Listening to a musician speak intelligently about how they conceptualize their place in the music landscape or where they are at a given point in their art always keeps my rapt attention. This interview with Kelela, who’s debut mixtape Cut 4 Me came out early last month on Night Slugs’ sister label Fade To Mind, is a prime example of this.
It’s just about June, and even though I should probably wait for the end of the sixth month, yesterday a friend asked me what my favorite songs of the year are so far, so here they are. I’ve tried to not have a single genre dominate the list (even though I’m listening to way more pop and electronic music these day), and although some of these songs were originally released last year as singles, all of them were at least put out on an LP in 2013.
The list in no real order:
Maybe not the best song to begin with, but as Long. Live. A$AP came out just two weeks into the year, so it starts the list. I love when the beat to a song is a hook in and of itself. The vocal sample and the lazy, eroded drums that bookend the song have been stuck in my head even more than 2 Chainz’ actual chorus – which has been stuck plenty on its own.
I can get into ambient, noisy stuff. But layer some pop structure and catchy melodies on top and I really can’t resist. That’s pretty much the recipe IO Echo followed for “Ministry of Love.” Every element of this song seems to be complementing every other element: the bass pumps up the fuzzed guitar which blends in with the mid-to-high end drums, and the vocals just ensure that you have something to sing along to – simple but effective.
It’s pretty clear that 2013 has more super-insanely-hyped “semi-comeback” albums than any year in recent memory. The Knife’s Shaking the Habitual is one of those albums. Never a band to align itself with the rest of what everyone else is doing, The Knife went way into left field with this one, as evidenced by the fact that “Full of Fire” is one of the more accessible songs on the album.
It’s a ten minute unfolder that starts with drums that evolve and change at and in every bar. The warped vocals and stuttering synths come in at the same time, and continuing on everything builds and bends while the drums become the synths and the synths become snares and high hats and bird chirps. It’s unnerving in the best way. Every part of the song gets warped and layered until the twenty seconds when everything but the drums drop and Karin plays on Salt ‘n Pepa’s “Push It” by chanting “Let’s talk about gender, baby/Let’s talk about you and me.”
“My Number” is probably the closest thing to their earlier work that exists on their new album, which isn’t to say that I don’t like the direction that they are evolving in, but I really do love how well their songs can bounce (see Balloons, Total Life Forever, and Two Steps, Twice.) This is just a fun song that exemplifies their best abilities to make indie rock really pop-friendly.
Maybe I’ll go into more detail later, but as far as this album goes, I’m in love right now, and I think that’s going to build over time.
Just looking at this song though, THAT GROOVE! There aren’t many songs that I would listen to on repeat because I’d rather just go through an album, but this song could continue for an hour and I’d ask for more. There isn’t a part of this song I would change. The progression of the beat to the guitar to Pharrell’s vocals to the vocoded panning vocals and on, I love it all and it fits like a glove. This is going to be up there on my favorite songs of the year, no doubt.
PS: I know that the lyrics are simple, but I find enjoyment in whether the song is suggesting that you have to lose your inhibitions in order to really dance or whether dancing is what causes you to forget your worries.
The most chill song on this list. Maybe the most common line you’d read about this new group is how singer Mike Milosh sounds like Sade, and while that’s true, that doesn’t change the fact that this music could so easily fall into banal lounge-y stuff. Luckily, Rhye stays clear of that trap by taking their warm and relaxed sound and placing small flourishes of plucked strings, drawn out ambient ooohs, and switch ups that keep the songs from lingering.
Boy do I wish I could have had multiple songs from this album to choose from. At least this lead single delivered. Is the gospel choir at the end a cheap tactic? Is the build tongue in cheek or just easy? Why am I fine with one verse and two-line chorus for four minutes? I don’t know, but I like this song. It’s possible I’m just falling for it though.
Yeah, I know this came out a year ago. But so did half of the songs on the album, and that came out this year, so I’m counting it. What Charli XCX lack in vocal strength she more than makes up for in production and sheer ability to layout hooks in every single song she releases. There seem to be a solid number of female indie pop singers releasing material right now (Little Boots, Kate Boy, Charli, etc.), but none of the others have this glitter-goth thing nailed quite like she does. There’re probably four or five songs on the album that I was picking from for this list; it’s a strong one.
Let it be know, I’m very much still processing this album. Everything I read about Savages restates something along the lines of “there’s nothing new here”, “they wear their influences on their sleeve”, or “look! girls playing stuff that isn’t riot grrrl” while at the same time laying crazy amount of praise on the group. Put simply, I like the raw sound, and this song is catchy. But again, still getting into it.
And here we are at the end with The Juan Maclean bringing house into the fold. I could have put a lot more electronic music on this list – notably Hot Natured’s “Reverse Skydiving”, Factory Floor’s “Fall Back” and Atoms For Peace’s “Default” – but they haven’t hit me quite like the rest of songs on here. Also, I’m trying to keep the list eclectic.
But back to Juan. This song really typifies the house-ier side of DFA Records: spacey synths and Nancy Wang on vocals. Live drums would’ve been the kicker, but the song is probably stronger without them. I like that this song is long, that it builds, but also that the meat of the song hits sooner than it does on “Happy House“. I hope Maclean has more in store for us this year.
It’s here. It’s great!
Over the past few months, I’ve slowly been wading through the EDM waters seeking out the bits of quality stuff here and there. And with Eric Prydz’ very recent and very outstanding Essential Mix, the progressive house goods have been pouring in. But today I came upon a rework done by Hardwell last year of a monster trance track I absolutely loved back in 2004: Tiesto & BT’s Love Comes Again. The rework does its job very well.
Better late than never? I’ve sat on this list for a month now, pushing titles up and down a bit, but here it is: my 10 favorite albums of 2012. Looking back, I listened to a lot of pop, R&B, rap, and electronic music. Punk and metal moved further off my radar. Indie pop and rock sounded like a lot of the same to me. And I’m still holding on to the album as the definitive statement by an artist.
I’ve put together a playlist featuring one song from each of these albums, hopefully you enjoy some of it:
10. Grimes – Visions
It was Genesis and Oblivion for me. Really, two of the best songs released this year. The rest of the album took a few months to grow on me. As this list attests, I’ve been listening to a lot more pop music, and this album skews the furthest to left-field of the albums on this list.
9. Death Grips – The Money Store
By far the most agressive album that stuck in my head this year. If only this band had been around when I was in high school, I probably could have been saved from listening to Mindless Self Indulgence.
8. Dirty Projectors – Swing Low Magellan
While it didn’t hit me like the poppier side of Bitte Orca did, Swing Low Magellan still manages to needle its way through me with songs that all stick together, though I couldn’t say what the glue is.
Some friends and I went to a listening party put on by NPR’s All Songs Considered early in the year, and one of the songs they played to us unidentified was Offspring Are Blank. But the moment David Longstreth voice was audible, it was obvious that the people who knew Dirty Projectors, knew this song. A room full of idiots grinning ear to ear because no one does weird guitars and weird vocals to make weird pop like the Dirty Projectors.
God it’s been an incredible year for rappers who aren’t afraid to throw out the out and make their own new. Le1f, Mykki Blanco, Zebra Katz, and Azealia Banks. I ate ’em up.
The only EP on this list, there really isn’t any getting around a release that has 212 on it. Then you add production from Machinedrum and Lone in there? Yep, that hits the spot.
A lengthy academic article could be written about Lana Del Rey’s 2012. It could cover sexism in the music industry, sexism in the media, the importance of (perceived) artistic authenticity, “going viral,” among other topics. I thought about these things after the SNL performance and the backlash that followed, and now that we’re “The Paradise Edition” removed from all of that, I feel the same way that I did when this album was released. It’s not the best, I mean – it has a song called Diet Mountain Dew on it – but it’s still pretty great.
If you were looking for an artist who took a hard left this year, Cat Power is your girl. Talk about a departure from past material; Sun was a breath of fresh air for me around mid-year. I’ve liked her previous output, but Sun went above and beyond all of that for me. It took what I’ve always perceived to be her singer-songwriter feel and put a serious percussive drive behind it that helped me finally “get” Cat Power.
I’m a sucker for anything Hot Chip does. I still remember the first time I listened to The Warning while driving around the windy backroads of Fallbrook and being floored at the immediate hit of Careful’s samples. Same thing when I saw that Made In the Dark was streaming online sometime my freshman year of college and immediately fell into the groove of Out at the Pictures.
In Our Heads is an exact culmination of Hot Chip today. It’s warm, it’s danceable, it’s earnest. It has quick uptempos, slower ballads, and a couple seven-minute-plus songs that build and release with ease. More than anything, I just feel good when I listen to Hot Chip. Regardless of whether or not this statement has actual meaning: they’re a band I feel is real.
This was a sleeper hit for me. There was just enough hanging off of the edges of this album to get my interest. In my searches for the Julio Bashmore-produced 110% and what I thought of as “the original version” of Running – which I initially only cared about because of the fantastic Disclosure remix – I wound up listening to the rest of this album and slowly easing into the rest of the songs. Much has been said about R&B in 2012, but it’s not a genre I know too much about. I just know that if R&B keeps it coming in 2013, I’ll keep listening.
I can’t get my mind to break out of the comparison of good kid, m.A.A.d city to My Dark Twisted Fantasy. Sonically, they’re similar only in that they’re both rap albums. But I guess I link the two because Kendrick Lamar topped rap in 2012 just like Kanye topped rap in 2010.
I love Swimming Pools. I super love Backseat Freestyle. I could listen to the first four bars of that song on repeat for hours. But this is a complete album. There’s a minor narrative followed, and spoken recordings that *don’t* come off as over-production help tie it all together. Just like R&B, the rap playing field looked fresh and new this year. I’m looking forward to 2013.
This one is a classic. Or will be considered a classic. It will be near my top ten of the decade come 2020. I thought it was a 9/10 on first listen, but in the countless replays its received this year, its slid up a point without a struggle.
Who starts their album with the PS1 startup sound?! Who thinks that’s a good idea?! But it was; it gave me chills.
Just listen to it. There’s a million ideas there to dive into. Ignore the intellectualizing of this album and the events surrounding it, they don’t matter. Just listen to it.
PS: where’s my vinyl version I ordered back in August? I want the real thing. Not a bootleg.
It’s a special track that can get a crowd moving when they’re expecting known material and they’re served fresh stuff. Both times I saw Four Tet, Pyramid did just that. Clocking in at a steady 8:30, the song has movement for days – provided in no small part by the chugging looped vocal sample.
I can’t admit to being one who’s followed Four Tet through his long journey through IDM, jazz, and their fusion with electronica, but I am absolutely loving his fairly recent output of straightforward dance music.
Tomorrow I will be seeing Hot Chip in concert for the (checking my Live Music records) seventh time. It’s safe to say that they are one of my favorite bands. In Our Hands, their fifth album, came out a couple months ago, and like the four preceding it, it’s solid as a rock. What other electro-pop band do you know that completely embraces the idea of being earnest?
“These chains you bound around my heart / complete me / baby / I would not be free” -These Chains
“And oh-oh / my heart has flown to you just like a dove / it can fly / it can fly” -Take It In
“I only wanna be your one life stand / Tell me do you stand by your whole man?” -One Life Stand
I’ve been digging some deep house lately, and as a result have been spending a lot of time around residentadvisor.com. One great find that I’ve latched on to is Maya Jane Coles. She’s not exactly “underground” – more like the fastest rising DJ in the scene, but still, all of her productions have deep basslines that just sink right in with the grooves of her beats. I love this song for its coupling of a dark chill feeling with a momentum that keeps the track from falling asleep.
Came across this track last night. I love when beats and synths seem to be tripping over each other but in some lockstep sort of way. Basically I love the UK garage sound.
Although I didn’t pay too much attention to the first Best Coast album, I’ve been coming back to their new single over and over for the past few weeks. It’s the perfect California summertime jam.