2013 has frankly been an incredible year for new music. In a year stacked with highly awaited releases and sleeper hits from nowhere – I was very pleased. And just like years before I’m here to tell you all about my top ten favorites! Honorable mention to My Bloody Valentine’s MBV, (Nashville’s own) D. Watusi’s Dark Party, Earl Sweatshirt’s Doris, and Killer Mike and El-P’s Run the Jewels. I just couldn’t fit y’all in.
But, I’m also throwing in my top 10 favorite tracks too, ’cause I want to.
1. Ariel Pink featuring Jorge Elbrecht – “Hang on to Life”
2. Neko Case – “Night Still Comes”
3. Gauntlet Hair – “Bad Apple”
4. Kanye West – “Bound 2”
5. Majical Cloudz – “Turns Turns Turns”
6. CHVRCHES – “The Mother We Share”
7. Justin Timberlake – “Mirrors”
8. Charli XCX – “What I Like”
9. Daft Punk – “Give Life Back to Music”
10. Drake featuring Big Sean and 2 Chainz – “All Me”
And now, the official braddstudios.com top ten records of the year. Drumroll, please…
10. Sky Ferreira, Night Time, My Time
I was a late comer to this party – but over the last couple of weeks this record has really floored me. I should probably have ranked it higher. Don’t be misled by the cover featuring Sky naked, vulnerable, and disheveled in the shower – this is a defiant, affirmed, and spunky record about break-ups and standing up for yourself, regardless of whether you’ve fucked things up or not. Key tracks: “Blame Myself”, “24 Hours”, “Night Time, My Time”.
9. Majical Cloudz , Impersonator
Simple, eloquent, and serene. Devon Welsh (son of Kenneth, AKA Twin Peaks’ Windom Earle!) delivers focused, baritone belted vocals over sparse synths and minimal percussion. The entire record feels like one big doe-eyed moment of clarity after a weekend bender. It rarely looks back, it rarely looks forward – it just stews over a couple of chords and lives for the day at hand.
8. Drake, Nothing Was the Same
When he’s not brilliantly guesting on tracks with contemporaries like Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky, 2 Chainz, etc. – Drake does his own thing and whatever it is, he does it damn good. If he’s delivering convincing verses (with no chorus) reminding us that he’s one of the top rappers in the game (“Tuscan Leather”), singing the catchiest R&B single of the year (“Hold On We’re Going Home”), or refusing to let the art of an epic music video die (“Worst Behaviour”) – Drake demands attention and excitement. An ongoing friendly feud with Kendrick Lamar is guaranteed to churn out more classic hip hop records in the years to come.
7. The National, Trouble Will Find Me
The National just ages like a fine wine. This year’s model doesn’t reach too far beyond their established brand of head-down, kicking-the dirt, just-over 40-melancholy rock n’ roll. But, The National are more confident and accessible here than ever, sounding like the wiser, self-affirmed older brother of the restless gang that recorded 2005’s Alligator and 2007’s Boxer. “I Should Live in Salt,” “Sea of Love,” and “Pink Rabbits” rank among the best songs they’ve ever put together.
6. Daft Punk, Random Access Memories
After wrapping up their famous 2 year pyramid world tour in 2007, Daft Punk retreated from the limelight (Tron:Legacy aside) as other folks picked up the torch of dressing up in costume, pressing a button, and letting thousands dance.
Surprisingly and admirably, Daft Punk crafted a record that would be almost impossible to produce on stage, with limited use of computers and the hiring of noted session musicians and vocalists. The result is pulsing 70’s disco, illuminated through the futuristic prism of our beloved cyborgs. Nile Rogers, Julian Casablancas, Pharrell Williams, Panda Bear, and even the drummer from Off the Wall show up… this one’s an obvious can’t miss and the most fun record of the year.
5. Mutual Benefit, Love’s Crushing Diamond
“What the world needs now is another folk singer like I need a shotgun blast to the head,” or something like that. I’m burned out on acoustic strumming and guys in beards whining into a microphone. Few can pull it off, but Mutual Benefit erased any of my current prejudice. This gentle 7 song opus is a meditation of the human condition, accepting of its environment and affirming the fact that we all must adapt in life to survive. The Sufjan-esque instrumentation of acoustic guitar, banjo, keys, and strings is all on point. The last line of the last song elegantly coos, “A river only knows to carry on,” which pretty much sums up the record’s warm embrace of nature and circumstance.
4. Charli XCX, True Romance
Back when I was in college, I felt bulletproof. I did all kinds of dumb things with my friends, and am thankful on a daily basis that twitter and instagram didn’t exist back then. True Romance takes me right back to those wild nights as Charli XCX details the impulsive rollercoaster of young love and the horrible decisions it drove (or drives) you to make. Laced with the best pop sensibilities of late 90’s Britney Spears and crossed with the hazy romanticism of Mazzy Starr, it’s a shockingly mature collection of infectious A-sides from an artist barely removed from their teens.
3. Kanye West, Yeezus
Yeah, I know Kanye is an asshole – but Yeezus is clever, raw, and even hilarious at times. This record scales back the grandeur and guest overload of his last record at a trim 40 minutes, but still covers it all: his wealth (“I am a God”) , falling in love (“Bound 2”), racism (“New Slaves”), and yes, fucking (“I’m In It”). While Jay-Z dropped the ball this year with a redundant hour-plus record to remind us all he’s filthy freakin’ rich, Kanye asserted his role as the true kingpin of the rap game with cunning wit while flirting with grittier production. One point docked for copping the style of the next entry on the list…
2. Death Grips, Government Plates
Pissing off paying concert goers and no-showing high profile gigs, pissing on their major label record contract, and self-releasing their best album yet without a hint of anticipation – or ya know, just a year in the life of Death Grips. Like their reputation, this record is unpredictable, unstable, and highly volatile. The phrases “fuck you” and “suck my dick” aren’t so much used for confrontation – they are used as commas. This is a group of guys who don’t give a shit about anything but their music and its paranoid message, told through an enraged collage of samples, clipped drums and MC Ride rapping in tongues. Pulverizing protests subside on the last half of the record with a few curveballs like “Birds” and “Whatever I Want (Fuck Who’s Watching)” that simmer to a disturbing boil, revealing new depths of the most intriguing and enigmatic band walking the planet.
1. Gauntlet Hair, Stills
My favorite record of the year was met with bittersweet news, as Gauntlet Hair called it quits, riding off into the sunset just days after this album’s release. Their punchy and outward looking self-titled debut in 2011 is followed up with a dark inquisition within, as “Human Nature” and “Bad Apple” channel goth-pop 80’s tones reminiscent of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy era. With the reverb turned down from eleven to seven this time around, Gauntlet Hair proves their vocals and riffs aren’t just smoke and mirrors, with “Spew” and “Heave” showing off vocalist/guitarist Andy Rauworth’s masterful hooks surfing over drummer Craig Nice’s crashing wave of drums. It is an odd curiosity and sadness that this band never hit the festival circuit and made believers out of doubters. God bless you Andy and Craig. I’m gonna miss you.