Daft Punk

BEST OF 2013: Paul's Picks

BEST OF 2013: Paul's Picks

10. Julianna Barwick - Nepenthe

When an artist known for idiosyncratic, personal work hits the big time, there is always some concern that success, and the expectations that come with it, will somehow spoil their work. Fortunately, fresh off of the critical success of The Magic Place, Julianna Barwick was able to avoid these pitfalls and leverage her newfound resources to create an intriguing new album. Working with collaborators for the first time and using more complex production techniques allowed her to expand her unique ambient soundscapes, making them more elaborate without losing the personal touches that have always made her work unique.

BEST OF 2013: The Kickoff

BEST OF 2013: The Kickoff

Ahhhh list season. The time of year where critics flaunt their supreme knowledge of the musical year gone by, music fans find out what they may or may not have missed, and fights – with CHAINSAWS – erupt spontaneously over who was the MOST SUPREMELY INDIE ROCK (Indie Squared? Indie So Hard?) in dorm rooms, parties and basements across the land. So that last one might not be true…but the list, and it’s ever expanding scope (100 Top Artists of the Year Who Have Worn Socks At Some Point In Their Life!) has become an important year end ritual, one that we, like every single other music site on the internets are not immune to.

Kicking things off today are the favorites of a few of our, ahem, less verbose contributors who chose to simply let their choices speak for themselves. Regardless, it’s an impressive stylistic spread that Suzie, Roddy and Aubrey have come up with, and we can pretty much guarantee that somewhere in there is something you’re gonna love, assuming you don’t already). Stay tuned all week long to see what else has been ruling our earholes in 2013. Now, let’s make with the lists. 

Best Of 2013 (So Far): Kevin's Picks

10. Kanye West – Yeezus

Dark. Aggressive. Complex. Offensive. Kanye West’s 5th album is all of these things, but most of all it’s his most creatively risky effort to date. Sonically, Yeezus is operating on a completely  other level then anything released this year — in fact it makes most records sound lazy in comparison. But a funny thing happened on the way Yeezus becoming the stuff of legend: Kanye got in the way. What could have been a juggernaut of an album is sidetracked by West’s overly misogynistic lyrics, and his continuing lack of self awareness. Social commentary is a hard trick to pull off in any arena, but when you present yourself as the American dream — because you pretty much ARE the American dream — and then attempt to attack that in any measure, the results are at best trite, and at worst laughable.

To be clear, this is an ongoing issue that West suffers, and he is at his best operation as the fairly unchallenged master of pop that he has made himself into. But for now (and this opinion is constantly shifting) Yeezus remains more Zooropa* and less Achtung Baby. It’s clear that there is a masterful artist at work here who is willing to sacrifice the end result for the sake of experimenting with his art, but the attempt is only half of the secret recipe: You’ve gotta stick the landing.

*For the record, I freaking LOVE Zooropa. LOVE. IT.

9. Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer, Different Park  / Ashley Monroe – Like A Rose

Why two albums? Because both perfectly represent the struggle that “modern country music” faces in 2013. Deservedly maligned by the discerning music fan since the days when the thunder rolled, there’s been a shift over the last few years away from the assembly line nature of what hits the airwaves, back to the more personal, less manufactured music that is the bedrock of a large portion of the American songbook. Musgraves “Merry-Go-Round” and Monroe’s “Like A Rose” are at once eloquent and utilitarian in their assessment of small town living, and rivalJason Isbell’s acumen for commentary of the human experience.

Unlike Isbell though, both artists go slightly off the rails by the end of their song cycles, giving in to the machine’s need for a “hit.” And in doing so they both keep what might have been a duo of timeless, universal records tied to a genre that both artists very clearly can, and should, rise above. That having been said, if you can push past the autotune and the straight-from-the-80’s “redneck” power chorus singing that ultimately takes control of these records, you’ll be rewarded by the work of two of the finest songwriters working in popular music today.

8. Kingsley Flood – Battles

The holy grail for most bands is to be able to match massive performances with equally massive songwriting chops. On Battles, Kingsley Flood took that idea and injected their already successful formula of bar brawl Americana with a double shot of adrenaline to produce one of the most satisfying records of the year to date. Grounded in singer Naseem Khuri’s explorations of what it takes to get by in today’s America, this mostly Boston based five piece (Khuri resides right here in the District) walks the razor’s edge of serious and seriously entertaining, and they do it all with an ease normally reserved for bands twice their age. Successfully bridging the gulf between folk, power pop and punk, Battles finds its power in its unflinching honesty and sincerity, regardless of the delivery method. This is a new Americana, and one that, if this release is any indication, is very quickly going to take over the world.

Best Of 2013 (So Far): Paul's Picks

10. Sigur Ros – Kveikur

The more things change, the more they stay the same. I can’t honestly say that Sigur Ros breaks any new ground with Kveikur and, if anything, it feels like a throwback to their earlier work more than a continuation of the new direction they embarked on with last year’s Valtari. But for two good albums in a 12 month span, I’m inclined to forgive the lack of originality.


9. Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse

The themes (hook ups, boozing, love, more boozing, passing out drunk after boozing) haven’t changed for the brothers Hutchison but with each successive album their execution has improved. On Pedestrian Verse, the lads again craft booming power pop anthems and acerbic ballads to make the ladies swoon and the gents nod ruefully. Maybe they will need to change their game to stay relevant going forward but, for now, Pedestrian Verse serves as a fitting companion piece to previous standout The Winter of Mixed Drinks and should stay in their fans’ rotation for years to come.

8. Grouper – The Man Who Died in His Boat

Liz Harris’s latest album as Grouper is an extension of the brooding path she has traced over the past several years that took five years to come to fruition. As usual, she layers her haunting vocals over dark, ambient chords, creating soundscapes steeped in foreboding and creeping dread. It is a chilling and sublime collection of atmospheric music.