40. Medicine, “To The Happy Few,”
There’s a lot of buzz behind the new Medicine record that resembles a lot of the shit said about them before their reunion. “The U.S. answer to My Bloody Valentine,” “..great manipulators of sound,” “blah blah blah.”
I could tell you there’s a lot to learn about Medicine to understand this fifth record, but there really isn’t. Despite a ten-year hiatus, their story remains relatively dry. A lot of their sound is based around noise, sound manipulation and making guitars sound really fucking cool. Few are better at this than leader Brad Laner, but few are worse at creating noise for noise sake. In fact, overextending and placing unnecessary distortion in records is what often held back a lot of Medicine’s catalogue in the last 25 years.
The result isn’t much different on “To The Happy Few,” though for a large portion of this record Laner reels in the sound leading to a very groove based album. Records range from flexing (Long As The Sun) to what sounds like a shoegaze band doing T. Rex covers (Holy Crimes, Butterfly’s Out Tonight.) It’s a surprisingly varied and interesting, though some portions will surely make you scratch your head.
39. Superchunk, “I Hate Music”
Bob Nastanovich of Pavement fame once cited vocalist Stephen Malkmus as the reason behind a lack of new records. “Stephen does not write songs for Pavement anymore, or songs in the Pavement mindset,” said Nastanovich. This always interested me as a fan. You want new music, but the last thing you want is that garbage the band tacked on to their last run to ruin their legacy. The memory of what the band was is great, but what they are now…not so much.
So it’s a bit startling to see lo-fi pioneers Superchunk, a band that was doing a lot of what Pavement was doing in the early 90s still making music in that Superchunk mindset. These aren’t the twenty somethings from the 90s, but they do everything those guys do. For that, “I Hate Music,” is such a disingenuous name for this album. It’s arguably Superchunk’s best work, nearly 25 years into their careers. Anyone who can accomplish that doesn’t hate music at all.
38. Girls Names, “The New Life”
On their last album Dead To Me, Girls Names used a trivial juxtaposition by putting 80s jangly pop melodies to the forefront of their morbid songs. Aptly titled happy-go-lucky tracks like “Bury Me,” “I Could Die,” or “I Lose,” made it crystal clear that these guys were a disturbed and morbid bunch that were having way too much fun talking about death.
Fast-forward to follow up The New Life. If you think of music as a continuation, this is the next step. Where Dead To Me was freed of the negatives of life, The New Life is a Catholic on judgement day. The tone is darker and the melodies are somber. The increase in reverb creates an atmosphere of this uncharted underworld that’s every bit the final circle in Dante’s Inferno. Bodies are immersed in ice from the chin down, with no one to talk to and no hope for retribution.“Projektion,” is a good example of this. As the song lengthens, the guitars swirl creating a claustrophobic closed in feeling. When there’s nowhere to hide or move, The New Life doesn’t admit an escape plan. Glamorizing death is only fun until you die.
37. AlunaGeorge, “Body Music”
AlunaGeorge have a lot of hype surrounding them, but very little stems from Body Music. In between a host of EPs, the duo recorded hit UK single “White Noise,” with up and comers Disclosure. The record jumped to number two on the pop charts and proves to be their best and catchiest song-to-date. Aluna’s sultry, anger filled vocals and Disclosure catchy dance-pop glitch is the perfect anthem for the radio and a mainstay in nightclubs.
A lot of the issues with Body Music stem from the unfair comparison George Reid gets to the boys in Disclosure. On his own terms, Reid is a consistent force behind the boards creating records the unfold like many of the songs from the early EPs — simple and sweet in a post-new Jack Swing style that’s varied enough to satisfy the listener more often than not.
Aluna Francis on vocals is very similar in her own way. This creates a problem: 19 songs and 64 minutes is just too long to be simple and this is a record that could have benefited from a more engaging vocal or a variety of producers. Be that as it may, Body Music is worth the time. It’s not “White Noise,” but records like “Diver,” and “Kaleidoscope Dream,” prove that it never has to be.
36. Nightlands, “Oak Island”
“I’d like to think this would be what would happen if Panda Bear, the Microphones, and a bunch of elves and woodland sprites did a cover album of newly-discovered Doobie Brothers tracks that got lost during the making of Toulouse Street in 1972.”
Those are the words of John Wraith on Amazon.com and I’d tend to agree
To put this into sounds, think a very lush classic rock album that’s more Wild Nothing than David Bowie, more atmospheric than immediate, but more immediate than anything. Classic rock snobs will tell you rock never fused with pop, but David Bowie and pop rocks prove the carbonated candy sensation is a more viable combo than critics give it credit for.
In essence it’s a soft rock record, but I don’t like saying I listen to soft rock in 2013 because I’m a pretentious snob.
35. David Bowie, “The Next Day”
39th on Rolling Stone’s greatest artists list, 140 million records sold, inducted into the Rock Hall Of Fame by ’96, a half dozen records in pitchfork’s decade lists and probably ten or so classic records.
The stars are out tonight!
It’s hard to imagine what David Bowie has to prove in 2013. As if his legacy wasn’t solidified already. Being relevant for fifty years is one thing, but being relevant and good is a whole ‘nother thing. There’s a phenomenon I like to call “dad rock” or “dad rap.” It’s what KRS-One fell to in the 00s and mid 90s – because any real head ain’t checking for the new KRS tape in 2013. I’m not checking for the new Prince record in 2013. You’re not relevant and you should have stopped twenty years ago.
Bowie’s voice has deteriorated over the years so this isn’t near his best work and it really doesn’t have to be. Bowie is in top form on “The Next Day,” or as close to it as you can be fifty years into your career. Whether you find yourself dancing to throwback quirky Bowie on “Dancing Out In Space,” or shedding a tear for “Valentine’s Day,” it’s clear that this is the man we grew up on. Luckily, he never outgrew us.
34. Daft Punk, “Random Access Memories,”
Daft Punk is a little bit of everything. Part android, part human, house gods on Discovery, but pop masterminds in the level of hits and recognition. Privacy in their social lives has led me to believe with the French duo anything is possible – maybe they smoke angel dust with Denzel Washington, take karate lessons on weekends and go to hood parties with Rihanna and Beanie Sigel.
Random Access Memories is an anthology of music. In just over 70 minutes it hits everything under the umbrella ranging from disco and jazz to soft rock and prog-pop. Refusing to settle there, vocal duties are found from the same variety of musicians. Panda Bear lays psych pop vocals on “Doin’ It Right,” while Pharrell is right in his element on disco/funk record “Get Lucky.” The French House duo has no issue bringing android to earth on their own records making Random Access Memories the most worldly and out of this world experience on disc this year.
33. The History Of Apple Pie, “Out Of View”
I will say I tried to find every reason to not like this album by the final quarter of the year. Nitpicking everything to bank on vices that really weren’t there. The lead vocalist stinks. The guitars are mediocre. This is a really good year for music so HOW IS THIS SO HIGH ON MY LIST?
Then I give it a few spins and remember everything I love about this kind of music – a kind of music that The History Of Apple Pie does so well. The beauty of say, “The Warrior,” is lost on those who have never heard Chapterhouse. Every distorted guitar blip serving as an electric shock until the chorus blows it all up. “Long Way To Go,” with its simple, airy guitar lead and a melody that bears comparison to Lush’s classic “Lit Up.” “I Want More,” and its build that rivals that which made Pale Saints’ “Fine Friend,” one of the best records of the 90s.
A bit of me is living in nostalgia with this band, I admit. But I’ve realized that a lot of my early 90s shoegaze bands aren’t getting back together to release another record. To get something on that level is a personal pleasure, even if it won’t appeal to everyone else.
32. Migos, “Young Rich Niggas”
It’s difficult to grasp what attention to detail can do until you reap its benefits. Take Migos: A group of guys intent on creative records with a hint of stupidity and an overdose of catchy that makes seemingly useless adlibs sound like strokes of genius. I say genius because a lot of these arrangements, adlibs and constructions fall into two categories A.) never been done before or B.) too stupid to make while holding out for legitimacy in the hip hop world.
And yet, Migos follows their own recipe to constantly outshine their peers. Little bleeps and bloops that are now adlibs is the glue behind the catchiness of “China Town.” Reject Super Nintendo flutes make trap house anthem “Bando.” VERSACE VERSACE is a national sensation – not because Drake co-signed, but because it embodies the progression of an era OJ da Juiceman and Gucci Mane are no longer relevant to.
Despite their forefathers attempts at “adlib rap,” (is that a coined term? can I coin it now?) none have come close to a mixtape with the consistency or creativity of “Young Rich Niggas.” Saying Migos has little competition entering 2014 would be an understatement. As it stands, no one is fucking with their adlibs.
31. Disclosure, “Settle”
Why do bitches grind to this in 2013?
I say this to myself most weekends. Flo Rida’s “Low,” pops on, the guys look for a girl and the girls are 200% more likely to dance on this song than use the “we’re lesbians”/”I’m dancing with my friends excuse,” because “Low,” calls for acting like a whore on the dance floor.
Never have I had a year when various nights out have concluded with a dance track I REALLY wanted to hear played. Two to three nights a week, my life is various remixes, really poor requests (you mean girls still want to hear “Single Ladies,” by Beyonce in 2013? Oh) horrible synth based Pitbull and Flo Rida tracks and a culmination of dehydration, liquor consumption and dry humping.
So it’s to my surprise that…
Sike. There’s no difference in 2013. I’m still dry humping to “Good Feeling,” hoping to god this shitty side-to-side white girl thing she’s doing gets better. Or at least the music does.
But man, does the Disclosure record deserve the recognition in the club. Imagine the attitude in her booty pop on “White Noise,” or the fist pumping that could assist “Stimulation.” I don’t even want a dance partner on a joint like “Voices.” I’d rather create my own thing like there’s an overly simple choreographed move to it. The “Soulja Boy,” anyone? I can dream, right?
30. Toro Y Moi, “Anything In Return”
Chill wave is a genre associated with apathy and though Toro Y Moi’s Anything In Return is an expansion of apathy it’s about as detached from the music that made Chaz popular as it can be.
This isn’t a bad thing, per se. While I dig certain chill wave bands, Chaz’s early records never hit me quite like Washed Out or Teen Daze. His records always seemed a bit disjointed, and lacking in focus when all I ever wanted in a chill wave record was a groove to remind me of summer.
And yet, Anything In Return is about as close as Chaz has ever gotten to that sensation. Take “High Living,” a real ode to sensation of your choice. Extended marijuana sessions, summer rooftop parties, the works. Or “Say That,” which is as much a club record as it is sonic headphone perfection.
Chaz is indebted to chill wave, but has a natural affection for funk, house and pop. While grooves seem to come more natural here than ever before, quite a few of the standouts are sappier tracks with grandiose chord progression. Lead single “So Many Details,” for example, builds until this epic breakdown comes crashing in. It’s a musical representation of the chaos in a failing relationship. Considering Chaz’s departure from chill wave this is a topic he’s familiar with.
29. Jagwar Ma, “Howlin’”
A poster on football’s future once mentioned how media – movies, television and music are creating the best products they ever have. As technology improves, so does the music he said, pointing out records of today emulating to a more consistent degree the same elements that made classic records twenty or thirty years ago.
It’s not a farfetched concept. The Cocteau Twins were talented, but could they ever make Grimes, “Visions,” in the 80s? Even if the lyrics stand up, do the beats on Illmatic compare favorably to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy? It gives weight to revivalist movements. If a 2013 record was made in 1985 would it be a landmark record? How many of them would be? Would this change for 1995? 1975? Are we so entrenched in our influences that we’ve forgotten that we regularly outdo them or make the same records they did thirty years ago? And if we do the latter is that even an accomplishment?
This brings us to the Madchester revival of 2013. With The Stone Roses co-headlining Coachella in 2013 (Americans: who?) it’s only right to see Madchester resurface like Britpop has in recent years. Jagwar Ma’s mix of indie pop, house and dance music could fit right in with any late 80s UK play list where baggy, shrooms and E pills were regular in their nightlife.
28. Pity Sex, “Feast Of Love,”
Love is malleable
and it bends like a body,
Legs wrapped around me
Pity Sex runs the risk of gimmick because their band name and music are synonymous. Which may or may not be a gimmick depending on how you look at it. I just wonder if anyone can make a career talking about lust and pity. I suppose if Taylor Swift can make a million break up songs and Elliott Smith’s discography still exists anything is possible.
I don’t know if Pity Sex is a gimmick. Nor do I really care. I’ve never been one that finds authenticity essential in performing arts. If it’s good, it’s good. Rick Ross can attest to that.
Wind me up and let me go
What Pity Sex brings to mope rock is a shameless attitude of apathy. This grand makeup we’ve made as a society for sex – a bond between man and woman, a bond between bodies, a bond of love – it’s all horse shit. It’s never like the movies. Anyone who has had sex, especially as a young adult knows it’s a pleasure principle. It feels good. One person wins. Or both people win. Then we separate for the next vessel. Pity Sex embodies this pleasure principle. It also embodies how shallow the beast with two backs signifies.
27. Beyonce, “Beyonce”
I have never given a shit about Beyonce outside of the way she looks. Since the late-90s Beyonce has been no more than a pretty face with a beautiful voice and in her physical prime no woman has given teenage me more boners. That’s not to say I don’t recognize her talent and success — you don’t sell near 200 million records being a schmuck. You also don’t release a major record LP like this without a lot of pull behind the scenes.
And ‘Yonce has plenty of it. At the height of her popularity, Beyonce can do whatever the fuck she pleases. After watching Kanye West, My Bloody Valentine, Radiohead and the like enjoy success with no promotion or single, ‘Yonce released Beyonce exclusively on iTunes with the same M.O.
Can you eat the skittles? That’s the sweetest in the middle
This self-titled record bridges electro-funk, R&B, soul and pop in the sexiest package ‘Yonce’s ever brought. This is her adult record, where Yonce’ can be in your mouth like liquor, Monica Lewinsky’d on her gown and still mother of the year when it’s all said and done. It’s a tough task for anyone, but Bey is superwoman who still consistently shows up her larger than life husband on every track he tries to drop some sorry ass rhymes on.
The production is truly on some next level shit and will entice skeptics (myself) of how worthwhile this record really is. Handled by everyone from Timbaland and Pharell to Tricky Stewart and Caroline Polachek of Chairlift records meticulously build from bass thumping club bangers (Drunk In Love, Partition) to anthemic joints that feel biblical in nature (Pretty Hurts, Flawless.) There’s no shortage of interesting ballads either — in fact some of the stuff towards the end (Blue, Heaven) are among the best records here.
26. Jai Paul, “Jai Paul Leak”
Leaks create controversy. They heed to the unknown because every leak, for better or worse, has a back story. Is this an artistic revolt against the label? Is a third party involved? Who wins? The label because the leak has created hype or the artist for increasing its audience pool without label involvement (leading to the inevitable #Free*insertartisthere* story.)
Whether or not this self-titled leak was premeditated is irrelevant. The fact is Paul, who has been M.I.A. from the public eye since signing with XL (mostly on his own doing) is still relevant. Controversy breeds relevance. See Kanye West. And to top it off, Paul’s absence from music has only led to a demand for more material. When Paul finally releases his debut album, it’ll be clear that this leak represents what everyone feared. Everyone winning.
25. Foxygen, “We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic”
There’s no need to be an asshole you’re not in Brooklyn any more
A lot of Foxygen’s appeal is that throwback hippie rock sound. An ADD-afflicted, spur of the moment nothingness of being young, ready to riot and down with the fucking cause because why the fuck not?
I need it! I need it! I need it!
In the 60s/70s the people that were out there to fuck shit up on Government policy were young 18-24 year olds with no families and little to no college debt. Fast-forward forty years. College is a necessity and costs a yearly salary. You’re no longer 18-24 lacking responsibilities. You’re 18-24, in debt and you have to spend 40 hours a week to make ends meat.
America’s youth culture has been sucked dry, but in 2013 the closest thing we have is these hippie rock, performing art chumps who base themselves in Brooklyn, would suck the skin off Bob Dylan’s genitals and are willing to make music like they’re fucking shit up. In that sense, we have Foxygen. The life I want to live because I’m one of your annoying pretentious female friends who put quotes in her twitter and instagram bios about how she was born in the wrong era. In case you were wondering: she probably was. Also, in case you were wondering: Foxygen kind of fucks shit up on this record
24. Leverage Models, “Leverage Models,”
The hardest part about Leverage Models s/t record is how to classify them. A lot of definition usually stems in categorization from production except with Leverage Models I find myself actually trying to define them rather than using easy buzz terms.
There’s definitely an element of dance rock here. “Cooperative Extensions,” and “Night Falls On The General Assembly,” are dance records that aren’t meant to be anywhere near the club scene. A lot of this stuff is easy to get into and bigger than it actually as. The spacious sound of say “Out In The Open (Propositional Representation)” leaves head man Sam Fields with a lot of room for synths, textures, structures, manipulated vocals and the like and believe me he uses them at will.
Every track is almost another dimension of something else on this album. That’s to say that everything here sounds alike, but is incredibly varied. Even the slower tracks, like “Too Cold For Magic,” feel like slowed down versions of “Cooperative Extensions.” Of course this isn’t a bad thing. “Cooperative Extensions,” is a fantastic track and I’m pretty okay with a formula that works being emulated, chopped, added to and slowed down in so many ways to re-create something new.
23. Tera Melos, “X’ed Out”
Tera Melos is an insane math pop band known for 28-minute tracks, eccentric guitar playing and layers on layers on layers of sound for the sake of putting them together. Talent has never been the issue, where it is song structure.
Unconventional is nice if the craftsmanship is there to construct a song. Rappers who can freestyle aren’t always rappers who can make a classic album (see: this Kanye West clip.) Tera Melos has been more Cassidy than Kanye West, but on “X’ed Out,” Tera Melos scales back to create a very off center pop record.
22. Machinedrum, “Vapor City,”
What makes Machinedrum’s appeal is his need to bring it all together. Every bleep and bloop is so calculated. Every loop and piano and rhythm section is so meticulous that Machinedrum requires progression. Requires the next sequence. Requires the next subsection to return to the former in a toast of its excellence. In that sense, nothing is ever wasted and every sound means something. Patience is Machinedrum’s game and the resounding effect leaves you more satisfied than not by the time every track reaches its ending.
To overstate this, Machinedrum likes to bring tension with everything happening at once. It’s strange, really. None of the sounds would seem to sound okay together. Two? Maybe. Three? I guess. But six things coming about sounds like overkill. Yet overkill seems to be an effect that’s uniquely Machinedrum.
21. King Krule, “6 Feet Beneath The Moon”
Krule writes with a rappers mentality. This is, he’s often spur of the moment, lacing records with clever sound bite after sound bite while rarely sticking to a topic. As a result 6 Feet reads like a bunch of memoirs. Little spurts of barely legible, half scribbled brilliance that makes no sense individually, but mold together through a spill of pop that’s crinkled and stickied the pages.
These memoirs, whether about pain or lust are heightened by Krule’s surreal delivery. An acquired taste, his thick wail is something fresh out of a British pub with the range to adequately hold notes and adjust from raps to whispers.
Has this hit?
Has this hit?
It’s good that his delivery is so engaging because the minimalist jazz would bore without a viable front man. Luckily Krule, known for his charisma is just the guy to pick up the slack.