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 Myself: Omar 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 Paul: Paul 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 Devil: While 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.