Some background: every year the proprietor of the blog and I trade top 10, or 15, or 20, or whatever lists. Then we argue and make fun of each other as if we could change the others’ mind. Here is my list (and here is his). If you like it, feel free to stop by my blog where I talk about libraries and beer, and occasionally post a link to a semi-relevant song. You can also follow me on twitter. If you don’t like it, as George Will says “Well…”
This year I’ve organized albums into four tiers, ranging from something like “excellent” to “good.” The top tier is in order, the others I’m listing just by tier, because hey, it’s my list, and because I thought there were semi-clear cut-off points between these groups of albums. Here goes…
Tier One, in order
Sigur Ros – Kveikur: This band spent the last two albums in the wilderness, mistaking pretty sounds for cohesive, coherent records. Perhaps shedding a band member provoked an identity crisis. Like a grade school student trying on new personas, wondering where they want to try to fit in, Sigur Ros cuts an album that shows they spent the ‘90s listening to the pop-industrial stylings of Nine Inch Nails and Smashing Pumpkins. The band drops its most aggressive record to date, polished to a slick studio sheen as if Mutt Lange was behind the boards. Heavy percussion, prog-metal tendencies, and actual verse-chorus-verse song structure, albeit at 6/8 time, make this perhaps the most accessible Sigur Ros record as well as the most unexpected. This is as tight, compact, and mainstream as this band will get, and the result is their only album you could credibly play on a road trip.
Savages – Silence Yourself: Politicized without being political, Savages are a thrash band that happens to play post-punk in the vein of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Pornography-era Cure. Jagged, angular guitar riffs, a tight rhythm section, and a snarling beast of a lead singer add up to one of the better debut records in recent memory.
Deafheaven – Sunbathers: It’s black metal. It’s post-hardcore. It’s shoegaze. It’s post-rock. It’s screamo. It’s walls of guitar noise, piercing Neil Young-style solos, blast-beat drumming and then…. silence. It’s gravity-defying and earthbound. One of the best explorations of musical space from the new breed of smarty-pants metal groups out there. But mostly it’s uplifting.
Kanye West – Yeezus: Let’s get this out of the way right now: Kanye is the GOAT. There’s no one better, past or present. He’s not on the next level, he is the next level. There’s enough going on here to write a dissertation on, and I suspect that people will try. Yeezus is an album full of self-loathing that reminds me of the controversy around Guns ‘n Roses’ “One in a Million;” Kanye’s misogyny says so much more about him than it does about anything else. “Dude misses his mom and lashes out” is the pop-psychology take I subscribe to. “The plan was to drink until the pain’s over, but what’s worse, the pain or the hangover?” he asked on his last album. We still don’t have an answer. He writes some of the most fascinating lyrics around: “She Instagram herself like ‘bad bitch alert / the Instagrammers watch like ‘mad bitch alert’” sums up so much of 2013 in terms of race, class, celebrity, and gender, and the cultural tourism that stems from those cleavages. But there’s more. The trappiest, trunk-rattlingest, DJ Khaled- est, “We tha Best-est” song on the album, the one you’d like to bump the loudest? It features a Nina Simone sample about lynching. Elsewhere, dancehall menacingly interrupts songs, beats drop out, and the most soulful song on the record, “Bound 2,” was the subject of an embarrassing video/home movie leak. Absolutely fascinating, and the album spawned some of the best music writing of the year. To wit: http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/9395729/kanye-west-yeezus-fatherhood http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/06/how-kanye-wests-i-yeezus-i-is-like-i-sgt-pepper-i-or-i-kid-a-i-or-i-riot-goin-on-i/277087/ http://thetalkhouse.com/reviews/view/lou-reed http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2013/06/18/yeezus_samples_stream_a_mixtape_of_samples_from_kanye_west_s_new_album.html
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City: The greatest trick VW ever played was their first, applying African compositions to preppies and being in on the joke while too many critics weren’t. Now they’ve gone and made their most challenging album, both musically and lyrically. A mediation on growing old that shouts out my late night falafel joint and borrows from Souls of Mischief’s “Step to My Girl.”
My Bloody Valentine – m b v: An album that has no right to exist that sits comfortably alongside the rest of their cannon, twenty years after the fact. “Touched” and “To Here Knows When” from Loveless are the precedents for this album, which is less “pop” than their others. Unlike this album, their live show has some rust.
Tier Two, in no particular order
Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You.
Los Campesinos! – No Blues: Back to positivity for my favorite bunch of miserablists. It suits them well.
Atoms for Peace – Amok: This feels like a much more natural fit for Thom Yorke’s electronic- and percussion-based songs than Radiohead, as explored in this concert review.
Tricky – False Idols: One of the year’s most pleasant surprises, Tricky doesn’t attempt to reinvent the trip-hop wheel, but instead adds to it. This record would be ahead of its time in 1997, but it sounds just right in 2013, an interesting juxtaposition of the familiar with the challenging.
Besnard Lakes – Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO.
Mogwai – Les Revenants: The late-career resurgence continues with this seething, slow-burn soundtrack work.
Run the Jewels – S/T: El-P, Killer Mike, and an 8-track.
Danny Brown – Old.
Tier Three, in no particular order
Wax Idols – Discipline + Desire.
Surfer Blood – Pythons.
The National – Trouble Will Find Me.
The Night Marchers – Allez! Allez!.
Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob: Pop suits them very well.
Waxatachee – Cerulean Salt: On the 20th anniversary of Exile in Guyville, we got this. We are very very fortunate.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away: A quiet, slow burn that threatens to, but never does, explode. By far the best album of Nick Cave’s career to rhyme “Hannah Montana” and “African Savannah” (your move, Vampire Weekend), but probably only the second- or third-best of Warren Ellis’ career, who takes a well-deserved bow here.
Chvrches – The Bones Of What You Believe: Synth-pop done smart.
Tier Four, in no particular order
Pusha T – My Name is My Name:
No Age – An Object: It’s hard for a two-piece to get more stripped-down, but consider this their Darklands. The songs hold up.
Cult of Luna – Vertikal: More smarty-pants metal, complete with a bass drop in the middle of an eighteen-minute long song.
Local Natives – Hummingbird.
Mazes – Ores and Minerals: Someone else has also been growing up with Yo La Tengo.
A$AP Rocky – LONG.LIVE.A$AP: This album is a death-knell for regionality and sense of place in hip hop, but if you’re going to kill it, this is how you do it, with syrup, bounce, and trap executed perfectly alongside ‘90s-style bangers.
Rhye – Woman: Easier to pronounce than Sade.
London Grammar – If You Wait.
MIA – Matangi: Much better than you think it is.
The Men – New Moon: The nominally post-hardcore band continues to mutate, winding its way through folk, americana, and alt-rock.
Touche Amore – Is Survived By.
Daft Punk – Get Lucky
RVIVR – Paper Thin
Pusha-T – Number on the Boards
Pusha-T f. Kendrick Lamar – Nosetalgia
Spotlight Kid – All is Real
Phosphorescent – Song for Zula
Jason Isbell – Elephant
A$AP Rocky – Goldie
Deerhunter – Leather Jacket II
The National – I Should Live in Salt
Suede – For the Strangers
Fuck Buttons – Brainfreeze
Youth Lagoon – Mute
Janelle Monae – PrimeTime feat. Miguel
Majical Cloudz – Childhood’s End
Cheers – Janelle Monae, for giving more of herself than in the past. Kendrick Lamar on “Control.”
Pre- (r)amble: 2013 was a rough year for me in terms of my role as music reviewer. I didn’t get to spend as much time reviewing, or even listening to, new records as I would have liked. Thanks to the distractions of work and moving (ya know, “adult stuff”) I probably missed out on some good things that I’ll hopefully get acquainted with somewhere down the road. In the meantime, I still listened to a lot of stuff, so here are my Top 15 albums of 2013.
1. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away (Bad Seeds Ltd.)
It takes a few listens to get the genius of this quieter iteration of The Bad Seeds, but over time Push The Sky Away reveals itself as one of the stronger entries in the band’s thirty-year discography. Seeing them play these songs live helped too.
Read my full original review here (and note that I still didn’t fully ‘get it’ at this point): http://midnighttosix.wordpress.com/category/2013-reviews/nick-cave-and-the-bad-seeds/
2. Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold (What’s Your Rupture)
Rock lost a lot of ground to hip-hop and pop over the last few years but these guys are one of the few young bands that give me hope. Consider them a new addition to the pantheon of great NY bands like VU, Richard Hell and The Voidoids, Sonic Youth…etc.
3. My Bloody Valentine – m b v (m b v)
After twenty years of false starts and missed release dates, the fact that this album simply exists is probably enough to earn a spot in the Top 10. That it’s great is simply icing on the cake.
4. Mark Lanegan – Imitations (Vagrant)
I’ve been waving the Lanegan flag for a long time now, and his latest album of all covers is yet another example of how he can apply his voice – an affecting blend of gruff and croon – to just about anything and make it great.
5. Uncle Acid and The Deadbeats – Mind Control (Metal Blade)
A concept album about a murderous drug cult by a band that sounds like a cross between 1966 Beatles and 1972 Sabbath? Yup. It’s easy to see why they’ve been opening for Black Sabbath on their European reunion tour. I probably listened to Mind Control more than anything else that came out this year.
6. Kadavar – Abra Kadavar (Nuclear Blast)
Another Sabbath-y record makes the list? Yup, and this time it’s Sabbath-as-power-trio. Tunes and facial hair for days.
7. Besnard Lakes – Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO
A bizarre album title, but it kind of fits the band’s expansive space-rock vibe. Slightly less engaging than Besnard Lakes’ previous two albums but they’re good enough to afford a small decline and still come out smelling like a rose.
8. Guided By Voices – English Little League (GBV Inc.)
The second best of the four albums by Guided by Voices since reuniting (Class Clown Spots A UFO takes the top sot for me). It shows that there’s still plenty of fight left in this indie rock powerhouse and “Send To Celeste” should earn a place on future GBV best of comps. Thankfully there’s a fifth album already planned for 2014, squashing the recent break-up rumors.
9. Ghostface Killah – Twelve Reasons To Die (Soul Temple)
Ghostface finds the prefect musical foil in Adrian Younge, who produced and recorded the ‘70s funk/soul-styled backing tracks for this hip-hop concept album. Weighing in at a lean and mean 40 minutes, it’s the best thing to come from the Wu Tang camp since Ghost’s Fishscale in ’06.
10. Dirty Streets – Blades Of Grass (Alive)
Sounds like a lost power-trio from the classic rock era with echoes of The Who, Zeppelin and The James Gang reverberating throughout. Listen closely and you can also hear the influence of soul/funk instrumentalists like Booker T. and The MGs or The Meters lurking beneath the surface.
11. Atoms For Peace – Amok (XL)
To be honest, I’m not sure that AFP’s electronica/afrobeat hybrid of cold clicks and beeps is the best venue for the ultra-human warmth of Thom Yorke’s voice, but any album that features his voice is very good.
12. Mazzy Star – Seasons Of Your Day (Rhymes Of An Hour)
Like m b v, I never expected to see this album either. Perhaps time apart has made Seasons a step down from their trio of classic albums, but the world is a better place with them active. “California” is especially chill-inducing.
13. The Black Angels – Indigo Meadow (Blue Horizon)
Good droney psych-rock songs, with production adding more of a pop sheen than previous albums. Luckily it doesn’t take away from the music. This also seems like a good time to mention that I haven’t yet heard Dead Meadow or The Warlocks’ albums from 2013.
14. Queens Of The Stone Age – …Like Clockwork (Matador)
Less gut-punching Black Flag/Stooges/Sabbath type of stuff and more glam ballads than the usual QOTSA album – luckily they’re the T.Rex/Bowie kind and not Motley Crue/Ratt. Josh Homme and whoever he happens to be working with these days know what they’re doing, even on an album whose lyrics are mostly asking “What the hell am I doing?”.
15. Robert Pollard – Blazing Gentlemen (GBV Inc.)
The best of the 15(!) solo albums Pollard has released since 2006’s From A Compound Eye. Definitely the best album ever with a song called “Professional Goose Trainer”.
Has it really been 13 years since Deltron 3030′s debut album? Where does the time go? When Del The Funky Homosapien, Dan The Automator and Kid Koala introduced the futuristic rap project back in 2000 it was a watershed moment for hip-hop – maybe not the mainstream kind that sells a bazillion records, but it made enough of an impact among indie-rap kids that it was the subject of a small batch micro-brew more than a decade later(http://beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/10099/76781), which should stand for something. So, why did the sequel take 13 years to complete? Well, I don’t know what the hold-up was (sessions began back in 2005) but now that I hold Event 2 in my hands I feel like the delays may have sapped all the energy out of the project, because there’s a noticeable drop-off in quality.
If you’re following the Deltron 3030 narrative (and there’s a lot of narrative on a Deltron album) Event 2 takes place in 3040, ten years after the debut, and society is in pretty bad shape – or so actor Joseph Gordon-Leavitt tells us in the opening intro/catch-up “Stardate”. I like the futuristic concept, but what I really care about is the music and that’s where Event 2 falls short of it’s boastful title. Dan The Automator’s production work is typically strong, lifting the boom-bap of his beats to almost operatic proportions. Kid Koala’s scratches (remember when DJs scratched?) are sharp without being intrusive or showy. And then there’s Del. Always a different type of MC, one more prone to talk about comic books than guns and girls, Del’s raps here are lyrically dexterous, but he’s lost some of that young man’s fire and it shows. His voice has always sounded mellow, but here he sounds downright lethargic. He even sounds like he’s reading his lyrics off the page on a few songs (“Nobody Can”, for example) and that doesn’t cut it.
Event 2 features a long list of big name guest stars from all areas of celebrity – again a testament to the fandom of their first album – like Mike Patton, chef David Chang, The Lonely Islands, Zach De La Rocha (talk about 13 years ago!) and David Cross, but it’s hard to feel anything for the ancillary performers when the main star is so far off his game.
|1.||“Stardate” (featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt)||1:23|
|3.||“Pay The Price”||4:23|
|4.||“Nobody Can” (featuring Aaron Bruno of Awolnation)||4:35|
|5.||“Lawnchair Quarterback Part 1″ (featuring David Cross and Amber Tamblyn)||0:57|
|6.||“Melding of the Minds” (featuring Zack De La Rocha)||4:04|
|7.||“The Agony” (featuring Mary Elizabeth Winstead)||3:21|
|8.||“Back in the Day” (featuring The Lonely Island)||1:28|
|9.||“Talent Supersedes” (featuring Black Rob)||3:38|
|10.||“Look Across the Sky” (featuring Mary Elizabeth Winstead)||4:40|
|11.||“The Future of Food” (featuring David Chang)||1:18|
|12.||“What is This Loneliness” (featuring Damon Albarn and Casual)||3:51|
|13.||“My Only Love” (featuring Emily Wells)||3:49|
|14.||“Lawnchair Quarterback Part 2″ (featuring David Cross and Amber Tamblyn)||1:09|
|15.||“City Rising From The Ashes” (background vocals by Mike Patton)||3:32|
|16.||“Do You Remember” (featuring Jamie Cullum)||5:22|
It’s difficult to assess something that shouldn’t be. My Bloody Valentine hadn’t released an album in over twenty years until earlier this year, when vocalist, guitarist, and bandleader Kevin Shields made m b v available late on a Saturday evening in February.
This album was a culmination of a recording process that started seventeen years ago, and the band’s reunion tour was a first opportunity to hear them present the material, new or otherwise. Shields, however, had other ideas.
The concert, at Philadelphia’s Electric Factory, began with three songs off their classic album Loveless. The low-end crunch of “Sometimes” sent rumbles of bass and distortion throughout the venue, overpowering the vocals from Bilinda Butcher. Then, after what was to be one of many false starts to a song, the band launched into “I Only Said.” Colm Ó Cíosóig’s crushing drums stood out above the wall of noise created by Butcher, Shields, bassist Debbie Googe. and Jen Marco, a touring guitarist and keyboardist. “When You Sleep” was an early standout; a Beach Boys song run through consecutive filters of C86-style jangle, John Hughes’ films, and a punishing roar of guitar squalls. A wall of amplifiers dwarfed Shields, stage left, and early in the set he retreated into them as if they were a cocoon.
The mellow, for My Bloody Valentine, “New You” followed, the first song they played off the new album. Ó Cíosóig’s Madchester-style breakbeat continued to serve a reminder that under the noise, the band has a diverse palette to draw from.
Yet Shields was unhappy with some of the technical aspects of the show, and it showed. He missed one of Cíosóig’s drum counts. Googe’s bass and Butcher’s low-end D, A, and E notes made some of the vocals unintelligible, and during “Come In Alone” Shields stopped in the middle to change guitars. It is unclear whether this was an error on his part, or on one of the guitar techs. These mistakes rattled Shields, someone who is such a perfectionist that he waits twenty-two years between releasing albums. Whatever sounds he was making with his guitar and pedals, he made it clear that they were the wrong ones, confusing the audience.
The stage lighting was at times abrasive, forcing audience members to look down or to close their eyes. With a band like My Bloody Valentine, however, not looking may be an asset. There are few groups that can provoke feelings of synesthesia quite like MBV. Without the benefit of sight, Shields’ guitar-based tone poems evoked both the color schemes of impressionism and app-based generative music. The presence of the band playing in the same room was enough of an experience, as waves of sound washed over the audience and Butcher cooed wordlessly through songs like “To Here Knows When.”
The band is infamous for ending concerts with extended versions of songs, often exceeding the fifteen-minute mark. It was telling, then, that the closing song, “You Made Me Realise,” lasted just under seven minutes.
Befitting the shoegaze moniker, the band members never interacted on stage, each one lost in their task, reinforcing the discomfort. Aside from thanking the audience and wishing them, us, goodnight, Shields’ only stage banter was to apologize for the sound.
I Only Said
When You Sleep
You Never Should
Cigarette in Your Bed
Come in Alone
Nothing Much to Lose
Who Sees You
To Here Knows When
Feed Me With Your Kiss
You Made Me Realise
To celebrate 21 years together Tindersticks re-recorded 10 songs from their catalogue in London’s famed Abbey Road Studios. Actually it’s technically eight Tindersticks songs, with the two opening tracks coming from Stuart Staples’ solo album Lucky Dog Recordings 03-04 – an odd choice for an album designed to celebrate his band’s anniversary. The results are, as anyone who’s been following the band might guess, a sparse take on chamber-pop and soul, heavily defined by Staples’ dark confessional lyrics and froggy quiver of a voice. This presents a bit of a problem because that’s exactly how you would have described the original versions of these songs. In fact, these newly recorded versions are so similar to originals that you’d need to play them side to by side to find the subtle differences. It raises a pretty important question – does Across Six Leap Years need to exist? Well, it sounds fine, if occasionally listless, but there’s nothing essential about it. If you’ve got the originals then you’re all set – no need to plunk down money to hear something so similar. Even if you don’t have the original versions of Across’s songs, you’re still better off picking up one of the band’s other albums as a starting point.