Thursday, December 26, 2013

Top 30 Best Albums of 2013: Part III

the conclusion...

1. Divino Nino Pool Jealousy: a trio, Divino Niño is Guillermo Rodriguez (guitar), Javier Forero (bass) and Camilo Medina (guitar); they share vocal duties, and the three-man approach to vocals allows the band to accomplish complex harmonies in their songs. The LP is a great retro-sounding bunch of songs that recall Elvis and dark 1960s tones. What Divino Nino present is an interpretation of adolescent times and it works so seamlessly that it’s hard to figure out why critics haven’t discovered them yet.

2. Danny Brown Old: Old is a seemingly logical conclusion of a two year morphing of Danny Brown the character into a drama with several jokes; every storyline and angle is played up with routine care and painstaking attention to detail courtesy of Brown's tripping and swooning rhymes.

3. Blu NoYork!: NoYork! straddles a delicate line between the outlandish and the truly experimental, pushing listeners to almost as far as they can go because there never is a limit to what can be done with music. Blu pushes hip-hop to its limit with his supposed proper major-label debut; before Warner had chance to release the record formally, Blu distributed NoYork! for free to the internet to little fanfare. Maybe the record challenged his fan base built up from debut Below the Heavens a bit too much. Exile's beats, although done very well, more strictly adhered to the tenets of the established hip-hop production cannon. Regardless of the reason, NoYork! has been criminally slept on.

4. Sheep, Dog & Wolf Egospect: the recording alias of Daniel McBride who still is just 19 years old...the coolest teenager making recorded music and you’ve probably never heard of him. The songs are multi-faceted, rarely rest in one melodic place, and adopt mood swings between off-kilter electronica, multi-tracked vocals over shifting time signatures, pastoral folk, minimalism and multi-layered arrangements for horns, voices and guitars. There is a steady hand to McBride’s art, the type of sure genius that takes some bands years to even breach.

5. Eminem The Marshall Mathers LP 2: the kind of sequel that gets people shouting at the screen in disbelief before their seats are warmed up. Nostalgia is everywhere. Eminem surrounds himself in allusions to classic hip-hop: it's telling that the only guest MC is Kendrick Lamar on Love Games probably because his slippery syllable-juggling owes a lot to Eminem. Yet Eminem's former obsession – his own media image – has been replaced with a 41-year-old's cranky concerns. He's still a solipsistic cretin, but in a more general, everyday sort of way.

6. Jamaican Queens Wormfood: Out of the ashes of Prussia rises Jamaican Queens. The Detroit trio’s debut is a deliciously schizoid album, as whimsical and as chemical as love itself. It varies from fuzz-crinkled, glammed-out space rock to richly resonant, surf-toned lullabies, down into some bass-throbbing, trap-hop harkening, murkily-modulated indie-rap, and back up into punctured new-wave. It never substantially toes any one style’s shore, be it vibes of melodramatic/operatic pop nor satirical, dirgey-disco-elbowed electronica. And variance is stormed through just within one four-minute song, (Annie) marking the middle point of the album.

7. Kanye West Yeezus: as a sonic experience, Yeezus isn't as dangerous as it likes to think it is but it's certainly the epic banger Kanye's worried he didn't have in him since he first ran to Timbaland to help beef up his drum sounds on Graduation. The idea of it being a rush job to the finish line can be a romantic one for fanatics, but keener eyes might realize a really fantastic album is dragged down a little more than it's supposed to be by it's A.D.D. nature and litany of awkward moments. It feels self-sabotaged as often as it does transcendent, and that may be the statement he'd like to make most of all. Yeezus is that man searching for a baptism in his sex sweat. It's not a pretty sight, "but tell me have you seen that before?" asks the showman as the curtain closes.

8. Radkey Cat & Mouse EP: on their Facebook page, the band—three brothers—state that their aim is to save the world from fake rock n roll. Cat & Mouse is a stunning 15 minute masterpiece that does indeed put us critics at ease. ‘Cat & Mouse’ is everything that good rock music should be. It screams along at blistering speed, induces blown eardrums and potential alcohol-induced liver failure, and is more ferocious and powerful than a bull elephant on heat.

9. Hooded Fang Gravez: Gravez uses the same general structure as their previous LP – both open and close with a short jammy instrumental. Both are pretty short, clocking in at just thirty minutes. The real difference is the charge-ahead philosophy Hooded Fang seems to have recently developed, and the hypnotic, slightly druggy motifs they touch on. I suppose they were trying to duplicate fellow Canadians Arcade Fire’s success with that. With Gravez they’re tighter and nastier, and unlike before, they’re demanding your full attention.

10. Parquet Courts Tally All The Things That You Broke: with a ranted stream of consciousness rattled out like gunfire with a drunk’s finger on the trigger, the song couldn’t be any more Mark E Smith if it gave an awkward interview and sacked a guitarist for the third time in a week. But a whiff of unoriginality aside, what this EP offers Parquet Courts addicts is fresh meat to chew on, signs of innovation and further evidence that these New Yorkers are one of the world’s most essential new bands.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


The finale...

1. Consumerism (Lauryn Hill): Hill says she “felt the need to discuss the underlying socio-political, cultural paradigm as I saw it.” Coming from someone as smart and complicated as Hill, such a discussion is more than welcome.

2. Anxiety’s Door (Merchandise): a throwback to big hair bands, Merchandise presents an unforgettable guitar riff and awesome song of lost love and that guitar riff will become immortal.

3. 1 Train (A$AP Rocky feat. Kendrick Lamar, Danny Brown): sandwiches its momentary Rocky gaffes with thrills of pure lyricism and stunning guest skill-set tracks which see Danny Brown and Kendrick Lamar bring the house down in style.

4. Black Skinheads (Kanye West): we’ve heard him discuss the poor treatment of black Americans in their own country before, but we’ve never had Kanye lecture us on how this problem perpetuates as a result of capitalism and blind consumerism.

5. Red 2 Go (Danny Brown): It is unimportant that he has smoked more than his lungs can handle, a true Danny Brown would never stop smoking the kush and floss greatness about it.

6. Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe (Kendrick Lamar): his isn't an alpha male's boast. It's a pipsqueak's first pass at a chest-puff. It's also a monster of a radio-ready single, with Kendrick rapping in three voices (in double- and triple-time, no less) over an insane beat.

7. No Bueno (Angel Haze): The furiously gifted young rapper Angel Haze made her name with a pair of mixtapes last year, and now she's set to follow them up with delightful misogyny. No Bueno cuts hard on teeth that would stereo-typically be done by men.

8. Q.U.E.E.N (Janelle Monae ft. Erykah Badu): the Kansas-born neo soul singer is making music that really stands out and Q.U.E.E.N. is no exception, with its fun soul vibe in stark contrast to the dance club sound of most R&B releases of late.

9. Full Of Fire (The Knife): absent for seven years, The Knife returns just as sharply from whence they left off. Full of Fire spits out death ray beats and electronic spasms of pure joy.

10. Doing Nothing (Blu): that Blu incorporates heavy jazz juxtaposed with hip/hop beats and makes this track bounce is stunning enough. That it’s the same formula that dominates his album makes it even more phenomenal.

11. Tunnel Vision (Justin Timberlake): Justin’s sex appeal resurrects itself from all the attempts to sanitize it. Timbaland responds by throwing the kitchen sink in, creating lovely havoc in the background.

12. My Song 5 (Haim): the definite standout on their charming debut, the track verges pop and rock into a thrilling type of Dirty Projectors-esque rave that unearths many levels of cool that’ll no doubt soon be copied

13. Love Game (Eminem feat. Kendrick Lamar): a throwback and also an inner attempt to scratch new possibilities. Kendrick's verse is more oblique than Eminem's two, and more innovative…it’s his way but Eminem isn’t left far behind. This is the most anti-rap song in his arsenal and, against all odds, he’s pulled it off in fine style.

14. Evil Twin (Eminem): if rapping were a purely athletic competition, Eminem would be Michael Phelps and Mary Lou Retton combined: pure agility and flexibility, like an unstoppable bullet with only white-hot hate in his wake. His flow only gets more baroque and knotty and outrageous with age.

15. Feel The Love (Rudimental feat. John Newton): It’s propulsive, full of energy and frenetic beats married to Newman’s sublime vocals that bear the sweetest fruit. Give in and ride away on a sheer wave of happiness.

16. Wonderbread (Danny Brown): the song details Brown’s trip to the store and he witnesses the shooting of a junkie. It’s a cautionary tale, sadly one that plays out often in the ghetto

17. Fucking Problem (ASAP Rocky feat Kendrick Lamar & Drake): the snappy beat alone guarantees its greatness but Drake and Kendrick brought the tools to blow us away.

18. Soviet Bicycle (Norwegian Arms): a stunning freak folk nugget that shimmers as much as it throws down a challenge to more established folk like Animal Collective.

19. BBD (Azealia Banks): Azealia returns with a subdued groove but manages to still hit it out of the park, while just paying minimum attention. Let’s hope this is heralding more goodies from her upcoming LP.

20. Egospect (Sheep, Dog & Wolf): the blistering title track from McBride’s debut leaves a smouldering hot trail, snapping up electronic sparks that culminate into one grand statement.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Top 30 Best Albums Of 2013: PART II (#11--20)...

The penultimate section...

11. Foxygen We are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic: the duo’s sophomore delves deep into trippy Bowie territory, staggered by two brilliant tracks (No Destruction, On Blue Mountain) but backed up consistently with seething, bluesy rock that bands longer in the tooth still haven’t come close to mastering. The beats and choruses trip in without a moment’s notice—nice trick when one just wasn’t expecting it.

12. Sat. Nite Duets Electric Manland: calling this a classic rock album may be pushing it but the record’s numerous nods to gold-encrusted oldies are impossible to ignore.. Alternately blistering and bittersweet, the album’s hazy images of ex-girlfriends and wasted afternoons spent getting high are pure Sat. Nite Duets. This is an impeccably produced concept LP-- a herky-jerky jaunt stuffed with wanky guitar stabs and Talking Heads-esque breakdowns that still manages to touch on the band’s pet theme of fleeting summer fun.

13. David Bowie The Next Day: ten years have since the last Bowie album and as much as a rock god he is, no one expected much. How wrong we are: The Next Day brims with shocking ferocity while revisiting his hey days of the 1970s but not stealing from it. The most immediate thing is the lush instrumentalism and Bowie’s vocals rising to match it. The grooves are stylistic and lyrically the man is still pushing buttons.

14. A$AP Rocky Long Live A$AP: hip/hop continues to be the one genre that evolves into exciting new territory and last year saw the rise of the sensitive thug type: the young, urban male (Schoolboy Q, Frank Ocean)examining a harsh life and spitting it out back. A$AP Rocky is no different and his debut LP continues this trend by demanding its fair share of pussy, weed and respect. Though Long Live A$AP clings to the past at times, it sandwiches its momentary lapses with thrills of pure lyricism and guest skill-set tracks like 1 Train where Danny Brown and Kendrick Lamar bring the house down in style.

15. The Child of Lov The Child of Lov: already branded with goodness in the form of contributions by Blur and Gorillaz front-man, Damon Albarn and punk band Doom, The Child of Lov’s (Cole Williams) self titled debut is a pretty good way to commence one’s musical trajectory. The album is scattered with an alluring high wail reminiscent of Cee Lo Green and is an energetic ride. Williams died a few days ago so that makes this project even more special.

16. Popstrangers Antipodes: an album that revels in the dissonant darkness, adept at offering something accessible before pulling the rug out from underneath. This is first evident on Jane, where an organ and seemingly innocuous guitar riff subtly shifts in unease when the bass rumbles through. There’s a minute of this musical interplay before everything explodes into white distorted noise, and Joel Flyger’s disaffected vocals drift in. That sense of unease pervades much of Antipodes – the stretched, off-kilter chiming guitar and Flyger’s hushed, slightly menacing voice in In Some Ways.

17. Autre Ne Veut Anxiety: propelled by two massive songs at the start (Play by Play, Counting), Arthur Ashin’s debut LP roars to life with its Prince-aping futuristic R&B pop hybrid. Though sure to be divisive, the album’s production is spot on, clever even. The textures involved feel sparkly and exciting: hear and just believe the metallic effect of the guitar subtlety guiding Ego Free Sex Free.

18. The Doppelgangaz Hark: New York duo The Doppelgangaz, made up of childhood friends Matter Ov Fact and EP, have released their much-anticipated third studio album, Hark. The 12-track project includes reader-approved singles Hark Back and Oh Well. There are no guest features but the flows are tight and among the very best rap will have this year.

19.M.I.A Matangi: like the woman who made it, Matangi is hugely inventive and a bit exhausting: if it's hard to take in anything other than small doses, you can't help but be glad it exists. On the title track, Arulpragasam takes aim at her legions of pallid imitators: "Lookalike, copycat, doppleganger, fraud … if you're gonna be like me you need a manifesto." You could argue that's yet another example of her tendency to, as the Australians say, let the wind blow up her arse and waggle her tongue.

20. Black Joe Lewis Electric Slave: “Electric Slave is what people are today, with their faces buried in their iPhones and the only way to hold a conversation is through text,” Lewis explains in the album’s press release. While he’s not always singing about escaping modernity, the music itself carries a good deal of that weight. He may mythically title songs like Vampire and Golem; the lyrics largely focus on timeless issues of the heart and an old-fashioned drive for good times.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Top 30 Best Albums of 2013: Part I (#21--30)...

It wasn't particularly a great year for released music. too many stars failed top shine, too many divisive records. Was it a promising year--yes, definately. Here are the thirty (30) best records of a puzzling year. Already, I'm looking forward to the many mouth-watering albums slated for next year however.

Here is this year's list with a few original and borrowed quotes...

21. Queens Of The Stone Age 'Like Clockwork': "there's a lot of the Queens sound in this album, but there's also a lot of new ideas. This album, though, has the crew on top of their game. Never has a Queens album had so much nuance, diversity, power at times and subtle beauty at others. The composition is impeccable, the production is gorgeous, and the songs themselves paint a landscape of desolation and hopelessness."

22. Janelle Monae 'The Electric Lady': "continues her utopian cyborg concepts of its predecessors, while presenting itself in more plainspoken, personal territory in addition to experimenting with genres beyond conventional funk and soul music genres such as jazz, pop- punk and gospel, as well as woozy and sensual vocal ballads."

23. Protoje 'The Eight Year Affair': "Protoje offers up tales of love and faith here but most importantly, he’s creating a space for diversity…something the genre is slowly losing. There’s allusion to blues, dancehall, spoken word and jazz here, which is really saying something. In these moments, Protoje seems to be attempting to push the boundaries of his sound, even at the expense of potentially losing dancehall fans or those who favor more bass-heavy, upbeat reggae offerings. Such tracks best showcase Protoje’s versatility as an artist and his willingness to look beyond today’s Jamaican radio hits for songwriting inspiration — a trait with deep roots in reggae’s history."

24. Norwegian Arms 'Wolf Like A Stray Dog': "Norwegian Arms is a curious new duo, comprising of mandolinist/vocalist Brendan Mulvihill and percussionist Eric Slick (of Dr. Dog). The two combine mandolin with spare drums and flourishes of keyboard to present a new, buffed-to-shine take on folk-pop. It’s a brisk set they give us on Wolf Like a Stray Dog, from the frenzied rise-and-fall of And Then I Found Myself in the Taiga to the eccentric, snapping chaos of the title track to the sweet melodies of Tired of Being Cold. At its best, this set gives us a lively sound, one that gets the blood pumping without forgetting about deep hooks and solid choruses."

25. Haim 'Days Are Gone': "Along with the stunning My Song 5, which spikes its En Vogue homage with very current-sounding electronics, Let Me Go – a relentless, house-like pulse decorated with harmonies doused in dub-like echo – suggests there might be more to Haim in the future than mining the past. For now, Days Are Gone makes them seem an increasingly rare thing: a guitar band heralded as a sure thing, who still feel like a sure thing once you've heard their debut album."

26. Volcano Choir 'Repave': the multi-talented Justin Vernon may have downplayed future Bon Iver material but here with his other band, he continues to have an authorial stamp. A few tracks bear that out more than others, yet the album remains surprisingly cohesive, effectively splitting the difference between the fussed-over refinement of Bon Iver and the sometimes unfocused experimentation of Volcano Choir’s first album, 2009’s Unmap. It’s a balancing act that pays off.

27. Deerhunter 'Monomania': "Even at its most melodic, Monomania is still targeted by a severe fuzz undertone. Garage rock to the max. A bordering confusion by the time Leather Jacket II hit, which sounds similar to a deranged group of teenagers' first ever practice session with their instruments (that they bought dirt cheap from a local pawn shop; cocaine residue has infiltrated the wiring). Areas of melody are buried deep in these louder songs, but they are there."

28. Alice Smith 'She': "Smith works a nether region 'twixt Beyoncé and Norah Jones, no doubt why she wound up in major-label limbo after her eclectic 2006 debut. The equally adventurous follow-up lands in a new R&B world that embraces oddballs like Janelle Monáe and Santigold, whose stylistic freestyles Smith beat to market. She does sultry and cool well. "

29. Arcade Fire 'Reflektor': "Reflektor's sound is lush and imaginative, but never in a way that suffocates you with the fumes of its polish. It's limber and loose, as though the songs were performed live; the arrangements breathe, seethe, and sweat. As their detractors will be quick to point out, Arcade Fire's greatest crime in the past has been sometimes coming off too stately and self-serious but on the first half of Reflektor they often feel like they're deflating their own sense of grandeur. It's nice to hear a band that showed up on the scene quite literally dressed for a funeral now sounding like they're having (at least a little) fun."

30. V.V. Brown 'Samson & Delilah': Vanessa Brown previously recorded this album then scrapped it. If she was dissatisfied with it in its eary form, then she’s clearly elated with it now that it’s a novella for the famous biblical relationship between Samson and Delilah. Samson & Delilah is a brave work of art. One listen and it’s apparent that this is the sound of an artist breaking away from the shackles of the corporate music world’s cookie-cutter, pop star mold. Brown is holding the reins this time around and doing things entirely on her own terms.