Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Best Albums of 2013

Here's a list of my favorite albums from 2013, accompanied by a Spotify playlist with my favorite (available) tracks from each album.


Chelsea Light Moving - Chelsea Light Moving
Thurston Moore and company put on their rock and roll hats.  Noise rock with a dash of off-kilter grunge.  Perhaps Moore's heaviest record to date.

Dysnomia - Dawn of Midi
Dysnomia is of the most innovative albums I've heard in a long time and comes from a non-traditional jazz piano trio.  Think rhythmically complex techno performed with acoustic instruments.

fabric 69 - Sandwell District
Incredible DJ mix by techno heavyweights Function, Regis and Silent Servant.  Foreboding atmosphere and flawless mixing.

Between Two Selves - Octo Octa
Sleeper album of the year.  Octo Octa does something with tech house that I haven't really heard anywhere else, going beyond 16-bar sequencing to create an album that holds interest from front to back.  Watch the basslines on this one.

Cupid's Head - The Field
Some of the finest minimal techno out there in 2013.  Several samples on this record stuck with me for days.  Powerful atmosphere that provides some warmth to the cold ambiance.

Fuzz - Fuzz
Sounding like a heavy Stooges homage, Fuzz features Ty Segall on drums and vocals.  Full of chunky, bluesy guitar riffs and thick basslines.

Immunity - Jon Hopkins
Textural, melancholic electro with brushstrokes of IDM and tech house.  If that sounds alienating, ignore that feeling and please listen to this beautiful album.

Ghost Systems Rave - Clouds
It may be an homage to 90's rave culture, but it's a fractured, contorted recollection.  Gritty maximalist techno with razor-sharp production.

The Blue Album - Reeko w/ Architectural
Spacious minimal techno that at once evokes ambiance and urgency.  The sounds on this album vary widely, making equal use of dubby stabs and atmospheric drones. 

Honorable Mention
The Blind Hole - Dead in the Dirt
Chance of Rain - Laurel Halo
Water and Earth - Jeremy Pelt
Colonial Patterns - Huerco S.
R Plus Seven - Oneohtrix Point Never
Deserve - Weed
Faint Hearted - Miles
Trap Lord - A$AP Ferg
Honeys - Pissed Jeans
Legacy - RP Boo
Nautically Inclined - Lumigraph
Overgrown - James Blake
Psychic - Darkside
Exai - Autechre
The Inheritors - James Holden
TM404 - TM404
λόγος - Antediluvian
II - Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Best Singles/EPs/Splits of 2013

I listened to a lot of great singles, EPs, and splits this year, so I divided my year-end list into Best Singles/EPs/Splits and Albums of 2013.  Below is a Spotify playlist to go along with this post. Unfortunately, Spotify lacked a lot of the releases on the list, so I threw in a few from the Honorable Mention section to fill it out.

Airglow Fires (Single) - Lone
From the opening bars, it's easy to tell that "Airglow Fires" is a Lone track.  I haven't come across a producer with such unique chord progressions and knack for sound design as Lone, and this single has me anxiously awaiting another full-length.

Disciples of Christ / Triac Split - Disciples of Christ & Triac
Grinding powerviolence with some really thick production.  This split finds the perfect balance between clarity and lo-fi aesthetic.  The Triac side rounds out this split nicely, but the star of the show is the far more visceral D.O.C. side.

Rolx (EP) - Moiré
But don't let the "tech house" label deter you from checking this one out.  Of Moiré's two EPs to be released this year, this is the stronger.  "Rolx" and "Real Special" are higher-BPM tracks that keep me coming back to this EP.

Radical Cutting Methods (Single) - Clouds
Punishing industrial techno.  Crackling, percussive tracks with a pair of remixes on the B side. A rather neanderthal counterpart to Ghost Systems Rave.

This Septic Isle (Split) - Oblivionized & Human Cull
The Oblivionized side shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with the band's output.  Thick production paired with vomitous vocals and turn-on-a-dime riffing.  The Human Cull side is equally crushing, straight up grind.  Looking forward to what these bands have to offer in 2014.

Nancy's Pantry (EP) - Tessela
Disorienting 90's jungle throwback.  Nobody chops up a break like Tessela, and this EP shows it.  An absolute basher from front to back.

Honorable Mention
Gotham (EP) - Ten Walls
Apheleia's Theme (EP) - Huerco S.
Caustic View (EP) - Bandshell
Never Sleep (EP) - Moiré
Species at War (EP) - Rotten Sound

Friday, December 7, 2012

Best Albums of 2012

Well, it's that time of year again.  In no particular order, here are my favorite albums of 2012, and a Spotify playlist to go along.

2 - Mac DeMarco
Fantastic, infectious guitar pop. Notable for DeMarco's jangly leads on nearly every track and candid, often humorous, lyrics.

mst - Acid Pauli
This record takes the place of the Nicolas Jaar record I hoped to get this year.  Quirky microhouse that definitely feels at home on the Clown & Sunset label.

The Odds - The Evens

A long-awaited album from the band that "got me into independent music" when I heard them on WBGU 88.1FM.  Stripped-down indie rock from Ian MacKaye himself.

Putrifiers II - Thee Oh Sees
A psychedelic take on garage rock from one of the more prolific bands to crop up from the genre over the past few years.

Mature Themes - Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
Just about as weird as music can be without sacrificing accessibility.  Pink continues to write hooks with an uncanny pop sensibility.

Patience (After Sebald) - The Caretaker
Patience evokes W. G. Sebald as an exploration in memory and aging.  Memories, though they may fade, do not disappear completely; they appear in cracked, etherial forms, as a shadow of what once occurred.  An album that transcends precise description.  

Slaughterhouse - Ty Segall Band
Nasty garage rock from the busiest guy in the business.  No frills here, just riffs and raw energy.  Unfortunately suffers from an overlong drone track at the end.

In Our Heads - Hot Chip
Hot Chip presents their most mature album to date.  The sounds on this LP vary to a great degree, as one may expect from Hot Chip, ranging from intimate dance to raunchy synth-funk.

Luxury Problems - Andy Stott
I lied.  I saved my favorite album for last.  Luxury Problems defies immediate description.  Deep, hazy dub techno.  Operatic vocals are often chopped, stretched, and layered -- a new approach for Stott.  Texturally dense and complex.  Enjoy with headphones or subwoofers.

Honorable Mention (again, in no particular order):
Celebration Rock - Japandroids
Shields - Grizzly Bear
Cancer for Cure - El-P
Open Your Heart - The Men
Sorrow and Extinction - Pallbearer
Instrumental Tourist - Tim Hecker & Daniel Lopatin
Hasta la Muerte - Xibalba
Night Drops - Indian Wells
Natural History - Dope Body
The Anomalies of Artificial Origin - Abominable Putridity
TRST - Trust
Beams - Matthew Dear

Thanks for reading.

P.S. Luxury Problems and Patience (After Sebald) aren't on Spotify.  If you really want to listen to them, here's a YouTube playlist with some of my favorite tracks from each album.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

10 Best Albums of 2011

I've assembled a Grooveshark playlist that contains the "Favorite tracks" from each album on this list.  Hope you enjoy listening along! 

10. Zonoscope - Cut Copy
Men at Work and Fleetwood Mac comparisons be damned; Cut Copy has written some of the catchiest music of 2011.  And the catchiness found on Zonoscope turns out to be its biggest proponent – punchy bass, bright guitars, and sharp synthesizers aid songwriting borrowed almost entirely from 80’s pop, but that’s no criticism from me. Ranging from pure, unadulterated pop to trippy, extended electronic compositions, Cut Copy has forged an album that feels truly timeless.  Favorite tracks: Where I’m Going, Corner Of The Sky

9. New Brigade - Iceage
New Brigade was released in the US to much anticipation garnered from rigorous touring in Europe.  Iceage is a group of teens that play anxious, raw post-punk with a throwback vibe that far predates the members of the band.  Seriously, if you played this album for me without telling me it was from 2011, I’d have no idea and that's a good thing.  The songwriting and raw emotion combine to make a very authentic experience with a lot of replay value.  Favorite tracks: Broken Bone, Eyes 

8. Arabia Mountain - Black Lips
Black Lips is rather infamous for absurd stage antics, but band image aside, Arabia Mountain contains some of the loosest, catchiest garage rock from 2011.  Jangly guitars and group vocals dominate all sixteen tracks, but the influences vary widely.  Some songs have a distinctive 70’s punk vibe where others take cues from 90’s alternative.  All in all, Arabia Mountain is irreverent, fun, and restless garage rock that manages to stick to its roots without ripping them off.  Favorite tracks: Family Tree, Raw Meat, New Direction

7. Path of Totality - Tombs
It kind of blows my mind how the heaviness and thick atmosphere on this album are forged by only three members.  Path of Totality pulls absolutely no punches – thunderous drums, distorted bass, and downtuned guitars build upon each other, forming a wall of smoky, blackened sludge metal.  The speed picking, blast beats, and overall harshness of black metal are all present, but with an added element of sludgy heaviness that makes this album a unique listen.  Favorite tracks: Black Hole Of Summer, To Cross The Land

6. Change is Gradual - Processory
Change is Gradual is nineteen tracks of icy, atmospheric electronica taking its cues from 80’s pop while maintaining a futuristic mood that sets it apart.  There aren’t many surprises on this album, but it’s still a fantastic listen.  The drums are soft and distant, as if hung from the rafters; the synthesizers and vocals are equally cold and ethereal, and nearly everything is wrapped in soft, smoky reverb.  The entire album slips by despite its daunting runtime of nearly 78 minutes – almost as if it were a dream, I wonder where the time went as the album reaches its concluding tracks.  Favorite tracks: All Good Things, Take Me To Your Leader (Note: Unfortunately, the majority of Change is Gradual is absent from Grooveshark and had to be omitted from the playlist.)

5. We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves - John Maus
John Maus is unique.  And by "unique," I really mean "weird."  We Must Become The Pitiless Censors of Ourselves is a short LP of pure synth-pop reminiscent of Ariel Pink (logically so, as he and Maus have been colleagues and collaborators for years).   In spite of the weirdness – perhaps even aided by it – John Maus is a fantastic songwriter, and his ability is what keeps me coming back to this album.  His distinctive low-register voice also coats what would be typical 80’s-flavored pop with a gothic vibe that is both unique and fascinating.  Favorite tracks: …And the Rain, Cop Killer, Believer

4. Aesthethica - Liturgy
My first positive experience with black metal.  Scoff all you want; I love this album.  Sure, the core elements of black metal are here – tremolo picking, blast beats, wretched vocals, laughable ideology – but it’s the math rock influence, triumphant chord progressions, and the band’s overall cohesive sound (dubbed "transcendental black metal" by the band) that makes Aesthethica a cut above the rest. Where "typical" black metal acts are depressive and claustrophobic, Liturgy's music is luminous, expansive and boundless. Favorite tracks: Returner, Tragic Laurel, Glory Bronze

3. Space Is Only Noise - Nicolas Jaar
Nico’s full-length debut took me a while to wrap my head around, but I assure you it was worth it.  Space Is Only Noise covers a lot of ground, touching jazz and minimalist techno while implementing swelling synthesizers and thick basslines to maintain an overall dancey vibe.  I don’t know who exactly would dance to this album, but that’s alright.  If Space Is Only Noise is an indication of Jaar's future work, I can't wait to see what 2012 brings.  Favorite tracks: Colomb, Keep Me There, Space Is Only Noise If You Can See

2. Towards The Megalith - Disma
This is the album responsible for renewing my interest in heavy music.  Somehow, the riffing on this album is at once catchy and repulsive, complemented by jagged, crusty guitar tone and reverberating drums.  Towards The Megalith is full of filthy, sludgy hooks that morph into pounding d-beat segments  some of which are the most memorable portions of the album.  And Craig Pillard’s vocal performance is nothing short of gruesome.    Disma’s brand of death metal doesn’t bring much new to the table, but who cares?  You can’t deny the groove, heaviness and all-around putrid tonality captured on Towards the Megalith.  Favorite tracks: Chasm of Oceanus, Spectral Domination, Lost in the Burial Fog

1. James Blake - James Blake
This album changed the way I listen to electronic music.  Blake utilizes synthesizers, piano, and pitch-bent vocals together with a minimalist presentation to explore unlikely territory where dubstep and soul intersect.  Those familiar with Blake’s previous work will recognize the unique timbre and warmth of the synthesizers and drums – something I’ve come to appreciate and look for in other music as well as my own.  But the instrumentation isn’t the only attractive thing about this album; Blake’s vocals are soulful, beautiful, and incredibly mature, falling somewhere between Justin Vernon and Antony Hegarty.  In a year full of albums paying homage to the 70's and 80's, this effort is powerfully forward-looking.  To some extent, words can’t describe what this LP brings to the table – it’s that impressive.    Also, subwoofers are mandatory. Favorite tracks: Unluck, The Wilhelm Scream, To Care (Like You)

Runners Up (no particular order):
Channel Pressure - Ford & Lopatin
Leave Home - The Men
Kaputt - Destroyer
Rapprocher - Class Actress
Digital Lows - Cities Aviv
Parasignosis - Mitochondrion
The Destroyers Of All - Ulcerate
For The Glory - Nacho Picasso
Badlands - Dirty Beaches
Exmilitary - Death Grips
XXX - Danny Brown
Through The Cervix Of Hawaah - Antediluvian
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Cherish The Light Years - Cold Cave
Belong -  The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart
Isolation - Harm's Way
Celestial Lineage - Wolves In The Throne Room
The Golden Age Of Apocalypse - Thundercat
Cursed - Rotten Sound
Forward Into Regression - Maruta
Ravedeath, 1972 - Tim Hecker
Darker Handcraft - Trap Them
Time Is Up - Havok