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.
No guitars, no dubstep breaks, no angular post-punk posturing. Jack Barnett & Co. look to 20th century composers and Fado for inspiration on their third LP. Woodwinds, brass, field recordings, a magnetic resonator piano and additional vocals from Portuguese vocalist Elisa Rodrigues move TNP into a whole other category of artist, far away from the faceless NME hordes they once mingled with.
Quite honestly, it’s his best since his last great LP --33 years ago--Scary Monsters
. This isn’t anything but Bowie being himself, but the emotional weight of his lyrics give the new tracks a vitality missing from much of his work in the previous decade. It’s exhilarating throughout, with most of his famous tropes (Space!!) sounding somehow fresh. New classics like the title track, “Dirty Boys,” the Scott Walker-nodding “Heat,” plus the stellar Bowie-doing-Morrissey-doing-his-best-Bowie moment on “You Feel So Lonely You Could Die.”
Like The Knife, James Holden took a 7-year sabbatical before unveiling this wonderfully odd auditory landscape…with no sign of a dancefloor anywhere. Mystical and emotive electronic trips from the earth to the stars – complete with modular synth, saxophone freakouts and pagan chants.
I’m completely mystified by folks’ general reaction to this album. By my estimation, this is a perfect balance of everything M.I.A. has done up until now with one foot forward. Its sequence focuses on keeping the party going, while Maya’s taunts, one-liners and rhymes are sharper than ever. Modern music needs M.I.A.!
Intense, confrontational and instantly classic power electronics/industrial from NYC’s Margaret Chardiet. The maggots on the LP jacket should warn you that Pharmakon is not everyone’s type of racket. Somewhere in a neighboring universe of Throbbing Gristle, early Diamanda Galas, and Prurient.
A romantic post-punk and melancholic industrial-pop LP from members of Iceage, Sexdrome, and Lust for Youth. An aural salute to young manhood and male bonding with nods to mid-80’s Coil and early The Cure.
Brit producer Matthew Barnes’ aural universe on Engravings is all at once creepy, dreary and lovely. Dubby beats, spidery (and occasionally doomy) guitar-lines, glitchy and ghostly voices make this your new essential rainy day listening.
Portland-based two-piece The Body create a soundtrack for some sort of celestial hell; that is, music perfectly evocative of its time and space - Armageddon music, y’all. Desperate shrieking, angelic choirs, and sinister samples weave around cavalcades of riffs, drones, weighted pounding and tribal drumming. Once again includes help from members of The Assembly of Light choir.
If your opinion on Yoko Ono is of the Boomer-constructed variety --
the antiquated B.S. that she broke up the Beatles and her music is just “a bunch of screaming”— this particular list is NOT for you. Now, if this album would be your first foray into the musical world of Ono, then it’s a really great place to start. Despite the LP’s sticker big-upping her various collaborators here, it’s a Yoko album through-and-through (though co- producer Yuka Honda – of Cibo Matto - clearly understands Ono’s strong suits.) Hell
easily stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of her 1970’s work when she first took the avant garde to pop audiences. From angular and punky workouts to chilling personal ballads to funky political polemics, this is (just like Bowie) her best album in 30 –odd years. Very few really have the ability to so successfully straddle the line of profundity and absurdity like Yoko, and Hell
demonstrates that quite well.
A year heavy with vets, but no one had anybody more excited than My Bloody Valentine (this guy included.) The logical follow-up to Loveless
– 22 years later – and it’s a total stunner. mbv
is MBV doing what they do best, and quite certainly, it was worth all those delays and the epic wait. It has familiarity that’s instant, but still pushes guitar rock into new terrains like no one else can.
Gorgeous, ethereal hymns. Liz Harris’s companion piece (of sorts) to 2008’s Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill… is her most accessible work to date and her most infectious while maintaining Grouper’s aural haze and dark themes (The title track is based on a true story of young Harris finding a dead body.)
This gender-subverting Rhode Island duo formerly dealt mostly in brutal sonics. Now they have traded-in the ear-splittin’ for body-movin’ to brilliant results. Most surprising here are the gorgeous slow burner beat-laden ballads. The house diva on a bed of nails or the gospel singer wrapped in dirty, dirty sheets!
On his sophomore solo album, John Grant teamed up with Biggi Veira from Gus Gus to craft an album that rockets him far above the heights of his solo debut and his work with his former band, Czars. Dark orchestration, synths, and his always confessional lyrics propel the standout title track, but elsewhere he mines some 70's AM Gold while getting his hateration on with ‘I Hate this Town.’ Alternating on the axis of “ wry” and “soul-crushing.”
Bobby Gillespie & Co. made one of their finest LPs of their career with More Light
. It’s a very fine-tuned LP that succeeds at the cohesive weave of all Primal Scream’s disparate parts and genre-hopping form year’s past. The album easily stands next to career high-points like Xtrmntr
, Urgent political electro-rock with noice
Psych furs-esque sax hooks and awesome guest spots from Mark Stewart of The Pop Group.
The Eulogy’s opening verse (after a crazy, pitched-up ‘MacArthur Park’ intro) is hard! Much in the same way Lil’ Kim announced herself to the world at the front of Hardcore. An important artist for the 21st Century; just getting started.
17. Factory Floor - Factory Floor
I know everyone was busy groovin’ to Daft Punk, but Factory Floor’s debut full-length was the album that induced body-spasms in my household. Think: Chris & Cosey with a little speed in their tea.
As with their major label contract-killing LP, No Love Deep Web
, Death Grips released a new LP in November with no lead-up hype and as a free download. Government Plates
opens with the sound of a bottle breaking, signaling that the LA Based-duo is about to cut your throat. Like M.I.A.’s Matangi
it’s a challenging first listen due to its uncharted electronic terrain full of twists, sharp, sharp turns and dead stops, but it’s a far, far darker ride. It inevitably leads you to obsessive listening as the tracks reveal their glitchy, sneaky and unconventional hooks. The vocals are more chopped, pitched and fucked-with than ever before, yet the album feels like the most cohesive statement the band has made thus far. There is no blueprint here, Death Grips are obliterating everything in front of them to form their own path.
It’s been a few years since Evan’s solo debut, Is It Fire?. She has spent the time globe-trotting, relentlessly playing shows, and honing her craft which her sophomore solo record, Glittermine, readily showcases. Snaky horn sections glide over icy-synth stabs, roller-disco, dubby & jazzy grooves and Evan’s sexy and optimistic beckoning.
Master is the perfect title for this ferocious untameable beast, UK quartet Teeth of the Sea’s ’s 3rd and definitively best album. A sprawling collage of sounds including eerie synthed-out Krautrock, Sci-Fi jams, ambient drone excursions, blasts of white noise and metallic riffing -sometimes all within the same song.
Lengthy, sometimes psychedelic, somewhat nebulous, but always meaty rock tracks laced with crooner Carson Cox’s languid lyric swallowing. Sort of like listening to 1980’s college radio with fuzzy reception, Ian Astbury's and Morrissey's vocals blending together over some JAMC jam coming in from a different station.
There has been a long hiatus in output from performance artist Susanne Oberbeck aka No Bra. 2006’s club hit “Munchausen” and its follow-up album, Dance and Walk, were ironic and wry minimal wave. This year’s “Candy” was somewhat of a surprise release after the long absence, but also a revelation since Oberbeck has adopted a more traditional guitar-bass-drum set-up for the lumbering no-wave sound on the album; most likely influenced by her new adopted city of New York. No Bra lets you know what you’re in for on the album’s stand-out track, “Date With The Devil”: “The Devil said ‘Sing me one of your songs’ I said, ‘Well, they’re not really songs, more like shouting!” The one Arthouse-sex-horror-comedy-industrial-no-wave album you need this year.
The sister album to 2011’s Bermuda Drain
. Dominick Fernow’s own instuctions for his foray into late-night techno: “Listen at night in the hills watching as headlights approach.” 3 Tracks, 32 minutes. Perfection.
For me, hip-hop this year was all about Cakes, Mykki Blanco and NYC’s Le1f. He’s crazy prolific, having released two full-length “mixtapes” this year. (I put mixtapes in quotes because in the world of queer hip-hop the mixtape has become shorthand for “free album.”) Fly Zone is the slightly fiercer of the two. Breezy rhymes over subterranean grooves that are as experimental as they are ear-worms. "I am whatever you say I am/ Stop worrying about how gay I am."
is confusing as it is infectious. It’s part tongue-in-cheek piss-take, part serious artistic statement. Aussie guitarist/vocalist Callinan distills all the famous frontmen from his homeland (from Cave to Hutchence) into a wickedly affecting brew--sneer and smirk alike.
Boards of Canada’s long, long-awaited Tomorrow’s Harvest is a doomsday soundtrack that makes you excited for the inevitable future days of the Arizona Bay. Evocative of all the sci-fi, apocalyptic and horror films of your youth, giving nostalgic pings with its front-and-center Carpenter-esque synth work.
Grey weather listening. Abdul –Rauf normally makes racket in much heavier projects (Vastum, Hammers of Misfortune, Saros, Amber Asylum) but on Cloud
, she employs piano, brass and ethereal vocals to make the perfect soundtrack for a dreary day, even if that weather is just in your head.
An EPIC blend of folk, kraut, black metal and Nico worship. You will not hear anything else like this in 2013, and likely not after…unless it’s from this Polish one-man band.
is the first LP by Deerhunter since they revamped their line-up, and so it makes sense that this is a slightly different animal than their previous offerings. It’s noisey as hell and blatantly queer yet still manages to be their most consistently accessible LP to-date.
Germano’s 10th full-length was quietly released early in 2013 by Badman Recording Co. (She’s only on the coolest of labels – previous homes for her earlier releases were 4AD and Michael Gira’s Young God) to almost no fan-fare. Germano has never sold-out the house or gone platinum, but has consistently put out exciting, innovative and experimental LPs for over 2 decades. No Elephants is no different; its motif is built around iPhone ringtones and the random buzzing created by amps or PA speakers when a cellphone is placed too near. Her voice weaves through the sounds in its delicate rasp. It's unlikely you'll hear such magical and interesting pop music elsewhere. I deeply hope Germano is making music for more decades to come.
Miles Whittaker --one-half of Demdike Stare but also known for his work with Andy Stott in Millie and Andrea—made exactly the sort of electronic record I’m a total sucker for; culling inspiration from my favorite early 90’s heavyweights Aphex Twin and Plastikman as well as occasionally throwing-in some Krautrock & Neoclassical flavors.
Autre Ne Veut, the off-kilter electronic-soul project of NYC’s Arthur Ashin, seemed like it initially existed to deconstruct R&B-flavored pop or maybe even as a slight piss-take. But Autre Ne Veut’s second long play revels in the genre rather than pulling it apart. Ashin’s falsetto often reaches beyond its boundaries. It's enough to make the listener blush; as if we you had just caught him in front of the mirror –hairbrush microphone in hand -- singing along to R. Kelly at the top of his lungs.
UK Psych-Jazz collective that take cues from Sun Ra, Alice Coltrane and the like but add their own modern magick for our paranoid, post-9/11 world.
Warren Ellis And Nick Cave’s prolific soundtrack work seems to have heavily seeped into The Bad Seeds, breathing a welcomed new icy-cool atmosphere into the beloved institution.
You really won’t find another straight-up pop record from 2013 this friggin’ good. Big, BIG Benatar choruses juxtaposed against new-wave riffing, pulsing Suicide-esque rhythms and production notes cribbed from Bowie’s Low. Apparently, it took some 5 years to convince her label to record and release this album. The label then inexplicably shelved any plans to release the album physically (though plenty of “promotional” CDs are floating around) instead Ferreira’s pop masterpiece got a soft digital release. Regardless of format, if you need a big pop sugar-rush -- Ferreira’s got the hook-up.
Killer one-man industrial havoc ala Godflesh and Skinny Puppy from mechanical engineer Tristan Shone. When I first heard his music, I wondered why it sounded so fresh to me even though its influences are so obviously pulled from the era when metal and industrial were forging their first unholy unions in the fiery pits of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Turns out, Shone makes the music on his albums with self-fabricated instruments that give his tracks those unique layers of sound.
Dalhous’s debut LP is a great companion album to BOC’s Tomorrow’s Harvest
. It conjures up much of the same apocalyptic imagery, but with it’s own path through the eroding landscape; a complex and exciting patchwork of samples and breakbeats.
Most would likely remember Andrew Weatherall from his popular early 90’s remixes for acts like Primal Scream and My Bloody Valentine. The Asphodells is Weatherall’s collaboration with Timothy J. Fairplay and it’s not all that far removed from those heyday mixes; New Order-esque melodic funk, Acid squelches, WaxTrax! Beats, dubby bass, BLISS!
Monae continues her far-out Sci-fi-Soul Metropolis
song-cycle; following the continuing saga of "archandroid" Cindi Mayweather on Suites 4 & 5: The Electric Lady
. She enlists some serious help from like-minded heavy-hitters (Prince, Erykah Badu, Miguel and Solange ) with infectious results. Her duet with Badu, “Q.U.E.E.N.,” is easily one of the year’s best singles.
Pete Wareham’s MYD is a hot stew of North African rhythms, no-wave skronk, optimistic sloganeering and electronic peppering.
Music made to listen to alone in the dark. Bobby Krlic’s soundscapes are sinister but somehow inviting all the same.
Their first album in a decade and it’s a monstrous 32 tracks. All the more to love. This is some of Kristin Hersh’s strongest studio work in years and despite its intimidating tracklist size, it’s a consistently gripping spin. Packaged in a lovely hardback book with essays by Hersh and graphic design by drummer Dave Narcizo.
Like MBV, Mazzy Star pulled off a supernatural comeback with a didn’t-miss-a-beat LP after a near two-decade absence. Hope Sandoval’s voice is the warm blanket it’s always been while David Roback continues to construct blue-tinted daydreams with his guitar.
Italian synth/drums duo’s experimental jazzy krautrock (or is that Krautrock-y jazz?) tangents. Great, mind-melting companion listening with The Heliocentrics and Melt Yourself Down.
If you’re the sort of pop culture personality that Asia Argento is – actress, director, DJ, Giallo royalty etc. – this is exactly the sort of album you should make. A super fun and weird genre-hopping ride (from dancefloor to Lee & Nancy-style duets to psychedelic ballads) with lots of established collaborators; not unlike like recent efforts by Charlotte Gainsbourg, but maybe with a little bit more of a punk sneer.
Bigger and better second LP from cherubic Swedish dudes putting a charming, romantic spin on the ol’ Killing Joke blueprint.
This record was a grower for me. Its influences (The Banshees, Joy Division, Patti Smith) so obvious at first that they were a distraction from the album’s ferocity and vital juices. Sure, innovative it is not but it’s passion and idealism is refreshing and exhilarating in the current pop music sea of nihilism and brand pushing.
Rasberry Bulbs is Marco del Rio from Bone Awl’s project, so it often gets mislabeled ‘Black Metal.’ But Deformed Worship has more in common with late ‘80s Sub Pop singles: Lo-fi, raw, aggressive and influenced by metal as much as it is by The Stooges, Joy Division and Black Flag.
Reverb-drenched guitars that give off a campy-but-dark Cramps-vibe, detached-but-sexy vox, and minimal electronic beats make-up this much-welcomed debut from LA duo Dva Damas.
Ghostly ethereal, buried vocals move languidly through icy post-punk, captivating shoegaze and funeral hymns on Camella Lobo’s first proper LP.
Honorable Mentions (Other worthwhile listening):
TOP 15 EPs: