12 Notes

2013 Best Albums - Aubrey’s #1 - Foals - Holy Fire

If there is one album I fell absolutely in love with this year it was Foals’ Holy Fire. Over the past few years Foals have become one of my most beloved treasures. Their unique blend of math rock, dance and pop is intoxicating. Since I first listened to Total Life Forever and on, Foals were the drug. Sure I could go for a while without them, but I always end up going back. This feeling was amplified to immense magnitudes the four times I saw them live this year.

Foals, first and foremost, are incredible musicians. Keyboards are used subtly yet powerfully throughout Holy Fire, more than the previous two albums for sure. Edwin Congreave stoically provides these landscapes as he mans the keys beside the drummer. Jack Bevan has to be one of the most overlooked active drummers right now. This guy is an absolute beast back there, unrelenting and precise as hell. Lead guitarist Jimmy Smith plays guitar like Russell Crowe’s character solved math equations in a beautiful mind; calculated and elegantly. Walter Gerver provides all manners of rhythm (aggressive, funky, sexy) and also covers backing vocals which compliment front-man Yannis Philippakis’s most perfectly. Philppakis is not just a captivating singer, but an absolute presence as a front-man. Live, this guy is fearless. He jumps into the crowd whenever he likes, climbs monitors; I saw him climb into an area of box seats from the stage and then into another, he wanted to get into the balcony seating but alas he’s just not tall enough (I feel your pain Yannis). Or maybe you saw the moment I was able to grab at Lollapalooza this year when he stepped all over flower planters and let the crowd manhandle him back to the stage. And then there was the time he walked amongst the crowd and he played his guitar sixteen inches away from me. But in all seriousness, you haven’t fully experienced or listened to Foals if you have not seen them live. 

I mean, seeing them live isn’t a requirement, but I would certainly recommend it. The thing about Foals is that they are impeccable at their craft. They play so tightly live that it’s not very far at all from what the songs sound like on record. THIS IS NOT A COMPLAINT. It would be a complaint if they were an absolute snooze to watch but they are obviously not.

That being said, Foals one-upped themselves with Holy Fire. Where Antidotes was nearly strictly mathy dance rock, Total Life Forever showed the slightest bit of vulnerability with a couple of softer songs (compared to the much more  and Holy Fire shows the guys at their best, fully aware and able of all of their dimensions and selves, incorporating that they have been up until this point and all that they will become in the future. Their sound has evolved and matured so beautifully, in a way I feel like a proud big sister that has seen them grow up to be so incredible, so talented, such an absolute joy to watch. 

Holy Fire begins ferociously, baring it’s ribs immediately with lead single, Inhaler. I didn’t want to post a single as the audio for this post, but I had to be real with myself, Inhaler is a killer jam worthy of lead single status. It’s powerful and cutting. Second single My Number was a much less aggressive offering, with a catchy guitar hook and infectious rhythm section. What I really wanted to post was Providence, hidden towards the back end of the album. (PuhLeeze watch/listen, you won’t regret it)

So unassuming it starts off, but as the echos become more nefarious, and the guitars buzz like a chainsaw it builds up to an incredible explosion of sound. Bevan never missing a single beat, stopping at the drop of a dime. Smith and Philippakis plucking feverishly at their guitars. It’s gorgeous calculated chaos.

Holy Fire, like the two albums before it, is my little audio anti-drugs. I only need the music to slip into a state of bliss,a genuinely happy state of mind. My entire face lights up, my body feeling energized. I did the math and I’ve roughly listened to this album the equivalent of once a week all year, but it’s actually more than that considering the album was released mid February. I love this album. It’s just so good. This is the one I sent to friends of varying tastes saying “you’ll find something you love on here.” I think I had about an 85% success rate. So many people (critics) overlooked this album, and it’s just too good to be passed up. Trust me.on this. -a

1 Notes

2013 Best Albums - Mark’s #1 - Shannon Wright - In Film Sound

I feel weird landing this here. Not because I don’t feel like it stakes a claim to my favorite record of the year - it does, for reasons I’ll get into, obviously - but because I’m sort of a fraud as Shannon Wright fandom goes. For pretty much everybody else on this list (especially those near the top), I’ve followed the artist/band closely their entire recording career (though for some, that just means this year). This is not remotely the case with Shannon Wright. In Film Sound is the first Shannon Wright album I’m catching up to new, but, counting her collaboration with French artist Yann Tiersen, her TENTH full length release. While familiar with the Wright name, I only cracked the seal on her discography a year and a half ago. Not nearly enough time to familiarize myself with even a fraction of her catalog.

But plenty of time to appreciate her enough to be excited when her first release in three years surfaced this spring. Nine months later, my appreciation of it only grows with each subsequent listen. However, for the reasons outlined, I don’t have the benefit of career context to frame this record with.

But I guess that’s kind of the point. Even ten records in, Wright has the writing and performance chops to even make a jaded jerk like me excited enough about her new release to place it at the top of a year-end list. Part of this is her remarkable dynamic versatility. She tears out of the gate with “Noise Parade”, an incredibly heavy, cascading tune showcasing her visceral, angular approach to guitar and brooding, desperate vocal style. But she progressively releases the venom a bit, and all of the sudden she’s sitting down at the piano for the fragile and heart-wrenching “Bleed” in the middle of the record, and doesn’t feel remotely out of place.

Wright has such a wealth of talents, it’s hard to even know where to begin celebrating her. As I just alluded to, her versatility as a songwriter is probably what finds this record at the top of my list this year, the composition of the record takes on directions that are both unexpected and completely in place. Her voice is of wounded beauty and toughness with a lyrical and presentational honesty that strikes with precision upon your soul. 

Her greatest asset (which is truly saying something) might be her musicianship. Her guitar playing is heavily informed by early math rock and the influences of her former Touch & Go/Quarterstick home, but digested to her own unique style that runs a gamut between crashing progressions and dissonant single note melodies; if it were her choosing, she would be a top flight rhythm or lead guitarist. Her piano chops, while not showcased extensively on the record, make enough of an impact to make “Bleed” the powerful ballad that makes the rest of the record that much more impressive.

In the past, Wright has tracked almost all of the instruments on her record (with a completely unsurprising level of competence). But on In Film Sound, she brings in a mad ringer of a rhythm section, especially considering her sound. Drummer Kyle Crabtree and bassist Todd Cook (who you might remember from Old Baby, #9 on this list) had played behind Wright on tour, and now compose her backing band. Crabtree and Cook last worked together for the immortal Shipping News, who regular readers of this Tumblr will recognize as one of my modern favorites. Wright’s sound found some overlap with Shipping News to begin with and the addition of their expert rhythm section brings a touch of their signature eerie warmth to her latest record.

So yeah, surprised myself a bit with this selection but it holds up well to this extended piece of personal scrutiny. Wright is a rare musician who you can encounter this deep in their career and not think twice about jumping on their bandwagon. - MO

14 Notes

2013 Best Albums - Aubrey’s #2 - Lorde - Pure Heroine

She came in at number 10 for Mark, and here she is amongst my own personal elite at number 2. 

We’ve all seen her name. We’ve all heard Royals (presumably, if you’re like me sometimes when you see a buzz artists name over and over again you shut off), or some sort of incarnation of it (please stop with acapella groups please even though it’s a decent rendition). Sure, I wanted to ignore what was as nose as the plain on my face saying “I’ll get to it later.” Mark did an excellent job encapsulating what it feels like (as someone of a certain taste and cynicality) to approach a heavily hyped musical act and have your preconceived notions proved wrong, or the sensation of your cold dead heart warming up with the realization that this IS really good.

Really good? No. Brilliant. To say she is wise beyond her years is true, I mean this is a girl who was proofreading her mother’s Masters thesis at the age of 14. Do you know what I was doing at age 14? Nothing that intelligent. I had no idea what my talents were, who I was, what my identity was. I was oblivious to “real world concerns” and I never once thought about the future. I don’t think I became that aware until I was about 20.

I am envious of Lorde yet at the same time a little bit sad. Why? Because to be that young and aware of how intimidating and scary adult life can be a very heavy thing. It’s apparent through her lyrics and the mood of Pure Heroine that she is aware of the dichotomy of growing up; everyone wants so badly to experience life as an adult, the freedoms it grants you but there are also things like responsibility, mortality, dissolution of relationships that go with it too. 

Thematically the album is similar to any album a teen pop sensation would release (akin to something like Taylor Swift let’s say); angst, young love, boredom, getting into trouble. Yet unlike the stereotypical teen pop of the ages, these themes are approached in a much less saccharine manner. Lorde conquers these things the pen of a poet, the voice of a sorceress and the atmospheres achieved with collaboration with Joel Little are unique pop soundscapes. Her voice is the most prominent sound and most important thing on the album. Her range is outstanding, her delivery carries the weight of many emotions all at once.  

Pure Heroine could be likened to a macaroon, delicate, delightful yet rich and heavy. An aptly titled album, Miss O’Connor here embodies a girl, no a woman, unflinching, daring. Lorde is the heroine we need, the one we deserve, for pop music. -a

1 Notes

2013 Best Albums - Mark’s #2 - The Child of Lov - s/t

What a strange and heartbreaking arc my love affair with this record took in 2013. Early in the spring, I encountered two of the mysterious Child of Lov’s early singles for his debut record and completely lost my mind over them. They smacked of classic soul, but with modern hip hop production to give them a distinct and current dance feel to them. The eventual full length lived up to my expectations, playing like one of my old Black Music classes, influenced by music as deep as spirituals through the blues through soul, right up to the hip hop touch well placed enough to make it an incredibly forward facing record in 2013.

The record didn’t quite take off (a curse common in albums I pick early on to be summer hits), but it grew on strong word of mouth and the NME Radar Award. Then as the year drew to a close, Martijn Teerlinck, the enigmatic Dutchman who recorded as Child of Lov, passed away. Rumors of ill health had floated (along with a host of others), and unfortunately appear to have been true as he was lost to complications from surgery at the absurdly young age of 26.

The silver lining to what was the saddest story in music this year is that the album did get to come out and Child of Lov’s voice and brilliantly inventive mind were able to make their sound heard before the world lost the genius behind them. In the light of these songs being written by a young man who had spent his life staring death square in the eye, their inherent gravity is illuminated and magnified.

With that in mind, while I’ve tried to post different songs than I had previously used throughout the list, I go back to ”Fly” for what will likely be my last (of four in the the last twelve months) post on Child of Lov. There’s a number of songs on this record that take on a new light in the face of learning more about Teerlinck’s sad background, but as I’ve pondered the loss of my favorite new artist of 2013, I’ve found solace in this song, one that suggests to me that he had made peace with the reality of his heartbreakingly brief life. His record made its way out, and with time, I know the world at large will appreciate how great it was. - MO

3 Notes

2013 Best Albums - Aubrey’s #3 - Disclosure - Settle

(I look at tracklisting) “Who ARE these people? Disclosure? Who are all these featured acts on here? I’m so confused.”

(plays entire album to self) “OH. Ohhh-k.” (gets it)

Disclosure seemingly came out of nowhere in 2013 with their debut Settle. Brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence had released a couple of singles in the prior years, but none of us Yanks would’ve heard it because these guys come out of the UK and UK dance bands, or really any band of good fiber, just don’t seem to make it over here as quickly as native North American acts.

My knowledge of dance music, well modern dance music, happens upon me rather randomly. I don’t actively go to dance clubs, I don’t listen to “Skrillex Pandora Radio” and I keep a safe distance from the DJ areas of music festivals. To say I “don’t get” dance music would not be accurate, as it’s part of my musical fiber having been brought around to raves at the ripe old age of 15 years old. I never DID anything at these raves, it was more like I was there as a mere companion to my cousin. However, it was a subculture (at the time) that I was wholly unfamiliar with and it was fascinating to me. Seeing how people’s bodies reacted to the music, their emotions not on their sleeves but their limbs as they pushed their arms fluidly through the bubbles of their personal spaces, their lower halves attempting to mimic what the upper half was doing, faces grinning in ecstasy (literally and figuratively), eyes closed. I could listen to all the punk and emo in the world as a teenager and the thumping bass and drums of my youth would always be in my veins. 

To this day I still have a soft spot for a good dancey beat. It’s incredible to me how much DJ driven dance music has not only evolved (even  devolved) but has also become so incredibly popular. I remembered the first Chicago Lollapalooza I went to in 2006 and Perry’s stage (the DJ stage) was always the smallest, off a ways from everything else. This stage has gotten larger and larger over time as DJ acts become the most sought after at these festivals. Perry’s is the largest non-main stage at the festival now. Throes of kids from tweens to young adults doing the only thing they know how to do when they hear the bass drop, throw one hand into the air and pump it. 

That’s NOT dancing. 

Kids, if you like dancing I implore you to not be so self-conscious and lose yourself to the dance. Who cares how you look. How does the music make you feel? C’mon! Put your phone down and dance. Close your eyes and let it possess you. 

The Lawrence brothers have made an easily accessible dance album for any fan of electronic dance music. Are you an old traditionalist who likes house music? Acid house from the bygone area of the Hacienda? Electroclash?  Disco? For as young as these guys are, they’ve clearly got an ear for good quality influential dance music from when it was really just starting to come into its own. These guys are professionals. They themselves are influential in their own right.

I mentioned before, there are loads of featured acts on this album. Had I heard of any of them? Just one, Edward Macfarlane of the Friendly Fires. I’m a fan of the Friendly Fires and their unique brand of dance rock, so I knew just by looking at an appearance from him that I’d be in good company with everyone else. Macfarlane’s track is HOTTT(yes with three t’s), his sultry voice perfect with the psuedo-disco vibe.

Disclosure are brilliant in that they use all these acts so well, that I am actually inclined to check out THEIR music, too. That does not happen very often, and boy are there a ton of songs featuring someone else out there. London Grammar? I’ve checked them out, that girl’s voice is beautiful. AlunaGeorge, another big UK act that isn’t big over here but that’s some really good dance pop as well. 

Guy and Howard have put together one exciting and refreshing dance record. Settle is one of those albums that, it doesn’t matter where I am (work, the train, the bus, the shower) it sparks the fire within me and I just start dancing (I had a coworker catch me in the act recently. He looked at me once and just said “I can’t.” with a huge grin on his face and walked away). I don’t care how I look to anyone else, the feeling is so real and so intense with this album. These final 3 albums for me are ones that I have clocked in the most listens in 2013. With how much music is out there or coming out (so much, so quickly)an album has to be really special in order to garner that much attention from me. So well done, Disclosure. This is one incredible and fun album that will never stray far from my ears. -a

Notes

2013 Best Albums - Mark’s #3 - Bottomless Pit - Shade Perrenial

2013 was a big year for Tim Midyett and Andy Cohen. Early in the year, “Couldn’t You Wait?” was released after seven years of filming and production. The film was a documentary about their band of nearly two decades, Silkworm, a lovingly told tale of one of indie rock’s most overlooked heroes. Then in the fall Bottomless Pit, their current band of almost a decade now with Chris Manfrin of Seam and Brian Orchard of .22, released this, their third record.

It is of absolutely no detriment whatsoever to the current band that it’s so difficult to mention without immediately referencing Silkworm. Aside from the inescapable legacy of SKWM, the Midyett/Cohen songwriting team have an inescapable musical signature that can be identified throughout their career. With Bottomless Pit it’s certainly more mature and restrained but still undeniable. I referenced a similar phenomenon when discussing last year’s best record by a heavily seasoned indie rock veteran, Bob Mould.

I’m no expert on these things (but I have a Tumblr, so I get to postulate to my heart’s content) but I suspect this stems from the deeply heartfelt earnestness these musicians pour into their art. It’s likely this same trait that allows them to continue to release albums so vital decades into their career.

Shade Perennial falls right in with that tradition, with Midyett and Cohen baring their souls over that unmistakable sound. As I mentioned, the band doesn’t pretend to be the young, intelligent punk rockers they were twenty years ago, rather those same punks with the seasoning only a well lived life can provide. Make no mistake, the band is still fully capable of breaking out and berating you with a wall of sound with guitar, baritone guitar, and bass guitar layering and interplaying within one another as Manfrin’s steady hand provides an unflinching and often deceptively complex beat. 

I suppose it should come as no surprise that even as it garners accolades, Bottomless Pit continues to find themselves severely underrated (fwiw, aside from Silkworm, Seam and .22 don’t get the attention they deserve either). But these records, owing in equal parts to classic post punk as 70’s Americana rock, will continue to be classic, waiting for the next lucky listener to discover them. - MO

3 Notes

2013 Best Albums - Aubrey’s #4 - Unknown Mortal Orchestra - II

One of the strongest albums this year, that I saw on hardly any lists, is Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s sophomore album II. New Zealand seemed to think this album was a pretty big deal, as II won Best Alternative Album at the New Zealand Music Awards at the end of last year. Singer and guitarist Ruban Nielson hails from NZ oringinally, but UMO is housed in Portland these days. Having citizenship in multiple countries has more perks than just being able to travel there with ease it seems. As an aside, how about New Zealand this year? Lots of impressive artists and releases out of that island country (previously posted Popstrangers and another one coming up in my number two spot). 

I don’t think that upon initial listen to this album I thought it would be in contention for one of my favorite albums of the year. I mean, how many psychedelic albums are released these days? TONS, in fact there’s an entire festival dedicated to the genre, and most of them sound very similar. Often times, rather than attempting to forge into different territory, bands of this ilk tend to infuse garage rock with psychedelia (not a bad thing, but I wouldn’t be mad if bands got a little more creative when cross pollinating genres). Not with these guys, there is something undeniably unique about UMO.

What is that je ne sais quoi? It’s old school R&B and it works perfectly, giving II a cool sexy vibe. This is particularly obvious in the slow sexy jam So Good At Being In Trouble (Nielson’s high range singing compliments this track so beautifully, reminiscent of Prince), the saxaphone accents in One at a Time and the funky bass line of The Opposite of the Afternoon. It’s such a refreshing take on the psychedelic genre, which admittedly has be come over-saturated with lots of samey sounding bands. 

The stand out track, for me at least, is No Need for a Leader. As it begins it sounds as if you’re setting coordinates on a janky way back machine. The bass, god damn Jacob Portrait (awesome name) is a fantastic bass player, is at times unrecognizable, drowning in the wash of effects pedals, sounding like a warm hum that changes pitch. This could easily pass for a Sly and the Family Stone track, with it’s funky groove and clap along drums. 

Unknown Mortal Orchestra is just what we need to reinvigorate the thriving modern psychedelic genre. II is an impressive offering with interesting nuances, an all encompassing fuzzy warmth and soulful vibes.I am completely on board with P&R&B, they’ve have taken their brand of psych to the next level. I’m definitely looking forward to hearing where Unknown Mortal Orchestra goes with their sound next.-a

1 Notes

2013 Best Albums - Mark’s #4 - And So I Watch You From Afar - All Hail Bright Futures

I’ll be totally honest here. My top 4 is more or less pick ‘em. To that end, in the fourth spot, I have the album I put at number one in a list I made last week. In this version, my top 4 wound up being in alphabetical order. I’ll leave it up to you to determine whether that was intentional or not.

This is And So I Watch You From Afar’s third full-length and the third time they’ve found themselves in my year-end top 5. I don’t know what I can say here that I haven’t already said, I’ve made it abundantly clear that I consider ASIWYFA one of the best modern bands in music, let alone post-rock. This is a genre marked with inconsistency and disappointment for me, but the lads from Northern Ireland have managed to surprise and delight with each subsequent release so far.

This is an album where they very easily could have taken a step back. Not long after the release of their sophomore effort Gangs, guitarist Tony Wright left the band. They still had primary guitarist Rory Friers, but the first two records had been marked by mindboggling interplay between the two talented players. It was going to be interesting to see how well Friers could carry that weighty legacy on his own.

As it turns out, there was no reason for concern, ASIWYFA came charging back with an absolute burner of a record. Reflected by its title, All Hail Bright Futures is their most upbeat to date, and truthfully, one of the most upbeat in the genre period. Never a band to cower from speed, the listeners cheeks flap Maxwell-commercial style at points of this record, then slam their head on the dashboard from a dramatic turn of pace and rhythm. The absence of a second guitar is covered by a variety of additional instruments and an extension of the group vocal parts that marked the first two records.

This is also the band’s most cohesive album front to back. The way they achieved this is fairly counter-intuitive considering the genre: the songs are short. Five of the twelve songs don’t break the three minute mark. The only song that weighs in over five is the seven minute slow-building and lovely “Young Brave Minds”, an epilogue of sorts that features musical nods to earlier tracks on the record.

Now with touring guitarist Niall Kennedy seemingly a full-time member of the band, ASIWYFA is back to full strength. I’m already very excited to see where they take this knack for broader songwriting with another guitarist back in tow. But in the meantime, All Hail Bright Futures is another huge victory for modern post-rock’s best band. - MO

2 Notes

2013 Best Albums - Mark’s #5 - Spectral Park - s/t

At number five, we have the winner of 2013’s “Autumn Owls Award” for an album that seemingly only seems to resonate loudly with me. This album is a little weird, so I’m not surprised that it didn’t get huge, but it’s inventive, soundly executed, and endearing enough that it would find its way to a lot more accolades than it wound up with.

Spectral Park is Luke Donovan, his instruments, and a crate of old worn records he found left for disposal while out for a walk in his native Southampton. Donovan sampled the audio, chopped it up, tweaked speed and pitch, then wrote a record around it. 

As I look over the records residing at the top of my list, I can see that my fervent listening has really ingrained an appreciation for the unique, and I think that’s why I adore this album so much. The circular, bent feel of the sampled warped vinyl create a consistent feel throughout the entire record not unlike being pleasantly buzzed on a summer day. 

Against that backdrop, Donovan displays a tremendous sense for classic psychedelic pop. The trippy feel of the samples play right into Donovan’s hands as he crafts melodies that run the gamut from flower child to freak out. The story goes that this record was composed as he tried to move past a rough break up, and his voice underscores that possibility. From the first hook of the record you can hear the pain and urgency in his surprisingly big hooks. Even on a more mellow song such as this one, there’s a break down for Donovan to belt out a desperate cry in the middle.

I mused that Donovan reminded me of a young Beck in my initial write-up of the record. Hyperbolic? Me? Never. But the manner of using unexpected tools at your disposal, twisting them in a unique manner that nobody’s really heard before, yet somehow still coming up with something tuneful and catchy? Beck is probably too high a bar to set for anybody, but this is a clever young artist. Even if he didn’t get the kudos he deserved for this outing, I suspect they’re coming. - MO

Notes

2013 Best Albums - Aubrey’s #5 - Suuns - Images du Futur

Who knows when I would have gotten hip to Suuns’ strange brand of dancey psychedelia art rock. We couldn’t shut up about it or not reference it for ages (and I may as well do it again now), but had we not decided to mosey down to Austin for Psych Fest last year, I don’t know when I would have heard Suuns.

The obvious, right off the bat observation upon first listen to Images du Future is that there is similarity in sound to early Clinic. However, where Walking with Thee era Clinic was more aggressively creepy, Suuns are much more subtle even seductively creepy. Their overall sound is less alienating and more given to fantasy, the subtle underbelly and naughtiness.

2020 drums up memories of telling my mom I was going to my cousin’s house and going to a rave instead, I was 15 and going to raves was a strange, sometimes scary but very fascinating time for me. The bass and drums pulsating, mimicking the oppressive bright and darkness of strobe lights; simulating a high so many people were experiencing with the assistance of drugs. Edie’s Dream slowly lulls you into a strange parallel dimension, where the familiar is foreign and things are not what they seem. 

Singer and guitarist Brent Shemie’s vocals and overall live presence can be described as lecherous. His vocals are lascivious, his movements almost vulgar (I had previously compared his hip shaking to Bobby Peru). Yet the music is other-wordly and hypnotic. Like a lustful, legendary one night stand, Images du Futur is seductive, risky and deeply satisfying. -a