- What's Your Rupture?
- Dull Tools
Light Up Gold
Light Up Gold is record-collector-rock for record-collector-rock-collectors, 34 gone-too-quick minutes of chin-stroking, bowl-cashing, amp-ruining, Socrates-dying-in-the-fucking-gutter punk. Parquet Courts are staunchly image-conscious about not having an image whatsoever, and on Gold, they perhaps accidentally dial in on that miracle middleground between art school and the CBGB’s bathroom, Malkmus and "New Rose".
What pushes the trio beyond their peers is a preternatural ability to locate the exact second when teenage kicks give way to a realization of their place in the world—the time when you critically analyze the deeper meaning of the junk in your pockets. The first 5:42 of the record, among the best 1-2 punches of the year, outlines the alpha and omega of their response to their life station: sarcasm and nostalgia. “Master of My Craft” blasts “Ex-Lion Tamer” through Jonathan Richman’s car stereo, with co-frontman Austin Brown’s manifesto sounds made via cut-up method from a publicist’s Linkedin account. Then a single drumstick click smash-cuts into “Borrowed Time”, on which Andrew Savage perfectly encapsulates inspiration arising from squalor—thoughts dripping on his head from the ceiling.
Then there’s the dopey majesty of “Stoned and Starving”, the “Hallogallo” of slack-jawed bakedom, barreling into an unknown future where you’re still high as fuck. It’s 2013’s “Nothing Ever Happened”, if everything actually did happen right behind you and you were too completely blazed to turn around at the bodega counter. “I don’t know too much, I just got the keys,” Brown sings on “Yr No Stoner”. Now, to find the car. —Eric HarveyParquet Courts: "Stoned and Starving" (via SoundCloud)
- Polo Grounds / RCA
Although it seemed like the long-awaited culmination of a two-year narrative when it came out, A$AP Rocky's proper debut surprisingly managed to, in many ways, set the tone for the year ahead in hip-hop. It is a cool album, exactingly deliberate and consistent in its construction, yet effortless in its handle on the zeitgeist. Other rappers borrowed the album's visual aesthetic and made album covers in grayscale; other kids borrowed the A$AP look and flooded rap shows in their screen printed shorts. And make no mistake, it's Rocky's love of screwed down vocals specifically that helped the effect seep into the DNA of so many Soundcloud producers. LongLiveA$AP projects a sense of unruffled self-assurance and flawless taste that's easy to latch onto. Many of its best moments hinge on other artists—Drake and Kendrick Lamar's breezily confident verses on "Fuckin' Problems", a succession of scene-stealing guest spots on "1 Train", Skrillex's batshit production on "Wild for the Night", the eerie juxtaposition of Santigold and Clams Casino on "Hell", Gunplay's demand for a porterhouse steak—but these never fail to read as anything other than an expert work of curation on Rocky's part. Whether he's rapping slick bars about fashion, bluntly dismissing racial prejudice, or simply ceding the stage to his talented friends, he's at the center of things, the image of unflappable coolness. And rap, it happens, is pretty great when it's acting cool. —Kyle Kramer
Considering they update their official website as many times in a decade as Perez Hilton does in a day, 2013 must have felt like a four alarm fire for Scotland’s Boards of Canada. From the release of their fourth full-length in 15 years as well as the corresponding reissue of their major EPs and LPs, through to an accompanying marketing campaign that prompted BoC fans to roll out their tinfoil hats, protractors, and astrology wheels in the name of a fresh clue, the brothers Sandison enjoyed a prolific year that thrust them back into the spotlight and cemented their status as a legacy act. Tomorrow’s Harvest is neither as deep nor as nuanced as their previous records, but it should go down as a worthy contribution to that legacy. In addition to magnanimously calling back to some of the brothers’ biggest moments (see: “Palace Posy” as a companion piece to 1998’s “Aquarius”, “New Seeds” to 2006’s “Dayvan Cowboy”, etc.), it also offered up a new shade to Boards of Canada’s sound, one that married their familiar whirly-gigging synths and loping rhythm sections with yawning horrorshow arpeggios and a faint undercurrent of dread. It's thrilling to hear these new themes of death and decay slowly seep into the dominant dewey-eyed late-90s nostalgia narrative; one wonders what they’d sound like if they went digging even deeper into the dirt. —Mark PytlikBoards of Canada: "Reach for the Dead" (via SoundCloud)
Jon Hopkins practiced self-hypnosis for a decade before he finally got it, right around the time he started on his fourth full-length, Immunity. The British electronic producer and composer’s output has always had a trancelike, meditative quality—from Opalescent’s gentle guitar tones to the horror-cinematic soundscapes of 2010’s Monsters (and, in between, his work with Brian Eno and King Creosote)—but it wasn’t until Immunity that everything clicked into place for Hopkins both mentally and musically, almost like lock and key. The album even begins with the sound of Hopkins unlocking his studio door before settling into a beat that scuffs up his pristine ambience with a new intensity.
The video for Immunity highlight “Open Eye Signal” perhaps best demonstrates this. A kid skateboards smoothly through time and space, the camera focusing on the scene’s grit: his black eye and bandaged wrist, a flaming tire, a man on fire, abandoned townships. His constant forward motion is soothing to watch even as moments of unease keep it from being just another beautifully shot video. Between the piano interludes of “Breathe This Air” and labored breaths permeating the crunchy, simmering “Collider”, Immunity also lurches from pretty to pinprickly, taking the listener on a similarly fantastic journey through Hopkins' brilliant mind. —Harley BrownJon Hopkins: "Open Eye Signal" (via SoundCloud)
The Bones of What You Believe
“I am gonna come for you with all that I have,” Lauren Mayberry sings on “Gun”, from Chvrches’ full-length debut. Such a forceful sentiment might sound overbearing if The Bones of What You Believe wasn’t so insistently and so genuinely compassionate, if the synths didn’t sound so massively sparkly on “Tether”, if the choruses of “The Mother We Share” didn’t scale monumental heights. Before forming Chvrches, these three Glaswegians all had a jump on becoming jaded insiders: Iain Cook and Martin Doherty paid dues in Aerogramme and the Twilight Sad, respectively, and Mayberry, in addition to serving time in a twee-folk act, had studied music journalism. Yet, there was something refreshing and deeply moving about Chvrches in 2013. They wore their hearts on their sleeves and risked falling on their faces, but Bones succeeds precisely because it sounds so musically and spiritually generous. These songs are far too ambitious to be mere comfort food, and the trio are too concerned about each and every one of you to care much about any particular trends or scenes. —Stephen M. Deusner
Chvrches: "The Mother We Share"
- Dead Oceans
The gatefold of Muchacho features a detail shot of a Nudie suit. The background is dark, and there’s a peacock framed by light purple flowers. It’s not nearly as colorful or garish as Gram Parsons’ iconic drug cornucopia pattern. This one’s unassuming, feasibly the sort of thing you could wear out of a Western clothing shop without looking like a cartoon cowboy. Matthew Houck is embracing his country roots, but he never plays them up to the point of honky tonk hucksterism. Fiddles, piano, pedal steel, even horseshoe-clopping percussion are all implemented on his new album, but they’re never the focal point. Houck’s band on Muchacho have chops, but they never show off. When Kyle Resnick plays his trumpet, the sound doesn’t blare—it’s nestled beneath Houck’s ragged, seemingly sleepy vocal. Everything’s tempered, supplemental, and gorgeously produced by John Agnello.
Muchacho is full of allegory, with lyrics about “the wounded master,” rolling away the stone, the shepherd, the lamb, and so on. These are reasonably common lyrical tropes in country and folk traditions, and Houck balances those moments with more familiarly contemporary imagery. On “Down to Go”, he sings about partying to numb the hurt, and all the while, he openly acknowledges the social stereotypes that come with being a heartbroken country balladeer. While his friends tell him he’ll write some great music about his heartache, he points out that he’s still hurting, “aching and ornery.” Over Ricky Jay Jackson’s looming pedal steel, he paints a picture that’s bruised and familiar. It makes sense why this album’s origin story—Houck's break up and trip to Mexico—is frequently referenced when Muchacho is discussed. The record's sentiments and backstory pair well, sort of like For Emma and Justin Vernon’s Wisconsin cabin. —Evan MinskerPhosphorescent: “Song for Zula” (via SoundCloud)
- Tri Angle
No-one does atmosphere like Forest Swords. The Manchester producer excels at evoking shades and shadows, slippery feelings, and the yawning, life-sized chasm between doom and triumph. On his debut album Engravings, he fulfills the early promise of his 2010 EP, Dagger Paths, by carving out a fully inhabitable world from such fertile matter. Throughout, the drums are slow and steady, observing time in an offhand yet hypnotizing manner. Pipes call out in celebration, and in warning. Guitar lines curl ominously. All criss-cross in what feels like a deeply meaningful yet undefinable way. Forest Swords is not interested in telling a story, it seems, but in making the listener an unquestionable part of it. Like its predecessor, Engravings occupies nameless territory. One minute it sounds like a forgotten Eastern folk music, the next the soundtrack to a Leone western, and the next again like the future memories of music our children’s children will one day have. It’s this fluidity that is at the heart of the album’s power. Nameless, placeless, timeless: Engravings rejects boundaries and scrabbles to unearth the subconscious instead. —Ruth SaxelbyForest Swords: "The Weight of Gold" (via SoundCloud)
Truant / Rough Sleeper
Right as our year-end assessment was about to go live and the calendar year of 2013 gave way to 2014, a time when music writers, publicists, and editors are off-duty, the mysterious electronic music producer known as Burial slipped his latest release, Rival Dealer, out into the world, with no press or forewarning, just beyond a Year-End list’s grasp. Ever since he emerged in 2005, the man known as William Emmanuel Bevan (unless…) has operated according to his own tenets. At the end of 2012, for instance, he released the staggering two-track, 25-minute “Truant/ Rough Sleeper”, which continued to resonate through this year. Comprised of crackling, forlorn, hoar-frosted etudes that faded together into a dream-logical suite, Burial’s acumen isolated these voices calling from a post-Skynet world and made them into something harrowing yet ultimately redemptive. You could hear Burial’s netherworld sound seep into the music of underground producers as well as bigger names like Skrillex. And—if you listened closely—you could also hear Burial in the intermission music for Kanye West’s Yeezus tour. —Andy Beta
For years DJ Koze has been a closely guarded secret, a savant of silly, machine-tooled funk. Following almost a decade of remixes and sporadic singles, the solo collection Amygdala blew his cover. A long, ink-smudged love letter to dance music, friends, and living gently, its excesses are charming: rhythms tumbling off one too many glasses of wine, fidgety synths too cavalier with scented candles. The lightly stepping "La Duequesa" features steel drums and swelling Motown strings. There's a weird-uncle vibe to the proceedings, from the preposterous art to the normally pompadoured-and-leather-jacketed Matthew Dear singing "It's a serious world/ I'm a magical boy." Later, another Dear track offers Koze acolytes a mantra: "When I notice the world is falling apart/ I will run a bath." For naught, though, as our meetings are now overrun, extra folding chairs required, sheet cake expenditures up 29%. It is Koze's fault, and he will be softly chided. —Andrew GaerigDJ Koze: "Track ID Anyone?" [ft. Caribou] (via SoundCloud)
- Mexican Summer
2013 may very well stand as the year the word "literally" lost its meaning, or at least the year where it was redefined to include its misuse as a tool for melodramatic overstatements. Autre Ne Veut's Anxiety is a crashing, clanging, caterwauling expression of this sort of literally. It is music for literally feeling torn apart inside, for literally feeling like the world is collapsing. It is not safe; it is not proper; it is not tastefully reserved. It's very real and very raw. In a year in which blogs were littered with electronically tinged distortions of R&B and synthpop in a similar vein to Autre Ne Veut, Anxiety discarded the form's prevailing principle of slick prettiness for uninhibited, pure emotion. Sure, the results are melodramatic, but that's how big emotions are portrayed. You don't stand in front of the mirror and think "someday I'm gonna die" to yourself, as singer Arthur Ashin does on "Gonna Die" and not play it up a little, even if you totally mean it. You don't curl up in bed and whimper "don't ever leave me alone" into the phone with any sort of decorum. Anxiety is fists-clenched, teary-eyed catharsis, whether in the feedback screeches and false optimism of "Counting", the careening guitar riffs in the back of "Ego Free Sex Free", or the crescendoed crash of tour de force opener "Play by Play". The intensity is unrelenting, and the effect is staggeringly beautiful. There's literally nothing quite like it. —Kyle KramerAutre Ne Veut: “Play by Play” (via SoundCloud)