If music in 2013 taught me anything it’s that the extended/double album most CERTAINLY is not dead. 4 of my top 5 albums were 70+ min albums. Maybe it’s a result of fast consumption of entertainment resulting in the largest portions being the ones that stick out most. Or perhaps sometimes the best statements just aren’t brief.
The further we get into this digital age of music consumption, the further genres really don’t matter. Julia Holter’s latest album defies much categorization. drawing from jazz, minimal/experimental, and maybe…showtunes? Julia finds a world of her own that through the course of the album becomes more and more clear. Sometimes tracks are as quiet and minimal as just a stark vocal take with some ancillary swells of horns and strings like in opening track “World”, while others are full of wild ping pong instrumentation and jazzy sax freak out solos like “Maxim’s II” but all these songs are consistently captivating. It’s an album that encourages repeat listens due to its fair amount of variety between tracks. Even Julia’s voice seems to take on new characters track to track by sometimes softly singing in a church-like choir girl tone and other times accenting her voice through harsher wild inflections. The gorgeous non-traditional instrumentation often steals the show and provides a off-kilter vibe for Julia’s sometimes more haunting vocals. It’s a unique and superbly sequenced collection of warped pop that is as addicting as it is intriguing.
9. Deerhunter – Monomania
Deerhunter could probably have been described as ‘garage’ before this album (among other things), but this is the loudest and most abrasive album to come from the band in years. Bradford Cox’s eccentric take on what ‘punk’ even is anymore has often been mostly hit and occasional miss but rarely this zoned in. Monomania is shrill, loud, and fucked up. Bradford’s still got a surprisingly soft spot for finding catchy vocal hooks, but isn’t afraid to make you work for it by layering it under a couple thick coats of noise. Title track “Monomania” accurately sums this all up well by starting out with a pretty standard (and catchy) verse/chorus structure only to end up getting stuck in a forever-looping coda of Bradford chanting “mono monomania mono monomania” just 2 minutes into the 5+ minute track. the mids getting increasingly warped and buried under more and more layers of noise until your ears can barely take it…but then trekking forth regardless and ending in what sounds like a dirt bike revving its engine. That dirt bike ends up being the only thing to grasp onto as the track comes to a close and you realize you just heard the clearest statement this band has made yet.
Initially, this album came as a slight disappointment. However, the very things that seemed to make this album less strong than James Blake’s self titled debut album grew (OVERgrew…eh? eh?) to be what stood it apart as its own different exploration of his sound. This is a more subtle record that no doubt places his songwriting at more of an equal with his also unique production style. Also, in retrospect (or…retroGRADE….anyone!?) what was once so incredibly striking and unique about his glitchy patchwork dubsteb-at-a-glacial-pace debut album in 2011 has since become a part of mainstream pop with acts like Lorde now topping the charts. Needless to say his shot at sounding equalling daring on his follow-up would be near impossible, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This is him honing in. The album also features what is perhaps his most assured song yet: Retrograde.
Thank god Devendra is still weird. His previous album What Will We Be was certainly cause for normie-alarm. It was seeming less likely we’d ever see Devendra actually get LESS poppy with a future album. After taking some years off though, he’s off his major label and back to being a freak. The recording is noticeably more lo-fi and intimate, filled with his signature vocal idiosyncrasies, and there’s a german euro-dance breakdown randomly placed in the middle of a song for shits sake. It’s enough to make you remember how funny and serious his old albums were at the same time. And that’s a great thing.
The cover art of a scribbly colorful montage of childlike psychedelia paints the cover of this album, but also is the perfect summation of the content within. Bringing along modern psych producer king Ben H. Allen (he produced Merriweather Post-Pavillion. nuff said.) the album feels dense with layers that peel back with each listen blossoming in new ways each time that show a sort of depth not often found in modern music. Of course, the swirling colorful electronic psych layers wouldn’t mean much without a strong backbone of songs to stand on, but singer/songwriter Trevor Powers packs in some of his strongest material yet on this thing as well. His whispery voice is given more of a spotlight this time to show its character through a stronger sense of hooks (even if those hooks are perhaps MORE warped then they were on his debut). It’s an album that only shows improvement.
Its a bit funny that people would complain that Reflektor is too long or ambitious. have these same people just never listened to an Arcade Fire album? Reflektor is actually only 11min longer than their previous album The Suburbs (provided you don’t count the 10min secret ambient noise track) but moves at a brisk pace. The opening salvo of title track “Reflektor” (arguably one of the bands best songs) doesn’t shy from the fact that Arcade Fire is currently obsessed with getting you to dance. It’s a move often seen in a bands evolution that can mean they are too focused on pleasing than provoking, but when those very same dance tracks are this goddamn good, who’s complaining REALLY? And yes, James Murphy produced it. we get it. Though after listening, it sure feels this is where Arcade Fire was headed anyways.
This is a beautifully lush and mundane record. A pristinely produced album full of droll songs. And I’m obsessed with it. Donning a sort of lazy drawl similar to Lou Reed, Kurt Vile vocal style ends up feeling surprisingly open and honest. Peppering the album with open-ended lyrics about wanting more, or to be somewhere else on top of the usually lurching, drugged out, kaleidoscope folk-rock pummels the listener into a sorta comatose glazed over haze. It’s hypnotic. Not to mention the opening and closing songs are each about 10min long but don’t feature anymore changes than the select few songs under 4min. Just a ‘stuck on this’ feeling that ends up making both songs some of the strongest on the album. meandering solos and layers of guitar work all wrapped up in the truly beautiful production work catapult Kurt’s lazy vocals into new heights often across the rather extended album. Kurt’s self aware opening line to the excellent closing track “Goldtone” sums up the album well: “Sometimes when I get in my zone / you’d think I was stoned / but I never as they say ‘touched the stuff’” ….WHATEVER you say, Kurt.
Daft Punk’s latest is most notably surprising for…not being that great of a real ‘dance’ record. If you put on RAM at a party expecting to get the dance floor raging, I’d reconsider quick before you get to the spoken word interlude about a german dance music producer’s life story and the 8min space prog-opera. That’s not to say there’s no tracks that will end up as fixtures of a DJ’s set in 2014 and beyond (Get. Lucky. Jesus. We get it.) but the album subverts quite a lot of expectations that one may expect from a ‘typical Daft Punk’ record. Whatever the hell that means considering their glacial pace at releasing music. The production is flawless and features full live takes of real instruments performed BY legends themselves ala a true 70′s disco/funk album. This is NOT an electronic album. More like an album that surfaced from the unknown depths of the 1970′s with impossibly perfect futuristic production quality. The album immediately just kinda…sounds like a classic. Is it revolutionary? Not really. It’s entirely backwards looking. It’s a throwback. It’s about remembering when pop music used to actually sound like this. Good. But when you start to remember how much music really doesn’t sound like this right now, you’ll want to be reminded…maybe just one more time.
I’ve never been so unsure of what I was actually listening to. Not only in the sense of odd composition, but also in the practical sense of “what the fuck instrument even MAKES that noise?!” This immensely dark double LP rather easily slips into being overwhelmingly bleak. Not to mention difficult (read; 20min ambient-horror track smack in the center of the album and an album running time that rivals a feature-length film of 96min). It’s a no brainer to declare this the most ambitious Knife album yet, but what’s more interesting is its placement in the bands discography. This follows the (relatively) accessible Silent Shout which was a (again, relatively) lean 50min of tight electro industrial synth-pop. This is just about anything but. This strange collection of weird ass death march psycho circus freak Halloween jams deconstruct not only the foundations of what you know The Knife to be, but even…music. The experiment is one that undoubtably became the most fascinating of 2013.
Does one consider an ‘unofficial leak of demos from Jai Paul’s past’ an album? What if those ‘unofficial demos from Jai Paul’s past’ also happen to be some of the most electric and unique pieces of music you hear all year? UK singer/producer Jai Paul crafts songs that sound like the future. As in you haven’t heard anything quite like it. Ever. Sure there are connections to be drawn to French Electro, Glitch, and even….Prince? but the summation of parts feels so entirely his that there’s no contemporaries to even compare it to…but rest assured there will be. This is hyper-edited music. A.D.D. music. WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME music. Overstuffed from all angles and meticulously crafted in what I like to assume is some dark freaky basement where Jai Paul silently hovers over his computer having not eaten in days placing that ‘wwwooossshpp’ sample at juuuust the right volume. If this albums-worth of unfinished demos REALLY is just a collection of unfinished ideas not deemed good enough to be released – it begs the question of whether this is all just a result of an artist too concerned with unachievable perfection to realize that perhaps the imperfections make it perfect. Considering Jai Paul had only released 2 official songs in 3 years, we may be waiting a while for this ‘official’ debut album. In the mean time, this is still more exciting than anything else I heard in 2013.