10. Arcade Fire – “Reflektor”
After months of making the late night talk show rounds, innovative marketing, interactive music videos, Arcade Fire have released their fourth album “Reflektor.”
It’s an album for the night lurker. “Reflektor” takes you to that dark, enigmatic fantasy that the “Drive” soundtrack does, only this album has enough pop components to make you shake and move. “Porno” is reminiscent of Iggy Pop’s collectively cool art-rock record “The Idiot.”
The band have bid adieu to the rock ‘n’ roll structure that made “The Suburbs” so successful and have embraced the trend of heavy-sounding keyboards and retro synths. In part, producer James Murphy might have partially inspired that switch; because he was somewhat of a maestro at creating dance music when fronting LCD Soundsystem.
“Reflektor” is a pretty good follow up album to “The Suburbs” – the Grammy’s Album of the Year in 2010. However, the band needs to kill it with the pretentious performer vibe they have been giving off. They recently issued a “dress code” for their concerts, requesting that everyone wears formal clothes or costumes to their shows, which caused a raucous throughout social media. There have been some other attempts to appear as this nifty avant-garde group; but really, the fans just want Arcade Fire to keep it up with the inspired tunes.
Listen to this: “Reflektor,” “Here Comes the Night Time,” “Normal Person,” “Porno”
9. Kanye West – “Yeezus”
To say that I tried to resist the greatest of “Yeezus” and our lord and savior Kanye West isn’t true. However, this album took time to grow on me, mainly because of Kanye’s egomania and self-obsession.
Obviously Kanye is a phenomenal performer; but his hyper-narcissistic swagger can be draining. Hearing Kanye assertively profess, “I am a god” for the first time made me roll my eyes. However, the dynamic force and catchiness of his music cannot be ignored. Also, his loquacious lyrical rants – though sometimes unintellectual – are brilliant and invigorating. Also, the Ponderosa Twins Plus One sample used in “Bound 2” is marvelous.
I will say that this album could be better if it had two changes: the removal of every single auto-tune effect and a steady flow of high-energy tracks opposed to the slow jams.
Listen to this: “On Sight,” “Black Skinhead,” “I Am A God,” “Bound 2”
8. Foxygen – “We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic”
Foxygen are the revival of all of those great psychedelic rock bands from the 1960s and 1970s. All of the great songwriters and bands from that era shine through “We are the 21st Century”: Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, Motown. It is as if Foxygen are a band stuck in time. However, their new record is nostalgically groovy and abstract to the core.
Foxygen guitarist Jonathan Rado released a fantastic solo album this year called “Law and Order” as well as drummer Shaun Fleming, titled “My Friend Fish.” Foxygen are the real deal; and one could only hope that they concoct a psychedelic album as brilliant as “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
Listen to this: “No Destruction,” “In the Darkness,” “San Francisco,” “Bowling Trophies”
7. Parquet Courts – “Light Up Gold”
A group of pizza-eating, happily relaxed stoners from Brooklyn, N.Y., Parquet Courts are the embodiment of the typical poor and starving college student who is just looking for a fun time.
They play with the energy of 20-something-year-old punks who soak up the bliss of playing basement shows while getting showered with sweat and Pabst Blue Ribbon. Their goofy demeanor coupled with the quirky brainwashing lyrics captures the essence of Devo during their “Are We Not Men” era. And the high strung, feedback-heavy jam songs – like “Stoned and Starving” – embellishes a stripped-down and less hostile Fugazi. The back-to-back tracks “Master of My Craft” and “Borrowed Time” sound best at maximum volume and when sung along to in an almost shouting fashion.
“Light Up Gold” is an album created by slackers for slackers; but it is hell of an anthem for those 20-something-year-olds with a “never going to grow up” attitude.
Listen to this: “Master of My Craft,” “Borrowed Time,” “N. Dakota,” “Stoned and Starving”
6. Ducktails – “The Flower Lane”
Matt Mondanile takes time away from his other gig in Real Estate to write dreamy jangle-rock songs for Ducktails, and “The Flower Lane” is his best effort yet.
Mondanile writes like a man drunk with love in a spaced-out fantasy. His charming vocals ring out over the jangling guitar riffs that are layered with reverberated phaser-effects that often syncopate in and out of his fantasist tunes. Subtle keyboards, synths and simplistic drumbeats help maintain the foundation of Mondanile’s enchanted songs. The result is a preppy dream pop record that is perfect for young fools in love, longing for an album to mark their affection.
Listen to this: “The Flower Lane,” “Under Cover,” “Planet Phrom,” “Letter of Intent”
5. M.I.A. – “Matangi”
Forget Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga; MIA is the best contemporary pop artist. Despite her apparent hankering to stir up a good ole controversy, M.I.A. backs up her tough girl attitude with moving music.
“Matangi” is named after her full name – Mathangi Arulpragasam – and it is her self-proclaimed “spiritual” album. A lot of the content on “Matangi” does play around with those religious themes; even if in a facetious sense, like naming the opening track “Karmageddon.”
“Ain’t Dalai Lama/Ain’t Sai Baba/My words are my armor and you’re about to meet your karma,” she softly sings at the end of the opening track before erupting into the energetic and dark title-track “Matangi.”
“Matangi” is packed with energy, smooth and beguiling beats and the attitude that makes M.I.A. so lovable to those who don’t overact to a finger being broadcasted to million of people. The brilliant artist who was once thought to be a one-hit-wonder with “Paper Planes” has again surfaced to be one of the best.
Listen to this: “MATANGI,” “Warriors,” “Come Walk With Me,” “Bad Girls,” “Y.A.L.A.”
4. Savages – “Silence Yourself”
I was introduced to Savages at SXSW. They were the opener for Youth Lagoon at this outside venue at night. I had no idea of what to expect when I saw these four women wearing stylish all black dress shirts and sporting different gothic, jet-black haircuts. It was as if they were supposed to be opening for The Cure and wandered onto the wrong stage. They all wore snarls on their faces as they went to their respective instruments without acknowledging the audience. Finally, the singer hardheartedly said, “this song is called “Shut Up,”” before the song started. It was immediately clear that Savages were on the correct stage.
My mind was pleasantly blown by the indisputably perfect tones that exploded out of their amps. It was a sound dominated by heavy reverb, lots of echo with the right amount of chorus from the guitar, and supported by a crisp distorted bass that danced to its own dark beat. It was a real confrontational and intense sound. Savages play as if they have all been broken in some way by the world, pounding out all of their frustrations through in-your-face post-punk music.
“Silence Yourself” captures the sound and essence of their live performance. It is eerie and evocative to Joy Division and Siouxsie and the Banshees – essentially any of those post-punk bands to come out in the early 1980s. Savages have transformed their frustrations into a masterpiece.
Listen to this: “Shut Up,” “I Am Here,” “City’s Full,” “Hit Me,” “Husbands”
3. Earl Sweatshirt – Doris
The overall structure of “Doris” makes Earl Sweatshirt’s breakthrough album a constant repeat. The rhythms and beats flow with a retro finesse. The sampled tracks are a callback to MF Doom and Wu-Tang Clan. The guest spots are superb, and Sweatshirt’s lyrics are modest, poetic and true to his heart.
While many people would disagree, I think “Doris” is the best hip-hop album since Wu-Tang Clan released “Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).” It is just that good from front to back. A lot of it sounds tragic as it carries the listener through the melancholy mind of Earl Sweatshirt, who went on temporary hiatus to work out his anxiety and depression. Whether he has worked out his issues or not, he gives it his all on “Doris,” and his genuineness and originality is appreciated.
A lot of what “Doris” conjures up is nostalgic to classic hip-hop. Domo Genesis delivers a brilliant longwinded rap on “20 Wave Caps;” which is reminiscent of a young Phife Dawg from Tribe Called Quests’ “The Low End Theory” days. Vince Staples delivers a knockout rap on “Hive,” a rap filled with breathlessly verbose language that lasts for a minute and a half. RZA’s unspeakable two sentence guest spot on “Molasses” is the absolute best though. It gives the allusion that the Wu-Tang genius has passed the sword down to the apprentice, Earl Sweatshirt.
Listen to this: “Molasses,” “20 Wave Caps,” “Sunday,” “Hive,” “Hoarse”
2. Deerhunter – “Monomania”
Deerhunter has moved away from the sophisticated composition and somberness of “Halcyon Digest.” Rather now the group is promoting an album full of dive bar ballads, full-fledged noise rock and haunting punk songs that tap into the complicated psyche of front man Bradford Cox.
In the time between “Halcyon Digest” and “Monomania,” Cox has dealt with a nervous breakdown, played an hour-long set of “My Sharona” to contest a heckler and has delighted the media with several tangent heavy interviews filled with non-sequiturs. So leading up to “Monomania” it was interesting to see how Cox would respond to all of the noise surrounding him knowing that everything he writes genuinely comes from the heart. “Monomania” is no different in that aspect.
The album is truly one of the best American garage rock albums to come out since The Strokes redefined the scene with their 2002 debut, “Is This It?” The difference here is “Monomania” situates itself in the realm of southern rock ‘n’ roll – and while “Is This It?” maintains a steady sound – this album balances the weight between traditional Ramones-style punk and gritty, lo-fi heartbreakers.
“Monomania” is sometimes raw and has moments of tenderness. Cox’s plagued mind keeps their music honest and fresh – whether if they want to be the artsy post-punk band or the head bopping, glam-garage rock group.
Listen to this: “Neon Junkyard,” “The Missing,” “Pensacola,” “Sleepwalking,” “Monomania”
1. My Bloody Valentine – “mbv”
22 years, it had been 22 years since My Bloody Valentine released “Loveless” – their meditative and cosmic masterpiece that mesmerized and inspired the minds of so many music enthusiasts for more than two decades.
“Loveless” is an album like no other: the never ending bellowing of pitch-bended and distorted guitars, the repetition of the glimmering and dreamy keyboards, all tracked over several times with the soft whispering voices of Kevin Shields and Belinda Butcher to create a huge and imaginative sound. It is entirely unique.
So once time had past and fans were essentially drooling for a new album, Shields’ reassurance that the next record was on the way seemed like false promises. The aura of “Loveless” was doomed to be a cult album stuck in time.
Then finally after 22 years, with nothing more than a subtle announcement on Facebook, the group announced plans to release the long waited record the same day. Of course the server crashed immediately; but once fans were able to get a digital copy of the record, “mbv” was collectively blasted all over the world despite its early morning release.
And “mbv” lives up to the hype shadowed by the mystique of 22 years of inactivity. The familiar spirit of “Loveless” instantly rises again on the opening track. The distorted and droned guitar hovers like dark clouds over Shields’ mumbling voice on “She Found Now.” Listeners are reintroduced to the charming vocals of Butcher as the distortion picks up on “Only Tomorrow,” which eventually sounds like its being sucked through a vacuum of despair, reinforced by the trembling lead guitar that extends the song.
The assortment of sounds – ranging from glamorous and poppy to shrilling and intense as if someone were stranded on a boat at sea during a massive tsunami – continue on throughout the album’s entirety. By the last track – “Wonder 2” – all constructive sounds have morphed into one as a jet engine surging through space until everything descends and fades away.
Undoubtedly, “mbv” is the most unique album of 2013. The fact that Shields has already hinted at more material being released in the future is comforting while also amusingly drawing uncertainty. But if it takes another 22 years for a new album, at least we have “mbv” and stimulated curiosity.
Listen to this: “She Found Now,” “Only Tomorrow,” “Who Sees You,” “New You,” “Wonder 2”