Archive for December, 2013

A retrospective list, of sorts.

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

Hello, anyone reading this! Thanks for clicking on the link that brought you here. What follows is a list of albums and songs that I enjoyed this year (2013). Keep reading, and hopefully you discover something new!

Top 10 Albums of 2013 (These numbers are completely arbitrary, except for like, the top 3 or so. It's best to look at it as more of a collection than a list).

Honorable Mentions:

Batillus – Concrete Sustain, for being the funkiest metal album ever to be released.

KEN Mode – Entrench, for reminding me that hardcore is not dead, despite the new Black Flag’s best efforts.

Deafheaven – Sunbather, because it has a pink album cover and some angsty shit going on. And also it’s shoegaze, I guess.

Vastum – Patricidal Lust, for being the most un-sexy album ever written about sex, and for reminding me that old-school death metal is not a thing of the past.

Cult of Fire – ?????? ?? ????? ???????? (Editor's note: while the preceding letters may show up as question marks in your browser, they are actually Sanskrit characters), for teaching me more about Hinduism than six years of Hindu sunday school did, and for the best use of a sitar in 2013. 

10. Merzbow – "Takahe Collage" (Handmade Birds)

I haven’t kept up with Merzbow’s extraordinarily prolific career over the past few years. I was surprised this last April when I saw an email from Handmade Birds Records detailing a limited edition release from the master of harsh noise. Inspired by the Takahe bird, this collection is an hour's worth of absorbing, ear-scraping industrial noise, but differs from his previous output in that it uses something that isn’t typical of a Merzbow release – rhythm. There’s a beating heart to these tracks, whether a deep industrial crunch (“Grand Owl Habitat”) or a drum machine (“Tendenko”).


Grand Owl Habitat


9. Wolvserpent – "Perigaea Antahkarana" (Relapse)

I could label this record as the best funeral doom record of the year, but that wouldn’t quite be correct. I could also label it as the best black metal release of the year, but that wouldn’t be right either. This is a band that has masterful control over dynamics – volume, atmosphere. In “Perigaea Antahkarana”, Wolvserpent provide a sonic template that melds field recordings, noise, drone, funeral doom, and black metal into something completely unique. The nature sounds, alongside the desolate, windswept atmospherics provided by Blake Green and Brittany McConnell give a sense of total, naturalistic immersion. Cascadia would be proud.


Within the Light of Fire


8. Dressed in Streams – "The Search for Blood" (Colloquial Sound)

Dressed in Streams are anonymous. They only release their (his? her?) music on cassette. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, open your ears to the actual best black metal album of 2013. The term lo-fi has become something of a misnomer in the music community. Indie bands often mask shoddy songwriting behind a layer of tape hiss, to give it that “grassroots” quality that seems to have ingrained itself into independent music. Dressed in Streams act to the contrary – the production is minimal, yes, but the raga-based compositions stand for themselves. These two songs are a masterclass in midtempo black metal. The wandering synths twist and turn over the visceral, menacing chaos, and when a riff finally emerges from the middle section of “No Atonement”, I experienced an auditory sensation similar to the first time I ever heard Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog”. Sorry Kurt Vile, but this is how lo-fi is done.


No Atonement


7. SubRosa – "More Constant Than The Gods" (Profound Lore)

There must be something in the water in Salt Lake City. While my fair hometown has become known for epic black metal bands like Caladan Brood and Gallowbraid, SubRosa are a different beast entirely. Featuring Rebecca Vernon’s soulful yet melancholy vocals and two (!) electric violins, combined with the presence of a few absolutely crushing riffs, “More Constant Than The Gods” is a stunning achievement. The band doesn’t sink into the depths of funeral doom, however. Each track is buoyed up by almost hopeful choruses, that (in another genre) might encourage singing along. This contrast between fist-pumping hooks (see: the magnificent riff that opens “Cosey Mo”) and heart-wrenching melody (”Ghosts of a Dead Empire”) make “More Constant Than The Gods” a tremendously compelling listen.


Cosey Mo


6. Pharmakon – Abandon (Sacred Bones)

This was the heaviest album of the year for me. “Abandon” is, for lack of a better description, completely fucking brutal. Melding elements of death-industrial, power electronics, and adding a healthy dose of sheer aggression, Margaret Chadiet has created the best noise album of the year. The physicality that’s present in this music is incredible – the opener “Milkweed / It Hangs Heavy” opens with an eardrum-tearing screech, and then segues into a layered, dense piece replete with rattling metal, and high, uneasy synths, while “Ache” and “Pitted” open with industrial blasts of mind-bending noise. No other album this year put me on edge as much as this one did. Chadiet’s vocals are something else entirely – her tortured screams are off-kilter, throat-shredding, and frightening as hell. I can’t wait to hear more.  


5. Inter Arma – Sky Burial (Relapse)

I’m a sucker for Americana. I love Springsteen and Neil Young. So it’s only natural that I love most metal projects that combine American folk stylings with the heavier side of things. Inter Arma falls square into that category. Psychedelic, mind-altering, immensely spacious prarie-tinged sludge that doesn’t skimp on acoustics or melody. What’s not to love? The best parts of this record aren’t even the metal ones (although the kick drumming on “‘sblood” is heavy as a ton of bricks) – they’re the pensive, somber meditations, rife with noise, even sometimes a theremin, that convey a mood so melancholy, so cosmically fatalistic that I can’t help but reflect on the universe. See the combo of “The Long Road Home (Iron Gate)” and “The Long Road Home” for a wistful acoustic guitar that over the course of fifteen or so minutes, evolves into a charging, blastbeat-filled finale, or the heartbreaking, wandering melody of “Love Absolute”. This is a record that shifts between western not-quite-country and incredible doom with sublime effortlessness, and that alone is reason to love it.



The Long Road Home


4. NAILS – Abandon All Life (Southern Lord)

Remember how I said Inter Arma was cosmic? Yeah, Nails are the opposite of that. Totally grounded, in-your-face, and with a sound that feels akin to a sledgehammer making contact with your face. This is aural violence, without compromise. “Abandon All Life” is only eighteen minutes long – for some bands, that would constitute an EP, but not this one. Nails say everything they need to say, and don’t overstay their welcome. From the huge opening seconds of “In Exodus” to the closing moments of “Suum Cuique”, Nails make a statement: a gigantic middle finger in your face and a “fuck you” to anyone who dismisses them.


3. The Body – Christs, Redeemers (Thrill Jockey)

When we spoke to The Body’s guitarist/noise wizard Chip King, he told us that his biggest goal with his music was to make his guitar sound as little like a guitar as possible. It’s safe to say he’s succeeded with this record. The Body have only gotten better at melding their unique, sample-filled sludge with rumbling noise to create a truly unique sound. That sound is at an apex on “Christs, Reedeemers”. Again featuring the haunting vocal talents of the Assembly of Light Choir, alongside a host of guest musicians, The Body paint a picture of misanthropic and violent nihilism. It also helps that it’s crushingly heavy – when I saw these guy perform, the walls literally shook.






2. TIE – Ulcerate – Vermis (Relapse), A Pregnant Light – Domination Harmony/Stars Will Fall (Colloquial Sound)

Okay, this might be cheating. But both of these records I think were better than number 3, but not as good as number 1. So it’s a tie. I hate making lists. Ulcerate are often labeled technical death metal, which I disagree with, based on the fact that their music is so goddamn good that the term “technical” does it a disservice. “Vermis” is chock full of intricate fills and hairpin tempo shifts, yes, but below all of that lurks a roiling nausea, a churning black ocean that envelops the senses and sickens the mind. Truly frightening, yet strangely listenable and an incredible testament to the power of death metal, bolstered by the mind-blowingly fantastic drumming of Jamie Saint Merat (check them kick drum triplets at the beginning of “The Imperious Weak”, and then tell me you didn’t nod in appreciation).


On the other hand, we have the phenomenal dual EP combo of “Domination Harmony” and “Stars Will Fall” by Ann Arbor “purple metal” band A Pregnant Light. The band’s mastermind and sole member Damian Master runs the excellent cassette-only label Colloquial Sound (which, coincidentally, released the Dressed in Streams record that can be found on this list). A Pregnant Light is what results from a mix of Joy Division-esque post punk and catchy guitar hooks, all wrapped up in blackened ambiance. The wispy, melancholy “Heat Helps These Flowers Grow” is a perfect example, with its somber acoustic intro and indie stylings. Ditto “My Life Outside The Party”, which showcases Master at his most poppy without sacrificing grit or intensity. There really isn’t any other band that’s making this kind of music – beholden to black metal, yes, but also not out of place on your indie friend's post-punk playlist.


1. Locrian – Return to Annihilation (Relapse)

This album took me four months to really appreciate. Locrian are always a band that emphasized atmosphere over technicality, but on “Return to Annihilation”, they’ve found the perfect balance. The wandering, starstruck drones are still present – see the title track, or “Panorama of Mirrors”. It takes a while to get into, but the scope of this album is incredible. It goes from intimately quiet to titanically huge, sometimes within the scope of the same track (see the jaw-dropping closer, “Obsolete Elegies”). I could wax poetic about the musical details, but the real reason that this was my favorite record of 2013 was because it became something personal for me. I feel a connection to each of the songs, and I’ll never grow tired of listening to them. Despite the length, they fit together like the pieces of a puzzle, creating something greater, more elegant, and more devastating than the sum of its parts. If that isn’t grounds for being the best record of the year, then I don’t know what is.


Return to Annihilation

Panorama of Mirrors



Tracks (Again, in no particular order, except for number 1)

1. Deafheaven – The Pecan Tree – While “Sunbather” didn’t quite click for me as much as it did for some other folks, this song is pretty much perfect in every way. The riff that comes in around 8 minutes is stunningly beautiful.


2. Russian Circles – 1777 – I didn’t discover Russian Circles “Memorial” until too late (hence why it isn’t on my list), but this track is absolutely gorgeous in every possible way. I think it’s the best song they’ve ever written.


3. Dressed in Streams – No Atonement – See the #8 album on my list. There’s a riff that pops up in the midsection that’s like chocolate for the ears, if chocolate were black metal.


4. NAILS – Wide Open Wound – It's as if an elephant stepped on my head.


5. Paysage d’Hiver – Offenbarung – A masterpiece of ambient black metal. Haunting, distorted, painful, depressive, wintery, mountainous, tremendous.


6. The Haxan Cloak – The Mirror Reflecting, pt. 2 – Dark ambient at its finest. “Excavation” was another record that I really liked, but couldn’t squeeze into this list. The drop that hits around the 4 minute mark is amazing.


7. Wolvserpent – In Mirrors of Water – See the #9 album on my list. I especially love the violin that dances in and around the synths. It creates this wonderfully bleak feel.


8. Locrian – Obsolete Elegies – Tension builds, releases, builds again, subsides, explodes, catharsis. The last three minutes are a purging of the soul, replete with blastbeats and a riff that descends from on high like the wrath of heaven itself.



If you got this far, thanks for reading! I appreciate it.


– Arvind















A Top 10 Albums of 2013 by Andrew

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

In the first of what could be anywhere from a few to several 2013 wrap-up posts on the blog by DJs, here is a top 10 list by me (Andrew). If your favorite album isn't on it and/or you think I'm terrible, that's ok because this is the first list and first is the worst.

10) Omar-S – Thank You For Letting Me Be MyselfOmar makes irresistible Detroit house that's funky, soulful, and refuses to bend to anyone else's ideas about what Omar, Detroit, or house music should be. Closing track "Its Money in the D" caps it all off beautifully.

09) Jai Paul – Jai PaulPaul pretty much refuses to talk to the press. Upon the leak of this demo tape, he denied it was an official release, called it "illegal" and returned to complete silence. No comment on what happened, when we'd hear something official, nothing. Which sucks because if these songs, full of future funk and dub and soul and world music inflection, are unfinished demos, a "complete" Jai Paul release has the potential to be momentous. "Str8 Outta Mumbai"

08) Darkside – Psychic: Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington combine dusty blues guitar with layered electronic production. The result is heavy, almost to the point of being unmanageable. But (as Jaar's done in the past) Darkside hooks you in with downtempo minimalism set against obtuse sounds all within a structure that rewards patience. "Golden Arrow"

07) Raspberry Bulbs – Deformed Worship: Marco del Rio (known as He Who Crushes Teeth in Bone Awl) brought on a full band for this project's second album. With so much more muscle, his tumultuous post-punk/lofi black metal turns truly fearless. Filthy and dark and doesn't let go. "When A Lie Becomes The Truth"

06) Mutual Benefit – Love's Crushing Diamond: A sort of collective project spearheaded by singer-songwriter Jordan Lee, who spent some time in St. Louis while recording this album. Lee's been recording under the pseudonym for years, but this feels like his first grand statement. Love's Crushing Diamond combines cozy baroque-folk and experimental touches of field recording to create something sincere, optimistic and quietly strong. The album is so calm in the face of alarm that it becomes bold in its hopefulness. Stream "'Let's Play' / Statue of a Man".

05) King Krule – 6 Feet Beneath the Moon: Archy Marshall's long-awaited full-length debut is naturally more refined than his raw recordings years ago as Zoo Kid, but it retains the urban concrete cool that made him worth paying attention to in the first place. Marshall is young enough to want to try anything and old enough to have heard a wide range of music, which shows in the way he blends jazz and hip-hop and lo-fi rock into something smooth and nocturnal and fascinating. Even if this is just a new starting point, it's a damn good one. "Neptune Estate"

04) Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold: Something of a cheat, being that this was originally released in 2012, but I don't think I'm alone in having first heard it upon the reissue on What's Your Rupture? and if this were disqualified I'd just replace it with Parquet Courts' Tally All the Things That You Broke EP. Spectacular and hilarious slacker rock, both bursting with focused energy and too lazy and distracted to choose a snack. Their brand of disheveled post-punk/indie rock is noisy in fits and starts, heads off into rambling manifestos at a moment's notice, and contains equal parts burnt southern gregariousness and smart-ass NYC incisiveness. "Stoned and Starving"

03) Dirty Beaches – Drifters / Love is the DevilWhile it may not seem like it at first, it's perfectly logical for Alex Zhang Hungtai to break so drastically from 2011's breakthrough Badlands. He put it best himself to a disgruntled fan on Youtube: "i don’t care about pleasing your expectations. i just do what I want to write. you can judge it all you want. modulated synth chords. I was crying my fucking eyes out when i wrote this and punching myself in the face. I don’t give a shit about what peoples expectations are. This is why I’m doing this record. ? its for myself and my life." Hungtai has always been about clarifying his thoughts and emotions through experimental compositions and ghostly lo-fi minimalism, and this double LP feels like the apex of that expression. The more experimental rock-oriented Drifters is jagged and even catchy without sacrificing any raw energy. As much as I enjoy it, I've come to prefer the second album. Love is the Devil is a story told in minimalist synths and eerie foggy blues and found sounds, a bare and brave personal work. Click to stream Drifters and Love is the Devil in full.

02) Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels: El-P and Killer Mike rap about being underground kings, about being in a position of cultural power that allows them to take on a spontaneous team-up project so thoroughly and then release it for free just because. But you don't even need that context to comprehend why Run the Jewels is such a phenomenal album. It's 30 minutes of dense wall-to-wall rap with impeccable production. As always, Producto brings grimy, industrially bent beats. They're gripping, fierce, and ecstatic. Mike and El don't slack on the words side either. You can practically hear their villainous grins as they spit. The duo play with vocabulary and cadence in such a joyful way, words spill and stutter and flow. It's true that RTJ isn't as politically motivated or rigorously personal as either of their 2012 albums (Mike's R.A.P. Music or El's Cancer 4 Cure), sure. But the intricacy of the language and music remains, as does the fiercely competitive never-back-down stance. The album is, then, the ideal musical representation of style as substance. Run the Jewels is a formidable spectacle, unrelentingly and unstoppably fun. Get the entire album for free here, or try "Get It".

01) Julia Brown – to be close to you: Anyone can toss their home recordings on bandcamp, but it takes immense talent to make a home recording this good and purposeful. Julia Brown is a Maryland indie pop band consisting of Caroline White, Alec Simke, John Toohey, Dan Collins and Sam Ray (whose upcoming ambient electronic album as Ricky Eat Acid, Three Love Songs, will be a must-listen in January). Their debut tape refuses to be categorized easily, though. From the bursts of punk energy on "library" to the mini-waltz of "virginia" to the ambient outro to "i was my own favorite tv show the summer my tv broke" to the shout-along self-referential pop of "'im falling in love'" all draped in tape hiss and beautifully written, Julia Brown's album is determined, complex, inviting and sweet all at once. Since its release in February I've come back to to be close to you again and again and found more and more to love. If this is Julia Brown's vision for the future of indie pop, count me in. Try "how i spent my summer" then download the entire album for free here.

A ranked list of songs would be even harder than an albums list, so here are a handful of 2013 songs I've really liked in the last part of the year as a capper:

  • Joanna Gruesome – "Sugarcrush": Awesomely fuzzed-out twee off Weird Sister, one of the better indie pop/indie rock records of the year.
  • Charli XCX – "SuperLove": 2013 saw the release of anticipated debut albums from several electronic/dance pop artists that fell short of expectations to varying degrees: AlunaGeorge, Sky Ferreira, Disclosure, CHVRCHES. Even when I liked those records a decent amount, there was something missing. That was especially (and unfortunately) true of Charli XCX's True Romance, which felt like it was merely an obligation and had glaring flaws like a stomach-turning feature from "Internet personality" Brooke Candy. This song along with her early discussion of her follow-up has completely restored my faith. "SuperLove" is the antithesis of True Romance's moments of strained tumblrpop: immediately infectious pop music aiming for as many ears as possible. At the same time, tonal shifts and an off-kilter nu-disco feel make the song completely unique.
  • Drake – "Too Much": Yup. Sampha's the greatest and Drake is at his best here. Introspective piano explodes into a beat that's bass-heavy with soulful chopped vocals. If you hate Drake this probably isn't going to change your mind, but it should. (As an aside, I'd argue Nothing Was The Same is the most Canadian album released in 2013, between Drizzy pronouncing "sorry" sore-y and spelling words with u's like "behaviour.")
  • Coma Cinema – "Marie (No Sleep)": Mathew Lee Cothran's albums as Coma Cinema usually grab me right away. Posthumous Release took me longer to grasp. As I've come around on the album (it nearly made my top 10) I've been playing this song a ton. Assured indie pop and another amazing release from Cothran. (You can get the full album for free at the link.)
  • Angel Olsen – "Forgiven/Forgotten": On her previous two albums Olsen demonstrated an ability to cut to the core with just her perfect voice and acoustic guitar and some reverb. "Forgiven/Forgotten" seems to promise that upcoming album Burn Your Fire For No Witness will turn all that inside-out and make her strengths as a singer-songwriter even more pronounced. This song's grungy pop feels like Olsen's music has suddenly sprung awake, and I can't wait to see what else the record holds.