Josie Rubio

Top 10 Albums

Moon Duo
Sacred Bones

It seems like a rarity—especially during this past year—when I hear something playing and sincerely ask, “What is this?” without intending to follow up with a disparaging comment. But after asking about Moon Duo about five times, I finally remembered the band’s name. Blame the psychedelic effects of this project from Wooden Shjips frontman Ripley Johnson. As with all music of this genre, for me, it’s a tease. I expect it to keep going, but it repeats, as is the case with the hint of T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy” in the first track. But no matter. This record will hypnotically charm even the most jaded and cynical among us right into its Circles, even if it’s with pop hooks.

The Fresh & Onlys
Long Slow Dance
Mexican Summer

No one would accuse The Fresh & Onlys of being complacent when it comes to their sound. Each release—four albums and several EPs since 2008—has seen the band evolve sonically. Yet the San Franciscan group seems to have really found its groove with Long Slow Dance, effortlessly gliding from one track to another atop dreamy melodies. From the oddly upbeat heartbreak of “20 Days and 20 Night” to the devil-may carelessness of “Fire Alarm,” the album conjures sun-drenched fields, solitary deserts, and even the odd ’80s prom scene. This is a record that encourages you to settle in and enjoy the journey The Fresh & Onlys have made.

Cheap Time
Wallpaper Music
In the Red

To me punk should sound like something that would be played in a smoky, dark bar smelling of stale beer, not on a Broadway stage. Cheap Time delivers punk as raucous as song titles like “More Cigarettes” and “Night to Night” promise. Yet Wallpaper Music is not just your typical three-chord stuff; there is musicianship evident in the bursts of frenetic guitar and sharp playing that regularly crack through the fuzzy exterior, especially in “Typically Strange,” which, alright, maybe could be adapted for off-Broadway. Here, attitude and proficiency beautifully coexist, in the loudest way possible, of course.

Dead Can Dance
[PIAS] America

The title of this year’s release from Dead Can Dance means “resurrection” in Greek—doubly appropriate given the band’s name and the fact that it’s the duo’s first studio album since 1996. Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry’s timeless global sound spans centuries and eras, incorporating everything from tribal drums to gypsy dances to medieval chants, and has effortlessly stood the test of 16 years. “We are the children of the sun,” might sound like hippie nonsense if intoned by someone other than Perry, whose stately voice always sound as if it’s delivering some sort of ancient wisdom. The same could be said of Gerrard, whose ethereal range is displayed on tracks like “Anabasis” and “Kiko.”

Crystal Castles

Once again, Canadian duo Ethan Kath and Alice Glass deliver dark, noisy electronica, not to mention a chaos that seems dangerously close to complete breakdown if not carefully contained. Of course, it’s set to soaring dance beats. Beginning with “Plague,” a blend of full rave with traces of Skinny Puppy, the record includes sonic spasms (the aural equivalent of strobe lights) in tracks like “Kerosene” and “Insulin.” At the record’s poppiest, you’ll find the dark duet of “Affection” and the clubby “Sad Eyes,” as well as the near hymnal “Child I Will Hurt You.” Among the gloom, “Transgender” starts off as if it’s a post-apocalyptic opera set in a bleak cyber future, yet it eventually blossoms into something less dark and, if not hopeful, at least not hopeless.

Children of Desire
Katorga Works

It’s tempting to try to fit this Tampa trio into the shoegaze box, thanks to the band’s use of keyboards and singer Carson Cox’s timbre, which always sounds a bit melancholy. But there always seems to be much more to Merchandise that’s just out of grasp. The dreamy pop of “Time” has an ebullience somehow tinged with an moody undertone, while “In Nightmare Room” is a gothic pop song with post-punk guitars. At around 11 minutes each, both “Become What You Are” and “Roser Park” evolve from pop to psych freeform to beyond.

A Place to Bury Strangers
Dead Oceans

A Place to Bury Strangers constructed another wall of sound in its cathedral of dark melodic noise with Worship, the Brooklyn trio’s third full-length album. Death by Audio effects pedals, crafted by vocalist/guitarist Oliver Ackerman, provide the band’s trademark fuzzy distortion and textured sounds in tracks like “Revenge” and “Leaving Tomorrow.” Yet there’s plenty of soul in the music too, albeit of the tortured and brooding variety, especially with the vocals more front and center on tracks like the gothic “Alone” and the dreamily melancholic “Fear.” As such, it is the depth of feeling as much as the cacophonous facade that makes Worship so enthralling.

Frank Ocean
Channel Orange
Def Jam

As I mentioned in my summary of Frank Ocean’s “Pyramids,” The Agit Reader single of the year, this R&B phenom has seduced everyone with his debut, stepping out of the shadows of songwriting for artists such as John Legend and Justin Bieber and into the spotlight, which seems to love him. Smart, smooth and innovative—switching from hip hop delivery to a gentle croon to a soaring falsetto without missing a storytelling beat—Ocean lives up to the hype. In a predictable pop landscape, Ocean is breaking new ground.

Divine Fits
A Thing Called Divine Fits

A lot of fuss has been made of the collaboration of Britt Daniel (Spoon), Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs) and Sam Brown (New Bomb Turks) as a result of their previous projects. But it’s striking how seamlessly the band’s first record comes together, as if they’ve been playing together for years. Daniel seems to take the lead vocals on the tracks with a straightforward rock bent, such as the single “Would That Not Be Nice.” Boeckner’s songs make more use of keyboardist Alex Fischel, with a heavy dose of synths on the infectious “My Love Is Real” and “The Salton Sea,” the latter reminiscent of a more human Kraftwerk, if such a thing can be imagined. While each member brings his own elements to the table, it’s the sum of the parts that makes this record so good.

Kill for Love
Italians Do It Better

This Portland quartet’s follow up to 2007’s acclaimed Night Drive begins with a haunting cover of Neil Young’s “Into the Black” followed by the dreamy pop of the title track, with Ruth Radelet’s hypnotizing vocals and soaring New Order-esque synth. But those are just a few facets of this 17-track album. In fact, if you heard two different tracks from the record, you might not at first realize it’s the same band. But Kill for Love is never jarring—from the subtle dance track “Lady” to the beautiful “The River” to the auto-tuned “These Streets Will Never Be the Same.” Though glimmers of comparisons present themselves—guitar reminiscent of The Cure or a track that’s like Ladytron with more emotion— the Chromatics defy direct associations.

Top 10 Concerts

Sebastian Bach and Cinderella
Lifestyle Communities Pavilion, Columbus, July 26

Say what you will about the metal of the early ’90s, but those bands often put on a great show. Cinderella was my third concert ever, at the Richfield Coliseum for their Heartbreak Station tour, with Nelson and Lynch Mob opening. I saw Skid Row, which Bach fronted for years, for the first time at Akron’s JAR Arena on May 2, 1992.

So obviously this show was a little nostalgic, though I’ve seen Skid Row and Bach since. Both bands, I always thought, were unfairly grouped into the “hair metal” category. While they certainly had flowing, bountiful locks, there was a lot of substance underneath the Aquanet and leather. Bach still has golden pipes and boundless energy, but the crowd, not so much. The band tore through Skid Row hits like “Monkey Business,” “ Youth Gone Wild” and the power ballad, “I Remember You,” as well as some old favorites like “Here I Am” from the first album. Cinderella can still fill a room with its bluesy anthems like “Gypsy Road” and “Shake Me,” as well as the ballads “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)” and “Nobody’s Fool.”

Charles Bradley
ATP I’ll Be Your Mirror Festival, New York, September 21

The first time I saw the R&B singer Charles Bradley, I was kind of distracted, because I’d just inadvertently kicked a sweet old couple out of their seats. (Well, my friend’s seat, kind of. It’s a long story, but the moral is: If you ever ask me to save your seat, you will inevitably lose it and an awkward Seinfeldian situation will occur.) Anyway, I felt horrible, but Bradley’s soulful songs eased my pain a little bit. So when I saw that he was playing at the I’ll Be Your Mirror festival, I was sure to catch him again. This “screaming eagle of soul” lives up to his name vocally, but his live performances include colorful costumes and dance moves that include a bird-flapping motion. To say that he has a commanding stage presence is an understatement; he’s a sight to behold.

Molly Ruth
Penny’s Open Mic, New York, March 27

The range of talent at Penny’s Open Mic on any given Tuesday is pretty impressive, but singer/songwriter Molly Ruth was arresting for her allotted minutes. With old-soulful songs about “a million whores” and another that I think was called “I Fucked Him for Firecrackers,” she commands attention.

Electric Grandmother, Brian Homa, and St. Lenox
Goodbye Blue Monday, Brooklyn, July 14

I’ve known one-half of Electric Grandmother since I was a 16-year-old who hung out in a suburban Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot. But this show at the cozy Bushwick cafe was among my favorites of the many times I’ve seen EG’s “sitcom core” (songs about shows like Golden Girls and Dinosaurs accompanied by images). Fellow performer Brian Homa chimed in on some songs with his saxophone, at one point playing a part of “La Bamba.” Singer St. Lenox also took the stage that evening to play his soulful storytelling, including a song about Cleveland Avenue in Columbus, Ohio.

Guided By Voices
Central Park SummerStage, New York, July 7

Guided by Voiced closed out the CBGB Festival on what may have been the hottest day of the year. (I was sweating so much, I had to excuse myself and stand in the shade, just because I was too gross to be around people.) But nothing slows down Bob Pollard and company, as the frontman scissor kicked and drank beer from plastic cups. (Reportedly, Pollard, a former high school baseball star, nearly seriously injured a fan when he threw a can into the audience last time GBV played SummerStage so all drinks were in plastic this time). The set included “I Am a Scientist,” “Class Clown Spots a UFO” and “Roll of the Dice, Kick in the Head,” among many other highlights.

Redd Kross
Music Hall of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, July 6

This year’s CBGB Festival often pitted two performances against each other, so I had to choose between LA Guns at St. Vitus and Redd Kross at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Since I’d never seen the legendary California punk band, I opted for the latter—and I’m glad I did. Brothers/bandmates Jeff and Steve McDonald seemed to genuinely be having a good time, as was the audience. With their flowing blonde locks and Jeff’s reference at one point to a nose job during their stage banter, they’re endearingly Californians.

Jack Grisham’s LOST Soul
The Studio at Webster Hall, New York, August 19

This year, I finally righted two things I would have liked to do in 1982: I finally watched ET The Extra Terrestrial, and I saw Jack Grisham of TSOL. Not that I knew of the band then, but I’ve wanted to see TSOL since seeing them play in the movie Suburbia. I finally got to see “Wash Away” live, as well as some other songs like “Code Blue.” And who knew Grisham was so hilarious? His banter in between songs was worthy of a standup routine.

Zola Jesus with JG Thirlwell and the Mivos Quartet
Guggenheim Museum, New York, May 10

Mighty songstress Zola Jesus (Nika Roza Danilova) reinterpreted nine of her songs, arranged by Thirwell (of the Foetus projects) and accompanied by the Mivos Quartet in the lower level of the Guggenheim. If that sounds really awesome, it was. Wearing a lighted collar, Zola Jesus illuminated the stage and even started walking up the rotunda’s edge—at one point almost falling before grabbing onto a concertgoer for balance.

Radio City Music Hall, New York, April 10

The intro to Pulp’s shows at Radio City Music Hall were teasers that kept asking the audience if they were ready. After 14 years since the last time the Britpop darlings played New York City, the answer was unequivocally “yes.” Underneath a giant lit “Pulp” sign, wiry frontman Jarvis Cocker strutted and swaggered across the stage—even at one point, throwing candy into the audience—as the band played an unforgettable set that included “Common People” and “Like a Friend.” Nevermind that the band is now a dozen years too late to make good on the “Disco 2000” line, “Let’s all meet up in the year 2000,” this ageless band remains as saucy and energetic as ever.

Museum of Modern Art, New York, April 16

Earlier this year, German electronic legends Kraftwerk announced eight consecutive shows at MoMA, the first time the German electronic legends were to play Stateside since 2005. Getting tickets to the shows, which would be performance of the band’s catalog from 1974’s Autobahn to 2003’s Tour de France, proved to be next to impossible. However, I was lucky enough to know someone who won tickets for The Mix performance.

The surreal experience began with the moving Kraftwerk automated figures in the lobby and 3-D glasses to watch the accompanying imagery that backed the performance—a car clip journey for “Autobahn” and numbers for “Pocket Calculator,” for example. In short, it was a full immersive experience. The four band members wore matching bodysuits and stood behind matching light-bordered podiums for a setting that matched the music’s electronic perfection.