Monday, December 23, 2013

Our Top Album Picks of 2013 (Part 2)

FINALLY, Eryn finished her list.  While there may be some overlap with Jason's list, there are some differences as well, just to prove that we are not the same person (aka Michael & Diana).  Here she goes:


1)  WOODKID--The Golden Age
Yoann Lemoine made an indelible mark with this incredible debut record in 2013.  The dramatic music.  The brooding vocals.  The haunting lyrics.  The spectacular videos.  Even Absolut Vodka loves this stuff.  A debut for the record books in sheer amazingness.

2)  JANELLE MONAE--The Electric Lady
Monae is a one of a kind talent in a world of generic R&B-ers, and while she may not hit the top of the charts as much as Beyonce or Rihanna, she is in a class of her own.  To be able to release this sophomore record and hang tough with the likes of Prince and Erykah Badu, hats off to this disarming charmer.

3)  DAFT PUNK--Random Access Memories
A virtual history lesson in dancepop and disco, Daft Punk had the audacity to eschew pure electronic bliss in favor of layered tracks laced with orchestra, acoustic guitar, piano, and live drums.  Then add disco Gods Nile Rodgers and Giorgio Moroder to the mix with a touch of the legendary Paul Williams and modern contributors Pharrell, Panda Bear, and Julian from the Strokes.  Somehow, it all works.  This puts two albums by French guys in Eryn's top 3.  Guess those years spent learning French continue to resonate...


Are those sound waves, sunglasses, or a bikini top on the cover?  No matter, as Arctic Monkeys created one of the grooviest albums of the year, and well written and sung as well.  Five albums in and they keep getting better.

5)  WILLY MOON--Here's Willy Moon
Fun and very underrated, Willy Moon made some very catchy retro pop in 2013.  "Yeah Yeah" was a monster in advertisements, but there was also a spooky vibe to some of the more downbeat tracks.  He also covers Jack White.  Ballsy.

6)  DAVID BOWIE--The Next Day
Can't say any more about this that I have not already said except you MUST buy this NOW and is MUST be in your collection.  His first work in a decade, but his BEST work in 30 years.  What's your excuse?

Stephen Merritt suffers from tinnitus and cannot play this album live, so you should do the next best thing and get this album.  Dark humor always wins out, and with songs like "Keep Your Children in a Coma", you cannot lose.

A kooky idea on paper turns into a brilliant idea on record.  Costello rejigs old lyrics with new while the Roots provide a suitably funky and appropriate background beat.  In a year that saw Jimmy Fallon's backing band advance to the new Tonight Show musical group, there is some serious magic at work here.

9)  SUEDE--Bloodsports
Best reunion album of the year, back with original producer, Ed Buller.  Like they picked things up right after the Trash album of 1996.

10)  NINE INCH NAILS--Hesitation Marks
Brilliant return to form and more mature with more subtleties in the mix, Trent Reznor has not lost his touch for making great records.  Some serious anger is bubbling just below the surface, but Trent does all he can not to show his hand so easily.  Those years of making soundtracks like The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo have made his own work that much better.

11)  HAIM--Days Are Gone
12)  VAMPIRE WEEKEND--Modern Vampires of the City
13)  PET SHOP BOYS--Electric
14)  EMPIRE OF THE SUN--Ice on the Dune
15)  ARCADE FIRE--Reflektor
16)  GOLDFRAPP--Tales of Us
17)  PHOENIX--Bankrupt!
18)  FRANZ FERDINAND--Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action
19)  CHVRCHES--The Bones of What You Believe
20)  CUT COPY--Free Your Mind
21)  FITZ & THE TANTRUMS--More Than Just a Dream
22)  SHOUT OUT LOUDS--Optica
23)  CAMERA OBSCURA--Desire Lines
24)  HOLY GHOST!--Dynamics
25)  YEAH YEAH YEAHS--Mosquito

Honorable Mentions:
JOHN LEGEND--Love in the Future
TEGAN & SARA--Heartthrob
SLEIGH BELLS--Bitter Rivals

Friday, December 6, 2013

Our Top Album Picks of 2013 (Part 1)

As 2013 winds down, we want to take a quick glance back on the year in music that was, and maybe shine a little light on what we thought were the best albums of the year.  Ah, albums...a quaint idea, right?  WRONG.  Nothing in the world of recorded modern popular music makes a bigger statement than an album that plays from beginning to end, taking you on a voyage of emotion specifically plotted and created by the artists involved in making them.  Sure, you could cherry pick singles or tracks you like here and there, but not only would you be missing some of their most vibrant work, you are doing a disservice to yourself by stunting your musical growth by limiting the process of exploration.  There have been many albums with songs that may take a while to seep into our consciousness, and many times, those same songs will become our favorites in the long run because they wear better upon repeated playing.  This process of music discovery is a unique journey, and if it's all too familiar on first listen, what's left to gain? This is why so many of the pop kids sound completely interchangeable these days.  On that note...

Here are Jason's favorites of the year, and check back for Eryn's coming up soon.  Maybe you'll find something you wish to check out for yourself.


1) PRIMAL SCREAM--More Light
Bobby Gillespie and co. return with the best album of their 20+ year career, mixing the best of their past with dashes of Bowie, Can, Sun Ra, Stones, Zeppelin, dub reggae...and making it all their own.  This is the sound of a great rock & roll band effortlessly blending their best qualities, and what a feat it can be making something so difficult sound so easy to do. 

2) WOODKID--The Golden Age
A conceptual album of the highest artistic order, Yoann Lemoine aka Woodkid, released one of the most startling debuts of the year with an album detailing the tale of a young boy fighting against all odds and ultimately losing his tragic battle.  Mixing a little of Nick Cave, Antony Hegarty, and Marc Almond, Lemoine's baritone flexes against the pounding and tribal rhythms in the upbeat songs, while gently smoothing out the ballads with heartfelt tenderness.  While it's seriously difficult to believe this is his first album, one can only wonder where on earth he goes from here.  Brilliant.

3) JOHN GRANT--Pale Green Ghosts
Reading like pages of his diary, Grant's fearlessness comes full force on this album, his followup to 2010's Queen of Denmark (chosen by Mojo Magazine as it's 2010 album of the year).  Both humorous and heartbreaking, Grant's dark and brooding voice is set against downbeat folk rock and stark electronic textures courtesy of Iceland's Gus Gus.  While there is a fair amount of soapboxing going on here, funny songs like "GMF" and "Sensitive New Age Guy" lighten the mood.  Simultaneously, the closing "Glacier" is one of the most transcendent songs in recent memory.  

4) MOONFACE--Julia With Blue Jeans On
Just a guy and his piano, Spencer Krug (Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown) shows off some amazing talent on an album extolling the virtues of an ex-girlfriend in this modern song cycle.  Recalling a mixture of Nick Drake and Nick Cave, these highly personal songs were recorded live and feature no studio overdubs.  This was Krug's first album from all of his projects to be so stripped down, and it's all the better as the songs get the chance to breathe in direct ways.  An astonishing piece of work.

5) PET SHOP BOYS--Electric
Coming a mere 10 months after their previous album, the muted Elysium, this British duo have continued to create fantastic pop music for the past 30 years.  Their latest, Electric, is the first on their own record label (x2), and features production from master electronic producer Stuart Price (Madonna, The Killers).  Expanding some of their songs in a looser format than usual, Electric ultimately continues the trajectory of Tennant-Lowe's history of witty and emotional songwriting that, with such a rich career, should place them in the category with other past luminaries like Lennon and McCartney.

6) DAVID BOWIE--The Next Day
An album most of us never thought would be made, Bowie shocked and surprised at the beginning of the year with his first release in a decade, and what a release it was.  The Next Day is invigorating with a sound that recalls some of his best past work like Heroes or Scary Monsters (Tony Visconti returns as producer), but lyrically stares down the end of a life that sees the number of days ahead shrinking.  Fire and brimstone are the word of the day here, yet the cover belies a flippant reaction to this weighty subject.  In a year that lost Lou Reed, the return of Bowie was almost like a resurrection. 

7) THE KNIFE--Shaking the Habitual
Certainly one of the most dividing records of the year, the Swedish brother-sister duo that make up The Knife returned with their first album of new material in seven years (Fever Ray came in-between).  Most of the songs clock in around the 8-minute mark, as this record stretches over two CDs or three LPs.  There's even an ambient track in the middle running nearly 20 minutes.  Still, the grinding industrial rhythms clash against sounds that seem as though they were created at the bottom of an Asian sea, as these tracks don't always function as songs, more often as sound collages.  Not for the faint of heart.

8) JAGWAR MA--Howlin
A liberating mix of British Oasis-style psychedelic rock mixed with late-80's rave culture, Australia's Jagwar Ma manage to find a sound that sits somewhere between the Stone Roses' debut and Primal Scream's Screamadelica.  These are not shabby reference points, to be sure.  Guitars weave in and out as dubby drums smash against walls of sequencers and trippy looped vocals.  With their debut, JM have managed to create something that references specific sounds of the past while retaining a fair amount of indivuality and originality.  Plus, it's damned catchy.

9) TEGAN & SARA--Heartthrob
Twin sisters Tegan & Sara have been making music for a decade, but it took producer Greg Kurstin (Kylie Minogue, Bird & the Bee) to really turn them on to the poppier side of their sound.  They are all the better for it, making the best pop record of the year (the similar Haim was close, but there's room for both). Recalling 80's Fleetwood Mac at their most melodic (again, see Haim), Tegan & Sara took a chance on alienating their audience, but have found a larger new one in the process, and have shown growth potential while also showing their fans another side of themselves.  This was an album that kept giving all year.

10) NINE INCH NAILS--Hesitation Marks
Nine Inch Nails is no longer the new band it once was--Trent Reznor's project has been active off and on for nearly 25 years now, yet Hesitation Marks is one of his freshest releases to date.  Reznor has shaken some of the shackles of the expectations of what an industrial album must sound like in 2013, with his work on soundtracks like The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo an influence.  He doesn't seem to be trying so hard to please here, finding more space in between the sounds, allowing for more creative textural nuances.  It's a slow-burning album with much of the anger tucked under the surface rather than being thrown in your face, and because of that, rewards on repeated listenings.  After a long break, this was another welcome return.

11) NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS--Push the Sky Away
12) CUT COPY--Free Your Mind
13) M.I.A.--Matangi
14) VAMPIRE WEEKEND--Modern Vampires of the City
15) JANELLE MONAE--The Electric Lady
16) CHVRCHES--The Bones of What You Believe
17) EMPIRE OF THE SUN--Ice on the Dune
18) SUEDE--Bloodsports
19) PREFAB SPROUT--Crimson/Red
20) ARCADE FIRE--Reflektor
21) YEAH YEAH YEAHS--Mosquito
23) NEKO CASE--The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight...
24) GOLDFRAPP--Tales of Us
25) OMD--English Electric
26) ALISON MOYET--The Minutes
27) HOLY GHOST!--Dynamics
28) OH LAND--Wishbone
29) HAIM--Days Are Gone
30) VV BROWN--Samson & Delilah
32) JULIA HOLTER--Loud City Song
33) SIGUR ROS--Kveikur
34) THE VEILS--Time Stays, We Go
35) LAURA MARLING--Once I Was an Eagle
36) RHYE--Open
37) DAFT PUNK--Random Access Memories
38) ST. LUCIA--When the Night
40) SAVAGES--Silence Yourself
42) LORDE--Pure Heroine
43) LITTLE BOOTS--Nocturnes
44) LADY GAGA--Artpop
45) YOUNG GALAXY--Ultramarine
46) MARY ONETTES--Hit the Waves
47) DEPECHE MODE--Delta Machine
48) JOSEPH ARTHUR--Ballad of Boogie Christ
49) CAMERA OBSCURA--Desire Lines
50) IAMX--Unified Field