Dan Bejar of Destroyer is hyper-aware of being in the music tradition: that as much as he carves his own monument as the 21st century esoteric, we are always made of aware of his struggle to make his way in it- as he most tellingly croons in ‘The Bad Arts’ ‘Why did you spend the 90’s cowering?’.

And so in ostentatiously borrowing from the musical canon we see both the man and the myth.  The man in that he shows his debt to these musicians, but the myth that he can so wantonly scrape some of rock’s most sacred lines and graft them into his songs takes an assuredness that Destroyer’s monument will be just as large as his idols’.

A great conceptual example is the admitted influence Roxy Music’s Avalon had over Bejar while he was making Kaputt.  On one level it shows that Bejar would not have been able to make Kaputt without Roxy Music building the groundwork.  But on another level, Bejar uses Avalon’s as a springboard to create his own masterpiece, and I believe, to overshadow Roxy Music as the go-to for that genre.

Anyway, I thought it would be a fun exercise to pinpoint some of Destroyer’s most obvious lyrical tributes, how he takes such well-known and concrete lines and reimagines them through his Destroyer’s lens.

My personal favourite is the ‘Music Lovers’ Fleetwood Mac rip

‘Oh life, is bigger…’ 

from: ‘Watercolours into the Ocean’ (go to 0:58)

original: R.E.M ‘Losing My Religion

‘Until this Phoney Beatle-Mania has bitten the dust…’

from: ‘The Sublimation Hour’ (Go to 3:06)

original: The Clash ‘London Calling’

‘You can go your own way…’

from: ‘The Music Lovers’ (Go to 2:10)

original: Fleetwood Mac

‘You gotta have faith…’

from: ‘English Music’ (Go to 1:27)

original: George Michael

Advertisements

imgres

Vashti Bunyan has carved herself a nice little nook in the alternative music canon. Over 40 years ago she released Just Another Diamond Day, a work of inimitable pastoral beauty. Her work passed by largely unrecognised until the 2000’s when she was anointed the godmother of the freak-folk movement- led by the likes of Animal Collective, Devendra Banhart, and Joanna Newsom. Since then Bunyan has resurfaced and not only collaborated with all the aforementioned artists (most notably in Prospect Hummer with Animal Collective), but has also recently released her third album.

What makes Vashti Bunyan’s music so interesting now is that instead of casting aside her original style for something barely recognisable, as we see with Scott Walker’s re-emergence, she has sought to preserve it. Yet now these songs about youth and joy are sung by a 69 year old. It is the framework that has changed, not the theme. Bunyan’s voice wavers in holding a note too long, her piano stutters to find a steady rhythm, and her guitar picking softens as they go on.

However we do not feel a process of decay. Or perhaps this decay isn’t felt as negative. For between these cracks and imperfections we see a new fragile beauty shine through. Bunyan sings ‘Gunpowder’ in near gasps, as she tries to catch then note and then hold it.   Or in ‘Holy Smoke’ she is half a beat too slow, as the voice tries to escape through the breath. It is almost as if the music is caught in constant tension between the songs’ natural grace and her near-overwhelming effort to express them.

Heartleap is not Bunyan’s comeback album, but more the follow-up to the comeback, which would be Lookaftering in 2005. And yes the albums are quite similar, not only sonically but also visually- with the ligatured album titles and corresponding covers of tapestry-style woodland animals. Lookaftering is a beautiful album, and very effectively established Bunyan’s new delicate style. And so in its likeness does Heartleap establish itself in Lookaftering’s shadow? Indeed the songs sound less adventurous and more faded- as if descending from sepia to grey.

Yet in this fading, we see a subtle refinement of Bunyan’s craft. In Lookaftering Bunyan’s songs are expansive with fugues and incremental use of instrumentation as heard in ‘Same but Different’. Meanwhile in Heartleap, Bunyan zones in on the specifics. In ‘Mother’ she recalls a moment as a child watching her mother dance. Bunyan only slightly adjusts the wording for the second verse, as if to even further refine the moment and the view from the ‘slightly opened door’.

The instrumentation is also much sparser on this album, which shows faith in the notes and the voice to carry the song, as exemplified in ‘Jellyfish’ and ‘Gunpowder’. This sparseness also allows more emphasis on the lyrics themselves, which before I had never really treated independently but more as factors of the Bunyan’s songs. However, for example in the opener ‘Across the Water’ the deep pastoral language glides unavoidably by: ‘Every day is every day/One foot in front of the other/ Learn to fall with the grace of it all/ As stones skip across the water’. Maybe the reason they are unavoidable is because they are noticeably bleak. The sadness seeps through idyllic scenes. In ‘Blue Shed’ Bunyan yearns for a ‘blue shed with nobody in it’, and in ‘Gunpowder‘ she notes with reluctant acceptance ‘It seems however hard I try/Those words that I let fly out of my mouth/ don’t ever say what I want them to say.’

By Heartleap, the stakes seem to have been raised from waking up into diamond days, to addressing the final sleep. Vashti Bunyan announced that this would be her final album, and listening to it can you see why. By the eponymous and closing track of the album you can hear the framework finally falling apart. At the end Bunyan can barely let out the word ‘heartleap’ before the piano and guitar start disassembling and fade away. Not since Big Star’s Third could I feel someone slipping away so vividly. The experience is harrowing but also one worth having, as predictably the sweetness always comes with the bitter.

imgres

My extended journey with this wonderful album began in 2010. I was in Ecuador travelling with a beautiful girl from Montreal and she recommended them to me. I remember listening to ‘I’ll Believe in Anything’ and ‘Modern World’ and was blown away by both songs. The calculated hysteria on ‘I’ll Believe’ shook me so much, that I almost had to ration listening to it for my own self-preservation (a policy not enforced since a painful combo of teenage angst and the Pixies’ ‘Where is my Mind’ in the mid-2000s).

Then an iceberg hit before I could even board the Queen Mary proper. Two weeks later I listened to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!’s eponymous debut album for the first time and was immediately hooked. Unfortunately, to my mind, Wolf Parade became a faded version of Clap Your Hands. Alec Ounsworth’s vocals sounded more unhinged than Spencer Krug’s, the CYHSY guitar riffs seemed to run circles round Wolf Parade’s heavy-handed chords. Most of all they were much easier to like: while Wolf Parade seemed to moan about things in the style of out-dated ‘Born to Run-isms’, Clap Your Hands had songs with children’s xylophones and circus shanties. Then the final nail in the coffin was finding out that Wolf Parade’s album derives from a rowdy gig where they trashed a cruise ship called ‘The Queen Mary’- to me this smacked of ultimate indie douche-baggery.

Come 2014- the year of disinterment. I was arguing with my friend on the best indie-rock album of the 2000s, his was Wolf Parade’s Queen Mary, mine was still Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! Being an adult, I realised the only way I could wipe my friend’s wrongness in his face like a sour cream pie was to give Apologies to the Queen Mary a fair hearing. And very soon I realised that, like Pet Sounds and Power Corruption and Lies, I had managed to judge an album by only knowing its core hits- not an adult attitude worthy of wielding the sour cream pie of righteousness. And of course, inevitably after several re-listens I became a standard-bearer for the Wolf Parade.

The first thing that needs to be mentioned is how unlikely a classic the Apologies should be. To start, the majority of songs are re-hashed tunes from former projects. ‘Modern World’ was originally a sub-standard indietronica tune, ‘I’ll Believe in Anything’ was a sketch from Spencer Krug’s Sunset Rubdown project. In fact all the core songs of the album were already showcased as middling tunes that sounded tired before even leaving the starting post.

So it comes as a huge surprise that instead of seeming like patched-up jingles given one last canter round the course before being gunned in the stables, the songs come so full of second wind that you can almost see the veins pulsing. They are both tighter (see ‘Grounds For Divorce’ before/after) as well as more expansive (see ‘Dinner Bells’ before/after). Of course much of this comes from the superb production work done by Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock- but my version is that these demos and EPs were Wolf Parade’s way of seeing whether they could actually make this form of music work.  One could imagine that from the seasoned musicians as were Wolf Parade, it seemed almost down to chance of whether one band will work or the whether it will be buried in the archives of Canadian noughties indie collectors.  Fortunately these demos gave enough hope to apply flesh to them.

The second most obvious point to make is how unlikely a band Wolf Parade is. The band came into being after Spencer Krug was offered a spot for a gig in 2003, and had three weeks to find a band and create material before the appointed gig date. He contacted Dan Boeckner and obviously the rest is history.  But what is most confusing is how almost polarisingly different the two lead singers are. Krug’s arsenal is the synth, the voice of Bowie having his balls slowly twisted, and a taste for unorthodox songcraft with jagged beats (e.g.‘You are a Runner’) and a quest for spaciousness (‘Dinner Plates’). He has then gone on to collaborate with similar art-house mystics such as Destroyer and Frog Eyes, in the band Swan Lake.

Meanwhile Boeckner’s arsenal consists of power-chord guitar, the voice of a weedier Springsteen-acolyte, and a songcraft shining a new light on the traditional theme of existential angst in modern society. Post-Wolf Parade Boeckner has gone on to form Divine Fits with nasal-cool Spoon singer Britt Daniel. Now I don’t want to be pressing a point but, apart from their shared love for music, these guys would literally be sitting on opposite sides of the cafeteria at high school. And if this contrast was pronounced enough, take a look at the track list on Apologies. Apart from a Boeckner/Krug double-bill in the middle, every song is alternated between Boeckner and Krug, a feat even the more sonically similar lead duos Bell/Chilton, Mould/Hart, Avey Tare/Panda Bear didn’t attempt doing.

And yet, despite the musicians’ diversities and their songs’ shaky history the whole album flows so well together. ‘You Are a Runner And I Am My Father’s Son’ tees up the drum beats for ‘Modern World’, while the bleeding synth stabs of ‘I’ll Believe in Anything’ bleed into ‘Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts’. Meanwhile there’s beautiful mirroring throughout the album as Boeckner and Krug both offer their crooning ballads of ‘Same Ghost Every Night’ and ‘Dinner Plates’ in somewhat playful competition. But the songs work best when the performers bring their own outsider version to the other’s soundscape: Krug’s descending organ scale at the end of ‘It’s a Curse’, Boeckner’s backbone riff to ‘Grounds for Divorce’, Krug’s backing “Whoos” on both ‘Modern World’ and ‘Shine a Light’…I’ll stop the list now before it becomes too encyclopaedic- but the cross-pollination is seriously vast. Now the point I’m making is not to argue that Wolf Parade technically shouldn’t work. It is more that throughout the album they maintain a perfect balance between creating space for expansive collaboration while also fervently maintaining one’s own idiosyncratic style.

With this fervent idiosyncrasy I should also say that Apologies is certainly not a concept album.  Some of these songs seem hilariously misplaced: ‘Dinner Bells’ sounds like the building finale, only to be book-ended by ‘This Hearts on Fire’ which then makes ‘Hearts’ feel more like an epilogue than a conclusion. Likewise, the opener ‘You are a Runner’ gives little space for an introduction before Krug squeals ‘I’ve got a number on me!’ at the listener. This seeming incoherence most likely derives from the fact that each of these songs create such a powerful sense of their own worlds, that they refuse to work as padding between the stronger hits.

And with this, it is the energy that has kept me coming back to the album. An energy of brutal individuality, as well as willingness to share their emotion in order to climb the desperate ascent to some kind of higher meaning, as Krug screams: ‘I’ll believe in anything/if you’ll believe in anything’. Or perhaps, this final goal isn’t to find higher meaning, but, from a more nihilistic perspective, to find anything but meaningless-ness: ‘waiting for something that will never arrive’ as Boeckner portends in ‘Shine a Light’. The album depicts the construction (or maybe even the destruction) of a belief system- from family in ‘You Are a Runner’, to nostalgia in ‘Dinner Plates’, to love in ‘This Heart’s on Fire’- regardless of whether what is left in the end is of any worth at all. So maybe in retrospect I do wonder whether Apologies to the Queen Mary should’ve been more suitably titled as Absolutely No Regrets About that Fateful Night Aboard the Queen Mary instead.

IMG_0560

This was the first time I was strongly recommended to wear earplugs at a gig.  £2 later from the pharmacy I had a pair of standard yellow foam ones, and one spare for my comrade, who turns out already came prepared.  And it became a surreal experience as the five piece band that is currently Swans, stepped to their instruments to the gong-beat of their fierce Ewok representative Thor Harris- that you could see the crowd screwing in their bits of plastic into their ears. And looking at these terrible men approaching their instruments, like butchers to their fresh slabs of meat, it looked like some ears were not going to be leaving un-assaulted.

Then Michael Gira steps up.  The lumbering giant with hair that looked like threadbare vines, covering a monolothic face that looked carved into his head and hat not seen much light for several years.  He picks up his guitar, and I take out my earplugs.

They started with a new song called ‘Frankie M,’ which set a good landmark of where Swans’ new album To Be Kind had taken them- to a more funkier slightly homoerotic soundscape, but yet still retaining that brooding darkness of their established style.  Gira would slowly blurt the words ‘Frankie M’ and then let the musicians carry the song through in an abrasive wave. They then followed with their most obivous version of a ‘hit; from To Be Kind ‘A Little God in My Hands,’ led by the hammering pokes of Christopher Pravdica’s bass-lines. This seemed like the band’s warm-up song, even with Thor Harris having already taken his shirt off.  But the chorus was still one of the most scathing experiences, trumpets blaring and a piercing slide guitar courtesy of the terrifying Christoph Hahn.  Once this ‘hit’ was complete, the band settled into their more epic songs, each one almost a 20 minute odyssey, from their previous album’s centrepiece ‘The Apostate, and, my personal highlight, the mockingly beautiful ‘Just a Little Boy’,

The chemistry between the bandmates was incredible, if you see them in the interviews they are the nicest gentlemen you would ever meet.  Yet on stage they look like the kind of violent rag-tags the French foreign legion would hesitate at hiring.  Michael Gira would hover round like a manic drill sergeant, checking to see that his crew’s fingers were bleeding- then he’d throw his arms up in the air like two flailing eels, and grate his voice against the mic. Pravdica the bassist would look with at Gira with obvious pain in his grimaces, but with the determination of a child recklessly trying to impress his father.  Then Hahn and long-time guitarist Norm Westerberg would hover on the frontiers of the stage like perverted sentinels.

To conclude I’m not sure I even enjoyed the gig in a conventional sense, the sound was like feeling my body peeling from my ears down to my lower back.  The endless building repetition tired me to my bones bones, and I felt physically exhausted at the end of the gig.  But it was this sheer determination to reach some kind of goal that held the gig together, every song on the set had a climactic conclusion, with Gira kicking up a leg to finish them.  But then almost in Sisyphean resolve, they would then start constructing another sickening musical monolith.  Then with a theatrical bow, they concluded their set- and you are left wondering how they could do this absolutely disintegrating display a day later.  Surely something has to eventually break.

1) Don Quixote– Miguel Cervantes

Image

When: July-August, while volunteer farming in southeast Spain (coincidence??)

What: An old man convinces himself that he’s a knight and hires a shorter man to be his squire as they set out through Spain for quests and get into all kinds of muddles.

Review: What affected me the most about this staggering work was just how unique Cervantes’s objectives for the novel were.  It seemed that to him, being a mirror-to-reality or allegory-for-morality was just too shallow for the human condition.  Instead Cervantes chose the much more realistic direction of what Milan Kundera posed as ‘to comprehend the world as a question’.  And this questioning didn’t really seem to reach a similar level until the postmodernists really tried tearing up the tradition.  The humour is never simple, even when it’s incredibly crude (cue Sancho and Quixote vomiting on each other).  For example at the very start of the novel, Quixote tries the strength of his cardboard helmet with a sword and breaks it immediately.  He constructs another helmet but ‘sees no need to try it again’.  In these few words we can already see the multiple layers to Quixote’s delusion- that deep down, almost subconsciously, he knows that the helmet will break, but still convinces himself that it is sturdy enough in order to maintain his composure.  Just the sheer genius in such a snippet is baffling and it continues so for almost 900 pages.

 

2) Disgrace- JM Coetzee

Image

When: Early winter, part of university course.

What:  Ageing Professor David Laurie has dubiously consensual sex with a student at a university in post-apartheid South Africa and is forced to retire and move in with his daughter who has very dubiously consensual sex with several local men.  David is confused and nothing much gets resolved.

Review: Such harsh minimalism can never really be appreciated until you see it attempted in film, where there’s a whole scene of perhaps four lines by the end of which John Malkovich shouts ‘You’ve said enough!’ and sounds entirely absurd.  I’ve got a feeling this will also be the reason why the Cormac Mccarthy penned film The Counselor has not done too well.  Disgrace brings unforgiving up to a new level, and in the same way as Cervantes shows a more real but much less satisfying resolution.  It shows that life even when the examples and parallels are so clear, is never easily resolved.

 

3) Under Western Eyes– Joseph Conrad

Image

When: Holiday in Italy, early July

What: In late-czarist Russia, a weedy university student Razumov is forced to hide a fellow student and recent political-assassin Haldin.  Panic-stricken Razumov reports him to the establishment and then flees to Geneva.  He flees to Geneva and acts as Haldin’s bereaving friend to Haldin’s family and fellow revolutionaries

Review: Joseph Conrad is one of my favourite novelists of all time, and Under Western Eyes was his last major novel that I hadn’t read.  And because it didn’t seem to be rated in the same esteem as Conrad’s other more famous works such as Nostromo and The Secret Agent, I’d assumed the quality would not be the same.  I was fortunately mistaken.  This is one of the most gripping accounts of paranoia since Crime and Punishment.  Razumov’s decline into a stuttering, callous, but also pitiful wreck is disturbing- as is what eventually happens to him.  Likewise it is one of the most scathing satires of the revolutionary posers that Conrad had encountered.  But the novelist’s greatest move was, like in Heart of Darkness, employing an external narrator (in the form of an old languages teacher) to witness the store.  And you might miss it, but his suppressed love for his student Natalia Haldin is almost unbearable.

 

4) Gravity’s Rainbow– Thomas Pynchon

Image

When: October to December in transition to moving to London and starting work (probably worst time to start such a goliath of a novel)

What: Good question.  Very basic outline is that during and just after WW2 a myriad of characters are connected in a quest to find a mysterious version of the German V2 rocket.

Review: I approached this book in marathon-mode: knowing that I’d often hate reading it, but get really satisfied when I’ve finished and can appreciate the work from a distance without having to sweat for it.  I almost gave up 200 pages in when the chaotic mist showed no sign of clearing.  This was extra hard after seeing it seemed to neither have the engaging fluidity of Infinite Jest nor the literary playfulness of Ulysses, and was nowhere as near as easy as his earlier work The Crying of Lot 49.  Of course it did have these first two aspects, it just did not scream out to me as with the others.  Instead I developed a strange numbness to reading the novel, which I don’t think I’ve really felt before, where you are no longer surprised at anything thrown at you- you just want to hold on to the tailfin of Pynchon’s rocketing narrative- appreciating the brief respite of clarity and anecdotes (The infinite and socialist Byron the bulb is excellent)- before you get blasted somewhere else across the wastes of post-war Europe.  Trust me it’s worth holding on.

 

5) Life Studies– Robert Lowell

Image

When: Start of the year for course.

What: One of the cornerstones of confessional poetry, Lowell delves into his family’s history and into his own personal troubles with mental health and imprisonment.

Review: This is the first poetry collection that I’ve appreciated as a whole, normally I’d just skim through those in the selected collection, which really does dissolve any of the original collections shape and direction.  And it was with Life Studies that I really felt what I had been missing.  It starts with the rolling dreaminess of ‘Beyond the Alps’, then flows into the cold prosaic analysis of his childhood in ’91 Revere Street’ and through some of Lowell’s greatest works ‘Sailing Home from Rapallo’ and ‘Memories of West Street and Lepke’ until the bone-chilling line ‘my mind’s not right’ of the closer ‘Skunk Hour’.  The chiaroscuro of cold and warmth throughout the collection gives the full silhouette of a poet: it shows Lowell a man who is fully and entirely footed in this world, but also seems to somehow be missing.

20) Cass McCombs- Big Wheel and Others 

CASS-MCCOMBS-BIG-WHEEL
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

51lgXUyziFL._SY450_

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

41ndXHfHeDL._SY450__PJautoripBadge,BottomRight,4,-40_OU11__

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

61reQsgHVYL

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

611q+zSPq+L._SY450__PJautoripBadge,BottomRight,4,-40_OU11__

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

41czmlSL0sL._SL500_AA280_

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

61ZqYVmMhTL._SY450_

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

41H8uIUIG6L._SY450_

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

41FbZahPNpL._SL500_AA280_

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

61upYIn+FWL._SL500_AA280_

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

514mID2Z5fL._SL500_AA280_

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

51AE-1ysiYL._SL500_AA280_

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

cave

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

kanye

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

age

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

2013BillCallahan_DreamRiver160913

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

homepage_large.4ad323d6

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

psy

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

51Tqebc+IZL._SL500_AA280_

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

51g1XQzzsEL._SL500_AA280_

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.