Top 50 Albums of 2013: Matt’s List

Oh, oh, listen to the music
Oh, oh, listen to the music
Oh, oh, listen to the music
All the time
– The Doobie Brothers, 1972

Did you listen to the music this year? DID YOU? If not, you should have. In fact, if you didn’t listen to the music, stop what you’re doing and listen to every album, front to back, with a Metascore of 70 or higher that was released in 2013. Let me know when you finish.

Finished? Spectacular! Good stuff, 2013. And plenty different from its predecessor, 2012. While 2012 had several clear mainstream-ish standouts (Frank Ocean, Jack White, Kendrick Lamar…), 2013 was more a year for understated, under-the-radar musical brilliance and rampant critical liberty. It was also an insanely phenomenal year for emo and hardcore revivalism, if you’re into that sort of thing (spoilers: I am).

Because I’m insane, I kept an organized running list of my favorite albums of the year as they were released and as I familiarized myself with them, commencing with January’s fantastic Local Natives and Parquet Courts albums and ending with Beyonce’s mid-December surprise self-titled album. Overall in 2013, I’ve lent an ear (two, actually) to several hundred albums in their totality, giving repeated listens to the hundred or so that I particularly enjoyed. If this seems excessive, it’s because it definitely is.

MY “BEST” (favorite) ALBUMS OF 2013

Just missed: Honorable Mentions, in alphabetical order

The 1975 – The 1975
AlunaGeorge – Body Music
Ariana Grande – Yours Truly
Bad Rabbits – American Love
Balance and Composure – The Things We Think We’re Missing
Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni ba – Jama ko
Beyoncé – Beyoncé
CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe
The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars
Counterparts – The Difference Between Hell and Home
Drake – Nothing Was the Same
Inter Arma – Sky Burial
Iron & Wine – Ghost on Ghost
Jon Hopkins – Immunity
Laura Stevenson – Wheel
The Lone Bellow – The Lone Bellow
Mikal Cronin – MCII
Night Beds – Country Sleep
Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks
Patty Griffin – Silver Bell
Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time
Superchunk – I Hate Music
Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob
Toro Y Moi – Anything in Return
Violent Soho – Hungry Ghost

The Top 50

Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City 50. Vampire Weekend  Modern Vampires of the City
Ivy League humanism in 4/4.

Czarface49. Czarface Czarface
Throwback comic book inspired lyrical hip-hop from 7L & Esoteric with Inspectah Deck combines Wu Tang sensibility with comic book themes and Chewbacca samples.

The garage skate punk debut from LA’s FIDLAR is as fun as it is morally bankrupt.

The World Is a Beautiful Place47. The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die Whenever, If Ever
The biggest emo pop ensemble with the longest name and the most emotions.

46. Kvelertak Meir
such metal
so norway
much NSFW album cover
very rock

Melt Yourself Down45. Melt Yourself Down — Melt Yourself Down
Eight tracks of funky brassy multi-percussive jazz are not enough.

Ghostface44. Ghostface Killah Twelve Reasons to Die
2013’s other Wu Tang comic book album is the scariest and best revenge fantasy rap album of this (or any) year.

Iron Chic43. Iron Chic  The Constant One
The crippling sense of mortality experienced in one’s twenties gets such a bad rap these days. Why not channel it into making an amazing indie punk shoutcore album like The Constant One?

These New Puritans42. These New Puritans — Field of Reeds
Unbelievably intricate and beautiful. “Fragment Two” is such a pretty song.

Dustin Kensrue41. Dustin Kensrue — The Water and the Blood
Former Thrice frontman and current Mars Hill worship leader stirs the emotions with theologically resonant hymns with really great bass.

Crash of Rhinos40. Crash of Rhinos — Knots
If shouty emo revivalism is this fun, why isn’t everyone doing it?

Blood Orange39. Blood Orange — Cupid Deluxe
Dev Hynes’ latest hits all the right R&B/chillwave/MJ buttons, but without all the creepy misogyny of The Weeknd’s Kiss Land.

Deerhunter38. Deerhunter — Monomania
Deerhunter crank up the reverb, feedback, and delay on Monomania, an insanely fun listen that wears a wide range of indie rock costumes.

All Pigs37. All Pigs Must Die — Nothing Violates This Nature
As you might guess by their name, APMD’s violent brand of hardcore is 2 brutal 4 words. When you just need as much angry noise as possible, Nothing Violates This Nature is here for you.

Sigur Ros36. Sigur Ros — Kveikur
A stylistic 180 from 2012’s Valtari, Kveikur is dark, immediate, and powerful. Polyinstrumental Icelandic post-rock for soul-searching journeys and Sundance films.

The Story So Far35. The Story So Far — What You Don’t See
Some of the most melodically aggressive pop-punk around — think New Found Glory stylings with the oppressive angst of Taking Back Sunday — What You Don’t See is an entirely capable follow-up to 2011’s mind-blowingly good Under Soil and Dirt, and is also my most played album of the year.

Penny and Sparrow34. Penny and Sparrow — Tenboom
Minimalist arrangements put the focus of this Austin duo’s debut album on their heart-melting vocals and perfect harmonies.

Joy Formidable33. The Joy Formidable — Wolf’s Law
Grandiose, triumphant, huge, epic: Wolf’s Law rocks very hard. The Zeppelin-esque lead line in “Cholla” is a personal favorite.

Danny Brown32. Danny Brown — Old
Old is a challenging, but extremely rewarding, exploration of Danny’s world of dark humor, Detroit-inspired characters, and reeeeally wacked out beats.

MBV31. My Bloody Valentine — m b v
The hypnotically overdriven jangle of guitars on m b v is some straight up ’90s fare. If we have to wait 22 more years for another My Bloody Valentine album, it’ll be worth it.

Parquet Courts30. Parquet Courts — Light Up Gold
Andrew Savage and Austin Brown’s guitar interplay is reminiscent of early Strokes work on their debut, Light Up Gold, a self-assured midtempo instant punk classic that gets better with every listen.

Justin Timberlake29. Justin Timberlake — The 20/20 Experience, Part 1
Just think how good The 20/20 Experience could have been if “Don’t Hold the Wall,” “Spaceship Coupe,” and most of Part 2 were eliminated and the 10 good songs were combined into one regular-length album. Just think.

Run the Jewels28. Run the Jewels — Run the Jewels
If it wasn’t apparent from 2012’s R.A.P. Music that Killer Mike and El-P make for a perfect tandem assault, please see Exhibit B, the sleazy but monstrous Run the Jewels. Look for a follow-up in 2014.

Darkside27. Darkside — Psychic
Nicholas Jaar and guitarist Dave Harrington team up for project Darkside on Psychic, an album whose opener builds for almost five full minutes before dropping into some of the most mystical, soulful, enchanting house music ever to be heard.

Qwel26. Qwel & Maker — Beautiful Raw
Lyrical Chicago MC Qwel teams up with producer Maker on Beautiful Raw, an under the radar release that’s jaw-dropping for its Talib-like spitfire flows and sick Outkast-meets-Roots beats.

Windhand25. Windhand — Soma
Here’s an album whose music matches the cover art completely. Yes, of course it’s a dark, grinding, Sabbath-inspired doom metal album. It’s also one of the best hard rock efforts of the year. Soma means business — its final track exceeds 30 minutes — but it’s an easy album to crank up and blow through again and again. Air drumming and head banging all the way, of course.

Disclosure24. Disclosure — Settle
An album tailor made for dancing and for upscale clothing retail store playlists, Settle is one of the most impressive debuts to be found anywhere. Immaculately polished, undeniably luxurious, and stylistically diverse — the best straight up electronic album of 2013 not made by Daft Punk. “Latch” is a perfect song.

Kanye23. Kanye West — Yeezus
To say Yeezus is a challenging album is certainly understating quite a bit. Kanye flips the script on his first post-daddy record, trading in obsessive maximalism for a starkly minimalist approach and letting his id do the talking on most tracks. Despite Ye’s overblown irreverence and brashness operating at a higher level than ever before, there’s something inspiring about his ability to effortlessly draw meaning and provocation from just about everything. Yeezus isn’t Kanye’s best album — not by a long shot — but it might be his most necessary one. It’s the sound of one of the biggest creative geniuses of our generation blowing up the existing paradigm and marking a significant career shift.

Janelle Monae22. Janelle Monae — The Electric Lady
If you want playfully seductive soul-pop from one of the best singers out there today, you could find easy entertainment in Beyoncé’s self-titled triumph. Or, you could be completely blown away by Janelle Monae’s The Electric Lady. Monae croons, belts, and even raps capably across the 19 tracks of this monster of a neo-Motown concept album. The production is top notch and there are too many highlights to count.

Fuzz21. Fuzz — Fuzz
Ty Segall is good at everything. He made two albums this year. One was with a side project called Fuzz. They make classic psychedelic fuzz rock. It’s absolutely perfect.

Chance the Rapper20. Chance the Rapper — Acid Rap
Bringing unconventionally groovy soul beats and as much character voice as Kendrick to the table, Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap is technically just a “mixtape,” but as far as I’m concerned, it was the best hip hop output of the year. Oh, and he’s only 20.

Kacey Musgraves19. Kacey Musgraves — Same Trailer Different Park
It felt like a pretty awful year for country music, but Kacey Musgraves was one of the few bright spots. Musgraves has obvious talent, both for singing and songwriting (yes, she writes her own songs), but my favorite thing about her is that she’s not afraid to challenge the norm. This shows up in her lyrics (“Merry ‘Go Round,” “Follow Your Arrow”), but most importantly, in her refusal to conform to the idiotic pandering that contemporary pop country has descended to over the last decade. Sure, Same Trailer Different Park is clever, accessible, and varied; but it’s the originality that really leaves an impression.

Nils Frahm18. Nils Frahm — Spaces
A beautiful, sophisticated classical piano album with modern flair, Spaces does for me this year what Bill Ryder-Jones’ If… did in 2012. It’s an extremely transportative, wanderlust-inducing album that makes me want to go somewhere in France on a train. Or bike through Holland. Or climb a volcano or something.

Local Natives17. Local Natives — Hummingbird
I was determined to enjoy this album. I listened to it at least 10 times. I finally get it. It’s so stinking pretty. “Heavy Feet” and “Mt. Washington,” man.

Savages16. Savages — Silence Yourself
Savages do not make pretty music. They make ugly apocalyptic post-punk that’s heavy on fuzzed out bass and Jehny Beth’s storm-conjuring vocals. And it’s very good.

Arcade Fire15. Arcade Fire — Reflektor
This is another choose-your-own-adventure album. If you decide up front that you’re going to hate it, you probably will. I’d instead recommend taking the time to delve into its nooks and crannies and discovering any of the several hidden treasures that lie within. The Suburbs sound of “You Already Know”. The little piano lead lines in “Reflektor” and “Here Comes the Night Time” that are basically “reflectors” of each other. The anti-social-web message of the title track. Reflektor is a great album, you just have to want it to be.

The Wonder Years14. The Wonder Years — The Greatest Generation
Talk about maturing as a band. The Wonder Years’ latest has grown up, shaken off the hangover, sobered up, looked around, and is now questioning everything it was so sure about just two years ago when it was called Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing. Or, maybe more accurately, it wants to grow up but isn’t sure how to do it. It’s still broke and unmarried and on tour while its relatives are in the hospital (the “Guernica“-like “Dismantling Summer”) and what kind of man does that make it? Album closer “I Just Want to Sell Out My Funeral” reevaluates where it’s going with its life once more, pulling in bits and pieces of the album’s other songs to create an epic finale to a stunning album.

QOTSA13. Queens of the Stone Age — …Like Clockwork
…Like Clockwork is a middle-of-the-pack QOTSA record. Fortunately, that makes it a top-20 record for 2013. Certainly more downtempo than any other Queens record, …Like Clockwork benefits from being quietly menacing and somehow still rocking quite hard. Why punch you in the face like Songs for the Deaf did over a decade ago, when it can just spit on your boots and walk away?

Frightened Rabbit12. Frightened Rabbit — Pedestrian Verse
This was admittedly my first year to get into Frightened Rabbit, but I owe it entirely to Pedestrian Verse. What’s not to love? Sensible indie rock arrangements; morose Scottish vocals; poetic lyricism. Misery loves company; grab a set of headphones.

James Blake11. James Blake — Overgrown
James Blake brings his popular brand of electro chamber music back on sophomore LP Overgrown, a darkly enchanting album that’s perfect for night drives and features RZA (See? Wu-Tang was everywhere this year) on poetic “Speak Now” remake (not really, but basically) “Take a Fall for Me”. Every song on Overgrown has the potential to worm its way so far into your head that you’ll get cravings for them.

Atoms for Peace10. Atoms For Peace — Amok
Thom Yorke, Flea, Nigel Godrich, Joey Waronker, Mauro Refosco. Everyone’s hand is equally in the mix on supergroup Atoms For Peace’s debut, but at the same time, it’s clearly a Thom Yorke vehicle. Lacking some of the immediacy of Radiohead but somehow more earwormy, Amok is a seriously underrated album. Creativity that yields a product this progressive and this sonically pleasing needs to be rewarded.

Paramore9. Paramore — Paramore
Yes, Paramore. This is a new band making new music; the self-titled album signals a fresh start and powers through 17 tracks of survival, renewal, and maturity. Alongside Hayley Williams’ tireless vocals, hired hand Ilan Rubin’s drumming propels the energy of the album from beginning to end. Forays into uncharted territory (see the gospel-funk of “Ain’t It Fun”) are huge winners, and while Paramore haven’t lost their heart or soul, they’ve found new voice.

Patty Griffin8. Patty Griffin — American Kid
American Kid is just another exercise in really wonderful songwriting by one of the most underappreciated songwriters out there. Griffin bookends the album with songs about her father, who recently passed away. When she wails “You don’t ever have to pay the bills no more!” on lead track “Go Wherever You Want to Go,” it should elicit some feelings.

Julianna Barwick7. Julianna Barwick — Nepenthe
I’ve talked this album up a lot this year, and every time I’m asked to explain what it sounds like, I describe it as a monastery choir where every monk is Enya. Just calling Nepenthe “ethereal” or “pretty” is reductive and insulting. It’s aural paradise.

Torres6. Torres — Torres
The raw, vulnerable minimalism of “Jealousy and I”. The crushing melancholia of “November Baby”. The overdriven ’90s attitude of “When Winter’s Over”. The spine-snapping menace of “Chains”. The slap-in-the-face breakup letter “Come to Terms”. The resigned tension of “Waterfall.” The only negative about Torres is how unreasonably high the bar has been set for future albums.

Touche Amore5. Touché Amoré — Is Survived By
Perhaps the best sequenced album of the year, Is Survived By flows from one track to the next in theme, structure, and tone. This type of flow is perfect for the atypical conversational nature of the lyrics and makes the whole project feel like one huge song. It’s a blistering piece of work, replete with melodic guitar, fast drums, and scream vocals that are surprisingly intelligible and somehow feel like a warm post-hardcore blanket. Mmmm! Is Survived By is an album about character flaws, fame, and legacy that bears repeating again, and again, and again.

Daft Punk4. Daft Punk — Random Access Memories
I have had a roller coaster of a relationship with RAM since it came out in May. Being the first Daft Punk album since 2005, and attempting to tackle the weighty themes of “music” and “the human experience,” RAM had my attention from the moment the first promo ad aired during the Super Bowl. Although I’d be lying if I said I was blown away at first listen, it’s come to impress me more and more every time I take the long journey from “Give Life Back to Music” to “Contact”. Yes, it ends strong and takes an insanely long time to build, but there’s beauty in the slow rise. “Contact” is an exhilarating dancehall banger; and “Get Lucky,” my song of the year, is completely impervious to overplay. It’s just as good as the first time I heard it.

The National3. The National — Trouble Will Find Me
The National was another band I admittedly didn’t really get into until this year, but for good reason — Trouble Will Find Me is a grown up emotional masterpiece. Surprisingly perfect for long runs and parking garage views of the city, it’s an album that isn’t afraid to mine for uncomfortable feelings and make you feel a bit uneasy, like you’re perhaps at the precipice of some life-altering revelation you’d rather not face. From the 4/4-to-5/4 stutter step of “I Should Live in Salt” to the next-level harmonies at the end of “Sea of Love,” Trouble Will Find Me is a triumph of nuance and perfectionism.

Jason Isbell2. Jason Isbell — Southeastern
The former Drive-By Trucker’s latest solo album is a testament to loss, recovery, and redemption. It’s beautiful in the most human way possible; universally relatable without a trace of pandering. Southeastern is as transparent as they come; more than willing to expose it’s author’s scars and permanent wounds. Nothing’s sugar-coated — take the intimately vulnerable “Cover Me Up,” or the bleak account of a dear friend’s cancer battle in “Elephant”. At its surface, Southeastern is superbly crafted folk country; its heart is even more beautiful.

Deafheaven1. Deafheaven — Sunbather
What to say about this album? Goodness. I’ll start by saying that if you don’t think you can get behind the idea of screamo-black-metal-meets-post-rock-meets-shoegaze, then there’s probably no way you’ll enjoy Sunbather. And that’s perfectly fine! It’s a lot to ask.

However, if you can calibrate your expectations accordingly, settle in and brace yourself for an hour of emotional assault and subsequent exhaustion, then buckle up (and maybe grab a lyrics printout in the meantime – the words are completely unintelligible).

I wish I could adequately summarize the impact that Sunbather has had over the past year on how I listen to music, how I enjoy art, how I define “beauty”. The best I can do is link to Steven Hyden’s account on Grantland (hint: scroll down to his #1 album) because I think he nails it.

I’ll just say that in an incredible year for music, Sunbather was an easy choice for #1. Wasn’t even close.

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REVIEWED: Vampire Weekend — “Modern Vampires of the City”

Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the CityBats … To The Future
By Eric Webb

The weekend is over. Welcome to the Vampire Event Horizon. The ever-erudite rapscallions from Columbia U have so fully realized their signature sound that they’ve become consumed by it — they have become, with the deftly crafted Modern Vampires of the City, their own genre.

And brother, they are killing it.

As I wrote last week, your average Vampy Weeks song is like a passport for the imagination. You’ve got your global flavor, from Afrobeat to French yé-yé. You’ve got your seemingly-indiscriminate namechecks of international locations (Providence, Phoenix, Angkor Wat, Dar es Salaam, Huey, Dewey, Louie, ad infinitum). You’ve got your baroque chamber grooves — get down with your bad self, harpsichord. Though it may have been true in the past, it’s apparent on Modern Vampires that Ezra Koenig’s gang isn’t just the Pier 1 Imports of alternative bands. Continue reading

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REC CENTER: Eric’s Picks for 5/31/13

Daft Punk — “Doin’ It Right” (feat. Panda Bear)
Candidly, I’m lukewarm on the new Daft Punk album, Random Access Memories. What I am not lukewarm on is the current season of “Mad Men,” and what I am rabidly in favor of is Ken Cosgrove tap-dancing. When this video came to my attention, I acquired a permanent case of Tom Haverford face. As it turns out, Don Draper’s magic works as well on French robot-disco as it does on film projectors and Jaguars and sexually naive secretaries. (But really, Kenny did the heavy lifting, as usual.)

Vampire Weekend — “Unbelievers”
Since Vampire Weekend are the musical equivalent of horn-rimmed glasses, their exceptional Modern Vampires of the City often feels as alive with imagery as a good book. Such is their way. With the pretentious aplomb of an entire college’s creative writing department, the band’s process of brewing disparate musical influences and gluttonously esoteric lyrics can whisk your mind to any number of times and places. For my favorite track on the album, “Unbelievers,” that place is a cheap nickelodeon the coast of France in the 1960s. There are bicycles, striped shirts, and copies of “The Communist Manifesto.” Somebody is naked. The bread is stale, and the wine is actually grape juice because you can’t read the label. (It’s in French. You’re in France.) It is summertime, and it is perfect.

(Look up the album version, but also enjoy this Misfits-tastic live version from Jimmy Kimmel’s show.)

The Royalty — “Saint Bowie”
I think I like this song better than most David Bowie songs. Oops. I still haven’t come to grips with the fact that I like the “Moulin Rouge” version of “Heroes” better than the original. I’m sure this all says something troubling about my tastes.

(Again: Look up the studio version. Or don’t. I’m not your mom. OR AM I.)

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REVIEWED: The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Phoenix, She & Him and more.

Matt and I went on vacation. A lot of new music came out. Some of it was good. Some of it was ear poison. Here’s what you need to know/what I want you to know about some recent releases. New full-length reviews coming soon. — Eric


The Yeah Yeah Yeahs — Mosquito

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - MosquitoKaren O is taking us to church — grab your hat. Mosquito is curious. Its lead single, the rapturous, dangerous “Sacrilege,” rustles with anxious energy. Karen O gets herself worked up into a fever pitch; the song’s gospel choir is pure class. It’s a crackling high point on an album that takes a sharp turn toward the understated as soon as the track times out. Spooky, intangible “Subway” samples the sounds of, well, the subway, while the title track is raw, dutiful modern-rock. And if you couldn’t tell from looking at them, Karen O and the boys like to experiment, like on garage-rock-astro-tantrum “Area 52.” It’s not that Mosquito is demure by any means. It’s just that after coming to Jesus on the first track, everything else is a cooldown lap around the track.

Score 7.5
Steve Martin & Edie Brickell — Love Has Come For You

steve-martin-edie-brickell-love-has-come-for-you-1366648378Here is a classic case of “Wait, why does no one else like this album as much as I do? Is there something wrong with it? Is there something wrong with me?” Comedian’s comedian Steve Martin has been strummin’ the ol’ banjo professionally for some time, and here he teams up New Bohemian/Mrs. Paul Simon/velvet voice Edie Brickell for some warm, bluegrassy reverie. It’s never raucous like the best bluegrass can be, but it goes down smoother than cream gravy on a porkchop. If Carolina Chocolate Drops or Trampled By Turtles threaten you, Love Has Come For You will preserve your delicate sensibilities. Lovelorn and regretful, “When You Get To Asheville” will haunt the very core of you if you allow it to. Appalachian jig “Yes She Did” deploys the album’s spare style with plucky aplomb; “Sarah Jane and the Iron Mountain Baby” is not only a wonderful ad for adoption, but manages to wrest an earworm out of the train-whistle “whoops” of the hootin’ and/or hollerin’ chorus. For me, Love Has Come is the hidden treasure of the year. I mean, it’s got this line: “You got the power, you got the faith, you got the El Camino.” That’s as American as it gets.

Score 8.5

!!! — Thr!!!er

!!! - Thr!!!erAs if giving themselves a punctuated onomatopoeia for a name wasn’t a decisive enough display of confidence, !!! would like to remind you that they know exactly what they’re doing. Funkadelic dancefloor rock designed to move the maximum number of pelvises through musical economy, Thr!!!er glides along with ease and ample stankface. Listen to disco thumper “One Girl/One Boy”; defy the urge to wear a gold-spangled leotard and Elton John sunglasses. It’s impressive that !!! can fire off so many ’70s-inspired jams and still not sound like some kind of Studio 54 parody group. Example: Strictly speaking, “Fine Fine Fine” is a David Bowie song, but doesn’t seem like a Ziggy Stardust costume. Strap on your rollerskates. Turn on some neon strobe lights. Dance. Dance, I say.

Score 7
TeamMate — The Sequel EP

TeamMate - The Sequel EPBoy meets girl. Boy and girl date for ten years. Girl realizes she likes other girls. Boy and girl form synthpop band called TeamMate. I mean, we’ve all been there. Somewhere in the neighborhood between Capital Cities and Ra Ra Riot but taking a detour to Chromeo’s apartment along the way to use the restroom, the Los Angeles/Pittsburgh duo took an undeniably daunting personal situation (I’d like to think of them as a less-skin-crawling Jack and Meg White) and turned it into a stellar freshman EP. The title track recounts the pair’s story, with the following two tracks (especially “Girls With Boys’ Names”) serving up kinetic giddiness. The closing “LA Winter” is a little too Owl City/The Secret Handshake for this reviewer to enjoy while not being 18 years old, but it certainly doesn’t spoil the fun a bit. Put these guys on the watch list.

Score 8

Phoenix — Bankrupt!

Phoenix - BankruptIs “Entertainment” racially insensitive? I absolutely adore it as a single, but it sounds like a one of those 1940s Warner Bros. cartoons set in China, and I want to make sure it’s okay to like it. College anthropology class guilt aside, Bankrupt! plays like an adventure, with a sense of wanderlust and lost weekends seeping through tight, elegant rock songs. “S.O.S. in Bel Air” is a great complement to the ubiquitous “Entertainment.” Constantly escalating like a Hollywood travel montage, it’s probably the most likely to please Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix fans. There’s not quite as much devotion to hooky, “Listzomania”-style magic on Bankrupt!, though. The cover art for this album ends up signifying the tone of the music quite literally: Pop paradise of a languid, aristocratic sort. Amid hazy, glistening effects on the title track and songs like “Don’t,” this is the Versailles of rock albums. Posh, but maybe a bit too content with itself.

Score 7.5THE MEH

Youngblood Hawke — Wake Up

Youngblood Hawke - Wake UpIt’s about time we got some new music from Grouplove! (*inaudible whiper*) Hm? (*inaudible whiper*) Oh, Wake Up isn’t a Grouplove album? Iiiii’m pretty sure— (*slightly audible whiper*) Oh. Youngblood Hawke. Yeah, OK, that makes sense. With all the blind, flailing enthusiasm of Neon Trees, less cheese and a radio-ready arsenal of pop-rock, the L.A. group are … well, they’re certainly doing something, all right. For the purpose of moving one’s body in a most rhythmic fashion whilst not intellectually engaging whatsoever, Wake Up kills it. “Say Say” shines with a little Foster the People magic, “Dreams” amply fills the sweeping, New Wave jam quota, and the-so-damn-catchy-hit-you-recognize “We Come Running” certainly earns its keep on the alternative charts. Still, with a couple clunkers (notably “Dannyboy,” which sounds like a room of Muppets fulfilling a mass suicide pact) and the sinking feeling of trying a little too hard, you might find it difficult to keep coming back to this album.

Score 5
She & Him — Volume 3

She and Him - Volume 3Hey. Deschanel. Ward. You don’t have to release an album, y’know. If you’re going to be listless and bored, I’m going to be listless and bored. The first two She & Him albums were great. The Christmas album is a sweater-weather staple. But what is this? Just going to keep doing the same thing over and over? OK. Y’all do y’all. (But remember — repetition is a sign of insanity.) Here’s the emotional journey Volume 3 inspired: I listened to this while I was doing dishes. It’s entirely pleasant. Zooey sounds like she’s swallowing nickels when she sings in her lower register. The cover art is nice. There was movement of the pelvis. I wish I had kept up with “New Girl” this season.

Score 6THE “OH, HONEY”

Fitz and the Tantrums — More Than Just a Dream

Fitz and the Tantrums - More Than Just a DreamWhat everyone liked about 2010’s Pickin’ Up the Pieces was its groovy soul-infused groove and timeless class. So to build upon the fanbase that loved that album, Fitz and the Tantrums decided to … load the new record full of synths, modern pop production and cheap dancefloor rhythms. In an awe-inspiring display of fumbling the ball, Michael Fitzpatrick, Noelle Scaggs, et. al. decided to cut their glorious musical product with some low-quality pandering and try to pass off the resulting swill as “mature” and “experimental.” Those two words are industry euphemisms for “abomination before the eyes of the Lord.” There is nothing wrong with trying out a new sound; there is something wrong with awkwardly trying to Frankenstein hip hop and New Wave sensibilities onto your Motown sound just for the hell of it. (Have cake, unable to eat it too, etc.) As a result of this style free-for-all, More Than Just a Dream is stressful to listen to, such as on the sonically dissonant “The Walker” or the tragic “Fools Gold.” Technically, “Spark” is probably the worst offender, with its iPod commercial hollowness, but it might just be gleefully rotten. (I’ve jogged to it a couple times.) Not everything here is awful, of course, but distractingly inept eclipses mediocrity any day. Better luck next time.

Score 4

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REVIEWED: Iron & Wine – Ghost on Ghost

Iron and Wine - Ghost on GhostThe Ghost of a Good Thing
By Matt

Sam Beam’s latest Iron & Wine production is different, but it’s still money. Ghost on Ghost exhibits a strong stylistic shift towards New Orleans-y jazz and reminds me a bit of Feist’s Metals. Beam’s same signature croon and songwriting chops are at highest visibility on every track here, but there’s a brass instrument for every cryptic lyric this time around.

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REVIEWED: James Blake — “Overgrown”

James Blake - OvergrownTall, Gawk and Trance-some
By Eric Webb

Shoot. I don’t even know what to say. James Blake has broken my word hole.

You know that thing that writers do when they aren’t smart enough to deftly craft complete sentences, so instead they pump out a string of adjectives to appear concise and perceptive? No? Me neither.

Blake’s second album, Overgrown, is rare. Sumptuous. Rich. Narcotic. Phantasmagoric. I didn’t make that word up, but I also threw up in my mouth right after I typed it. As far as electronic music goes, James Blake is the perfect remedy for the tackiness often found in bleepy-bloopy music (what with your ACIVIIs or whatever), as well as a fascinating counterpoint to even the best dance pop. Overgrown displays an ear for textures reminiscent of The xx, fused with a Robin-Thicke-meets-Justin-Vernon vocal style — far more soulful a sound than should come out of that skinny boy’s mouth. I’m 24 too and my voice doesn’t contain the hollow pain of a thousand years of heartache, so one of us is doing something wrong, I guess. Continue reading

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REVIEWED: Dawes – “Stories Don’t End”

Dawes - Stories Don't EndThis Is an Album by the Band Dawes
By Matt

There’s an episode of This American Life that investigates the idea of “imitation calamari,” a less-than-savory alternative to the popular fried squid appetizer that’s purportedly being passed off as the real thing in restaurants across America (warning: gross). Of course, Eric told me about this rumored phenomenon right after we had finished a big ol’ plate of calamari (my first experience with the stuff) at Olive Garden.

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