Even though I did a light hearted variation of this for Moxipop, I did it here last year, so I'm doing it again because if I deviate from busy work routines I start to look at my actual life and how it's devoid of any real meaning. So here's 10 things I loved to listen to this year, ranked with great difficulty, but ultimately only reflecting my opinion at this very moment.
10. Bleeding Rainbow - Yeah Right
Proof that advance streaming works. Listened to it on a whim from the newly debuted Pitchfork Advance stream and I fell right into Bleeding Rainbow. Rad nostalgic alternative stuff with airy vocals. I got stuck on the constant beat of songs like "Shades of Eternal Night," or the druggy haze of "Drift Away." Just a cool, raw band with a tool belt of sounds. They build and build and build.
9. Pusha T - My Name Is My Name
Really feel like people should've cared more about this album. Everyone's debating Yeezus vs. Nothing Was The Same, but man, I really really liked Pusha T in the field of rap this year. It wasn't a big statement or thesis the way Drake & Kanye make statements and enter chapters into their legend, but aiming for a career defining moment doesn't automatically make it superior. I kept digging deeper into My Name Is My Name, finding newer angles to ride on his verses, and the beats are these off-color organic underpinnings that hit you like an axe.
8. Son Lux - Lanterns
It's so hard to talk about this album because it's so intensely engaging and immersive. I can try and describe the weird little dramas unfolding in each song, how unorthodox everything is built and how otherworldly & nocturnal it all feels. I can use a bunch of metaphors, maybe liken a segment of it to Sufjan or Portishead. But it's an album you live in, with it's weird movement shifts and its playful dance between electronic music and trip hop and slowcore and whatever you want to call it. Sometimes he's James Blake, sometimes he's Flying Lotus. But that's wrong. Son Lux really is a true on of a kind to my ears and mind.
7. Hebronix - Unreal
I got really into lazy rock. That is, lethargic slide guitars, plodding paces, stoned vocals. The crown jewel of lazy rock in 2013 is Hebronix. Daniel Blumberg takes the ear for guitar hooks from Yuck and draws it down to a sleepy speed and it feels great. Sometimes it's a 90s flashback, like something Pavement would play in the living room before practice starts. It's often gorgeous, as in a song like "The Garden," which ends on a perfect string section. His best work _drags you down_ and I mean that in a great way. Three minutes into "Unliving" and I have to lie down on the floor -- and what music can physically pull you like that? What music has such inescapable, black hole gravity? It's not that it's depressing, or a bummer, or even painful -- it's a dull ache, but he makes it sound so big, a web connected to everything. It makes you mutter "Damn" to yourself but you don't know why.
6. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down - We The Common
Whenever I try and describe what I love about Thao and her music, it usually comes down to charisma. She's a great confessional lyricist, a sick-as-hell musician and an amazing on-stage performer. But all of that ties back into charisma -- she sells every word and melody and the riffs and beats oscillate around whatever atmosphere she's projecting. Playful, mournful, she is the conduit for it all. I'm always convinced that anyone that sees her live will be blown away, and We The Common is a great addition to her set list. This is her most abstract writing to date, and I'm excited to see where she goes next.
5. Chance the Rapper - Acid Rap
Acid Rap is insanely easy to like. It goes down smoothly. Chance raps in wonderful melodies where the words don't even matter -- sometimes, when he quickly rips through a line, I'm pretty sure he's not using words so much as just scatting along a melody. His tunes mimic soul grooves or are expertly complimented by R&B hooks, or their infused with a singalong crowd party atmosphere as on "Juice." I never got stuck on a couplet or got hit by an internal rhyme or anything. It was just melody -- "Good Ass Intro," "Chain Smoker," "That's Love," it's all just righteous music that can pull you up and get you into gear.
4. Local Natives - Hummingbird
Aaron Dessner applies the emotional gravity of The National to the dreamy jam sound of Local Natives. The results are astounding. More than ever, Local Natives sounds like a band that creates tension and drama. They've always a band with cool constructs, but none of it ever felt all encompassing. On Hummingbird they have direction and character and weight. It feels important because they sound cohesive and genuine. I hope this album is their big break through.
3. Los Campesinos! - No Blues
At some point I'm going to run out of ways to explain why I love Los Campesinos! It's fun, but heart-wrenching, but catchy, but challenging. "No Blues" is a "they've still got it!" album in some ways, but that's only because I'm constantly worried the other shoe will drop with each successive lineup change. But it hasn't. And maybe I should just trust the system and believe LC! will always be a top tier band, wrapped up in passion and attitude and snark and uncomfortable sincerity. There's no stopping them.
2. Waxahatchee - Cerulean Salt
Probably the best writing of the year. Stripped down, bare, but it puts full focus on each important, forward moving word and the texture & range of Katie Crutchfield's voice. It's a simmering drama, a state of affairs, instead of a blazing explosion of emotion. And in some ways that's more powerful. Even when she gently coos something "positive" like, "I'll give you everything you wanted if I can," it doesn't feel right. It feels true, that these are earnest feelings, but that something tragic underlines such slavish selfless devotion. She manages to portray romantic love as a losing of self, and love in decline as a slow disaster. Sometimes there's a bass guitar, sometimes it's just a gentle hand drum. It's all restrained and the prize is the "aura of authenticity" -- nothing sounded as real as Cerulean Salt this year.
1. The National - Trouble Will Find Me
At this point I look at The National as, I dunno, LeBron James. They're a finely tuned machine. Their writing process may be a wreck and full of in-fighting and disagreements, but the end result is so clean and perfectly timed. They make meticulous, mainstream, and powerful songs. They know what they do and they do it well, growing a little bit each time, stumbling onto gold. I listen to this album with a small awe -- what a perfect chorus, what an exciting build up -- and it has yet to even feel aged. When we're old, this is a band that will be around playing arenas, and our kids will think we're uncool for going to their reunion tour or whatever. That may sound boring, maybe the death of indie rock's rebellious streak, but we need bands like this too. As long as they're good, there ought to be no shame in being a top dog.
I have a hard time singling out just one song as the favorite. Every track has at least one piercing moment, a well-crafted turn, and for those few seconds or couple verses, that song seems like the best. These are the types of moments that have you rewinding just a few seconds to hear again and again, and Trouble is full of them. On "Heavenfaced" it's a sudden bridge with hard rhymes ("She's a griever / and I believe her") but on the long crescendo of "Sea of Love" it's the final, swinging, "I see you rushing now / tell me how to reach you."
Then there's "Pink Rabbits" -- a simple piano ballad with thick drums and Matt Berninger writing with detail and character. It's a song that is made up entirely of those rewind moments, with each changing verse revealing more and more, before circling back to the creeping wonder in the chorus: "Am I the one you think about when you're sitting in your fainting chair, drinking pink rabbits?" The shifts from each clear segment feels like driving stick; sometimes you shift up a gear, clunk, speed up, then you reach traffic and shift down. It's a leisurely cruise with a lot to think about and places to go. "I was solid gold, I was in the fight, I was coming back from what seemed like a ruin." It may be my favorite song on the album.
But the best song on the album, regardless of my affinity for heavy hearted lines, is "Don't Swallow the Cap." While "Pink Rabbits" takes its time to wallow and contemplate, "Cap" is all urgency and passion. Still, they remain clean, as if they've sworn off the rock & roll rumblings of their older, chaotic songs like "Mr. November." Here, panic and anxiety take the form of a relentless drum beat, punctuated by at-first innocuous single notes on guitar & piano. It ramps up and builds around Matt's tunnel vision lyrics, until it reaches a chorus: "I'm not alone," he begins. "I'll never be."
The first time he reaches that chorus, it's just a teaser, he starts on a downhill slide but pulls up before the segment gains it's full form. It takes another verse before he reaches the chorus again and completes it: "If you want ot see me cry, play Let It Be or Nevermind." Still, we're not at main capacity, and that's the songs brilliant flow of drama. We're continuously returning to this chorus to build on its urgency more and more until you can't help but place emotional importance on its third and final expression. After that, we're let out by an instrumental that sounds like its finally allowed to kick some muscle in. Not in any bombastic, obvious way -- the drums fill in the space between beats, a guitar drone goes off with more anger in the back. But eventually they all drop out with a tinny echo, and we're all left alone.
The National's sense of beautiful sounds and dramatic writing are so cohesive and interlinked it's hard to imagine that the band fights over songs so much. There's no disconnect at all when they're firing on all cylinders, and it's a clear success on Trouble Will Find Me from the first track to the last.
- Wavves - Afraid of Heights
- Youth Lagoon - Wondrous Bughouse
- Run The Jewels - Self-titled
- My Bloody Valentine - m b v