Halfway Point: The Best 50 Albums Of 2013 (So Far), Part Five

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And here we are at the top 10.  What a ride.  Or something.  This list will probably undergo some transformation before the end of the year, naturally, but it’s hard to say how radical that change will be.  Especially the top 10, although I’m certain some of it will shift before we call it quits on 2013.  And if you haven’t bought my book yet, you should do that before the end of 2013, too.  Or, say, before the end of today.  That would be nice too.  HINT HINT: http://amzn.to/19HF1tc

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#10:  Baths – “Obsidian”

Cerulean was such an amazing debut that it was hard for me to imagine Will Wiesenfeld topping it.  Yet, here we are, with the stellar sophomore album Obsidian.  The terms are darker, this time around; the aching beauty is souring, turning in on itself, yet never once does it become a drag to listen to.  It will leap out of your stereo and ask you to commiserate with it, and you will.

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#09:  FIDLAR – “FIDLAR”

Here we are, sweating through the summer of 2013, and to aid in this we have an album that breathes sweltering punk abandon, from the opening shots of “Cheap Beer” (I DRINK CHEAP BEER SO WHAT FUCK YOU) through each and every classic L.A. skater punk nugget.  They win no points for originality, and they don’t need to:  this is pure, raw rock ‘n’ roll, and if you need more than you should simply have another beer and repeat until you don’t care any more.

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#08:  Daft Punk – “Random Access Memories”

I heard “Get Lucky” on an Easy Rock format station the other day.  That’s how ubiquitous this album is getting:  your mom has heard it, your office secretary has heard it, the middle manager at your firm has heard it, all the kids in your class are blasting it from their bedroom windows.  My neighbours are doing that, possibly right as we speak.  It’s not the most pretentious or artsy funk album, but it’s certainly the most effective.  Daft Punk Everywhere:  that’s the Summer of 2013, folks.  Now lose yourself to dance.

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#07:  Parquet Courts – “Light Up Gold”

Barely an album from 2013, but technicality is the soul of life, or something; regardless, the album counts (thank you mid-January re-release) and is top-to-bottom impressive.  This is a album of poppy punk, but not pop-punk; it lacks the genre’s characteristically annoying adolescence and sk8r-boi mentality and substitutes smart melodic sense and a refreshingly full brevity.  These songs will stick in your head and they will take up residence there.

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#06:  Foxygen – “We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace And Magic”

There are albums that are derivative and this is a bad thing; they wear their influences like riot shields, proclaiming that they’re just like Band X in an attempt to woo people who are looking for bands just like Band X.  Then, there are bands like Foxygen.  Foxygen is not original.  One listen to “No Destruction” will tell you immediately that they are heavily indebted to the magic of the Psychedelic Sixties.  At the same time, it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly which bands they’re ripping off at any one given time.  Instead, it’s safest to say that they’re ripping off the entire decade at once:  We Are is a distillation of every great moment the decade produced, solidified into one hell of an homage.

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#05:  Boards Of Canada – “Tomorrow’s Harvest”

There are a number of bands releasing albums in 2013 that haven’t released albums in quite some time.  It may not have been as long an interval from The Campfire Headphase as, say, Loveless, but it’s safe to say that, of all the classic bands, few have or will approach the level of quality offered up by this Scottish duo.  That Campfire alienated a lot of long-time fans is a matter of public record; to the group’s credit, Tomorrow’s Harvest sounds like it takes up where the much better Geogaddi left off back in 2002.

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#04:  The National – “Trouble Will Find Me”

The band’s sixth album finds them settling into a serious groove, where the style is their very own and it’s done to perfection.  It continues on perfectly in an evolution of sound from Alligator onward, mellowing out slightly from High Violet but retaining the crushing sense of sad-eyed aplomb.  It’s hard to name a better pop band operating today.

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#03:  Deafheaven – “Sunbather”

An immediately gripping set that combines the best parts of black metal with the best movements of post-rock and creates something that may not be entirely wholly new but is definitely the most cohesive statement of such music ever made.  The bleak, winter-driven howls and blur-of-shoegaze guitars are there, but the suite-sets and crescendo-patterns are pure post-rock; the result is something that is not black metal, but can be considered to be truly post-black metal.  Definitely a junction-point in the fringe of music, and an album that will be pored over and discussed for years to come.

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#02:  Kanye West – “Yeezus”

The most divisive album of the year:  those who like it, like it a lot, and vice versa.  The distorted synths and electro drums gained fans and enemies in equal measure.  The fact, however, is this:  even when it was obsessive online haters trying to dominate the conversation, it still meant that people were talking about Kanye and only Kanye.  The man is likely the premier artist of our musical times, a juggernaut that is helping to bring hip hop into its artistic phase, much as the Beatles helped usher in the artsy phase of rock ‘n’ roll.  The album is a winner, though, repetitive internet shitposters be damned; it is a brutal blend of swag rap, pummeling post-OFWGKTA production, and trap music, touched off with a classic Kanye soul sample in the end.

UH HUH HONEY 😉

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#01:  Deerhunter – “Monomania”

Deerhunter have been the most consistently impressive rock band in recent memory; Cryptograms, Microcastle, and Halcyon Days are all stone cold classics, utilizing devastating rhythms, obscure vocals, and a deliciously smoky sense of haze to craft the very definition of cutting-edge indie rock.  Monomania finds them stripping away a lot of that haze; the idea this time out seems to be to craft a much more stripped-down, straight-ahead version of Deerhunter, and the results are nothing short of stupendous.  It’s a leather-jacket album, touching on garage, freewheeling spirits, and a newfound love of the Grateful Dead.  For longtime fans of the band, this can be somewhat off-putting at first, until that first rhythmic groove kicks in; from then on, you realize it’s Deerhunter, larger than life and fifty times tougher.  Much like Microcastle, it’s become my go-to album:  when all else fails, I reach for Monomania, because I’m always in the mood for it.

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