Monthly Archives: December 2013

20) Cass McCombs- Big Wheel and Others 

As a return to form, McCombs chose the road more travelled by harking back to the old American trail of country roots and folky singalongs- so while not breaking new ground he sure gives an entertaining ride.

19) William Tyler- The Impossible Truth


Genius often comes through fingertips (and sometimes very long fingernails) as William Tyler demonstrates through this epic collection of inspired guitar noodlings.

18) Savages- Silence Yourself


A new kind of anger has come to town, where each pounding song builds up to a climax but does not give release but only more pent-up anger to the next one, perhaps one of the best examples this year of a struggle for true expression, not just for women, but also punk and anyone attempting to make a genuine statement.

17) Forest Swords- Engravings


Well if any album cover was going to have a stab at what Forest Swords sounds like, then his own artwork probably does it best.  A wisp of Orientalism that tangles you into a wide array of electronic confusion as you search for the heart of this electronic maze.

16) Kurt Vile- Wakin on a Pretty Daze


Vile seems to take cue from his previous breakthrough album Smoke Ring For My Halo and just added more space and maturity.  The riffs are strong, the solos crisp and Vile’s voice has the same steady  calmness but now with full assuredness of his power.

15) Deerhunter- Monomania


I think a lot of people were in the same boat when seeing the build-up to the new Deerhunter album, and seeing Bradford Cox in his whole ‘real rock star’ persona, that this was going to be one of the biggest jackass feats of the year.  And then when the album came out the response was underwhelming when compared to Deerhunter’s earlier classics.  However, after several listens you realise that there isn’t really anything like Monomania– the claustrophobic bedroom feat, the actually appealing songs and sheer ambition in self-reformation- thus making it a valued factor of Deerhunter’s canon.

14) Yo La Tengo- Fade


According to Neil Young, time is meant to fade away- but after nearly 30 years, Yo La Tengo has shown that talent doesn’t necessarily need to.  Instead of trying to reform their look for the kids, Yo La Tengo have instead delved deep into their dreamy gold-tinted nostalgia and come out cleansed once again.

13) Julianna Barwick- Nepenthe


I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds it extremely hard to find a way to rate Julianna Barwick’s music.  It all has an unearthly beauty that can’t really be compared to anything else (at least within this century).  But what is certain is that there’s no laziness to fall into the same comfort zone and just spew out 10 more choral songs.  There is a definitive and sadder change to the album here, which takes you to an entirely different but still magical place.

12) Dirty Beaches- Drifters/ Love is the Devil


On first listen I thought this album sounded too basic.  Alex Zhang Huntai would just find a lo-fi riff and then add drums halfway through, or in Love is the Devil just have a simple piano scale and play it ad infinitum.  But it is the atmosphere that creeps up on you, the surrounding darkness and unbearable space which seeps in and makes you unsure of what you have heard.

11) Youth Lagoon- Wondrous Bughouse


Shit gets deep.  There’s no longer the catchy riffs of Youth Lagoon’s debut Year of Hibernation, there’s just deep molasses of feeling and confusion, melted music and something to do with god.  Best wear boots.

10) These New Puritans- Field of Reeds


This is my version of the Swans’ The Seer, last year.  I still am not sure exactly what’s going on, there’s a sparse uncomfortable feel, which I’m not sure I even like- but its effect just bleeds through and says it should be in this list.

9) Grouper- The Man Who Died in His Boat


To think that most of these scenes were leftovers from Grouper’s previous album Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill is astounding.  If this album’s incredible title doesn’t clinch you, the first few seconds of it will drag you in.  There’s no ladder, just a push and then an ancient darkness with this siren-girl guiding you.

8) Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds- Push the Sky Away


It wasn’t until seeing the Bad Seed’s performance in Glastonbury, that the full weight of this album was felt.  I was disappointed that Cave was turning back from his aggressive Grinderman stage to a seemingly softer No More Shall we Part style of himself.  But this wasn’t the case, it’s just that the power is more concealed.  ‘Jubilee Street’ circles round an appealing riff while Cave waxes on prostituticide, and ‘Higgs Boson Blues’ is certainly not just a road trip to Geneva…

7) Kanye West- Yeezus


Of course this had to be somewhere on the list.  I think everyone’s still baffled how Yeezy managed to mix so much violence and just so much unappealing stuff to make it everyone’s favourite.  I mean you all remember him wailing in the middle of ‘I Am God’ right?  And then of course just having seemingly two songs playing next to each other in ‘Bound 2’.  Is that legal? Well ‘Bound 2’ might not be concerning samples…but the whole experience is certainly entertaining.

6) Iceage- You’re Nothing


I was not into their first album at all.  If this was punk revival then it was certainly not a fun version of it.  Then on listening to the first two songs of You’re Nothing I was blown away.  This must have been what they were trying to communicate.  A bleeding nihilism of ‘Excess!’ And then a 2-minute horror movie drum beat to follow, not to mention caffeinated-Byrds riffs of ‘In Haze’ and sheer depression of ‘Morals’.  Who would think that such nihilism would be such a great trip?

5) Bill Callahan- Dream River


Callahan’s constructed a golden formula of just getting better with age.  Once again he has created a watertight record full of epic meditations on small aircraft, community with barflies and holiday jobs- and for that we are grateful and inspired.

4) Julia Holter- Loud City Song


Holter’s aim was to emulate a restaurant scene from the 1958 musical Gigi. I have not seen this film, but after listening to the album I’ve got a pretty good idea of what it’s like.  She has reflected a world that is now far away it is wholly unfamiliar and seems only suitable for fabricated nostalgia trips- with upright double-bass, concert pianos, and a misty cover of the 60’s classic ‘Hello Stranger’.  Slip into this world at your own risk, you might never want to come back.

3) Darkside- Psychic


I hate Nicolas Jaar: that young, handsome, talented, polite, funny prick.  And his new guitarist friend Dave Harrington that he’s brought with him.  Why did they have to make such an excellent album?  Most of all why did they have to make it so difficult as well? Their opening song ‘Golden Arrow’ only finds any trace of a beat five minutes in, and following suit Jaar finds a jarring(!) beat and Harrington a cool riff- then seemingly out of nowhere each track develops into sheer heights of excellence.

2) Vampire Weekend- Modern Vampires of the City


I hate Ezra Koenig almost as much as I hate Nicolas Jaar (see above).  But before it never bothered me because Vampire Weekend never seemed to be on my wavelength of interest.  Then with their finale to their supposed trilogy, the band released a universal album.  All their naysayers should have respectfully bowed down by now.  I picture this album as the one album a past girlfriend and I bonded over, and then we break up…and it becomes unbearable to listen to.  Because under each tone of fun, there is a deep sadness- best shown in the pun to upbeat song ‘Diane Young’.  Well I’m grateful that such a hypothetical break-up never happened, but I’m sure this album will come to haunt me when such a thing does happen.

1) Parquet Courts- Light Up Gold


As a friend once said, this is a perfect album.  But probably not in the ‘perfect’ that you would imagine.  The songs are often too short, or too long, with misleading guitar solos and annoying riffs.  But when your aim is such messy imperfection, and you achieve this, then that is approaching perfection.  Parquet Courts but will never be champions, as they will always reign as underdogs because it is where they belong.  We’re not talking about real gold, more the ‘light up’ kind that glows on the storefront to that shitty mall you used to frequent in your teens, or at that shitty bar you had your first gig at…


20) Califone– Frosted Tips

Sometimes all you need is a chorus and just drive it home.  Taking the same cue from their earlier classic ‘Funeral Singers’, this is the indie folk answer to ‘Get Lucky’

19) The Knife- A Tooth For an Eye

When Fever Ray screams ‘Eyes, Eyes, Eyezzzzzzz!’ you realise that you’ve never quite heard a song like this before, although with The Knife’s output, this shouldn’t be surprising any more, but it still drives home.

18) Jon Hopkins- Open Eye Signal

Well you’ll never need another jogging song again. Like a demented techno tune that forget it was entertaining, this gradually drills into your body until your heart has to recalibrate its own beat.

17) James Blake- Retrograde

James Blake’s true power comes from balancing the delicate with the powerful, and he achieves this on a new level with an ethereal vocal riff pervading then subsumed into a blinding synth chorus and an equally brittle ‘suddenly I’m hit’.

16) David Bowie- Where Are We Now?

Coming as a surprise to most at the start of the year, this beautifully simple song speaks volumes in Bowie’s fragile Berlin tour-guide persona.

15) Marnie Stern- Nothing is Easy

I like treating this song as a collection of great small songs combined into a near perfect rock anthem about gittin’ ‘er done.

14) Arcade Fire- Afterlife

Looks like they’ve done it again.  Instead of waxing on youth and suburbia, Arcade Fire have enlarged onto the grand movie finale mindset complaining about ‘what an awful word’ it is.

13) No Age- An Impression

Despite a disappointing album, ‘An Impression’ stood out as a beautiful tribute to creativity, Dean Spunt wondering at ‘I’ve never seen colour act this way’ and then joined by heart-wrenching string accompaniment showing a new direction for the constantly transforming band.

12) Jai Paul- Song 2 (Str8 Outta Mumbai)

Even though almost impossible to find, after Jai Paul rejected it as a completed number, this is one of the crowning experiments into a pop song.  A beautiful Maria Carey-esque vocal chorus and flowing lyrics it could be a stadium filler if it didn’t staunchly remain the bedroom recording state.

11) Phosphorescent- Song for Zula

My biggest concern about this song is that it goes on for slightly too long.  But that more reflects on Phosphorescent’s objectives, that he discovers a near-perfect musical formula, but instead of crystallising it he uses it as a springboard for deep self-reflection.

10) Vampire Weekend- Ya Hey

Vampire Weekend’s new album is filled with a certain ilk of songs: ‘Step’ ‘Hannah Hunt’ and ‘Ya Hey’.  With the biblical references and surprisingly effective pitch-manipulated backing vocals, ‘Ya Hey’ most of all manipulates a nostalgia for a heartbreak that you never had experienced.

9) Darkside- Paper Trails

This song originally screamed out Eagles to me, the lamest of the lame of which Big Lebowski helped crystallise for all of us.  But these dripping riffs and muttered vocals have reinvented what cool can be.  And I think it’s these guys who deserve to be occupying the new slickness that Arctic Monkeys have dubbed themselves with

8) Drake- Hold on We’re Going Home

Simple drum beats are doing great these days, all Drake needed to do is add a seedy 80’s cop soundtrack with deep emotion to create one of the most heart-felt songs of the year.

7) Julia Holter- World

When I first played Holter’s Loud City Song I was blown away by the opening track.  The stark purity of Holter chirping ‘heaven…all the heaven’s of the world’ transporting you to another world and making you wish that she would never be interrupted by any other kind of music.

6) Parquet Courts- Master of My Craft/Borrowed Time

So cheat number one.  Yes these are in fact two songs, introducing us to Parquet Courts’ debut album Light up Gold.  But the seamless transition from ‘Socrates died in the fucking gutter!’ into the nagging solo of ‘Borrowed Time’ make them forever conjoined piledriver twins.

5) Iceage- Coalition/Ecstasy

Cheat number two, and much less connected than the Parquet Courts double bill.  But these two opening songs from Iceage’s sophmore album share the same mentality of near perfect punk songs.  And the best about them is that they shouldn’t sound it: the solos wander off, no bars remain the same, and respective choruses are tardy screams of ‘Excess!’ and ‘Pressure!’.  But the fact that they do somehow work gives them their special power

4) Kurt Vile- Wakin on a Pretty Day

This was the perfect summer song, that I’d have on going to and coming back from the library revision slog.  Just give yourself 10 minutes and you’ll be feeling pretty good about the world for a while.

3) Deafheaven- Dream House

Here is an example of an epic.  Except one so epic, that within the first few seconds into their opening song, you’ll already think Deafheaven have reached their climax.  But with 9:14 we just reach new choking altitudes of pure emotion- unearthly screecehs, tremolos and chasing drumrolls.  You’ll be lucky to have energy enough to listen to the rest of the album.

2) Rhye- The Fall

The first ten seconds of the song contain a staggered blend of pattering piano, drums and then slide guitar, by which time you’ll have sunk deep into a state of calm.  Though the music is upbeat, the lyrics give a tired landscape of a couple trying to grasp on to their fading sexuality, and in this tinted bleakness you settle into a bed of creative beauty.

1) Daft Punk- Get Lucky

I find it quite amazing how none of the major music sites haven’t put this as their top song.  Everyone seems scared of seeming too cliched in claiming this as their favourite.  But it’s the universally greatest song of the year dominating across all genres and disappointing few.  Especially if you consider that last year’s equivalent such as ‘Gangham Style’ or ‘Call Me Maybe’ had to be enjoyed with a tint of tongue-in-cheek, meanwhile ‘Get Lucky’ is just pure and unashamed fun.


Slint’s apocalyptic album Spiderland has a horrific power that seems to derive from somewhere truly disturbing.  But like the narrator of Heart of Darkness who witnesses the dying Kurtz uttering ‘the horror the horror’, the audience cannot see this source head on, but only feel its enveloping darkness.  Indeed despite the sinister weight to Spiderland the topics are mundane teenage events like riding a roller coaster or being at a house party.  And over twenty years on, another barrier seems to have formed.  In that now the reunited 40-something dads, who constitute Slint, have to try to recreate the same adolescent nihilistic selves that supposedly had to be institutionalised after making the album.  Indeed, the task seems pretty nihilistic.

Fortunately, the band still retained the one factor that made the music so gripping: the instrumentation.  While many 90’s throwback reunions seem like only faded versions of their former personas, Slint made sure that no persona could be tainted.  The vocal parts sung/spoken by Brian McMahan and Brit Walford were comfortably smothered in the background, as in Spiderland, sounding more like voices in the back of your head rather than a centrepiece.  Likewise the equipment was minimal and set up halfway back from the stage, the best pointer that no one was going to be making a scene.  Yet also the band didn’t try to make a Godspeed You more-apocalyptic-than-though impression.  Harking back to their debut album Tweez, which was most recognised as a half-baked, but enjoyable fuckaround, jokes were cracked and smiles were exchanged.  The band was definitely enjoying playing their set.

And so did the crowd.  The stage was pulsing.  Brian McMahan’s drumming was some of the best and loudest I’ve ever witnessed, like a hunter relentlessly beating an enormous loveable animal to a pulp.  While Dave Pajo’s guitar leads showed why Slint become so indented in everyone’s head.  It was almost like a re-education.  Because I knew what was coming but was still dazzled at the sheer genius and simplicity of the movements- the grating chords of ‘Nosferatu Man,’ the uncalming riff of ‘Washer’.  There was a period at the end of ‘Glenn’ when Pajo turned his back to the audience and went up to the amp.  Then a strange cacophony of sounds came out of the guitar.  His skinny figure with its back to the audience sent a visual chill of turning against the crowd in raising this of this inhumane, thrashing weight.

Likewise, the band must have still had the same pedals from recording Spiderland, because almost every horrifying sound was reproduced exactly live: the ‘drop’ on ‘Breadcrumb Trail’ and the harmonics of ‘Don Aman’.  The overwhelming feeling I got was that the band was still as fascinated and confused by what they had created.  And all that the members could do was create the portal to access this profane exhibition for both themselves and the audience.  So there was no room to ‘improve’ on the songs or ‘jam’ to them, because that would mean that the band had some kind of control over them.

The set list ended as logical as it could, that is when it had exhausted all of Spiderland, played the best proto-Spiderland songs from Tweez as well as their single EP.  The official setlist finished of course with ‘Good Morning Captain’ and it was as beautiful as expected. When McMahan sings ‘I miss you!’ you finally realise that very rarely in life can one reach such a purified energy in any line.  It is the accumulation of their whole sound, screamed beyond human capacity (rumour has it he started vomiting after singing this on the album).  And like a bullet ‘I miss you’ enters you and leaves a hole, and you’re left trying to figure out all over again what you had just felt.