20. Bored Nothing, “I Wish You Were Dead”
If misery loves company then it’s no wonder that bands like Coma Cinema, Merchandise and Bored Nothing keep pumping this miserable brand of mope rock out to angsty teens. Mopey lo-fi will always have a place in music because sadness isn’t an emotion that goes lightly or leaves quickly — it’s also an emotion that doesn’t stop when you’re no longer a teenager. So for me, it’s refreshing to know that more bands are hearing Elliott Smith and The Smiths and emulating their sound for a new generation. Kudos for making sad sound cool.
19. Chance The Rapper, “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” feat. Twista & Vic Mensa
Cigarettes on cigarettes my momma think I stank
I got burn holes in my hoodies all my homies think it’s dank
I miss my cocoa butter kisses
Breakout artist Chance The Rapper has a lot going for him riding into 2014 — a critically acclaimed mixtape, a Lollapalooza appearance and a host of media love calling “Acid Rap,” one of the best records of 2013. Pre-hype, there’s “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” a record about his mother’s disinterest with the new, vice filled version of Chance.
18. Holograms, “Rush”
Questions deriving from taking your sound to the next level might include issues with chord progression or just what to put in these songs to flesh them out while maintaining their energy. Luckily, records like “Rush,” are pretty exemplary of just how to give the fans more without taking away from your appeal.
17. Kanye West, “Bound 2”
My no more than one song per artist rule is miserable this time of year. It adds diversity, but leaves songs like “Blood On The Leaves,” and “I’m In It,” off this list. For argument’s sake, “Bound 2” is the sole record embedded in the soul samples that made Kanye famous ten years ago. It’s also the most intriguing record on the album because it leads so many questions to the back story of Yeezus. Like, where the fuck are the soul records on this thing? Or what the hell would Yeezus sound like if Kanye’s mania didn’t kick in for a full strip down of the record two weeks before the due date?
16. Best Coast, “Fade Away,”
Best Coast is a band whose simple formula for success is sucked from one source — producer Bobb Bruno. We know what we’re getting with Bethany — an abysmal lyricist with a pretty powerful, emotional vocal despite a lack of range. With Bruno we’re usually left guessing — is this a lo fi record, is this a hi fi record, is it beachy, is it grunge and how many tricks can Bruno bring to alleviate us of Bethany’s faults. Luckily for us, “Fade Away,” is the best produced tracked he’s done, with the accompanying EP being their best to date.
15. Earl Sweatshirt, “Sunday,” feat. Frank Ocean
I emptied every canteen
just to wear that straight edged faucet you thinks cool
They called me soft in high school, thank god I’m jagged
Forgot you don’t like it rough,
I mean he called me a faggot
I was just calling his bluff,
I mean how anal am I gon’ be when I’m aiming my gun?
“Sunday” is the type of track I was hoping Frank Ocean could accomplish on 2012’s Channel Orange. I left Orange.. disappointed by how clunky his homoerotic records were. Simply lackluster, abysmal attempts at homosexuality with the feeling that Ocean was never bisexual, but just a minstrel show getting paid to play the part. Hearing wordplay like this on an Earl Sweatshirt tape of all places feels cathartic because it’s probably some of the best stuff Frank’s written in a damn long time. Oh and Earl’s verse about his relationship ain’t fucking bad, either. It’s very good, actually.
14. Phoenix, “Entertainment,”
How does one prove an intact level of indie cred after having one of the biggest breakthrough years in pop music? The Radiohead route suggests changing sounds quicker than a Puerto Rican changes diapers. The D’Angelo route suggests drugs, alcohol and never releasing a follow up. The Lou Bega, Baha Men and Right Said Fred route says one-hit wonder and never hit again. The Phoenix route, of course says make your comeback single a big FUCK YOU to fame.
13. Mazes, “Bodies”
Mazes opened Ores & Minerals with “Bodies,” a 7-minute record that’s more an exercise in guitar than single. There’s plenty of moments to show off here and the guys don’t waste a second, justifying the length by how epic the record is. The pop appeal is apparent here too — “Bodies,” was a single after all and the accompanying guitar riff is as catchy as any chorus from 2013 and as 90s as your older cousins grunge period; white washed jeans and hand me down plaid.
12. CHVRCHES, “The Mother We Share,”
CHVRCHES have been getting fanfare for over a year now after single “Mother We Share,” dropped in late 2012. The strength of such a simple single — one that’s probably perfect for the next iPod or car commercial –has people buzzing about CHVRCHES like they were buzzing about Cults in 2011 or Death Grips in 2012. With hype comes expectations, but luckily for us “Recover,” and debut LP The Bones Of What You Believe are more than worthwhile records to chew on.
11. Disclosure, “White Noise,” feat. AlunaGeorge
Lately I’ve been thinking if you wanna get off
Then let’s play rough
On “White Noise,” newcomers Disclosure and AlunaGeorge create the rare collaboration that proves to be chart topping and hipster friendly. Disclosure’s futuristic club pop and precision for groove based dance records fit Aluna Francis’ pitch like a glove — better than AlunaGeorge producer George Reid. It begs the question of when the next record with these two is coming, not if.
10. Janelle Monae, “Primetime,” feat. Miguel
I know sometimes I’m mysterious
And you’re mysterious too
But tonight…I don’t want to be mysterious with you
I’m always game for a good buildup and “Primetime,” has one of the better ones from this year. After Janelle and Miguel trade verses over a serene bar scene, the song cuts to one of the most underutilized portions of music — the spoken word. Monae’s rant on mystery brings up the unspoken. Lack of communication, trust or a fear of telling the one you’re interested in that you’re interested for the sake of maintaining mystery, the upper hand and sex appeal.
Right when Monae’s ready to let her guard down, almost in some crazy prelude to sex or a first kiss, there’s this well-placed guitar solo that mise well be a charade of fireworks. It’s fucking fantastic
9. Chelsea Wolfe, “The Waves Have Come,”
And all you know gets older when
the sun goes down, and everything
begins to fade away the waves have come and taken you to sea,
Never to return to me,
Never to return to me,
Never to return to me
For stylistic purposes, Wolfe is prone to indecipherable lyrics or pushing meaning to the back end to create moods. On the intense “The Waves Have Come,” Wolfe pushes her voice forward without giving up style, talking from the perspective of a natural disaster survivor of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan two years ago.
It’s ugly what Wolfe hides behind her music, but the way she tells her stories is beautiful. I’m sure there’s a bad pun in here about Pain Is Beauty that should be made. I’m going to refrain from using it.
8. Kingdom, “Bank Head,” feat. Kelela
There’s an eerie familiarity about “Bank Head,” that doesn’t surface ’till those first words. “Like kicking an old bad habit…” Kelela whispers over this obnoxious red velvet soaked laden thump. While the record builds — both in stature and reassurance, the thumps get louder. Kelela’s voice increases in pitch. The percussion closes proximity and for a second nostalgia isn’t just for nostalgia’s sake. This isn’t me looking in the mirror at myself naked picking apart my flaws. This isn’t me forgetting to drip, as urine drizzles down my boxers. This is me on top of you. We’ve been here before.
7. Danny Brown, “Side B (Dope Song)”
I’m sick of all these niggas with their ten year old stories,
You ain’t doing that no mo’, nigga lying to the shorty
So take this is as a diss song, cause this is my last song
Not my last dope song, but my last dope song
For years I’ve been calling out rappers for making the same record over and over. Until recently, it was considered OK to re-create classic records like Illmatic or Only Built For Cuban Linx or whatever because despite never being able to, who gives a shit? Listeners want that 90s boom bap. Listeners want that Illmatic, we don’t want that It Was Written or God’s Son. It’s good, but it ain’t Illmatic, bruh.
So for me, yeah Danny…”Side B (Dope Song)” is a diss record. To a lot of people — rappers who do it and listeners who support those rappers. Luckily, Brown feels no need to apologize. For his own existential crisis on the aptly titled Old he deals with the same progression vs stagnation, so it’s fitting that his best record of 2013 is one big fuck you to those stuck in the latter.
6. Darkside, “The Only Shrine I’ve Seen,”
Nicholas Jaar prides himself on outdoing himself. So with Darkside, his most successful project to date, Jaar employs records of classical arrangements to slither from obscure noise claps from an aboriginal campfire to bass music to funky dance riffs that wouldn’t be out of place on a Daft Punk LP.
For teh lulz sake, let’s throw all of that shit on the same record?.
For such a variety of movements, the parts are more jigsaw puzzle than what the fuck is my girlfriend thinking about. That’s the thing that Jaar understands most. Surprises are for chumps, but that doesn’t mean he can’t keep you on your heels. Even when you know what to expect.
5. Mutual Benefit, “C.L. Rosarian,”
Standout “C.L. Rosarian,” off Mutual Benefit’s debut album is an open world folk type of record that’s privy to the interlockings of some magical world that doesn’t exist. Where you wake up and your dreams about having all the rare pokemon cards, face fucking Sofia Vergara, and waking up butt nekkid next to Rihanna really happened last night.
4. Autre Ne Veut, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,”
To be fair, Autre Ne Veut’s falsetto is fucking miserable. He coos in this androgynous yelp that stretches his voice so thin that you wonder if he can sing at all or if he’s just forgotten how to sing from his diaphragm.
Nevertheless, songs aren’t made or broken by over-the-top falsettos and Autre Ne Veut knows this. His voice is an acquired taste, but “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” takes no time to digest. It’s appeal is in immediacy — hedonistic in nature, and over dramatic in stature. Like your cheesy 80s music with every indication that this could only reach the cutting board in 2013. Still, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” isn’t a song that’s only accommodating hipsters in 2013. My mother would want to dance with somebody too if this came on at her high school reunion.
3. Locrian, “Return To Annihilation”
A lot of this record is mood and few do mood like Locrian. Throughout Return to Annihilation (the album) Locrian places a bit of emphasis on cinematic and apocalyptic qualities, so it’s not surprising that the title track is this downward post-metal spiral to hell.
Where they really get it is in the vocals — or lack thereof. The beginning records like a tribal hymn that records over and over only to fall into this really tense level of silent post-rock. The record is static for minutes only to see the vocals pop into these incoherent screeches best emulated by your favorite villain falling into the abyss. The experience is powerful, which is a thematic element Locrian use with consistency on Return to Annihilation (the album.)
2. Foxygen, “No Destruction,”
Oh you think it’s over
Oh you think it’s over to need,
Someone who smokes pot in the subway?
Pot in the subway, to me
Oh destructo, you’re so destructive
So destructive to me
Authenticity is a funny thing. For some it means truth to yourself, but for others it means truth to everyone else. If either is exposed as falsity, controversy ensues and fame kills musicians. For the ones that remain intact, the former must be maintained. See Rick Ross maintaining his career after being a corrections officer in comparison to Ja Rule changing his style completely during 50 Cent’s heyday. Their careers went in opposite directions because one forgot what people loved about his music and the other tuned the media attention out.
Authenticity to hipsters means a lot of things, but the definitive hipster is a pretentious and inauthentic being. Somewhere in this conflicting personality is Foxygen. Part hippie, part musician, authentic to the 2013 hipster, but inauthentic to the general public for promoting the very being of hipster culture. It begs questions that refuse to be answered. Is smoking pot in the subway too hipster for 2013? If this was 1963 would “No Destruction,” be 200,000 views on Youtube or 200,000 copies sold first week? And if this was really authentic hippie music wouldn’t Bob Dylan co-sign on these guys like Brian Eno co-signed on Port St. Willow last year? We don’t have the answers, but I know “No Destruction,” tries to make sense of it all
1. Savages, “She Will,”
She will enter the room
She will enter the bed
She will talk like a friend
She will kiss like a man
She will forget her name
She will come back again
Get hooked on loving hard,
Forcing the slut out!
Creating ones own identity is difficult because in 2013 it’s hard to not be the “____ version of _____.” Savages exhibit an uphill battle — being women, lesbians and possessing Joy Division similarities, these girls are more concerned with being Savages than some ambiguous substitute. On standout “She Will,” Jehnny Beth has no problem taking right to the gender roles and androgynous heckles her and her band mates have received. “She will kiss like a man / She will forget her name / She will come back again / Get hooked on loving hard / Forcing the slut out!” she cries letting her vibrato ring for effect.
It’s this type of intensity — from subject matter, to vocals that wraps that “Joy Division sound,” into something more exciting. For Beth, sexuality isn’t something to be dismembered or hidden, but something to be praised. Her confidence shouldn’t be draped in the shadows of the bedroom and if she’s a “slut,” for wanting to be a first class citizen or a first class fuck than so be it.
And for fucks sake, if Beth was here she’d probably tell you that they’re not Joy Division. They play harder. Their live performances are critically acclaimed. They are the women of 2013. Confident, beautiful and better than your accepted subdued whore that adheres to gender roles. They’re “sluts,” if it fits your fancy. And they’re okay with that.