Boy oh boy 2013 sure was a great year for musiZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. Sorry, I must have dozed off, because these intros always feel pointless and boring. BUT before I start, I do want to point out that I purposely omitted certain albums that I imagine will be making appearances on hundreds of other year-end lists. This is not because I am a hater, but because the last thing the internet needs is another random bro talking about how great he thinks Yeezus is, or, even worse, another random nerdy music-bro 'admitting' that he 'unironically loves' Justin Timberlake -- no shit, everyone does, because he's fucking great. This policy also applies to albums by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, David Bowie, MBV, the National, Daft Punk, the Flaming Lips, and a few others. Also, I'm not listing them in any particular order, because it would feel arbitrary and awkward. OK let's go.
Phenomenal atmospheric neofolk featuring two ex-members of Gorgoroth, including Gaahl (of "........ Satan" fame.) A simultaneously raging, hopeful, and sorrowful sound powered by thunderous, driving percussion; rich, densely layered, harmonized vocals; and a wide spectrum of traditional Norwegian folk instruments.
Highly advanced, pretty much flawless progressive black metal from three ex-members of the now-defunct Akercocke plus one. Extremely ugly riffs and hoarse howls run into moments of queasy beauty, as when clean female vocals appear soaring above sickly guitars and a double kick drum mantra during "Sexual Isolation", and the acoustic guitar and piano pattern that turns into the relentless, blasting blur of "Endless".
Technically an EP, but clocking in at about 46 minutes, Hate Us and See If We Mind is Rome's most challenging, experimental outing yet. The first two tracks, which account for the lion's share of those 46 minutes, are harsh, distorted industrial soundscapes. The third and fourth tracks find Reuter returning to the swooning, fatalistic neofolk he's become known for; both songs rank among his best.
Of the many Sade-referencing, sex-inspiring Art&B albums that came out this year, no world is probably my favorite. Smooth, semi-adult-contempo melodies complimented and sharpened by modern electro flourishes and dark, abstract lyrics (Ex: "If every life deserves to die / In the dirt but covered in white / But the dirt don't apologize / Like her legs when they're open wide.")
Abyssal - Novit Enim Dominus Qui Sunt Eius
Punishingly dissonant, sludgy death/black metal. A thick, enveloping, tar-like atmosphere that seamlessly combines the warped chords of French-style black metal with the gore-soaked, ritualistic grime of New Wave of Incantation Worship Super Nice Guy Death Metal.
Schulze, a legend in the world of electronic music, has been regularly recording and releasing albums as a solo artist for over forty years now. A double album, Shadowlands is a spacious landscape of pulsing synths, reverb-soaked violin, and otherworldly vocals -- provided, as has been the case with last few Schulze albums, by the incomparable Lisa Gerrard.
Retrovirus is a live retrospective of the career of one of no wave and goth rock's most influential figures. Recorded at the Knitting Factory in late 2012, Lunch's feral vocals, and muscular, punishing performances from an incredible backing band breathes new, hostile life into classics like "Mechanical Flattery" and "Afraid of Your Company", arguably resulting in the most compelling versions of every song on the setlist.
Raging Australian grindcore. About 98% of this subgenre is incredibly boring and generic (we don't even need one Phobia, let alone five hundred Phobia clones) but Agents of Abhorence are a different breed. The drumming is tight and hard-hitting, the riffage is fucking prime (no bass), vocalist Jacob Winkler sounds ready and willing to rip your throat out, and the production - beefy, crisp but blown out - is ridiculous.
LA duo Youth Code bring late 80s/early 90s style electro-industrial into the present. Driving electro beats, practically toneless synths, waves of harsh noise, angry/demonic vocals, unsettling samples, and zero embarrassing stabs at modernization. Pure.
Forward-thinking, dynamic prog metal from France. While there are surely echoes of Meshuggah and some of their more melodic disciples, Back to Where You've Been sounds, to these ears, totally fresh and compelling. Fluid, delayed clean guitars and hazy keyboards give way to uber-heavy sludge metal, then tech-y, polyrhythmic, yet somehow catchy nu-djent with Eastern melodic elements. The best djent-related release of the year IMO.
Desolate, drugged out electro/R&B. Dubiously in-tune, barely sung vocals, chopped up samples, detuned keyboards, guitar feedback, sparse beats. A desperate, uneasy album that burns away all traces of glamour and machismo found in the late-night, drug-fueled debauchery of artists like the Weeknd, revealing a toxic, wholly hopeless core.
Atmospheric, nerdy, brutal technical death metal. Somewhat in the same vein as multi-instrumentalist/assumed musical mastermind Eric Hersemann's old band, Hate Eternal, but more dissonant, and yet, fun, maybe? Less self-serious? Sometimes it sounds to me like what might have happened if Pg. 99 had tried to play death metal, but that's probably more of a random thought than an accurate description of their sound. Anyway, they've released three albums now, this is easily my favorite, and I honestly do not understand why IMNs aren't all over Gigan's nuts.
Goldenheart, Dawn Richard's sprawling first solo LP, is a full realization of the promise she showed first on 2011's Last Train to Paris, a shockingly awesome record helmed by none other than the insufferable Diddy himself, then on two excellent solo EPs. Richard's musical vision of artfully-minded, earnest, futuristic pop/R&B thrives in this long-play format -- the songs are mixed to run into one another, creating a suite-like quality that allows the subtle tension that permeates her music to ebb and flow.
Second proper album (and third overall) of churning, sun-baked desert rock from this Tuareg badass. Nomad was produced by The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, whose influence makes for a grittier, at times keyboard-driven sound that feels like a totally organic progression from his last outing. For those unfamiliar with Bombino, it's worth noting that his life story is just as compelling as his music; read about it here.
After a six year absence, the Swiss master of grand, highly atmospheric lo-fi black metal returns with what's easily his most satisfying release since 2001's Winterkälte. Anyone familiar with this project knows what to expect: stretches of ambience marked by the sound of howling wind and weightless keyboards that abruptly give way to harshly beautiful, densely layered blizzards of tremolo-picked guitars, blasting drums, and high-pitched shrieks that are buried deep in the mix. An excellent continuation of one of black metal's all-time greatest projects.
Gorgeous, shoegaze-y indie rock that will send nostalgic dinosaurs like myself rushing for our record shelves, where we'll relive a time when bands like St. Johnny and Pavement seemed like they could barely be bothered to stand up while they were playing. It's lazy, bedroom-friendly rock that, in spite of the band's name, is actually quite conducive to sexy-times. And, in the end, isn't that what rock and roll is for: making us all want to fuck like animals?