I’m fairly certain I would not have surmised my most listened to album of the year would have been written and recorded by a 16-year-old girl from New Zealand. I guess it proves I’m not utterly dead inside that I can still be this taken aback. Pure Heroine is an accidental master stroke. Lorde is a typical teen with typical teenage insecurities, but she has an atypical way of expressing herself that just happens to take the form of top shelf pop. I’m pretty sure she set out to mimic Lana Del Rey, but she ended up creating a sound unlike anything else on the radio. Lorde is trying to be a poet. She’s trying to sound sophisticated. She’s trying to conjure a dark romanticism. The thing is she pulls it all off with very little to be embarrassed about. (I’m 100% certain I would want anything I created at age 16 to be burned forever). Pure Heroine is a staggeringly accomplished pop record: Big, catchy choruses are underpinned with attention-grabbing starkness and wildly unorthodox beats. It’s down-tempo-electro-pop to be sure, but it’s truly every-day-hummably infectious. “Royals” stands out like a sore thumb on the radio, but its appeal extends beyond the masses into the hierarchy of the critical elite, even as clueless arbiters of nonsense try to argue its latent racist overtones. It is the single of the year.
2. Kanye West, Yeezus (DefJam)
I am embarrassed for and annoyed by Kanye West as much as the next guy. It pains me to think how white I am for this being the only hip hop album in my list, but I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t mark it down. I listened to Yeezus more times than I care to count. The disconnect between West’s persona in interviews and his recorded output is confusing at a minimum. He comes off like a complete bozo in public, whose blind ambition almost elicits pity it’s so laughable. But on record he’s an absolute genius. Yeezus is dark, scary, confrontational, and a complete mass of contradictions, but it’s a record you will want to blast out of your car stereo. Rick Rubin tore the production down to its absolute minimum mere days before it was due for printing. It sounds next level. Jabs of synths, mutated vocal effects, and tribal rhythms are all interspersed with scattershot samples, but the star here is West’s lyrics. Yes, they’re extraordinarily misogynistic, but at the same time shards of brilliance lessen the blow with insightfully pointed rage. West is an angry man, and Yeezus is the musical catharsis he needed.
3. My Bloody Valentine, m b v (self released)
Much to my brother’s chagrin, I brought My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless on cassette to listen to on the way to school just about every day my junior year. He was too young to understand how fucking mind-bendingly awesome those waves of noise were. And still are. My Bloody Valentine leveled the playing field with that record, setting the bar for an entire movement of music and spawning a generation’s worth of copycats. I wouldn’t have wanted to follow it up either. So when word hit that IT FINALLY HAPPENED I scrambled to order my copy. When I listened to it, I was initially disappointed. I was mostly disappointed to discover that I was accustomed to all the soundscapes that had once shocked me so. Changing music forever is a once in a lifetime gift. So, MBV picks up the very next day. It doesn’t surpass Loveless; nor does it try to. It can’t. But it is a gloriously soul-crushing record all the same; it just takes longer to ingest. Guitarist Kevin Shields hasn’t added any new elements to the mix. It’s more of the same. But more of that same is clearly better than most.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Patrick Wall is the man whose name you’d love to touch. But you mustn’t touch. People pay him to write things.
KNEE MEETS JERK In Which a Beleaguered Music Journalist Attempts — and Fails — to Identify Ten Records Released Between December 2012 and December 2013 That Were Better Than All Other Releases in the Same Time Period. Listed in alphabetical order. Results subject to change. In seven acts.
Robert Howell is a professor of philosophy at SMU. His latest book is called Consciousness and the Limits of Objectivity and is available at Amazon. Now that you are good and intimidated, below are his thoughts on a few records from the past year.
I seem to be the only person who doesn’t like the new Vampire Weekend, and I’m one of only a handful that finds the new Arcade Fire boring. Combine that with the fact that Kanye’s continuous ass-hattery prevents me from listening to Yeezus and I’m disqualified for pronouncing the top ten albums of the year. Instead, here are twelve albums (and one reissue) that I think are excellent and generally underrated. In no meaningful order.
Daughn Gibson, Me Moan (Sub Pop)
Recommended if you like: Playing bagpipes on Music Row while huffing ether.
Cayucas, Cayucas (Secretly Canadian)
Recommended if you like: Ferris Bueller but not Say Anything
El-P and Killer Mike, Run the Jewels (Fools Gold)
Recommended if you like: Small cars with big engines.
Adam Green and Binki Shapiro, s/t (Rounder)
Recommended if you like: Those bikes with baskets in the front, probably filled with brie and a baguette.
Mikal Cronin, MC II (Merge)
Recommended if you like: The idea of California but have no interest in moving there.
Looking at this list, I clearly had a dark, introspective year. So, there’s that. -@kerryrm
Still Corners – Strange Pleasures
Continuing what they started on Creatures Of An Hour, Still Corners deliver more of the same ethereal dream pop that I can’t resist. Strange Pleasures is like the soundtrack to a long drive across a desolate plain reflecting on a cracked and abandoned life. RIYL: Beach House, Chromatics
Forest Swords – Engravings
On one of my favorite labels, Tri Angle, Forest Swords’ Engravings has a tinge of “witch house” and at times reminds me of a more mellow, less methodical oOoOO. These tracks are a hazy, introspective and meandering collection of samples, atmospherics, field recordings and minimal beats.
Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe
I knew nothing of Julianna Barwick until I heard Nepenthe and for weeks after I could listen to nothing but this album. It was like a drug. The songs build on her lushly layered vocals, creating a kind of vocal analog to Music for Airports. RIYL: Sheila Chandra’s The Zen Kiss, Sigur Rós, Cocteau Twins [Read more →]
Comments OffPosted by K: December 18th, 2013@ 4:17 pm Tags:yearend
Come on, people. You know Fiona Apple is very sensitive. She does not have thick enough skin for heckling, especially when it’s about her appearance. I have to admit I thought something was amiss when I saw her last September. She looked way too gaunt, but I know better than to yell my thoughts at her while she’s trying to play songs. Anyway, Apple had a heckler tossed from her show in Portland last night for screaming, “Get Healthy. We want to see you in ten years!” Now, it sounds like said heckler was trying to be supportive, but that’s just not the way to go about such things. Apple played one more song after the incident and then left the stage in tears, because, OF COURSE SHE DID.
She did manage to play a new song before storming off stage:
Comments OffPosted by Eric Greenwood: October 7th, 2013@ 7:42 am Tags:gossip · video
I’m unabashedly obsessed with this song- and the whole album for that matter. I’ve deliberately avoided the backstory on this girl, but it’s becoming increasingly more difficult now that she has the number one song in America and is cropping up on ubiquitious shows like this.
Comments OffPosted by Eric Greenwood: October 7th, 2013@ 6:27 am Tags:video
This interview with My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields is worth a read even without the conspiracy theory that Britpop was pushed by the Labour Government in the mid-90’s (ha!).
‘But when it is jokingly suggested that, had Shields released m b v in 1994, as initially planned, he could have kiboshed Britpop, his mood changes. “Britpop was massively pushed by the government,” he says. “Someday it would be interesting to read all the MI5 files on Britpop. The wool was pulled right over everyone’s eyes there.”
However, this interview by Ian Svenonius of Nation of Ulysses and The Make-Up over at Vice is probably more fun, though:
Comments OffPosted by Eric Greenwood: October 4th, 2013@ 7:32 am Tags:interview · link · video
David Yow fronting Girls Against Boys covering Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control” doesn’t really need an introduction, but Yow’s is funny nonetheless: “If you like boring? songs by bands from the 70s and 80s, you might like this song.”
Comments OffPosted by Eric Greenwood: September 18th, 2013@ 7:41 am Tags:video
The Throwing Muses’ trajectory of out of left field alterna-art-pop has been anything but normal, which makes perfect sense when you consider bandleader Kristin Hersh’s mental health rollercoaster over the years. The band broke up in the late 1990’s only to return in the early aughts with just as much fire and intensity as when it had begun two decades prior. The return was an aberrant blip because the Muses haven’t been heard from since, which makes a forthcoming 32-song double album even more beguiling. The record is being packaged with a photo art book and musings (intended) by Hersh. The first fruits of those mammoth sessions, “Sleepwalk-1,” can be heard below. And it rocks with stuttering gusto, replete with Hersh’s maniacal vamping. Purgatory/Paradise is out November 11, 2013 on the Harper Collins subsidiary It Books.
Comments OffPosted by Eric Greenwood: August 28th, 2013@ 8:41 pm Tags:link · video
Laura Marling is such a force to behold in a live setting. She’s both entreating and more than a little intimidating. This live version is just as sinister as the video for this song from one of my top albums of the year.
Comments OffPosted by Eric Greenwood: August 27th, 2013@ 8:41 pm Tags:video
Tears for Fears have entered the studio to record the follow up to 2004’s reunion effort Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, which didn’t find near the audience it probably should have. That Donnie Darko momentum didn’t quite have the legs the duo was counting on, but never a band to give a wit about time TFF will reinvent itself once again almost a decade on. The band just posted a stream of the first fruits of its recent labors with a cover of The Arcade Fire’s “Ready to Start,” which sees the band embracing its synth-heavy origins to great effect. If this is the sonic direction, then Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith may reignite some of that lost momentum. [via Slicing up Eyeballs]
These guys make up for the roll call of references with a shit-kicking rock ‘n roll sound. I hadn’t thought of the Bruce Springsteen connection before I saw this live version of “Adrenaline NightShift,” but it’s definitely there. And also forgiven. Remember when people said The Killers sounded like Springsteen? Man, people are idiots.
Comments OffPosted by Eric Greenwood: July 2nd, 2013@ 6:56 am Tags:link · video
I have to admit I think the new Nine Inch Nails song is great. Trent Reznor injects this comeback single with everything that was ever good about his band: Bracing synths, machine beats, aggro guitars, and Reznor’s idiosyncratic whisper/wail combination. All of it works exactly as it should in “Came Back Haunted.” It’s already one of the best NIN singles, hands down. Reznor knows exactly what he wants to do and, more importantly, he knows exactly how to do it. David Lynch directed this video. If you have epilepsy, you should probably not watch it.
Comments OffPosted by Eric Greenwood: June 28th, 2013@ 2:21 pm Tags:video
I was giddy as a schoolkid this morning when I saw news of The Replacements rehearsing “Alex Chilton” off the band’s fifth LP, Pleased to Meet Me. No word yet on who’s playing guitar or drums with Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson at their upcoming Riot Fest appearances in August and September. Word is they didn’t even bother asking Chris Mars to play drums because they knew he’d say no. Oh well. Who cares? This sounds great. As long as Tommy and Paul are on board, it sounds like The Replacements to me. They were such a barely strung together ramshackle anyway. The haphazardness of all of this suits.
Comments OffPosted by Eric Greenwood: June 28th, 2013@ 1:47 pm Tags:video
I feared something fishy was up when the Pixies announced Kim Deal’s departure so … politely. It’s been common knowledge that they wanted to record a new record and Deal was the sole hold-out. I actually don’t care whether this new song is good or not. (And for the record, it’s ok). It just seems silly to try to continue without an integral part of what made the Pixies so beloved. Kim Deal’s simple but memorable bass lines helped define the Pixies’ sound. And her vocal integration with Black Francis’ insanity sent chills down my spine more often than not. So, for the Pixies to continue without Kim is more than just a bummer. It’s a disappointment.
Also when you’ve been in a relationship for a really long time and that comes to an end … you know, so my identity was so tied up with Sonic Youth and my relationship and my marriage and so now it’s also like, who am I? It’s a little bit of, like, going back to the beginning. I mean, I basically feel like I’ve been the same person since I was little, but you know, it does make you really kind of search for who you really are.
Gordon has just completed an album with Bill Nace for a project called Body/Head. Matador Records will release the experimental guitar album on September 10th. Gordon is also at work on her memoirs.
It’s mind-boggling to me that The Dismemberment Plan‘s final album, Change, came out 12 years ago. I used to be able to mark years by what music came out. I lost that talent about a decade ago. Records don’t represent years anymore. Maybe that’s just what happens as you get older. But I still associate Change with 2001. The D-Plan started back in 1993 in Washington DC and broke up ten years later. Reunion shows for charity and the re-release of its masterpiece Emergency & I sparked not only renewed interest in the band but also actual excitement. The band obviously sensed it too and is moving forward with a new album. Uncanney Valley will be released in September on Partison records. Pitchfork revealed the track list today:
01 No One’s Saying Nothing
04 White Collar White Trash
05 Living in Song
07 Daddy Was a Real Good Dancer
08 Mexico City Christmas
09 Go and Get It
10 Let’s Just Go to the Dogs Tonight
The guys debuted a few new songs that will be on the record last summer, one of which is captured here:
Comments OffPosted by Eric Greenwood: June 26th, 2013@ 1:39 pm Tags:news · video
Alan Myers, Devo’s “human metronome,” has died of cancer. Myers played with Devo for ten years from 1976 to 1986, leaving after the band’s Shout album over creative differences. Slicing Up Eyeballs has the details. Former Devo band mate Gerald V. Casale has paid tribute on Twitter.
Comments OffPosted by Eric Greenwood: June 26th, 2013@ 8:50 am Tags:death · video
Though not as aggressive as the clanging, reverb-drenched racket of its debut, Gauntlet Hair returns with more cryptic post-goth. The duo’s sophomore LP, entitled Stills, is out July 16 via Dead Oceans. Despite being produced by Jacobo Portrait from Unknown Mortal Orchestra, it actually doesn’t sound like shit. [via Stereogum]
Comments OffPosted by Eric Greenwood: June 20th, 2013@ 1:50 pm Tags:new release · stream