Top 30 Songs of 2013
30. Mariah Carey - "#Beautiful" (feat. Miguel)
This gentle stunner of a single was one of 2013’s most welcome surprises, an intergenerational R&B collaboration from one of the genre’s fading stars and one of its most promising newcomers. Miguel plays the leather jacket-clad country crooner to Mariah Carey's southern belle as the two trade verses over one of the year's most easygoing instrumentals, full of warm, live drums and twangy guitars. Kanye West might have crafted this year’s most famous over-the-top appropriation of motorcycle-riding white American bullshit, but Mariah and Miguel did it first, and with decidedly more grace. This song is loving, sincere, and appropriately beautiful, right down to the hashtag — and I can’t pretend that that don’t mean a thing to me, to me.
29. Blood Orange - "Chamakay" (feat. Caroline Polachek)
Dev Hynes’ greatest accomplishments of the past few years have often been as a sideman or songwriter. In particular, the tracks he penned for Sky Ferreira and Solange were two of last year’s best. This year, on his sophomore album Cupid Deluxe, Hynes aimed to raise his solo project Blood Orange to the same stature as his collaborations. He succeeds the most on “Chamakay,” the album’s lead single, a tropical slow-burner that can’t decide whether it wants to be a sex anthem or breakup song. Featuring a guest vocal spot from Chairlift's Caroline Polachek, “Chamakay” is one of the year's steamiest, most tonally ambiguous collaborations.
28. Alex G - "Adam"
The cult of personality surrounding Philadelphia native Alex G has grown at an alarming rate in 2013, lending credence to the bedroom pop dream that if you consistently release tons of music and don’t post any information about yourself on the internet, teenagers with tumblr blogs will become obsessed with you. Alex G’s bandcamp page is loaded with terrifically dark, free songs released throughout the past few years, but his highest profile release came this year in the form of a 7” split for Birdtapes with R.L. Kelly. “Adam” is the record’s best cut, a 2-minute wisp of sparse percussion, acoustic guitar, and stark piano that create an eerie microcosm for Alex G to spin his moody lyrical threads. It’s over before you know it, but this schoolyard tale leaves a powerful impression.
27. Beyoncé - "Pretty Hurts"
Beyoncé's 4th-quarter touchdown of a self-titled album is at once a universal feminist manifesto and an exultation in the unique freedoms of being Beyoncé in 2013. Opener “Pretty Hurts” leans more towards the former side, making for one of pop's greatest empowerment ballads in recent years or possibly ever. Bey's vocal is obviously top-notch, and the lyrics hit home as well, detailing the ridiculous expectations that society imposes on women and the body image issues that she, and women all over the world, feel as a result of such societal pressure.
26. Run The Jewels - "Banana Clipper" (feat. Big Boi)
Run The Jewels is the manifestation of modern rap’s cutest bromance. When southern hip-hop OG Killer Mike teamed up with producer El-P on last year’s R.A.P. Music, the result was a collaboration that worked much better than expected. The two got on so well that they dropped another collaborative LP, this time featuring El-P’s rapping as well as his production, under the name Run The Jewels. “Banana Clipper” is the best track, displaying the two rappers’ complementary skills as well as a typical stunner of a closing verse by (recently reunited!) Outkast member Big Boi.
25. A$AP Rocky - "Fuckin’ Problems" (feat. Drake, 2 Chainz, and Kendrick Lamar)
Technically this star-studded single dropped at the end of last year, but “Fuckin’ Problems” has defined my 2013 partying experience so singularly that I couldn’t help but include it in this list. A$AP Rocky works best as a curator of talent, and he executes that job perfectly on this track, providing the only context in which Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and 2 Chainz could all rap about sex over a monstrous cloud rap beat in a way that’s both humorous and completely sincere. It helps that it’s maybe the most quotable, singalong-worthy track on Long.Live.A$AP. Beast.
24. Unknown Mortal Orchestra - "So Good At Being In Trouble"
"So Good At Being In Trouble" is Unknown Mortal Orchestra's stab at R&B, and it's glorious. Rather than co-opting the synthetic indie R&B of How To Dress Well or The Weeknd, the New Zealand indie rockers set their sights on the Blue Eyed Soul tradition of the 60s to craft this skeletal, organic slice of pop. It’s subtle, warm, catchy, genuinely soulful, and curiously anomalous among the rest of their sophomore album II. They should try moving in this direction for their next LP.
23. Julia Brown - "Library"
From the ashes of Teen Suicide came Julia Brown, a more stable, pop-oriented project than than its volatile predecessor. But although the paranoia of tracks like “Give Me Back To The Sky” is gone, Sam Ray and his bandmates maintain the wounded, tape damaged melancholy that made their previous band turn heads. The To Be Close To You version of ”Library” is deservedly the group’s most popular song because it captures both sides of Julia Brown’s essence: Magical realism, nostalgic rooms, friends, and ghosts give way at the 55-second mark to lo-fi pop euphoria before returning quietly at 1:30, just as they arrived.
22. Pusha T - "Numbers On The Boards"
In some ways, Pusha T is the antithesis of his G.O.O.D. Music compatriot Kanye West. Sure, he refers to himself as “King Push” and guested on "New God Flow" on last year’s Cruel Summer compilation, but there is a distinct humility about the former (?) Clipse member that separates him from Kanye. Pusha captures that perfectly with ”Numbers On The Boards,” a Yeezy-produced slice of minimalist grit that stands out among the otherwise radio-friendly tracks on My Name Is My Name. “I might sell a brick for my birthday,” he raps, “36 years of doing dirt like it’s Earth Day.” Pusha T doesn’t want to be a conquerer, or a God, or anything of the sort. He just wants to be really good at rapping and selling drugs, which is exactly what he is. Keep doing what you’re doing, Push.
21. Mark Kozelek & Jimmy Lavalle - "Somehow The Wonder of Life Prevails"
Mark Kozelek's descent into middle age has led to an unprecedentedly prolific period in his career. Sifting through his output from the past few years is overwhelming but thoroughly rewarding; so much great material has flown under the radar. This year saw the release of multiple live albums from the former Red House Painters frontman, as well as a covers record and two new original full-lengths, one of which was a collaboration with Jimmy LaValle of The Album Leaf. The closing track, “Somehow The Wonder of Life Prevails,” is the apex of their collaboration, a 10-minute journey through the thorny thickets of Kozelek’s life that touches on all the lyrical hallmarks of his recent output — dead friends, adolescence, his father, and the pains of middle age. With LaValle’s barely-there synthetic textures serving as instrumentation in place of guitar, Kozelek sounds as depleted, detached, and chilling as ever.
20. Pity Sex - "Wind-Up"
Ann Arbor shoegazers Pity Sex waste no time establishing their presence on “Wind-Up,” the opening track from their LP Feast of Love. A short blast of feedback, and then the cautious declaration: “Don’t come too close.” This band knows that they have a powerful musical formula on their hands, and “Wind-Up” is testament to that. It’s noisy, brash, and unrelenting, but it also displays a calculated precision and road-hewn self-awareness that only comes from experience. Expect big things from this band.
19. Sky Ferreira - "I Blame Myself"
After years of manipulation by ‘the industry,’ Sky Ferreira finally got her dues in 2013 with the release of her long-awaited debut full length Night Time, My Time. The album is loaded with noisy, visceral pop stunners, but the relatively minimal “I Blame Myself” is the best — an anthem of self-pride that only superficially scans as self-deprecation. “How could you know what it feels like to fight the hounds of hell?” Ferreira asks in one of the year’s catchiest and, out of context, silliest choruses. The truth is that this young star has succeeded in the face of a lot of adversity, and for an album full of triumphs like this track, she deservedly blames no one but herself.
18. Majical Cloudz - "Childhood’s End"
The lyrics of “Childhood’s End” scan like dark excerpts from a poetic police blotter. Someone died. Gun shot right outside. Best friend crucified. Childhood’s end. We as listeners meet these images through Devon Welsh’s inimitable baritone and must supply their context ourselves, weaving a dark tapestry from Welsh’s threads. In a way, this is how Majical Cloudz broadly operates on a musical level as well, supplying the minimal textures and the vocals and allowing us to fill in the gaps ourselves. Press play, and let your mind’s latent darkness subsume your listening experience.
17. Chance The Rapper - "Good Ass Intro"
Chancelor “The Rapper” Bennett will be looked back on as 2013’s breakout rap star due to the success of Acid Rap, his universally lovable and creatively stimulating sophomore mixtape. All of Acid Rap's hallucinatory joy and effervescence is present on the opening track “Good Ass Intro,” a wild cut that transforms from soulful throwback to uptempo footwork banger and back within four minutes, with Chance as ringleader for the makeshift circus of live instrumentation surrounding him. It's one of the best, most unabashedly joyful celebrations of the year, and although other tracks on Acid Rap touch on more important lyrical territory, it was “Good Ass Intro” that make us all take notice of this 20 year-old prodigy.
16. Okkervil River - "Down Down The Deep River"
To mine the autobiographical ore of Will Scheff’s 1980s American childhood, Okkervil River went full-on E-Street Band for their latest LP The Silver Gymnasium. With its chugging guitars and glittery Born In The USA organ synths, “Down Down The Deep River” is both the best and most sincere homage to this aesthetic, boasting a six and a half minute runtime and a classic rock chorus that stands with the best of them. In his quest to find himself, Scheff has become a Springsteen figure for the Atari-wielding, not yet middle-aged 30-somethings of today. It’s ’80s revival the way it ‘really happened,’ reclaimed nostalgia for an all too appropriated decade.
15. Iceage - "Coalition"
"Coalition" is like Pity Sex’s "Wind-Up" with twice the recklessness and without any of the precision or calculation. It’s barely two minutes of frosted, explosive angst, the kind that only Danish teens seem capable of expressing these days. On top of that, it’s the catchiest and most visceral moment of Iceage's sophomore album You’re Nothing. Although most of frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s lyrics are indecipherable (both because of his Scandinavian accent and because of the cacophony of noise surrounding him), one word rings true throughout — “Excess,” precisely the element that Iceage’s barebones, brutalist punk strives against.
14. Burial - "Rival Dealer"
"This is who I am…”
On the whole, Burial's latest EP Rival Dealer is perhaps the mysterious future garage producer’s greatest aesthetic diversion from the ‘traditional’ sound that he established on Untrue in 2007. Among the three pieces, though, the title track is the closest that William Bevan comes to his older sound. “Rival Dealer” feels like a bigger-budget, higher stakes, blockbuster version of the Untrue sound, considerably longer than any of that album’s tracks and loaded with more samples, noisier static, and warped drums that sound practically cinematic in comparison. It’s Burial’s most overt statement of artistic intent so far, and signals good things for the future.
13. The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die - "Gig Life"
In the months before it arrived, The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die's Whenever, If Ever was slated to be the definitive album of the emo revival, the final capstone on the strange, amorphous scene that had built itself up over the previous few years. Honestly, I don’t feel like the album lived up to that expectation, but “Gig Life,” in its grandiose pop splendor, certainly does. Get that Brand New money, kids. You’ve earned it.
12. The National - "Don’t Swallow The Cap"
80% of the reason that this song gets a place on this list when I could have chosen nearly any song from Trouble Will Find Me is the chorus lyric. “If you want to see me cry, play Let It Be or Nevermind.” God, Matt Berninger. I know what that’s like. I, too, overvalue the social currency of my sensitivity and music taste. I’m totally using that as a come on at the next Yale Radio party.
11. Mikal Cronin - "Weight"
Mikal Cronin believes in the transcendental power of pop and so do I. “Weight” is the apex of one of the year’s best power pop records, a starry-eyed, level headed apotheosis that uses piano arpeggios, major chords, and tastefully thick fuzz pedal as its rocket fuel. “Take me from myself,” Cronin pleads amidst the rich instrumental arrangement. That’s what the best music can do, and that’s exactly how I feel whenever I spin this track.
10. Daft Punk - "Instant Crush" (feat. Julian Casablancas)
Daft Punk's Random Access Memories was a rather shocking album on its release. It bucked the duo’s traditional EDM aesthetic, incorporated multiple guests (an unusual move for Daft Punk) and demonstrated an unprecedented affinity for songcraft and supremely high fidelity production value. “Instant Crush” was, on paper, among the most bizarre tracks on the album, and in practice it’s the best. Strokes’ frontman Julian Casablancas delivers a remarkably emotional auto-tuned vocal turn, while the robots supply muted, Italo Disco-reminiscent guitars and analog synths straight out of the Drive soundtrack. Think of it as a sequel to "Digital Love" — this time, it’s complicated.
9. Baths - "Miasma Sky"
Will Wiesenfeld took a deliberately dark turn on Obsidian, his sophomore LP as Baths. The single “Miasma Sky” is perhaps the darkest of the bunch, a minor key, nocturnal paean to poisonous gases and “tall rock shelves.” Wiesenfield has made it clear that he’s ‘not actually suicidal,’ but “Miasma Sky” is pretty convincing, with ominous violins, ethereal samples and beats that evoke a moodier, less tongue-in-cheek version of The Postal Service.
8. Elvis Depressedly - "Pepsi/Coke Suicide"
The centerpiece of Elvis Depressedly's incredible Birdtapes 7” Holo Pleasures is all about vital stasis — the inexorable mundanity of existence. For the ‘glass half full’ types, “Always real, always right / always alright” might read a mantra for self-sustenance, but clearly Mat Cothran isn’t interested in universal, complacent, ‘alright’-ness. “Kill me as I become the dull, aching heart of everyone,” he quietly sings atop understated drums and noise pop guitar. With the rising popularity of both Elvis Depressedly and his other project Coma Cinema, this phase of ‘becoming’ seems to be approaching rapidly.
7. Porches. - "The Cosmos"
On the surface at least, “The Cosmos” is the much needed release at the end of Porches.' utterly incredible and otherwise brutally depressing LP Slow Dance In The Cosmos. It’s in a major key, it’s got a powerful chorus, and it ends with some lines about dancing in public. And yet, a closer analysis reveals sad undercurrents within the track. There may be a kernel of sincere joy in the notion of abandoning the trappings of an earthly life and ascending to the cosmos (metaphorically, of course), but ultimately Aaron Maine is just singing about doing so many drugs that he feels like he will never die. Bummer pop, indeed.
6. Drake - "Hold On, We’re Going Home" (feat. Majid Jordan)
Of course Drake's most compelling piece of music would be that which most fully embraced the qualities that his haters have always claimed to be 'detrimental.' There is no rapping on “Hold On, We're Going Home,” the smash single from Nothing Was The Same, just sensuous, harmonized R&B crooning. In lieu of postured hardness, Drake extols the virtues of “hot love and emotion… endlessly” The great bait and switch, though, is that despite Drake’s crooning, “Hold On, We’re Going Home” is not actually ‘soft,’ at least explicitly. It’s actually kind of assertive — almost troublingly so — or at least its lyrical and tonal ambiguity allows it to possibly be. This is the crux of Drake’s genius in 2013: even when he fully commits to a pop aesthetic and seemingly lays his heart on the table, he alone continues to hold the cards of his true identity.
5. Slow Warm Death - "Blood 2"
Sound the death knell of emo revival! The former frontman of Snowing and Street Smart Cyclist is in a blues rock band! Slow Warm Death may not be as lyrically direct or deliberately emotional as John Galm’s previous projects, but from a ‘songwriting’ point of view, it’s way better. “Blood 2” is a brutally cathartic apex of the band’s self-titled record, a clear-eyed, timeless-sounding paean to… well, blood. It’s not so clear what this track is about, but that’s part of what makes it so great and so different from the diary entry-reminiscent lyrics of his past bands. There’s no namechecking ex-girlfriends or stories about drinking Miller Lite as a 20 year-old to be found in these lyrics — Just love, pain, and a lot of blood. Sometimes less is more.
4. Kanye West - "Blood On The Leaves"
For the majority of Kanye West's Yeezus Tour show at Madison Square Garden that I saw this year, the elaborately constructed stage setup was lit with a ghostly white hue, evoking either the ‘coldest winter’ or the celestial sphere a la Dante’s Paradiso. Only when Nina Simone's eerily detached voice rang out at the beginning of “Blood On The Leaves” did the stage begin to take on a different color: dark red. Pyrotechnics soon followed, and it felt perfectly appropriate. “Blood On The Leaves” is the bleeding heart at the core of Yeezus, an album that exposes fundamental incongruities within our society often through the appropriation of those very same incongruities. Mixing TNGHT with Nina Simone shouldn’t work this well, but it does. Interpolating “Strange Fruit” — a song with considerable political baggage — to craft a metaphor for the the claustrophobic pains of celebrity culture should feel ‘wrong’ or ‘tactless,’ but it doesn’t. Society says that Kanye West shouldn’t be this compelling, and yet he is — now more than ever. Celebrate the paradox.
3. Vampire Weekend - "Step"
For me, as for many others, “Step” was the first taste I got of Vampire Weekend's third LP Modern Vampires of the City. I approached it hesitantly, having passively enjoyed their headlining set at Pitchfork last year, but not willing to consider myself a ‘fan’ in the committed sense. “Step” changed that. With its lush harpsichord, gentle upright bass, and lyrics that resonate more sincerely than anything Ezra Koenig had penned previously, it’s a truly moving love letter to New York City that stands out among countless thematically similar songs. It’s the sound of a band coming into maturity and knowing exactly who to thank for it.
2. The Front Bottoms - "Twin Size Mattress"
"Twin Size Mattress" makes a similar statement, in a way, to that of my #3 pick, but whereas Vampire Weekend found maturity by embracing familiarity, The Front Bottoms find it by purging the familiar and embracing the chaotic void. Brian Sella has been through hell, and now he’s back to ‘help [his friends] swim’ through the thick mud of modern life and relationships. Sella drafts a laundry list of everything that has helped him and that has held him back before declaring his individuality on unequivocal terms in the year’s most chill-inducing bridge: “I wanna contribute to the chaos / I don’t wanna watch and then complain / ‘Cause I am through with finding blame and that is a decision that I have made.” There’s no sense arguing with a statement like that.
1. Phosphorescent - "Song For Zula"
It is perhaps not healthy or reasonable to always have a potential ‘year-end list’ in mind when listening to music, but when you’re in the profession of music journalism, it is sometimes unavoidable. Sometimes you come across a song so sweeping, so visceral, and so immediately important that you just know it will end up somewhere on your list come December — or in this case, at the top of it. From the moment that Matt Houck’s vocals faded out at the end of my first listen-through of Phosphorescent's “Song For Zula,” with that immensely sad declaration of “I could kill you with my bare hands if I was free,” I knew that this monumental piece of music would be the best thing to come out of 2013. A year simply can't sustain multiple songs like this.
"Song For Zula" is an amalgamation of almost everything I like about music. It has country’s croon and romantic sentimentality, emo’s bleeding heart urgency, Destroyer's dramatic flair, Digital Ash In A Digital Urn's electronic experimentation, and a Johnny Cash reference to boot. It’s an Epic poem distilled into four verses. It’s a great romantic novel condensed into six minutes and ten seconds. It’s a pained declaration of the fragility of the human experience, and it’s my favorite song of 2013.
Thanks for reading. Part one of my albums of the year list is dropping tomorrow maybe.
Lewis and his Blog January 2013 Mix
Congratulations! You made it through the first month of 2013. Give yourself a pat on the back. You deserve it. Honestly, we both do. In celebration of your success at surviving this cruel and confusing world, give a listen to my first Monthly Mix of 2013. If you’re unfamiliar with my monthly mix series, the concept is fairly self-explanatory; every month, I publish a 10 track mix via 8tracks, featuring some of my favorite new music that I heard that month. You can find all of my monthly mixes HERE, at my “Monthly Mix” tag.
This month’s mix features tracks that came out in January, many of which are from forthcoming albums. Stream the entire think at the embedded link below, and read up on each track below that. Thanks for listening and reading!
Permanently-disaffected mumblecore rapper Milo (aka Rory Ferreira) kicked off his new EP Things That Happen At Day with an uncharacteristically hopeful cut that seems to promote self-acceptance even in the face of an unwelcoming world. On “Sweet Chin Music,” Milo waxes poetic about his love for pro wrestling, Delta Force 3, and “egg fried rice and fruits,” occasionally dipping out of his distinctive monotone and into a sumptuous half-sing. He reminds himself, rather soothingly, that he “[doesn’t] feel the need to be the best thing ever.” That self-awareness is not entirely anomalous within Milo’s body of work, but it does stand in stark contrast to the material on his darker accompanying EP, Things That Happen At Night. Pick up both of the records at the HellFyre Club bandcamp page.
2. A$AP Rocky - “Long Live A$AP”
Unlike the lyrically-focused and DIY-motivated Milo, Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky bases almost the entirety of his appeal on image and aesthetic. Frankly, the extremity of this image is what makes Rocky such an interesting figure; he is very much a mirror of rap’s fascinatingly narcissistic cutting edge. “Long Live A$AP” is the title track from his major label debut, a triumphantly hi-fi explosion of a record that manages to say absolutely nothing substantial in the best way possible. The song itself is representative of Long.Live.A$AP as a whole, presenting Rocky as the 2013’s greatest hip-hop paradox. He is, at once, a youthful legend, a geographically-transcendent New Yorker, an underground sellout, and a deeply insecure popular kid, both as self-conscious and self-obsessed as only a true narcissist can be. It’s not conceit if you’re right, and Rocky forces us to wonder just how right he may be. Pick up Long.Live.A$AP via iTunes.
3. Beach Fossils - “Generational Synthetic”
With their forthcoming LP Clash The Truth, Beach Fossils are poised to once again usurp the throne of Brooklyn’s guitar pop scene from their overrated labelmates DIIV, who are led by former Beach Fossils member Zachary Cole Smith. Beach Fossils might not have DIIV’s marketably nihilistic look or vague conceptual coherence, but they make up for it in song quality. “Generational Synthetic” toes the line between pop and punk, and although the singer doesn’t lyrically commit himself like a true punk frontman, there’s enough grit to rock out to. Clash The Truth is out February 19th via Captured Tracks.
4. Bleeding Rainbow - “Pink Ruff”
One part shoegaze, one part noise pop, and one part sugary female vocals, Philadelphia’s Bleeding Rainbow are a delectable duo with a lot of potential. Formerly called Reading Rainbow, the band had to change their name in lieu of a potential lawsuit from PBS, but the name change shouldn’t do much to stop them from winning over your heart. Fans of Dum Dum Girls should enjoy “Pink Ruff,” off their latest LP Yeah Right, for its subtle juxtaposition of garage-rocking minor key power chords and infectious pop melodies. Pick up Yeah Right via Kanine Records now.
5. Iceage - “Coalition”
Iceage’s sophomore LP You’re Nothing leaked well in advance of its release, but if you haven’t gotten on the bandwagon yet, now is the time. Lead single “Coalition” is probably poised to be the consensus standout track on the new record from these Danish, mostly teenage punks, and for good reason. In just over two minutes, the band reaches peak levels of catharsis, thrashing about with dualing guitars and cymbals blaring while frontman Elias Rønnenfelt drags himself out of his usual nihilistic apathy and lashes out in an impressively vigorous display of energy. Like the best moments of their last LP New Brigade, “Coalition” is also deceptively catchy, but this track manages to accomodate aggression and pop sensibility in nearly equal measure. You’re Nothing is out February 19th via Matador.
6. Comadre - “Hack”
The best description I’ve heard of Comadre’s aesthetic is that they “graduated from the Fucked Up school of yelling over what is essentially straight up indie rock.” It’s a true description, but the comparison to Fucked Up ends there; unlike their Canadian contemporaries, this Californian punk group doesn’t seem to take themselves so seriously. Their sound benefits from this looseness, allowing them to experiment with sounds and themes that are generally considered ‘outside’ of the realm of punk. On “Hack,” from their new self-titled record, the vocals are as throat-shreddingly aggressive as anything, but the instrumentals contrast starkly, blending shoegazy guitars with a theremin-reminiscent organ patch. Pick up Comadre via Vitriol Records.
7. Junip - “Line of Fire”
Although I’ve grown increasingly apprehensive about listening to sad singer/songwriters playing solo with acoustic guitars over the past few years, I think I’ll always appreciate the presence of a great songwriter singing over full band instrumentation. For this reason, I like Jose Gonzales’ group Junip more than his solo material, although I appreciate the precedent that he set on his own. Though a great song in its own right, “Line Of Fire” just benefits tremendously from the added texture and energy of the synths, drums, and backing harmonies; they actually make Gonzales’ signature Spanish guitar sound even better. Junip’s self-titled LP is out April 23rd via Mute.
8. Unknown Mortal Orchestra - “So Good At Being In Trouble”
This single from Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s sophomore LP (creatively titled II) is deceptively, subtly infectious. Stripping away some of the more psychedelic aspects of their sound, the group took a decidedly low-key approach on “So Good At Being In Trouble,” an analog R&B jam that harks back to the more soothing, gentler side of 70’s Northern Soul. With an earworm chorus and an arsenal of effects pedals at their disposal, Unknown Mortal Orchestra could have easily turned this cut into an anthemic, festival-ready banger, but they didn’t; this restraint is admirable, even though part of me would like to hear them rock out on this track. II is out now on Jagjaguwar.
9. Yo La Tengo - “I’ll Be Around”
New Jersey stalwarts Yo La Tengo may be the most dependable band in indie rock. Until the release of their new LP Fade, I was hesitant to fully commit myself as a fan, but it’s hard to deny the appeal of their genre-sweeping aesthetic on this record. Fade veers, calmly and tactfully, from the psychedelic heft of “Ohm” to the horn-laden grace of closer “Before We Run,” stopping briefly to catch its breath on tracks like the lovely, gentle “I’ll Be Around.” It’s a mostly acoustic piece with subtle inflections of modulated keyboard — the perfect aesthetic for a great romantic mixtape. It’s a respite on the record, but a highlight in its own right as well. Pick up Fade via Matador Records.
10. Christopher Owens - “Part Of Me (Lysandre’s Epilogue)”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I actually like Christopher Owens debut solo album Lysandre quite a bit more than some of Girls’ material. Girls’ records had the ambition and aesthetic prescience, but Lysandre has the heart. As evidence, look no further than the highlight closing track “Part Of Me (Lysandre’s Epilogue),” a heartbreakingly bittersweet Dylanesque anthem that subverts the guitars and harmonica of “I Want You” into something entirely personal to Owens and yet entirely relatable to us. As a songwriter, Owens’ greatest strength has always been forging this balance, and that above all is what comes through on Lysandre.
Stream the whole mix HERE via 8track. Thanks for listening and reading, and have a great February!
menteparalela asked: Hi, you probably got this asked before but how was the performance and vibe of A$AP Rocky and A$AP mob @Pitchfork festival?
It was a fun set, but if you have any apprehensions about getting pushed around or shoved by rowdy people in the crowd, I’d advise against seeing them. There was a really high concentration of jerks in that crowd, and a lot of people got stepped on and trampled. Anyway, I actually enjoyed the parts of the show when Rocky was out there on his own more than the songs that the mob came out for. We had to cut out before he played the big hits to see Japandroids, but it was an enjoyable time while it lasted.
Pitchfork Music Festival 2012: Day 1 Recap
The Olivia Tremor Control
The introduction. We arrived via El Train at Union Park before 3 PM, only to be met with a torrential downpour. We stood in line for upwards of half an hour, getting soaked with hundreds of other misanthropic festival attendees. Hearing that the gates were going to remain closed until 3:30 elicited a number of groans from the line, but soon enough the rain stopped and the gates were opened. Lower Dens delivered a strong set on the red stage that got more impressive and engaging as it went on. We cut out slightly early to get a decent spot for The Olivia Tremor Control — an Elephant 6-affiliated psych rock revival band from the 90s — who happened to have Neutral Milk Hotel's Scott Spillane playing sousaphone and trumpet for them. Jeff Mangum was nowhere to be found, unfortunately. I'm still hoping for a full on NMH reunion in 2013. Before the OTC wrapped things up on the green stage, we bunny hopped one stage further to catch Willis Earl Beal on the blue stage. During the portion of his set that we caught, Beal delivered songs ranging from foot stomping, bellowing dirges to slow, heartfelt ballads. His versatility as a songwriter and his hoarse, mighty voice drew comparisons to Tom Waits, as did his affinity for liquor; Beal downed the majority of a freshly opened bottle of Jack Daniels during his set.
We felt the need to run over to the red stage once Beal finished in order to catch A$AP Rocky, but, of course, Rocky and his crew didn’t go on until well after their posted set time. That turned out to be par for the course with most of the rappers I saw at the fest, but I’m not complaining. Rocky’s set was actually pretty great, even though his crew looked a little ridiculous onstage playing hype-men (Also, who’s that one white dude? He sucks.). Unfortunately, we had to jet before we got to hear “Peso” because we wanted good spots for Japandroids. We arrived just at the end of Tim Hecker's set, which was pretty depressing and miserable. Honestly, I like Tim Hecker on record, but I don't think a single person there gave a fuck about him in that moment. The vast majority of the crowd was definitely there to catch Japandroids, who were supposed to play at 6:15 but ended up going on late.
Because of the late start time, Japandroids' set was clipped to just 8 full songs. Nevertheless, it was an awesome and intense experience that will probably go down as the most enjoyable (if not the absolute best overall) set from Pitchfork 2012 for me. Plus, as both Post-Nothing and Celebration Rock prove, sometimes 8 songs is just the right number. Highlights included the opener “Adrenaline Nightshift,” which incited a mosh pit within 5 seconds of its opening chord, and the closer “Young Hearts Spark Fire,” which segued into “Sovereignty” at the end. The segue was a nice way of acknowledging the band’s older fans, many of whom recognized the deep cut.
Bruised, battered, and absolutely loving life, John and I managed to crawl our way over to the red stage just in time to catch the beginning of Dirty Projectors’ set. The setlist mostly focused on stuff from Swing Lo Magellan (which is excellent, by the way), but they also busted out some Bitte Orca art rock classics, including “Useful Chamber,” which was extremely intense live. Other highlights included the rousing new single “Gun Has No Trigger” and the gentle love song “Impregnable Question,” during which frontman David Longstreth and guitarist/vocalist/Longstreth’s girlfriend Amber Coffman seemed to be making heart eyes at each other. Mostly, I was just amazed at how tight the band was instrumentally and vocally. The four part harmonies, which are so jarring and angular on record, are equally attuned live. It’s almost scary how good they sounded.
Dirty Projectors were the last band on Friday that I really wanted to see, so after their set, John and I just hung around for a while, catching the first half of Purity Ring’s set before heading over to the green stage to catch the rest of Feist's. I'm not a huge fan of either group, but both their sets were enjoyable. The highlight of the latter set came at the end, when Leslie Feist and her band transformed the gentle title track from 2004's Let It Die into an arena rock-worthy power ballad. Watching from a distance, I was able to appreciate the scope of Feist's vision, and in that moment I understood exactly why she was headlining Day 1.
Pitchfork Music Festival 2012: Overall Recap
Well, that was a weekend. This year’s Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago’s Union Park was my first experience with a big out of state festival, and all in all it was an overwhelmingly positive one. Along with my great friend John Branch, I saw a ton of bands — many more than I actually expected to see — and immersed myself in the festival lifestyle to the extent that I genuinely felt at home as I stepped off the El Train platform each morning at the stop outside of Union Park.
Over the course of the past three days, I got the chance to see some of my favorite currently active bands perform. Many surpassed my expectations, delivering electrifying and engaging live sets, while others paled in comparison to their recorded material. Some bands even managed to surprise me with sets that far outshone their records. Overall, the performances were great, and I left the park each day viewing the music of numerous artists in a very different, more positive context.
The community at the festival was also wonderful. For the most part, the loud, snapback-wearing bros stuck to the shadows, coming out in full force only during the sets of acts with larger draws, such as Sleigh Bells and A$AP Rocky. Elsewhere, from the visceral moshpits at Japandroids and Iceage to the massive, silently adulating throng watching Beach House, the crowds were largely engaged and intentful listeners. Even though everyone was ultimately at the festival with the vague motivation of “having a good time,” the music was mostly respected. That made me happy.
Speaking of which, I must say that it was absolutely incredible and awesome (if a bit strange for me) to be approached by so many people who recognized me either from this blog or from The Needle Drop. I got to meet up with a lot of internet friends and met a bunch of new ones who appreciate my work. It’s especially funny to me because I had never been to Chicago prior to this weekend.
Anyway, in the next couple days, I’ll be rolling out recaps of some of my favorite (and least favorite) moments from this year’s festival. To view a complete list of all the bands I saw, head over to the Lewis and his Blog facebook page and check out my complete set of photographs from the festival.
Anthony Fantano found me at A$AP Rocky yesterday. There are so many white dudes in this shot that at first I thought it was at Japandroids.
Lana Del Rey - “National Anthem” (Official Music Video)
In this extended new clip from Lana Del Rey, rapper A$AP Rocky stars as president John F. Kennedy and Lana stars as both Marilyn Monroe and the president’s wife Jackie O. It’s pretty… stupid.
Anyway watching this was the first time I’ve listened to any Lana Del Rey song except for “Video Games” and “Born To Die” and man, this is literally one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard. I don’t really know what they were going for with this but wow the result is awful. This is what I get for ignoring Del Rey’s music until now. I’m genuinely surprised at how bad this is. I don’t even know why I’m posting this except for the purpose of conveying my shock and surprise right now.