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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2013 (10-1)

10. Slow Focus---Fuck Buttons
        Fuck Buttons isn't really the kind of duo who cares a whole lot about subtleties; nearly every moment of Slow Focus is designed to pummel you into submission, filling every square centimeter of your eardrums with sound and motion. Album opener Brainfreeze wastes no time getting this point across, ripping into life with pounding percussion before ushering in a savage synth howl. As oppressive as the band's sound can be, there's also something celestial, almost god-fearing about the music they create. Hidden XS seems to stare up at the stars in mind-melting wonderment, while the goofy squeaks and stutters that open The Red Wing eventually build up into something massive and awe-inspiring. The instrumental outfit has no need for words; their unnerving bombast says more than enough.

9. Pure Heroine---Lorde      
        No 2013 album captured the excitement, confusion, romance, and contradictions of growing up quite like Pure Heroine, and perhaps there's a reason. Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O'Connor, the elaborately-named kiwi who records as Lorde, signed her record deal with Universal at the ripe-old age of 13, and only just turned 17 near the start of November. Her voice, smoky and wise beyond her years, relays youthful, rebellious daydreams that the teenager wrote herself, delivered over minimal beats. PH derives more than a little inspiration from mainstream hip hop, that genre's normative looped backings and brand-name roll calls forming a unique, unnerving bond with sing-song girl pop. As singular and fully-realized a debut as you're ever going to hear from a teen Top 40 prodigy.
8. Static---Cults
        Hype Starts Here's Most Criminally Overlooked Album of 2013, Static makes good on each and every single promise made by the duo's 2011 self-titled debut, then goes six steps further. While the disc maintains Cults' Phil Spektor-inspired girl-pop influence, this batch of tunes is decidedly more moody, lent muscle by an unexpected emphasis on the rhythm section. Check out how the steady drum rolls of I Could Never Make You Mine secretly power the track, or how the bass rumble of Were Before infuses the number with a brawniness that builds up to it's sing-a-long intentions in masterful fashion. Band figureheads/lovers Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion suffered a break-up around the recording of their sophomore effort, and while it's easy to read too far into that kind of thing, the desperation of We've Got It, as well as So Far's callous kiss-off, make avoiding such speculation nearly impossible. Emotionally stormy and musically assured, Static is one of the finer break-up LPs you'll ever get your mitts on.
7. The 20/20 Experience---Justin Timberlake
        Justin Timberlake is both a notable former member of the moseketeers, and the undeniable face of the entire Boy Band movement: needless to say, there's a cheese factor to everything he does from here on out. 20/20 wisely doubles-down on this fact, neglecting the standard come-ons of the airwaves in favor of an album characterized by matrimony and devotion. JT once again finds himself surrounded by Timbaland's impeccable production, nearly each song ballooning out past seven minutes, swelling and evolving with irrepressible kinetic energy. The disc is stocked with dance-floor-fillers (Don't Hold the Wall, Let the Groove Get In) and earnestly amorous offerings (That Girl, Mirrors) in equal measure, ten tracks that offer the pop icon an appropriately grand stage on which to perform. One of the finest, 'event,' albums in recent memory, Timberlake's long-awaited return to the world of music makes good on its hype, and then some.
6. Jai Paul---Jai Paul
        Jai Paul sounds kind of like its album cover looks; technicolored, chaotic, over-stuffed, enveloping, and wall-to-wall fun. Uploaded to Bandcamp via an anonymous source this last April, Paul still neglects to call this 16-track offering a proper album, but if the mysterious Brit has a better debut LP up his sleeve, I'd sure like to hear it. Anything is possible within the confines of Jai Paul, from unforeseeable covers (Jennifer Paige's Crush) to songs introduced by gentleman lords (Track 12) and swinging swords (Track 13). Besides the two tracks previously released by Paul over the last few years (Jasmine and BTSTU), the, 'stolen,' files all remain unnamed beyond a simple number, though listeners will have little trouble relocating Track 3's seductive gallop, or the beach-based hum of Track 15. R&B for the unhinged, psychedelic schizophrenic in all of us, Jai Paul's debut probably wasn't supposed to greet our ears when it did, but let's call it a happy accident.
5. M B V---My Bloody Valentine
        Producing a follow-up to a break-through record can prove mighty difficult, but it usually doesn't take 22 years. That's the span of time between My Bloody Valentine's now-canonical Heartless and their 2013 semi-self-titled comeback, only the groups' third LP, and an instant classic upon arrival. The band's sound is unlike anything else in the current musical landscape, hazy voices and undulating guitars pressing up against razor-sharp distortion, never more inviting than it is aggressive, or vice versa. Kevin Shields' airy croon wafts over nearly all the proceedings, resting gently atop if i am's billowy soundscape, gazing at the heavens on early single new you. Welcome back, My Bloody Valentine. Please, stay a while.
4. Random Access Memories---Daft Punk
        The Event Album of the Year! If expectations for their first LP in six years weren't lofty enough, Daft Punk's Random Access Memories set the bar even higher for itself, employing an expansive marketing campaign, lasting nearly an hour and fifteen minutes, and sparing no single expense where sound quality and production value are concerned. Thankfully, RAM delivers on just about every immoderate-sounding level, offering up an affectionate celebration of the band's idols and inspirations that sees no problem with giving Giorgio Moroder and Paul Williams the prime real estate over the likes of Julian Casablancas and Panda Bear. The manor in which Daft Punk ditches their pounding electronic sound in favor of 60's and 70's affectations might rub some fans the wrong way, but I personally can't help but RSVP to the duo's enormous party with an immediate and resounding, 'yes.'
3. Doris---Earl Sweatshirt
        Thebe Neruda Kgositsile is that rarest of things; a genuine prodigy within his field whose talents are impossible to ignore, even upon first listen. His debut LP has the kind of backstory (Odd Future linage, boarding school in Samoa, celebrity at the age of 19) that can overshadow the tracks contained within, but Doris simply doesn't allow it, 44 minutes of one thornily intricate verse after another, all on top of sinister, trunk-rattling beats. Even the disc's most sophomoric tracks (Sasquatch, Guild) feature all manner of complex wordplay, while album highlights like Hive and Whoa employ a level of literacy that would make an English major jealous. This all goes without mentioning the LP's beating heart, witnessed on the messy break-up song Sunday, as well as the unnervingly autobiographical Chum. It's not always wise to refer to kids as geniuses, but on Doris, Earl doesn't really give us a choice.
2. Yeezus---Kanye West
        Do you remember the first time you heard Yeezus? (If your answer to this question is, "I've never heard Yeezus," please stop reading, and click on this link right now) I sure do, and I'm not likely to soon forget the sound of, 'the world's biggest rock star,' dismantling his previously established image limb by limb. Following in the footsteps of 808's and Heartbreak, Yeezus is a completely left-field offering from Mr. West, an album that defies easy genre categorizing by marrying Nine Inch Nails to Ratatat to Death Grips to... well... Kanye West. Clocking in at an explosive 40 minutes, no single track does justice to the feeling of experiencing Yeezus in its entirety, a perverse journey through the id of the universe's ultimate narcissist. A virtual poster-child for Parental Guidance albums the world over, West's latest is a sucker punch in the gut of mainstream hip hop's self-imposed limitations, a furious, sordid journey into the mind of this century's most confounding major artist.
1. Modern Vampires of the City---Vampire Weekend
        I've always liked Vampire Weekend, but nothing could have prepared me for Modern Vampires of the City. The band's soul-baring third LP positively obliterates any previously established ceiling for these boys from Colombia, upping their emotional urgency ten-fold while maintaining much of the wikipedia-bred, know-it-all smart-assery upon which they made their name. Ezra Koenig has never been in such fine form, delivering lyrics full of existential dread (Don't Lie), devoted pleas (Everlasting Arms), and economic despair (Obvious Bicycle). While the initial stretch indeed provides riches galore, subsequent listens breath new life into both Finger Back and Worship You, the album ushered out on the wings of Young Lion's lovely, wistful flight. MVotC is an album built to last, comprised of songs that pop upon introduction, as well as those ripe for re-listens, a record that appeals to both the perfectionist and mess-maker inside of all of us.

Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2013:

Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2013:

Friday, December 27, 2013

Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2013 (20-11)

20. Cupid's Head---The Field
        Axel Willner doesn't write songs so much as he creates worlds, each number expanding endlessly, filling up more space and traversing more territory through-out their massive runtimes. Cupid marks the third straight release in which the producer has reduced the number of tracks, and inflated their average length, allowing for ever-mounting tension (They Won't See Me) as well as surprise epilogues (Black Sea). Describing The Field as dance music is a bit of a tough sell; while the project's pulse and rhythms often prompt movement, the urge to explore each track with your ears tends to take over by mid-tune. Willmer is a tour-guide first, musician second, exposing you to one new and exotic local after another. 
19. New Moon and Campfire Songs EP---The Men
        Almost exactly a year after releasing the 2012's best rock album, Open Your Heart, The Men came back with New Moon, an LP that again sees the boys wearing new clothes. Their latest swaps out OYH's largeness in favor of variety, ranging from Open the Door's moony affections to Supermoon's face-melting solo-a-thon, all seemingly set in the 60's or 70's. Bonus points for their year-ending Campfire Songs EP, a collection of ditties that was recorded, yes, around an actual campfire. The conceit may be kind of tacky, but its a treat to hear album hits I Saw Her Face and The Seeds in the guise of stripped-down minimalism.

18. MCII---Mikal Cronin
        MCII is the epitome of the all-killer-no-filler idiom, consisting of ten tracks that want nothing more than to kick back, rock out, and become immovably stuck in your head. How else do you explain Weight, the album's opener that gorgeously fuses pop and rock into one deliciously sun-kissed concoction. Perhaps more so than any other 2013 offering, Cronin's latest bares treasures that are only uncovered on subsequent listens, like the blast-off frenzy of Turn Away, or the lovely closer Piano Mantra. What MCII proves, above all else, is that Mikal Cronin can write a mean tune.

17. Fuzz---Fuzz
        Another year, another slew of new Ty Segall projects. As a participant in five (!) disparate musical outfits, the singer-songwriter has released six albums since the start of 2012, spanning rock, punk, folk, blues, and anything else that can be recorded in lo-fi. For my money, the man's music is best when it's at its scuzziest, and Fuzz's self-titled debut is nothing if not that, raging relentlessly, begging to be played at full blast. Fuzz again pairs Segall with guitarist Charles Moothart, the ax-man who lent last year's Slaughterhouse both its snarling brutality, and intuitive hooks, the results here proving just as glorious.

16. Woman---Rhye

        Lush doesn't even begin to describe Woman, a woozy collection of love songs that brings to mind autumn's slowly falling leaves. Mike Milosh's wispy voice glides delicately over each new musical concoction, a lovely mist hanging above R&B instrumentation so mellow, you'd be tempted to call it soft rock, or even lounge music. The disc opens with the sound of violins and chimes, immediately alluding to the variety and beauty to follow, from The Fall's sturdy piano spine, to the timid horns that round out 3 Days. Everything here goes down smooth, the sultry sway of Rhye's debut disc swathed in soft affection and sensuousness.
15. Regions of Light and Sound of God---Jim James
        My Morning Jacket may be on the downswing, but lead singer Jim James is just getting started. Regions is far softer and less arena-filling in its ambitions than any MMJ disc will ever be, tossing out big crescendos in favor of smooth, spacious grooves. As always, James has no problem filling up a room with his voice, but it's a welcome change of pace to hear it happen over such contented and sunny sounds (A New Life, Of the Mother Again). It won't make heads bang like It Still Moves or Z, but Regions' heart-on-sleeve songs of mellow gratitude and bliss are just as thrilling in their own subtle ways.
14. 6 Feet Beneath the Moon---King Krule

        The first time that I actually saw Archy Marshall sing, I literally laughed out loud; how could this be the face behind King Krule? That was back in 2011, when the shrimpy British copper-top was only 16-years-old, and while the years past have indeed seen the young troubadour age, it still comes as a bit of a shock that someone still in their teens could make something as adventurous and full-bodied as 6 Feet. His raspy howl ever intact, Marshall tries on all kinds of musical clothes, from opener Easy Easy's guitar-pop, to Baby Blue's lazy waltz, to Neptune Estate's madcap multi-tracking. A unique talent with an established sound upon arrival, 6 Feet is just the first stellar LP of what I expect to be a long reign for King Krule.
13. My Name Is My Name---Pusha T
        Back when Kanye West's, "That's why I stand by this n****," rant first made its way across the internet back in early September, it was easy to dismiss the speech as Yeezy Being Yeezy, but upon hearing My Name Is My Name, Kanye's excitement feels like the only proper reaction. The Clipse-alum's flow is in fine form, completely ignoring the faster-is-better ideology that permeates hip hop far too often these days in favor of highlighting his signature wheeze and rasp. The beats, as curated by Pusha's aforementioned advocate, are multi-faceted, but often lean towards cold, cavernous arrangements which allow the MC to fully bare his teeth. The leering Numbers on the Board and the brilliantly titled autobiography Nosetalgia stand as particular highlights, buy My Name is a winner through-out, 11 tracks that establish one of the genre's elder-statemen as here to stay.

12. Repave---Volcano Choir
        Anyone who listens to Bon Iver knows that Justin Vernon is capable of creating something beautiful, but on Unmap, his debut as the frontman of Volcano Choir, the crooner seemed more interested in the willfully esoteric. While there's nothing wrong with that exactly, it's tough not to relish Repave's return to the foundation-shaking balladry that Vernon made his name on, the majority of the band's eccentricities having been sanded off over the past few years. Singles Comrade and Byegone show the expanse and power alluded to by the album's cover, while the glittering Tiderays and the sinewy Dancepack are no slouches in the supporting cast. If you've spent even an iota of your time lamenting Bon Iver's current hiatus, you owe it to yourself to give Repave a listen.
11. Trouble Will Find Me---The National
        So Trouble Will Find Me turned out to be a grower; what album by The National isn't? While Sea of Love immediately sounded like one of the best tracks of the band's career, much of the album initially played into the Dad-Rock genre tag that the group had been beating back for years, Heavenfaced and Slipped being particular offenders. A few spins, of course, breathed life into the moody The is The Last Time, world-conquering Graceless, and the melancholy jubilance of Pink Rabbits, and that's only the tip of the iceberg. The National is immune to knee-jerk reactions; give their songs a few more listens, and they'll win you over every time.

Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2013:

Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2013:

Monday, December 23, 2013

Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2013 (30-21)

30. Watching Home Movies with the Sound Off (Deluxe Edition)---Mac Miller
        You know that one frat boy you knew in college, the one who had that same machoism as the others, but a goofy streak or a soft side that made him kind of lovable? His name is Mac Miller, and he just recorded one of 2013's finest hip hop albums. Watching Home Movies is unrepentant in any sense of the word: its starry production credits are all across the board, crude humor and juvenilia are everywhere the eye can see, and the runtime creeps up on and hour and twenty minutes. And, oh yeah, it's one of the year's most fun listens, perhaps a guilty pleasure, but a pleasure nonetheless.  

29. Versions---Zola Jesus
        It's not exactly a coincidence that Versions sounds strangely familiar upon first listen. Five of the album's nine tracks appeared on Zola Jesus' most recent LP, Conatus, here trading in the 2011 offering's electronic pulse for a positively gorgeous smattering of violins and cellos. For my money, Nika Roza Danilova's songs are far more impactful in this orchestral setting, the opening surge of Hikikomori gaining immediacy since we last heard it, the crescendo of Fall Back nearly blowing the roof off.

28. Wakin On A Pretty Daze---Kurt Vile
        So I was a little exuberant on my initial review of Wakin On A Pretty Daze; sue me, why don't you? In my defense, the highs of Kurt Vile's latest are deliriously high, from the jam-session bookend of Wakin on a Pretty Day and Goldtone, to the gleeful self-depriciation of Shame Chamber, on down to the moody-as-can-be Girl Called Alex. Perhaps Daze isn't as much of a track-by-track triumph as I'd initially alluded, but the album still contains many a track to get lost in, and Vile himself is an absolute virtuoso on that six string.
27. Long.Live.A$AP (Deluxe Edition)---A$AP Rocky
        The only thing that I don't really love about A$AP Rocky's major label debut is... well... A$AP Rocky. The guy's not exactly a stiff, but he's in some pretty damn fine company, rapping atop stellar production from the likes of Hit-Boy and Clams Casino, trading verses with Kendrick Lamar and Drake, bouncing off hooks sung by Santigold and Florence Welch. It may be empty calories, but it's delicious, catchy as hell, and far and away the best Stupid Party Rap album of the past year.
26. Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action---Franz Ferdinand
        Yeah, I know, you stopped listening to Franz Ferdinand around five years ago, but seriously, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actiorocks! An unmitigated dose of the surging, fun-first, everything-else-last approach that garnered the band attention in the first place, RTRWRA serves as a  a chunky, catchy return to form. Employing the, 'album as concert,' conceit championed on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Franz's latest ushers you straight up to the front row, inviting the affections of all on Love Illumination, sending bodies into motion with Evil Eye's creepy groove.

25. Overgrown---James Blake
        James Blake's self-titled debut was a classic on arrival, fusing dubstep with R&B and pop, all presented with beguiling nocturnal minimalism. Needless to say, Overgrown had its work cut out for it, but on tracks like the swirling, enveloping Digital Lion, or the love-ballad-from-another-planet Retrograde, the British wunderkind actually manages to do himself one better. Overgrown confirms what we should have known all along; Blake is no fluke, and he's here to stay.

24. Cupid Deluxe---Blood Orange
        On the second album of his Blood Orange project, Dev Hynes serves more as of a curator than anything else. Chairlift's Caroline Polachek features on the album's lead single, Dirty Projectors' Dave Longstreth croons on No Right Thing, Samantha Urbani snags the albums' juiciest hook on It Is What It Is, yet Hynes remains the protagonist. Cupid Deluxe is his vision; kinetic, emotive, and unnervingly honest through-out all of its almost-ready-for-the-dance-floor runtime.
23. Junip---Junip
        Hey, everybody; I found José González! The soulful Swede, who hasn't crafted an LP in his own name since 2007's In Our Nature, has found a new home in his (apparently pre-exiting?) band Junip, and while previous releases under the moniker showed promise, Junip steps it up a notch. Check out the muscles on seemingly subdued Your Life Your Call, and while you're at it, get bowled over by the grandeur of Line of Fire and So Clear.
        If you're looking to get another Kids or Time to Pretend out of MGMT's self-titled latest, you'll be sorely out of luck. Where their previous disc, Congratulations, toiled in an uncomfortable middle ground between their famed twee pop and the boys' more psychedelic inclinations, MGMT lets its freak flag fly, and might just be the best album of the band's career. Willfully loony and filled with tiny oddball flourishes, Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser's 2013 offering has no apparent interest in scaling the pop charts again; when you can take listeners on wierdo trips to space and back again in under 45 minutes, hit singles must seem boring.
21. AM---Arctic Monkeys
        The Arctic Monkeys have never sounded so plodding, and somehow, I mean that as a big compliment. Trading in their fleet-of-foot dance rock in favor of billowing power chords and a chunky rhythm section, AM is a rollicking 40+ minutes that's far more ready for bobbing heads than moving feet. Almost everything here sticks, from the sordid opening trudge of Do I Wanna Know? to the chant-and-stomp of Knee Socks; these guys know how to throw a party, gyrating hips be damned.

Hype Starts Here's Top 50 Albums of 2013:

Hype Starts Here's Top 100 Songs of 2013: