20-1

20. Merchandise, “Totale Nite EP”

“Anxiety’s Door,” is quite novel on its surface. It’s realism and mopey quality is as desperate and ugly as anything Morrissey has ever written yet it’s still a very uplifting record. Creating a backdrop of disarray, but leaving hope in the narrator’s quest for growth.

Some things are never really there,
I walk the street at night, I drink the perfumed air

Merchandise does this quite often on the “Totale Nile EP,” falling into a long list of miserable mope rock bands that stem from the early 00s. Many songs are produced with low production value, which fits vocalist Carson Cox’s urgent yelp like a glove. It creates an affect where both Cox and the music are fighting for attention in a world where attention is sacred and unfeasible. The final product feels more polished than the budget reflects which makes these 6+ minute tracks far more exciting than they should be.

Anxiety’s Door
Winter’s Dream

18. Mutual Benefit, “Love’s Crushing Diamond,”

“Love’s Crushing Diamond,” is every awesome metaphor in the book about a sensation that has no term. It may be “love.” It may not be “love,” but because “love,” has never been a justified feeling I’ve experienced (though I have admittedly conformed to using it a million times for the sensation I’m describing — almost end of pretentious rant) I won’t apply it to where this record takes me.

“Love’s Crushing Diamond,” is that awesome first date & halfway in love (didn’t last long) feeling. It’s that close my eyes and let an album lay me to sleep feeling. It’s that, “I’ve been running naked for seven seconds and HOLY SHIT I’M STREAKING,” feeling. It’s that unexpected people watching in a town I’ve never visited feeling. Don’t know why I’m here. Don’t know what’s going on. Don’t remember what I came for. But something about this feels right.

I took a walk, my usual way
I called to quit my job today

Blink once. Blink twice. Still here? Hold the blink for five seconds. You might wake up in a pile of leaves. The vegetation on the right is edible. The bushes on the left are poisonous. And yes, you just saw a fucking unicorn. Elliott Smith’s “Let’s Get Lost,” has never made more sense.

C.L. Rosarian
Golden Wake
Advanced Factory

16. Pretty & Nice, “Golden Rules For Golden People”

The name Pretty & Nice is the kind of obnoxious semi-ironic band name that can make a hipster hater cringe. Some people are embedded in their prejudices, but Pretty & Nice isn’t ironic for irony’s sake. This isn’t The History Of Apple Pie.

Pretty & Nice play pretty power pop with big hooks, angelic male vocals, glossy guitar riffs and a rhythm section made to make you tap your feet and move your butt. They salt this up with some interesting arraignments that turn chord progression into it’s own pop rhapsody.

Take the track “Yonkers,” which starts as a simple pop track only to fall into this grandiose hook. At the end of the second verse there’s this choral church hymn only to be topped by a huge bridge that may be bigger than anything on the record. For the finale, Pretty & Nice overlap this bridge with the choral hymn inviting more synths and vocals. This is when Pretty & Nice is at their prettiest – when they get bigger and bigger building on records with overlapping sounds and vocals without ever losing how catchy they are. It’s one thing to make a pop record. It’s another thing to make pop record as big as this thing can get.

Yonkers
Q__Q
Mummy Jets

15. Holy Ghost!, “Dynamics”

For a band that moved from releasing singles like it’s 1952 to putting out 10 minute exercise disco epics it’s fair to say the guys of Holy Ghost! have come of age. “Dumb Disco Ideas,” is the second track on what is an example of the DFA boys giving us more with each release.

Here we see deeper cuts, harder synths and longer tracks. From disco to pop to R&B (It must beeee the weatheeeer) Holy Ghost is as catchy and varied as ever. The choruses are big even when they’re simple (“Come on and…DANCEEE!!!” – YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW CATCHY THAT IS!) The song topics are interesting, (featuring one of the most awkward love songs about wanting to be someone’s hand – I mean, imagine all the stroking and fingering and crevices you can touch being someone’s hand!) and the production is about what you’d expect from any DFA James Murphy project.

It’s immediate and pleasing and there’s little here to dislike unless you’re one of those clowns that thinks pop music is dumbed down. Luckily for us, Holy Ghost addresses those jokesters on track two.

14. Blood Orange, “Cupid Deluxe”

I fight with accepting the state of R&B. Soul is dead. Contemporary is dead. Outside of Janelle Monae no one in the mainstream has been interesting for the better part of a decade. Seeking under the radar alternatives leaves a shit ton of weak vocalists indebted to other genres. They never do the genre justice, but they sure do try (see: Rhye, Autre Ne Veut, How To Dress Well)

Dev Hynes of Blood Orange has no ties to funk, new wave or jazz, but it’s something different and Hynes is no different than his peers. When a new genre presents itself, a capable musician thinks why the fuck not? Except enthusiasts cream for authenticity and Hynes holding down a real black man’s record with a voice flatter than a set of Cambodian titties just doesn’t add up. He’s playing basketball on a football court except he’s more Antonio Gates than Todd Bouman. 

Hynes is most at home on the 80s new wave in Blood Orange. Recognizing his weaknesses, Hynes tries not to stretch his voice too thin [fails quite a few times!] while bringing in multiple collaborators (girlfriend Samantha Urbani [Friends], rapper Despot, Catherine Polachek [Chairlift], etc.) What’s amazing is, in a very similar fashion to the Disclosure LP the theme, production and even lyrics are all streamlined to fit one overall goal. This isn’t a record that wants to put a bunch of dope songs together. It’s a record that wants to be Blood Orange even when Blood Orange is handing production to Clams Casino or vocals to Skepta.

Uncle ACE
Chosen feat. Samantha Urbani
Chamakay feat. Catherine Polachek

13. Baths, “Obsidian,”

What’s so charming about Baths is how he’s able to intertwine these new world sounds with old world melody, making glitch and EDM as relevant to medieval times as its ever been. Take “Ironworks,” for example. He opens the record with a piano/strings combo you’d find in a King Arthur flick only to fuck shit up with a glitchy rhythm section that sounds like hundreds of the king’s men stepping on cobblestone.

It’s a sound only Baths can perfect. Like a Hemmingway piece it’s paced in a way that’s economic and graphic. Weight is given to geography and background, but the dialogue isn’t slighted. Baths builds for the climax, waiting for it come like a Christy Mack blowjob. With “Ironworks,” and many other records on this thing, tension grows until the falsetto can’t hold it any more.

But it is only a matter of…COME AND FUCK ME!!! 

Baths holds no punches when the game is on the line – even when he’s losing – even when desperation is the only card. For Baths there is no shame in humility.

Ironworks
No Eyes
Phaedra

10. The Knife, “Shaking The Habitual,”

Double albums are a bit mystical in the pop construct. Tried and true in the 90s, a double record often led to overstuffed records that proved that two times the music was often two times too much. Outside of Prince’s Sign O The Times there are almost no double albums that signify a magnum opus, and few that even constitute as justifying their gaudy lengths.

Without you my life would be…boring!

Double albums, meet Shaking The Habitual. At 96 minutes it should fall into the double album standard – overstuffed, pompous, too many experiments or guests. Yet The Knife is surprisingly consistent to self, filling Shaking The Habitual with roots in humanity and politics to give their lyrics as much punch as their music. Coupled with Karin Dreijer’s most explosive record performance to date, this thing demands your attention.

9. Mazes, “Ores & Minerals”

I once touted “Ores & Minerals,” as the best guitar work of 2013. I won’t shy away from that claim too much, but for those that emphasize solos and individual riffs this thing has plenty of the beef and some of the potatoes too. What is clear on this record is the endearing quality and its tremendous attention to detail on repeated listens.

And this record demands just that. Repeated listens. Riffs pinch and punch, breaks shift and turn and the krautrock influence heeds an acute level of chord progression. Songs are interesting enough to move three or four minutes extra, as opener “Bodies,” a seven-minute triumph is worth twelve or thirteen minutes if it so chose to. “Sucker Punched,” is a record that would fit right in with your 90s radio while “Bite,” is an airy change of pace where guitarist Jack Cooper shows off his stripes.

Bodies
Jaki
Sucked Punched

8. Into It. Over it., “Intersections”

The emo revival in 2013 is interesting. Not because we lack emotional music in 2013, but because there’s nothing quite like old school Kinsellas besides current day Kinsellas trying to be old school Kinsellas. Mike, Tim and Nate are pretty dry now. Nate was never as skilled as his cousins, Tim is releasing 2-3 Joan of Arc albums a year and Mike’s solo project has been pretty boring since 2006’s “At Home With Owen.”

I laid down my steer,
Traded tobacco for new north side air
And filled up my lungs with our home,
Here I go again!

Mike’s working with relatively new Evan Weiss on a project called Their / They’re / There and Weiss is making solo records under the Into It. Over It. moniker. Into It. Over It. sounds like the American Football and Weezer that spoiled me in the late 90s with big choruses, off center drums and some wordplay that has clearly caught Mike Kinsella’s eye.

What gets me with Weiss is the emotion in his voice, which is never more apparent than on “Upstate Blues.” With a jazzy underplay and distorted guitar it plays like a lo-fi “For Sure,” if Mike had the punch in his voice to take over a track. And that’s not a shot at Mike at all – he’s never had the punch in his voice and it makes his records all the more interesting when he ends tracks with “I’ll see you when we’re both not so emotional!” But it’s that punch that keeps Weiss so entertaining. You’re not pleasantly listening to some math rock, or jazz or acoustic waiting for the pay off. Weiss’ appeal is evident throughout. Rather than the knockout blow in the end, he’s hitting the hole like Adrian Peterson every single time.

Upstate Blues
Obsessive Compulsive Distraction
New North Side Air
A Pair Of Matching Taxi Rides

7. Janelle Monae, “The Electric Lady”

“I don’t consider myself a rapper, nor even a singer I just like to communicate,” said Janelle Monae in an interview with Fuse back in September. Communication is an underrated quality in the performing arts. As a journalism undergrad I was taught to use words the general public could understand – not because advanced words are stupid, but because if the public can’t understand then my words mean nothing.

Following the narrative of “The ArchAndroid,” for a wide audience didn’t come easy. The lyrics and performances remained confined in the concept of Cindi Mayweather, an android that many people didn’t understand enough to relate to or give a fuck about.

Hey sister am I good enough for your heaven?
Say, will your god accept me in my black & white?
Will he approve the way I’m made?
Or should I reprogram the programming?

Enter follow-up “The Electric Lady,” where the narrative is stripped. The story of identity crisis and Cindi is still there, but placed subtlety. At the forefront is the Janelle Monae show – a far better vessel to connect with the people than the robotic Cindi. Monae is open to find whatever way she wants to communicate and with “The Electric Lady,” she showcases how versatile she is at getting her point across.

QUEEN feat. Erykah Badu
Electric Lady feat. Solange
Victory

5. Speedy Ortiz, “Major Arcana”

You may have to look elsewhere for music that reminds you of 2013. “Major Arcana,” is the latest in 90s revivalist bands with a lo-fi production value, punchy wordplay and plenty of big choruses. Telling stories is Major Arcana’s forte’ so it’s no surprise that narratives range from the high school outcast (No Below) to the hooker looking for love (Cash Cab) to wanting you like a ghost wants revenge (Casper.)

And I’m getting my dick sucked on the regular!

Lead vocalist Sarah Dupuis wears many masks and she does it with one of the rawest voices I’ve heard in a while. How aware she is of her hypocrisy, sadness, angst, empathy and sensitivity gives you so many directions and twists to fall into. By track ten, Sarah Dupuis is a lot of things. Hooker, outcast, ghost and everything inbetween, Dupuis is also human. A concept that makes so many of her stories so relatable.

4. Danny Brown, “Old”

I’m sick of all these  niggas with their ten year old stories,
You ain’t doin’ that no’ more, nigga long time ensured,
So take this as a diss song cause this is my last song,
(Bout my last dope song?)
BOUT MY LAST DOPE SONG!

I attended a Danny Brown concert just a week ago. It was advertised as a short set where Danny would go on for about 20-25 minutes. Brown played six songs – all of which could be found on the party flavored second half of his Old record. Of course I had an awesome time. I was turnt the fuck up. By song four I was out of breath, uncomfortable, dripping of sweat and so dehydrated that my throat couldn’t recite the lyrics I’d studied for months since the release. Who needed six songs, let alone an hour long set?

And part of this is troubling. Not because I don’t have the energy for an hour long Danny Brown party, but because I support and love what Danny is outside of MDMA, EDM, hoes and hilarious sex stories. So when a set only supports his party tracks, I freak because Danny’s middle name has been MDMA, adversity and tension since XXX.

Danny of course, let’s his middle names become his rhymes. Adversity is triumph. Tension is what you rappers have been rapping about for the last ten years. The “Old,” Danny Brown ain’t got shit on the nigga on this record – it’s everything I could have asked for and then some.

Side B (Dope Song)
Dip
Wonderbread
Dope Fiend Rental feat. Schoolboy Q

3. Chelsea Wolfe, “Pain Is Beauty”

One thing Wolfe doesn’t get enough credit for is how willing she is to expand. Last year’s left turn with “Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Tunes,” moved Wolfe from the synth driven doom folk psycho bitch tracks (insert her screaming about DEMONS or making music videos that look more like bad made for SciFi channel movies here) to an acoustic record that stood up with the rest of her material. The record has this archaic, traditional feel. Something untapped previously, but Wolfe was surprisingly proficient with it.

New tools for Wolfe to distribute the same halfway to hell sound play all over “Pain Is Beauty.” and creates the same tension found in the best horror movies. It’s not the reveal of Drew Barrymore’s corpse in Scream, it’s that and the funeral afterwards. It’s the sadness and accomplishment you felt when you figured out who killed Laura Palmer. If the box exaggerates real life for dramatic purposes, “Pain Is Beauty,” is guilty as sin. It’s a miserable record. And I like feeling miserable.

The Waves Have Come
House Of Metal
They’ll Clap When You’re Gone

2. My Bloody Valentine, “m b v”

A lot of the allure in “m b v,” is the story behind it. It’s been told a million times. Even I’ve told it on this blog. Quite frankly, I’m tired of telling it. I just wanted to let everyone know that it’s out there.

The pressure behind “m b v,” is in its story and to some extent this story glamorizes the music a bit. Waiting twenty years for a follow up to one of the best albums ever will make anything sound better. Imagine having to wait to devour chocolate for over twenty years with small hints that MAYBE this is your year. The sensation is there, but the wait generally glamorizes the final product. Luckily “m b v,” holds up quite well to its predecessors without being the mind blowing experience it initially felt like.

The simplest way to present the record is the three acts scenario. Throughout 9 tracks, every set of three is a new act in the MBV timeline. The first act as an ode to where MBV was, the next act as a dream pop interlude of where MBV is, and the final three pushing the genre & MBV further.

This is the simplest way to present the record because in a sense many people want Shields and co. to be innovators. And while the three acts idea works, it’s not particularly accurate in a landscape of music where innovation is generally unbearable on the ears or nonexistent.

“m b v” is rather a collection of records that feeds to Shields’ myth, cloaking it in what he does best: manipulate sound in the My Bloody Valentine way. In all the years, there’s still no copycat band that comes close to mimicking the guitars on Loveless or anything these guys have ever made. There never will be. So it goes…

That classic sound on the first three songs have been tried so many times and subject to so many failures. “Who Sees You” and “She Found Now,” being among the best songs of 2013 can easily replace any track on Loveless. “Who Sees You,” is the type of noisy guitar ballad that bands have dreamed of making. It’s like a concert in a sewer. There’s some flavor and it’s a bit grimy, but it’s beautiful and Bilinda in all her glory is center stage.

While “Is This & Yes,” slumps, “New You,” and “If I Am,” are pop records that sound like MBV doing covers of Lush. Because MBV was so good at being soft and heavy (see: When You Sleep) it’s news to hear them fall completely into the former with an organic groove that’s infectious. A sound that works perfectly for them and provides some of the tastiest riffs in 2013.

Even if I am..

The record continues to take turns with “Nothing Is,” and “Wonder 2” and they aren’t innovative records so much as they’re exercises in sound. “Wonder 2,” like a sequel to Chapterhouse’s “Falling Down,” and “Nothing Is,” mimicking the loudness of the interludes Shields regularly plays when live.

It’s the perfect finale to showboat just who’s atop this genre. The story is told and re-told and the breakdowns, ups and downs are clear but the one thing that remains true is what will forever mystify Kevin Shields and co. No one sounds like My Bloody Valentine. When they’re innovative, they’re innovative. When they’re biting another sound, they do it different and better to the point where you want to call it innovative. That’s a band you want to listen to.

She Found Now
Wonder 2
Nothing Is
New You

1. Kanye West, “Yeezus”

It’s hard to talk about Yeezus without talking about Kanye’s current mindset. Kanye is engaged, has a child, ventures ranging from music to fashion and an ego that regularly compares himself to Walt Disney and Andy Warhol. To Kanye, he’s as much a genius as the greatest minds in human civilization.

Oh and did I mention? Kanye’s pissed off.

He feels oppressed. A slave to corporations. A walking billboard for anarchy and egoism, playing a self-proclaimed “young man’s game,” that will surely throw him to the stable of forgotten old, rich washed up rappers. There’s age limits to this shit. Kanye knows this and doesn’t want to be an afterthought when his time is up. Nor does he want to be rich.

He wants to be wealthy.  He has a plethora of ideas and a proven track record of being oppressed and showcasing uncanny levels of creativity when given the chance (see: his music career.) Kanye West has millionaire problems. Millionaire problems aren’t my favorite topic, but oppression is relatable…even if Kanye just wants to profit off me with 200 dollar sneakers and shit.

You see there’s leaders and there’s followers,
But I’d rather be a dick than a swallower

On Yeezus, Kanye uses his art as a plateau to launch a big fuck you to his endorsements, corporations and fucktards that oppress him from the longevity and wealth he craves. This can be seen from every walk of Yeezus from the production to the way it was promoted.

That way is to keep everything as minimal and raw as possible. So Yeezus has no promotion. It has no single. It has no cover art. It was stripped down days before it’s release date by Rick Rubin in a way to make the record labels and radios hate it. The result is a minimalist, industrial feel that’s as bare bones, hard hitting and weird as anything West has ever created. If My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is his OK Computer this is most certainly his Kid A.

Fuck whatever y’all been hearing
Fuck what, fuck what ever y’all been wearing
A monster about to come alive again

Millionaire problems or not this is the most urgent record Kanye has ever made. The drums knock like no other West record and his flow is downright phenomenal. He’s never sounded hungrier. Angrier. More raw. Many will question if this is even a Kanye record, but to me this is the Kanye record. The marathon man with an unmatched work ethic. Michael Jordan of his craft. It’s evident on the huffing and puffing “Black Skinhead,” simulates. If you thought you knew Kanye before, let’s make it clear from here on out — if Yeezus doesn’t grasp you in some capacity and make you feel his struggle enough to appreciate the music you really have no fucking business calling yourself a Kanye fan.

Blood On The Leaves
Bound 2
New Slaves
Black Skinhead

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