Q12013: The Year in Music (So Far)
As I failed to do so much as put up a Best of 2012 list, not even an unordered collection of band names and releases, I am attempting to do something more demanding and grand in order to redeem myself and my poor site: a series of quarterly reports for 2013. It should be noted, however, if only to continue This City of Island's downward trend of uselessness and my own shame, that this idea wasn't even mine. The suggestion came from my good friend Johan Nordin (or as he's known in Spain, "Juanito") in response to my constant failings as a blogger and a human being. Furthermore, this article could not have been possible without the help of my wonderful former editor, Avi Roig, who for a decade ran one of the finest music sites around, the Scandinavian music journal It's a Trap!, to which he was kind enough to let me contribute; my brilliant cousin Patrick Thomson, who penned that fantastic essay on Lil Wayne; my friend Jack Snyder, whose taste in music is matched only by his talents as a poet, his kindness, charm, and rugged good looks; and my fantastic girlfriend Lauren Lauzon. Thanks to their fine contributions and their fantastic and varied musical palates I can safely say that you won't likely find a take on the first three months of 2013's musical output quite like this anywhere else on the interwebs.
So without further ado, the first Quarterly Report.
First up, Avi's take on the year so far:
"Released in Q42012, but new to me as of Q12013. Dreamy synthpop from Australia with heavy goth tendencies; if the track "Limits" doesn't grab your attention, I ain't got nothing for you."
"Another Q42012 release I didn't get around to until later. Quite possibly some of the rawest, most harsh noiserock I've ever heard."
Mattias Alkbergs Begravning, Skända Flaggan
"The language barrier keeps the full album at arms-length for me, but this single is brilliant (as is the video!)."
Räjäyttajät, Self-titled (NSFW!)
"Finnish pub-rock played by drunk-punk maniacs. Totally catchy and fun."
Tribulation, The Formulas of Death
"The first album had diminishing returns so we'll see how this holds up down the road, but right now it sounds like a killer mix of Dissection and early Coroner."
Veronica Falls, Waiting for Something to Happen
"There's so so much terrible indiepop out there, but then every once in a while an album like this comes around and redeems the genre for me."
Still listening from 2012:
Alina Devecerski, Maraton
"Best pop album of 2012 and still in regular rotation today."
"I love this band and was initially a bit underwhelmed by the record on first listen, but once I got the vinyl and really spent some quality time with it, it clicked."
New obsession: Dismal Acid House
"Not an actual genre per se, but certainly an adequate descriptor for a lot of the dark and dirty, subterreanan techno I've been digging. Vatican Shadow is probably the most well-known name that sort of fits, but I'm also way into artists such as Ekman and the sort of stuff that Enfant Terrible sub-label Gooiland Elektro is putting out. Techno's appeal eluded me for a long time, but once I started investigating old-school minimal industrial like The Klinik, the dots were connected."
And now for Patrick Thomson's version of events. (Don't worry, I had to look up the word "limerent," too!)
"Let’s do this."
Earl Sweatshirt, "Whoa"
"I’m bursting with excitement about Earl Sweatshirt’s potential. He’s only 19 years old, and I’m sure he’ll only improve as he gets older, but I’m already prepared to declare him the best MC since Eminem. "Whoa," the track he dropped a few weeks ago, is a perfect example of his skills: he spits dark, free-associative rhymes over a sinister Tyler, the Creator-produced beat. His gift is astonishing: lines like "Bruising gimmicks with the broom he usually use for Quidditch / Gooey writtens, scoot ‘em to a ditch, chewed and booty-scented" are so assonant that they’re difficult to even say, much less rap. I don’t know how he does it. Can’t wait for his album to drop. Oh, and don’t miss the somewhat-nightmarish music video (also directed by Tyler).
Autre Ne Veut, "Play by Play"
"I have absolutely no idea who this guy is or where he comes from, but this song is damn close to perfection. Echoes of Purity Ring’s lush techno soundscapes, Frank Ocean’s emotive yet vague confessionals, and TV on the Radio’s lurchingly pretty melodies. The chorus doesn’t come in until around halfway through the song, but its repeated mantra of limerent need ("I just called you up to get that play by play by play, don’t ever leave me alone") gives me goosebumps every time I hear it."
Pusha T, "Doesn’t Matter (ft. French Montana)"
"Fresh off his Wrath of Caine mixtape, this shows that Pusha is still relevant and still talented, though he’s definitely getting on in years (has it really been fifteen years since Lord Willin’ dropped? Man, I remember everyone in middle school driving teachers crazy learning how to drum the beat from "Grindin’" on their desks). The auto-tuned chorus from French Montana is somewhat tedious, but the verses are classic Pusha, stuffed full of allusions ranging from the Kennedys to Zero Dark Thirty to Robert Griffin III."
Atoms for Peace, "Ingenue"
"I'll take any new music from Thom Yorke without complaint, but this stuff is really good. You can tell that Yorke exercised his typical role as dictator despite the illustrious members that fill out the rest of Atoms for Peace: this is a sonic evolution directly traceable from his 2006 solo work The Eraser. Heavy on the glitchy, wobbly keyboards, what sounds like a mixture of live drums and drum machines, with Yorke's traditionally unintelligible falsetto crooning over it all. The rest of the Amok album hasn’t quite clicked for me yet, but this track is definitely a standout, and the video is great."
Achewood: The Cartoon
"I’m going to go on the record as saying that Achewood is the funniest comic strip ever made. Period. Chris Onstad is a once-in-a-generation literary talent, with a P.G. Wodehouse-level ear for language. So you can imagine my joy when I found out that he’s been working on an animated version of Achewood. All we have so far is this brief test footage, but it’s enough to make me jump for joy: the voices are all perfect or close to it, and the animation perfectly meshes with the original comic strip."
And to finish this thing off, a mashup of Jack's, Lauren's, and my favorites from the first three month of 2013:
From Jack, "in a semi-particular order" (with notes by me, italicized):
Iceage, You're Nothing
Pair this record with Holograms' self-titled debut and I think you have more than enough evidence that Scandinavia is producing some of the, if not the, finest post-punk today. You're Nothing is a perfect example of why I'll never truly shake the impact punk and post-punk had on me growing up, and why it's still a big part of my life even as I'm sneaking up on thirty.
Kvelertak, Meir (it's not great by any means, but goddamn it's fun)
P.S. Still trying to figure out Phosphorescent's Muchacho. Will report back.
I've rather enjoyed Muchacho. Likely because "Song for Zula" (for some strange, likely nostalgic reason) presses many of the same buttons (tone, lyrics, etc.) Bright Eyes used to when I was a younger man, and because "Terror in the Canyons" (and others) wouldn't feel too out of place on Bruce Springsteen's Darkness on the Edge of Town or The River. (And if these odd comparisons have threatened to scare you off the record, ignore them and give Muchacho a listen—it really is worth it.)
And, to close, a few of my favorites this year so far:
Norma, The Invisible Mother
While I was writing for It's a Trap!, I gave Norma's debut album my first 10 out of 10 review (way back in 2008!). The Book of Norma is utterly, effortlessly brilliant (and my stumbling prose does it little justice)—the band's fantastically original voice comes fully into its own on this debut, more than fulfilling the promise and potential of their initial EP, 1. Norma only continue to impress on The Invisible Mother: the songwriting and production are phenomenal, and the compositions are in some ways more accessible than on The Book of Norma (see "Son in Rags"), all without sacrificing any artistic integrity or the dark creative edge that allows Norma to stand well outside the fold of other bands inspired by or attempting to fuse krautrock, atmospheric indie rock, and post-punk as Norma masterfully does. As with its predecessor, The Invisible Mother doesn't have a weak moment and is thus able to function as an album should (though, sadly, rarely does): as a whole, from start to finish, as an experience. I knew as soon as the single "Joan" came out that The Invisible Mother would rival, perhaps even surpass, The Book of Norma. There is no one else like Norma, and their most recent release only solidifies this statement. I just hope they don't wait another five years to follow up their brilliant sophomore effort. A trip Stateside wouldn't go amiss either.
Girls Names, The New Life
During my first listen through of Wild Nothing's Nocturne I knew that it was something special—and the album went on to be my favorite from last year, if only by a nose. (Sorry, Beach House.) I had the same feeling listening to The New Life. While Pitchfork didn't think much of the record, I hear in it so much of what I love about music: the dark inertia of post-punk, sprawling guitar lines inspired by Frank Black (or Black Francis), the bittersweet textures of Echo and the Bunnymen, among other inspirations and homages, all helping to craft a tone, atmosphere, and delivery very much the band's own. Like Norma's The Invisible Mother, the album can be listened to as a whole, and is at its best when done so. It's a soundscape worth exploring, getting lost in. We'll see where this album ends up after a few more of these quarterly reports, but I'm fairly confident (seeing as Girls Names top my last.fm chart of the last three months—nearly 300 listens to date) that this album will remain in rotation throughout the year, and will be in good position to place high in my Top 10 come December.
A huge "Thank you!" to Johan Nordin, Avi Roig, Patrick Thomson, Jack Snyder, and Lauren Lauzon for not only making this article possible, but for making my life as wonderful and interesting as it is.
And as I am damned sure even between all of us we missed quite a bit, please feel free to share your favorites of the year and/or complain about ours in the comments section. That's what it's there for.