, calabash, low whistle, mbira, hosho, shekere, segon, ogan, boula, manman, the Haitian rhythm yanvalloux, ney, balafon and tupan – and that’s just the instrumentation on Round Mountain’s “The Goat.”

Other highlights included the Southeastern European instrumentation on Rumelia’s “Lost and Found,” the punk rock-informed drone of the electric autoharp on “Gregg Turner Plays the Hits” and the Middle Eastern stylings of anything tied to the talented Jeremy Bleich (the self-titled Trio Andaluz, Meagan Chandler’s “Sensual”).

The beta male is taking over the world (one gentle, mellifluous song at a time)

The introspective singer-songwriter movement is reaching a fever pitch, albeit a yearning falsetto-driven one. Santa Fe folksters and songsmiths such as David Berkeley, Will Courtney, Jaime Michaels have produced well-balanced and masterfully produced albums that place great care into melody, negative space and the art and craft of songwriting. These albums provide a minimalist, and sometimes heartbreaking, escape from a sonic landscape saturated in club snare drum crescendos, massively-overdubbed vocals, bombastic electric guitars and, shudder, wobble bass.

I am woman hear me roar

Santa Fe’s music scene is no boy’s club, as highlighted by vocal tour de forces of Felicia Ford in “Kissing Booth” and Meagan Chandler in her solo debut, “Sensual.” Karrie Hopper channeled The Velvet Underground’s Nico in an understated but keenly calculated performance in the self-titled “The Room Outside.” Nicolle Jensen, Sitara Schauer and Deborah Ungar of Rumelia put a fresh spin on the Balkan diaspora. Through her skilled guitar work, Eliza Lutz added a distinct rhythmic and melodic voice to As In We’s “As Above So Below.” And local music mainstays Stephanie Hatfield, Sharon Gilchrist, Susan Holmes, Margaret Burke, Lori Ottino and Karina Wilson are just a handful of talented musicians who made valuable contributions to a variety of top-notch recordings.

Rock still runs the roost

In describing their musical sound, many musicians like to throw around adjectives–“desert rock,” “post-rock,” “blues rock,” “folk rock,” “roots, rock, reggae,”–but at its core, it’s still just rock ‘n’ roll. This year’s output of local albums makes it clear that rock ‘n’ roll is still, well, rockin’. Public Address and its avant-garde experimental rock stylings throw convention out of the window with their self-titled debut. Anthony Leon & the Chain brought the countryside roadhouse ruckus with “Hell to Pay.” Country Blues Revue’s “A Minor Bit Blue” pays tribute to the timeless American blues and country tradition. And Chris Chickering’s uplifting and melodic contemporary sounds prove that rock ‘n’ roll isn’t all pain and heartbreak.

We hope you find something new and special in this year’s best-of list and invite you to explore local music for yourself. Purchase the albums you enjoyed or support the bands by attending a show at a nearby venue. Don’t be afraid to challenge your musical palette by listening to bands that fall outside of your normal tastes. We encourage you to give the top albums a critical listen, then debate and disagree with our choices. Here are Santa Fe’s best albums of 2013.

Cream of the Crop

As In We – "As Above So Below"
If Explosions in the Sky took metal lessons, they might have a better chance of catching up to As In We. Like a veritable master class on complex time signatures, the local quartet has upped its game substantially with "As Above So Below." The album not only touts the duality and balance of the fabric of existence, it rocks so hard you'll wonder where they've been all your life. – Alex de Vore
Boris McCutcheon and the Salt Licks – "Might Crash!"

Boris McCutcheon is a songwriter of incredible depth and honesty. He is someone who can write a meaningful, literate song that conveys both killer hooks and emotional pull, taking the listener to anywhere he wants them to go. His new release, “Might Crash!” proves that Boris is one of the most underrated and underexposed artists making Americana music today. New Mexico is lucky that he calls the area his home.

Produced by Boris and his amazing band (Brett Davis, Kevin Zoernig, Susan Holmes, and Paul Groetzinger)–along with Frogville studio wizard Bill Palmer–this is a “must have” for any serious music aficionado: Not only one of the ten best local CDs of 2013–but possibly of all time. – Eric Davis

Listen to samples from this album on CDbaby.
Brian Mayhall – "Wind Chill"
2013 was bursting with Mesa Recordings releases. Brian Mayhall, bassist and founding member of local trio D Numbers, infuses his talent for groove into every track. “Ain’t Sunshine” slowly bubbles to the surface, hand claps cutting through the haze of synth, only to dip and ready another volley. “Wind Chill” features the electronic wizardry and organic flourishes of other Mesa acts, layered with disembodied staccato vocal melodies. The result is a refreshing, ethereal album that is downright booty-shaking. – Bran Ghigliotty
David Berkeley – "The Fire in my Head"
Berkeley's delicately wrought songs, exquisite voice and evocative lyrics coalesce to create a deeply intimate album that demands your undivided attention. The first time I heard "Song for the Road," the album's closing track, I had to pull the car over and just listen: "Come on back from the ledge/Come on in from the rain/Here's some things that won't hurt/Here's some things that won't change," he sings. Give this album a listen–at home, cell phone off, with a glass of wine in hand. – April Reese
Gregg Turner – "Plays the Hits"
Sidestepping the punk he's regularly celebrated for, Gregg Turner (ex-Angry Samoans, Blood Drained Cows) bares his kooky side in a bid at being Santa Fe's top delinquent troubadour. Billy Bill Miller (ex-Roky Erickson and The Aliens, Blood Drained Cows) wields the electric autoharp like the garage-psych legend he is, swinging from sweet and seductive to complete freak out. Turner's lyrics are clever, the tunes simple but catchy and the entire album feels honest and heartfelt. With original titles like, "I Lost My Baby to the Guy at the Bobcat Bite," "The Pharmacist from Walgreens," "I've Become Flaccid from Eating Bad Acid" and "I Dreamed I Met Lou Reed," even the most casual listener can get a sense of what's in store. Gregg Turner “Plays the Hits” is recommended for fans of Jonathan Richman, Half Japanese, Moe Tucker and Daniel Johnston. – Red Cell
Listen to samples from this album on CDbaby.
Imperial Rooster – "Cluckaphony"
The third release from The Imperial Rooster, "Cluckaphony," brings the energy and irreverence from its live show to the studio. Appropriately described as "gonzo roots rock," The Rooster assaults the listener with cacophonous harmonies and dense, driving rhythms. In the end, the lyrics remain key to preaching the rooster philosophy: Anyone can be converted into a beer-drinking, nalga-shaking desert rat. – Andrew Kastner
Joe West and the Santa Fe Revue – "Blood Red Velvet"

During a great year for Frogville releases, Joe West managed to record what may be the finest album of his career. Several Santa Fe notables join in the quirky fun, making this technically a “Santa Fe Revue” project, but West is clearly the mastermind and a clever bandleader to boot. Those looking for any kind of traditional country or folk might be disappointed, but more adventurous listeners will find much to enjoy in this haunting collection. Recommended: “The Blues,” “Paradise,” and “Hometown Shit Beer.” – Chris Diestler

Listen to samples from this album on CDbaby.
Luke Carr – "Pigrow"
In all the buzz and madness surrounding Luke Carr's successful Kickstarter campaign and performance blitzkrieg for Storming The Beaches with Logos in Hand, it's easy to overlook “Pigrow,” Carr's solo effort released earlier this year. Recorded and co-produced by John Dieterich of Deerhoof, the album is being billed as a prequel to Storming's sci-fi rock opera storyline. Pigrow's eight tracks come in at under twenty minutes total – a format that leaves no room for filler. It's a task Carr excels at, managing to make his songs feel both big and sparse, with minimal, rhythmic verses building up to grand finishes that make it hard to believe he is, on this album, just a one-man band. – Shannon Murphy
Meagan Chandler – "Sensual"
Blending a whimsical pop sensibility, eclectic global tastes and a passion for performance art, Meagan Chandler has achieved a triumph with her debut solo outing, “Sensual.” Throughout the album, Chandler switches nimbly between styles as diverse as jazz, salsa, disco, dub reggae and electronica–sometimes, as in the case of “Eve’s Song,” within the same track. With Santa Fe’s own musical mad professor Jeremy Bleich (of Grasshopper Music) behind the sound, the album proves itself as cohesive as it is eclectic, not an easy task. “Sensual” is a veritable orgy of sonic bliss. – Todd Eric Lovato
Mi – "One on the Way"
Santa Feans will recognize Ben Wright from his work with the electronic band D Numbers, by his flat-picking guitar chops at local brewpubs and through his many collaborations with local musicians. Under the pseudonym Mi, Wright has crafted a hypnotic opus that seamlessly blends electronic minimalism and acoustic ambience and discotheque ethos. As the world grows weary of terms like “dubstep,” “electronica,” “ambient” and “intelligent dance music,” Mi’s “One On the Way” fills the void by stretching the definitions of electronic music into exciting new directions, both on a local and global stage. Todd Eric Lovato
Rumelia – "Lost & Found"
The newest album from this skilled indie-exotica trio indulges its fans by holding to their mesmerizing traditional Balkan gypsy folk music with nimble contemporary elements. “Lost & Found” is filled with twinkling solemnity carried throughout by the trio’s odd time signatures and sultry, slinky vocals, making its listener beg for a hookah, a strong Turkish coffee and an impromptu dance party. – Talia Kosh
Round Mountain – "The Goat"
Exploring a Round Mountain disc is like exploring the world’s musical milieu. Instruments pop up from the strangest places yet settle into the Round Mountain groove like they’re from the band’s hometown of Santa Fe and listen as the band coalesces its influences into a stew that satisfies as it tingles the senses. – Ira Gordon
Listen to this album on their website.
Venus Bogardus – "Radium Girls"
Venus Bogardus relocated to Santa Fe from the UK in 2009, stirring up our musical pot quite nicely. With a relentless, ferocious, raw sound that stirs every muscle to twitch (in the best possible ways) and topped with lyrics that will make your head spin, you can’t help but get sucked in. The new EP, “Radium Girls,” does not disappoint. The post punk, no wave, new wave blend is just delicious and somehow trancelike and jagged at the same time. Unusual pop culture references like Kaspar Hauser and provocative phrases “like shooting poets in a barrel,” make the lyrics worth paying attention to and teasing apart. Worth way more than the measly $5 it costs to download it. – Michelle Laflamme Childs

Santa Fe Bandstand Popular Vote Award Winner

Chris Chickering – "Living in the Now"
“Living in The Now” is a vintage release. A luscious musical blend with aural notes of Springsteen, Neil Young, The Church and Barry McGuire. Pairs nicely with a lazy drive along the high road to Taos. Suitable for immediate listening and should remain so for many years to come. – Michael Dellheim

Best of the Rest

Anthony Leon and the Chain – "Hell to Pay"
Listen to samples from this album on CDbaby.
Bill Palmer's TV Killers – Self-titled
Listen to samples from this album on CDbaby.
D Numbers – "III"
Evarusnik – "In a Poker Slash Refrain"
Felecia Ford – "Kissing Booth"
Flamingo Pink! – "Theysey"
Jaime Michaels – "Unknown Blessings"
Listen to samples from this album on CDbaby.
Trio Andaluz – Self-titled
We Drew Lightning – "Glitch"
Will Courtney – "A Century Behind"

Good Look Rook'

Alamo Sun – "Living Room"
Bedlambs – Self-titled
iNK oN pAPER – "Official Demo"
Santa Fe University of Art and Design Contemporary Music Program 2013 – "Wake Me Up"
The Room Outside – Self-titled