Friday, July 5, 2013

Totally Unauthorized 2013 Mid Year Recap: Top 10 First Half Albums

With a series of smashing releases that pull from a wide spectrum of styles and genres, 2013 is shaping up to be a banner musical year. As each year seems to be getting better than the year before it, this era of music is beginning to stake its claim that it may be one of the all time best. Here are but a few of the best sounds on display through the year's first half:

10. Atoms for Peace - Amok

Thom Yorke has a clear sense of purpose, and this time he has friends to help him execute it. Yorke and producer Nigel Godrich's joy of concocting sublimely hypnotizing dancefloor electro-pop is almost equal to the bliss that comes from consuming it, resulting in a much more friendly and inviting offering than The King of Limbs. Flea and Joey Waronker provide an added emphasis on percussion and rhythm, giving Amok a fiercer bite.

9. Wayne Shorter - Without a Net

If you can make an album like this at age 80, hats off to you. The former saxophonist from the groundbreaking jazz fusion outfit The Weather Report still packs a punch, supported by one of the best backing bands in the business. Without a Net sees Shorter presenting a mind warping but a set of original tune and reinterpretations of old classics, along with a jaw dropping 23 minute collaboration with the Imani Winds quintet.

8. Deerhunter - Monomania

Very few people who would have guessed Deerhunter would release a grimy dive bar rock and rock and roll record in the year 2013. Even fewer would have expected them to pull it off well, yet here we stand with one of the year's best records, albeit in a dramatically different tone from the band's past offerings. Bradford Cox has come into his own as a magnetizing frontman, and the sound is presented with such an honest clarity and sense of humanity that one can't help but be caught up in the undertow.

7. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories

Daft Punk's latest album feels like an event.  The French electronic duo have ditched house for a 1970s inspired funk/disco sound, and have brought along plenty of collaborators for the party. It's hard to decide which is more fulfilling: getting down with Pharrell and Panda Bear, or jamming out to stories of the olden days with famed producer Giovanni Giorgio. One thing is certain: Daft Punk's shindig doesn't sound like it's ending anytime soon.

6. Bad Religion - True North

When a song called "Fuck You" is one of the more mellow pieces on an album, you know you'd better hold on to your ass. They may be pushing 50, but Bad Religion's crackling intensity has lesser bands pushing up daisies. The lyrics are as socially conscious as ever, as Greg Graffin urges personal self development above all else. After a long wait, Bad Religion has finally made a record that can stand against their best work.

5. The Knife - Shaking the Habitual

It's hard to decide which is more en vogue in 2013 -  electronic duos releasing comeback albums, or electronic duos releasing albums somewhere around two hours in length. The Knife decided to do both. It's tough to say the entire opus is a gripping listen, it's a guarantee that The Knife's exotic vision never gets dull.  In an industry that thrives on the flow of new ideas, the importance of their work cannot be understated.

4. Savages - Silence Yourself

Before this album, I couldn't stand anything post-punk. This band forced my mind open. I'd have to dig deep to think of higher praise to give a band than that. This all-female outfit present their subject matter from a woman's vantage point, but do so with the straightforwardness of men. Jehnny Beth's impassioned shrieks combine with Gemma Thompson's razor edged guitar and Ayse Hassan's propulsive bass to forge one of the year's most explosive releases.

 3. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City

Pop music is often considered disposable, but Vampire Weekend doesn't see why it has to be that way. Modern Vampires of the City contains slick enough hooks to land most of its tracks on the radio, but there are deeper forces at work here. Nods toward religion, history, and death couple with fresh approaches to the band's songwriting to present an convincing argument that pop music is not only a respectable institution, but also a vital one.

2. Queens of the Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork

It's said good things come to those who wait. Six years is no short interval, but Josh Homme and crew made it worthwhile by dropping this undeniable gem of an album. ...Like Clockwork widens the band's sonic footprint by masterfully presenting moody atmospheres, tripped out soundscapes, and smooth doses of Trent Reznor inspired sensuality. The fact that they manage to craft so many distinct styles so well makes this one of the can't miss albums of 2013.

1. Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories)

Eclectic 1970s style prog freakouts. Basslines that burrow into your brain. Spacey, chilled out astral washes, Pink Floyd style. Demented King Crimson scales and battering ram drum work. Jazz fusion freakouts. Haunting flute and acoustic guitar combos, along blazing solos from guitar prodigy Guthrie Govan. It's all capped off by one of the most touching piano ballads in recent memory, and structured around the theme of supernatural ghost stories. And that's without even mentioning the genius mind of Steven Wilson pulling the strings like a master puppeteer. Best wishes to anyone putting out an album the rest of the year. The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories) sets the bar for music releases in 2013.

No comments: