Well, here it is, the moment very few of you have been waiting for: the grand unveiling of This City of Islands' staff's Top 10 picks from last year.
I started this list around the same time I was writing one of my final semester papers. One of the critical lenses I used for the paper (formalism) had a residual impact on how I made my album selections for this list.
Just for refreshers sake (because I know you are all well-versed in literary criticism), formalism favors production over context. The forms, techniques, genres of the immediate text afford more value than the authorship, societal impressions/influences, etc.
So for the sake of 2013 music, whether the artist sucked live, was seen at a Giants game, has pretty hair, wears clogs (ick), loves seafood, etc., all of that doesn’t matter. What matters is the way the damn music sounds.
Now without further ado, here’s my list.
In alphabetical order (didn’t have the heart to rate):
Blood Orange—Cupid Deluxe
Every tempo, every lyric, every vocal, ugh. Seamless.
Boards of Canada—Tomorrow’s Harvest
There’s ambient music and then there’s this. It’s so beautifully cryptic. I loved digging into the different atmospheres.
Dirty Beaches—Drifters / Love Is The Devil
I dream in neon.
Settle? Could do everything but. Every beat, pulse – even pause, makes you want to dance.
As a rap album, it is impeccable. So raw, but very meticulous all the same.
Haim—Days Are Gone
Was ambivalent at first, but a second listen through (with special attention to the melody sequencing) had me in love. So many genres, pitches. There seems to be a song on the album that appeals to everyone.
Kurt Vile—Wakin on a Pretty Daze
Nothing more to say about this album other than it came out in April and I’m still in love with it.
Mutual Benefit—Love’s Crushing Diamond
Always a little skeptical of folk albums in this decade. This one does a little more than yelp Americana beliefs, however. It’s tragic, honest, and just beautiful.
Dark coos and light strums make for an eclectic and effervescent portrait of human emotions.
10. Superchunk—I Hate Music
25 years on, and they’re still putting out the prettiest, most wistfully melodic punk there is. Honest, heartfelt, and reflective.
9. Sigur Rós—Kveikur
In a career filled with extraordinary albums, this might be their best yet.
8. Chance the Rapper—Acid Rap
Take the hedonism and strangled yawp of classic-mixtape-era Lil Wayne, combine it with bright and brio-filled 90’s-esque production: how could you go wrong?
7. El-P and Killer Mike—Run the Jewels
Ruthless, hard-hitting, venomous, and utterly captivating.
6. Autre ne Veut—Anxiety
Like if Prince and TV on the Radio had insane, tantric, emotionally-unhealthy sex.
5. Danny Brown—Old
Simultaneously hedonistic and reflective, a molly-tinged look at an impoverished upbringing and rocky road to fame. One of the most important MC’s alive.
4. Boards of Canada—Tomorrow’s Harvest
As cold and mechanical as their previous work was lush and natural, but just as captivating and brilliant. The soundtrack to space-stations drifting quietly in their orbits.
A record of breathtakingly brutal force and majesty. Post-rock, shoegaze, and metal all bound together and ignited with rocket fuel. Staggeringly good.
2. Earl Sweatshirt—Doris
“Bruising gimmicks with the broom he usually use for Quidditch / Gooey writtens, scoot ‘em to a ditch, chewed and booty-scented / Too pretentious to pretend like he could lose with spitting / Steaming tubes of poop and twisting doobies full of euphemisms.” The kid is a genius.
1. Kanye West–Yeezus
I cannot bring myself to write any more about this album, but I will go to my grave convinced of its brilliance.
Lars Garvey Laing-Peterson
1. Boards of Canada—Tomorrow's Harvest
Eight years after The Campfire Headphase, Boards of Canada finally released their fourth studio album, and it may just be their finest to date. That being the case, I'm not sure what other album deserves to the be considered the best of the year. Tomorrow's Harvest was the best of the pack of phenomenal albums to emerge in June, and as the year came to a close it was still ahead of the game.
2. Sigur Rós—Kveikur
Usually when bands lose members, especially a musician who has spent thirteen years of their life as part of that band, something suffers or drastically changes. Not so with Kveikur. While there is noticeably more grit and darkness on the album than on the two preceding albums, this is unmistakably Sigur Rós. Kveikur feels like a darker cousin of ( ), perhaps the best record Sigur Rós have ever released.
3. Jon Hopkins—Immunity
Another album that arrived in June and was perhaps overshadowed by the Boards of Canada, Sigur Rós, Deafheaven, and Kanye albums that followed after it, undeservedly so. I've had my eye on Hopkins since 2009's Insides. His soundtrack to the film Monsters became a favorite record of mine, and Immunity unveils the London-based producer at the height of his powers.
4. Girls Names—The New Life
I didn't care too much for Girls Names' earlier work, but with their deft shift towards a more post-punk, Pixies-inspired sound, the band put out the best indie rock record since Wild Nothing's Nocturne.
5. Merchandise—Totale Nite
Yet another brilliant outing from these former Tampa punk rockers. Totale Nite masterfully interweaves the bands '80s influences with their unique songwriting, creating a phenomenal, lasting document.
6. Haim—Days Are Gone
My dear friend Alan Szymkowiak got me into Haim back when the girls were releasing singles every couple of months, and as much as I truly enjoyed those tracks I worried they might be the debut's high-water marks. Save for the dreadful "My Song 5," Days Are Gone is as striking a debut record as one could hope for.
7. Brothers in Law—Hard Time for Dreamers
My disappointment in the Beach Fossil's weak second album was easily forgotten when I stumbled across Brothers in Law over at Sounds Better With Reverb. Shoegaze is alive and well in the hearts of these Italians, and I can't wait to see what they have to offer up next.
8. CHVRCHES—The Bones of What You Believe
It took me a while to overcome the comparisons to Passion Pit sites like Pitchfork kept making, but I'm very glad I did. This is everything an electro-pop album should be and more: catchy, yet not lacking in depth; filled with hooks, but not brimming with saccharine. It will be interesting to see how CHVRCHES proceed from this fantastic debut.
9. Tim Hecker—Virgins
I've been mildly obsessed with Tim Hecker ever since Jack Snyder pushed me to give Ravedeath, 1972's sister album Dropped Pianos a listen. Yet again, Hecker comes through with a thoughtful, haunting work, interested as much in the textures and sound of music as in its composition.
10. Norma—The Invisible Mother
There truly isn't a great way to try to sum up Norma, other than to say that they are a brilliant, criminally underrated band, and have been a favorite of mine ever since they dropped their EP 1 a few years back. The Invisible Mother continues the group's phenomenal track record. If you haven't heard of them, I highly recommend checking out their most recent album and their debut, Book of Norma.
Hanne Kolstø—Stillness and Panic
Real Magic—Deep Breathing
Flyying Colours—Self-titled EP
Tape Deck Mountains—Sway
El-P and Killer Mike—Run the Jewels