Wednesday, December 18, 2013

ST&SP: Best of 2013

Well hello there. It’s been a long time hasn’t it? I knew I wasn’t going to post on here that often but six months!? That’s unfair to either of us. I will try to post more often in 2014 but hopefully this mega end of the year post will make up for it. 2013 was an incredibly unique year for music. So many different bands release exceptional records this year! What I found most interesting is usually the year is dominated by a few new buzzworthy bands but this year was the year the heavyweights showed us why they won the title in the first place. 2013 was the year the big name acts stepped up to the plate and delivered quality albums. So let’s get into it! Oh, and I apologize any formatting errors, Blogger is a piece of shit.

1. Darkside - Psychic

Nicholas Jaar has been on the scene for a while as a respected DJ, however we’ve had inklings that he was cooking up something special with rumors of this Darkside project with guitarist Dave Harrington. An EP dropped a few years back that seemed to remain under most peoples’ radar. Then early in the year they released Daftside, a reworking of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories into a moody atmospheric take of the incredibly popular album. That mixtape was the talk of the internet for a good amount of summer. Then in early October they dropped Psychic. Where Random Access Memories is a statement to fellow EDM artists that they need to bring more style and integrity to their music, Psychic is Jaar and Harrington’s answer. Harrington and Jaar play off each other and meld Pink Floyd psychedelia with late night trance music in such a way that sounds completely original. Psychic is at times an atmospheric study album, and a floor-shaking dance record, Harrington and Jaar fluctuate between those two moods so organically and seamlessly that for a brand new duo, they sound like they’ve been doing this for years.
WHEN TO LISTEN: On a late night drive through an unknown place. 

2. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
It has been eight years since the enigmatic Daft Punk have graced us with their presence and in that time dance music has changed a lot. Dubstep is everywhere, the EDM scene has exploded with major festivals everywhere and Vegas contracts for some DJs. The scene has come a long way since Daft Punk started in France playing small warehouse shows in the early 90s and they seem to be the only ones to see the writing on the wall. Daft Punk are regarded as the most important techno act around, they are trendsetters. Pretty much whatever they do within five years everyone else does. So what do they do this time around? Instead of looking forward they decide to take a trip back to the disco era and pay tribute to artists like Chic that inspired them. Random Access Memories is easily the most hyped album of the year with a unique marketing strategy and impressive list of collaborators. It's a huge risk for Daft Punk to take as this album has made some of their most loyal fans upset since it lacks any major techno elements. However this is exactly what the duo needed to do to stay vital in a scene that is quickly growing stale. Random Access Memories is a perfectly engineered triumph of an album that explores so many different styles of music. While there are plenty of songs that will get booties shaking ("Get Lucky,""Lose Yourself to Dance" "Giorgio by Morodor") The one song that really stands out to me is the centerpiece of the album "Touch." Written and sung by Paul Williams, “Touch” is an odyssey of a track reminiscent of The Beatles "A Day In The Life" in the massive scope of the track and the vast amount of landscapes it ventures into. This song is a perfect example of why Daft Punk are too good for the button pushing scene they helped create. They are true artists and they never want to do the expected, Daft Punk took a huge risk with RAM and it paid off in dividends.
WHEN TO LISTEN: Cruising down Hollywood Blvd. with the top down in your 1986 Ferrari Testarossa 

3. Chance The Rapper - Acid Rap

From the streets of Chicago to the universe of the blogosphere Chance The Rapper took the internet by storm when he released his free mixtape Acid Rap online. I highly doubt even he thought it would become one of the most celebrated hip-hop records of the year. Whereas other rappers like Danny Brown and Drake assaulted you with production and layering to make their sound as huge as possible, Chance decided to go another route by paying tribute to the soul sound that inspired him to get into the game. Acid Rap is filled with soulful organs and trumpets and “na-na-naaas” and some of the wittiest lyrics I have heard in a long time. Acid Rap is such a joy of a listen, one of the few releases of the year that can be enjoyed the entire way through.
  WHEN TO LISTEN: On a clear spring day in Chicago

4. Arcade Fire - Reflektor 

When I first saw Arcade Fire’s interactive video for “Reflektor” I thought “Oh shit they’re going to go 4-4!” And that they did. The thing I love most about Arcade Fire is they’ve managed to carve an incredibly successful career while still managing to tinker their sound quite a bit. This is not the same vest-wearing Arcade Fire that made Funeral this is the new Arcade Fire with Hatian voo-doo influences, and late night discotheque jams, and body paint. Arcade Fire doesn’t settle and they have challenged themselves into to making a sprawling album with some of their most ambitious and longest work to date. My only complaint with this album is there is no reason why this needs to be a double-album. If they trimmed the last few minutes of “Supersymmetry” they could have fit Reflektor on one disc which would have been more enjoyable, because six songs per disc is just too short.
  WHEN TO LISTEN: On your way to see Arcade Fire play a huge venue.

5. Kanye West - Yeezus

Kanye West follows up his masterpiece My Beautiful Twisted Dark Fantasy with a stripped down explosive and jarring Yeezus. Many people are calling this a game changer, the album is a blend of jarring noise and Dubstep influence and a dash of old-school Kanye soul samples. People say this is one of the darkest and noisy rap albums, that's not true at all. Just pick up any Death Grips album and Yeezus will feel like a Simon & Garfunkel record. However Kanye is going to reach a lot more people than Death Grips, so Yeezus will ultimately receive a lot more credit. This album features some of West's harshest and politically charged lyrics to date. The first four tracks are the albums most intense, and the production is credited to Daft Punk. It's crazy to think that while they were making their crisp Random Access Memories they were also helping create the hellish beats for Kanye. Yeezy seems especially mad and charged up on this record, paired with the excellent production Yeezus is an immediately engaging record. While many critics are praising this album for its distorted sound, I commend executive producer Rick Rubin for keeping this album as simple as possible and only leaving in what is necessary.
WHEN TO LISTEN: When you're not man enough to listen to Death Grips, and you want to complain about high fashion. 
6. Sigur Ros - Kveikur
 Iceland's Sigur Ros have been through a transitional year. Their past few albums have felt like they lacked direction, and with the loss of one of their founding members the now trio decided to go back to the drawing board and regroup. Quite simply Kveikur is their best work since Takk, and maybe even ( ). As a trio the band focused on two instruments that have never really played an important role until now, drums and bass. The drums are thunderous and the bass is huge on this record. Kveikur is their most aggressive album to date, and singer Jonsi has found a way to re-tap into that soul excavating emotionalism that captured so many fans with their early work. For anyone who thought that Sigur Ros' artistic relevance has come and gone is in for a wake-up call. The band is alive and roaring on Kveikur
WHEN TO LISTEN: When you're caught in a blizzard at night in Iceland

7. Rhye - Woman
It wasn’t until I saw his television debut on Jimmy Kimmel when I finally understood Rhye. Rhye is a less rapey more sincere version of The Weeknd. This is R&B music made for candlelight romance. This album has an effortless confidence to it as Rhye work their way through soulful slow jams and electro R&B. They take a much simpler approach to music than other contemporaries, using an average of three instruments per song. I know this might not be in the top ten of most people’s lists but I really connected with it. This isn’t fucking music. This is love making music. There is a difference.
WHEN TO LISTEN: In a candlelit bedroom as you caress the finest oils of the orient into the naked body of your one true love.

8. Tim Hecker - Virgins
Tim Hecker has been steadily pushing ambient music into new and ambitious directions for the past decade. With his newest LP Virgins Hecker makes his most natural sounding album to date. However despite for the most part using conventional instruments, the twelve tracks here are filled with more tension and drama than he has ever released. Several tracks including “Prism” and “Stab Variation” swell and cut at the listener’s ears sounding like a crashed plane engine that just won’t die. “Virginal I” is a cacophony of single piano notes being played over and over in no particular pattern at all. Virgins can be a dizzying and immersive experience, but it is one that I find to be extremely
WHEN TO LISTEN: As pre-show music for your avant-garde performance art show that your parent's just don't understand.
9. Disclosure - Settle
Normally these days a new electro group or DJ will release their material for free on the internet in hopes to attract more fans. Sadly, EDM has gotten away from releasing traditional LPs. Which is why when Disclosure decided to announce themselves to the world through a sprawling LP it was a huge risk and bold move. Luckily it has paid off in dividends. Settle is one of the most celebrated dance releases of the year. What impresses me the most about Disclosure is they aren’t sampling material that has already been done. All of the vocalists were brought in and recorded live for this particular album such as “Latch” and “White Noise” Disclosure made a huge impression on people this year, I have no doubt these guys will be a heavyweight in a few years if they don’t completely sell
WHEN TO LISTEN: If you live in LA just turn on the radio station KCRW after 10pm. This is all they seem to play. Grrrr.
  10. Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience pt. 1
It's strange to think that even though Justin Timberlake is arguably the most recognized male pop-star alive he only has three albums. It has been a long time since his now iconic FutureSex/LoveSounds and many people started to speculate whether Timberlake had another great album in him. The 20/20 Experience is easily his most ambitious work to date. It is a statement that pop songs don't have to all be three minutes long with the same hooks over and over again. For instance the second single "Mirrors" is over nine minutes long. Even though the majority of this album’s tracks are over eight minutes long it never feels tired. Each song is compartmentalized, leading from one movement to the next seamlessly. This is something that is probably not even close to being in any other pop star’s vocabulary. This album is all killer and no filler, ten solid songs that will stick in your mind for a long time. The only unfortunate thing about this is in September he decided to release a Part 2 to this album. Part 2 is full of thoughtless b-sides that in a way take away some of the magic of Pt. 1. Justin had an impressive streak of quality music for a long time, but unfortunately part two shows that even the great entertainer can have a misstep from time to time.
WHEN TO LISTEN: In your club clothes, pre-gaming with some fine ladies.

11. The National - Trouble Will Find Me
If you enjoyed The National's previous three albums then you're going to love Trouble Will Find Me. The National know who they are and what is in their wheelhouse and that's why they have become one of the more secure bands in indie music along with Beach House and Yo La Tengo. Trouble Will Find Me is certainly a more playful than the morose Boxer and less anthemic than High Violet. However, this album explores an array of different sounds from the quiet acoustic picking of “I Need My Girl” to the crescendos of “Sea of Love” all while still maintaining that National-sound we have all grown accustom to. Matt Beringer’s voice has never sounded better and his lyrics are razor sharp making you cry one moment and laugh the next. “Pink Rabbits” contains some of the best songwriting the band has done to date. Trouble Will Find Me is an album for all occasions that will stick with the listener making them ponder life, love, death and everything in-between. 
WHEN TO LISTEN: When you need some music to reminisce over a lost love one last time before you move on with your life. 
  12. Flume - Flume
Straight from the Gold Coast twenty-one year old DJ Flume made a splash on the indie scene with his self-titled debut. Flume is on his way to becoming the king of pitch-shifting vocals. Some album highlights include “Insane” “Sleepless” and “Stay Close” all feature vocal tweaks that seem to be the ‘thing’ in 2013. The first seven tracks of Flume are flawless, then the album kind of falls apart from there on out. I understand many of the later tracks are used as filler and transitions for his live show, but if he had put as much effort into the last few tracks as he did the first half of the album there is no doubt this would be on everyone’s end of the year list.  
WHEN TO LISTEN: When you want to make everyone at your house party go "Woah, who the hell is this?" 

13. Deerhunter - Monomania

It’s been my belief for a long time now that Bradford Cox is an absolute genius of a musician and songwriter. Deerhunter has gone from a clusterfuck of creativity to cleaning up and honing their sound through the years leading up to their widely celebrated Halcyon Digest. So when they dropped the brash loud and distorted Monomania earlier this year it took me by surprise. This is their loudest and most abrasive record to date. I find it even more interesting since Bradford released a quiet subdued Atlas Sound record last year. Cox & Co. are not one to rest on their laurels and Monomania is certainly evidence of that.
WHEN TO LISTEN: Chalk up a pool cue and throw this on the jukebox at your local hipster leather jacket hangout. 

14. Vampire Weekend - Vampires of the Modern City
I have a confession to make. I’m not the biggest Vampire Weekend fan in the world. I recognize they are very talented and have written several tremendous songs however, they are not a band that excites me. That being said Vampires of the Modern City is undoubtedly the best record they have put together to date. It’s hard to ignore the brilliance of a song like “Hannah Hunt” or “Diane Young.” Vampires of the Modern City is their least kitschy and most varied record of their careers. Granted, it still very much has that Vampire Weekend sound, but something sounds a little more grown-up about this record.
WHEN TO LISTEN: In your Oxford Sweater putzing around New York

15. Drake - Nothing Was The Same

Hip-Hop production has gotten so good these days I’m starting to wonder if we should be celebrating the men who produce these records rather than the artists they belong to? Because in all honesty, Drake’s lyrics aren’t all that amazing, he’s often compared to Kendrick Lamar which he isn’t because Kendrick has reached the upper echelon of rappers. Drake thinks he’s there, and his music certainly would trick one into thinking that, but he isn’t. Much of these songs spit about the same club life that has been done by hundreds of rapper’s before him. To date, Drake is mostly famous for coining the term “YOLO” which isn’t that great of an achievement. But god dammit this album is fun to listen to. It’s huge and extravagant, and is easily the best crafted hip-hop album of 2013. Drake for me is a guilty pleasure, he’s someone I enjoy listening to on a run or at the gym because the beats are huge and his lyrics are dripping with self-confidence. However, when you start to examine him as an artist under a microscope there just isn’t much there.
WHEN TO LISTEN: Throw this on your Ipod at the gym when you need that extra push.

16. Deafheaven - Sunbather
If it hasn’t been done already someone needs to do an overview of the shift in metal over the years from harsh shredding to intense scenic tapestries. I can think of no album that exemplifies the beautification of metal than Deafheaven’s Sunbather. This record is like what would happened if the relentless intense beauty of Godspeed You Black Emperor teamed up with Lamb of God. Sunbather is the Rothko of metal. The album’s artwork is inspired by the pink image the eyeball sees when looking up at the sun with eyelids closed. Sunbather plays around with quiet and loud moments with much success. At times it literally feels like you are being submerged in a bath of guitar cymbals and screaming and then re-emerging from the pool to find a tranquil world of acoustic accompaniment. No other record of 2013 takes the listener on an emotional journey quite like Sunbather, the only question is, can you stomach thirteen minute songs of intense screaming and guitar to allow yourself to take that journey?
WHEN TO LISTEN: Headphones. This album requires focus, but it's worth it.

17. Phosphorescent - Muchacho

When Matthew Houck was drawing a blank on what was the next step for his Phosphorescent moniker, he decided to retreat alone to a small rural fishing village off the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. When he emerged from the beach he had a whole album worth of material ready to be recorded. When he stepped out of the studio his Phosphorescent project had a much warmer and fuller sound to it. This is one of the best alt-country albums in recent memory. This record has nods to The Band all over it with clanging pianos, warm horns and beautiful melodies.  Houck used his vacation to its fullest potential it seems. 
WHEN TO LISTEN: Sipping on a Pacifico at a backyard barbeque with your best friends.

18. The Knife - Shaking The Habitual
The Knife are absolutely terrifying. Seriously, listen to “A Cherry On Top” on a really good sound system with the bass turned up, it will scare the ever-loving Jesus out of you. One of the most obscure and provocative Swedish exports return with their follow-up to the now classic Silent Shout with Shaking The Habitual. While the new album is not as danceable, it is denser and more artistically driven. Clanging-scatterbrained tracks with Karin Dreijer Andersson shrieking mixed with long periods of ambient music. “Full of Fire” is one of my favorite songs of 2013, clocking at over nine minutes by the time it reaches its climax it creates such an unnerving feeling in the listener. The Knife are really good at making your skin crawl in the best way possible. 
WHEN TO LISTEN: When you're engaging in satanic group sex involving blood and pentagrams, in Sweden of course. 

19. Death Grips - Government Plates
From one savage group to the next, Death Grips are a group I have been fascinated with for a few years and are one of the best live-acts I’ve seen this year. Keeping with their anarchist approach to their art they released their new record Government Plates for free online. Maybe this was a way of making it up to their fans for being no-shows at several shows this year? Or maybe it is because this is the only way Death Grips can release music since they have pissed off their label into dropping them after leaking their last album No Love Deep Web online months before it was supposed to be in stores. Government Plates is interesting because it’s the group’s most musical release to date. This record is not dominated by Stefan Burnett’s guerilla vocals. Instead he lets Zach Hill (who is the best drummer I have ever seen, no joke) let some of the most brutal beats known to man do the talking. While I love “Two Heavens” “This Is Violence Now” and "You may think he loves you for your money but I know what he really loves you for it's your brand new leopard skin pillbox hat" are great songs, “Birds” might be the worst song ever recorded.
 WHEN TO LISTEN: When you're skateboarding around with your dumb punk friends looking for buildings to tag.

20. Savages - Silence Yourself

Woah. Woah hold the phone. You’re telling me there’s a band made up of four unassuming white-chicks that can rock incredibly hard and they’re called Savages!? That’s what nearly every critic was saying for the first part of the year about this new group Savages. All the while I couldn’t help but scratch my head and stare at my Sleater-Kinney albums. Because the truth of the matter is Savages are nothing that every Riot Gurrl act hasn’t already done. But they are talented and have put together a fine debut album that does rock really hard. But let’s take it easy on the hype, okay? 
WHEN TO LISTEN: In a feminist slam-dance.

21. M.I.A - Matangi
M.I.A could have released record of bird calls for all I care and it would have been better than her last album, that’s how terrible MAYA was. On Matangi, our girl is back in form with huge beats with far-east influences. The production on this album is absolutely insane. Some of these songs like “Y.A.L.A.” are just so huge it makes me want to be covered in glow-sticks dancing my ass off to this at Coachella. Another track that is a personal favorite of mine is “Double Bubble Trouble” which manages to switch styles seamlessly between reggae and dubstep. While many people thought the girl who wrote “Paper Planes” was going to be a one-album wonder she has proven on this record that she’s here to stay.  
WHEN TO LISTEN: One word. Coachella.
 22 . Queens of the Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork
It took a near death experience to get Josh Homme to finally put out a new Queens of the Stone Age record, and my god it was worth the wait. With QOTSA we’re used to being buried with slick rock riffs, but on …Like Clockwork Homme strips away a lot of the unnecessary noise and what we’re left with are some good-ol-fashioned rock music. This is QOTSA’s most varied record to date. This album even rivals Daft Punk with celebrity guests …Like Clockwork features Elton John on piano and Dave Grohl on drums--I mean c’mon. 
WHEN TO LISTEN: When avoiding highway patrol somewhere in Joshua Tree.

23. Danny Brown - Old
Danny Brown had to tweet an angry message to his own record label to get Old released, and it’s a good thing they listened because this is one of the most critically acclaimed records of the year. You know how certain albums don’t really click until you play it really loud? I almost missed the boat on this one. Then I blasted it in my car one night and I was hooked. This album is an absolute roller coaster of dizzying samples and furious rhythm. This album is like a locomotive. It starts out slow and steady, and gradually picks up speed. Except by the end of Old you feel like this train is going to derail in the best way possible. Danny Brown might sound like a whiny crack addict, but god dammit this is a fun album.

 WHEN TO LISTEN: When you're rolling out of your mind and lost at a music festival and you look around and see that everyone else is in the exact same boat you are.

24. Neko Case - The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You


My favorite New Pornographer returns with her long overdue follow up to the tremendous Middle Cyclone. This record is on par with her best work she’s recorded. The Worse Things Get… is her most intimate and personal album she’s released. “Midnight In Honolulu” sealed the deal for me on whether this album was going on the list. Listen to it, Neko Case is a gift to the world. 
WHEN TO LISTEN: A crisp but beautiful morning as you tend to your garden.

25. TIE! Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Push The Sky Away
James Blake - Overgrown 
There were so many albums released this year that I thought were going to make my top twenty-five but ended up just missing. 2013 will go down as a truly special year in music history. So many soon to be legendary bands had incredible years. With these two records I couldn’t just pick one over the other so screw it! It’s a tie! After all it’s my list I can do what I want! Nick Cave released his most subdued, moody and smoky album in recent memory. We’re used to hearing Cave shout words of Cormac McCarthy-esque violence over The Bad Seeds pounding instruments. But on Push The Sky Away Cave marries his dark and mysterious lyrics to appropriate accompaniment. 

James Blake returns with his sophomore release and steps out into a more bright setting. Turns out, this man makes some sexy music. There’s nothing moodier than a sultry voice dripping over the keys. Blake even teams up with Wu-Tang’s RZA on one of the oddest collaborations of the year. Blake goes from his hazy debut record and shows that he’s perfectly capable of making club music too.
WHEN TO LISTEN: Nick Cave - At home on your leather sofa petting your pet panther contemplating the sins you've committed. James Blake -When you feel like dancing, but not too hard.

BEST REISSUE: Bob Dylan - Another Self-Portrait

Over the past decade reissues have gotten so good that they might even soon usurp new releases in popularity. Dylan’s always worthwhile Bootleg Series struck gold again by taking aim at my personal favorite era of Dylan, the years surrounding the recording of New Morning, The Basement Tapes, and the critically panned Self-Portrait. Using a two disc mix of unreleased material, outtakes, demos, and live recordings we get a fresh perspective on Dylan’s most puzzling era. This record breathes new life into oft-forgotten Dylan tracks such as Self-Portrait’s “Copper Kettle” which is a breathtaking song when the shitty production of the original pressing is stripped away. My personal favorite is “This Evening So Soon” which is an old-standard about a woman learning her husband was murdered that Dylan has turned into a more light-hearted affair. However, the lyrics mixed with Dylan’s happy strumming add to the song’s overall severity. It’s a track that will bring a tear to your eye.
WHEN TO LISTEN: It's Dylan. Do you really need a reason? 


Here’s a few records that didn’t quite make the list, but you should listen to anyways because they’re pretty damn great. 

The Flaming Lips - The Terror

Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady

Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels

William Tyler - Impossible Truth

Bryce Dessner with Kronos Quartet - Aheym

Steve Gunn - Time Off

Phoenix - Bankrupt!

ST&SP Favorite Live Acts 2013:

1. Death Grips
2. Grinderman
3. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
4. Godspeed You Black Emperor
5. Jonathan Richman
6. Modest Mouse
7. TV On The Radio
8. Justin Timberlake
9. Sigur Ros
10. Jay-Z 


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