Collaboration with Agah Bahari, Dakota Arsenault and Sean Chin. Graphic by Leslie Leung
This year, we’ve been spoiled with music. We’ve had terrific comeback albums from genre greats, we’ve had homages to music of the past (with disco and psychedelic rock being examples), and we’ve been graced with some new and/or just discovered talents (of whom have been around for years but are only breaking through now). With even some surprises that didn’t make this list (Paramore having an album that’s surprisingly lovable, Lorde having an album that makes her lead single Royals more than just a one hit wonder, and Chance The Rapper’s overnight sleeper hit… figure that out for yourself), it was tough putting together a list of albums without leaving any out, but alas; Such is life.
With what I feel are the 25 best albums of the year in any genre, let us begin with an honourable mention:
Extended Play of the Year: Burial-Rival Dealer
UK producer Burial hasn’t released an album in years. 2007’s Untrue was his last album. However, he has dropped off surprise EPs and singles here and there to show us where he is currently. With his latest gift right at the end of the year, December’s Rival Dealer has squashed any other EP out this year without even trying. It is Burial’s most comforting and beautiful release yet. The chilling sounds are still there, but the voice samples aren’t fearful anymore. The sense of unity and not being “alone” on this album are universal in nature, and the music, too, is Burial’s most accessible. Hiders has a club outro that you’d not find on any other Burial song yet, and the masterful Come Down to Us has two defining structures that will move you to dance and to tears. With voice samples being used more than ever on this extended play, it tells a story as opposed to you creating your own as you usually would with Burial’s music. The EP ends with a quote from Lana Wachowski, the famous transgendered director and one of the two Wachowskis behind The Matrix. Is this a battle Burial himself has fought, or is it just a battle he’s respected? We don’t know much about him to tell, but regardless, Rival Dealer is one of the better EPs I’ve heard in many years, and it largely has to do with how loving it is of its audience, no matter who you are or what you believe in. Burial has yet to be matched sound wise, and soon enough admiring producers will be scrambling to meet his thematic depths.
25. Sigur Rós-Kveikur
Sigur Rós took a break from music and returned with last year’s Valtari. For a comeback album, it was rather quiet. It was far too soft, one dimensionally lullaby like, and without emotional lows. With the leaving of Kjartan Sveinsson shortly after this album, this comeback seemed to not be going Sigur Rós’s way. In comes Kveikur with its creepy album cover and an acid pool of bass on opening track Brennisteinn. This is certainly not the Sigur Rós we are used to. This album has the majority of their heaviest moments yet (save for the odd song off of this album like Popplagi). It is somewhat alienating at first, but this may be because it is such a different direction for Sigur Rós. At the same time, what was it like hearing them in the first place? Why not give this new direction the very same shot? With the upbeat poppy melodies interwoven with sheer noise that can be linked to The Flaming Lips and even Sunn 0))) at times (that opening of Hryggiarsula is quite pummeling), Sigur Rós have finally achieved the comeback they initially hoped for.
24. Run The Jewels-Run The Jewels
Is it worth asking what a project containing Killer Mike and El-P would be like? It’d clearly be a success. Here’s Run The Jewels: Their trippy collaboration album. The production here is so deep and ethereal, you won’t know if you should travel with the heavy rhythms on the bottom or to fly away with the ambient background sounds. Sea Legs slowly eases its way in as you feel as though you are swimming downwards towards Atlantis. Similarly, all of the songs on here can be linked to fantasy-like experiences. Lyrically, this album goes out very hard with lines like “Used to be the new kid until I grew into that new shit” and “even a satellite sees from one angle”, where the words are as expansive as the music that accompanies it. For an album and project called Run The Jewels, with zombie hands holding bling and forming a pistol on the cover, this project is far more introspective (as we’d come to expect from two hip hop greats).
23. Carcass-Surgical Steel
2013 is a year of great reunions. With other artists, who will appear later, getting a lot of attention for their comebacks, a metal comeback could easily be overlooked outside of the metal community. That’s a shame, since Carcass appropriately annihilated their former last album Swansong with Surgical Steel. Surgical Steel is full of hardcore punk riffs, thrash metal speed and Carcass’s signature death metal anguish. With band members in their forties, Carcass are well beyond a comfortable age range when it comes to coming back, especially after almost twenty years without a new album, but you wouldn’t know it with this album. In fact, some songs on here are some of their most affecting, like the well paced 316 L Grade Surgical Steel and the full throttled Cadaver Punch Conveyor System. Okay, so their song names are silly (as they have always been, anyways). If you’re a metal fan that wasn’t interested in a comeback album like this, however, you’d be the silly one missing out on this serious effort that is proof that it doesn’t have to be too late.
22. Chvrches-The Bones of what You Believe
Chillwave is becoming more and more popular. Purity Ring last year brought in a lot of new listeners with their melodic approach, while artists like Salem before worked on alienating as many unfamiliar people as they could with their eerie sounds. Chvrches could have gone either way. They could have exposed the creepy side of the genre now that it is growing exponentially, or they could have explored the pop side of this sound. On The Bones of what You Believe, they churn pop song after pop song without ever losing touch with the genre they fell in love with in the first place. Tether may be a huge 80’s throwback, but the bizarre (yet beautiful) vocal sounds at the end of the song are a slight reminder of the kind of album you’re dealing with. They even take a stab at synth pop with songs like Night Sky and You Caught The Light, which are songs that aren’t too far off from artists like Glass Candy. With clear influences by artists like The Cure, Crystal Castles and more, Chvrches have expanded their audiences by replicating all of the sounds they love in this new and exploitive genre.
21. Queens of the Stone Age-…Like Clockwork
Queens of the Stone Age have always had music that could be found in dingy bars with their rock n’ roll mentality (one of the few remaining radio bands to still do this well), and their latest album …Like Clockwork best captures the smokey atmosphere of an ashtray: A filthy under section (rhythm section) and a floaty high (vocals and guitars). A song like If I Had A Tail references The Crystals’s song Da Doo Ron Ron whilst making a statement about progression (Doo ron on; You won’t get far), and suddenly a Kenneth Anger vibe begins to fill the album. The title track at the very end adds to this idea by sounding like a 60’s pop ballad shoved into a blender. It is retro yet current. Sweet yet dangerous. It is clear that Josh Homme has been, and continues to be, captivated by music of the past (not to be mistaken for a pun of the band’s name), and if you are expecting refreshing rock with a taste of the old, QOTSA have delivered like clockwork.