Friday, December 20, 2013
Bears And Bullets Albums Of The Year (#10-#1)
Continuing with list week, we hit the finale - the Best Albums of 2013, numbers ten through one. Read the countdown after the bump.
#10: The Haxan Cloak - Excavation
Death rears uncomfortably close to reality on Excavation, the second album from London producer The Haxan Cloak. Rather than a straight-forward anecdote, Excavation acts as a concept of death; of an improbable reality that is beyond any of our reasoning. The 51-minute album breathes as one piece, without any cause for break in the journey of the afterlife. It's relentless, gnawing, even therapeutic in a sense, despite the nightmare gash of the opener "Consumed." Few albums in 2013 dealt with heavy themes so thoughtfully, and even fewer came out so pristine.
#9: Autre Ne Veut - Anxiety
The referendum of indie standby's usually relegate away from full-tilt emotions. The concept of simply belting about love and loneliness is done, and has been done by some of the industry's most miraculous figures. So why would an album like Anxiety, the second from singer-songwriter Autre Ne Veut - Arthur Ashin - come off so strong, simply staying with those subjects? The production, for one, is stellar. Samples rear through unseen corners, like the metallic jolt of horns on "Counting," coupled with flourishing chorus after flourishing chorus. In another sense, its an old idea done exhaustively well.
#8: DJ Koze - Amygdala
German producer DJ Koze rarely seemed to be a preeminent force until Amygdala. A figure in the European DJ scene for years, Koze released a plethora of singles and remixes throughout the 2000s, earning a standout reputation in his native land of late-late night clubs and metallic discotheques. So Amygdala is as much of a marvel as it is an absolute surprise. Enlisting a gamut of talent throughout the record, Stefan Kozella flexes his producer muscles, carving ponderous pop craft and delicate intricacies. His personality (see: album cover) ekes through as well, making the album as charming as it is refreshing.
#7: Chance The Rapper - Acid Rap
The year's best mixtape jockeys between Midwest soul and West coast cool from the 20-year-old phenom Chance The Rapper. Despite his age, Chance has a penchant for melancholic nostalgia, whether its his home on "Cocoa Butter Kiss" or self-discovery on "Favorite Song." But no where on Acid Rap is Chance just drudging through the jaded motions. He's a kid, after all, but his ability to tap his artistic building blocks into genre-melting material makes Acid Rap a statue of accessibility. Party music, maybe. Drug music, yes. But something that can be heard anywhere and make sense.
#6: Jon Hopkins - Immunity
Cycling through Immunity, the fourth album from UK producer Jon Hopkins, and the motions start to become evidently clear. He's diligent, prodding through boundless and purposeful repetition. Its dance in its most minimal, human form, wondrous in an almost natural sense. Which, is a marvel; there's few forces that mesh as poorly as natural landscapes and chrome dance beats. But here, Hopkins seems to pool the two ideas together so effortless, and so richly that it might force others to rethink their production methods.
#5: Autechre - Exai
Veteran production duo Autechre have always seemed to be background figures to the likes of Aphex Twin. Both artists have been tagged with the conscious IDM label, which seems to an affixed terminology to brain-scribbled electronica. The beats on Exai, the Manchester duo's 11th official studio album, akin to that title far more than its previous work, jumble with maddening, chaotic precision. The dance elements have been surgically removed with a transparent desire to make something totally new, and potentially off-putting. Because of that it's quite a challenge to march through, but as an amalgamation of ideas, it creates a wonderful precedent.
#4: Arcade Fire - Reflektor
Arcade Fire have found themselves to be in a weird position. They're the poser-children of indie success, earning modest popularity, wild critical praise, awards, and an attachment to indie as the icons for the next generation. It's hard to see when an act is truly in its prime; a concept that seems to be precluded with a reflection (ha) in history). But nine years after the smash of Funeral, we're still in the prime era of Arcade Fire music. Reflektor isn't Funeral by any stretch - that seems like an impossible task for any group, not even the one which actually made the music. Producer James Murphy helped the Montreal band tweak its approach, adding new wave inflections modeled after the band's idealistic hero David Bowie. They also brought in the band's well-known Haitian influences, rather than simply talking about them for the double-LP. The scatter of inspirations leave for some pleasant, if not amazing moments. But its at the end with the three-track knockout "Afterlife," "Porno," and "Supersymmetry" that serve a reminder of the awesome power the band always had.
#3: Run The Jewels - Run The Jewels
Run The Jewels, the debut album from mega-duo El-P and Killer Mike, runs through like a arial assault. The heavy verses, "burning and cursing" from the two punch through the gut like pair of heavyweights in a bar fight. Race, poverty, and death play a heavy theme here, usually by Killer Mike's less-than approving opinion on law inforcement and everyone's favorite rap stars. Because when you travel through Run The Jewels, you forget about them pretty quickly.
#2: Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires Of The City
Through Vampire Weekend's first two albums, there was a sense that the Ivy league band had already been figured out. The literate lyrics, allusions to New England, and sophomoric cravings for love in prose were daringly sweet, but never felt full of purpose. After all, the band's second album had a song about rice milk.
But with Modern Vampires Of The City, the band showed something. The pop precedent of "Diane Young" led the hype charge for the third record; a reminder of Contra's "Cousins," so the expectation was more of the same. But with the LP's litany of standout tracks like "Step," the religious query of "Ya Hey," and the adorning "Hannah Hunt," the band easily stepped into a transcendent phase - a pantheon album marking the peak of the band's career.
#1: The Knife - Shaking The Habitual
Shaking The Habitual is an architectural nightmare. The ultra-art pop from the The Knife melts, crawls, and springs forth on the record to a hyperventilating extreme. Every track is a journey through a maze of weird, but carefully placed steps of a human instrument. Even as The Knife clouds the work with off-kilter construction and bedazzled theatrics, the remaining core of Shaking The Habitual is yearns of humanity, of an unequivocal rush to understand one's self. The album questions every internal reflection possible, from mortality, to gender, to happiness. For 96 minutes it dares you to dig deeper into yourself, cutting through with metallic instrumentation. Some albums look to solve an issue. Shaking The Habitual looks for more issues to solve.