Seemingly, all manner of ’90s nostalgia already has come up. But HAELOS find a new place in the hallowed decade to mine, and they come up with gold on their debut record for Matador. Stringing together bits of trip hop and crossover new age (think Enigma), Full Circle forges a unique blend out of forgotten sounds that sounds utterly contemporary — imagine The xx if they were more concerned with upbeat grooves than breathy dramatics. The immediate thing that hits you about tracks like “Pray” are those delicious, turn-of-the-’90s house-inspired beats, but Lotti Benardout’s reverbed, soulful cry and Arthur Delaney and Dom Goldsmith’s hushed whispers keep you around. HAELOS are preternaturally adept at layering sounds together, like the dueling vocal harmonies of “Earth Not Above” and warbling synths in the title track. But they also temper that with space to let the songs breathe, like the heart-stopping breaks in “Dust.” Full Circle is completely enchanting and easily stands strong beyond its influences. Sexiest album of 2016? It’s not too early to call it.
By now you and I have heard the arguments for and against Scottish independence from the UK but as someone who has naturally bristled like a thistle when diasporic people argue passionately and ill-informedly about another country's political situations (which they are thankfully powerless to effect) I'll keep my political opinions to myself. What I will do instead is far more frivolous purposes -- that is list the best Scottish bands of all time.
Given its small population, Scotland has produced a fairly shocking amount of great music. Sure, there have been occasional English bands of note -- almost always from the north -- but I've always taken Anglophiles' preference for all things (assumed to be) English over English language pop from anywhere else as proof of a terminal subcultural defect. It's not really fair to blame England for Anglophiles any more than it is to blame Nirvana for Puddle of Mudd but I suppose it's because so many of the helmet-haired horde mistakenly think that I am one of them that they so vex me. How could I not be an Anglophile when I drink more tea than the average North African, enjoy curry in all of its Asian forms, and my favorite writer is Irish?
While plenty of new acts released great albums in 2013, a few heavy hitters came back with awesome records after years of either inactivity or critical/commercial depression. Here’s a list of 12 of those records.
David Bowie had been relatively silent since 2003’s Reality. Then, out of nowhere, on his 66th birthday on January 8th, he announced a new album would be released in March. The Next Day largely blew away expectations, exceeding in quality just about anything else Bowie has done since the ’80s, harkening back to his most acclaimed phase, The Berlin Trilogy, comprising the albums Low, “Heroes” and Lodger. Romantic rockers like “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” live alongside alien funk (the title track) and searching ballads (“Where Are We Now?”). It’s classic Bowie, throughout. (See where The Next Day landed on Aaron Detroit’s top 50 albums of 2013 list.)
Aaron Detroit, Buyer at Amoeba Hollywood. I've worked in Hollywood for nine years, but started my time with Amoeba - way back in 1998 - at the San Francisco store. Here is my extensive list of new essential listening, released in 2013. There is a wide range of genres and artists represented here because musical passion shouldn't be static!
1. The Knife - Shaking the Habitual
After a seven-year hiatus (not including 2010’s collaborative opera with Matt Sims and Planningtorock,) the Swedish sister/brother duo crafted something utterly singular with this sprawling, conceptual, yet immensely thrilling triple-LP. Habitual lyrically challenges gender constructs and unchecked privilege against visceral (and sometimes monstrous) techno that also refuses any box you throw over it.
Kanye West - Yeezus
Much as 808s & Heartbreak was a reaction to personal drama that led to a cold, mechanical album unlike anything he had previously produced, Yeezus seems to be a response to everything Kanye West has previously recorded — and to hip-hop, and popular music, in general. In short, it sounds like nothing else around, a fusion of harsh industrial production and some of West’s most aggressive lyrics to date. We had already heard the controversy-baiting “Black Skinhead,” its Nine Inch Nails-style beat giving a tribal flow to an otherwise entirely antagonistic first single. The rest of Yeezus follows suit; West as his collaborators keep you guessing what’ll happen next throughout. Listening to opener “On Sight” feels like staring into a glaring light, its synths overdriven to a digital roar, as West claims he doesn’t give a fuck, before West and producers Daft Punk drop an R&B sample that sounds like it was recorded from another room. “New Slaves” takes bling-obsessed hip-hop to task, along with private prisons and implied white privilge, ending with a gorgeous, lo-fi outro sung by Frank Ocean — it’s way too much for one song to handle, yet it’s thrilling to hear the song teeter back and forth. Ven the tracks here that don’t sound particularly interesting at their outset, like the slow-to-start “Hold My Liquor,” eventually do something that make your head spin — in the case of this song, it’s the way those sirens and West’s cadence bounce off the bubbling, ethereal synthesizers beneath. The greatest faults in Yeezus lie in West’s lyrics — heightened braggadocio and claims of manhood are nothing new to hip-hop, which is exactly the problem with some of the more repetitive lyrics about his sexual conquests, compared with their riveting delivery and the production surrounding them; furthermore, “Blood on the Leaves” questionably cops anti-racism classic “Strange Fruit” for a track that doesn’t amount to much lyrically. Yet even beyond these issues, Yeezus is so thoroughly exciting that complaints largely fall by the wayside — in fact, West’s free-for-all attitude to making music here is what fuels that burning feeling in the pit of your stomach when Yeezus is on. Even as the spectacular My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy stretched the limits of modern hip-hop, Yeezus doesn’t sound tethered to any particular time or genre, nor does it sound particularly concerned with radio airplay — even the Rick Rubin-produced “I Am a God,” one of the closest tracks here to straight-up hip-hop, seethes frustration and anger, dissolving into a series of screams and Twin Peaks-style synth strings, with nary a catchy sample or synth riff to rope in the average listener. For someone who receives (and invites) endless flack for things that have little to do with his actual music, Kanye West continues to be the most provocative and exciting artist in modern pop music with the imperfect yet undeniably brilliant Yeezus.