I find lists hard to manage, especially deciphering what people mean when they differentiate between their 28th and 29th favourite albums in a year and so on. As such, the brief here was intentionally open (read: vague), leading to an array of answers from our regular reviewers and a couple of friends of the magazine.
P.S. Any girls want to review albums for us so our review section isn’t so lad-weighted? Shoot us over a sample to firstname.lastname@example.org
John Hopkins – Immunity
When Immunity came out in June, I set up monitors in my living room and played it for about a week straight, much to the consternation of my geriatric dog. As somebody who jumps to rapid conclusions and is phenomenally stubborn, I expected my obsession to be belligerent and obnoxious, but not the extent that I’d be volunteering to pen a few words about it for public consumption. It sounds like the culmination of several years’ toil and experimentation. I’m almost afraid to research how he put it together because, in my ears, each and every sound appears to have been specifically tailored to its purpose, more so than usual I mean. I’d hate to ruin the illusion by knowing how he did it. One of my favourite things about Immunity is how well it works both live and in a more subdued setting. It has both vertical and horizontal appeal. Seeing Hopkins bang them out live is an fairly uplifting experience, and listening to the album in recovery mode works just as well, those delicate songs like Abandon Window are just as integral as the likes of Open Eye Signal. I’ve outed myself as a fanboy and I have no shame.
Karl McDonald | Rhymes Correspondent, Totally Dublin | @karlusss
Albums in question are Kanye West – Yeezus, Pusha T – My Name Is My Name, Cassie – RockaByeBaby, Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City and Action Bronson – SAAAB Stories.
Kanye has a broad appeal, even when he’s openly confrontational, as he is on Yeezus. “It’s the best album since Pinkerton,” a member of an alt-lit’s version of the Bloomsbury Group told me at one stage this year, drinking a can of Fosters. It’s not – and Pinkerton seems like a bizarre choice for a comparison – but the point is that, after an intensive decade-long campaign of self-aggrandising propaganda and ‘event’ releases, Kanye West feels important enough to fit those kinds of statements. At the stage where alienating noise becomes challenging rather than off-putting, and where poorly finessed broadsides become polemical rather than boorish, Kanye has triumphed over hype, and that alone is impressive.
Elsewhere, Pusha T teased becoming the rapper even Kendrick will never become on Millions, Numbers On The Board and Nosetalgia, before succumbing to that which cows all men on the cusp of greatness: the urge to record terrible, emotive album tracks. Cassie made forward-thinking, worryingly sexy music, and Vampire Weekend perfected the art of filigree. But Action Bronson, bragging that his beard looks like “Uday and Qusay” (Hussein, sons of Saddam) over a full tape of Harry Fraud beats on SAAAB Stories, managed better than anyone else to provide the counterweight to Yeezus’ formidable heft, lending 2013 some levity, fluidity, a laid-back vibe and actually finished raps.
Ivan Deasy (Metal Guru, Totally Dublin)
01 – Baklavaa Spiral Cramp
The debut album from Baltimore weirdos Baklavaa is an odd but cohesive mashup of 80s emo, noise rock, polvo-style guitar antics and a Woody Allen sample. What could go wrong? Not much as it turns out. This is dense, vital stuff, oozing psychosis and ataxia from every sweaty pore.
02 – Wölfbait – Wölfbait // 03 – Reproacher – Nothing to Save // 04 – Wild Moth – Over, Again // 05 – Crayonsmith – Milk Teeth // 06 – Yo La Tengo – Fade // 07 – Ensemble Pearl – Ensemble Pearl // 08 – Portal – Vexovoid // 09 – Hounds – Spacemad // 10 – Tim Hecker – Virgins
Singles/Demos/Tapes of the Year
01 – Malthusian – MMXIII
Intense, punishing death metal from the cesspit that is Dublin. Transcending the notion of the demo as amateurish/half-baked, these three tracks are complex, fully formed epics-in-miniature, coalescing into a jagged, disorienting whole.
02 – Missionary – Demo // 03 – Strong Boys – Strong Boys 7″ // 04 – JG/BC – Samekh // 05 – Royal Headache – Stand and Stare 7″
Ian Lamont | Editor, Totally Dublin | @montigol
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City
A year can be a very long or short time, dependent on the context, but whereas June’s Modern Vampires Of The City feels recent, February’s mbv feels like it was moons ago. The former felt – and still feels – like an expertly weighted exercise, both in terms of sequencing and brevity that will come to represent this year, and in particular the long hot summer, when I look back at it from further in the future. There’s something about 12 tracks that remains locked in my head from the CD era as the correct number of tracks for a pop album, even though that number (and the overall length of 43 minutes) is presumably a leftover from the physical limitations of vinyl.
MVOTC was touted by its creators as the final part of a trilogy comprising of their first three albums. Like many of the best concepts applied to albums, this was meant to fit extremely loosely, but the worries that weigh on Koenig and co. are mature (without being old) by comparison to, say, Campus or Diplomat’s Son. Musically, where they were fun, they were deep (Unbelievers), where they were dumb they were wry (Diane Young) and when they went for the heart-strings or the spine (Hannah Hunt and Ya Hey respectively), they absolutely nailed it.
Elsewhere, the other real stand-out treats of the year for me were Julia Holter’s Loud City Song, which managed to be evocative of fantastic things that I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced and the Cian “The Nooge” Nugent‘s electrified Born With The Caul.
Deafheaven – Sunbather
I don’t usually listen to metal. Not out of any ideological opposition to it, it’s just one genre I haven’t yet taken the time to delve into. With any genre you’re not too familiar with, it often takes one record or artist that draws from music you do know as bait and gradually reels you in – think Swans and post-punk, Burial and (real) dubstep.
Sunbather opener “Dream House” previews every influence that’s explored in the rest of the album – shoegaze, post-rock, and post-hardcore infused black metal. “Irresistible”, “Please Remember”, and “Windows” each serve as a ‘calm before the storm’ that then comes in their respective following tracks, easily mistakable for one of Godspeed’s quieter moments. Most of “Vertigo” could be Mogwai or Explosions in the Sky experimenting with a black metal vocalist. In a year when My Bloody Valentine made their long-awaited comeback, their signature distortion effects are heard all over the album – parts of finale “The Pecan Tree” could easily be mistaken for some lost Loveless outtakes (especially around the 1:22 mark).
This crossover appeal is all well and grand but it still has to make for great music in its own right, and it sure does. Kerry McCoy’s guitar parts are both lush and intricate, George Clarke’s lyrics are both deeply personal and a bleak commentary on America’s inequality, while the production is warm and expansive – it’s a big, big album that’s a lot to take in in one sitting.
Some metal aficionados might call Sunbather a coffee table metal album, but if it serves as introduction into more what does it matter? And even if it doesn’t, it’s still a bloody great record.
In no particular order:
Bill Callahan – Dream River
Callahan’s creative second wind continues to delight with his latest offering. For a man most associated with a kind peculiar kind of American melancholia, it’s a remarkably contented record. The sound of an old soul finally reaching the age he’s felt he’s been since he was 18, complete with added jazz flute and lots of languid, treated guitar. Not just one of the year’s better albums but a career highlight from the greatest American songwriter of his generation.
Foxygen – We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
Foxygen provide all you could ask for from a classic rock band. Eye make up, ladies’ scarves, ever present lyrical allusions to the extra-terrestrial, a former child star on rhythm guitar, ludicrous and public near break-ups over girlfriend backing singers and a mysterious svengali figure twiddling the knobs in studio in the shape of the great Richard Swift. And most importantly truly great songs, often times three or four great songs all crammed into one. They are good enough that I’ll forgive them for having their album on sale in Urban Outfitters.
White Fence – Cyclops Reap
Other bands who have emerged bleary-eyed from the blinding light of San Francisco/Oakland’s latest psychedelic garage rock revival have been met with considerably more critical acclaim then White Fence but in a way one can imagine that suiting The Fence’s lead singer and figurehead, Tim Presley. Like their previous double LP, Family Perfume, Cyclops Reap already seems poised to be discovered, moon dust covered at a hover car-boot sale in 30 years time. It inhabits the role of forgotten classic comfortably even within a couple of months of release. Imagine Syd Barrett was getting stoned in that Ohio basement when Guided by Voices were thrashing through Alien Lanes for the first time and you’re sort of on the right track..
Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold.
For a while there indie rock got pretty dumb and Parquet Courts are here to remedy that for all us smart alecs. Managing to walk to tightrope of taking their craft extremely seriously while avoiding taking themselves too seriously the New York by way of Texas 4 piece have released one of the most infectious and rewarding on repeat listen guitar records in recent memory. Often hilarious lyrics, killer riffs and the sense that the record is designed to be consumed as a whole (like all the good ones) all add up to the feeling that Light up Gold is something special. And you can tell they really like the Feelies and more people should be up front about liking the Feelies, ok?
Yuppies – Yuppies
I’d never heard of these guys when I stumbled across them supporting Parquet Courts and was totally blown away. One part shit kicking punk band and one part harsh noise/experimental outfit mixed in with some classic 90’s indie and just the smallest dash of early noughties Saddlecreek emo and to their credit they never veer too far one way or the other. Their self-titled debut on Adam Savage excellent Dull Tools imprint is the sort of album you don’t realize you are totally enamoured with until you look at your iTunes and cop it’s the only thing you’ve been listening to for the last 2 days. Despite the fact I imagine most year end lists will be gushing about the joys of Daft Punk’s latest product or how Sky Ferreira actually isn’t that bad, Yuppies prove that there is hope yet for fans of abrasive, scraggy bearded miserablism.
Daniel Gray | Editor at Large, Totally Dublin | @DrQuirkeys
Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety
The image of a girl in her bedroom, head towel-wrapped and hairbrush to lips playacting the diva du jour in her mirror is a well-worn one. Did you know guys do the same thing, but with a tin of Lynx? Brooklyn’s Autre Ne Veut wears his R&B karaoke influence on his sleeve, but angst-blackened vocals, Futuresex-era Timbaland arrangement nuance and flourishes of abrasive production set Anxiety out from the How To Dress Wells and Weeknds of the world this year.
The distillation of the more caustic elements that marked his previous, distinctly artier releases remain here within an altogether glossier whole that ensures that Anxiety is more than just a New York art dude pulling Keith Sweat moves for other New York art dudes. The sax squalls in Counting, that Portishead Rip drum hammer of Promises and Ashin’s stripped bare, gender-ambiguous sky notes all interplay with emotive synths within a spare schema that allows for moments of confession box intimacy. If it’s possible to wear out MP3s, my copy of Anxiety’s first half of Prince-perfect pop will be heavily grooved. The vocal gymnastics and vulnerability mean that Autre Ne Veut will not be for everyone: this only serves to make it more special for those who’ll live by it.