A site where I get to complain about music I don't like.
If I have one musical sin that I have committed to the world of Alternative music (besides one that will be the topic for a later article), it’s that I’ve never really listened to Yo La Tengo. Despite their music having always been around me since I was young, since both my parents are big fans, listening to a large number of their contemporaries, and them having been around for 30 years now, the only time I’ve ever listened to them was when I listened to their latest release Fade back when it was released. I remember enjoying it, but I never listened to it again and I can’t remember what it sounded like. So, since it was requested, I will now actually listen to a full Yo La Tengo album, I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One.
If there’s one thing you can’t accuse this album of being, it’s monotone (at least musically, we’ll get back to that). Every song has a very distinct feeling, and almost all of them are done beautifully. From the rock of “Sugarcube” to the ambience of “Green Arrow”, the whole scale is covered, and all of it is done with passion and love for music. “We’re an American Band” is a wonderful mix of slowcore and Shoegaze, “Autumn Sweater” is a beautiful trip into Electronica, “One PM Again” is a sweet country tune, “Shadows” works perfectly as a Gen X “I’ll Be Your Mirror”, and “Damage” is simply gorgeous, wrapping you in its atmosphere and words. The instrumentation is also perfect on every song, never becoming obtrusive and always flowing with the music. The album also has the unique quality of being absolutely charming, due to the members giving a strong vibe of just being three people doing their thing. It’s simply a very likable record.
It’s rare when an album can be immensely improved with just one cut, but here, not only would the album be way better with the removal of just one song, it would also be 10 minutes shorter. “Spec Bebop”, stapled right near the end, serves as nothing but an exercise in tedium, held together barely by some competent drumming. Additionally, if you’re not prepared, Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley’s singing can get very tedious, due to both not being at all good singers. However, after enough listens, you find that it just adds to the charm of the album. The back half of the album also seems slightly weaker, but the songs do still hold up.
In the end, I Can Hear stands as one of the best records out of the 90s. Sure, it’s a little drawn out with a 10 minute hole near the end, but it’s charming and quirky without the negative qualities of charming and quirky music from this decade, and it’s just a great listen from front to near back. And I can say after this, I look forward to listening to the rest of their catalog.
Best Song: Damage
Worst Song: Spec Bebop
Few bands are as bizarre in their music scene as Television was in the New York 1970s Punk scene. Sure, they were playing in CBGBs just like any other band at that time, like Blondie and Talking Heads, but instead of playing short, fast songs, they were playing sprawling epics with intricate guitar, exactly what the Punk scene was rebelling against. In a sense, they were to the 70s Punk scene what Sonic Youth was to the Alternative boom of the late 80s. And today, we’re looking back at their influential debut, Marquee Moon, an album that still stands today as one of the most acclaimed releases of all time.
From the very first song “See No Evil”, it seems weird to think that this is from the same scene of music that bands like the Dictators were birthed. The Ramones’ debut album was 14 songs in 29 minutes, while Television release an album a year later where the shortest song is almost four minutes. Not only that, but it is clear that Television is far more skilled with their instrumentation, with weaving guitar and the tightest drumming in Punk this side of Topper Headon. And yet somehow, it’s still worlds away from the intricate and perfected playing of bands like Yes and other prog bands, primarily due to the personality of the band itself. While people like Jon Anderson and Steve Howe would give the vibe of refinement and higher class, Tom Verlaine and co. gave off the attitude of just a bunch of street rats who just practiced and practiced, since they had nothing else to do.
And that’s without even getting into the perfection of the songwriting. Every song is perfectly organized, and on my listen, I only heard one note even mildly out of time, which is incredible given the cheapness of the recording. The production is only surprisingly excellent, never getting fuzzed out or messy, always remaining incredibly clear. Songs like the intro “See No Evil” and “Venus” are excellent, poppy songs that are just a joy to listen to, and the title track will always stand as one of Rock’s legendary epics, a sprawling ten minute number that never manages to be boring.
Now if there’s any problem with this album, it’s definitely Tom Verlaine’s singing. Not to say that it ruins the album, it’s just that it takes some time to get used to, and might put some listeners off on their first listen. It’s a lot less gruff than you’d expect from an early punk singer, instead usually going for a nasal high range, which can get grating. There’s also “Elevation”, which is a weaker song, though still high quality. It’s just a little slow and boring compared to everything else.
In short, this is a fantastic album. It’s an album that anyone who enjoys music should listen to, and you’ll never forget the first time you listened to it. So run out, and listen to one of the best albums ever made.
Best Song: Marquee Moon
Worst Song: Elevation
In case you hadn’t heard, the Grammys happened this Sunday, and now every music writer is required to comment on it. On another note, despite being a music writer, this is the first Grammys I’ve actually watched to any degree. So now, I’m here to give my opinions on some of the winners, the performances, and any other stray notes I have.
First of all, the Grammys made a remarkably terrible decision, in that they delayed a live awards show on the west coast by three hours. This still seems unfathomable to me, and I hope they fired whoever came up with this decision. Can you imagine if the Oscars were delayed, or the Superbowl. Sure, the Grammys don’t generate the same amount of hype in any amount, but still, this isn’t something you just pull. Anyway, the winners.
Album of the Year: I don’t remember if I made this completely clear here, since I recorded a review that sadly disappeared, but I was not the biggest fan of Random Access Memories. For the most part, I thought it was pretty meh, with a few really great songs on it like “Get Lucky” and “Doing it Right”. Despite my personal opinions, however, it also was my 2nd pick for what my Album of the Year would have been, right behind Kendrick and Good Kid, MAAD City, which has grown to be one of my top 5 albums of the decade so far. So even if it’s not my personal pick, it’s still good that it won.
Record of the Year: I seriously don’t know anyone who doesn’t think “Get Lucky” is a fantastic song. It’s just a wonderfully composed and joyous track, and it never stops making me smile. Sure, the same can be said about “Locked Out of Heaven”, but I think “Get Lucky” just narrowly beats it out. At least it didn’t go to “Blurred Lines”, since I don’t think Tumblr would’ve survived the uproar.
Song of the Year: Hey, I like “Royals” a lot too! Once again, it’s just really well put together, and I love that Lorde has such a fantastic voice at 17 years old. I almost thought the award would go to “Same Love”, but I guess Macklemore got enough golden sippy cups for one night. At least it didn’t go to “Roar”, which I’m still questioning why it was even nominated.
Best New Artist: It’s funny how even Macklemore agrees that Kendrick got robbed in this category, since that is definitely what happened. Sure, I like Macklemore a decent amount, but Kendrick is on another level. It’s also funny how just like every year, none of the “best new artists” debuted this year, with Macklemore and Kacey Musgraves releasing their first albums in 2005 and 2002, respectively.
And now for some random thoughts:
That’s all I have to say, hopefully I can do this in a video format next year.
Ever since fun. and gotye managed to conquer the Billboard Charts for a combined 14 weeks back in 2012, it’s expected for Indie Pop acts to get more attention than they would have back even a few years ago, where the only Indie songs charting were once-a-year flukes like “Pumped Up Kicks” or “Animal”. Since “We Are Young”, however, songs like this are popping up more and more regularly, with Imagine Dragons already having three hits under their belt, and artists like Bastille and Capital Cities also squeezing in between Katy Perry and Pitbull for radio play.
So naturally, there’s bound to be at least some hype for any new band with a sound like this, since record labels will be grasping for any artist to turn into the next big thing. And now, this potential “next big thing” hype is going to Basic Vacation, a three-piece from New England that released their debut EP back in October. And luckily, based on the 5 songs off their debut, their presence would not be an unwelcome one.
If there’s one important point on why this EP is so promising, it’s the fact that Basic Vacation seem to have found the careful balance between “emotional” and “fun”. Most Indie Pop songs on the radio seem to land to heavy on the serious side, like “It’s Time”, while most pop music is just enjoyable without any real thought behind it. Luckily, all the songs off of this EP hit right in between, where songs like “Some Nights” lie, where the instrumentation and vocals have an emotional intensity to them, while still being enjoyable enough to dance to. The album does have a decent amount of emotion throughout, but it’s heavy enough to stop you from enjoying yourself.
The EP also shows off the band’s talent in making incredibly enjoyable songs, plain and simple. All songs on the EP are incredibly well-put together, with no moment on the release clashing against the other. The songs all feel like they belong together, making for a surprisingly cohesive debut EP. For 15 minutes, you are just left with a collection of remarkably enjoyable songs that don’t wear out their welcome.
However, there is a problem with this EP, and that’s the fact that the songs do kind of all sound mildly similar. There are slight differences between each song, like “Jamie” sounding like it’s ripped straight from an 80s throwback record, but when push comes to shove, the songs do run together a bit. There’s also the fact that I kind of wish I could hear more, since it’s hard to base a full opinion on a band based on only five songs. Who knows, maybe they do only have one sound to them, or maybe it’s just that these were the first five written, and thus will sound similar when you’re starting out.
Still, beyond that, this is a very strong debut by and up-and-coming band. It’s a shame that we don’t get to see them expand more, but that’s what you get when all you have at first is an EP. Basic Vacation’s full-length debut will come out sometime this year, so be on the watch for when it comes out. Until then, just enjoy the five songs on here, and hope they don’t wear out their welcome.
Best Song: I Believe
Worst Song: Jamie
Sometimes, it’s important to remember that a musician’s personal life and their music are two separate entities, and sometimes, it’s necessary to split them apart to give an honest review of the musician’s work. Even though he is complete scum, it’s not fair to grade R. Kelly’s work based only on his personal life. Imagine if you could never enjoy “Help!” again because of what John Lennon did, you can never listen to anything Phil Spector produced again, you have to throw away all your Eric Clapton records, and that goes for every artist who ever did something terrible in their career. There would be no interesting music left, because so many shitty people make music.
Because of this, I plan to give a fully objective review of Justin Bieber’s new album Journals, a compilation of the 10 songs he released every Monday for his series of Music Mondays, an idea that Jonathan Coulton already did to a far more impressive degree, followed by five additional songs. Now Justin Bieber has repeatedly revealed himself to be a pretty terrible person, which you can read about by turning on your computer and waiting a minute or two, since it’s bound to turn up. But we’re avoiding all of that for right now, because a reviewer’s job is to give you a review of the music on it’s own, without any baggage. So what are you left with when you take out the most controversial pop star this side of Chris Brown? Just a collection of incredibly boring Pop songs, musically, vocally, and lyrically.
You know what this whole album is missing? A sense of enjoyment in the music. Almost all of the album is locked in a down-tempo groove permanently, and not even the interesting kind, like with Channel Orange. In fact, the whole feels like what I imagined Channel Orange felt like to people who didn’t like it, claiming it was sleepy and boring, which is what this album is. There’s three songs here that actually seem to have a bit of energy to them, and of those three, “Roller Coaster” barely speeds it up, maintaing a boring pace, “Confident” sounds like someone trying really hard to make a cross between a Gorillaz B-Side and backing music to a low-budget cartoon, and “What’s Hatnin” is just offensive to my senses. It’s just a boring ass album.
But hey, you know what saved even the most boring songs on Frank Ocean’s releases? The fact that Frank Ocean is a good singer who knows his limitations, something that Justin Bieber clearly doesn’t. I remember around the release of Bieber’s Christmas album, when Bieber’s voice finally dropped, and he went from being obnoxiously prepubescent to just not being a good singer. Every song on here sounds pretty much the same vocally, and when he goes for some high notes on a few songs, it reminds you exactly why people hated his singing voice all those years ago. The guest verses on this album are also less than stellar, with R. Kelly and Future just being boring as hell, and Chance the Rapper dropping by for the best part of the album, even if it is one of his weaker verses. The lyrics are also regularly lazy, sounding like they’re taken straight from other lazy R ‘n’ B songs.
This album is one of the dullest I’ve ever heard, with barely anything of note at any point. The album’s quality song-by-song is a straight-line, and every song does sound like it was thought-up and recorded in a week. Don’t bother with an album this dull, you’ll get nothing out of it.
Best Song: Roller Coaster
Worst Song: What’s Hattenin’
Just like the last two years, I was originally planning on doing a top 10 best and worst songs of the year list, where we all get to laugh at everyone we think sucks and do little nods at our computer screens because we agree with choices and blah blah blah. However, I honestly don’t feel like doing a list like that this year, for either the best or worst. Why? Because 2013 was a terrible year for Pop music. Which is pretty fascinating, seeing as how it was one of the best years for music in a long time. But for some reason, there was nothing going on this year.
Remember how 2012 brought some big, exciting changes to Pop music, the stuff we’d never seen before? We had artists like Gotye and fun. bringing Rock and Indie back to the pop charts, “Call Me Maybe” gave us a chance to just be cheerful in our Pop music again, and at the very end of the year, an up-and-coming rapper named Macklemore gave us three of the very few massive hits worth mentioning. In fact, most of the best songs from this year were holdovers from last year, like Macklemore and “Locked Out of Heaven”.
Pop music this year could pretty much divided into three sections this year: generic EDM, generic ballads/acoustic songs, and embarrassingly bad rap songs. Sure, some of these songs were worse than others in their category, but overall they were all so mediocre that it all just blends in. Even the people worth talking about didn’t make interesting music. When Miley Cyrus spent three whole videos being provocative, it was because she knew there was no reason you’d pay attention to three incredibly bland songs.
There’s so little of this year worth hating, that even in a year this bad, there’s like three songs worth paying attention to because of how bad they are. “Cruise (Remix)” is as skin-crawling as ever, “Love Me” by Lil Wayne was just disgusting, gross, and way more misogynistic than “Blurred Lines” could ever be, and “#thatPower” is just more evidence that Will.i.am should be banned from touching a computer. And there still were a few good Pop songs, but discounting what songs came out less year, you’re left with songs like “Get Lucky”, “Royals”, and “Counting Stars”, which were good songs, but are nowhere near as good as the best pop songs from 2012.
Well, at least we can hope that next year will be better. Too bad the first no. 1s were “The Monster” and “Timber”, both incredibly lame, and the first album I’m reviewing this Wednesday is Justin Bieber’s new album. Shit.
As I’ve said before, 2013 was one of the best years in music I’ve seen personally.But still, even with such great music being released, there had to be some crap. Here are the 10 worst I’ve heard.
The top 10 Worst Albums of 2013
10. Hail to the King - Avenged Sevenfold
You know what’s worse than straight-ahead awfulness sometimes? Flat out mediocrity. Their first album since 2010’s Nightmare, A7X seems to have replaced the emotion and intensity brought out by the death of their most talented member, the Rev, with the kind of macho bravado that stains so much of metal at the moment. The album reeks of not giving a shit, from their new drummer who does nothing but play the most basic kinds of beats to accent repetitive power chords, to lead singer M. Shadows not even trying with his vocals, the album feels like they came up with it in one day’s worth of brainstorming, exemplified by “This is War”, a stunningly obvious ripoff of Metallica’s “Sad but True”. This album is a pointless release that will be immediately forgotten by anyone who listens to it.
Worst Track: This is War
9. Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros - Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes
I hate feel-good hippie music. It’s just such a tedious and meaningless genre, bereft of any sincerity, replaced with a doofy “keep calm and smoke weed” vibe that gets immediately tiring. And sadly, after two decent but not great albums, Edward Sharpe (real name Alex Ebert) and friends released an album that never manages to escape the realm of hippy-dippy music. The album feels like a lost album form the 70s, but in all the worst ways. It sounds like if Paul McCartney made a country album where everyone in the studio was high off their asses and obviously didn’t care about the end product. It’s just an obnoxiously smug “happy” album that’s a waste of a great album cover.
Worst Track: Let’s Get High
8. The 20/20 Experience Pt 2 - Justin Timberlake
To be fair, this album’s more on the list for disappointments sake, but oh god what a disappointment. How do you follow up one of the best Pop albums in recent memory? Well, you take everything good about the first album and morph it around until they become soaring negatives. Pop songs with lengths to allow them to stretch out and flow? Have an average of 7 minutes a song, with one nearing 12 minutes long. Enjoy the out there lyrics? Have a whole song based on True Blood. The fact that they sold an album of outtakes as a true second half is maddening, and I think it gives enough reason to put it on the list.
Worst Track: True Blood
7. Britney Jean - Britney Spears
On the other hand, here’s a Pop album that had no expectations built for it, and still managed to fail. Britney Spears is the least personality-driven singer in the modern pop landscape, and reeks of someone who just manages to somehow stick around for over 10 years. Britney Spears is completely devoted on her flock of producers and technicians to create an album, and even they did a bum job on here, leaving her with an incredibly generic collection of songs. The closest the album ever gets to memorable is with “Work Bitch”, and that’s only for how much it drills its one synth riff into your head until you feel nothing. Which funny enough, is what the rest of this album makes me feel. Nothing. This is a nothing of an album.
Worst Track: Work Bitch
6. Recharged - Linkin Park
You know what album I will actually defend? Linkin Park’s Reanimation. It’s not a flawless album, but it did do a good job in breathing new life into songs like “One Step Closer” and “Crawling” while still keeping their feel. So naturally, 10 years later, Linkin Park makes a remix album of their worst release, last year’s Living Things, and instead of using many electronic producer’s varying styles to create a unique collection of tracks, they manage to gather a dozen producers who all create Dubstep. Remixing an album that already had a bit of dub step in it. And rapping. You see the problem here. First of all, rapping and dub step is a terrible combination. Secondly, Dubstep is dead. Just a pointless album, only brought up by the bizarre appearance of Pusha T.
Worst Track: A Light That Never Comes
5. Super Collider - Megadeth
Can I just link to my article on this album? Good because I don’t want to spend any more time on this piece of crap.
4. The Paradigm Shift - KoRn
At least they’re not doing Dubstep anymore! Instead, KoRn continue down the road of irrelevance, making another album that shows exactly why bands like KoRn and Limp Bizkit are pointless in the modern world of music. Paradigm Shift is almost sad in its development of KoRn, replacing the harsh noise blasts of Totality with incredibly weak synth lines and boring guitar and drums, accented by Johnathan Davis keeping with his horrendous singing. It’s an album that both feels like a terrible evolution and keeping with the mediocrity of their last 10 years. It’s a pointless album, and one I never want to hear again.
Worst Track: Never Never
3. Bangerz - Miley Cyrus
2. Avril Lavigne - Avril Lavigne
Once again, I’d like to send you people back to my previous article, since I believe it sums up my feelings on these two terrible albums.
1. #Willpower - Will.i.am
Yes, something actually did manage to beat Avril Lavigne. With Will.i.am now 3 years off of being the main producer and rapper for the Black Eyed Peas, he released his biggest solo record yet, and it is just horrendous. The album manages to shrink every problem of the Black Eyed Peas’ catalog into one album, without any of the redeeming songs that the Peas may have pulled out, like “Meet Me Halfway” or “I Gotta Feeling”. All that you’re left with is Will’s horribly flat beats and terrible rapping, done with all the enthusiasm of the kid pretending to be at the big High School party. And for an album this bad to go on for 18 songs is inexcusable. It is the worst album of 2013.
Worst Track: This is Love
Next Time: Top 10 Worst Hit Songs of the Year
I guess it’s time for the top 10. Let’s go.
10. One of Us is the Killer - Dillinger Escape Plan
For the past 10 years, DEP has shown themselves to be one of the best Metal bands consistently working today, only beaten by Mastodon and Opeth. Their combination of extreme musicianship and willingness to just do what they feel is right leads to some of the best Mathcore ever, similar to Converge, but with less angst and more insanity. One of Us is the Killer continues exactly from where they’ve always been, keeping with their trend of high quality works, leaving an album that’s just as likely to melt your face as it is to put a smile on your face. DEP is one of the few Metal fans to keep a face of lightheartedness in their music, which keeps them fresh in the realms of such a serious genre. If you want Metal that you can have fun listening to, here’s your best bet.
Key Track: One of Us is the Killer
9. Electric - Pet Shop Boys
Electric is the perfect show in why sometimes it’s good to listen to what the fan base wants. After the overly serious Elysium, the fans wanted something fun, something that could be soundtracked by lasers and dancing minotaurs. And this time, the creators listened, leading to one of the most fun albums I’ve ever heard. Chris Lowe used the opportunity to create a background of pure enjoyment and fun, including the best Electro-Pop classic-cum-Soviet Anthem since their own cover of “Go West”, “Love is a Bourgeois Construct”. Not only that, but Neil Tennant remains one of the best singers in Electro-Pop, giving the songs a healthy dose of humanity. I’d also like to mention that 30 years into their career, they still put on one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen. Definitely one of their best.
Key Track: Love is a Bourgeois Construct
8. The Next Day - David Bowie
You know, even if we never thought it’d be finished, we kinda knew that MBV was in the works. This? David Bowie hadn’t released anything since 2003’s decent-ish Reality, and as far as we knew, he had fallen squarely into retirement, moving the reins of family fame to his son, director Duncan Jones. Then one day, we got this announcement, and the world reacted with overwhelming expectations. And somehow, it managed to satisfy completely. Likely his best since 1980’s Scary Monsters, Bowie showed that almost 50 years into his career, he still had fantastic songs in him. backed by one of the most talented groups he’s ever worked with. Songs like “Stars” shows that he could still write a kick-ass rock song, while “Where Are We Now” is one of his all-time great ballads. It’s unlikely that he’ll ever make an album again, but hey, at least he left on a high point.
Key Track: The Stars (Are Out Tonight)
7. Yeezus - Kanye West
Oh boy, what to say about Yeezus at this point. It was the biggest album of the year, building in anticipation until it leaked two days before its release. Reviewers raved, listeners were divided, and now, it’s in the top 10 of almost every critic’s list of the top 10 albums of the year. It’s funny how an album designed to be the exact opposite of Dark Twisted Fantasy grew to be just as discussed and acclaimed, but it’s hard to fight back when you have songs this good. Kanye may be an idiot in the public eye, but he’s a genius musically, combing instantly memorable hooks with dark and disturbing synths for his darkest album yet, topped off with his trademark lyricism that leaves you simultaneously hyped and confused. From the bombastic “Black Skinhead” to the powerful “Hold My Liquor”, to the emotional “Blood on the Leaves” and finishing off with the soul glory of “Bound 2” (which is still great even with the music video), it’s an album that demands relistens, and will eventually reveal itself as a work of art, even if it can’t compete with Fantasy.
Key Track: Blood on the Leaves
6. Sunbather - Deafheaven
Have you ever seen a Metal album with a cover that cheerful? Surprisingly, it perfectly fits the album, serving as a Metal album that demanded to be championed through the morning sky, instead of buried 10 feet under the ground during a blackest night. The songs paint a beautiful image of a glorious Summer day where you feel like you could conquer the world. It’s an album you experience, where any review will eventually turn into similes that you will somehow understand after one listen. The album feels like you’re being lit on fire while conscious, but you feel no pain, knowing that you will be reincarnated into a new glorious form in time. When you listen to this album, let it wash over you, peeling off the remnants of your skin piece by piece until you are a skeleton, smiling at the promises of a future life.
Key Track: Sunbather
5. Government Plates - Death Grips
Everything that Kanye did with Yeezus, Death Grips already fully embodied. Following up The Money Store and, to a lesser extent, No Love Deep Web would be challenging for any artist, but somehow, Death Grips managed to pull through, leading to the best surprise release of the year. The album manages to at once feel unfinished and fully realized, as if the empty moments of certain songs create a more complete image than an additional synthesizer or bass track could ever achieve. MC Ride remains one of the most enigmatic MCs working in Rap, even if this album could barely even be called Rap, with verses replaced with repeated samples and shouting. Flatlander and Zach Hill are the true stars of this release, laying down the insane drum tracks and synthesizer leads as expected, but this time sounding like the tracks themselves are falling apart. It’s a tough listen, but one that any fan of music more left of the mainstream should check out.
Key Track: Anne Bonny
4. AM - Arctic Monkeys
It’s great to see that Arctic Monkeys managed to pull out a great record later in their career than most new Rock acts ever get to. 8 years into their career, Alex Turner and company released their 5th album, one that managed to once again change their sound in a new, fresh way. After the Psychedelic rock of Humbug and the Beast Coast Indie Rock styling of Suck it and See, they switch to a sound based in Blues Rock and Hip-Hop rhythms, leading to an album where cool almost sounds like an understatement. It’s an album that fits any circumstance, feeling as perfect at a small party as it does in the bedroom (I assume). It’s a perfect combination of musicianship, charm, and cool, like a soundtrack to the best movie you’ve never seen. Also the songs “Knee Socks” reminds me of a very close friend and that makes me happy.
Key Track: Arabella
3. …Like Clockwork - Queens of the Stone Age
It’s good to see that even in a period where Rock music is likely nearing its close, there’s still a place for a Rock album seemingly built just to kick your teeth in. Clockwork is a monster, an album that would be personified as a man who could break someone, but holds back. The album is easily their most polished, missing the Stoner Metal backgrounds of previous albums or the pure sludge of songs like “Sick Sick Sick”, but the riffs manage to hit as hard as ever, from the rising goliath that is “My God is the Sun” to “Smooth Sailing”, which can only be described as sex summed up in 5 minutes. And I’d like to take a moment to talk about “Kalopsia”. Holy shit, this songs is absolutely perfect, from its opening moments to the way that the chorus just seems to break into the song, it is one of the most perfect Rock songs I’ve ever heard. This album is the answer to anyone who says that music was better in the 70s.
Key Track: Kalopsia
2. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels
You know what? I’m gonna put a link right here. That link is to a download of this album, released for free as a mix tape on the internet. Get it RIGHT NOW. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a rap album this much, serving as 33 minutes of perfection. The duo of EL-P and Killer Mike return from Mike’s own R.A.P. Music release from last year, and show why they’re the perfect duo for Rap right now. EL-P is one of the best producers working in Hip-Hop at the moment, and the two perfectly fall into sync with each other, leading to an excellent flow through each song. Have you not downloaded this yet? Do it! Do it now!
Key Track: Sea Legs
1. Modern Vampires of the City - Vampire Weekend
What can I even say about this album. It is perfection. I could listen to this album on loop for a week, and never get tired of it. Vampire Weekend finally bust out of their cuteness bubble, leaving us with pop perfection. It is a flawless album, both as a collection of songs and as a whole, beautifully mastered and played without flaw by the band. So far, it’s the only album I’ve reviewed on this blog that I would give a perfect 10/10 to. And if the trend continues, you won’t see another one of those until around 2016. I adore this album, and you should to.
Key Track: Hannah Hunt
And now, some honorable mentions that weren’t quite good enough for this list.
And as a bonus, a small announcement. If there’s any album you’d like me to talk more about from last year, or I didn’t mention it at all and you’d like to hear my opinion of it, request it on twitter or in the comments below, and I will record a video review of my thoughts. I look forward to seeing what you request.
Come back tomorrow for my list of the top 5 worst albums I’ve heard this year.
Well it looks like it’s that time again. Once again, the year is over, and I’m here to tell you about what 20 albums I think are the best of the last 12 months. And let me tell you, 2013 is easily the best year in music since I started writing. While previous lists had a few albums that, looking back, I likely won’t listen to ever again, like Sun by Cat Power from 2012 or I’m With You by the Chili Peppers from 2011, I expect every album here to be part of my rotation for a good long while, even my #20 pick. So as the beginning of my articles looking back at this fantastic year in music, let’s begin with:
The Top 20 Albums of 2013: Pt. 1
20. Wolf - Tyler the Creator
Looking back, Goblin by Tyler the Creator was nowhere near as good as I thought it was the first time I heard it. While there were still great songs on it, like “Yonkers” and “Nightmare”, it just felt a little bloated, and most of the songs weren’t quite there yet. Luckily, two years later, Wolf showed exactly what Tyler could do with his new found fame. The shock Horrorcore tactics of Goblin were replaced with a striking honesty, even if songs like “Domo 23” and “Tamale” keep the aloof nature of most Odd Future productions. Songs like “Answer” showed a disarming vulnerability at targets like Tyler’s missing father, while “Colossus” is a better “fame kinda sucks” song than most bands could ever hope for. The album struggles from consistency issues, but when it’s good, it’s some of the best work anyone at Odd Future has ever done.
Key Track: Answer
19. Marshall Mathers LP 2 - Eminem
No one thought he could do it, but Eminem managed to release his first truly great album since The Eminem Show, over a decade ago. After the the godawful duo of Encore and Relapse, and the mediocrity of Recovery, Marshall Mathers brought back everything that was missing from those three albums, with some fantastic beat work by Rick Rubin and others, lyrics that aren’t an endless stream of poop jokes, and some of Eminem’s best rapping, most notably on the infamous 100 syllables-per-second verse on “Rap God”. Sure, songs like “The Monster” (which, as I predicted, is currently the no. 1 song in the country) and the painful “Stronger Than I Was” bring it down to the lower top 20, but after 10 years of not even charing on any list I’d make, I think I’ll take it.
Key Track: Bad Guy
18. Melophobia - Cage the Elephant
You know what was an amazing album? Bossanova by the Pixies. While it wasn’t quite up to parr to the complete classics Surfer Rosa and Doolittle, it remains an incredibly tight collection of great Pop songs that smoothed out the rougher edges of their previous work. Apparently, Cage the Elephant feels the exact same way, since that’s exactly what Melophobia feels like. The Blues Rock of their debut and the harsh Guitar Punk of Thank You are toned down, replaced with more melodic Indie Rock style, combined with experimentation in sound, such as the use of instruments like saxophone on “Teeth”.What’s left is a fantastic collection of Indie Rock songs, much better than the Pixies’ actual return EP this year. Similar to R.A.P. Music from last year, it’s not the most revolutionary album, but it’s just a great collection of songs that everyone should listen to and enjoy.
Key Track: Hypocrite
17. The 20/20 Experience - Justin Timberlake
Let me get this out of the way. If this included the second half that came out a month or two ago, this album would not be on the list, or even in the top 30. The second half was a godawful mess, replacing the elegance of the first half with 10 minute songs about True Blood. It’s a mess that’s not worth listening to even if you’re a massive Timberlake fan. But hey, at least we got this collection of brilliant catastrophe before the brilliance left. 20/20 had so much that could have gone wrong, but somehow it remains remarkably strong. Songs like “Pusher Love Girl” and “Mirrors” are absolutely insane in their grandiosity, while also serving as fantastic Pop songs. Few songs in the top 10 this year had the same level of classy swagger as “Suit & Tie”, and “Blue Ocean Floor” is simply gorgeous, and alone boosts the album up a few spots. The definition of flawed beauty.
Key Track: Blue Ocean Floor
16. Colored Sand - Gorguts
If you are not a fan of Extreme Metal, and don’t particularly wish to be, skip this paragraph and go straight to no. 15. Anyway, if you listen to Death Metal at all, you owe it to yourself to know Gorguts. Beginning in the 90s as your typical Death Metal, they slowly evolved into a more Technical style, hitting their peak with 1998’s Obscura, a landmark in both Death Metal and Prog Metal. And now, 12 years after their last album, Gorguts appears again, taking this year’s place for Outsider Metal, previously held by Ne Obliviscaris. And while I don’t think it’s quite as good, it’s still a perfect representation of how there is still good Metal coming out. No one in Death Metal knows how to create Metal that’s actually unnerving like Gorguts, and the atmosphere on the album is superb. Combine that with one of the best growlers you’ll ever hear and superb musicianship, and you got an album every Metalhead must hear.
Key Track: Colored Sands
15. MBV - My Bloody Valentine
Can we just talk about this for a second? 21 years later, we finally have the follow-up to Loveless, one of the best albums ever made, and it’s actually good? No one expected that, and yet here we are, listening to it. While it’s forever going to be unfavorably compared to its monolith of a predecessor, it’s not an album to be discounted so quickly, feeling like a slower, more enveloping wall of sound than the abrasive nature of before. MBV is an album that swallows you, and won’t spit you out until it’s over. You’ll float through space, as the spirits of a previous life are plucked out of you and dance into the stars. Is this getting silly? Well this album’s a grand display of just what eleven years can get you.
Key Track: New You
14. The Bones Of What You Believe - Chvrches
Sometimes an album doesn’t half to be complex, or different, or artistic to be a fantastic album. Sometimes, it can just be completely enjoyable in every way. And that’s exactly what Chvrches achieved in their first full-length album, which I could go as far as saying is probably the best Synth-Pop album I’ve heard since Body Talk by Robyn. The combination of the emotive electro backing tracks with Lauren Mayberry’s gorgeous vocals created some of the most powerful music I heard all year, and showed just how good Pop music can be when you put some effort into it. Lorde was a good start, but if Chvrches could score a top 10 hit, I think I’d finally stop feeling guilty about loving top 40 music.
Key Track: Gun
13. The Terror - Flaming Lips
Remember when the Flaming Lips were three guys in college who were making slightly off-beat college rock? Funny how they’ve morphed from that to Boards of Canada going through a breakup. I can’t remember the last time I heard an album this dark, especially from the guys who made an album as cheerful and uplifting as Yoshimi Battles the Giant Robots. And yet they do this just as well, sounding like a 70s analog synthesizer that’s ten seconds from ending it all, backed by Wayne Coyne’s mysterious wandering voice. It’s a chilling listen, strung together by the epic “You Lust”, showing the Lips can still make music without covering a whole album or working with Ke$ha.
Key Track: You Lust
12. Trouble Will Find Me - The National
And speaking of depressing music, its current kings come back for their follow-up to the 2nd best album of 2010, High Violet, somehow even sadder than ever. The grandiosity of Violet is replaced with a melancholy that you can almost taste, formed around the story of a failing relationship. It’s a beautiful listen, gloriously constructed and composed, and perfectly accented by Matt’s powerful baritone filling the album like mortar in a brick house. If you went through a breakup this year, I imagine you know how powerful this album can be in those late moments at night, and if you didn’t, you can still appreciate this a bum just as much, like me.
Key Track: Graceless
11. Overgrown - James Blake
You know what the majority of big-name Electronica is missing right now? Humanity. Artists like Skrillex and Knife Party, talented as they may be, exchanged emotion in their music for high-pace energy, and Daft Punk exchanged the electronics and emotion for a 70s Disco sound. And while Chvrches has plenty of emotion, it’s still a Pop album, meaning the electronics don’t really reflect that. So along comes James Blake to give us the most emotional electronic album since Burial’s Untrue. The album doesn’t even feel like an electronic, more like a lost soul record that was remixed to hell in the best way possible. John Blake’s admittedly weak singing voice creates a beautiful ghostly atmosphere, as the music captures that feeling perfectly, like walking through a foggy part of the city at the break of dawn. It’s an album that captures the feeling of drowsy loneliness like no other. It’s a magnificent album, but sadly not quite good enough for the top 10.
Key Track: Life Round Here
Join me tomorrow for the top 10, plus a list of honorable mentions and a special announcement!