Friday, December 20, 2013

Happy Holidays!

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday. I will be taking a break on the blog until January 6, 2013. See you then!

Jam of the Day: Saol Álainn - "Nostroke"

Glitch-pop track from Saol Álainn, which is actually the nom de plume of Foster The People keyboard player Isom Innis. It has a very Notwist vibe to it, so of course it is wonderful.

2013 Favorite Albums (10-1)

And finally, here are my top ten favorite albums of 2013:

10. Jon Hopkins - Immunity

Over the course of three solo releases, UK producer Jon Hopkins made beautiful yet fairly unmemorable techno that never seemed to push him into the next level of electronic artists. It wasn't until high profile collaborations with Brian Eno, Coldplay and Underworld and his collaboration with King Creosote on the 2011 Mercury Prize nominated album Diamond Mine that finally started getting him name recognition. These opportunities seemingly have jump started his creative juices, leading him to create his best album so far, and not only that, one of the best techno releases of the year. Immunity is a self-described journey through a night of clubbing, taking the listener through the highs and lows of a evening out on the town, where music is both a release, a tormentor, and ultimately a savior.

9. Disclosure - Settle

UK production duo Disclosure, brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence, occupy a strange position in dance music. They aren't a straight up dance act, their strengths definitely lie more in the pop song area, however, they aren't necessarily solidly in the traditional pop song structure world either, letting things go on occasion with straight up house tracks. It's this tension and flirtation between the two areas that makes them so fascinating. Not to mention, they know how to come up with some killer hooks. Before the release of their debut album Settle, Disclosure release a torrent of hot singles, the slamming club track "White Noise" with AlunaGeorge, R&B leaning "Latch" with Sam Smith, and kooky UK garage referencing "You & Me" with Eliza Dolittle. My fear was that the album would be these singles plus a lot of filler, but Settle actually goes beyond that, revealing itself to be a surprisingly cohesive journey from the duo, flowing like a good DJ set, with lots of highs mixed in with different styles.

8. Boards of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest

Almost outclassing Daft Punk in the marketing department, Boards of Canada slyly reappeared after a 7 year absence with a viral ad campaign that had secret 12"s being left in record bins, strange bar codes, a Tokyo billboard announcement, and a desert listening party, with everything adding to the mystery of what BoC were up to, and now we are left with the final product, their fourth album Tomorrow's Harvest. Possibly named after a website that deals with food production and preparation for emergency situations, and appears to cater to doomsday minded people, Tomorrow's Harvest has a slightly sinister and dark quality to it that permeates all of the 17 tracks. Likewise, brothers Mike Sandison and Marcus Eoin have indicated that their influences this go around went to soundtracks from John Carpenter, Wendy Carlos, and Mark Isham, creating a tension and almost off-putting edge to these tracks that gives the album an uncomfortable air of dread and unease. It is like they wanted to completely distance themselves from the pastoral IDM they put forth on their last record, The Campfire Headphase, and delve further into the darker territory they were mapping out on Geogaddi. The resulting record plays like a compendium of all their works, fractured through their current mood and viewpoint. Instead of drastically reinventing the wheel, Sandison and Eoin have made what is undeniably a Boards of Canada record, but one that expands upon the legacy created and adds a new, almost twisted spin to things.

7. Pet Shop Boys - Electric

Last year's record from the Pet Shop Boys, Elysium, their final record for longtime label Parlaphone, felt like a death knell for the venerable pop duo. Full of lyrics about fading away and aging, the dour atmosphere of the record was a far cry from their more upbeat and fun records. So it was a surprise when they announced the quick follow up to that record, Electric. Promised as a return to their dance roots, the boys enlisted the help of producer Stuart Price (Madonna, Killers) who knows his way around a dancefloor. Over these 9 club friendly tracks, Electric pulses and swoons with dark beats and majestic synths, harking back to their glorious dancefloor masterpiece Introspective. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe seem incredibly inspired this go around, turning out their best record since Very, and while it is not as eclectic, its sleek and consistent tone more than make up for it.

6. Forest Swords - Engravings

On 2010's almost album length EP Dagger Paths, British producer Matthew Barnes expertly blurred the lines between electronic and organic music, seamlessly incorporating elements of house, dub, dubstep, folk, drone, and R&B. It was fascinating listening to how he put rhythms and sequences together, and how just as tracks seemed to verge on too repetitious, he was would slightly alter things to put focus on new or even lesser elements, changing your perspective as one walks around a sculpture. There has been nothing since that adventurous release until now, Barnes suffering through some almost permanent hearing problems (since rectified) and also the bold attempts at creating his music out in nature, which he reluctantly scrapped in favor of studio recording, but subsequently mixed out in the open. Not much has changed with Barnes' musical approach and outlook in those three years, his debut full length Engravings is essentially cut from the same mold, but Barnes' focus has become razor sharp and the way he mixes all the various elements together into a seamless whole is practically brilliant. All of the tracks are built upon loops that gradually unfold, allowing you to hear their purpose, going in certain directions only to be pulled back from again, or driven against expectation, the lines between natural and electronic constantly blurred. Engravings is a deeply emotional and spiritual listen, taking you deep inside your head and thoughts; it is big music, and important music, but never less than grounded.

5. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires Of The City

At times, Vampire Weekend seem to be the easiest band to hate in the world. Dismissed a lot of times as upper-class, pretentious posers who wrongfully appropriated Afro-pop, few have ever really dared to look at how such appropriation itself was an wry, ironic take on just such appropriation. Despite all this hatred towards their J.Crew take on such musical genres, few could really deny that the band has its chops, and the juicy lyrically interplay was enough to stump even the most scholarly of critics. While there is nothing overtly different on Modern Vampires of the City, multiple listens of the record reveal a staggering jump in confidence and approach to their sound. For the first time, Vampire Weekend have dropped their snooty archness and reveal a truly emotional and warm heart that permeates the record. Ezra Koenig inhabits these characters and stories as if they are his second skin. Lyrically, there are still the usual arcane references, in-jokes, puns, and elaborate catalogs of events and place names, but instead of used in a pat-my-own-back style, they are used in a way that integrates fully with the characters and stories. Modern Vampires of the City is Vampire Weekend's most emotionally mature and "adult" record, a chronicle of growing up and realizing that the young always want to be older and the old want to be younger, never fully experiencing life in the moment and with purpose, but sadly with regret.

4. Braids - Flourish/Perish

Braids' debut album Native Speaker was not one of my favorite records of 2011, I will admit. All the elements were there, but for some reason it never really came together as a whole for me. Mainly, singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston's voice tended to fly off out of control, never bringing me into the music, always holding me back from truly connecting me with their sound. Of course, with second record Flourish/Perish, I was not holding out hope that there would be any specific alteration of their aesthetic for me to change my opinion. Somehow my expectations of the record, low as they were, were completely shocked by such a controlled and skilled almost masterpiece of a record. Raphaelle Standell-Preston, whose voice is actually quite lovely, keeps her voice almost firmly in check this go around, which draws you in instead of smacking you across the face with her vocal flights of fancy. And this record, aside from one track, eschews guitars and focuses exclusively on keyboards and electronics, forging a record that appears to almost be a merger of Radiohead's glitchy masterpiece Kid A and Bjork's quiet electronic hymnal Vespertine.

3. James Blake - Overgrown

James Blake almost lost me. Over the course of his initial EPs, Blake showed that he was a new voice in electronic music that needed to be listened to closely. His unique take on UK bass music, adding a more soulful and even folkier vibe, made him stand out from his contemporaries. When he dropped his amazing take on Fiest's song "Limit To Your Love," showing the world that in addition to his sublime production skills he was also an extremely talented singer, I knew I had to play close to attention to whatever Blake would subsequently do. When his debut James Blake was released I was crushingly disappointed with the finished product. Instead of using the EPs and his new found love of the singer-songwriter aesthetic as a jumping off point, Blake fell flat, releasing a record of almost barely formed sketches. It was like Blake was stuck between both of his muses, not knowing how to reconcile them. I tried over and over again to get my head around what he was doing, and just couldn't connect with it. His subsequent EPs did nothing to assure me that this was a mere misstep and that brilliance would be around the corner. Overgrown finally shows that Blake has the balls to do what he wants, and backs it up time and time again with songs that toy with your expectations and emotions. This is music that is expertly constructed, but never goes where you think it will go, making you work for a connection but always providing immense release when you do. Overgrown is a hauntingly sad record, full of regrets, missed opportunities, and deep melancholy; however, it is not a depressing record, the music is too alive and intricately plotted for it to be mired in cheap sentiment. His debut was similarly situated but the songs never felt concrete or purposeful, tending to deal with oblique, looping fragments, never coalescing into something meaningful. Here, almost every track feels like it is carrying the weight of the world, Blake shouldering intense emotion.

2. Local Natives - Hummingbird

The album cover for Local Natives' sophomore album Hummingbird shows a man desperately clinging to the roof of a building, legs dangling out into the clouds, surrounded by two faceless men who seem unable to help. The image sets the tone for the record, a melancholy and bleak collection of tracks full of doubts, fears, and loneliness. A far cry from the upbeat and joyously goofy debut album Gorilla Manor, Hummingbird comes from a darker place, influenced by the departure of bassist Andy Hamm and the death of singer Kelcey Ayer's mother. The characters that inhabit these songs fear abandonment, live through abusive relationships, suffer crippling self-doubt, essentially being thrown out into the cold world unprotected by the youthful dreams of their counterparts in Gorilla Manor. Fittingly, this bleaker and more realistic view of the world comes with a more mature musical and production approach. While Gorilla Manor was loose and free and very lo-fi, Hummingbird, produced by The National's Aaron Dessner, amps up things considerably, featuring a clearer and more polished technique, giving these songs breadth and depth not apparent on their debut. It also seems that touring with The National and with Arcade Fire has given the band greater confidence to expand their sound into grander territory.

1. Chvrches - The Bones Of What You Believe

Scottish trio CHVRCHES burst on the scene last year with two hard hitting electro-pop tracks, "Lies" and "The Mother We Share," which paired dense, over the top club tracks with Lauren Mayberry's soft yet confident vocals adding a nice organic contrast to the machine created sounds. With each subsequent single they kept raising the bar higher and higher for themselves, and now with the release of their debut full length, The Bones Of What You Believe, we now have a year's worth of work to evaluate, and what they have ended up with is the best pop album of the year. Working from a limited palate, merely keyboards and drum programming, CHVRCHES are able to put together a remarkably cohesive sound with subtle changes from track to track that provide textural and atmospheric interest while still smacking you left and right with some of the tastiest pop hooks. While there may be stronger albums released this year, none were as addictive as this record, which I found myself consistently going back to again and again.

Videos of the Week

Here is my last Videos of the Week post for 2013, hope you enjoy:

Striking clip from Phantogram.

Live performance from Atoms for Peace that shows what a formidable live act they are. Building from an almost minimalist base, the track evolves fluidly, until its breathtakingly overwhelming ending.

Spacey video from Metronomy.

Wonky track from Guerilla Toss gets an odd video featuring text statements from Honda about the popularity of stealing their cars.

Terry Richardson directed clip for the über ballad from Beyoncé's self-titled record.

Evocative video from Son Lux.

Big budget clip from the up and coming singer Chlöe Howl.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Jam of the Day: Laurel - "Fire Breather"

Evocative track from Laurel, who sounds like a cross between Lykke Li and Lana Del Ray.

Video: Phantogram - "Black Out Days"

Striking video from Phantogram.



I'd go hunting with him.





Hot chest and fur.

Yes, Daddy!


Come hither stare.

Ride em cowboy.

Beefy Dad.

Gorgeous tatt.


Amazing body.




Stop going on FB and asking people for money for your projects. Get a damn job and stop expecting everything to be handed to you.

Does Trent Reznor have a comb over?

I just don't find white briefs attractive or sexy on a man.

RIP Peter O'Toole

Not every post requires you to make some snarky and/or sexual comment.

I really enjoy working out early in the mornings. Call me crazy.

I always laugh when people ascribe meaning to horoscopes.

The thought of renting a tux gives me the heebie jeebies.

Hamish doesn't like it.

While I don't really care for Sampha's voice when he is the lead vocalist, his work as a backup singer is brilliant.

Andrew and I are planning a trip to Hawaii. It has almost been 10 years since I have been. I miss it so much.

I love bananas but hate banana flavored things. I love watermelon flavored things, but hate the taste of real watermelon. I do, however, love grapes as well as grape flavored things.

I hate it when a friend, who normally is intelligent and has their shit together, makes such a bafflingly bad decision.

Damn, I should have put this in my will.

I know I am way late to the bandwagon, but Mad Men is such an amazingly well-written and produced show.

If I don't know you that well, I truly don't want to hear a 15 minute diatribe about how horrible your job is and how Obama is ruining your Christmas. If you hate your job so much, find another one.

I was looking at Billboard's list of top selling albums for the year, and was surprised to see two records I had never heard about. I assume they are country records.

Poor Debbie, what about her needs?

I probably should have known at an early age that I was into bears when I had a crush on Yukon Cornelius.

I love that Obama is snubbing the Sochi Olympic Games and is sending two out lesbians as part of the US delegation. Fuck you Putin.

It has rather shocked me how many gay people have been defending Phil from Duck Dynasty after he made homophobic comments. This has nothing to do with freedom of speech.  There is no government interference involved in this situation.  You can have whatever opinion you like, however, that does not absolve you from the consequences of voicing that opinion.

It must take a lot of energy to be that narcissistic and egocentric.

The best Christmas special is Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas.


Naps are highly underrated.

I love that Andrew and I have almost no plans this weekend. Sunday is supposed to be rainy all day, so we plan on making chili and watching Lawrence of Arabia, which he has never seen. I have the box set in Blu-Ray, so it should look fabulous. I am a huge proponent of watching Lawrence of Arabia in the winter and Doctor Zhivago in the summer.

Probably one of the best compliments is when someone tells me that they want to hear someone's album after I have reviewed it.


Working with a recruiter is very interesting. I love how they are your best friend when trying to apply for a position, then they become elusive and cagey once the employer decides not to interview you.

I was watching Mad Men the other day and they surprised me by focusing on my favorite poet Frank O'Hara, and even read a portion of his beautiful poem "Mayakovsky." This verse in it always stops my breath for a moment:

"Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern.

The country is grey and
brown and white in trees,
snows and skies of laughter
always diminishing, less funny
not just darker, not just grey.

It may be the coldest day of
the year, what does he think of
that? I mean, what do I? And if I do,
perhaps I am myself again."

Your cute for the day.

Lyrics Rattling Around My Brain

"I couldn't find quiet
I went out in the rain
I was just soakin' my head to unrattle my brain
Somebody said you disappeared in a crowd
I didn't understand then
I don't understand now

Am I the one you think about when you're
Sitting in your faintin' chair drinking pink rabbits?
Am I the one you think about when you're
Sitting in your faintin' chair drinking pink rabbits?

And everybody was gone
You were standin' in the street 'cause you were tryin' not to crack up
It wasn't like a rain it was more like a sea
I didn't ask for this pain it just came over me
I love a storm, but I don't love lightning
All the waters coming up so fast, that's right

Am I the one you think about when you're
Sitting in your faintin' chair drinking pink rabbits?
Am I the one you think about when you're
Sitting in your faintin' chair drinking pink rabbits?

And everybody was gone
I was standing in the street 'cause I was trying not to crack

I was solid gold
I was in the fight
I was coming back from what seemed like a ruin
I couldn't see you coming so far
I just turn around and there you are

I'm so surprised you want to dance with me now
I was just getting used to living life without you around
I'm so surprised you want to dance with me now
You always said I held you way too high off the ground

You didn't see me I was falling apart
I was a white girl in a crowd of white girls in the park
You didn't see me I was falling apart
I was a television version of a person with a broken heart
You didn't see me I was falling apart
I was a white girl in a crowd of white girls in a park
You didn't see me I was falling apart
I was a television version of a person with a broken heart

And everybody was gone
You were standin' in the street
Cause you were trying not to crack up
Now I only think about los angeles when the sun kicks out
Now I only think about los angeles when the sun kicks out

You said it would be painless
The needle in the dark
You said it would be painless
It wasn't that at all
You said it would be painless
The needle in the dark
You said it would be painless
It wasn't that at all (when the sun kicks out)

You said it would be painless
The needle in the dark (when the sun kicks out)
You said it would be painless
It wasn't that at all"

The National
"Pink Rabbits"

"I don't want you to know
I took it with me
But when things are thrown away like they are daily
Time passes in the constant state
So if that is how it is

I don't wanna be a star
But a stone on the shore
Long door, frame the wall
When everything's overgrown

But what she really really wanted was my rights in the rooms
And I wouldn't understand that I would try to play along"

James Blake

"So many skinny pretty girls around
Honestly, I just wanna go down
Try to pretend there's nothing wild
Why do you treat yourself so bad

City's full of
City's full of
City's full of
Sissy pretty love

Your serious eyes dehumanize
What you wanted was never sad
Who blew the flames out of your eyes
Why do you treat yourself so bad

City's full of
City's full of
City's full of
Sissy pretty love yeah

City's full of, sissy pretty love yeah
City's full of, sissy pretty love,
Sissy pretty love
Sissy pretty love yeah

I love the stretch
marks on your thighs
I love the wrinkles
Around your eyes
I take you out darling
We dance all night
But when comes sunlight
You say
I'm going back home

City's full of, sissy pretty love yeah
City's full of, Sissy pretty love.
Sissy pretty love
Sissy pretty love yeah."

"City's Full"

Appealing Things

Season finale to Orange Is The New Black
Abel at after hours
Mad Men
The Notwist

Annoying Things

People at the gym who block machines
Videos now playing automatically on FB
The fact that my hands and feet are cold all the time

2013 Favorite Albums (20-11)

Almost to the end, here are my favorite records of 2013, Numbers 20 through 11:

20. Danny Brown - Old

Danny Brown's mixtape XXX was a messy record about drug-fueled desperation, and he warned that its follow up Old would only get deeper and more introspective. Split into two parts, Old is basically Brown's mind laid open bare, focusing on his past, present, and future selves, warts and all. Ruminations on his past drug use, dealing, and time in jail share space with more party-fueled, festival ready tracks. Brown shows that he is trying to distance himself from his past yet finds it clouds and colors everything he does. Sometimes he's able to get beyond it and sometimes not, all the while showing he is simply human and doing his best to not make the same mistakes. While this sounds dry on paper, Brown matches his lyrical ruminations with some of the most modern and edgy beats and backing you will hear today. Self-confessed to being influenced by records as diverse as Radiohead's Kid A, Joy Division's Closer, and Love's Forever Changes, Old is a rich, sonic tapestry that unfolds like a kaleidoscope, fractured against itself.

19. Beacon - The Ways We Separate

When I was growing up, the only way to hear music was over the radio, and radio stations were rigidly segmented in their own genres. You would rarely hear an R&B track on a Top 40 station and vice versa, and it was completely unheard of for a country song to appear anywhere but on a country station. In the Internet age, the ability in which to consume and absorb new music and genres is staggeringly easy, and it comes as no surprise that you get many new artists out there that combine different genres into one seamless whole. Brooklyn duo Beacon (Thomas Mullarney and Jacob Gossett) obviously benefit from this new found ease, as their first couple of EPs and now debut full length The Ways We Separate combine their love for future R&B, hip-hop, icy synthpop, UK bass music, and Warp-style IDM into a gorgeous mix of their own making. Thematically, The Ways We Separate explores how human beings separate themselves from each other, using a deliberately muted, minimal palate, that is not too far off from the debuts of acts like The xx and Purity Ring, which focus on a signature sound and walk around it like a sculpture, showing off different facets from different angles. The main complaints I have heard about this record is that it all seems one-note. While I understand that criticism, I think overall, it misses the point that the songs here are meant to flow together as a whole, and I appreciated the clean lines and surfaces that act as a foundation for the record.

18. My Bloody Valentine - m b v

I guess we need to see if hell has frozen over and pigs are now flying, as the unthinkable occurred: there is a new My Bloody Valentine record after a 22 year wait. There really is no objective way to review this album, as it comes loaded with so much backstory and history. Following the pretty much perfect record Loveless, there is absolutely no way any other music could even remotely hope to come close to it. Luckily, Kevin Shields and company realized this, and have don't what any rational band should do after creating their masterpiece, they made a record on their own terms. This is not Loveless II, nor is it a reinvention of the wheel. m b v is merely a new My Bloody Valentine record that is unmistakably them, but also has the balls to tinker with their sound in interesting new directions.

17. A$AP Rocky - Long.Live.A$AP

New York rapper A$AP Rocky has been riding a huge wave of hype ever since he released his initial mixtape Live.Love.A$AP and snagged a monstrous $3 million deal from RCA records. For whatever reasons, his debut studio album was pushed back several times leading many people to assume RCA wasn't pleased with the results and now have dumped the release into that purgatorial beginning of the year period. I didn't have high hopes for the record either, but it is actually a very solid debut album from a rapper that knows his strengths and weaknesses and, for the most part, leans towards said strengths. First and foremost, A$AP surrounds himself with top-notch producers that provide him with some of the most interesting and atmospheric backing tracks for his raps. While his mixtape basically highlighted his work with Clams Casino, who is featured on two tracks here, he ventures out to utilize Hit-Boy, Skrillex, Lord Flacko, and T-Minus to provide more diversity while still putting together a cohesive group of tracks.

16. Sigur Ros - Kveikur

Sigur Rós' seventh studio album Kveikur finds the band at a crossroads. Their sound, so distinctive after all these years, had reached somewhat of a rut. After lead singer Jónsi's more jubilant solo record, I was expecting a change in direction (or perhaps even a disbandment), however, last year's album Valtari found the band right back where the started from with more proto-new agey post-rock. While I found myself enjoying Valtari with more detailed listens, I was still disappointed that the band wasn't really charting new territory. When pianist Kjartan Sveinsson left the band, I really thought that would be the end of Sigur Rós as he was such an intricate part of the band's sound and direction. What could have been seen as a hindrance to most bands seems to have been just what they needed, sparking much needed life into what had become too familiar and stale. Kveikur is not a reinvention of the band, but more a shaking off the cobwebs and finding new inspiration in what made them so intriguing and special to begin with. Instead of the songs retreating into themselves, they live, breath, and occupy space with an intensity that I thought Sigur Rós had somewhat lost. While I hadn't necessarily given up on the band, the constant desire from them to something even slightly different and not getting what I needed was beginning to wear thin. With Kveijkur, the Sigur Rós spark is back, and hopefully will continue to grow.

15. Tim Hecker - Virgins

Canadian ambient/drone artist Tim Hecker's 2011 release Ravedeath, 1972 was a game changer for me. I had listened to a lot of minimalist ambient and drone work before but never felt any sort of connection with the music. It was pretty at times, annoying at others, but always kept me at arms length. Tim Hecker, on the other hand, provided such a visceral impact with his compositions, breathing life and fire into each piece. The intensity of some of his work on Ravedeath, 1972 was so palpable it was almost emotionally overwhelming. To me, that seminal record was his masterpiece, and I hesitated to even begin listening to his latest work Virgins, as I feared any loss in quality might somehow lessen the impact of Ravedeath, 1972. It appears I needn't have worried as, if anything, that work spawned a more focused and energized artist, with Virgins offering up some of his most beautiful and haunting work. While it lacks the utter shock of the new that Ravedeath, 1972 provided, Virgins is a more streamlined affair, with many of the tracks hovering around the 3-4 minute mark, and only a few tracks going over 5 minutes. It is a dense and heady work though, yet never feels oppressive or too overly challenging. How Hecker is able to keep all these multiple layers of sound in the air without seeming jumbled is nothing short of amazing.

14. Fuck Buttons - Slow Focus

Through two albums, Bristol noise merchants Fuck Buttons (Benjamin Power and Andrew Hung) have tinkered and tweaked their sound from the claustrophobic interiorness of Street Horrrsing to the skyscraping technicolor of Tarot Sport, and have even found some popular success when part of their track "Surf Solar" found its way into the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. If you were thinking that nod would have changed their focus, you would be sadly mistaken. Slow Focus neither reinvents the wheel nor sounds like a retread of their past records, though it is unmistakably a Fuck Buttons record. Slow Focus finds the duo amping up their sound to Herculean levels, showing a muscularity that was always in the background but never at the forefront. This is not a record to put on for leisurely listening, it demands attention and does not give you any respite from the onslaught like former tracks such as "The Lisbon Maru" or "Bright Tomorrow." This is 7 of the most in your face electronic music you will hear all year, and is mind-bogglingly brilliant.

13. Deafheaven - Sunbather

San Francisco based band Deafheaven are the buzz band of the moment in indie rock circles, as well as a highly contentious part of the black metal scene, getting dissed by their peers as being part of "hipster metal," for their combination of elements such as post-punk, shoegaze, post-rock, and alt-rock into their sound. I can't claim to be an expert on black metal or any metal for that matter (my friend Tradd, on the other hand, is my spiritual guide into such matters and gives me good recommendations and advice), but I generally know what I like and what I don't like. Traditionalist or not, Deafheaven's second record Sunbather is an exciting record that focuses on the band's almost innate ability to flawlessly juggle loud/soft, beautiful/harsh moments and create a record that straps you for a journey that lingers long in the memory. And truly is a journey through alt-rock/metal from the past 3 decades, taking metal and cloaking it with influences like The Cure, The Smiths, Joy Division (in fact, singer George Clarke bears a resemblance to Ian Curtis), My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive (their band name is a homage to them), Explosions In The Sky, Sigur Ros, and Godspeed!You Black Emperor, Mogwai, and even current buzz acts like Fuck Buttons. All these influences make for a more varied and interesting experience than the usual "pure" black metal record which tends to get caught up in the same dynamics over the course of a record, deadening the impact. On Sunbather, Deafheaven masterfully control where their sound is going, but never doing anything predictable. Where you think a song is going to explode, it descends into ambient washes, when you think it is going to fade out into gorgeous bliss, it erupts into pure noise and scrape. There are moments of acoustic metal folk, spoken word interludes, pure alt-rock sweep, surreal samples, and electronic experimentation. That all of these elements mesh into something so intricate and well thought out is a miracle. The production and pacing of Sunbather is practically perfect, its hour run time almost sliding by unnoticed.

12. Baths - Obsidian

From the album cover alone, you know that Bath's second album Obsidian is going to be a darker, more heavy affair than his warm, liquidy debut Cerulean. This record is not so much a startling leap than a culmination of what was already there to begin with. Cerulean alone displayed Will Wiesenfeld’s immense talent as a producer, and his ability to mix together fractured Brainfeeder beats along with glitchy electronics and marrying them to his own skewed pop sensibilities. While Cerulean was a brilliant debut, you always got the sense that Wiesenfeld was holding back, that somehow he was just testing the waters, waiting to see whether his sound could hold up. When he started writing the follow up to Cerulean, Wiesenfeld was felled by a bout of E. coli that left he practically debilitated for several weeks, and that period along with his recovery colors every corner of Obsidian, a fascinatingly dark, obsessive record about life and death, relationships, success and failure, everything a young person would obsess over in the face of a debilitating illness. Obsidian is Baths hitting on all cylinders, a definitive statement of purpose. Musically, Obsidian is not too far off the mark from Cerulean. It is still an electronic record for the most part, however, it is more widescreen and enveloping and less insular than its brother, and is breathtakingly varied and more muscular. Wiesenfeld's voice, a haunting falsetto, was used sparingly on his debut, and often filtered, twisted, and manipulated into something different that took away from its naked purity. Here, Wiesenfeld's voice is prominent in almost every track, wisely kept unadorned for the most part, giving these tracks a more human feel.

11. Nine Inch Nails - Hesitation Marks

Hesitation Marks, the title of the 8th album under Trent Reznor's Nine Inch Nails moniker, refers to preliminary wounds made before a suicide attempt, and here there are plenty of references to being on the brink, trying to pull oneself back. It is no secret that Rezor has faced his share of demons over the years, but now, nearing 50, he's married, with two kids, and an Oscar winner, he seems more grounded than ever and still able to put out some of his most vital work since his 90s hey-days. Over these 14 tracks, Reznor revisits his past in a way, but looking at it from up above and with a more critical eye, touching on many of the same themes he has always worked with, however, much more wiser and kinder to himself. The sound of the record too touches on every facet of his career, from the electro-EBM of Pretty Hate Machine, studio excess of The Fragile, glitchy/claustrophobia of Year Zero, and even his masterful industrial synthpop of The Downward Spiral. This is not Reznor trying to reclaim what he once was/had or simply an exercise in nostalgia, it is an natural progression and amalgamation of all his incarnations, and one of his most vital records in years.