2013: 40-31

James Blake - Overgrown

40.  James Blake – Overgrown

Polydor

James Blake’s self-titled, fan-making debut earned him a somber, dubstep sainthood.  The major question was whether or not it was fair to relegate Blake to the often irksome dubstep genre.  His R&B voice alone separated him from his peers, and he could tell creepy, fragmented stories in his songs that surpassed those around him who made it solely on fragmented samples.

Though it is impossible to mistake Overgrown for anybody other than Blake, he seems to have shifted even further toward becoming an alternative singer/songwriter with more emphasis on his voice and piano.  He also has a few interesting collaborations on the record: production magnate Brian Eno lends a hand on “Digital Lion” and Wu-Tang’s RZA raps over “Take a Fall For Me.”  Overgrown is a positive sidestep away from dubstep. – SHH

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Foxygen - We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors...

39.  Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic

Jagjaguwar

We Are the 21st Century was one of my most listened to records in the first half of 2013.  It does tire a bit if repeated too often, but the songs are catchy enough to have one fall into that trap with ease.  Per my review last spring:  Foxygen are likely to be chalked up as “revivalists” along with some of the more interesting contemporary acts in Tame Impala and Girls (before their disbandment), but what sets them apart is that they 1) lack the stylistic focus of Tame Impala and 2) they have a more obvious sense of humor about their shameless genre-hopping than Girls.

The bold title is enough to elicit a chuckle, not to mention their sticker self-endorsements on the cover: “Our best album yet” and “The only real ‘end of the world’ record out there.”  The multi-intstrumentalist duo of Jonathan Rado and Sam France spearheaded the project that is Foxygen, a fish-eyed vision of rock music from 1965 through 1980, when they were high school seniors.

The record dips cheekily in and out of traditional rock, folk, psychedelia, synth pop, glam and baroque pop.  At first We Are the 21st seems like a somewhat successful “throw [everything] at the wall” exercise, but after multiple listens one realizes that there is way more stuck on the wall than was initially anticipated. – SHH

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Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City

38.  Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

XL

Vampire Weekend’s third LP was a big surprise for me this year, but not in the way you may think; I totally expected to not give a shit about it, let alone give it a listen.  It quickly garnered a lot of positive reviews and I was forced to buy it as an experiment.

Their self-titled debut was so over-played by my friends after its release that I grew so tired of hearing it, and Contra, despite its annoyingly catchy hooks, still sounded to me like the winner of a high school Battle of the Bands.  While Modern Vampires doesn’t shy away from catchiness, Vampire Weekend create a balance with some more sophisticated songwriting and lyricism.  There is a good reason why this album is on so many Top 2013 lists… – SHH

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Eleanor Friedberger - Personal Record

37.  Eleanor Friedberger – Personal Record

Merge

Eleanor Friedberger, one half of The Fiery Furnaces, released her second LP in 2013.  Friedberger’s sound hasn’t strayed far from early FF–a healthy dose of ’75-’85 pop/rock; however, her sophomore solo release is an improvement over the freshman Last Summer.  Personal Record allows Friedberger’s wit and ability to tell a story shine front and center.  If you’re not convinced listen to the hysterical “When I Knew;” if the song wasn’t so damn snappy the narrative could have easily outshined it. – SHH

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Earl Sweatshirt - Doris

36.  Earl Sweatshirt – Doris

Odd Future Records / Columbia

Earl Sweatshirt, alias of Thebe Kgositsile, wasn’t lying when he admitted his fear of failure on Doris‘ second track “Burgundy”: “And I’m afraid I’m gonna blow it / And expectations raised because daddy was a poet, right?”  Earl Sweatshirt is indeed the son of a poet, and a UCLA law professor to boot; not exactly the recipe for your typical west-coast thug rapper.

Sweatshirt, a member of the rap collective Odd Future, seemingly disappeared after the release of his self-titled mix tape.  Despite the “Free Earl” t-shirts that were printed, Sweatshirt was attending a Samoan boarding school at his mother’s request, not serving a term in prison.  Upon his return to the States, Sweatshirt quickly took full advantage of Twitter, gaining thousands of followers with the promise of dropping a new track, and so he was right to be anxious about his upcoming Doris–a failure could have broken his ego.  Thankfully for Sweatshirt and fans of intelligent rap music (read: smart, witty lyrics, not “conscious rap”), Doris is a tour de force with a featured artist (Frank Ocean, Vince Staples, Tyler the Creator, the list goes on…) that has him accelerating at every turn. – SHH

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Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats - Mind Control

35.  Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats – Mind Control

Metal Blade

I took a major gamble on Uncle Acid in purchasing a $33 vinyl import with nothing more than a couple of listens to “Mind Crawler” on YouTube.  I was pleasantly surprised when the record arrived some weeks later.  Mind Control, Uncle Acid’s second LP, is an agreeable metal middle-ground between Black Sabbath and Alice in Chains.

Aside:  Alice in Chains actually released an album this year that wasn’t terrible, but it does have me missing Layne Staley something fierce.

Mind Control is a droning, well-executed ode to metal old and new. – SHH

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Boogarins - As Plantas Que Curam

34.  Boogarins – As Plantas Que Curam

Fat Possum

In the mid-90s there was an explosion of neo-psychedelic releases, several of which were at the hands of the Elephant 6 Collective (The Olivia Tremor Control, The Apples in Stereo and Of Montreal among others).  The 2010s witnessed another resurgence (Tame Impala, Ty Segall, Foxygen, etc…).  What was lacking?  A Tropicalia reboot a la late-60s Os Mutantes.  Well, look no further than the Brazilian quartet, Boogarins, headed by Fernando Almeida and Benke Ferraz.  As Plantas Que Curam (“Plants That Heal”) is a warm reinvention of Latin psychedelia.  My only question is where are the horns? – SHH

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Autre Ne Veut - Anxiety

33.  Autre Ne Vuet – Anxiety

Software

Like the aformentioned Quadron, Autre Ne Veut’s Anxiety is plenty sensual.  Ironically, some of the most sensual tracks on the album tell nail-biting tales of emotional miscommunication and failing relationships.  Producer Arthur Ashin’s pop sensibility is delightfully twisted with help from former college roommate and fellow producer, Daniel Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never.  Thusly, a track like “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” owes as much to modern experimental ambience and electronic dinosaurs like Kraftwerk (there’s a bit of “Endless Endless” in there) as it does to Whitney Houston.  All in all Anxiety remains a sexy piece despite the string of poppy panic attacks. – SHH

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Blood Orange - Cupid Deluxe

32.  Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe

Domino

In the case of Blood Orange’s second long play, Cupid Deluxe, one can judge an album by its cover.  As a whole the album is slightly off-balance, aesthetically discordant, but a colorful statement nonetheless, and one that shows more imagination than 2011’s Coastal Grooves.  Dev Hynes, the production wiz behind Blood Orange, has a leg up on his electro-pop constituents in his songwriting capability, and perhaps the ability to make musician friends who are aching to collaborate with him for the same reason (Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek and Dirty Projectors’ David Longstreth among others this time around).  He transitions through a number of genres, albeit dissonant at times (think the trip-hop “Clipped On” into the Peter Gabriel-esque “Always Let U Down”), but the questionable tracking is forgiven by the sweetest moments in “You’re Not Good Enough” and “On the Line.”  Cupid Deluxe carries with it all the glitter, sheen and confidence of a cross-dressing diva. – SHH

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National, The - Trouble Will Find Me

31.  The National – Trouble Will Find Me

4AD

The National has enjoyed a pretty stellar report card since their formation some 15 years ago and Trouble Will Find Me meets the grade once again.  Matt Berninger’s woeful baritone is anchored and/or propelled by the brothers Dessner and Devendorf, but Trouble displays some of Berninger’s most relatable lyrics; they are expectedly melancholy, but less obtuse than his former work and are often lightened by a subdued wisecrack.  “Hey, Jo, sorry I hurt you. / They say love is a virtue, don’t they?”  “Demons” (as well as the title) embodies the album’s modus operandi: there is an apathetic sense of fatalist reservation, but, as always with The National, there is a a hum-worthy chorus or inventive drum beat on every track to ensure repeated listens. – SHH

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