“In ceasing to care about most things, I have likewise ceased to suffer in many ways. There is a real restfulness in the scientific conviction that nothing matters very much; that the only legitimate aim of humanity is to minimise acute suffering for the majority, and to derive whatever satisfaction is derivable from the exercise of the mind in the pursuit of truth.”
– H.P. Lovecraft
I won’t pretend I was on top of my game this year, but then, it hardly matters. I hope I’m finally on the verge of quieting whatever egotism compels me to present a self-concept via these lists, instead focusing on sharing the art that has most deeply amplified the meaning of my life. 2013 was my most challenging, meaningful, and positive year yet. I learned and I grew. I enjoyed and exhausted myself. I have higher, more focused hopes for the future than ever before.
Having said that, if you are a person with whom I’ve connected enough to feel compelled to read this, I thank you. I hope at least one thing described below is able to create the meaningful memories for you that it did for me in 2013.
30. Darkside – Psychic (Matador)
29. Steve Gunn – Time Off (Paradise of Bachelors)
28. Daniel Romano – Come Cry With Me (Normaltown)
27. Pissed Jeans – Honeys (Sub Pop)
26. Hot Lunch – Hot Lunch (Who Can You Trust?)
25. A$AP Ferg – Trap Lord (ASAP Worldwide / Polo Grounds / RCA)
24. Old Baby – Love Hangover (Karate Body)
23. Nice Hooves – Nice Hooves (self-released)
22. Freddie Gibbs – ESGN (ESGN)
21. Take Over and Destroy – Endless Night (self-released)
20. Church of Misery – Thy Kingdom Scum (Metal Blade)
If you’re a student of counter-culture, there is nothing about this band (except maybe Scum‘s cover art) that is uncool. This record may not break any new ground for CoM, but they’re so good it’s no matter, here delivering another killer (pun intended) slab of big ol’ evil blues.
19. The Haxan Cloak – Excavation (Tri Angle*)
Not normally a fan of the ‘fork, I queued Excavation as soon as I read it described as “multifaceted roadmap of the afterlife … themed around someone approaching their [sic] final days on the planet.” Here, death is not an endpoint – rather, a life of its own – and it’s every bit as abysmal and enveloping as you’d expect. It is perhaps the most massive recorded sound I’ve ever heard.
*P.S. Sasha Frere-Jones, one of music journalism’s greats, thankfully used his platform to give Tri Angle the thoughtful consideration it deserved. Check it out.
18. Purson – The Circle and the Blue Door (Rise Above)
Uncle Acid may preside o’er today’s most popular coven, but the folky, swirling-Wurlitzer siren song of fair maiden Rosalie Cunningham beckons more convincingly. The doom revival is eye-rollingly contrived by nature (ooooh, look at you, bands … you’re all so cool and dark!), but Purson deftly breaks on through (to the other side).
16. Cheap Wine – Mystic Crow (Celebration Days)
180-proof Electric Kool-Aid for the 2010s. A freewheelin’, hand-clappin’, boogie-dancin’ psychedelic delight.
15. Nails – Abandon All Life (Southern Lord)
Each year, I usually fall in love with the heaviest record I can find, and Nails towered head-and-shoulders above the competition in that department. Abandon is flat nasty. Unsurprisingly, this distinction has been awarded to a Kurt Ballou production three of the past four years.
14. Samba Touré – Albala (Glitterbeat)
“Do not trust your eyes / Trust your heart … We do not all have the same opportunities / Here nobody is born rich / But we all have the same value.” Our Malian imports of late (Bassekou Kouyate, Tinariwen, Bombino) have produced some of my favorite recent guitar music, but there’s a gravity to the content of Albala that stokes the flames of Touré’s driving, hypnotic rebel blues to burn deeper and brighter.
13. Savages – Silence Yourself (Matador)
I suppose I can see the merit of the many complaints (cold, formulaic, self-serious, meticulous) Silence endured this year, but man, I think it sounds gorgeous. Hard to believe this is a debut, because the muscular, spacious tones have the feel of a technically perfect veteran act live, not an autotuned gimmick group du jour. Looking quite forward to whatever emerges next from these young ladies.
12. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels (Fool’s Gold)
By the standards of loving and believing in what hip-hop is and means, then I certainly hope this would join the canon. To call Mike and Jaime a dynamic duo is an understatement beyond belief: the gestalt elevates them from clever, incisive individual MCs to flat-out assassins as a duo. My hats off to Mike Bigga, one of the most intelligent, passionate, articulate, intense figures in music right now. At the very least, it’s officially time to start including him on the shortlist in the “Elite MCs” discourse.
11. Earl Sweatshirt – Doris (Tan Cressida / Columbia)
Thebe could’ve returned from Samoa holding the Holy Grail in one hand and a cancer cure in another, and he still couldn’t have surmounted the hype. What we have in Doris feels more like a sketchbook than a complete thought, but with Thebe’s wellspring of talent, those sketches keep their auteur near the top of a pretty stellar competitive landscape. At different times during the year, the dark, off-kilter drone of “Hive” and the shimmering, syrupy “Guild” stayed on ‘Repeat One.’ Now that the pressure’s off (the hypebeasts have since moved on to the underwhelming Chance the Rapper), I expect we’ve only just begun to see Thebe emerge.
10. Jonathan Wilson – Fanfare (Downtown)
I don’t know enough Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young to confirm or deny the allegations that Fanfare is mostly deep homage. Absent of that context, I do know that it’s lush, dreamy, even magical. Not a lot else worth saying about it, except that you shouldn’t give it a spin if you hate feeling really, really, really good inside.
09. Mutoid Man – Helium Head (Magic Bullet)
Sometimes social media is a worthy use of our time after all! Before knowing a thing about Mutoid Man, I listened to this at the Instagram endorsement of New York artist David Cook. I was slackjawed, and it wasn’t long before I knew why. MM is a heavy music fantasyland: equal parts Stephen Brodsky (Cave In), literally inconceivable drummer Ben Koller, and hilarious arcade reference. Both dudes bring their punk/metal/noise sensibilities to the table in a big way, but the output somehow evokes classic rock. Koller and Brodsky spin lots of plates, so it’s unsurprising we’re only treated to 17 breakneck minutes, but hopefully we can get some more where this came from (especially if Verge/In never comes to fruition).
08. Childish Gambino – Because the Internet (Glassnote/Universal)
Boy, was this one a doozy. Between Donald’s Lynchian short film, the screenplay/video “experience,” and his bizarre Instagram confessional, Because the Internet was as much a social experiment as it was a piece of music. I applaud DG’s creativity, trying to understand, articulate, and make art of all the ways the digital age is shaping our collective psyche (for better or for worse). And the music is strong, too. Though bombastic bangers “Sweatpants” and (half of) “WORLDSTAR” are vintage Childish attitude on a higher plane, the latter’s final section and “Shadows” are the most compelling. When DG switches to soul-jazz mode, things get markedly introspective, and the record’s concept is properly elevated by the contrast. I get more impressed with each listen, so Internet just may be my dark horse of 2013.
07. Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin (Castle Face)
Judge this book by its cover: the freaky fanged strawberry faces only scratch the surface of the insidious content. The falsetto becomes insidious after reading along (doubly so for the ‘ha ha ha ha’s), and it’s soundtracked by an razorlike new (no?) wave mix – thanks mostly to a drum tone that recalls that airtight early Devo sound. It freaks and grooves and rolls and drones and ‘splodes and cools and is best served on endless loop – at first it felt like it went all over the place, but it’s definitely the most focused Dwyer output I’ve ever heard.
06. White Denim – Corsicana Lemonade (Downtown)
Much like nimble-fingered Steve Gaines did for Skynyrd, newcomer Austin Jenkins has both taken the band on a hard left and elevated its core essence. Forgiving an imperfect analogy, this isn’t their Street Survivors at all; in fact, its rawness following the spectacular D feels more like the fall from Second Helping to Nuthin’ Fancy. That’s not a slight – both Fancy and Lemonade boast great songs with more bite than their polished predecessors, but those predecessors are simply to good to follow. I think the best is yet to come as this lineup continues to gel, but as first tries go, it gets no better than Lemonade.
05. FIDLAR – FIDLAR (Mom + Pop)
FIDLAR’s not so much a band name as a way of life, and their gospel roars to life with “Police Truck“-evoking opener “Cheap Beer,” a raucous rallying cry (i.e. BEST. CHORUS. EVER.) worthy of such classic company as “Party Hard,” “Fight For Your Right,” and “Paradise City.” Also, they have the endorsement of America’s Most American American (Ron Swanson, by way of a very, very NSFW video), so basically, if you hate FIDLAR, you hate freedom. Party on, dudes.
04. Fuzz – Fuzz (In the Red)
Ty Segall’s Twins has probably stayed in the heaviest rotation of all my favorite 2012 releases, and while I wasn’t over the moon for Sleeper, Fuzz more than makes up for it. But I have no illusions that Segall is the star here – no, this is the Charles Moothart show. Boy howdy, can that dude ever rip, and rip he does. Lick after lick after white-hot lick is backed by a loose, jazzy freight train of a rhythm section. I’ll drop whatever I’m doing to see this band live if they roll into town, and that may be as high a compliment as I could pay anyone on this list.
03. Toro y Moi – Anything in Return (Carpark)
Labels are dumb. “Chillwave,” especially. As such, I emphatically resisted Chaz’s music, but thanks to the emphatic call to action of a post from E. (a SoundCloud stream of dreamy mega-single “So Many Details”), I smittenly dug in … to the first three tracks. I enjoyed those three enough to catch Chaz live in October, however, at a show where I stood next to an exuberant Trinidad James. This show was a turning point: the full-band experience illuminated all the soulful, psychedelic flourishes Anything boasts. Early favorite “Harm In Change” was nowhere near a highlight; rather, later cuts like “High Living” and “Grown Up Calls” built and built, colorfully swirling to the Buckhead Theatre’s ceiling, and a deeply diverse crowd joined in a moment of sincere bliss. I’m thankful I overcame my grumbling and made the trek to Buckhead on a Wednesday night. Turning points like that are harder to come by than ever.
02. Arctic Monkeys – AM (Domino)
For the past five years or so, I’ve always disregarded NME‘s Monkeys-worship as some sort of nationalist inside joke, but two factors silenced all doubt: (1) production and praise from Josh Homme and (2) “Do I Wanna Know?” Nothing beats a good late-night record, and AM rivals my all-time favorite (Rated R, but of course) for flawless cool, serving as a sultrier, far less sinister complement. Side A may be for the dance floor, but Side B’s for the ride home and beyond. Here’s to the night.
01. Queens of the Stone Age – … Like Clockwork (Matador)
I could spend thousands of words waxing poetic about all the ways I love this record, but it comes to this: my favorite band evolved light years at its craft (by revisiting its roots), lived through Hell, and turned it into a very fully realized piece of art, aurally and visually. The songs are sprawling and powerful, and no band on earth sounds like them. If it takes six years to make an album this complete, then Homme and company are free to take all the time they need.
2013 may have felt an awful lot like a down year after the last two, but thankfully, there was still plenty more to enjoy than there was time to enjoy it. Looking forward to lots more happy hour chats, Spotify shares, crate digs in new cities, and the infinite adventures that the joy of art brings our lives. See y’all next year.