by Atoms For Peace
Thom Yorke’s out-of-thin-air “Supergroup” finally gives us a stamped-and-sealed debut album of new material from the brains and spinal cords of Flea, Nigel Godrich, Joey Waronker and Mauro Refosco. Amok is everything Yorke’s solo album, The Eraser, is only with rhythms more tribal and persistent, songs that expand and experience rapid evolution.
It’s always a driving groove coming forward, reaching for you with two out-stretched hands. Give in. The groove won’t leave the room until you do. Submit. The ghosts in the chamber are let loose on “Judge Jury And Executioner,” as a click-click-clap beat rattles beneath Yorke’s to-the-courthouse! vocals. “Ingenue,” is a shadowy dance track built around what sounds like a melting accordion.
Yorke, as always, stuffs all his creative energy into every breath. Flea clearly has found himself in a mental space higher than the Red Hot Chili Peppers (with no disrespect) could ever get to; and it’s easy to tell from his manic grins that he’s elated. His bass is aggressive and time-churning throughout Amok. He picks up the rattling percussion and electronic whirlwinds of his counterparts. It’s a beautiful mixture of musicians and they’ve given the world something not quite heard.
by Paul McCartney
While some “professional” journalists like to say “It’s nowhere near Abbey Road” whenever Paul McCartney puts out anything, those who actually listened in the now without constant comparison were moved by the richness of color and unwavering optimism featured on “New”, his most consistent effort in years. Paul works with multiple producers, but never does the experimentation lead things astray, and even forays into electronic music (as on “Appreciate”) make you wish for a completely electronic McCartney release. More importantly, the message is sound, coming from a place of depth and experience. Success all around.
“Alligator” and “Queenie Eye” are album highlights and recommended listening, with “Queenie Eye” being most reminiscent of the Beatles, although still sounding modern/right now. Welcome back, Sir Paul!
by Queens Of The Stone Age
Queens Of The Stone Age’s, …Like Clockwork, is the best categorical Rock album of the year. After a break that saw releases from side projects, Them Crooked Vultures and Eagles Of Death Metal, Josh Homme returned from the California desert with old friends in tow.
First track, “Keep Your Eyes Peeled,” travels at a lowly lurk, like carefully stepping through a graveyard at night. When that first strike of sludge guitar hits, it’s instant euphoria. The tempo shifts from song to song. “I Sat By The Ocean,” is the most overtly Queens-sounding with those slithering, braying guitars. Homme’s drugged, careless snarl is in full effect on the record’s best song, “If I Had A Tail.” “Tears of pleasure, tears of pain, they trickle down your face the same,” he sings along with the undeniable boogie.
As the title may suggest, this album is another chip off the ol’ Queens Of The Stone Age block. It begins and ends with the grave, with slight detours in the middle with spirits rising and circulating. Homme feathers his vocals a little more and soundscapes creep in, but once it begins to sound too pretty, there is an off-note, a pinged sharp, that uglies it. …Like Clockwork is a borderline masterpiece of paranoiac rock and roll.
I’ve often wondered why the trend of studio perfection has become so all-pervasive, even when it comes to genres such as rock, punk and metal, when artists such as The Stooges once exemplified another approach entirely. You know those triggered kicks throughout your whole metal album? Not that effective. It needs to go.
Sharing this view is San Francisco’s Fuzz, led by notable garage rocker Ty Segall on drums/vocals, and featuring Charles Moothart and Roland Cosio on guitar and bass. Play their self-titled debut from front to back and you’ll hear real passion. This is the sound of a band playing, the sound of a band in a room. The guitar work is downright mean, with plenty of emphasis on not only ignoring the idea of perfection, but actively pummeling it. Screeches and wails abound. This band is part Stooges, part Sabbath, part Nirvana, and what a refreshing, overly distorted and blissful musical approach.
Real rock n’ roll in 2013. Who would have thought?
Nothing Was The Same
Hold up. Hold my phone.
The opening song, “Tuscan Leather,” is a six-minute spiral that sounds more like an outro, or an encore. It’s fitting, then, that the rest of the album is a murky wormhole torpedoing through Drake’s past. It’s filled with proud moments, cherished moments long-forgotten, moments of thankfulness and ego-tripping and plenty moments of love lost. The trick is to find yourself somewhere in the lyrics. “Furthest Thing” buzzes like a massage chair as he copes with the wretchedness of love’s aftermath. Singlehood’s despair gets him paranoid and choked up and who knows how crazy he’d be if it weren’t for the naked women swimming and the money floating in.
Drake and his maestro Noah “40” Shebib have concocted a perfect zoned-out piece of music with R&B and hip-hop twists in every beat. The pricking bass on “Wu Tang Forever” pinches the back of the neck and crawls up and down the spine. Jhené Aiko singing the refrain, “I love me enough for the both of us,” on “From Time,” is the female vocal track of the year. Her inflections are so chilling and fragile you have to just fall to the ground before her.
“Hold On (We’re Going Home),” has a classic sound with a simple beat, but with more raw feeling than all the top ten Billboard songs of the whole summer combined. To quote Drake’s father in “Poundcake/Paris Morton Music 2.” “Only real music’s gonna last. All that other bullshit is here today and gone tomorrow.”
by Janelle Monae
Prior to the release of “Electric Lady” until soon after, I was closely keeping my eye on the press coming out for Janelle Monae, as I wanted to see if it was indeed possible for an artist with true integrity to rise to the top in the pop world, among the many strippers and soft porn music videos, that is. The answer is, it takes what must have been a near impossible battle and she doesn’t yet command the same audience that Rihanna, Beyonce or Lady GaGa do, but she’s made it, and she did it on her own terms, with class, and some of the most inspiring pop, jazz, soul, r&b, and funk to come out in the past 10 years.
Prince won’t lift a finger for most people I’m sure, but he LOVES Janelle Monae. That should tell you something. From the Stevie Wonder funk of “Ghetto Woman” to the supremely addictive title track to the yearning soul of “Sally Ride”, “Electric Lady” is an excellent album worthy of many repeat listens.
by Kanye West
Kanye West harnessed the pent-up aggression that hits him during bonzai rants and erratic interview responses and outrageous misunderstandings and he called it Yeezus. Of course. Polarizing album from a polarizing artist. Why not rap over groddy blasts of distorted crud? Why not talk directly to Jesus? Why not strip an album of nearly every recognizable trait from previous work? Don’t judge him Joe Brown!
Yeezus is the album Kanye West wanted to make and like he’s always done, his current influences steered the ship. The album is sharp and metallic. It’s minimal, with only a few industrial-tinged sounds playing at a time. It’s a joy to think of these sounds coming at full volume from the speakers of true to-the-bone hip-hop fans. The drum pound of “Black Skinhead” destroys. It’s “fuck up your whole afternoon shit,” for sure. “Send It Up” is k-hole dubstep with the most straight-forward, but addicting beat. “Bound 2” is a modern love song that everyone will remember years and years from now.
There’s no doubt Yeezus might not be the easiest album to like, but, taken within the context of rap music, one much recognize the boundaries it’s not only crossing, but destroying. He broke through the ceiling.
A band with a manifesto, hey? And feedback? No, Refused has not returned and this is not the same punch in the face “New Noise” was, but we have to pay attention in 2013, in a world literally covered with the softest, sweetest indie music suitable for Grandma’s playlist, when a new band comes out with a fearless message wrapped in a bundle of noise.
Armed with solid musicianship/sense of dynamics and a passionate, unique vocalist, Savages may not be the most accessible group, but they’re certainly converting hordes of people unsatisfied with the current musical status quo. For a single track description of why Savages are needed right now, just press play on the vicious “I Am Here”, and as it explodes you may be left thinking “Why do so few musicians do this right now?” Playing from the heart may or not fit in, and that’s the beauty of being unconcerned.
Push The Sky Away
by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
After the tales of city grit and rattled attitude of Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!, plus two dirty, filthy, nasty Grinderman albums, Push The Sky Away was immediately surprising by how gentle and meandering most songs are. Rather than hurling at you at the strike of a match, the Bad Seeds wind you in like a relentless fish at the end of a line.
“Tree don’t care what the little bird said,” Nick Cave observes in “We No Who U R,” a teary lament concerning forgiveness. It stays steady and wavering right into the next song. The tempo remains fairly consistent and blurred through much of this collection. On “Water’s Edge” Cave smears about the thrill and chill of love. Warnings roll off his tongue in a frantic jumble. Most thrilling of Push The Sky Away is Cave’s sprawling dialogue; a scrapbook of diary entries with pages from Us Weekly and Science mixed in. With the billowing crash of noise removed, his lyrics have been able to offer the same amount of damage.
“Jubilee Street” is one of the best songs written this year. Cave transcends the fraudulent memories of a relationship gone rotten. “A girl’s gotta make ends meet / even on a place called Jubilee Street.” Then, later, “I got a fetus on a leash.” Push The Sky Away is the fifteenth album from the Australian group and yet, they still remain one of America’s ill-forgotten rock-and-roll entities. They should be so lucky.
One Of Us Is The Killer
by Dillinger Escape Plan
While “Option Paralysis” was certainly a career highlight for Dillinger, “One Of Us Is The Killer” came very close to it’s heights and stands as a more than worthy follow up. They’re still as relentless and purposefully angry as ever, and if you had left the DEP underground mafia, one close listen to this album will pull you back in. A notably relentless yet inspiring instrumental track is “CH 375 268 277 ARS”, which seems to be Dillinger influenced by NIN but doing it their own way.
“Hero Of The Soviet Union” is another necessity in this set, with vocalist Greg Puciato once again detailing his frustrations overtop of frustrating, glitchy, frantic music that suddenly opens up into an all-encompassing, vast expanse, a shower of sound in the final minute. If you’re a Vampire Weekend fan, probably not your cup of tea.
What most people seem to respect about DEP is that you get the sense they’re not putting you on. There’s no posing here, no idol worship and no typical metal imagery. This is heavy music as art. And with the dead horses getting passed around all the heavy music sub-genres constantly, you have to be thankful for the one percent or less who think outside the box.
It takes a minute to settle in with the opening eleven-minute track, “Golden Arrow,” but once it goes, and the plucking bass and walking drum beat hit, you are entranced. Psychic by Darkside is one of the greatest psychedelic records to come along since the likes of Druqks or Rounds impregnated minds over a decade ago. It embraces the sonic dishevelment and ethereal sound collages of Aphex Twin and Four Tet, but adds something those two artists never tried. Psychic is feathered with sublime, whispered vocals that fuse with the sound, but add a layer of pumping human heart.
On “Heart” the vocals are eerie and high-pitched. On “Paper Trails,” they’re deep and hushed, while the guitar beckons. It’ll corkscrew right into your forehead and the rising organ will leave you numb. A glaze of histrionic guitar spreads over dark beats of sinister dub on “Metatron.” Aside from the pounding drums and some great guitar licks, it’s not always immediately clear what instruments, or for that matter, sounds, you are hearing.
No other record was able to build the atmosphere Psychic did. It has just the right balance of groove and experimentation, structure and annihilation, soul and psychedelia. It’s a record that gives a glimpse of music’s future evolution, where the knack of surprise remains as the only true bastion of originality.
The Next Day
by David Bowie
David Bowie had been out of the spotlight for quite some time, since 2013’s mostly solid “Reality” album. If you have the right perspective and aren’t too cynical, it’s typically at least a welcome event/good experience when a musician of Bowie’s caliber return with a new artistic offering. “The Next Day”, though, was something nobody expected.
Managing to cover a wide spectrum of the singer’s talents spanning many genres and moods, it’s an intensely dark release, refreshing in it’s honest exploration of Bowie’s inner truth. The lyrics are nothing short of brilliant and the vocals are charged with passion and regret. Possibly the most striking aspect of the release was it’s sharp contrast to the current music culture, which was probably one of the reasons it was so necessary and well received.
“Here I am, not quite dying
My body left to rot in a hollow tree
Its branches throwing shadows on the gallows for me
And the next day,
And the next,
And another day” – The Next Day
Much of our focus on “success in the music industry” tends to be honed in on trivial data detailing that “Katy Perry’s new record didn’t sell well. What does this mean?” or “90 percent of Idol finalists don’t maintain solid careers in music”, but a single listen to “Heat” or “Love Is Lost”, knowing that this album went to number 1, will show that it’s possible to create appealing art and find success. Without getting stuck in the comparison game (one of the mind’s worst tendencies), let’s just say that “The Next Day” is both a very welcome addition to Bowie’s catalog and a truly great album in it’s own right.
Melt Yourself Down by Melt Yourself Down
Mind Control by Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats
Tomorrow’s Harvest by Boards of Canada
Wakin on a Pretty Daze by Kurt Vile
Loud City Song by Julia Holter
Body Music by AlunaGeorge
Asymmetry by Karnivool
13 by Black Sabbath
Palms by Palms
Weapon by Skinny Puppy
Trouble Will Find Me by The National
Golden Sun Of The Great East by Juno Reactor
Ruled by Passion, Destroyed by Lust by The Asphodells