2013: 30-21

Oneohtrix Point Never - R Plus Seven 30.  Oneohtrix Point Never – R Plus Seven

Warp

Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin may be the production equivalent of William S. Burroughs’ and Brian Gysin’s “cut & fold” technique; he sews found audio and bizzare samples into colorful, patchwork quilts of sound that both challenge and engage the listener.  Unlike some of his earlier works like 2011’s ReplicaR Plus Seven hits some sunnier notes before they are inevitably splintered and, although it would be difficult to argue that Lopatin’s music is readily accessible to the casual music fan, this album would be a good jumping off point for those interested in delving into avant garde electronica. – SHH

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Ashley Monroe - Like A Rose 29.  Ashley Monroe – Like a Rose

Warner Bros.

This selection may seem like it’s totally out of left field.  It certainly did for me some months ago, especially for someone who was used to answering the question, “What sort of music do you like?” with “I like pretty much everything…except I don’t listen to classical or pop country.”  As much as Monroe meets the definition of a pop country artist, her sound is refreshingly more in tune with the likes of Dolly Parton (referenced specifically in the closing duet with Vince Gill) than contemporaries like Taylor Swift.  Much of Like a Rose is a self-reflective tale of perserverance in spite of unfortunate cirucmstances and, like the title, the album absolutely blooms. – SHH

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Mikal Cronin - MC II 28.  Mikal Cronin – MC II

Merge

Cronin got his start working alongside friend, fellow Californian and garage rock guru, Ty Segall, on the album Reverse Shark Attack.  On top of touring actively as Segall’s guitarist Cronin also began recording on his own.  MC II, Cronin’s second solo outing, is much poppier than his predictably noisy self-titled debut; in fact, it’s practically power pop.  MC II is a fun record from start to finish.  Cronin captures the West Coast vibe of like-minded predecessors Rooney and Weezer to a T; let’s just hope that he has more longevity than the former. – SHH

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Daft Punk - Random Access Memories 27.  Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Columbia

Random Access Memories was one of the most highly anticipated albums of 2013, especially after the release of the hot single “Get Lucky” which quickly became a worldwide epidemic, showcasing the blissful falsetto of Pharrell even before Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.”  The French duo’s fourth studio album, a 75-minute homage to disco, dance, and funk is an exciting, uplifting ride highlighted by several strong tracks. “Giorgio by Moroder,” a nine minute time warp back to 1977 begins with a very entertaining interview with Moroder himself before dropping into a reimagination of his signature sounds; after a few listens it will have you reciting the somewhat comical lines with your friends.

The infectious “Instant Crush” featuring The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas and the steamy second single in “Lose Yourself to Dance” solidify RAM as a far better than average record.  Unfortunately, the tracks leading up to the album’s coda are somewhat weak, notably the Grizzly Bear guested “Doin’ it Right” which seems to be slightly out of place, but “Contact” is able to rectify that.  It’s an uneasy banger of a space odyssey in song form–a track that begs to be listened to as loud as possible, preferably while experiencing some form of kinetic motion.

With all the hype and story surrounding RAM’s release, the album largely lived up to the anticipation, and for me served as a perfect companion as I toured around Europe last summer, it makes you want to keep moving, keep exploring, keep dancing, and in a world so predicated on staring at phones and computer screens, it’s a welcome change of pace. – KDD

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My Bloody Valentine - m b v 26.  My Bloody Valentine – m b v

Self-Released

One of the biggest surprises in a year chock full of surprise releases was My Bloody Valentine’s first record in 22 years.  1991′s Loveless, the quintessential shoegaze record which sits at the very top of most every hipster’s list of the most important records of the 90s (or of all time), set the bar so very high that perfectionist frontman Kevin Shields likely scared himself shitless as to how to orchestrate a follow-up record.  He made a number of promises to fans, particularly in the mid-late 90s, that a new release was forthcoming.  Years passed and a new release became less an excitement than an unnecessary epilogue to a great book of music that many had closed.

In January of 2013 Shields nonchalantly mentioned that a new album would be coming out in a few weeks.  This frankly unfathomable release caused a major stir in the audiophile community with a 50/50 split of thrill and concern.  Fans, a number of which were born after the release of Loveless, were aching for fresh material, but synchronously feared that a new album could risk tarnishing My Bloody Valentine’s canonical reputation.

A single listen to the first half of the record would lead one to believe that, with the important exception of the a-side “new you,” m b v may be little more than a collection of Loveless era b-sides.  Shields readily admitted in interviews that more than half of the record was completed in the 90s.  One must of course remember that My Bloody Valentine records always appreciate with repeated listens and some half-buried hooks and production nuances do not makes themselves apparent until after a dozen listens or more.

The first couple of songs are not only familiar, they’re practically tycecast: heavily distorted guitars (Shields using his patented “glide guitar”) and the tenuous androgyny of Kevin Shield’s and Bilinda Butcher’s filtered vocals.  The most startling tracks are the triumvirate that close m b v.  Shields finally allows percussion to take the forefront on “in another way” which plows along like a train through a dark tunnel.  “nothing is” takes percussion to the Nth degree with a three-and-a-half minute harsh and thunderous roar.  The grand finale, “wonder 2,” is the real gem of the album.  The track gives the listener the impression that they are parachuting during an air raid.  The sound is so unbelievably dense that it risks almost certain implosion; there is a sonic vacuum that seems to swallow everything but Shields’ vocals until he inevitably gets sucked up himself.

m b v is by no means My Bloody Valentine’s best record (nor their second best…Isn’t Anything is incredible!) but it’s doubtful that that was its actual purpose.  At the very least it should dispel any superfan’s initial trepidation surrounding its release.  There was no question in my mind that Kevin Shields would release a good album, if he ever got comfortable with the idea that is.  The question was what new ground would be broken?  The answer is the darker, more panicked vibe of “wonder 2.”  The other question is will fans be made to wait another 22 years for a new release… – SHH

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Savages - Silence Yourself 25.  Savages – Silence Yourself

Matador

Savages are easily the most kickass all-girl band in recent memory.  Their debut is a post-punk dynamo with each successive track spastically firing away like well-oiled pistons.  Obvious connections can be made as to influence; one can’t help but think of Patti Smith’s “Horses” while listening to “Husbands,” but Savages have something fresh and new up their sleeves.  They outline their anti-solipsistic credo on their simple but effective cover–a black and white photograph of four closed-mouth women who look as though they could scream at any moment.  Singer Jehnny Beth regularly carries the pace of the songs with her intense bellow, and as the first track might denote, the album could have easily been named Shut Up and Listen to Us.  Savages don’t only merit a listen, they demand it. – SHH

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No Joy - Wait to Pleasure 24.  No Joy – Wait to Pleasure

Mexican Summer

There has been no shortage of shoegaze rehashes as of late, but, for those of you who don’t have short-term memory loss, Wait to Pleasure scores ahead of My Bloody Valentine’s m b v, and with reason.  This is not to say that No Joy isn’t indebted to MBV, Slowdive and The Jesus and Mary Chain–they are.  But No Joy is sharp enough to meld the fuzzy feedback and washed out vocals of shoegaze with early 4AD pop, the more melodic post-punkers and mid-90s Alt. Rock without a seam showing.  That is a feat. – SHH

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Kacey Musgraves - Same Trailer Different Park 23.  Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer Different Park

Mercury

I’ve grown accustomed to putting pop country down, but I’m happy to say this album is definitely pop country at it’s finest.  Same Trailer is an exceptional exception to the trucks plus beer plus women equals success rule.  The 25-year-old Musgraves has been breaking the pop country mold for some time now.  She self-released three albums prior to appearing on Nashville Star (the country version of American Idol), only to finish 7th, and then her prime-time debut, Same Trailer, earned her four nominations at the 2013 Grammy Awards, of which she won two, including Best Country Album.  The record’s choice single, “Merry Go ‘Round,” serves as a clever commentary on what may be an all-too-true life for some suburbanites, and it’s similarly surrounded by cute yet very intelligent snapshots of an extremely talented young woman. – KDD

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Tim Hecker - Virgins 22.  Tim Hecker – Virgins

Kranky

Tim Hecker proved his experimental electronic genius over a decade ago with the release of Haunt Me Haunt Me, Do It Again and he has been a virtual critical shoe-in ever since.  It goes without saying that the electronic poet laureate could sacrifice his sanctity with every release, but rather than playing it safe, he comfortably rolls the dice.  Virgins isn’t as trying to the casual listener as other Hecker albums; it’s a 2:1 split on ecstasy and terror.  Hecker makes good use of synth, feedback, piano and the virginal (hence the title) an archaic version of the harpsichord.  Like its cover, Virgins is a shrouded work of art, but one that beckons you to unveil it. – SHH

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Hiatus Kaiyote - Tawk Tomahawk 21.  Hiatus Kaiyote – Tawk Tomahawk

Flying Buddha

I had never heard of the Australian quartet known as Hiatus Kaiyote until “Mobius Streak” was played on a friend’s radio show, and it blew me away.  I happened to be in the midst of an Amy Winehouse tear and Nai Palm’s vocals seemed to run tangentially to those of the late Winehouse–the soul-filled buzz apparent in both their deliveries immediately had me intrigued me as the album’s potential.

Tawk Tomahawk is an entirely unique record, blending elements of R&B, soul, funk and even jazz into what the band calls “future soul.”  The album is tracked swiftly; there are ten tracks altogether, four of which are noticeably longer than the others and the six shorter tracks serve as buffers between the four stronger takes.  The opener “Mobius Streak” and anchor “Nakamarra” (for which the band was nominated for a Best R&B Performance grammy) are the peaks and will treat the listener to a sound not oft heard on record.  Overall, Tawk Tomahawk is a complete, cohesive and soulful trip, mixing eclectic instrumentation with Palm’s exquisite vocal styling. It begs to be played loudly from expensive speakers, or better yet, experienced live. – KDD

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