13 NOTABLE ALBUMS FROM '13
Zacht Automaat - Zacht Automaat
You can call this a biased pick, but to suggest any other record might be top dog for me this year would be a deception. By all the conventional metrics (most listened to, most recommended etc...) this is my album of 2013. Condensing hours of music into a magic 80 minute trip, this is a dense creation of cosmic melody and epic mystery. Experiencing this music unfold in close to real time, and having had a small hand in it's ultimate compilation has been a hugely valuable experience. A record that has opened my mind to a lot of different sonic corners, and a high water mark for Calico Corp. and - I honestly believe - Canadian music in general.
Rodion G.A. - The Lost Tapes
It blows my mind that this music was hidden away in a dusty attic til this past year. There's truly nothing else I've heard like it. A devastating combination of Kosmiche keyboardery, and blistering psych rock put to reel via a decidedly blasted production sensibility. It's fitting to list this just under the ZA record as it shares an affinity for combining 1000 ideas into new formations liable to melt minds previously exposed to global varieties of head expanding tuneage. If the idea of Harmonia recording a greatest hits cover LP of Anatolian psych greats sounds appealing to you, buy this record today.
U.S. Girls - Free Advice Column
Another biased pick. These lists are nothing if not personal. Give a listen to this 4 song bomb, try not to burn your fingers off. I really feel like Meg and Mark (U.S. Girl and producer Onakabazien respectively) are on track to invent a new genre of music if they keep at this pace. Meg is surely the best vocal melody writer in the biz - classy, clear and catchy. Combine that with this hardbody tuff shit and listeners are liable to start pulling hydrants out of the ground. Impeccable pop with purpose. Cross your fingers for a full length.
Prodigy & Alchemist - Albert Einstein
Let's put it simply... This is just a straight up errr... prodigal display of beatmaking ability. Alchemist refuses to slow down and by this point he's put himself on the map of my production appreciating listening on a near historical level. Every year I'm posting these lists with more and more Alchemist shit. He's just that dope. Horror soundtracks, Euro prog rock, classical music - it's all just fodder for track excellence from the 'Chemist.
Public Nuisance - Gotta Survive
Just undeniable stuff here. You hear a lot about rediscovered and reissued records being 'lost masterpieces', it's hard to take serious for the most part. This is the real goods though. Not so genre specific that you need be knee deep in some obscure psych variant sourced to some certain intersection, during some specific weekend in 67 - NO! This is just real deal awesome, vaguely baroquey - but tougher than that - fantastic pop/rock shit. Well done reissue too (on Jack White's record label no less). So many times the artwork on these psych-garage comps is utter garbage. This is a real good looking, great sounding wonder album.
The Focus Group - The Elektrik Karousel
A nice companion piece to the Focus Group / Broadcast collaboration album that remains a real hi-lite of the last few years. Electronic warble making you dig for little melodies wafting off the turntable, trying to catch them like smoke into a glass jar. Heady strange stuff, with just enough dust-brushed breaks to keep you un-hypnotized. I dig it.
Ela Orleans - Tumult In Clouds
Not too dissimilar from the Focus Group record. A dense brew of arcane textures bubbling up as a froth of bookish peculiarity. Synths, samples, spoken word, dreamy vocals - it's all in the mix. A varied record to be sure, but it all turns out Ela somehow. A mystery served over two platters.
Medusa - First Step Beyond
It's pretty cool that these Chicago rockers are excavated nearly 40 years later by Numero Group, a Chicago label champion in championing the dusty and the strange. We're told these cats dig them some Hawkwind / Amon Duul II / Euro hardrockin' exotica... And while I hear that, I also hear a wet American basement. The combination is cool, but mostly this thing rawks hevvy - and how couldn't it, packaged as it is in a thick velvet sleeve.
KA - The Night's Gambit
I didn't listen to this record as much as crony Marciano's records this year... But this dude is unique. I love the idea of him more than I even enjoy listening to him most of the time. Sometimes, I just think about KA. The shy, anti-careerist, chess obsessed sensitive crime rapper KA. I love his vibe, that he's so clearly indebted to a specific past yet is clearly manipulating it to do something fresh. Existential whispering over barely there pulse loops. This is still rap music right? Right?
Crystal Stilts - Nature Noir
Solid rock shit. A lot of time bands will release an album that a lot of people dig on. When they next spend subsequent albums refining that sound to new heights people often get mad that this band would do something as BORING as seek PERFECTION. I ain't mad. These guys do something highly specific, but they are best today at that specific thing. This tune mate, this tune.
Taiwan / Hobo Cubes - Split 12"
Pleasence continue to seek out the strange on this one. God bless 'em. A very nicely curated split (I don't normally go for split releases), great artwork to boot. Must have for fans of Angelo. Listened to this at work a bunch this year.
Devo - Hardcore Devo Vol. 1 & 2
Always knew Devo were weird. Didn't know just how weird. If a cross between R. Stevie Moore and the Residents sounds as appealing to you as it does to me, you'll have to grab these wonderful, batshit eccentric releases. Nice work getting them on vinyl after all these years.
Kanye West - Yeezus
I'm oddly unsure including Yeezus among my favourites of 2013... This feeling inspired a little soul searching on behalf of the pick. The record appears inhabited by contradictory spirits. Clearly it is an innovative and violently visionary work, but despite that I sense a massively missed opportunity to completely destroy Rap music.
The contract I maintain with Rap records of our era is that I enjoy them most explicitly for their production elements while turning a blind eye to a lot of what goes on verbally. Few rappers (we might broaden that to vocalists) distinguish themselves beyond a surface persona to a degree that engages my critical interest (Kendrick does, Ghostface did, DOOM probably still would). When I listen to Rap music I often feel like a child caught witness to a parental dispute, pretending one didn't hear what has just been implied. It's an odd feeling to feel so exhilarated by music whose ultimate politics seem to contradict my own feelings about gender and orientation equality and the fetishization of wealth accumulation among other things.
The fact is while Kanye has illuminated new directions and techniques sonically, he has kept disengaged that 'obsession with dopeness' - that powerful engine driving his brilliant musical innovation in the face of his lyrical concerns. I am disappointed. The music of the past few pop seasons has set no better stage than Yeezus for a complete overhaul of what is possible within Pop music generally.
Imagine a set of lyrics to match the originality of this music, and think about the kind of nuclear impact that combination could achieve in a musical climate where Yeezus was everywhere. When Ghostface blew up the game with Supreme Clientele not half as many people were paying attention, when Madvillainy dropped, even fewer. Kanye has a Miley Cyrus sized platform. He has the kind of visibility, that matched with his talent and his vision he should be changing the fucking world - and he is, but only partway. I believe in Kanye, but I think he can be better.
Perhaps I set an unfair standard for him. I'm calling him out while simultaneously celebrating how exciting this record is... It's a testament to his talent, but a reminder that there is still work to do and room for all of us to pitch in. What we seek in the world we should be intent on setting to.
Happy new year.