Monday, December 30, 2013

Best of 2013

Taking a cue from my favorite music blog, and not assigning any order to this list. Albums are not sports teams, there's no inherent ranking that anyone can reasonably derive from comparing seperate pieces of music to one another. The other reason is that there was a ridiculous amount of quality music released this year, and trying to include or reject certain albums proved to be near impossible. So in that spirit, here's my list (keep in mind I'm only one half of CNF). No structure, just a bunch of amazing music that I thoroughly enjoyed this year. 

List after the jump

Bill Callahan- Dream River

At the risk of contradicting everything I just wrote and go out on a limb by saying (if this list did have a ranking), this might be my #1. In my book, Bill is an indisputable genius, and repeated listens to this album reveal a rich and dynamic world of hidden melodies, and the subtle (but not subtle) lyricism that only Callahan can pull off. Can't get enough of the guitar on Spring. 20 years in, and this guy's in his prime. 

Overgrown- James Blake

I know this kid has enjoyed massive hype and critical praise. But I was actually surprised at the generally subdued reception this album received. I think it was considerably better than his first, and easily one of the best of the year. A lot of people hate on his dub-step-gone-r&b approach, but there is alot more goign on here than the simplistic labeling that he receives. But thats beside the point, the beats on this album  bump like crazy, and the sampling that he uses to meld his voice into new seemingly alien sounds is disorienting and exhilarating at the same time. Plus he's got RZA and Brian Eno on the same record!! Really want to see Blake live, if only to watch his gnarly drummer bro in action.

Engravings- Forest Swords

Some of the sickest beats I've heard in a long time. Dark, ominous, guitar-driven electronic music. It's good to see artists using the sea-change influence of Burial to still create new and innovative music. I also dig the lo-fi aesthetic of Forest Swords. Electronic music doesn't always need to be slick and perfectly mastered. Forest swords keeps the rough edges on his songs, thus bringing out the more organic capabilites of the genre. He also had one of the best videos of the year.

Blood Orange- Cupid Deluxe

Dev Hynes put out the best R&B record of the year, and in doing so expanded the barriers between what people consider over-the-top emotion and acceptable artistry. It's that moment when you realize there's absolutely no irony to his image/music/lyrics, and that his music is as honest as it comes. I appreciate that type of music, where you initially might think it's slightly too over the top, but after repeated listens it becomes clear that the artist is simply utilizing seemingly overwrought influences and genre tropes (Michael Jackson and 90s RnB are the most obvious here) to convey a serious message. Hynes' seems to be singing every song as if its a life or death moment. Truly sad to hear about his apartment fire, and I hope the guy will be able successfully piece his life back together. This video says everything that I'm trying to write here.. but way better. 

The Terror- The Flaming Lips

It's called The Terror for a reason (watch all the way through till the last seconds for proof). Wayne Coyne's open discussions about the collapse of his long-standing marriage, along with veiled references to guitarist Steven Drozd's re-emerging issues with substance abuse, have served as reference points for the darker thematic elements of the Lip's latest record. This band is facing down the fucking void in the only way they know how- pumping out psychedelic, paranoia-ridden, extended compositions that throw any sense of conventionality or structure straight down the rabbit hole. I love that these guys had they're 30 year anniversary this year, and put out one of their weirdest, scariest, freakiest albums to date. This is light years away from Yoshimi, or the Soft Bulletin. While those are classic albums in the Lip's discography, the band would have atrophied if they had strived to duplicate those same sounds. Instead, this album is messy, lo-fi, mind-fuck that shows the Lips pushing the boundaries of their craft. The Terror perfects the new sound that their last two albums were attempting to forge. It can be a tough sell for fans accustomed to celebratory psych-party music (believe me I've tried), but what people need to appreciate is that this band seems to be gloriously incapable of doing anything other than staying true to their artistic instincts.

Jai Paul- Jai Paul

Don't know much about this guy (not many people do). But the complete lack of context surrounding this album only adds to it's immediate appeal. Here we have another case of one-dude-and-his-laptop, displaying seemingly limitless and jaw-dropping talent. Some of the melodies and hooks on this album just stop you dead in your tracks. It's hip-hop beats, electronic breaks, funky guitar lines, and world music influences, all thrown into a sampledelic blender that spills over with pure melodic ecstasy. Every song is so raw, dense, and earnest on this record, that they each seem about to burst at the seems. Considering Jai Paul is supposedly an obsessive perfectionist, the sudden internet leak of this album is utterly tragic. Here's hoping he can actually finish and properly release his next album. Don't fuck with Jai Paul.

Anxiety- Autre Ve Nuet

Took a bit for me to warm up to this album, but once I accepted its mission of delivering over-the-top RnB rawness (similar to Blood Orange), there was no turning back. Straight up, this dude brings the heat. Enough said.

Tomorrow's Harvest- Boards of Canada

I read in an interview with another musician, who was saying that BOC has an uncanny ability to tap into a listener's subconscious, and thereby create melodies which resonate in ways that go beyond our immediate awareness  Fascinating stuff. Makes sense when you consider their wholly psychedelic sound, and even their namesake (BOC= an old canadian nature film company). The idea of BOC's unconscious resonance also made sense to me, when I realized that I couldn't quite explain why I kept re-listening to this album...  Ethereal, vast, and (at times) uncomfortably menacing. I listened to BOC alot over the summer (albums other than this one) while exploring nature, which seems to be an influence they are very much tuned into. Listen to it at night with your eyes closed on headphones... preferably in a hammock, looking at the stars. 

Muchacho- Phosphorescent

Best album cover of the year right there. Not only is it an amazing photograph, but it somehow encapsulates everything that phosphorescent is able to convey through their music. It's seedy motels, late nights, crying on the floor, leaving town on a dime, too many drugs, too many good times, too many heart breaks... and the ability to laugh and strum a good tune in the face of it all. From what I've read, the main singer/songwriter Mathew Houck has been through some shit, and it all comes pouring out of his music. So he says "Yeah I've been fucked up, and I've been a fool, I fixed myself up, come and be with you". Houck is one of the best lyricists in the game right now, and he earnestly upholds the road-weary tradition of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, and Neil Young. Bravo machacho. 

Good Kid M.A.A.D. City- Kendrick Lamar
I was watching kendrick's appearance on arsenio (maybe the best interview of the year.. I had no idea arsenio is still legit tlike that), and somewhere around the point where Arsenio compares kendrick to Dylan, I started realizing that this kid has the ability to change the world. He's without a doubt a once in a generation aritst. This album bangs so hard, but it also talks about some of the realest shit that's been heard in hip hop since this. Kendrick is a spiritual dude (he is known for refraining from drinking/smoking), and his unique worldview is exactly what hip-hop needs right now. And the best part is that everyone adores him! The kids fucking love Kendrick (trust me I taught high school this year). So do the gangsters, hipsters, and his fellow rapper (pretty much no shots fired back after that verse on "Control" = game set match). Rap is a fascinating genre because it has so much potential to deliver new and perspective changing messages, yet has to greatest tendency to become bogged down in commercial excess. This album skirts the line perfectly between accessibility, and raw, honest, and meaningful lyrical substance. Kendrick doesn't waste a single verse.. every song is packed with meaning. He also had one of the best rap videos of the year.

                                                Daft Punk- Random Access Memories

No doubt this was the soundtrack to the summer of 13 (and we all knew it the second we heard those first few bars of Get Lucky). Endlessly funky, danceable, emotive, robotic, old-school, and polished. This record is the pinacle of dope-ass session musicians combined with top-notch, flawless production. Defining statement of the new-wave of disco revivalists? Sure, why not. Nile Rodgers and Pharell keeps it oh so real. Represent 757.

Darkside- Psychic

It's as if Dire Straights took a bunch of downers, were restricted to nothing but Aphex Twin records and David Lynch movies, and fired their drummer in favor of... Nicolas Jaar (the analogy kind of fell apart there). It seems that Jaar is infalible in his musical choices, and this is undoubtedly his most accesible work. I read that he did not want to be associated with the same late-night sound that was becoming associated with Clown and Sunset (the label he started), instead opting to "just make a rock-n-roll record". Well, he suceeded, and the result is amazing. Dusk is the time of day to listen to this.. everything comes alive.

Kanye West- Yeezus

There has already been enough written about this album. I'll just say, I love it. He's not ripping off Death Grips, he's simply going all in on the wierd. He's making the music he wants to make. And its awesome how he utilized his industry influence and fandom to recruit some of the most left-field producers in electronic music. This is not a rap record, its a sampling of some of the most cutting egde and forward thinking producers in music right now. And I love how so many people just don't get it. I have no idea what the fuck Justin Vernon (Bon Iver dude), or Assassin (gully dancehall dude) are saying on the hooks for I'm in it, but I can't get enough. And it does'nt matter what they are saying, because this whole album is sort of like a huge practical joke (that's where the true death grips influence comes in), that makes its hopeless existential rage all the more meaningful. If you don't get it, you don't get Kanye. And that's cool, I just don't get you.

Deafheaven- Sunbather

Actually that might be the best album cover.. tough call. This band is incredible, they will bring you to your fucking knees with eviscerating death-throw vocals and brain-melting distortion, only to resurrect you with gorgeously melodic, clean-sounding guitar passages. Some people think I dislike metal.. not true at all. When it's done right, it is one of the most cathartic and visceral genres of music. Deafheaven gets that, and they made a straight up statement with this record.

Death Grips- Government Plates

This is my favorite rap group right now. Sort of what I think it would sound like if Black Flag decided to make a hip-hop record. Pure punk aesthetic, mixed with raw, agressive, and absurdist lyricism. Zach Hill's drumming adds whole new dimensions to these skeletal song structures. Also, I love how this group puts out their music with absolutely no promotion. It's raw stuff, and definitely not for everybody. But if you get it, it can change the way you look at music.

Oneohtrix Point Never- R Plus Seven

Lopatin's next step in his brilliantly original deconstructionist, post-modern project of new age, experimental music. This project gets more interesting and other worldly with each new release. This particular record uses many of chitzy sound samples from the dawn of the computer age; universal archetypes that harken back to the first days of our present technology saturated world. It's an undeiniably strange and disorienting listen. Yet Lopatin seems to be offering us a warm-hearted invite into his own infinitely refracted world of forgotten tropes, and bizarre logic; a world that he adores and finds endlessly amusing.

Rhye- Woman

Yes, that is a dude singing. This stuff is so well produced, soulful, and funky. A classy RnB record in every sense of the term. Baby makin music for sure.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra- ii

I saw this band open for Beach House, and I remember being somewhat disappointed. However, I really want to see them live again, because with repeated listens to their first two albums (especially this one) my respect for them has grown immensely. These guys have straight up soul, a keen sense of song writing, and a wholly unique sound. So good at being in trouble might be my favorite song of the year, the hook is unfuckwithable. And for some weird reason, it took me a while to come to that realization. These songs get stuck in your cranium like a warmly melted wad of sun-soaked bubble gum. Hazy, funky, druggy, and smooth. Can't wait to hear more from these guys.

Juliana Barwick- Nepenthe

Not for everybody, but this girl has a voice like an angel (excuse the exhausted analogy). It fits however, because her recording style sounds like it's done in a reverb soaked cathedral. Ambient, cathartic, and utterly gorgeous. 

Fuck Buttons- Slow Focus

I usually tend to prefer minimalism as a general guiding practice throughout music, however this particular record is an example of the exact opposite that I found utterly compelling. This is maximalism at its most mind-melting, visceral display. Fuck Buttons layer sound upon sound, and create compositions that utulize a slow build to deliver the listener to a previously undiscovered realm of melodic revery. For me this was the most surprising record of the year... there's just nothing else that sounds like it. That's the point of the title: each song slowly comes into focus, and you finally get the melody that you didn't hear before. It takes dedication (and time) to listen to it, but always delivers.

Kurt Vile- Wakin On A Pretty Daze

Although I am a huge fan of Vile, I wasn't too big on this record at first. But after playing it all the way through the other day while working on my bike (sometimes music needs room to breathe in the background), I started to really appreciate its melodies and overall sound. Kurt plays by his own rules. He is an amazing guitarist, and his songwriting is a dichotomy of everyman wisdom/self-deprecating inside jokes. The bridge on pure pain is pretty incredible.

Zomby- Pray For Me

Seems like this one went way under everyone's radar. Maybe because its so freakin dark, claustrophobic, and seemingly void of any redemptive qualities. But that's the Zomby aesthetic, he's always existed in his own world of menacingly slick beats. It's like going to a party where you can't deny all the fun your having, but you know something really bad is about to happen. Also, will someone pleeeeaaassee rap over this? I'm lookin at you my man, let's take it back to 2011 and invite the UK to Grove st.

Burial- Rival Dealer

The last piece of great music to be released in 2K13. Burial is one of the best in my mind. His debut changed elctronic music forever. Instead of rehashing his old idea (which many of his peers have built careers on) Burial stays fresh by releasing music like this. Liberal use of vocal samples, massive arena-ready beats, and topped off with his most political statement to date at the end of the title track. Still processing this one, but it's a gem without a doubt. Glad to see Burial keeping it real after a whole decade of creating game changing music.

No comments:

Post a Comment