Best Albums of 2013 (thus far)

Matt Bailey @SonOfHilljack

Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold
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I turned 24 the other day, and this shit gets a little more depressing every year.  Thankfully we have Brooklyn pessimists with Squire Stratocasters pledging their discontent through feedback and razor sharp wit.  A soundtrack for post graduate despair that radiates with slacker quirk, I can blast this in my compact economy car while some lady next to me at an LA stoplight in an Audi purses her lips and thinks to herself “Get a job.”  Conversely, I’m thinking to myself, “Atleast 3 people just ran that red light.  And why does nobody have their turn signals on?  Did none of you people have stable father figures in your life?”

James Blake – Overgrown
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Take everything wonderfully brazen about Light Up Gold, and throw it out the window.  I could blast Overgrown in my car too, but this time the lady would look at me, eyebrow raised, and say something along the lines of “What the fuck are you listening to, bro?”  Overgrown has all those subtle nuances and rich textures that probably requires unobstructed focus and high end headphones to fully appreciate.  Luckily for Blake, I occasionally have both of these things.  There’s moments where Blake neglects his electronic finesse and goes straight lounge singer (see: “DLM”).  There’s also moments where he brings on RZA to drop lines like “Blood is thicker than mud/lick up the elixir of love/Turn this square dance into a passion hug/Tight as the grip of the squid”.  If you can get past that (I know — a lot to ask), there’s moments that make you want to jump off your couch in a combination of hype and frustration.  Somehow, these two elements work well together.  Blake is always a baby step away from unleashing an all out dance party, but then it’s on to the next.  It’s actually really engrossing.

Chance The Rapper – Acid Rap
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I digest rap albums like such an amateur, but I hope it’s always that way.  First listens are always a broad evaluation where beats and flow almost entirely determine if there will be a second listen.  It’s sort of how my dad used to always chastise my mom’s music tastes by citing “She only cares about the beat”.  I never told him how dope I thought mom’s music taste was, and how her 90’s spin class mixtapes sound a lot like the electronic music I gravitate toward today.  Anyway, if a rap album get’s an encore play from me, this time it’s to listen to the lyrics, because my brain isn’t advanced enough to pay attention to both the beats and the lyrics.  The flow is usually too fast or the references too obscure for me to realize the wit.  God bless Rap Genius.  Long story short, Chance earns replays on loop for both it’s musical and lyrical merits.  “Paranoia”, produced by the SUPER dope Nosaj Thing, is a heartbreaking indictment of the violence in Chicago, which hits fairly close to home for me, personally.

Toro Y Moi – Anything In Return
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While most publications were crowning “Random Access Memories” the throwback dance album of the year, Toro y Moi had already dropped his house-party masterpiece in January.  This isn’t surprising, because that’s exactly what Toro y Moi does.  Pool side grooves that are incredibly easy to digest.  This time though, it’s like aerobics class meets a knife fight.  The hooks dig a little deeper than before, and the beats are big and strong while maintaining valuable nuance. It’s not going to vary much, and unless you’re intentionally strapping in for an hours worth of music that might just make you feel like you’re inside an Urban Outfitter, you might have to split this one in two.

Mount Kimbie – Cold Spring Fault Less Youth
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If I was composing a solo album (which was the plan before I decided I was going to be a writer instead) I hope it would sound something like standout track “Made to Stray”.  It’s maybe the weirdest straight up club banger I’ve ever heard.  The entire first 3 minutes are like a fast approaching swarm of bees over an LCD Soundsystem beat.  One aspect of songwriting I could never figure out was where to lay a vocal phrase so that it doesn’t sound clunky riding on top of a beat.  I couldn’t quite nail the cadence, more or less, and I think that’s an incredibly underrated element of songcrafting in general.  For two guys that have put vocals on a very distant back burner until this album (Supposedly. This is the only Mount Kimbie music i’ve digested), they find a perfect hodgepodge of lyrics to ride the dance beat they had created up until that point.  It’s one of the top 5 songs of the year for me, without question.  The rest of the album definitely isn’t boring, I’ll say that much.  They really try a lot of things, including using help from King Krule (of whom I would not consider myself a fan…).  Some of it lands, and some of it doesn’t – and credit to them for taking some chances.  Because when they do find the sweet spot, like on “Made to Stray”, it’s as exciting as anything that’s happening in music this year.

Natty Morrison @Nattymorriosn

Great Dane – Alpha Dog
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I had a tough time deciding what to feature from gangsta beat pretty boy Great Dane (What? HE’S HANDSOME). In 2013, the L.A.-based producer dropped a pair of must-have mixes via his Soundcloud, both of which hit like sucker punches to the gut.  As it turned out, all of this was simply leading to his kick-to-the-crotch masterpiece album, “Alpha Dog.” Aggressive, subtle, gorgeous and hypnotic, this record plays out less like a collection of beats and more like a stream-of-drumbeat-consciousness (that is TOO a thing) that puts the “beat” back in “beat music.” By which I mean it beats you up.  But in a good way, like two boxers that are friends. (Note to self: Write movie about boxers that are friends.  No, not like Rocky III. IT’S NOTHING LIKE THAT.)
Tyler the Creator – Wolf

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Okay, I’ll admit this album is FUCKING LONG, but as my most anicipated record of 2013, the Odd Future head malcontent delivered.  In droves.  Lyrically, Tyler sounds inspired, experimental and – dare I even say – occasionally thoughtful.  It’s been fantastic watching this young artist grow, and if “Wolf” is any indication, I cannot wait to see what’s next.
Patchley – Easier Said (EP)

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I only recently stumbled upon this Nashville area producer, but within seconds of hearing this record’s single, “Stay in Bed,” I was instantly made a fan.  While a great EP does not always equal a great LP (see: Washed Out), this kid is the real deal. An up-and-comer who – albeit quietly – already arrived.
Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic

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By now we all know that Foxygen is safely in the list of Most Untourable Bands Ever, among the likes of Guns n Roses (beat up their fans), Brian Jonestown Massacre (beat up their band members) and Milli Vanilli (presumably beat up the guy in charge of the tape machine).  But that didn’t stop them from making a fantastically scattered and often genius record.  Songs like “No Destruction,” “Shuggie,” and “San Francisco,” reminded us that infusing 60’s style psychedelia doesn’t always have to sound weird.  Sometimes it’s just damn pretty.
 XXYYXX –  Finest Ego #17 mit XXYYXX

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What can I say? I love German radio stations.  Though the mix was originally aired in late 2012, it didn’t quite catch on in the U.S. until this spring, when blogs began featuring this masterful and mind-bending set.  The young Orlando-based producer slips effortlessly between Four Tet-esque floating melody, klezmer/gypsy jazz jams and DJ Shadow-like dark beats.  And that’s just in the first 20 minutes. Just one question: How in the fuck is this kid only 17 years old???

LUKAACH @Lucheezy

Kanye West – Yeezus

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There’s just a ton of shit to talk about with Yeezus, starting anywhere other than its personal intensity seems wasteful. Everything about Yeezus–dark/schizo samples, heavy Chicago tilt, willingly problematic + contradictory lyrics–reflects its creator in a very authentic way, antithetical to the way big brother Jay played it this summer with the release of his opus. Yeezus sounds like the art that it is, a jagged triumph that barely manage to smile because it gets so busy with ‘fuck you.’

Phoenix – Bankrupt!

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Loved this album after a few listens, with the exception of the expectedly bad closer ‘Coca Cola.’ Apparently Thomas Mars talked about purposely making it off-balance for pop music and giving people some jarring, oppositional moments. It’s sorta like that?

Tree – Sunday School II

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Another Chicago product who also loves chipmunk soul loops. Tree can do some things with samples, though, calls his style “soul trap” when he flips them over heavy drums. This sequel isn’t quite as dusty as its predecessor, but it’s still got old head appeal, and Tree has really got ahold of his braying flow here.

Charli XCX – True Romance

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Even better pop music, though, right here. Charli XCX is dreamy goth-pop, but she often grounds herself with some edgy lyrics. She can get really high and spacey like on ‘Grins’ or a dark-ish Stefani croon on ‘Nuclear Seasons.’ It’s all different but it’s all damn catchy.

Wavves – Afraid of Heights

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‘Demon to Lean On’ gave me a double take when I heard it. I don’t know what it is about Nathan Williams’ particular brand of angst that I enjoy–maybe it’s the alcoholic/weedhead nihilism–but, especially lyrical, it sounded like one of the best songs I’d heard in a long time. The rest of the album is built around the bastion of these two songs, the title track and that, while it’s a little more Weezer than the slapstick surf rock from King of the Beach. Wavves-bro is punk enough to pull it all off though really.

Ryan Wells @RMW221

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Local Natives – Hummingbird
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Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle
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Jagwar Ma – Howlin
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The Men – New Moon
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One thought on “Best Albums of 2013 (thus far)

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