Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Corey Deiterman's Best Albums of 2013 So Far

We're a little over halfway through the year (okay, more than halfway; when I started this it was the beginning of July) and so far 2013 is shaping up nicely. It's looking like it will be remembered as the year old bands made comeback records, which is fine by me because I've seen some of my favorite bands make their return in a fashion that didn't even embarrass their legacy!

We've also got a lot to look forward to, so this is hardly a definitive list. With so many albums yet to drop, it would be foolish to try to decide on the best of the year yet, so this is only the best so far. Which ones will make my end of the year list? I guess that remains to be seen. But up til now, these are the best candidates to make it.

And note that this is in no particular order. They're all great albums in very disparate genres; why try to compare them against each other? Music isn't a competition.

The Flaming Lips – The Terror
The Oklahoma City freak show released possibly their most challenging album of their thirty year career this year. The Terror is a bleak, dense examination of the world through the lens of depression, which is not only shocking because it comes from a band that is typically so happy, but because they do it so damn well. It's difficult to undertake listening to this one, but it's a vastly rewarding experience if you can get out without hanging yourself. Hear Riff 'N Ralk break down the album here.

Black Jungle Squad – Black Jungle Radio
An example of the collective powers of hip-hop artists Jeremiah Jae, Zeroh, Raja Black, Oliver the 2nd, Young Black Preachers, and Jonwayne, this is a group effort that reminds you of the days when Wu-Tang would come together to form Voltron. While it is less a collaborative effort and rather a compilation of various different tracks from the artists, it is amazingly cohesive and stuns throughout with their raw abilities as rappers and their willingness to experiment with beats. Named one of my five weird bands to watch in 2013!
Buke and Gase – General Dome
One of the weirdest bands you'll hear all year, yet one of the most interesting in many, is Buke and Gase, whose newest record, General Dome, crafts ace pop out of off-kilter time signatures and rhythms played on homemade instruments. This is where they get their name: a buke, which is a six-string ukulele, and a gase, which is a combination of a guitar and a bass. The amazing thing though is how full the songs are when the band consists primarily only of the central duo, Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez. These songs will be stuck in your head for days, but they do it the hard way: meticulous craft and intricate writing. Buke and Gase is intelligent pop, but they're also just plain fun, a winning combination in my book. Named one of my five weird bands to watch in 2013!

Comadre – Comadre
What a shame and joy 2013 is for Comadre, what a double edged sword. This year started off huge for the post-hardcore band, who released their biggest and best album yet with their self-titled effort. It showcased the deepest songwriting the band had ever engaged in, as well as their finest hour in production and instrumental prowess. Then, they tragically broke up right on the cusp of hitting it big. Look for this one to be a classic and a huge inspiration for future bands of the post-hardcore genre, as well as Comadre to be mourned as a band gone long before their time. 
Tomahawk – Oddfellows
Though it met to mixed reviews, Oddfellows, the latest in the line of Tomahawk's bizarre albums, definitely hits more than it misses. The band has taken yet another huge detour on their newest one, shifting away from the Indian tribal tunes of Anonymous and even the alternative metal of their earlier work to a distinctly catchy and familiar sort of manic rock that only Mike Patton could provide.

One can't help but think the backwards looking on Patton's part, with the similarities between Tomahawk's latest guise and Patton's old haunts of Faith No More and Mr. Bungle being abundantly apparent, has something to do with Patton's recent reunion with the former band, former Bungle guitarist Trey Spruance for a performance of the Faith No More album King for a Day, and former Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn, who hops on board with Tomahawk for this record.

Still, it doesn't lose itself in nostalgia too much as it is still grounded by the fantastic guitar work of Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison, who acts as an anchor to keep the band forward looking. This serves to create one of the most satisfying and accessible Tomahawk experiences yet, even if it's not as experimental as the band's previous works. For fans of the members who make up this band, it's yet again a super group dream come true.
My Bloody Valentine – MBV
The first in a long line of comeback albums this year, My Bloody Valentine finally released a follow up to their seminal album Loveless. It was a day many of us suspected would never come, but it turned out to be well worth the wait for fans, nostalgically satisfying longtime listeners while pushing the band's classic sound forward in interesting new ways. As gorgeously detailed and intricate a record as ever made by MBV, it picks up immediately where they left off and doesn't let up for its whole running time, leaving you in awe of what they might do next. Let's hope we don't have to wait another twenty years for the follow-up.
Nails – Abandon All Life
According to interviews, Abandon All Life, the new record from hardcore band Nails, was one with a painful birth process. The band slaved over tracks, trying to find a sound worth pursuing that wasn't simply a retread of their first album, Unsilent Death. They finally had a breakthrough when the song “God's Cold Hands” came together. The rest of the short album came quickly after.

Despite the album's exceedingly brief length, it packs a massive wallop all the way through. Produced again by Converge's Kurt Ballou, Nails replicates much of that band's trademark energy and intensity, but does it in their own unique, dirty way. Abandon All Life is a crushingly bleak record that will decimate any listener, even those fully used to listening to hardcore music.
David Bowie – The Next Day
Bowie's back, baby, and he brings along with him an album which serves to underscore his legacy without tarnishing it. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, Bowie's startling return from his self-imposed decade long exile from the world of music serves as the dot on the end of the exclamation point which has been Bowie's long and ever awe-striking career. The Next Day is one of the very best records Bowie has made since his astonishing 1970s run and captures the very essence of what we all loved about Bowie while still managing to introduce a few new elements.

New listeners and longtime fans alike will appreciate how essentially Bowie this sounds, but the hardcore Bowie devotee will find a lot to love in tracks like “Heat” or “If You Can See Me” where Bowie plays around with new elements of his sound and with elements which he had abandoned long ago that he now breathes fresh life into. I always said personally that I would be content if Bowie's career ended on the perfect capper, the final track on his seemingly final album Reality, “Bring Me the Disco King.” Instead, Bowie made the more daring move and chose to hop back in the saddle, shocking everyone by making a record just as vital as if he had never left in the first place. Good show. Check out my David Bowie retrospective here!
Chelsea Light Moving – Chelsea Light Moving
Thurston Moore returns after the break-up of Sonic Youth with Chelsea Light Moving. Rather than settling for replicating the Sonic Youth formula, he retreats into some of his roots and produces one of the noisiest records since his former band's earliest days. Chelsea Light Moving marks the return of Moore's frequent references to beat poets and late '70s and early '80s hardcore punk, especially the Germs. It also features extended jamming which hasn't been heard since Sonic Youth's late '90s and early 2000s experimentation.

Moore can't completely shake the Sonic Youth comparison. After all, he was such an integral part of that band that at least half of this album still sounds like what he would have contributed to a new album from the group. Nevertheless, Chelsea Light Moving makes a strong mark of their own and is easily the strongest release yet from any former member of Sonic Youth, offering fans a continuation of the sound of Moore's previous work while pushing forward into new areas by way of Moore's past. Check out my thoughts on many Sonic Youth albums here!
Vanna – The Few and the Far Between
Though Vanna's new recordings are a far cry from their beginnings, missing familiar touchstones of their sound and boasting few familiar faces, the latest incarnation of the group has definitely forged a place for itself within the context of the current wave of hardcore on The Few and the Far Between. While it's sad to see how few longtime members of the group remain, it may have taken the new blood to reinvent themselves like this. The new line-up retains some of its old school post-hardcore sound, but it mostly works to prove itself in what remains of the hardcore scene in 2013. It also mostly succeeds, distinguishing itself quite well in comparison with the current crop of youngsters. Vanna may have had to claw their way here, but they're still standing and they can still have a place when many older bands that play this style are being outpaced.
Adultry Kidding – DUMMY RUN
After a whopping four albums of electronic pop experimentation in 2012, Adultry Kidding's first and thus far only album of 2013 might be their most cohesive and yet harried effort yet. It features a sort of dark urgency that previous releases have only hinted at, while yet again presenting the bleak, sexual overtones that are their trademark. In that vein, the group even gives a nod to Berlin's ultimate electronic sex song “Sex (I'm A)” in their track “Proactive.” But while song titles like “You're Never Going to Change,” “It Never Gets Easier,” and “Rot Me from Inside” hint at the disharmony of the music, the lyrics themselves take a sort of backseat to simply harmonizing with the beats.

That's not necessarily a bad thing though, as some of the most satisfying moments on the record are when singer Gabby Mendoza's voice blends in with the beats to essentially become a living, breathing part of them. As the music swells and throbs with the aching metaphor of “sex as death” employed by classic horror film series', Mendoza plays the part of the damsel chased through the woods about to be killed for not being chaste and pure, exuding sexuality and terror simultaneously in her isolated cries. Namecheck Radiohead's Thom Yorke's vocal performance on Kid A for a reference, though human instead of robotic and energetic instead of filled with Yorke's signature hazy malaise. DUMMY RUN could be music to fuck to, but it's also dark enough for late nights alone getting high. It succeeds by not going too far in either direction, but allowing things to run their course naturally.
Fall Out Boy – Save Rock and Roll
From the opening orchestral salvo of “The Phoenix” and Patrick Stump's harried cries of “put on your warpaint,” to the sweeping, grandiose piano shmaltz of “Save Rock and Roll” featuring Elton John, Fall Out Boy dropped the ultimate shocker: an amazingly relevant and incredibly enjoyable album in 2013, four years after being pronounced dead in the water. See my full review of the record here!
Iggy and the Stooges – Ready to Die
Iggy and the Stooges make their return, virtually disowning 2007's previous return The Weirdness. While it's not nearly up to snuff with their classic records, what is? Iggy and newly rejoined guitarist James Williamson aren't worried about recreating the past. Instead they provide the sort of hard-hitting, garage punk that they do best, getting down and dirty with the same swagger and chemistry that was there from the beginning.

The album falters a bit when the band indulge themselves a little bit of balladry, which falls far from Raw Power's one such indulgence in “Gimme Danger,” perhaps the band's greatest song. However, when they're prepared to simply rock out, the Stooges still more than deliver the goods. In particular, Williamson, who had been out of the music business for almost thirty years at the point when the band asked him to rejoin following the death of guitarist Ron Asheton, sounds full of life and ideas, brimming with energy and turning in solos that sound like he hasn't lost a step since 1973.

Iggy's singing is deeper and less wild, but he's still Iggy and he still kicks ass. His lyrics leave a lot to be desired, but if you can get past the creepiness of “DDs” coming from the mouth of a 66 year old, you won't be able to stop singing these songs after a listen or two. Not to mention, I can say from personal experience that these songs go over particularly well live, where the band is able to give them the full energetic treatment that only they can do. Ready to Die is a late career winner from the Stooges. Read my response to the band's critics here!
Ghostface Killah – Twelve Reasons to Die
Wu-Tang Clan's ace-in-the-hole Ghostface Killah returns with his first relevant record in several years, sounding hungry and ready for battle for the first time since Fishscale. It's time for Ghost to prove himself once again, and he does that deftly, this time by teaming up with superstar producers Adrian Younge for the main album, and Apollo Brown for the full album remix accompaniment The Brown Tape. See my full review of the record here!
The Dillinger Escape Plan – One of Us is the Killer
“How could it all be?” Dillinger Escape Plan vocalist Greg Puciato opines (a delicate word for screams) at the opening of “Prancer,” the first track on the metalcore band's latest record. At this point, he has a lot of questions to be asking. Dillinger has reached a point in their career where they could most likely tour and profit for the rest of their lives without ever making another album. Having distinguished themselves as the forefathers and progenitors of a genre and one of the greatest influences on modern metal, and having created classic album after classic album through their career, they have a lot to live up to and yet at the same time nothing at all. Would it hurt their career any if Dillinger made a bad album in 2013? Probably not. They'd probably tour and just play old songs and people would be just as into it.

Instead, however, Puciato's opening question is more appropriately phrased as “how can it still all be?” After all, One of Us is the Killer finds Dillinger not only as vital and inventive as they've ever been, but also just as restless. Not merely content to rest on their laurels or to stop trying to push the envelope after all these years, the band led by guitarist Ben Weinman tears through yet another endlessly creative extreme metal record.

It opens with a one-two punch that showcases the band's classic style of fast, hard-hitting, technical riffage and manic screaming, but then completely turns things around with the title track which is one of the softest tracks the band has ever recorded. That's not a bad thing. By allowing themselves space to work with, they find new avenues to explore within the context of their sound. This is the basic formula for the album: allowing the music to breathe more so as to give it renewed vitality. Yes, it's still heavy and it's still technical, but on the whole Dillinger allows themselves much more room to move, resulting in some of their most graceful and immediately satisfying songwriting yet.

With One of Us is the Killer, Dillinger establishes that they could stop, or settle, but they have no intention of doing so. Rather, they decide to take the road less traveled, as always, and in doing so find great rewards for themselves and for their fans. Check out my recap of the Dillinger Escape Plan's recent shows in Austin and Houston!
Savages – Silence Yourself
Silence Yourself is the very antithesis of silence. In actuality, the new record from British band Savages is one of the loudest, most exciting records released not just this year but in many years. Few have positively captured the youth, vitality, and exuberance of post-punk in the way that Savages have. This is music that rocks hard, with slick riffs and driving beats that are instantly catchy and danceable. The songs ebb and flow, building and rising, surging and exploding. What really sets Savages apart though is the vocal performance of singer Jehnny Beth, whose passionate, fiery screams and fiercely sexual growls lend a true, pardon the pun, savagery to each song.

There's never a dull moment on the record, particularly when Beth is singing, and that's what makes this debut so special. In a world where bands can hardly wring a good single out of their debut album, Savages have crafted the perfect debut: a mix of old and new, carried by their vibrant energy and trimmed of any and all excess fat, leaving only hit after hit. Savages have distinguished themselves now as not only one of the most promising bands to debut this year, but one of the best bands around today in general.
The Fall – Re-Mit
The Fall's billionth album Re-Mit is actually fairly special just because it's the first time front man Mark E. Smith has ever managed to keep a line-up together for this long. Maybe that's why they have such an easy chemistry with each other that a record like Re-Mit comes easily to them. A fun, raucous, late career record, Re-Mit will probably never be anyone's favorite Fall record but it's their best and most entertaining in a long while, and it shows that even if the band isn't all that vital these days that they can still kick some ass.
Bosnian Rainbows – Bosnian Rainbows
“Head for the ditch,” Neil Young said, and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez seemingly took his advice. Just when the ball was rolling on an At the Drive-In reunion and a record release and tour for the Mars Volta, he pulled the plug on both bands, hooked up with some other fine players, and made Bosnian Rainbows. Though their new wave inflected synth pop and indie rock is a far cry from the tones of either of Rodriguez-Lopez's previous bands, his solo work, or even singer Teri Gender Bender's other band Le Butcherettes, it's perhaps everyone involved's most satisfying commercial effort yet. Gender Bender displays some serious pipes that one would have never really suspected she possessed in her primal, punk outfit, and Rodriguez-Lopez displays the influence of the master Robert Fripp when King Crimson made their own new wave transition. Prog freaks will probably walk away disappointed, but this one packs a punch in its own way. Bosnian Rainbows were one of my five weird bands to watch in 2013! Check out my review of their recent show in Houston here!
Kanye West – Yeezus
What can be said about Yeezus that hasn't already been said? One of the biggest releases of the year, and one of the most meticulously scrutinized, Kanye West delivered unto the masses yet another instant classic this summer and sparked immediate intense debate among fans and haters alike. Yeezus was one of those events that we'll be talking about for years to come. Where do I stand on it? Personally, I think it's a damn fine Kanye album with some of the greatest songs he has ever recorded. While I'll stop short of calling it a game changer or a revolution like others have described it, I think it succeeds on almost every level and stands as one of Kanye's greatest and most challenging records yet. Check out my evaluation of Kanye's SNL performance here!
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Though I initially questioned the necessity of Daft Punk making a disco album in 2013, they impressed themselves upon me with undeniable hooks and indelible choruses. Though it's hardly a groundbreaking record, Random Access Memories is the party record of the summer and is chock full of excellent dance songs.
Boards of Canada – Tomorrow's Harvest
While I normally don't like electronic music in general, I have to admit that Boards of Canada surprised me and succeeded in exceeding my expectations. Very few albums that are by their very nature synthetic can connect with me, but Tomorrow's Harvest is something greater than the genre which birthed it.

It's a soundtrack to a film which does not exist, taking my mind on an adventure through unknown planes. It's no wonder then that I feel possessed to create and inspired to write every time I hear the album. It's a wonderfully and brilliantly imaginative record, showcasing the sounds of an alternate world which only this music exists in. It's dark, plaintive, and demanding, but all at the same time completely riveting.

Tomorrow's Harvest stands as a significant comeback for Boards of Canada as well, as their first full-length album since 2005, but also as a grand statement for a band who had already revolutionized electronic music but had largely gone quiet in recent years.
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels
Though at first I felt like this one was a bit of a tossed off effort from El-P and Killer Mike, who are clearly having fun throughout despite the album's occasionally heavy lyrics, it quickly grew on me, unraveling itself to reveal yet another uncompromising look into the minds of two of hip-hop's greatest indie rappers. It also boasts some of El-P's typically fantastic production, who never lets me down in that capacity.

While some songs are fun, including one which Handsome Boy Modeling School fans will flip over, it also reveals itself to be a much deeper record on a second look, such as in the song “DDFH,” which looks at a typical rap subject, cops and their bias against poor, African-American males, but looks into it with Killer Mike's exceptional lyrical abilities and El-P's striking production.

Furthermore, Run the Jewels acts as a kind of indie rap response to the mainstream Watch the Throne collaboration between Jay Z and Kanye West. Their combination is one that works just as fluidly as their famous counterparts, and is just as combustible, but it's darker and more intelligent. Darker and more intelligent is what Watch the Throne struggled for and only halfway achieved. El-P and Killer Mike take it on effortlessly, as it is their typical mode.

Nevertheless, play both records back to back. Both are great, but they excel in different areas and come out of totally different worlds. The comparison is a fascinating one, and clearly one that was on El-P and Killer Mike's minds when they made the Run the Jewels record. Did they top their mainstream counterpart? Maybe. However, it's more important to look at the album by its own virtues, which are evident in spades. Whether it's the “revenge of the nerds” that they intended is up to you, but one cannot discount the prowess of the performers and the talent that bolsters this record, even if it is a fun side project for both.
David Lynch – The Big Dream
David Lynch's music has often, for better or worse, been compared to his film work since he began to spend more time on it than visual projects. Cold, artistic, and dream-like, it drifts along the same patterns as his films do, and that can be just as off-putting aurally for those who struggle with Lynch's aesthetics and themes.

Even for a massive fan such as myself, Crazy Clown Time, Lynch's debut record, seemed too detached for me. It floated in the ether, swimming through Lynch's combined imagination and memories, drawing heavily on the music of Lynch's youth and mixing in with his famous, avant garde imagery. But like Lynch's first film, Eraserhead, it required a great deal of effort to penetrate. It was so far inside of Lynch's world that it became isolationist, leaving little room for others to enter, and only under extreme difficulty. I admit to finding the record fascinating, but missing what Lynch could have felt made it special.

However, The Big Dream could be The Elephant Man. It definitely exists as a statement with artistic worth outside of Lynch's own head. Yes, it draws on many of the same influences as Crazy Clown Time and it can't shake the Lynch aesthetic. But it's enjoyable in a way that most music can only aspire to be, capturing thoughts, feelings, and vibes in a way that Lynch had previously only tapped into on film. Here, he conveys atmosphere like an old pro and shows tremendous skill in absorbing you into his mindset.

It will still probably take a Lynch fan to love the record, but now we can see what he sees, and it's startling. It's a troubled record; dark, foreboding, desolate, and murderous. It's part noir and part blues, part '50s sickly sweet sheen and part '30s Great Depression tragedy. That said, there's a perverted pleasure about it. Lynch seems to be having fun in his weirdo world.

When he sings of yet another doomed starlet on “Star Dream Girl,” it's a bouncy track with an exuberant early rock guitar lead that obscures its intentions. On “Sun Can't Be Seen No More,” the track sounds dour from the very title, but Lynch sounds positively jovial, pitch shifting his voice and joking around about how he doesn't drink foreign beer. It's a twist, but it's natural coming from Lynch. His films possess the same irreverence, at least if you, like the maestro himself, find humor in the bizarre, even if it is shocking and horrific at times. After all, at least half of Lynch's imagery is winking in nature.

The Big Dream takes on much of the same, and with light finally peaking through the cracks, it seems we can finally find our way into Lynch-land and come out the other side with one of the most solid experimental records of the year. Check out my favorite musical moments from David Lynch's movies here!

Corey Deiterman is a freelance writer from Austin, Texas, who contributes to Riff 'N Ralk Music Tock, the Houston Press, the Village Voice, and the Riverfront Times, as well as his own personal blog at Corey's Life in the Bush of Ghosts.