My Year in Music: 2013.
I’m not quite certain where to start, honestly. I was simultaneously wary of this album and drawn in to what it could be from the get-go. Perhaps when you care about a band or artist, there is some apprehension in what their next step could be as they develop; will they repeat themselves, take a violent left turn, or steadily build upon their legacy? I don’t think James Blake’s sophomore full-length grasped me as instantly as did his eponymous debut. There is less DJ mentality here, and a bit more singer-songwriter. The drums aren’t as fidgety, and there are very few lurching samples that made his early work so endearing. But what emerges once those safety zones are peeled back is a maturing artist who deserves the acclaim he has earned over the past year. Go on yeh, Jim. Keep it coming.
Sigur Ros- Kveikur
Honestly, I didn’t want to like this one. All sorts of anecdotes conspired around the making of this album that could have set it up to be a compulsive disaster. Sigur Ros’ longtime pianist and composer left the group, and the three remaining members holed away in a studio in L.A. of all places to push out a new LP barely a year after their previous record Valtari (which I loved while some found disappointment). This scenario just smacked of something rushed and reckless, and I anticipated another throw-away release that deserved more time and care. I was thrilled then to find that a leaner Sigur Ros led to a keenly focused direction and an album that played on all their carefully-cultivated musical language while introducing new sound to the environment. It’s concise, razor-sharp; it builds and releases in all the ways that you want to. It’s what one should expect from such a ground-breaking band approaching their third decade.
The Haxan Cloak- Excavation
One of my new artist finds this year, the Haxan Cloak is a hard one to pin down. The earlier albums are much more organic, with writhing cello and loose-string guitars leading the slog. Excavation is solidly an electronic album however; the familiar sounds of much of the UK’s post-dubstep music is stretched and thrown into the pit here to grow beyond what the first records hinted at. I wouldn’t say that the listen is an enjoyable experience as you would have from most the other records on this list but it’s a damn immersive one. It feels like listening to music while trapped under ice in a frozen lake. You know no one is around, so you accept the situation for what it is. Time slows down, and you are fully present, perhaps for the first [and last] time in your life.
Tim Hecker- Virgins
I was aware of Hecker’s work before this, and his collaboration with Daniel Lopatin last year squeaked unto my playlist, but this one absolutely blew me away. The tent posts all get kicked out here: it’s more expansive and constricting, cleaner and murkier, dynamic and static than what I had heard before. A riveting listen for late-night driving.
My Bloody Valentine- mbv
I, like most of the world, waited so long for this follow-up to Loveless that I had practically given up on it ever becoming a reality. My favorite thing about this record is how much I dislike a few of the tracks, particularly the last two. They’re awful misses to me, something that sounds like a B-side from 15 years ago. Oddly enough, it makes me love the record all the more; these are human beings after all, not rock gods. This first song in contrast reminds me what I love about Kevin Shields.
Mount Kimbie- Cold Spring Fault Less
A grower for sure, and my first introduction to King Krule’s vocals on this track. I couldn’t tell if I loved it or hated it for a long time. Excellent background music.
Airhead- For Years
Airhead is James Blake’s guitarist, which makes perfect sense given the debut album he released this year. Nothing revelatory here, but something that feels familiar in just the right places.
Gold Panda- Half of Where You Live + Trust EP
Perhaps Gold Panda won’t ever remake Lucky Shiner [and the brilliant track You], but that’s alright. He can take the tried-and-true tribal sample-into-dance music thing and still make it sound fresh and pretty.
Burial- Truant/Rough Sleeper
How can an artist still sound so unique and themselves in this day and age?!?!
Lyrically darker and very hard to stomach as mere entertainment, this album bleeds paradox.
Washed Out- Paracosm
At first I was disappointed that there was hardly any progression from the last album, but then I decided this is exactly what I need Washed Out to be in my life.
C’mon Feel the Noise [and Metal]:
Fuck Buttons- Slow Focus
Eventually, everyone in the noise community comes to sound like Black Dice [see: Growing]. This is the perfect soundtrack to squashing all other pesky thoughts out of your head for a moment.
Oneohtrix Point Never- R Plus Seven
Much like Replica, R Plus Seven feels like a dream of childhood TV jingles all cut and pasted together after too much pizza the night before. Then the dream is recorded and played inside the gallery at the Gugenheim and called “art”.
“Oh great, another black metal band trying to sound like Mogwai,” I thought. We’ve seen that combination done before, and very well [see: Wolves in the Throne Room, or for a more emo mash-up, Alcest]. Glad I decided to give it a go anyway. Strikingly beautiful.
The Body- Christs, Redeemers
Not as good as All the Waters of the Earth…, it’s a little noisier and claustrophobic. A few of the riffs sound elementary, merely giving grounding to the power electronics, cello, and choir. But still light years ahead of most knuckle-draggers these days.
This was my summer driving record. It’s as if Andrew WK, Emperor, Ted Nugent, and the Sword all got drunk on vodka and jammed in Converge’s basement.
So glad there’s still christian metal with integrity being released.
The Flaming Lips- The Terror
This is the first Flaming Lips record I’ve enjoyed fully since Yoshimi.
Things Most Other People Could Listen To:
Olafur Arnalds- For Now I Am Winter
Perhaps the most stunning and fragile recording of the year.
Volcano Choir- Repave
I wasn’t expecting Volcano Choir’s sophomore album to be such a band effort, but here it is. Still my favorite and most enduring Justin Vernon project.
Tired Pony- The Ghost of the Mountain
I’ll be the first to say Gary Lightbody is the worst lyricist on the planet, but I love it. Every line is so direct, so mushy, that I can’t help but sing a long and believe in a thing called love.
The Dismemberment Plan- Uncanny Valley
So, one of my favorite bands of the past decade gets back together and makes a new record. We’ve been here before. Uncanny Valley is no Change or Emergency & I, but maybe it doesn’t need to be. When taken as what it is, this is a fun album, and I’m glad it exists.
Daft Punk- Random Access Memories
I don’t know if you guys heard this record yet, but it’s pretty good. I think it could really become popular.
Pop Song of the Year:
Justin Timberlake- Take Back the Night
This song sounds like a blatant rip-of of mid-career Michael Jackson, and that’s just what I wanted from pop music this year.
Here’s a Spotify playlist which you probably won’t want to put on random if you scare easily:
To read my year-end list from last year, click here.