So, 2013, eh? How about that? Welcome to my annual Obligatory, Contrived Best of the Year list, where I attempt to distill an entire year and countless hours of music listening into a simplified list of ranking order. Many of these records have been reviewed to death over the year, so I’ll instead provide some sort of anecdote or personal thought related to each record. Enjoy, and remember: I seriously do not give a shit what you think of my list. Take your arguments elsewhere, and appreciate that taste is unique. Also I can’t take criticism.
50. AFI – Burials
Do I actually think that AFI released one of the objectively best records of 2013? Of course not. But: 1. This list is subjective, idiot, and 2. The mere fact that AFI managed to put out a decent record after their last two shipwrecks is worthy of their mention on this list. So fuck off.
49. Tomahawk – Oddfellows
48. Ero Guro – Strategies For Coping With Loss
In which Brampton’s Emperor of Noise tones down the decibels and turns up the emotions. Eight full lengths in and Ero Guro aka Matt Bankuti is only getting better at sculpting his craft. He’s also a great kisser. Go buy the record right now! http://erogurosound.bandcamp.com/album/strategies-for-coping-with-loss
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47. Austra – Olympia
Austra’s second LP ditches the horror of their debut in favour of a more tropical pallet, yet it still manages to be chilly due to Katie Stelmanis’ haunting timbre and subject matter. This Toronto band continues to be outliers in a clogged scene and they sound all the better for it.
46. Holden – The Inheritors
45. True Widow – Circumambulation
This self-proclaimed ‘stonegaze’ group is a lot better at making extremely stripped back rock than they are at making genre signifiers, I’ll tell you that much.
44. Stara Rzeka – Cień Chmury Nad Ukrytym Polem
Leave it to the Polish to pull off an acoustic drone folk black metal record. A perogie in album form. I know next to nothing about Polish stereotypes.
43. The Necks – Open
This Australian jazz trio makes music so minimal it’s barely even there. Open begs you to forget about time in a world where everything seems like a countdown. My second favourite fall-asleep-to-it album of the year. That’s a compliment!
42. The Dillinger Escape Plan – One Of Us Is The Killer
The most dangerous band in the world refuses to release a bad record, instead stealing their way further into our hearts with inescapable hooks before bludgeoning us into submission in that quintessential TDEP way. Check out our interview with founding member/guitarist/cool guy Ben Weinman here!
41. Disappears – Era
No longer simply a product of a few other bands that everyone likes, Era is the sound of a band coming into their own and realizing that they can influence others, too. Here’s to a new era of guitar rock. *applause*
40. Tamikrest – Chatma
This fascinating record of true desert rock was conceived in the harsh highs and lows of the Mali desert, through countless hours of practice on generator-fueled amps and a desire to convey struggle through unconventional means. Brilliant bluesy songcraft aside, its just nice to see cultural appropriation work in this direction for once.
39. RP Boo – Legacy
Its all in the title. Though DJ Rashad and the rest of the Teklife crew got most of the acclaim this year, it was Legacy, the long (like 16 years long) awaited LP from the man himself who invented footwork which saw the genre fulfilled to its most satisfying extent.
38. Future of the Left – How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident
Will FOTL ever live up to the aburdly high precedent set by their second record, Travels With Myself And Another? Probably not. But this year’s How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident comes pretty damn close, and with a band this good, pretty close is close enough.
37. Dean Blunt – The Redeemer
The Redeemer is one of those strange, wonderful records that somehow sheds its creator in a more mysterious light despite it being one of the simplest and most straight forward of his career. And that’s saying a lot, considering Dean Blunt was already one of the most mysterious men in modern music. His musical relationship with Inga Copeland up to this point proved to be one of the most valuable in electronic music, but The Redeemer shows that Blunt can fare just fine on his own, thank you very much.
36. Forest Swords – Engravings
35. Oranssi Pazuzu – Valonielu
Crazy Finnish krautrock inspired psych-metal by a band with the coolest death metal typography ever. If you aren’t already sold on these guys then I seriously don’t even know why you’re reading this list right now.
34. Mountains – Centralia
There’s a moment about halfway into the twenty minute long penultimate track of Centralia, Propeller, where the band gives in to the drone that the entire record has been building up to, and the result is that of pure, ego-crushing bliss that reaffirms my notion that drone music is just as consequential physically as the rest of music can be emotionally. It’s probably my single favourite moment in music in 2013. The rest of the album rules too.
33. Ducktails – The Flower Lane
This has gotta be one of the most criminally underrated records of 2013. Leading up to its release, it was all the blogs could talk about, then as soon as it dropped it just kinda…vanished from the public consciousness. Which makes absolutely no sense as it is one of the most creative, joyous, outright fun indie pop records of the year. Real Estate still sucks though.
32. Iceage – You’re Nothing
Probably my pick for album title of the year, the actual music contained in this record reflects the utter nihilism of the title. These Danes are still young, but You’re Nothing makes them sound more terrifying than any facepainted Norwegian church-burners out there.
31. Kurt Vile – Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze
For a guy as seemingly laid back as Kurt Vile, this is one hell of an ambitious record. Featuring multiple tracks extending past the ten minute mark, Vile could singlehandedly be making jam bands cool again. Haha yeah that’s not gonna happen but there’s enough gold to be found amongst these 11 songs that it makes you think. Just don’t think toooooo hard…I’m sure Vile wouldn’t approve.
30. Burial – Rival Dealer
I’d be fine if Burial never released a full length again. Though it was 2007’s Untrue that put Burial into the upper echelon of modern producers, I have a feeling that the string of EPs, starting from 2012’s Kindred and leading up to the surprise release of Rival Dealer last month (and hopefully continuing into the future) will be what the producer is remembered for. Burial’s music has always carried heavy emotional resonance, but Rival Dealer is the first time this emotion has been explicitly pinned down, as this EP contains melancholic anthems of hope and acceptance. Its time to start appreciating Burial as a human as well as a producer.
29. James Blake – Overgrown
Overgrown was a great record, especially the absolutely gorgeous title track, but I’m kinda worried about our boy Jimmy. He’s made some pretty fucking questionable artistic decisions this year. Exhibit A: that cover art. Oh my god that is the absolute worst album cover of all time. But at least that’s so bad it’s funny. Which brings me to Exhibit B: the Life Round Here remix featuring (gag) Chance the Rapper. The fact that this even exists is bad enough; the amount of promoting Blake did for it is what really bothers me the most. He’s already treading the corny line way too damn closely with his music, anymore of this type of bullshit could see him spill over completely into Gavin Degraw levels of cheese. Take a step back and think, James. Don’t fuck this up.
28. Foals – Holy Fire
Holy Fire sees Foals letting go of all the pretensions of their past work and settling to just make some damn good songs. Behind all the superfluous mathy bullshit of their first two albums, Foals were always great songwriters, but it was often hard to pick that out from underneath all the nonsense. With all that stripped away, they kinda sound like U2 but really good.
27. Trvth – Black Horse Plague
Trvth is a one man band who records and plays everything himself, and Black Horse Plague, an almost 80 minute long wildly ambitious take on just about every style of heavy music possible, is only one of like six albums this guy put out this year. Sure, it’s amateurish to the point of almost being lo-fi, but if anything, it makes the music all the more endearing and, like, real, man. Whoever this Trvth guy actually is has to be one of the most talented musicians who has yet to break on to the scene, so when this guy rules the world in a few years, don’t say I didn’t tell you so.
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26. CHVRCHES – The Bones Of What You Believe
I really didn’t want to be into this record. The world has more than enough buzzy electro-pop bands, what could these guys bring to the table that hasn’t already been brought countless times before? And I mean, there isn’t anything especially special about these twelve songs. Hell, a few of them aren’t even that good. But even in my cynic state, upon listening to this album for the first (and second…and third..and fourth..) time, I couldn’t deny that there are some serious gems on this record. I’ve long since given in to the genius of this record, so okay, CHVRCHES, you win.
25. Arca – &&&&&
Arca is the sound of the future. It’s as simple as that. Get on board while you still can.
24. David Bowie – The Next Day
Basically an hour long testament to the fact that David Bowie is still the coolest guy on the planet. Despite being made by a 66 year old, The Next Day rocks harder than any other record put out this year by anyone dumb enough to call themselves his youthful contemporaries.
23. MIA – Matangi
After the lackluster reception of her clusterfuck of an album /\/\/\Y/\, MIA reportedly almost stopped making music altogether. Thank god she didn’t, because this year’s Matangi is arguably the best material she’s put out since her game changing debut. While her status as one of pop’s most fascinating figures has never been in question, it’s nice to see her put out a record of this quality to shut the critics up.
22. Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light
This would probably be the last choice for most people’s pick of the sexiest record of the year. But seriously, TMI or not, I can’t listen to this record without getting at least a little bit turned on, thanks to the sheer physicality Stetson employs when playing his gorgeous bass sax. That isn’t even a metaphor. My weird kinks aside, the music on this record is truly, truly unique in a world where everything is starting to sound the same. Also Justin Vernon drops some pretty gnarly death metal growls in one of these songs which is definitely worth listening to the entire record for.
21. Botanist – Mandragora IV
Botanist is the spirit of an environmental monster, a self proclaimed “eco-terrorist”, that gets channeled through musician Otrebor when he records. His words, not mine. Whatever works, I guess, as Mandragora IV is one of the most interesting releases to come out of metal this year. The one man band has one of the more original means of making music, using a Dulcimer attached to his drumkit that he plays simultaneously along with the drums. The results are realized and highly melodic, further blurring the already smudged line that is black metal.
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20. The Field – Cupid’s Head
Cupid’s Head is the first Field release I got into, coincidentally it’s his first record that has a distinctively different tone in both music and artwork. The record isn’t all dark, but when he pushes the limit on cuts like No. No…, the Field manages to create some of the most unsettling, downright creepy techno in the game. And what can I say, I’m a pretty creepy, downright unsettling type of guy.
19. Darkside – Psychic
The music on Psychic is a lot like the art for the album: indescribable, yet instantly recognizable. Spacey stoner jams for the hip generation.
18. A$AP Rocky – Long.Live.A$AP
Its hard to believe that this album is technically a 2013 release. After being delayed over and over again for the majority of 2012, it ended up leaking at the beginning of last December, over a year ago at this point. Yet despite this, it feels very 2013, and is arguably one of the most modern, forward thinking hip hop releases of the last few years. And even though this is one of the ‘older’ records on this list, I still find myself coming back to it all the time; I still haven’t gotten sick of it. Rocky had a lot to prove with this record and I’ll be damned if he didn’t pull it off. Long Live A$AP.
17. Earl Sweatshirt – Doris
Much like Mr. Rocky, Mr. Sweatshirt had some pretty substantial expectations for his official debut record. The difference between the two rappers is that Earl just didn’t really give a shit. He’s made it quite clear in a plethora of interviews that he didn’t really want to make this record, that it felt like an obligation to a world that he didn’t even really know or felt like a part of. And yet, here we are with Doris, far and away the best thing the Odd Future camp has ever put out (not counting our boy Franky Ocean…he barely counts anyway). And this is him NOT trying. Imagine when and if he does!
16. Deafheaven – Sunbather
If you had told me a year ago that a black metal record with a pink cover would be one of the most acclaimed, talked about record of the year, I would’ve called some serious bullshit. But Sunbather DOMINATED 2013. I mean…it even managed to nab a spot in Complex, a hip hop magazine’s top records of the year. But the fact of the matter is that Sunbather deserves every bit of attention that it got. From its immediately arresting cover art, all the way from the blistering opening track to the epic finale The Pecan Tree, Deafheaven truly put the transcendental in the transcendental black metal.
15. Doldrums – Lesser Evil
Buried beneath all the sonic detritus that litters this record is a fairly straightforward pop album. Sure, there are plenty distractions and red herrings to keep you guessing, but the more you listen to Lesser Evil, the more the above par songwriting stands out. When you’ve listened to it like a hundred times like I have, the chaos of this record actually seems pretty normal, and you can’t help but wonder why other records don’t sound this way. Above all, Doldrums and Lesser Evil stand as a testament to the consistency of the ridiculously fertile Montreal DIY scene, a scene which has provided us with countless important and boundary pushing acts. Represent.
14. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
13. The Icarus Line – Slave Vows
PURE POST-THE SEER ROCK N ROLL FURY. THE ONLY BAND THAT MATTERS ANYMORE. CRANK THIS SHIT AND BLOW UP A GOVERNMENT BUILDING. DO NOT DISAPPOINT.
12. Suuns – Images Du Futur
In case you somehow can’t figure it out, the title of this record translates to Images of the Future, although we’ll be lucky if the future sounds this good. These pulsating tracks give hope to the concept of ‘guitar music’ well into the distant future, sounding like the logical next step for indie rock.
11. Deerhunter – Monomania
10. Drake – Nothing Was The Same
Haters, take a ticket and wait your turn in line. The fact of the matter is that if you aren’t fucking with Drake in 2013 because of some ridiculous reservation about him, you are missing out. Despite being one of the blockbuster releases in any genre of music this year, NWTS is actually pretty freaking weird. Its not quite Yeezus levels of commercial suicide, but this highly insular record goes deeper inside the ethos of Drake to where everything is presented in black and white extremes, and the subject matter gets personal to the point of being uncomfortable; and remember, this is Drake we’re talking about here. He’s been making people uncomfortable with his intimacy from the beginning. While he could have easily delivered a hit record full of pop radio fodder, the fact that he decided to make an album this challenging while still managing to be wildly successful attests to the power of Drake in this day and age. So stop hating and climb aboard. Also :Worst Behaviour” is hands down my favourite track of 2013. WORST
9. Frisk Frugt – Dansktoppen Møder Burkina Faso I Det Himmelblå Rum Hvor Solen Bor, Suite
‘Frisk frugt’ is Danish for fresh fruit, which makes it a suiting namesake for this collective, as the music on this record bursts with colour and flavour much like a bowl of fresh fruit would. Although Dankstoppen was originally released locally in 2010, 2013 saw it getting a wider release to the rest of Europe, and I wouldn’t be surprised if 2014 saw the record getting a wider release still, as there is an almost vital creativity to this record that the world needs to witness. On paper, Frisk Frugt’s fusion of Danish folk, free jazz, and traditional African music sounds silly, contrived, and almost annoying. And it probably would be all of those things if it wasn’t so goddamn fun. It really is a sign of something special when such high concepts can sound like such a good time, and for that, this album is a true triumph.
8. The Haxan Cloak – Excavation
7. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away
Check out my review of this album here!… Wait, I didn’t do a review of this one.
6. Death Grips – Government Plates
I remember the night I came home to the news that this album had dropped. I had been out drinking with some work friends and was admittedly pretty hammered at the time. I got back to my girlfriend’s apartment in Ottawa to messages from like 6 different people telling me that Death Grips had just released a new record. Naturally I got on that shit immediately, and proceeded to spend the rest of the night dancing around the apartment like a fucking lunatic…’dancing’ here being an incredibly loose term considering: A. the chaotic nature of the music on this record and B. how drunk I was. At the time, I was convinced that Government Plates was the best album I had ever heard. After sobering up, I concluded that it may not be the best album ever, but it still managed to produce the same thrilled reaction in me. This might not be Death Grips most complete statement to date, but its the one that connects with me the most. Fuck who’s watching.
5. Kayo Dot – Hubardo
4. Majical Cloudz – Impersonator
Who’d have thought that this breakout group with the worst name ever would end up producing one of the best albums of the year? This album is incredible on it’s own, but I feel like you need to experience it live to truly understand its power. At Pitchforkfest this past summer, I saw some of my favourite acts, both new and old, and many for the first time ever. Yet it was Majical Cloudz intimate pre-festival performance which has managed to stick with me the most. I read a tweet somewhere describing Majical Cloudz as ‘a new type of hardcore band’, and though sharing virtually no stylistic characteristics with hardcore, this is the best description of that show that I can think of. Devon Walsh, with his massive, intense eyes and powerful baritone, moves the audience in such a way that you feel like every word he sings is directed at you. The kind of stuff that makes you believe in humanity.
3. These New Puritans – Field of Reeds
At the time of its release, TNP’s sophomore effort Hidden seemed like a highly ambitious move for the band, incorporating woodwinds, tribal drums and musique concrete into their brand of heady post-punk. If THAT move was considered ambitious, I don’t think a word has been invented for what they are attempting on Field of Reeds. I’ve had a weird relationship with this album over the past year. Upon it release, I tried over and over again to get into it, and just couldn’t do it. I shelved the album for a few weeks, but it kept nagging away at me in the back of my mind, so eventually I decided to give it one last chance, mostly just to shut myself up. However, this time around, removed of any reservations I may have had about the band, Field of Reeds clicked. And it has been in very regular rotation ever since. The album is incredibly difficult, more resembling neo-classical music than the post-punk sound they originated from. It makes you work to appreciate it. But my god is it ever rewarding, containing some of the most beautiful and thought-provoking moments in music in 2013. A lot of music is described as timeless, but Field of Reeds truly embodies the term.
2. Grouper – The Man Who Died In His Boat
1. Kanye West – Yeezus
Yeah, that’s right. Yeezus is my top record of 2013. Is that a problem? Go on, tell me all about how you disagree, how you think Kanye is a jackass, a joke, an egomaniac. I’d LOVE to hear your negative opinion of this man and of this album. And then let me tell you how wrong you are. Trust me, I have practice at this point. I’ve spent a large portion of 2013 defending Kanye and his music, and being laughed at and looked down upon for doing so. It’s okay, I understand. I know you hate because you’re afraid of such truth being presented to bluntly. We’ve been conditioned so hard to accept all the plastic, manicured truths that the media feeds us that when someone comes on the scene and simply refuses to be anything, but painfully honest, it makes us uncomfortable. And 2013 was the year that Kanye forced us into this uncomfortable position and refused to relent. Painful truths have been a part of Kanye’s game since back when he declared on public television that ‘George Bush doesn’t care about black people’, but this jagged honest was distilled wholly into the scathing Yeezus. While most of his contemporaries have settled into a comfort zone that permeates their work, Yeezus is the most frustrated piece of work from the most frustrated man on the planet, and his adamant refusal to concede in both his music and his persona is highly admirable considering the generally fucked up state of affairs our planet seems to be in. What people don’t seem to realize is that Yeezus is a work of extreme compassion: to be as wealthy and powerful as Kanye is, and to still be so unsatisfied with the shackles that he and the rest of society are in shows that the man loves the people just as much as he very obviously loves himself. And what other work of an artist, living or dead, has the power to actually influence the zeitgeist to the extent that Yeezus does? What other record, ever, has successfully subverted iconography associated with racial hatred and stereotypes like Yeezus has? Across America right now, a new generation of black kids are proudly donning Confederate flags, dressing in appropriated ‘cowboy’ clothing and discussing the implications of privately owned prisons and mandatory minimum sentences on their people. Do you understand how insane that is?!?! West’s impact on culture over the past decade has been unprecedented, and with Yeezus and his tour and his videos and almost literally every single thing he has done this year, his impact may have been the biggest this year; only time will tell how deep the reverberations will go. And you know what? All this theory aside, at face value Yeezus still provides the most bold, thrilling, and innovative musical experience of 2013. Nothing has ever sounded like this before, and everything that comes after will not be the same. So here’s the most uncomfortable truth of all: Kanye West is everything that he claims to be. Join the revolution or get the fuck out of the way.