Albums of 2013 | By Volume

2013 was such a good year for music it jump-started By Volume, a site seeking a heartbeat or twelve to get it going. After relaunching back in April, we went on to experience hundreds of records (some of them even made by bands other than The Wrens, new album Q2 2014, by the way), together and alone. We proceeded to talk about them, or to them, or at them, until we were red in the face.

Sorry for talking about music like it’s our best friend. We do that a lot. But seriously: we have more favourites this year than we care to list, and very few we share across the board. Picking up the pieces in 2013 seems like an impossibility not just for us, but for the blogosphere at large;  it’s hard to pin down a narrative for a year as full of good records as this. If this really was the banner year it was, it was because everyone’s favourite felt like their very own.

We have a problem with quantifying music here at By Volume – one among our staff gave our list the working title “Everything Was A 9.0 And Nothing Hurt” – so playing favourites with our year-end seemed like a bizarre proposition. When it came to ranking our records, we never even entered the debate; instead, we’ve decided to list them with all the fluidity and anachronism 2013 threw our way. Refresh and see the one you like the best equal among all others; know, though, that there were masterpieces. We’ll see you next year for a few more.

Sunbather
Deafheaven

As music lovers, our endless intake of new music is really the front of a deep-seated desire for new experience, for uncharted feelings to explore in both outlook and introspection. We find thrill in the fulfillment of untapped emotion, in vivid depictions of new ways to exist in this world. That’s what Sunbather provided to us this year, a striking portrayal of life tormented by idealism, gleaming illustrations of human desires – the dream house, the perfect partner – from the eyes of the spectator, hysterical with lust and envy, bound in a mind cage of noxious self-doubt. Deafheaven presented context for black metal that differed from the typical nihilism, instead using its elements to explore the significance of love, yearning, and personal achievement. This approach was matched with remarkable songwriting, music that is both visceral and cinematic, that established Sunbather as one of the most essential releases of the year. It has also been one of the most argued about, with seemingly every listener bringing their genre perspectives and biases to the dispute. Guilty as charged; for that reason, my discussion of Sunbather takes a personal route towards understanding, considering the circumstances in which the record has struck me so immensely.

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Sunbather is the deepest I’ve ever sunk into an album. The life perspective obscured in this music has driven me to months of rumination, yearning to get closer and closer to the torment behind these screams, attempting to understand the incommunicable. Sunbather taps into the essence of private experience, how the workings of our minds can never be fully communicated to others. This truth turns harrowing when the mental space becomes akin to a private hell, one so encasing that existence seems to lie solely within the head’s boundaries. Life is thus experienced from the inside looking out, the eyes a screen from which the world is viewed, a barrier dividing the attractions of society – the social spaces, the beautiful people, the success stories – from the manic, despairing loneliness festering within.

This fearful solipsism is realized through a distinct understanding of how post-rock and black metal can interact. Deafheaven are hardly the first band to combine these two genres – the past decade has seen multiple black metal acts exploring the crescendos of post-rock and injecting light into rooms of pitch-black darkness. The prevailing trend has been to incorporate elements of post-rock as beacons of hope, soaring sweeps and melodies suggesting possible escape from the suffering. This is where Deafheaven deviate in their vision. Their approach is to pit black metal in direct opposition to post-rock, reacting to the fantasies of that genre with searing anguish (“I cried against an ocean of light”). Nowhere is this more forcefully realized than on the opening track of Sunbather. “Dream House” is a revelation.  The fundamental idea here is quite simple: run two opposing streams of feeling – elation through soaring guitar riffs; despair through shrieks and blastbeats – in overlap, aiming for the visceral in the superposition. The result is awe-inspiring, a track that offers a new experience with each playthrough, the ambiguity sending the ego to dizzying realms. Take the climactic finale, where “I’m dying” and “I want to dream” exist as mutual realizations: the latter appears to be hopeful desire, yet living in dreams is the torment of Sunbather – this can be read as a longing to disconnect, to sink into an imaginary world. Iridescent music provides for the most fascinating interpretation.

My reaction to Deafheaven’s sound is so passionate because of the unfulfilled desires I’ve held on to with these genres. Like many music lovers of my generation, I fell in love with post-rock in the 2000s; the indescribable high that a Mogwai or Yndi Halda climax could transfer had me scouring blogs all night, hoping to find any act that could offer the same release. During this phase with post-rock, the one band I could never stand was Explosions in the Sky. Their brand of weeping guitars and overt sentimentalism made me nauseous, and I would have rejected them outright if not for a certain track, the astonishing “Your Hand in Mine.” I was instantly gripped by its tenderness, and it wasn’t long before I viewed it as quintessential post-rock. But as I listened further, strange emotions started welling up inside me. I realized that the perfect serenity of “Your Hand in Mine” wasn’t depicting real life, but an idealized fantasy of it. Where was the fear of losing that hand? Of seeing that hand in his? This feeling of complete peace troubled me, lingered at an impossible distance. I listened to the perfection of the track in reverent awe, but also with a sense of resentment.

Black metal is where I found release for pent-up rage. The hysterical shrieks and the percussive attrition seemed to test the limits of how much agony could be conveyed through music, and I connected with it intensely. Still again, I found myself unsatisfied. The emotions were resonant, but their origin was a realm I could never identify with. Black metal in the traditional sense stems from a cold, hateful outlook on the world. Misanthropy lurks at the core of this perspective, the music created to be reviled and outcast by society. This ideology always kept me at a distance, and that’s likely the case for many listeners that have ventured into black metal. It clashes with the reasons I turned to black metal for catharsis: I wasn’t reacting to the music from a place of cold inhumanity but rather deep sensitivity, yearning for connection with people while rife with self-loathing. I couldn’t find the music that matched the black metal playing through my head.

I can’t say if Sunbather is the music I’ve been searching for; it has become all I hear. The harrowing realization concluding the record, “I cannot love!” is the undisclosed thought festering behind the shrieks that have passed. This is black metal of human situations, the private hells we conceal to maintain our social masks, wishing only to be saved from ourselves. Sunbather offers two interfaces from which to react to this life experience, with the boundary at the person unleashing the screams. The intuitive route is to respond from the outside looking in, interpreting the music at face value and considering the vocals as emotive texture in the sonic portrait. From this vantage, it is unsurprising that many have deemed the record “optimistic” – Deafheaven have created some of the most blissful post-rock of the past few years, and it’s instinctive to be enraptured. The more consuming perspective, however, is to engage with solipsism and experience the aural space as a depiction of the mind. Now the happiness isn’t experienced; it is imagined. The vocals become the silent screams of living in one’s head, the dread of disengaging from the external world. This approach to Sunbather is revealing, as it brings the aesthetic vision and themes to sharp clarity. Yet it doesn’t spell out the full story; that necessitates looking closer at George Clarke’s vocals and the narrative he ingrains into his performance.

The lyrics that accompany Sunbather are hardly necessary for the experience, save for the passages concluding the bookending tracks; they hold the same significance as the words on Jane Doe in that they function as supplemental prose. The true narrative is in Clarke’s self-expression, how his illegible shrieks shift in meaning in response to key passages. Three minutes into “Dream House” sees a guitar rise to soaring flight, the vocals blurring into rapturous ecstasy, chasing the beacon before it slips out of view; mid-way through “Sunbather,” an elated, winding riff breaks out of the chaos, leaving the witness to bask in the fleeting happiness. Then there’s two minutes into “The Pecan Tree,” perhaps the most visceral moment on the record, where a massive sweep opens the floodgates to heaven and Clarke crumbles under the blinding light, his screams an ineffable swirl of despair and veneration. The grandeur of these moments heightens the intensity of what are essentially mental imaginings of life situations. Introspection is a cinematic experience on Sunbather, and the dynamics of Clarke’s performance thread a compelling narrative to tease out in the abstract.

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The rabbit holes that Sunbather suggests are some of the most absorbing I’ve ever encountered. Resurfacing to the surrounding world always hits with a tinge of sadness; the disassociation is never permanent. I’ve ruminated deeply about Sunbather this year, escaping into daydreams out of fear and self-doubt, finding a story in the process that mirrored my own. Yet this story ends with bleakness, wallowing in anguish and resigning with self-defeat. It took an album of warm tones and a message of hope to guide me out of my head, away from the fantasies I couldn’t break away from. How to escape one’s escape is a question that Sunbather never answers, but rather probes in vivid, terrifying detail. Finding that answer is for other daydreams, ones that don’t allow this music to shape the outlook on life.


- Ali Ashoor

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OLD
Danny Brown

Danny Brown’s Old is a story of rising up and reaching the top, the past and the future conspiring to make the world’s best success story. Old is  chalk-full of all sorts of hip-hop’s truest tropes, and even more-so than XXX, its themes are framed in a way that makes them accessible; Brown uses Side A to tell his story of growing up on the unforgiving streets of Detroit, of his introduction to crime (“Wonderbread”), of his mother’s attempts to provide for her children (“25 Bucks”), of his struggle with drug use (“Clean it Up”), and finally of his decision to leave all this trauma behind in search of a better life (“Red 2 Go”). All of this is delivered in a way that makes it relatable without relation; it’s a specific, personal story, but it seems to invite outsiders to compare his struggles with their own. Most people have needed to escape a toxic environment at one point in their life, and Side A tells the story of one such individual. On Side B, he tells the story of his current life: one of excess and over-indulgence, of flirting with death. Songs like “Dip” and “Smokin n Drinkin” paint a picture of a life of indulgence gone too far. It fucking kicks, but with harsh truths: Brown is running from his demons here, and doesn’t even attempt to obscure them. “Stress, party, get away /hope that these problems just go away. /Right there in my face / I ignore it every day”, he barks in a brief moment of self-reflection among the madness. His voice gets serious on Old, breaking from the nasal delivery that dominates most of Side B (and a large proportion of his total work to date), in what is a calculated attempt to ground the listener. Again, the content is strikingly relatable: after finally escaping a life with which he was not happy, Brown is still hiding from his demons, cloaking his real issues with endless drugs, women, and alcohol.

Perhaps I’ve just been waiting for a hip-hop album like this: one to impose my own fears and self-doubts on. Maybe Old is not as special as I make it out to be, and maybe it’s one of many in the same style; that seems likely, as I’ve begun to listen to and enjoy dozens of rappers that I previously would not have, but nevertheless, this album represents something truly special to me. Never before have I seen or heard the classic rags to riches narrative, so common in hip-hop, contextualized in such a way that it draws potential naysayers in. The themes present here feel endlessly relatable, pastiches of daily life: fear of failure, self-doubt, running from inner demons.  Old never gives the impression that these are exclusive things, only to be enjoyed by those than can directly relate to the specifics of one’s own story. It’s an album which reflects the self-deprecating anxiety of 21st century society as a whole completely and succinctly, and does so in a way which allows anyone to see a little bit of themselves in it.

Plus, it’s a fucking blast to listen to. That bass, amirite?


- Adrian Hertzberg

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Loud City Song
Julia Holter

 

By Volume’s own Sobhi Youssef ended his write-up of Julia Holter’s Loud City Song for Sputnik Music with words from the woman herself, taken from the sprightly “This is a True Heart”: “I don’t understand falling leaves / A tree is a tree.” Myself, I had never really paid attention to the lyrics of the album I call my favorite of the year. For Sobhi, this was a statement of purpose for the entire record; for fellow Sputnik staff member Lewis Parry, it represented something entirely different, a reference to the nature of relationships and their inexplicable disintegration. I had only recognized the words as they came in the song, with a beautiful cluster of Holters chanting: “See the young, in love so fast.” They never really took on a deeper meaning with me, or perhaps their deep meaning to me was no more than their immediate beauty. I never even knew that “Maxim’s I” and “Maxim’s II” were nearly identical lyrically. I only knew them by the contours of their surfaces; by the way “II” seemed to burst in glamorous flames while “I” tumbled and floated around like a carnival in the sky. In other words, I suppose, I don’t understand falling leaves. A tree is a tree.

When I listen to Loud City Song, I think of F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise, one of my favorite films of all time and practically a masterclass in the art of disclosing filmic space. In Sunrise, when two characters sit at a table in a restaurant, we do not simply see a chair and a table and two figures, but also often the street from which they entered, or another couple sitting at a different table—sometimes we even glimpse into the interior of some other building off in the distance. Inside and outside, background and foreground, interior and exterior—these categories are all effortlessly collapsed until they no longer resemble “categories” at all, but rather indistinguishable constituents of the same system. It took me Loud City Song to figure out why this approach felt so real, so different in its piercing veracity from almost any other movie I had ever seen. I think the reason sounds something like this: when you enter, say, a building, your experience is not shaped just by where you are at that precise moment, but also by where you were five seconds or an hour ago, even by microscopic tremors issuing forth from the floor above you. Experience is not composed of discrete, unexchangeable moments but is instead cumulative. Art, by its very nature, struggles to capture this truth. You may only have eyes on the front of your head, but the part of you that feels, that experiences, the part of you deep inside your stomach that goes “Oh…” when you walk outside and feel the impact of a million events at once, or that perks its ears up like a dog’s upon hearing a saxophone elsewhere, or that maybe screams at the insane beauty of it all — that part is all over you, shooting every way, tying you up inextricably with the things you have experienced and the things you never will, with the singer on the fifth floor, with Claire and Julie who may or may not be able to love, with all the hats of the world. “Through the city,” Holter sings over a bassline that sounds like light hitting wood in a dark room, “all the phones are ringing with the restaurant’s complaint.” “When Lis feels the way I do,” she wonders, “can I feel her percuss through the city?”

At this point it might seem fitting to ask whether Holter is lying to us when she sings that “A tree is a tree” (or, on “City Appearing”, that “The moon is true”, or on “In the Green Wild: “I can’t hear and don’t know”, and then again, “a tree’s a tree”). It reads like an unusual capitulation for someone as smart and inquisitive as Holter. A tree is not a text into which you can read historical or social meaning, she seems to be saying. A tree is a tree. You can look at it, touch it, perhaps climb it, but you can never understand it. But then what of this record? Has Holter left us a set of instructions, or does shy simply “play a game of tennis”, as she does on “World”, with us as the “passing violins”, blind to her intentions? Are we to eat a piece of cheese, or are we to talk?

The answer may be something else entirely. I feel it within the thrumming profundity of “Hello Stranger”, her daring cover of a Barbara Lewis R&B classic. It makes a sort of intuitive, bodily sense, but even then contains all sorts of depths, like a tree that can transform magically into a grand display of lights and moving patterns and people rushing to and fro while somehow paradoxically retaining its essential tree-ness. It is strange and unreal but never inaccessible, hermeneutically circuitous but always right there for you, waiting to sing you to sleep. I’m awestruck every time I listen to it. I feel it within “He’s Running Through My Eyes”, which might seem at first like Holter is simply stretching her classical piano muscles but reveals itself as something of almost inhuman beauty before its two-minute run is up, its cadences spiraling around in angelic perfection. I feel I understand it completely and I feel I understand none of it at all, or perhaps only glimpses of it. Loud City Song, akin to the title of its final track, sounds and feels as if it were constantly appearing, always being born anew, always revealing, like an M.C. Escher staircase, its mystery and grace only deepening with time. Toward the end of “City Appearing”, Holter asks yet another of her indelible questions: “all who are muffled by the squall, doesn’t love scare them?” I know she is talking to me. I know that sometimes things are simple as this: when I listen to Loud City Song, what I feel is love, immense love. And I know that love, for the first time in a mighty long time, doesn’t scare me anymore.


- Alex Robertson

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Overgrown
James Blake

As much as I enjoyed James Blake’s self-titled debut, it always felt like a note of promise — an unfinished exercise meant to announce the artist’s brand of electro-barroom crooning by producing a number of exceptional tracks while filling in the gaps with half-fleshed out ideas. A lot of that LP’s tracks seemed to still be incubating, missing key song-writing decisions and production decisions. Silence and space was certainly a key aesthetic choice, but too many tracks on the record’s backend moved beyond aesthetic sparseness and into the territory of “filler.” Fast-forward to 2013 and James Blake has erased those problems ten-fold. Overgrown, so much more than its predecessor, feels like a nuanced and sequenced album. Put it down to maturity as a song writer or as a producer, but Blake layers his album with a wealth of subtle textures. RZA’s verse on “Take a Fall for Me,” initially seeming like an odd-number out in the grander scheme of the album, adds a certain warmth and emotiveness to a record that takes pride in steeping through icier depths and wintry soundscapes.

Overgrown’s greatest strength comes from moments where in the past Blake might have faltered. “Voyeur” initially sounds like it could end up like another “Why Don’t You Call Me”: a nice melodic idea repeated measure upon measure until the song loses muster. But the production on “Voyeur,” utilizing cow-bell syncopation and a down right haunting siren synth, turns a little ditty into a big highlight that subverts its overt club-banger nature by being just a little bit jarring and creepy. And that’s the whole groove of the album—always hinting one way before sliding into another. “Retrograde,” for example, starts as a perfectly acceptable sleeper before launching into the stratosphere with a pulsating, buzzing synth drone that dominates the song’s second half. These sorts of layers are what make Overgrown such an interesting and enticing listen. Everything that made Blake’s earlier standouts like “The Wilhelm Scream” so mesmerizing is present here in spades. Most importantly, with Overgrown, Blake never loses site of his aesthetic niche, taking time to place well-constructed piano ballads in the mix while filling in the gaps to create an album of perpetually pleasant surprises.


- Keelan Harkin

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Immunity
Jon Hopkins

 Recently while discussing Hopkins poignant new video for “Collider” amongst some friends, fellow BV contributor Tayyab Amin coined a particular trait about Immunity that I find pretty imperative to its success: “I love the crossover appeal it’s found considering it’s quite non-conforming.” I cannot echo this sentiment enough, Immunity is intrinsically a middle-finger to current popular EDM culture in a lot of ways, but an absurdly necessary one. Fitting this LP dropped the same year Boards of Canada awoke from their hibernation, as I feel Hopkins and the illusive duo share a lot of similar conceptual qualities. Hopkins has the audacity to release a full album in the land of singles, that is nearly devoid of guest vocalist and if anything Hopkins abides by the sampling technique of more abstract pystrance and ambient dubstep. A good portion of this record is built on prodding beats that smash their way into your consciousness, arresting your psyche with force. Immuntiy isn’t a friendly record, but it’s one that provides nearly endless reward once you’ve taken a few bruises.

What’s most gripping though is just how well Hopkins takes otherwise robotic music and makes it so organic. This is keyboard and synth based, yes, but Hopkins adds earthy tones, production tweaks (like, well, fireworks) and a few buried female coos to add life to these tunes. “Collider” being the perfect example, and when that song starts to peak at about two-and-a-half minutes in, you still got about another seven to go of whirlwind synth arpeggios and pummeling bass.

Immunity is only eight tracks but it spans an hour, while this isn’t uncharted territory for an electronic full-length (the contrary really), Immunity still makes those sixty minutes whisk past by virtue of sucking listeners in. Hopkins don’t present a collection of notes on record he wraps you mercilessly in beats then coats you in jagged synths that cascade upward around you. Multicolored are his visions and Immunity implants them surgically into your consciousness.


- Dylan Siniscalchi

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Modern Vampires of the City
Vampire Weekend

If it were not for Kveikur, my indisputable album of the year – by a mile – would be none other than the truly phenomenal Modern Vampires of the City, Vampire Weekend’s third outing. The first time I have consciously witnessed a very good band climbing to the echelon of greatness, Modern Vampires is an odyssey of an unusual kind in today’s age. Without the last-ditch need for any daring or even noticeable experimentation, it is an album raised up by the pillars of its flawless song-writing. It’s as simple as that; it has been a hefty amount of years –  or even decades – since the last time a band took us on such a devastatingly efficient journey like that of Modern Vampires, an expedition so carefully constructed that I find myself often under-appreciating its true quality; for me, it’s the only record of 2013 that does not feature a weak track. From the Buddy Holly-styled thwack of “Diane Young” to the macabre clunk of “Hudson”, the album in its entirety should be instated as an educational guide, a 101 for upcoming bands; be half as good as this and you’ll do fine.

- Gabriel Power

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Mo7it Al-Mo7it
Jerusalem In My Heart

It’s so easy to know things these days, right? Getting up to speed on millennia’s worth of history seemingly takes but a click (and maybe some clacks or taps) to join a conversation where everyone is talking and everyone is listening. Jerusalem in My Heart have avoided documentation over the course of their eight-year existence, fusing contemporary Arabic and experimental lo-fi with 16mm film visuals and other performance speculations that are constantly in flux, always different. Mo7it Al-Mo7it was the fruition of two years’ work with the visual artist, who arranged album artwork of fluctuating moons, bearing similar looseness to that of the music; There isn’t a beat on the album. Rather, Mo7it is growth, development, a reach beyond the bureaucratic aspects of music, expanding to become the spirit of an ebullient vagabond. Radwan Moumneh’s opulent wails of Arabic are as sprawling as the oft-unobtrusive ambience, matched by a buzuk that delves further and further into its own questions until it tears through curiosity on the not-quite-post-punk riff-gasm “Ko7l El-3ein, 3emian El-3ein”. Part of the album’s primal vivacity comes from its elemental channeling of environment. Take “3andalib Al-Furat”, wherein the virginal is played on the banks of Al-Furat itself, not only capturing the tweets of present birds but recording a musician playing his instrument in resonation with that environment, reacting to the world around them. In a studio, there are less variables in the equation, less potential for innovation, and this is why some tracks were formed using takes from the most spurious phone recordings. This is why the music transports the listener to an unfamiliar place, a place where different rules apply.

The playful but deadly serious spar of buzuk and harp on “Dam3et El-3ein 3” serves as another embodiment of real-time exploration which not only breathes life into the music but induces longevity as subtleties are buried deeper and deeper into each cord. Unrestrained, unmonitored and uncomprehended cultivation is the theme, almost in an anti-knowledge sense. In a time where artists like Omar Souleyman are readdressing people’s perceptions, Moumneh is well-aware of the danger misinformation can be. Specifically, he’s had to emphasise the vocals on the album are nothing to do with religion, and yet, what else would we identify them with? Blinding oneself to focusing on Moumneh’s lyrics, the next temptation is to analyse the way he vocalises these things – if one is unfamiliar with how harsh-sounding Arabic naturally is, there is a lot of room for tonal misunderstanding. In a perverse way, the knowledge we hold and unsuitably attempt to apply serves to limit the truer knowledge we would seek to gain so much.

Mo7it’s lo-fi aesthetic is its way of wriggling free from definition, escaping an imposed understanding that would limit its existential prospects. Awe is when foundations are shattered, assumptions questioned and potential to learn is infinite, and Mo7it is awe-inspiring. Experiences like the reeling, cosmic arpeggiation throughout the third track quaver with hints at transcendance, elusive and poignant, where the allure is in complexity; Paradoxically, chasing up the temptation is the listener’s downfall. To be fully understood, Mo7it asks to not desire such understanding. Abandon all contexts pre-prepared in your subconscious, follow your spirit guide, your gut that leads you down a path at times of overwhelming uncertainty, those impulses that can result in a raw first take more intuitive, more relatable than pre-programmed music made with an agenda, heard with an agenda. Ditch all agendas, disassociate all reasonings and don’t impose on this album. Instead, let it hold your hand, and follow it into realms that exist beyond comprehension.


- Tayyab Amin

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Pedestrian Verse
Frightened Rabbit

Pedestrian Verse is, much like The Midnight Organ Fight, one of the downright realest records in recent history. Its universe is one where people cough, swear and lie, but not in absolutes; its characters are people who fight, dream and die, but never in finality. “State Hospital” plunders the depths of a bleak existence but comes up, in the end, with the album’s defining sentiment: if blood is thicker than concrete - a desolate image which thuds throughout – then all is not lost.

That’s the grit that Scott Hutchison brings to Frightened Rabbit’s fourth LP, one which fights for the wry smile among grey days and oil slicks, one which wears a brave face in actual defiance as opposed to ultimate defeat. It has anthems, but downtrodden ones — “Dead Now” morphs into something joyous in its closing moments, but stutters in beautiful trepidation until that point. Pedestrian Verse is the sound of British spirit, the one name-dropped by politicians, but along with the ugly bits that nobody dares mention. It’s the victory over everything that could strangle us.


- Adam Knott

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Kveikur
Sigur Rós

For me, 2013 has certifiably been one of the greatest years for music I have seen. After twelve months of great bands getting better, my Album of the Year was looking like it was going to the wire between some phenomenal competitors. Then with great heft I threw all these ideas out the window when I suddenly remembered Kveikur exists, and that I would cease to exist without it. It’s ended up as a synecdoche for all music in my eyes; Kveikur, one swift hammer blow of ten mini-epics, has – literally and figuratively – sent me crashing to my knees in a muddled state of appreciative desperation. It’s an album that makes me happy to be sad, one I will subject myself to frequently without fail even though I know I’ll be churned out the other end of it a despairing wreck of derailed emotions. What’s more, the album’s most fascinating and gut-wrenching moments are almost infuriatingly nonchalant. The disgusting bass in “Brennisteinn”, the spectral longing of “Var” and the heartbreaking brass band at the end of “Hrafntinna” are all executed with such deft precision that it all sounds like one big, brilliant shrug, like Sigur Rós are sat on the other side of your speakers saying “Yeah… What of it?” Here I am, though, sat struggling to put into words what “Stormur” does to me. It makes me feel warm inside, it makes me cry and it makes me smile. It is a life-affirming piece of music. As a whole, Kveikur is like a dodgy anti-depressant; we need a hit of it to keep us sane even though we know it’ll erode is into a blathering mess in the end. In the original sense of the word, it is a truly awesome album by the most remarkable of bands.


- Gabriel Power

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The Redeemer
Dean Blunt

“And why has he taken to having an impassive black security guard onstage with him?”The Guardian

“I have a brother with me everywhere I go – never any others in the venue, so I might as well increase the numbers a bit.” – Dean Blunt

 

Attempts to define Dean Blunt would merely obfuscate his introduction, and his past antics don’t exactly speak for themselves: from lying to journalists and steering conversations to openly critiquing other artists, dropping surprise albums by way of Russian websites and pulverising those ‘lucky’ enough to catch live shows with several minutes of blaring noise and strobe, the man’s myth has developed a life of its own. So voracious is the hunger for any information pertaining to the Puck-like Blunt that when the inscrutable vagrant does turn himself in, palms upturned, we spend some minutes pinching ourselves.

Forget what you know about Blunt. The “Make It Official” sleaze, juxtaposed alongside the “Father, forgive me” plea in “Walls of Jericho”, is Blunt, as mortal as the rest of us. Forget what you know about context. If you’ve poured your heart out attempting to explain the love you hold for someone — the love you want to give for someone — then you’ve played back the words in your head, and maybe you cringed but you didn’t care, so you know why The Redeemer sounds the way it does. Be impulsive! Sing loud if you can’t sing well, mumble when you can’t find the words — just keep doing, keep going and keep fighting because one day you will be glad to be alive. Forget what you know about music. “Hey, can you stop calling me?” plays on the answer phone and the strings play themselves; the choir surrounds you in your head. Broken glass and car alarms scream louder than you, a coughing fit is the perfect manifestation of self-expression, and if your conscience sounds robotic on reflection, you’re assuming it’s supposed to exist rather than believing it needs to. To be absolved, one must understand its nature, what it is to absolve another and to absolve one’s self. I don’t know who Blunt’s redeemer was, but I know he was one of mine. Take that leap of faith; we’re waiting for you on the other side.


- Tayyab Amin

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Yeezus
Kanye West

Frustration isn’t easily empathised with. As an outsider looking in, it can be difficult to understand where artists are coming from and, like all things we don’t immediately understand or connect with, it can be very easy to dismiss them. Yeezus is a record of frustration through-and-through, riddled with symptoms of Kanye West’s grievances and obscured from surface glances. West’s recovery from heartbreak, and his subsequent road to victory, was documented on his fourth and fifth solo albums, and should have led to a happy ending in the context of the archetypical protagonist, but our anti-hero of a thousand faces found no such solace. This is partly where many find criticism: how dare he not be satisfied? The lack of understanding is of course frustrating for everyone; West faced the paramount task of breaking his personal best once again on his sixth straight canonical album, troubled by the discovery of another glass ceiling, unperceived by the many who remain unwilling to trust the man who cried, “I’mma let you finish…”. It’s not uncommon for an artist to fumble self-explanation – it’s partly why they make art, after all – but Yeezus doesn’t coherently document West’s struggle either. He provokes, he threatens, when he means to beckon.

What Yeezus does is act as a beacon and a symbol to represent the breaking of constraints, the expectations formed by society and the self-constructed boundaries ingrained into our ways of living. This is blatant in the music, starting with synthesised retching and ending on a country sample, a tour de force demonstrating the capabilities of collaboration and exploration within beat-driven music. In its under-produced rawness, it is untailored, unstreamlined and certainly not perfect, but would it have been otherwise? Constraints also exist around the record, as radio interviewers would accuse West of ignoring his label’s artists in the face of the guest-heavy album. These unwritten rules assumed into existence only serve to emphasise division where there is none. Call it a frustrating misunderstanding; the brash, unholy, anti-everything attitude ofYeezus seems desperate, a last-gasp lunge for the jugular, a war cry to rally us and a cry, at the very least, for help. Certainly, the presence of Chief Keef and King Louie of ‘Chiraq’ notoriety embodies this. In a culture that has virtually always involved egotistic self-promotion, West comes under fire for believing his own legend. Where an artist like Jay-Z considers to be the top, West sees a tier above. He tastes it too, and it only spurs him on: “And I’m not dying, and I can’t lose,” he unleashes at the end of “New Slaves” before Frank Ocean lullabies in. It’s Neo and Trinity surfacing above the clouds, a breathtaking moment of affirmation.

West intends on being accepted as a creative artist unconfined by the limiting connotations of ‘musician’, and not for materialistic results but for the principle of having freedom to create. Many of the highlights on Yeezus, such as Justin Vernon’s unhinged ramblings, don’t come from West, and he acts as a curator of sounds on the album more than anything. He also smashes through a different glass ceiling entirely. Leapfrogging the EDM/trap tropes of recent years in the mainstream, Yeezus finds itself propped up by underground electronic producers from foreign circles, such as producer Hudson Mohawke, who admits that all these years he was looking for a way to break onto this circuit. Together, the various behind-the-scenes contributors formed an album that works as both a brooding lament and a collection for the club.

Juxtaposition is one of Yeezus’ main themes, even at the shallowest level of ‘distasteful’ sexual imagery poised against human rights symbolism. There’s no hypocrisy, as all the different elements coexist and the album instead thrives in its contradictions – it says more about wider society if the audience struggles with the concept of duality. Contrast Daft Punk’s contributions on Yeezus with that on Random Access Memories; they’re still the same robots. In its juggling of styles, its unpredictability, its honesty and under-thought, head-first state, lie its strengths, coming to climax at its most risk-taking moments such as the deer-in-headlights pause during Assassin’s verse on “I’m In It”.

Kanye West is Jamie Foxx’s Django, and a lot of his critics are Samuel L. Jackson, opposing as a xenophobic resistance to change and unfamiliarity, rather than from some unethical injustice. Change! How dare he rebel against the box we placed him in? How dare he urge us to understand his music? How dare he prompt us to ask provocative and troubling questions about ourselves and the society we perpetuate? Simply put, Yeezus was the most interesting album in existence for most of 2013. The untameable “Black Skinhead”. The weeping arpeggios of “Hold My Liquor”. The misinterpreted, self-aware ridiculousness and humour of “On Sight” and “I Am A God”. It’s still effortlessly quotable, and undoubtedly memorable, a new milestone for West, who refused to tread familiar grounds, favouring progression instead. Yeezus was a huge part of my year, before and after its leak: I first encountered “Blood on the Leaves” in a Hudson Mohawke set and was paralysed by wonder and curiosity. Once accustomed to the record I was to hear him play it again and become uncontrollable enough to prompt bystanders into asking me if I was okay. If you haven’t heard it through a system, you haven’t really heard it. For all those tumultuous times, where I was angry, confused, unstable and frustrated, I turned to Yeezus. When I was jubilant, playful and hopeful, I owed Yeezus thanks. I found the album astoundingly easy to empathise with, and if you clear your mind of the all the cluttering bullshit for a second, you’ll notice how brazenly human Yeezus is. You are too.


- Tayyab Amin

4 votesvote
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Jai Paul
Jai Paul

2013 got me best with a certain string of ridiculous words: “Album”, “Bandcamp”, “Jai Paul”, “Release”, “Surprise”. Lots of exclamation marks implied, and plenty of questions, too. Such was the power Jai Paul wielded this year, his mysteriousness ensnared me, one among many used to, addicted to, and reliant on all the information I can get about everything. First, though, I just wanted to hear this album: I’d think about how it was actually a mixtape – which was actually just demos – and whether or not it was legit, or just a leak cooked up by a label with impeccable PR game, later. All that mattered, first and foremost, was his sound. That special morning of Jai Paul, I got up, turned the computer on, and told my friend that all our plans for the day had to be postponed, because we had to listen to Jai Paul. We finally had Jai Paul to listen to.

If only. With the intriguing politics surrounding the leak and the vibrant and colourful sound of the release itself, the music only properly solidified for me when I came back to it some months later. The leak shares very similar qualities to his official releases, as Jai Paul fortified his lone presence in this field of electronic pop. Paul’s world is one where the idea is perhaps more important than the execution, where each moment is a hint of something more, in a way less revealing of missed potential and more akin to that tantalising first taste of an exotic and unfamiliar flavour. There’s a duality in the music’s nature; Alien as it seems, it comes across as very familiar as a pastiche that collages dozens of tropes and seasoned elements to reignite the daring aspects of pop.

Paul’s fragmented and disillusioned falsetto is a leading charm throughout, managing to seem sincere as if, through all the other sonic distractions, he really is opening up as well as he can. Even then there’s hints of a darker side, carrying the slightest sense of sinister threat while he croons, “Can I make you fall in love with me? We’ll see.” Gaps between beats are filled with dazzling synths and electric guitar licks, bamboozling on “Genevieve”, accompanied by some intrepid sampling. It’s actually just bonkers, how the intro utilises a seemingly innocuous Harry Potter clip, as is the unsettling interpolation of a Yusuf Islam nasheed on “Secret Garden”. It’s not often a name can be so synonymous of a sound, and so much more as Jai Paul perhaps inadvertently symbolises new music post-internet. Myths and tales aside, his leaked music stands aside from everything else I’ve heard this year, containing jaw-dropping moments with alarming frequency. “Str8 Outta Mumbai” is testament to that as its final minute is one of the most brilliant moments in music all year.


- Tayyab Amin

2 votesvote
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The Family Tree: The Branches
Radical Face

Maybe it’s the rapidly approaching end of my academic career, the slowly dawning realization (slowly dawning like a meteor crashing towards earth is slow) that this time next year I will be a Young Professional, but damn if there hasn’t been something attracting me to the simpler things in music this year. My favorite record, The Dodos’ Carrier, is spartan and sad, while I fell in love with Vampire Weekend’s latest because they stopped throwing cute indie-pop parties and actually got down to the nitty-gritty of twenty-something life. You know, like the ineffable contemplation of an aimless future and a morbid fascination with death.

Two records, though, hit me in that sweet, nostalgic spot of the past, a place I’ve been returning to more and more as I reach the end of one stage of my life and the beginning of another. One of those is Okkervil River’s The Silver Gymnasium, and that’s a record that speaks for itself. The other is Radical Face’s The Family Tree: The Branches. The second in Ben Cooper’s planned trilogy of Americana-folk albums dissecting his twisted, rotting family tree (the first being 2011’s superb The Roots), The Branches is deceptively, pleasantly simple. Do you like acoustic guitar, folk music with its feet firmly planted in front of the hearth or laid up on a hammock, only the most tasteful of accouterments – your violin, your handclaps – interrupting the rustic goodness of a fingerpicking melody and a sweet, wispy voice? I’d say saddle up to Mr. Cooper and let him tell you a story, but it may not be one you want to hear. “’Cause the earth don’t give a damn if you’re lost,” Cooper sings on “Holy Branches,” and if you had listened to The Roots, this seems like a reasonable way for The Branches to begin. The Family Tree series is a battleground, an innocuous set of songs still full with enough venom to take the piss out of any singer-songwriter this side of Elliott Smith.

Down at its most essential parts, the album traces a lineage, a series of relationships haphazardly assembled like a joke and knocked over more often than not, by slights imagined and events all too real. The Roots examined how things fell apart; on The Branches, Cooper begins to put the pieces back together. The music’s modesty and Cooper’s jagged candor are a blessing. In his voice you hear no duplicity, no self-aggrandizing; the memories are pure, at times painfully so, and the telling is refreshingly earnest. It reminds me of home, and youth, and all the shitty things I’ve ever said to anyone. It’s a record of broken things, but it’s also a record of healing, of getting things right at the end. Most of all, I love how it makes all these things natural, the warmth of its arrangements and Cooper’s intimate presence drawing you into the circle, helping you recognize that sometimes, family is all that matters. It’s a lovely, plain little record, and that’s just the kind of thing I needed this year to keep me tethered.


- Rudolph Klapper

2 votesvote
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Cerulean Salt
Waxahatchee

An extension of its creator, Cerulean Salt is at the same time vulnerable, unflinchingly earnest, and barbed-wire tough. Alison Crutchfield’s acoustic repertoire has expanded to include bruising, electric guitar work-outs (“Waiting and “Misery Over Dispute”), a real surprise given Waxahatchee’s haunted debut American Weekend was so lo-fi and wispy. Songs like “Brother Brian” and “Lively” shine by convalescing into something sweetly in between — think Built To Spill’s There’s Nothing Wrong With Love. “Swan Dive” might be her best song to date, its gently rolling toms and pretty jangle softening Crutchfield’s cutting admission: “And we will find a way to be lonely any chance we get/ And I’ll keep having dreams about loveless marriage and regret.”

Crutchfield’s competencies as singer and songwriter perfectly complement one another. Her gravel-scratched tenor can soar, but she’s more comfortable in a lower register, adopting a disaffected, vibrato-less yawn reminiscent of Liz Phair. It suits the thorny, naked subject matter of Waxahatchee’s songs — wounded relationships, restless yearning, and self-deprecation. On “Brother Brian” she nails the discontent of her generation with a succinct, eerie eloquence: “We are only 30% dead/ And our parents go to sleep early/ We destroy all of our esteem/ And the sunlight starts to shine through the trees.”

Crutchfield underscores her songs’ uneasiness with subtle techniques — like letting the last words of her rhyming couplets dangle over the end of the bar like toes over a ten-story building ledge. It commands attention and heightens the suspense in her storytelling — a skill she’s already finely honed with sublime prose and clever turns of phrase (“If you think that I’ll wait forever/ You’re right”, she surprises with on “Blue Pt. II”) Even after you know how each story ends, you hang on her every word. Cerulean Salt‘s austerity suggests a purposeful scouring away of all but the essential, reminding you why Crutchfield is so beguiling in the first place. Her music is simple, but never plain.


- Jeff Goodwin

1 votesvote
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Run The Jewels
Run The Jewels

Run The Jewels is 2013’s Little Mixtape That Could. The thirty-minute project was produced “just for fun” by rap’s most intriguing new duo, fresh off the release of their respective solo LPs, also collaboratively produced, which took 2012 by storm. It was never really intended to be taken 100% seriously, but they stumbled upon something wonderful. Killer Mike brings his no-holds-barred, deep southern sensibilities to the table here, his aggressive flow fitting perfectly with El-P’s futuristic beats and throbbing, larger-than-life bass. The master producer from Brooklyn also brings his A-game lyrically, combining with Mike’s cutthroat disparaging of 21st century American society. El-P’s approach is more subtle, using deep metaphorical anecdotes, but no less powerful. The chemistry of their unique styles is this album’s real selling point; the way in which the two are able to arrive at the same pointed analysis of the world around them via vastly different lyrical approaches. It’s an accidentally brilliant album which empowers and inspires listeners and caters to fans of all types of hip-hop. “Whoever, whatever your lord is, it couldn’t give a fuck if you ever made fortune,” El-P asserts on the album’s mesmerizing final cut, embodying the ethos of Run The Jewels succinctly.

It’s not all deep philosophizing and ‘conscious’ raps though, as both emcees go absolutely off the walls on bangers like “36” Chain”, “No Come Down”, and “Banana Clipper”, displaying their unabashed bravado in full force. “Hey me an Jamie killed the competition. / Top of the heap is where we staying with their corpses resting under out feet. / I sent their mom a little cash and a sympathy letter, told her she raised a bunch of fuck boys, next time do better, bitch,” Killer Mike barks over El-P’s monstrous beat on lead single “Banana Clipper”. It’s one of the year’s most pummelling barrages of verses, on a record that squeezes an incredible amount of variety from its half-hour run-time. Its defining feature, though, is just the way in which these artists balance themselves, holding both ends of their respective spectrum tightly with respect to their lyrical content, flow, and delivery. Exploding out of the gate, this newly formed super-group looks to have its sights set on greatness. Their next release will drop the “just for fun” pretext of their casual debut, and I suggest we all prepare for an absolutely flooring follow-up to one of 2013’s best records.”


- Adrian Hertzberg

1 votesvote
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Arc
Everything Everything

Everything Everything’s Arc snuck out of the post-Christmas crush in the first fortnight of 2013, so for all those with short memories, thank god I can briefly crowbar in a mention of what has been the ultimate dark horse in my musical year, if no-one else’s. A slow-burner in January but a tour de force by December, Arc not only slots itself between fun and daring with worrying ease, but in the ring of impassioned tragedy, the Mancunian four-piece are punching well above their weight. To my surprise, the most gut-wrenching (and overall most flat-out impressive) track of my year is the absolute stunner “The Peaks”, a magnificently morbid, overwhelmingly moving musing on the dark side of life. Singer Jonathan Higgs’ flamboyant vocal range ambitiously flings itself from lilting croon to triumphant anguish, reaching a zenith with such bleak prose as “I’ve seen more criminals hang than innocents walk/I’ve seen more horrors made real than dreamers wake up”. It’s funereal, exhausting and achingly, achingly beautiful.

 


- Gabriel Power

0 votesvote
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Abandon
Pharmakon

In case you haven’t looked close enough at it yet, the artwork for Pharmakon’s Abandon is a photograph of maggots crawling through Margaret Chardiet’s empty lap. Despite the blunt way I’ve played it here – like, throw up now, please – it is the opposite of shock value art, an image that subverts our expectations of what it is to be disturbed in 2013. There’s nothing internet-gross about this picture, no immediate attempt to elicit one sharp scream before we’re desensitized forever, and if you really want, you can even click away. That might be the most disturbing proposition of all: in an age where we can see anything and get over it, Chardiet is playing the long-game, making exponential horror that has to eat away at us before it can make us wretch.  Abandon might make you wretch, too, but it’ll take its time. It is a record of extreme velocity and overwhelming power, built on Chardiet’s piercing screams, wobbling vocal distortions, and the slow, deliberate execution of harsh electronic layers, each constructed with an open-ended shapelessness that moves as long as Chardiet has the strength. It churns your stomach the way that maggot-infested image does, but it takes time, and even commitment on your behalf, to get to that point.

Abandon is, despite this, a very generous record, one that reminds its listener that not all pick-me-ups are tender, and that not all empathy makes for companionship. Chardiet double-billed her record as one describing personal “loss”, but also making bones to confront the listener and challenge them in a way no other form of music could. What it actually does is capture the transference from one of those states of being to the other, taking its artist’s internal motivations and building them into an external, almost relatable piece of music. For a power electronics record, Abandon has crossed very easily over to the mainstream indie pool, and maybe that’s because at heart it isn’t actually that pessimistic a piece of art. It’s dark in the same way as The Terror, this year’s hopeless rock document, taking a truly gruesome conundrum (the end of the world in one case, the end of everything you knew in the other) and turning it over to those who are hearing it. But by virtue of Chardiet decapitating her own lungs and twisting our ears into gruesome shapes in Abandon’s first fourteen minutes, her music carries a learning curve. By choosing to play out the transition from extreme personal outlet to shrieking social missive, she makes this shit tough before it can ever be rewarding.

The second half of Abandon is honestly just that: rewarding. Despite “Milkweed” acting as brilliant pronouncement of Chardiet’s intent, and “Ache” essentially being the cruellest fucking thing you will hear all year – you can dip into it almost at any point, its layers of metallic noise and thumping percussion unborn and undying – the last two tracks belong to a record of their own, making for addictive noise jams that would make Michael Gira blush. I trust they probably have: Pharmakon opened for Swans after Abandon’s release, and could probably do a lot worse to a crowd – I both welcome and fear the day Chardiet releases her own Public Castration Is a Good Idea. The last ten minutes of Abandon are thrown squarely back in our faces, recorded with a roaring monotony that makes the listener feel as if their head is placed between an amp and a hard place. Chardiet’s assault of barbed-wire noises on “Pitted” and “Crawling on Bruised Knees” is as precise a suite of music any artist has made this year, directed towards the listener as a form of torture, but mesmerizingly accessible nonetheless. It’s less indebted to the formlessness that makes up “Milkweed” and “Ache”, taking the displacement trick both play at – their drone vibe, basically – and giving it a calling card. “Crawling” samples the unceasing buzz of helicopters and “Pitted” recreates the sound of doors smashing (collapsing, more like) in one’s face. It’s submission by repetition, playing certain overloud motifs over and over again like a nightmare that re-ups every day.

Chardiet draws a line down the middle of Abandon, cleaning up with that second half to distinguish two emotional imprints of the same sound: “Pitted” shows off her cleanest vocal performance, featuring melodic, self-modulated howls that rise and fall dramatically, while “Crawling” complements its terrifying, buzz-saw sound effect with the harsh distortion of her voice. It all happens without a scream, though, as if Chardiet is done releasing, and ready to guide. Call Abandon half-catharsis, half harsh-noise-tough-love. That’s a better way of putting it than “this record has a happy ending”, because it doesn’t – remember that final track in full is called “Crawling On Bruised Knees”, and compared to anything that isn’t the rest of Abandon, it’s completely and utterly brutal. But Chardiet’s music is, in its own fucked up way, something to cherish. It shows an artist emerging from their personal hell to offer you a way out of your own, if only you can engage. If only you can accept you’re in it. Yuck. I’ll take ten copies, please.


- Robin Smith

0 votesvote
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The Chronicles of Marnia
Marnie Stern

Between the frenetic guitar-taps sewn into her record and the seismic toilet humour of her live show, Marnie Stern pulled off an unbeatable feat this year; she made its most motivational record. There might have been albums I loved more this year, but there weren’t any that loved me as much as The Chronicles of Marnia did. There was no pick-me-up as convincing as “Nothing Is Easy”, the world’s very first math rock hangover jam; no rallying call to arms as devastating and successful as “Noonan”; no song that made me scream “hell yes!” as much as “Hell Yes” did.  If math rock is technical, Stern’s strand is the psychedelic kid’s answer to it, taking an experiment and turning it into the world’s most meaningful party. Stern’s beaming lyrical rays, shit-kicking guitar prowess and forceful, totally-on-a-contact-high band, conspired to be my life coach this year – if my life coach taught from the Andrew W.K. textbook of positivity. Which The Chronicles of Marnia absolutely does.

So let the rest of this anecdotal argument in its favour be a celebration of Stern’s best advice, like “nothing is easy”; I mean, have you heard the ridiculous guitar solo that goes with that thought? Or how about the record’s most badass rhetorical question – “Don’t you wanna be somebody?” – which is just the third in Stern’s fantastical ten-step programme. My cut choice, though, the best of all the lines on this marvellous record that loudly replaced The Weakerthans’ Reconstruction Site as my comfort food listening, is that last one: “All I’ve got is time”. The fade out on that lyric, and on the record, is strangely euphoric, because it bears repeating. You can press play again and find Stern where you left her, in her own world where everything makes sense, ready to pummel you over the head a little.


- Robin Smith

0 votesvote
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Fade
Yo La Tengo

On “The Whole of The Law,” from 1993’s Painful, Ira Kaplan sang plainly, without embarrassment, “maybe I’m in love with you,” and two decades later Yo La Tengo is still tilling the same fertile soil. They’ve also picked up a few new tricks on their way to 13th album Fade, most prominently the art of aging gracefully. Kaplan still sounds like Kermit the Frog in a hoodie, though at age fifty, he’s likely traded it in for a wool cardigan. He, wife Georgia Hubley, and friend James McNew have slowly graduated from indie upstarts to elder statesmen, lending their best songs on Fade a grand, autumnal glow.

Highlight “The Point of It” is built around a breathtaking guitar melody, the band’s prettiest since “The Lie and How We Told It” from I Can Feel The Heart Beat As One. Like Kaplan’s and Hubley’s affection, it’s unadorned and plaintive. Kaplan boldly lets his slide guitar’s notes just hang in the air, recreating that delicate, stirring sense of nocturnal solitude, Americana, and quiet longing that the Hoboken trio have mastered over the course of nearly thirty years.

The other Yo La Tengo trademarks — drone-laden, guitar-neck throttling (“Ohm”) and goofy pop charms (“Well You Better”) — remain on Fade, but it’s mostly a hushed, somber affair. That doesn’t mean the fire has gone out though. Fade is Yo La Tengo’s finest work since 2000’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Out — a meditation on what the trio has always done best, which is to describe the mundaneness and quirky pleasures of life in a way we can all identify with. “Say that we’re afraid,” Kaplan sings, “That’s the point of being loved.” You can almost feel him clutching Hubley tight to shoo away the uncertainty, their love still burning brightly in the night.


- Jeff Goodwin

0 votesvote
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The Silver Gymnasium
Okkervil River

The Silver Gymnasium is precisely the sort of album that is done an enormous injustice by detached, pseudo-objective music criticism. The stories that Will Sheff tells of his hometown and the ghosts thereof shine out from a heart of such personal significance that it’s almost the unfamiliarity which leads us to relate so desperately. Sheff’s imagery and musical touchstones on Okkervil River’s 2013 record are rooted in immensely specific times and places, blurred by flawed memory and all the more potent for that latent ambiguity.

“I know you think you knew him”, Sheff pines on closer “Black Nemo”, well aware that The Silver Gymnasium‘s songs are weighted by this kind of doubt with every passing twist of the roads and rivers that made up a small town circa 1986. These beautiful remembrances stare at the light of a childhood refracted through a dusty magnifying glass and aim, but struggle, to find answers amid all the emotional baggage and clutter. They’re simple songs, for the most part, made heavy by their histories.

2013 was the first year I spent wholly away from my childhood home. It was the year I learned to let go of memories like the ones The Silver Gymnasium holds tentatively close, but it was also the year I learned to identify the ones I want to cling onto. “Black Nemo” is about acknowledging the distance between now and then. “It’s floating away on the tide”, then, sounds equal parts resignation and desperation from Sheff, stretching for the phone to call his young self and then hanging up with nothing left to say except, “I remember.”


- Adam Knott

2 votesvote
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Coin Coin Chapter Two
Matana Roberts

Coin Coin Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile is only one small part of Matana Roberts’ twelve part tapestry on liberation and civil rights in America, but unto itself, it is a sound collage – a gorgeous, provoking, sprawling record of improvised acoustic jazz, deep operatic singing, somber a capella and rapid-fire political soliloquies, each component pressing against the other with all the grace of a noisy scrapbook. Roberts calls it “sound quilting”, an image that explicates the conflicts of her music as if its fragments ultimately make up something whole. If it sounds hard to piece together at first, simply look to the process; observe the way it flows, mark the transitions it makes. Like its overarching project, Mississippi Moonchile is a record of ongoing, part of a lost story, but also a full-bodied piece of art.

Mississippi Moonchile is beckoned on by eleven words, spoken in turn sternly, meticulously, and maternally: “There are some things I just can’t tell you about, honey”. They originally belonged to Roberts’ grandmother, and are collected here in order to retell her story with both a personal and historical narrative. Her memoir is told in a trio of separated monologues, each breathless, endlessly revealing, but ultimately limited by this one little phrase, upturned by the scenes around it: violent acts of racism , family routines and thunderous metaphorical tangents. Each act of cruelty and bravery that exists on Mississippi Moonchile seems united around the information being withheld in Roberts’ family tree. “There are some things I just can’t tell you about, honey”. Say it again; it repeats like the ostinato motif that rolls through “Was the Sacred Day”, passing between piano and saxophone subliminally, or the ascending trumpet of “Amma Jerusalem School”, or the optimistic vocal intonation that resolves “Thanks Be You” as a similarly inevitable, irresolvable motto: “Mississippi is a beautiful place”. These phrases, lyrical and vocal, are simultaneously beautiful, inspiring moments of musical lucidity, and painful, part of a turbulent history that Coin Coin hasn’t yet unearthed.

From this conflict and unknowing, Coin Coin descends into different sounds and expressions. The jazz quintet Roberts employed for Mississippi Moonchile create a sound of cacophonic fluidity, combining different conventions at the same time to mix the stories Roberts’ grandmother told in with the things “I can’t tell you about”. The music this band makes has a deep understanding of the past’s clarity and complexity. It’s impossible to hear the sprightly crackle of “Was the Sacred Day” without reference to “Lesson”, a raw composition strung forward by propulsive acoustic drums and improvised alto sax. The transition goes beyond the instrumentation that carries one track to the next, though; each component of Mississippi Moonchile is interconnected, more than just a genre experiment, instead part of a conflicting and incomplete history. Jeremiah Abiah’s deep, booming voice is an evocative instrument conjoined with Roberts’ music. Along with its sparse bass notation, it acts as a formless assertion amongst the dissonance of “Confessor Haste”, and can be a knot between Roberts’ stories and rallying choral bookends.

As a project, Coin Coin forms strong bonds between the histories of a family with history at large. “Was the Sacred Day” revolves around the phrase haunting Mississippi Moonchile, shared from grandmother to granddaughter, but goes on to describe Anelle Ponder being assaulted in jail. Daniel Spicer, writing for The Wire, noted that the eponymous character of Roberts’ music is Marie Thérèse Metoye, “a freed slave who founded a community along the Cane River in Louisiana in the 18th century”. Roberts, though, relates the title to the recent memory of family: “my grandfather used to call me Coin Coin for fun”. The significance of Mississippi Moonchile is not one of these explanations, but both; it is a record about history as an active presence, a memory that is as important as ever in the present, but guarded and protected by those who choose to tell it. “There are some things I just can’t tell you about, honey.”


- Robin Smith

3 votesvote
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Wheel
Laura Stevenson

I had a hard time writing this blurb right here, the one for Laura Stevenson’s Wheel, because recalling choice moments from this album is, for me, akin to remembering the ups and downs of my year. I listened to this album nearly exclusively from April until now, to the point that it is intricately linked with the memories I have accumulated in 2013. The majestic strings on opening track “Renee” remind me of my cold room in my old, lonely basement suite on Main St. and the joy that my first full listen of Wheel brought me. The upbeat, semi-ironic cheer of “Bells and Whistles” reminds me of the countless spring nights I would head out with my skateboard after midnight, gliding the dimly lit streets of East Vancouver in solitude for hours on end, listening to this album on endless repeat, falling deeper and deeper into it. The chorus of “Elenora” takes me back to the day I moved from that cold, lonely basement suite into an apartment near some good friends of mine on Commercial Drive, forcing me to reject my introverted social life. That unmistakable accordion which opens “Telluride” always reminds me of the specific moment in which I began to feel my long-lasting depression alleviate, laughing and drinking vodka on my friend’s couch, with my iPod plugged into the speakers, truly enjoying life for the first time in a while. And the closing track, the absolutely stunning “The Wheel” never fails to stop me in my tracks and put my whole view on life into perspective: “Understand, that I am only as he made me: a faithful servant to all of the noise, all of the lights, all of the flashing in my head”, Stevenson softly sings near the album’s closing moments. That lyric, like the album in general, is an admission of hopelessness, but not one of defeat.

Wheel is an album about the overwhelming forces in our lives that threaten to dominate our thoughts and control our actions. But this is where it  diverges from Sit Resist, Stevenson’s previous album; it is the sound of someone coming to terms with and accepting this world for what it is. Despite the heavy subject matter, it’s a happy album, one overflowing with jubilation. The world may be fucked, and we may all be in serious need of some intensive counseling, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the ride for what it is. If Sit Resist was Stevenson struggling to create some sort of artificial happiness in life, then Wheel is her letting go and finally loving life for the three words that come with it: “warts and all”.

For the longest time, I heard the lyric “wriggling endlessly won’t set you free,” one of many kickers from “Every Tense”, as “sleep won’t set you free.” At that time in my life, the latter lyric made a lot more sense, and I didn’t even think twice that it might be an incorrect interpretation. I eventually learned the correct lyric; it’s more fitting in hindsight, but that little mistake of mine represents part of my fascination with Wheel. Stevenson allows the listener to project themselves onto it. It’s accurate to say that I hear what I want to hear when I listen to it, and so I re-worked a lyric to fit a description of my current life without even knowing it. A lot of the analysis I’ve offered here is personal, and when I discuss the themes of this album with friends, their interpretations often vary slightly from mine. To me, “Wheel” represents the struggle of coping with life’s overbearing stress, but more importantly, the cathartic, joyous release that comes with finally realizing that misery and stress can easily be part of a wonderful life. So yeah, this is personal, but when a piece of music so deeply works its way into your mentality, the personal is impossible to deny. In fact, that Wheel allowed me to project my own fears and worries onto it speaks to its quality, its ultimate power as a relatable album which, for people in a certain mindset, has the ability to make the listener take stock of what is really important. 2013 was a transitional year for me, one that began with a bitter outlook on the world and next to no social life. As it comes to a close, I am surrounded with some of the best friends I’ve ever had, I love my job, and am genuinely enjoying life. Wheel is the sound of this transition and all its ups and downs. It is the soundtrack to the best year of my adult life. How could it not be my favourite album of the year?


- Adrian Hertzberg

2 votesvote
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Once I Was An Eagle
Laura Marling

Following 2011’s acceptable A Creature I Don’t Know, I think I may have dismissed Laura Marling slightly. Not that Alas I Cannot Swim or her debut I Speak Because I Can were any less lustrous in the aftermath; just I felt that maybe she had hit a peak early and now it was time to simply keep consistent. Granted consistency isn’t a career-killer, just after I Speak Because I Can I felt she was only bound to accelerate skyward, not begin slightly regressing .

Once I Was an Eagle is her forceful slap in the face of any who may have let their love falter even in the slightest (myself included). “When you wake you’ll know I’m gone / where I’m going there’s no one / so don’t follow me / whatever you may hear or see”, she tenderly illustrates on “Breathe”, but damn it is difficult to abide by that advice. Something about Marling’s music has always been extremely intimate and thought-provoking. As a lyricist she has a poet’s touch and vocally, while not pristine, she has a luscious coo and understands how to utilize inflection adeptly. “You want a woman who will call your name / it ain’t me babe”, she relays with a twang, and while I don’t think Marling is giving a literal finger-flip towards Mr. Zimmerman, it exemplifies this shit-kicker attitude that is truly manifesting within Marling on Once I Was an Eagle.

There was a time that one would hear Marling’s music and distinctly understand it as that of youthful exuberance in some fashion, even as her chord-progressions are tempered and generally plucked away on soft acoustic guitar strings. This aspect isn’t exactly dead, but at just twenty-three you can tell she is already four (great) full-lengths in and Once I Was an Eagle is an album of a maturing musician. I couldn’t say whether or not this is the main reason I love this LP so much – Marling isn’t much younger than me and growing up with her music has been a pleasure. But really hearing her grow as a musician may be my favorite aspect.

While a lot of Once I Was an Eagle is decidedly minimalist, many of these songs are emanating from places Marling has never been. “Devil’s Resting Place” in particular with its heavy drums, the multi-tracked vocals, and enormous hook that all comes to pique in a burst of distorted guitar strums and various multi-tracked vocal incarnations of Marling. These touches help accentuate her music’s growth but more importantly afford Once I Was An Eagle variance. Marling is being extremely daring presenting sixteen singer-songwriter folk-rock tunes at just over an hour but rather than feeling overstuffed the album is effortless, each song moving seamlessly into the next. Peaking as it exits with “Saved These Words”, fittingly so as the album thematically circumnavigates romantic and personal growth in the absence of love — the final track should be the aesthetic’s fruition. “Should you choose to love anyone anytime soon / then I save these words for you”, she emphatically declares, clicking the lock to this diary while handing us its key.

“I saw a lady dance yesterday / she is easily swayed / I cannot be tossed and turned in this way / I am not a tiny dancer”, Marling expresses on “Little Love Caster” as she plugs away at her acoustic, and this I feel isn’t just empty sentiment from Marling. There is something distinctly special about this woman, and maybe, as she becomes more and more aware of that, we as listeners will all benefit exponentially.


- Dylan Siniscalchi

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No One Dances...
Vår

Every year, I become less excited for the Longtime Favorite Artists That Are Releasing Something New and more excited for the unforeseen discoveries that await. This could be a symptom of growing cynicism, but I like to think that I’m becoming evermore enamoured with the sounds I haven’t heard yet rather than hearing more of the old sounds that have always pleased my ears. I never would have guessed that my Top Releases of 2013 list would be home to Vår, a Danish band that combines angular industrial and coldwave with a lovable danceability. No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers is oddly infectious; Vår includes members of Sexdrome and Iceage, but this carefree, catchy sound – dark as it may be, at times- distinguishes them from their Danish brethren. No One Dances pulsates with electricity, blurs into a hazy fog, and does so with unflinching rhythm that mixes the amalgamation into something altogether organic. Throughout, visceral yells and moans from frontman Elias Ronnenfelt keep Vår grounded and earthly.

No One Dances doesn’t bow to coldwave’s context; It’s purely visceral. It makes me want more, and at a time when I feel like I’m over-thinking music far too often, Vår is a fresh wave of unexpected sound. I didn’t expect No One Dances, and I certainly didn’t invite it to my year-end list, but it’s a record pulls me back to a time where music was intriguing per se, rather than because of its context or its footing among peers.  Regardless of whether or not it surprises you, though, there’s an undeniable energy and intrigue that should make Vår one of the year’s most essential listens.


- Eric Loose

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Reflektor
Arcade Fire

Never ones to avoid the racing spotlight beaming from guard towers stuffed with fidgety critics waiting to pounce, Arcade Fire are hurtling toward a state of consensus-crit infallibility. Every note they hit is worship-worthy, every word they utter is gospel. In a career of almost pure highs, the nature of each record flung into the ether by the Canadian seven-piece immediately carves out a presumptuous slot in an insurmountable number of End of Year lists that, when December comes, they can nestle into without fail. With Reflektor, however, the band continue their inexorable pilgrimage of maximalist expressionism with an understated, gloomy elegance that glares in the face of expectation. The first half draws from an extraordinarily uncool 70s-esque funk backdrop, the second from future-world spacey electronica, the two melding together with the band’s inimitable brand of indie rock to become one new sensibility. With Reflektor a less-than-modest success critically and commercially, the unrelenting juggernaut of Arcade Fire looks set to envelop the forthcoming decade like they have done the last. But above all, the styles bound into one on Reflektor make for the kind of record we have always been told Arcade Fire make: an epic one.


- Gabriel Power

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DX
Friendzone

Even after the release of DX, the most common complaint I heard levied towards Friendzone — nerdy, hip-hop producing duo extraordinaries — is that they hadn’t properly released anything that constituted a release. Before, their mixtapes were largely comprised of beats and tracks they’d formulated for acts like Main Attrakionz, like the ethereal “Perfect Skies” and “Chuch”. Thankfully, DX gives me a perfectly legitimate reason to levy a “fuck you” directly back towards this argument. Despite the fact that the beats of “Perfect Skies” and “Chuch” are masterpieces, DX represents a successful leap for Friendzone. Their 2013 album is a front-to-back complete product with defining themes and moods, feelings, and coherence which, in my eyes, trumps a single nearly every time. Further evidence of this is the fact that bonus tracks like “CUSTOMER I + II” and “4 YIA YIA” are two of the record’s strongest, yet it doesn’t feel any worse for wear without them. The producers will likely be able to transition easily back into commissioning territory, featured on Main Attrakionz upcoming album, but DX is a sidestep that demonstrates their knack for taking cloud rap tropes and expanding upon them, transforming them into a different framework.

DX is light, airy, ebullient, its samples cut from IDM’s lushness, making for a sound that is extraordinarily evocative, but in an odd little way. Friendzone are intentionally vague with what feelings DX is meant to convey, as illustrated in interviews; “vague” doesn’t give way to “weak”, though, because the album contorts itself to happiness, to sadness; to parties and pre-games; to morning runs, to despondence, to long drives; to background music for video games or studying. It’s fitting, then, that Friendzone is the artist I listened to most in 2013. This isn’t because of a few weighty singles that buoy DX (though “POLY” and “TASWELL” are worth checking out if that’s what you’re looking for), but because the entirety is a heavenly, free-flowing album that dispels any notions that Friendzone had previously maxed out their capabilities in their standard form. “ANOTHER JAM FOR THE AGES~!”, indeed.


- Eric Loose

2 votesvote
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Trouble Will Find Me
The National

Admittedly I’ve been a bad music critic this year. As I round the last corner on another annum, with the number 25 staring down at me from the finishing line, I have apparently slipped slowly into the stream of conservatism: frankly, I haven’t listened to very much new music this year. To qualify, most of the new music I have invested time in this past year has come from bands that I already know well. I decay into the curmudgeonly old whimper of familiarity. Or, that’s one way of looking at it; on the other hand, this familiarity eases a year of boundless change and perpetual stress and anxiety. In that way, I am not slipping into a swollen abyss of conservatism, continuously scraping away with a feather at the field of expansive boundaries until I stand completely still and gather my things as they are. Music has played the role of my emotional and intellectual anchor this year, a skein of thread that stops me from being walled away forever. To that end, Trouble Will Find Me plays a particularly special role in my year in music.

Strangely, and perhaps telling of Trouble Will Find Me’s most affecting aspects, The National have never been a band that strike me as comforting and familiar. They deal with the abstracts — death, life, infinity, ethics — through the lens of some heart-break or another. Whereas similar artists like collaborator Sufjan Stevens focus on similarly abstract notions, something about the compositional layering of Age of Adz or Illinoise holds a particular comfort I don’t normally find in The National. This is neither a positive nor negative observation — just a neutral one, a different strokes for different folks kind. But with Trouble Will Find Me, The National seem to shed some of the reverb-washed twilighting that sometimes came to distance the listener in High Violet, Boxer, or Alligator. Those records are great in their own right, but they never really seemed tied to instances of memory. Not so with this record; it’s tied so deeply and personally to time and space that each subsequent rotation is like a white-wash of insta-nostalgia, bringing me back to another city and some not-so-distant time that keeps running away forever and ever.

It’s in the song-writing, too. You can hear it, listen: Matt Berninger has penned a bevy of brilliant one liners over the course of The National’s discography (“I won’t fuck us over, I’m Mr. November”; “I’m a perfect piece of ass”), but there’s something so peculiar and precise about the relation between time and space that pervades the lyrics on Trouble Will Find Me. This personal connection probably has everything to do with my geographical changes, moving cities and types of spaces, but I also think that this record plays up to these kinds of emotions in a way not previously seen from The National. There’s a specific kind of relation to movement and distance in the moonlit gauze of “Slipped”, even down to the wordless, quavering vocal dip in the chorus; there’s a certain designation of telos in “Pink Rabbits” that shades everything not just abject desolation but as continuous afterward (or, afterword), a sort of in medias epilogue hidden in the folds of such mesmerising, and mesmerizingly poignant, lines like “you didn’t see me I was falling apart / I was a white girl in a crowd of white girls in the park”. But, as is the great hallmark of the band, there is always a sense of catharsis within a total embrace of dejection, like the triumphant finale of “Graceless”. These songs all hold very specific images and emotive responses in my mind. They’re small moments, nothing large, but that’s just the beauty of it all, isn’t it? Those small moments, the things that are anchors when everything big is happening, the small moments of place and time, of space and the existence of possibility in space. These are the things written all over Trouble Will Find Me: memory tapes and words of positioning and the great flood of just being.


- Keelan Harkin

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That Feel
Sweater Beats

26-year old Antonio Cuna went from bedroom to Billboard in 2013, producing and touring under the name Sweater Beats; his newest release, That Feel is EP of the year. With future-bass undertones and outstanding vocal collaborations, all three originals stand alone as perfect dancefloor-to-bedroom bangers. Supported by the delicious harmonies of Erin Marshall, “Do it for Me” has been on constant repeat since Halloween. It flows effortlessly into “Love Me”, featuring the multi-talented Sunni Colòn, united by the crisp and hard-hitting production on the drums. After experimenting with dream-pop in club music, Sweater Beats has found his winning sound with sparse, well-compressed kick-and strings underneath future bass synths and hot vocals. The remix, a Jersey take on “Feel Me” by Falcons, is a welcome blend of two complementary styles.


- Nick Mann

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Random Access Memories
Daft Punk

Random Access Memories is one of those rare records that has seemingly conquered both the charts and the music press. Poised to infest many a year end list (spoiler alert: ours too!), it hardly seems like the album needs any more love. Or, at least, that’s what my dumb ass thinks whenever I bring it up, because apparently a lot of people are pissed off at Daft Punk. That unusual disdain is pretty prevalent amongst our staff here as well and beyond how I personally feel about that, it seems at times that a lot of this disgust is rooted in the group’s Top 40 resurgence.

While I understand that having something shoved in your face constantly becomes numbing (I did avoid the radio when “Get Lucky” was in heavy rotation), coming back to Random Access Memories I cannot help but feel like the record was done wrong by oversaturation. “Get Lucky” in particular is such a juicy piece of music, with that impeccable bassline, giving Nile Rodgers so much to work with as his guitar-riff slinks back and forth. Pharell Williams as well lends his surprisingly luscious croon to some of the album’s finest moments. Between “Get Lucky” and “Loose Yourself to Dance” he and Rodgers work absolute magic. Magic I feel like even the most steadfast hater cannot deny; though it seems as if Random Access Memories has fallen into a wave-of-shit with a handful of records that are taking a beating in the backlash department, almost always rooted in their popularity.

Yet there’s so much more to be found beneath RAM’s glossy veneer perpetrated by its singles. Closer “Contact”, is euphoric and at times edge-of-your-seat exciting, while “Giorgio by Moroder” is a captivating and flat out fucking cool piece of dance history. Opener “Beyond” evolves from goofy bombast into a lush land of groovy riffs and woozy synthesizer. Then there is “Touch” the ass-backwards Soundheim-esque pop behemoth that has no right being as tantalizing as it is.

It’s weird to feel like It’s Just Me about a record that’s been so broadcasted, danced to, acclaimed, but I do; that’s what this album does. And even though Random Access Memories will populate more than a few year-end lists, I feel there will always be this snide undercurrent that runs along with it. Though it isn’t from the record, or its retrospective praise, but more for from those huddled around it with nothing more to say than “harrumph.” Well, we all know how I feel about that.


- Dylan Siniscalchi

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Settle
Disclosure

Music built from modulated square waves, percussive attack, and cutoff frequencies isn’t supposed to sound so… well, human. But Settle, the debut LP from UK-born brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence of Disclosure, works on you at a cellular level. First, there’s that impossibly plump, warm-sounding bass tone that’s as recognizable as it is hard to come by (See the fan video “How to Make Disclosure Inspired Bass“). Precision-cut synths are flanked by maracas, hi-hats, and jubilant hand claps. And there’s a superb grasp of composition and melody on display that’s exceedingly rare for electronic artists — none of which is surprising once you learn Guy started playing drums at age 3 and Howard took bass lessons when he turned 6. Now, ages twenty two and nineteen, the brothers are barely allowed into the very same clubs where their exultant fusion of house, pop, and garage sets dance floors ablaze.

In spite of their revolving door of guest singers, Disclosure leave a crisp, undeniable sonic imprint on each song they touch, much like the duo’s trademark stencil transforms every face it’s laid across into an instantly recognizable visage. That list of vocalists is an impeccable snapshot of UK electronic pop’s up-and-comers — Sam Smith, AlunaGeorge, Jessie Ware and London Grammar to name a few — with the latter’s Hannah Reid delivering Settle‘s most euphoric moment on closer “Help Me Lose My Mind.” It transcends the ordinary because Reid, somewhere in the process of losing herself, actually sounds found.

Settle surprises you like a wet kiss in the back of a library — it’s dance music that’s luscious without ever being brainless. The music video for “Help Me Lose My Mind” was removed by the duo’s record label for a scene in which a pill is reportedly getting passed from one tongue to another. Although the brothers didn’t protest, Guy insists their intent was not to glamorize drug use, and you can almost believe him. In the Year of Molly, Disclosure make music where no chemicals are required for escapism. High or otherwise, you float.


- Jeff Goodwin

1 votesvote
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Dreamstone
Sorrow

As it stands, I’m not sure I’ve gotten all I want to out of Dreamstone, but this isn’t for lack of trying. I’m constantly mining its sonic depths, digging deeper night after night, unearthing an effervescent melody here, a brooding bassline there, but in the end I’m ripped away from my efforts once “Intruder” exits. To simplify: shit isn’t long enough to get at. Sorrow walks a decidedly thin line between UK garage and ambient dubstep, populating his songs with luscious bass tones, angelic vocals and sampling; save some album-justifying guest turns by CoMa, most of Dreamstone is built on these cornerstones alone. Trance inducing at times (opener “Elixir” or “Flowerchild” in particular), Sorrow is ridiculously adept at tracking dissonant coos to accent his warbling bass.

Last year with a flurry of EPs, it was easy to make a direct connection between Sorrow and a handful of other promising garage by-way-of drum n’ bass producers he considers peers. But I feel like the world he’s emanating from is more akin to the likes of a Burial rather than say, a Submerse or Machinedrum. The boom is still here, a lot of Dreamstone unabashedly bangs – but there are nooks to be found with careful inspection. Dreamstone would certainly prompt some asses to shake, but what makes this record so rewarding isn’t the late night excursions you’ll have with it, but the early-morning introspective sessions, as though you were relaying hidden fears to a close friend. Maybe it’s this anonymity that Sorrow has operated with that grants him this one-on-one intimacy with his music. This otherwise distant and sometimes cold art connects in a very personal and warm fashion each and every time, even if I’m not fully sure yet as to why.


- Dylan Siniscalchi

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The Bones Of What You Believe
Chvrches

A little while back, I wrote about The Bones of What You Believe in what amounted to a bloated love letter to a record that had stolen my heart in a few short weeks. This was something that was actually quite difficult to describe, in that I wasn’t really sure how to translate that rapturous swelling of pure emotion that hits me from the moment those sampled “oh – oh – oh’s” tip off “The Mother We Share” until “You Caught the Light” abruptly disappears into silence. I’m still not over it, really, but I certainly have clearer thoughts on a record that always grabs me in such a primal way.

Calculated was a word I heard thrown around carelessly in an effort to deride this record and Chvrches as a whole; however, on the flip-side I’d say that’s also somewhat accurate praise. Chvrches are streamlined for sure, infectiously so, as each hook is teemed perfectly to deliver its punch at just the right angle. But what is truly striking about them is how much depth there is to find on their lyric sheet beneath all those luscious melodies, woozy layers of synthesizer and enormous beats.

“I tell you to cut it out / but you made me / you know why / the slowest spark is a breather / how high / how will you decide?”, Lauren Mayberry relays almost graciously on the exceptional “We Sink”, challenging herself and her partner to press the knife into their relationship. The song revolves around an inability to escape those hiccups in love, yet sometimes one cannot help but live inside that stagnation, if out of nothing but a sense of duty. Possibly a view of marriage, or at least the pedestal on which the notion is placed within Patriarchal society: “the slowest spark is breather” – no matter how sluggish the passion, sometimes that’s enough. Where will the line be drawn though? As a personal outcry it’s biting and introspective; as doctrine for a generation it’s fucking marvelous.

The Bones of What You Believe as a whole functions like this though – the tracks are a collection of little musical gems, each their own distinct pocket of emotion and upheaval, erupting in beauty and/or chaos. And while on the surface Chvrches may seem like they’re delivering little more than to-the-fucking-letter pop music, there is so much more to be found with just a little inspection. Best part? I’ve been diving in for months now and I’m still unlocking little audible secrets time after time.


- Dylan Siniscalchi

2 votesvote
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Sunbather
Deafheaven
OLD
Danny Brown
Loud City Song
Julia Holter
Overgrown
James Blake
Immunity
Jon Hopkins
Modern Vampires of the City
Vampire Weekend
Mo7it Al-Mo7it
Jerusalem In My Heart
Pedestrian Verse
Frightened Rabbit
Kveikur
Sigur Rós
The Redeemer
Dean Blunt
Yeezus
Kanye West
Jai Paul
Jai Paul
The Family Tree: The Branches
Radical Face
Cerulean Salt
Waxahatchee
Run The Jewels
Run The Jewels
Arc
Everything Everything
Abandon
Pharmakon
The Chronicles of Marnia
Marnie Stern
Fade
Yo La Tengo
The Silver Gymnasium
Okkervil River
Coin Coin Chapter Two
Matana Roberts
Wheel
Laura Stevenson
Once I Was An Eagle
Laura Marling
No One Dances...
Vår
Reflektor
Arcade Fire
DX
Friendzone
Trouble Will Find Me
The National
That Feel
Sweater Beats
Random Access Memories
Daft Punk
Settle
Disclosure
Dreamstone
Sorrow
The Bones Of What You Believe
Chvrches