Answers, Authenticity, Lost and Lana Del Rey

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By Jake Pitre

Our culture has a problem with answers. Or rather, with its incessant need for them. We need our stories wrapped up as succinctly and cleanly as possible (Breaking Bad, Fargo), and we need to know What It All Means. I don’t know if I could possibly pinpoint when this cultural demand started, but the ending of Lost could only have deeply intensified it. The outrage following that show’s finale was quick, vibrant and pure. “That’s it?”, many collectively wondered. Where’s my answers? What did it all mean? What did I just spend six years of my life on? I’m owed answers!

It’s this entitlement that irks me the most. One doesn’t have to agree with me about Lost or its (widely misunderstood imo) finale, but to dislike the show because you felt like it owed you answers to all your questions is truly misguided and obnoxious. Entitlement in general is perhaps the most unattractive trait one can have, and to apply it to a piece of art is childish. Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof did not owe you anything in terms of telling that story.

Beyond that, why do we feel the need for all the answers in the first place? My assumption has always been that it is some psychological requirement of complete closure, so that a door can be closed and life can comfortably go on. Ambiguity is scary because we have to decide what kind of person we want to be by confronting how we fill in the remaining gaps – did Tony Soprano get away or go down? Will Dale Cooper ever get out of the Black Lodge, or will he rot in there eternally? When a story doesn’t really end when it ends, the gaps left in its wake are nagging black holes that drive us wild.

Relatedly, there are those that criticize Lana Del Rey because she is inauthentic, whether in terms of plastic surgery, parental career assistance or lifestyle. True to her initial status as an Internet-borne star, her past was scoured by people online. It quickly emerged that her real name was Elizabeth Grant, that she was sent to boarding school when she was 15 due to her alcoholism, that she was in a cult for a short amount of time, that she had been in a seven-year relationship with the head of a record label, that her actual debut album was uploaded to iTunes for a brief time before being taken down, and on and on. Each new piece of information uncovered a new piece of the supposed “puzzle”.

To be fair, Del Rey’s mysteriousness and unknown quality practically begged the Internet to go looking for the truth, though that mysteriousness seems integral to her image and persona. Even today, after all of these “revelations”, she is an unknowable entity, occasionally giving us eccentric tidbits like rejecting feminism or her interest in SpaceX. This specific cultivation of a pop persona is completely unique in 2014, and no rumour about fake lips will ultimately detract from what she’s doing.

This foregrounds the uneasy relationship between Del Rey and our culture. When a pop star withholds personal information and perhaps obsessively calculates how to present themselves, it makes us suspicious, but that is only part of the Lana Del Rey phenomenon. What exists with her more than with any other contemporary artist is the mass frustration over how much of this persona she revels in is real and how much is theatre. With pop artists like Katy Perry and even Lady Gaga, it is far easier to tell what is artificial. With Del Rey, it’s more difficult to determine. She talks of her lyrics being autobiographical, but sometimes the tone is so tongue-in-cheek (“Brooklyn Baby”) that one believes she must be making fun of this lifestyle she presents, at least a little bit.

When she tells an interviewer that she wishes she was dead (which should not have come as a surprise to people if they’d listened to any of her lyrics, wherein she frequently says as much), the Internet doesn’t know if it should take it seriously. The thinkpiece writers come out in droves (*waves*). Does she really want to die? Is she just trying to further position herself within the sad girl aesthetic that she so often glamourizes? Or is she doing that and simultaneously making fun of it? If so, is it okay to make light of and lie about depression, especially as a public figure?

To be honest, I don’t care, and I don’t think anyone else should, either. There are those that love Lana Del Rey because they identify with her sad girl aesthetic, there are those that like her ironically for the same or similar reasons, and there are those that fall somewhere in the middle (*waves again*). The beauty of Lana Del Rey is this: we have no idea how disingenuous this all is, if at all. And it doesn’t matter, which she clearly understands fundamentally. To dismiss or dislike an artist because you believe they are faking it to some degree is puzzling to me. This is why I brought up Lost at the start – where does this cultural emphasis on (satisfying and complete) answers come from? Why is it understood to some that unless one knows how real their art is, or have all the answers, it must be revolted against?

This brings up the parallel issue of poptimism versus rockism, which I will not drag myself into, but it partly boils down to the idea that some music is more artificial than other music. The truth is, in music and across all mediums, artists are always posturing and are intrinsically “putting on a show”. I won’t necessarily come at it from a gendered perspective because Lana would disapprove, but does anyone criticize Bob Dylan or David Bowie for being disingenuous in their art and in their images? Is there a demand to know how much of it is real, and how much is performance? When one puts this emphasis on how real our artists are and how authentic their art is, it is disrespectful to the craft of creating art and emblematic of a deep misunderstanding of where art’s value comes from.

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Why Does Everyone Hate Coldplay? (And Why They Should Reconsider)

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By Jake Pitre

David: You know how I know you’re gay?
Cal: How? How do you know I’m gay?
David: Because you macramed yourself a pair of jean shorts.
Cal: You know how I know you’re gay? You just told me you’re not sleeping with women any more.
David: You know how I know you’re gay?
Cal: How? Cause you’re gay? And you can tell who other gay people are?
David: You know how I know you’re gay?
Cal: How?
David: You like Coldplay.

With this exchange between Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd’s characters in The 40-Year-Old Virgin in 2004, the tone was set for the cultural understanding and reaction to Coldplay. As the punchline to this joke, Coldplay is established through implication as effeminate, emotional and generally soft, ready to be mocked and dismissed. This has remained the status quo ever since.

It may seem like a fool’s errand, or at least pretty pointless, to come to the defence of one of the most popular and successful bands of our time, with millions of fans and the record sales, YouTube hits and “conscious uncouplings” to match. Do these rich straight white men really need me to parse the cultural specificity surrounding their unique position and push others to reconsider their music? Probably not, but I find this band fascinating, even if it is more often because of their singular evolution and standing in our culture than the music itself, which ventures regularly between blandly safe and sneakily brilliant. So here we are.

When your band becomes shorthand for soft and “gay” (which, give me a break), what do you do? Coldplay chose to embrace it, laying the bombast on thick and not shying away from deeply emotional lyrics and soaring synth lines. In the process, they chose to not challenge their mass perception and in some ways came out stronger for it. That said, their first album to come out after The 40-Year-Old Virgin was X&Y, likely their worst album to date. The recording of that album was reportedly difficult, with many songs getting scrapped and producers leaving in the middle of production. The result is a more electronic, grandiose sound than on their previous albums, which surprised some fans and mostly fell flat as the band appears to have briefly lost their way. It was all a little desperate, and the band had to do something big for their next act if they wanted to live up to the hype of being “the next U2”.

In 2008, they released Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends. Here, the bombast and grandiosity played to their strengths – powerful ballads, vague pretentiousness, deceptively simple songwriting and lyrics. That last point is perhaps most crucial in understanding the mass appeal (and concurrent dismissal) of Coldplay. Chris Martin et al.’s lyrics happen to work in the same way that Ben Gibbard’s do for Death Cab for Cutie, or Lana Del Rey’s, or Tegan and Sara’s. They are highly emotional, a little melodramatic, and they sound very personal but are in fact devoid of anything actually intimate to themselves. The result of this is that anyone can relate to these artists, because the things they sing about are universally identifiable. At the same time, there is a distance between artist and listener that allows the listener to disassociate themselves if they wish to – these are Chris Martin’s confessional words, not mine. Brilliantly, both reactions work in Coldplay’s favour.

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Viva La Vida is unquestionably the band’s best album, their highest achievement in terms of songwriting, sonics, message. It is the perfect combination of their requisite softness and their ambitions of grandiosity and importance, an impeccable marriage between emotion and pomposity. When you consider this album in the band’s discography, it reveals itself to be the purest expression of what Coldplay is, or at least intends to be. This is where they realized how to engage with their strengths, what sets them apart, and to take their cultural perception and blow it up, quite literally. The embracement of their style, or rather the massively understood concept of “Coldplay”, gave them huge sway and left no power in their haters.

That may sound like bullshit, but hear me out. It may be surprising to learn how pervasive this dismissive attitude towards Coldplay has become, even as their success has only grown over time. Coldplay has been the butt of jokes and insults since “Yellow” became a hit. The New York Times called them the “most insufferable band of the decade” in 2005. On Family Guy, Peter gets kicked out of the band: “Guys, guys, I got an idea: how about we do a song that’s not whiny bullcrap?” Chris Martin himself addressed the ubiquity of this attitude towards his band in 2008 by saying, “Like millions of people in the world, I can’t listen to Coldplay.” Yeesh.

I think it is telling, then, that the same year, his band put out Viva La Vida, the most “Coldplay” Coldplay album there is. The lyrics remain as relatable yet obstructively impersonal, but the ambition is much higher and the sound is much grander. It is hard to overstate how important it is for a band to fully embody and seize who they are. It is the same difficulty most people have in accepting themselves as they truly are, instead of coming up with excuses or hiding under illusions. As great as Lady Gaga is, she seems to be perpetually unclear about who she is (although in her case, this makes her an even more captivating figure as we watch her work through this very publicly). When an artist is able to grasp that, which is rare, a more genuine expression can begin to be articulated. Wes Anderson, for example, doubled down this year on his own trademark style, accelerating it like never before and effectively turning out a phenomenal film with The Grand Budapest Hotel. Anderson, like Coldplay, embraced who he is and what he does so that a more authentically felt product could materialize.

Inevitably, Coldplay has struggled to maintain such a unique perspective and position. Their next album, 2011’s Mylo Xyloto, was a mess wherein they dropped the emotion and softness inherent to themselves while focusing on the bombast and grandeur. Without some of their key components, the band backtracked and lost their clear-sightedness. This month, they released Ghost Stories, their sixth album and a return to the stripped-down version of themselves from Parachutes (albeit with far more synthesizers). They considered it to be a “reset”, a “recalibration”. Drummer Will Champion said, “There’s only so far you can go without becoming pompous and a bit overblown, so we’ll tread that line very carefully.” I would argue that although Ghost Stories is far more successful at following who they are than Mylo Xyloto, Coldplay must keep in mind that they don’t need to reset themselves in order to reach previous heights. As Viva La Vida strongly attests, Coldplay works best when they accept themselves just as they are.

Ka-Ka-Ka-Kawaii: Pop Stars and Their Racial Struggle

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By Jake Pitre

The great feminist and race culture writer bell hooks has written often about how the issues of feminism and racism are inextricably linked. In other words, how could someone push for the cause of feminism and stand as a representation of that movement without also engaging with the issue of ethnicity and racism? This intersectional perspective has defined her career and has acted as a powerful strategy to critically consider both cultural issues.

“The struggle to end sexist oppression that focuses on destroying the cultural basis for such domination strengthens other liberation struggles,” she wrote in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Centre. “Individuals who fight for the eradication of sexism without struggles to end racism or classism undermine their own efforts. Individuals who fight for the eradication of racism or classism while supporting sexist oppression are helping to maintain the cultural basis of all forms of group oppression.”

Our current roster of pop stars apparently need to brush up on their racial studies. One would be hard pressed to find a star that has not been involved with some form of accusations of racism – Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Gwen Stefani, Selena Gomez, Avril Lavigne, Kesha, Lorde, Lily Allen, Sky Ferreira, and so on (Beyonce is absent, but has her own problematic dealings with feminism). Many of these women are feminists, some loudly so, but seem to be blind when it comes to race.

There are a few aspects of this worth critically exploring. First, and most simply, how does it keep happening – especially with repeat offenders? For example, Katy Perry was heavily criticized online for her Japanese geisha performance of “Unconditionally” in November at the American Music Awards. You would think that this would make her, or at the very least her team, aware of future potential offenses and stop them before they occur. Perry’s music video for “Dark Horse” hit in February and sparked outrage from Muslims because Perry plays a Cleopatra-like Egyptian who zaps an Allah-encrusted necklace. Then in her latest video, for “Birthday”, she dresses up as a variety of characters, including a very stereotypical Jewish bar mitzvah entertainer named Yosef Shulem. How has she not learned to stop dressing up in such a way?

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But perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps these stars (and probably more importantly, their teams) are believing too fully in that old adage: “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”. This is a cynical theory – these stars keep going back to this well (Stefani’s harajuku phase, Avril’s kawaii-dubstep trainwreck, Miley and Sky’s blacks-as-ornaments, Gaga’s burqa takedown, etc.) because it gets them publicity every time, they receive little punishment beyond internet outrage and thinkpieces, and their cultural domination continues. They revel and engage in racist acts and cultural appropriation in order to heighten their publicity and their image suffers little, comparably.

I think that the fact that it is almost always women is not a coincidence. In what bell hooks would call our white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, men typically do not have to engage in controversial acts (particularly racially controversial) in order to raise their publicity or exoticize their images. Put a man like Justin Timberlake or Robin Thicke in a nice suit surrounded by nameless attractive women and call it a day. For female pop stars, the cultural situation and the constant, nagging worry about remaining in the spotlight creates a vacuum that men in the industry do not usually experience, at least to the same degree.

Relatedly, that bit about exoticizing their image. Whether the intention is to make them appear dangerous or to simply exoticize through appropriation (Selena’s Indian-indebted “Come & Get It”, Avril & Gwen, etc.), these attempts to tie in these stars’ images with other cultures and ethnicities is a fetishizing of the exotic, something that show business has always done. The difference is that we should really know better by now. We shouldn’t have to force our female pop stars to resort to this in order to capture our attention. These things become spectacles, the same as the Duck Dynasty guy or Donald Sterling. It squanders their actual talent (and most of these performers are truly talented people), and leaves a bad taste in your mouth when you still like their music or their personalities. We are complicit, and we shouldn’t be, but these performers should not be so complicit either. It’s a sad situation when the best I can do is defend Gaga’s burqa takedown as some sort of well-intentioned attempt to fight for female freedom. Too bad she, along with the others, have forgotten to fight against racism and racial oppression, too.

When I’m lying awake at night: Millennials, ‘Transatlanticism’ and Universal Intimacy

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By Jake Pitre

I truly felt as if I loved her more than anything, and that she was the one I was going to end up with for the rest of my life. It always seems silly in retrospect, as much of our teenage selves look to us later on, but at the time it was very real. The only thing. This was the kind of relationship, the kind all of us have had, where a day would go by without seeing her and I would miss her, intensely. It was that powerful, and anything more than a day felt like a legitimate crisis. Of course, that faded, but for a long time it was the most intoxicating thing you could imagine. I always wanted to be close to her, and when I wasn’t, the yearning was vehemently passionate. 

Usually when writers at magazines or websites discuss millennials, they have no idea what they are talking about and have consulted with only an intern or two in order to discover the secrets of this generation. We have struggled as a culture to properly define our ascending generation, resulting in endless explanations and contradictions. Typically concerning people born after 1980 up until the early 2000s, are the millennials “the me me me generation”, as Joel Stein argued in TIME? Are they the open-minded and all-inclusive generation, as several polls and studies have suggested? Are they rude and ignorant brats, or wise and ambitious young adults? 

I think I can define the millennial generation in six words: “I need you so much closer”.

Whether through evolving parenting methods, a greater cultural emphasis on gender equality and fluidity, or some other combination of factors, the millennial generation has been especially encouraged to feel their emotions more deeply and honestly (Generation Z, those born after the early 2000s, even more so). 

At the same time, this generation is the first to grow up with the Internet. We are still in the process of figuring out how this is affecting us in the long-term, but it seems clear that there is a new and distinct distancing between us taking place. Although we can connect with anyone around the world, the Internet also allows us to retreat from, for lack of a better phrase, real life. There appears to be a collective ennui that has developed, but it is a willful one as many millennials often isolate themselves in their technological realms of mild but sufficient stimulation.

From here, long-distance relationships form in ways they never have before. Oftentimes, these are between people that have never met in person, and many other times it is the continuation of a relationship after physically parting ways. This is the ultimate absence of intimacy, in a way that can even verge on masochistic. It is also the primary concept behind Death Cab for Cutie’s seminal and landmark 2003 album, Transatlanticism

“You know, I dated a girl named Sarah in college,” Ben Gibbard said in an interview with The Nerve in May 2003. “I sort of got really excited that there might be a chance that ‘Sarah Smile’ [by Hall & Oates, a favourite of his] could be our song.” 

“But then, of course,” he continued, “she dumped me.” This is, more or less, all you need to know about Ben Gibbard, Death Cab for Cutie’s frontman.

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If the millennial generation could be defined in one way, it would be their lack of, but yearning for, intimacy. With digital culture taking over our lives, the already tricky phenomenons of sexuality and love become even more complicated and nuanced. Navigating these things feels practically impossible, so it is easier to revert into technology and even find a different kind of intimacy there, something more manageable. The 2013 Spike Jonze film, Her, was a perfect encapsulation of technology both representing and generating our fear of intimacy. Distance is now meaningless, theoretically, but in practice this is not true, and sad teenagers know it. Transatlanticism speaks to these young people unlike anything else, instigating feelings of loneliness they can identify with while simultaneously making them feel less alone.  

It is their album, theirs alone. That’s how it feels, anyway. When you are young, everything is felt so strongly and you focus on that emotion, bad or good, until that is the only thing that matters. She or he isn’t here, therefore I can’t eat, sleep, or concentrate on anything else. Transatlanticism feels everything just as strongly, including all the selfishness one inevitably goes through, and the focused intimacy blindsides these young people with how true to life it is. The album came at an opportune time, juggling themes revolving around sexuality, love and long-distance relationships, when many clumsy millennials were first experiencing all of these things. They had their own relationships, held together by technology, their own awkward sexual encounters from a fear of real intimacy. This album helped them to define themselves. 

A lyrical maneuver commonly deployed masterfully by Ben Gibbard, to its best and most direct effect on this album, is to blame for this unparalleled universality. His lyrics are often specific and personal, pointing at vivid details. “I spent two weeks in Silverlake / The California sun cascading down my face / There was a girl with light brown streaks”, he sings on “Tiny Vessels”. This puts us in this environment, we feel the sun on our cheeks. Then the kicker: “And she was beautiful, but she didn’t mean a thing to me.” A highly relatable line, from either side of the equation, one that reaches so effectively to any listener. Gibbard sets up a detail, an initially specific moment, then spits out an inimitably perfect line that hits everyone in equal measure. He does this again and again, avoiding anything truly personal but writing detail-oriented lyrics that sound personal.

Elsewhere, he’s even more clever. On “Title and Registration”, he sings about how the glove compartment is inaccurately named, and at first this seems like a rather silly line. Don’t underestimate Gibbard, though, because soon he packs another gut punch. “Cause behind its door there’s nothing to keep my fingers warm / And all I find are souvenirs from better times”, he sings, and suddenly you recall past loves and the souvenirs you surely still have. So much is built into this one line, and your emotional reaction and recollection because of it is involuntary. Then, back to the pseudo-specific: “Before the gleam of your taillights fading east / To find yourself a better life”. She’s gone, not turning back. I feel you, Gibbard, I feel you.

“I need you so much closer” is always one of the most sung-along portions of any Death Cab concert, which speaks for itself in terms of its inherent and simple power. Few albums dare to be this universal. It is a delicate line to balance, because it opens yourself up to so much criticism. But Death Cab braved it, and the result is an album so formative for so many young people. Transatlanticism is a formative experience, most significantly in the emotional sense, but also musically. You see yourself in what Gibbard sings, something that was absolutely deliberate in the writing process, and in a sense, it gives you a tangible excuse to feel what you’ve been feeling. It’s a validating experience, and validation is sought after just as much as intimacy at this point in your life. They are two sides of the same coin. As a storyteller, Gibbard has always been strong at imagery and atmosphere, but it was on Transatlanticism that he found a way to make it ubiquitous. With the album’s tenth anniversary in 2013 came an outpouring from (mostly millennial) writers, both professional and otherwise, of stories about how Transatlanticism was formative for them. Where they were in 2003, or when they discovered it in the years since, and how this album was a remarkably important part of their growth as both a person and a listener of music. All the stories were specific to their experience, full of personal and emotional details, and yet they all said the same thing. Transatlanticism validated each and every one.

Photo credit: Greg Saulmon.

Photo credit: Greg Saulmon.

The influence of Transatlanticism is unfathomable and impossible to fully document, at least in any numerical sense. It is easier to track in musical and cultural terms, as it became a huge commercial success and propelled Death Cab for Cutie into indie superstars. It was positively received by listeners, industry executives and critics alike. Their popularity was at an all-time high, aided slightly by Gibbard’s popular electronic side-project, The Postal Service, whose to-date one album had come out earlier that year. Their songs were on The O.C. and Grey’s Anatomy and elsewhere, confidently commercializing their mass appeal. Emo moved further away from its punk roots into more sensitive, heartfelt and emotional material, at least partly (and I would argue significantly) because of Transatlanticism. As Andy Greenwald wrote in his review of the album, Gibbard had suddenly become “the poet laureate of the young and hopeful”. The dorks were cool, and millennials found themselves a way to be on the inside while still being on the outside. 

It’s easy to oversell, though, how many millennials actually listened to this album and how many it had an impact on. This is actually less important. What is of concern is how Transatlanticism is the quintessential millennial album, exhibiting their characteristics and defining them. It captures them and their sensibility perhaps better than any other album before or since, and feels like a snapshot of their lives. It creates a strange case where it defines millennials even if many of them haven’t heard it, and it would be far too presumptuous to say that they would surely connect with it if they did hear it. I will suggest, though, that it’d be likely. I say this because when an album so intricately embodies and speaks for a generation at that time, it carries weight in a way Hannah Horvath of Girls could only dream of. 

With this generic universal appeal, every sad teenager feels (or could feel) as if these songs are about them – again, either as the narrator or the one being narrated on. Part of Gibbard’s writing muscle comes in this ability to sing about a selfish character (and Gibbard is undoubtedly playing a character) and yet still affect listeners on both sides of what he’s singing about. At a time when these young people are figuring out love, sexuality, intimacy, relationships, apathy, angst, technology and so many other emotions, phenomena and situations, this album comes to them, in one way or another, and becomes so easily and naturally attachable. This is the only person for me, this is the only thing that matters, this is the only love I can give. This is the only album.

The Real Bad Boys of Journalism Present: The Top 20 Albums of 2013

We really like music. It is in our ears constantly- on the bus, at our houses, in the club and as we fall asleep. And by we, I don’t just mean the writers who contributed to this list. I mean everybody. What fun would the world be without a soundtrack? Regardless of your thoughts and feelings about Kanye West or Lorde, at least we can all sit in agreement that music brings people together and makes us all feel good.

The 20 albums on this list are what made us (and this time I mean those who write this list) feel good. We danced, we cried, and in the making of this list, we argued to the soundtrack of these albums. There is hardly a single common point between these albums except maybe the massive play count they garnered in our music libraries. Some of the writers for Arbitrary Analysis even strongly dislike albums on this list, while others have gushed about them all year. As you will read in the following list, however, when one of us likes something, we love it. Happy New Years ❤


dpram20 | Daft Punk | Random Access Memories 

So how does the world’s most celebrated electronic artist successfully make a return after a seven-year recess? They don’t. It seems like the disappointed reaction to this album must have been inevitable, considering how much hate it got, despite how good it actually turned out to be. But maybe I just was never a big enough fan of their old stuff in the first place.

What Random Access Memories does is take Daft Punk’s incredible style and production and supplement a variety of personalities to enhance the experience. Nobody was listening to “One More Time” saying to themselves: “this is good, but if they could only get that guy from Animal Collective in there…” But it is impossible to deny the benefit some of these cameos add to their sound.

Is the whole album consistent? No. Is it a little overlong? Sure. But at its best, the album is creating some of the best songs to come out this year. The absurd hype-train that was “Get Lucky” has led some people to flip-flop on its standing. Screw the apprehension, that song is the best dance track to be released in years. It’s groovy, captivating, and demonstrates that brilliant balance between Daft Punk’s style and the one’s incorporated by their featured artists.

Random Access Memories is a delight to listen to. It’s expansive and its got soul. When Daft Punk hits their mark we’re dealing with some fabulous soundscapes, and I think that’s something we can all appreciate.
– Duncan


Image19 | Danny Brown | Old

Like Lieutenant Dan, I’m rollin’/ Back to back, I keep on smoking

– “Dip”

Hotel rooms crushing pills and menus/Daughter sending me messages saying ‘Daddy I miss you’/But in this condition I don’t think she need to see me

– “Clean Up”

This, to me, exemplifies the unique dichotomy in the persona of Danny Brown. Brown, to borrow a fitting cliché, burst onto the scene in 2010 with The Hybrid, and even more so a year later with XXX. He is a rapper that is not averse from dropping a few dick jokes, and many of his lines are brilliantly clever (like the Lt. Dan one above). But he is more than capable of an emotional gut punch, because he is a man wracked by depression, anxiety, loneliness and a cavalcade of acknowledged vices, and he isn’t afraid to contextualize everything around this lifestyle.

It’s a long album, 19 songs, and split into Side A and Side B. A is more about Brown’s nightmares, and B is more crowd-pleasing (to put it simply). His trademark vocal tone barks across unparalleled party starters like “Dip”, but becomes more subdued at times. There is no enigma in rap quite as strange or original as Brown, but he’s more concerned with being remembered. “So I’m breaking day sniffing Adderall, writing,” he shares on “Float On”, “and not for the money, for the life after dying.” Brown is desperate to leave his mark, and he’s well on his way. – Jake

Image18 | My Bloody Valentine | mbv

Very early into the year, I started proudly claiming 2013 would be remembered as ‘the year of the comeback’. Now, this wasn’t in anyway an original claim, and I’ve had arguments with friends over what exactly a ‘comeback’ is, but basically a whole lot of artists seemed to be reuniting and releasing new albums in 2013 for better or for worse. mbv, the third album from My Blood Valentine and their first since 1991’s masterpiece Loveless, stands above and beyond any of the other ‘comebacks’ of 2013. Did anyone actually think this would come out? Did anyone actually think it could be this good?

What works best about mbv is just how natural it feels. It’s as if frontman Kevin Shields never took the time off, the shoegaze genre was just as hip as it was in the early 90’s, and Belinda Butcher’s dreamy reverbed vocals were as fresh as ever. The blaring guitar that blasts through “Only Tomorrow” is a perfect use of their sound, and “New You already feels like an absolute classic. Still, they are experimenting and shifting the shoegaze genre in noisier (the helicopter sounds of “Wonder 2”) and even more dreamy (the essentially ambient “Is This and Yes”) ways than ever before.

mbv is like a visit from an old friend who’s somehow just as cool, if not cooler, than you remembered. They may have taken their sweet old time, but it’s like My Bloody Valentine had never really left. – Keith

jpld17 | Jai Paul | Leaked Demos

Jai Paul’s leaked demos shouldn’t be on this list. They shouldn’t be on your computer. Jai Paul didn’t want you to hear them. They are incomplete songs, some may be throwaways, and they were only leaked because somebody allegedly stole them and uploaded them to bandcamp, and yet it is one of the most compelling releases of the year. The songs sound like sketches, sure, but these are detailed sketches that require no refining to be works of art.

I could go on about how this album is indicative of our times and how album format no longer matters, but there’s a thousand think-pieces on that readily available from your favourite music publication. The actual content is what matters over the legend of the album’s release, because it is simply brilliant. Jai Paul’s vocal strength and range are undeniable despite the relatively sloppy mixing, and his chopped up Funkadelic-inspired guitar riffs are fantastically polished for a set of demos. Skittering drums and bizarre samples (Harry Potter? Gossip Girl? Ravi Shankar?) fill in the necessary gaps, creating a consistently energetic and upbeat atmosphere throughout the playtime. Maybe the demos are hinting at a fully-formed release to come, but even if they don’t, it’s hard to feel dissatisfied with what we have. – Ben

bo16 | Baths | Obsidian

Will Wiesenfeld, better known as Baths, is an open person. His Twitter feed is decidedly unfiltered, sharing many personal details and late-night thoughts (and buying habits). His music follows suit, and far more so on his sophomore album, Obsidian, than on his excellent debut, Cerulean. These are deeply personal songs, covering an emotional palette that more often than not skews toward the melodramatically dark.

A lot of Obsidian is about death, and there are several direct references to suicide (“Phaedra, it is you that made me want to kill myself”). Wiesenfeld was in a bad place when writing this album, and the darkness creeps throughout each song. His vocals, which are intimate and wavering, are the focus here, rather than the footnote they were on Cerulean. His lyrics are homoerotic, candid and gut-wrenching, achingly exclusive yet identifiable. Wiesenfeld calls us to glare at his darkness, and we’re forced to feel our own. – Jake

bb15 | Beyonce | Beyonce 

Other artists could do what Beyonce does, like drop a 14-song album in the middle of December exclusively on iTunes with a video for each song and without any prior warning, hype or single, but none would look as good doing it. When Beyonce does this, it is an event. Many were asleep when the album hit, but I watched as every tweet, status update, and Tumblr post was about Beyonce (most of them in adulation). It was a fervor similar to what Daft Punk created over months with their comeback, and she accomplished it in one night.

Even more impressive was that the music and the videos all delivered handily, as forward-thinking and next-level as the album’s surprise release. This album is simultaneously Beyonce’s most personal, most experimental, and most overtly sexual. “Haunted” is a glorious thing, with brilliant production and a loop of Beyonce saying “around” that is one of my favourite moments in music this year. “***Flawless” gives us the immortal line, “I woke up like this – flawless”, and also cleverly reapplies the criticism the opening (as “Bow Down”) received earlier this year by inserting an excerpt of Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discussing feminism. On this album, Beyonce does whatever she wants (as a grown woman is wont to do). She has her cake and eats it by stressing how hard even she has to work to look like this and accomplish all this, and yet she looks so effortless doing it. – Jake

anva14 | Autre Ne Veut | Anxiety 

In some senses, Autre Ne Veut’s performance on his latest album, Anxiety, felt like the aural equivalent of losing one’s virginity. Emotionally unchained and clumsy, sure, but something about it just feels as though it’s right. Any and all falterings present on Anxiety are greatly overshadowed by pure determination and feeling.

The album begins with “Play By Play,” a song that undoubtedly hooks you into the album with its slowly rising intensity, although the best (and most intense) moments on the release come further into the listen.

Take highlight “Counting” for example. The track’s squeaking, hardly functional saxophone seems to encapsulate the ethos of Autre Ne Veut: Take what you have (a fantastic voice) and drench it with emotion until it’s soaked, keep pushing and pushing until you’re reaching the limits of what’s possible. Fuck what your art-school dropout vocal coach taught you, emotion is all you need. Squeal, scream and writhe on the floor of the recording studio and then leave. In and out.

Once the album fully gets into its groove, things flow naturally. Every song has a verse-chorus-verse, rise-and-fall pattern to it, but never does this formula get tiring because what is happening on those tracks is so focused and committed, even addicting. As closer “World War” washes over you, the calm of the moment feels monumental. You’ve just experienced an album. You’ve been gripped and thrown around, but it’s all for the better. Do it again. – Ben

tnpfor13 | These New Puritans | Field of Reeds

The Talk Talk comparisons were inevitable. These New Puritans had always briefly experimented with classical instrumentation in pop structures, but finally with their third album Field of Reeds, These New Puritans stop dipping their toes in the pool and jump head first into the deep-end.

Field of Reeds is a guided tour of our own existence. Frontman, Jack Barnett, is telling us some kind of story, but it’s not made apparent what about. He’s going on about something that has to do with spirals, islands, swimming, and of course casually touches on the meaning of everything in the world including ourselves.

The moments of silence are as stunning as the loud climaxes of the tracks. Barnett and his group present both everything and nothing in our lives all at once. As the terrifying vocals of the children’s choir say in “Spiral”, “You want to seek the light, you want to get it right? Cause I’ve got nothing that I want to say.” It’s all a search for meaning, as Barnett hesitantly sings on centerpiece, “V (Island Song)”, where he sings with (somehow) both confidence and hesitation,  “I am the reasons. Not the questions. Not the answers. The air.”

One of the most stunning works of post-rock in years, Field of Reeds touches on old classics for inspiration, but becomes its own entity in a lost, yet completely articulated, search for both everything and nothing. – Keith

jbn12 | Julianna Barwick | Nepenthe

In Greek mythology nepenthe is a drug of forgetfulness, alleviating all sorrow and anguish. When listening to Julianna Barwick’s second album, it’s hard to think of a more appropriate title. The album operates like a sedative, tapping into your nervous system. Its constant tranquility is nothing short of magical.

The album can certainly be described as ambient, but Barwick’s vocals bring such humanity to the genre. At the same time, those vocals have an otherworldliness to them; emotional, yet distant, giving truth to that Grecian claim. The sound is reminiscent of Sigur Ros, without any of the pretension.

Julianna Barwick’s debut release was completely built on the sound of her voice. With Nepenthe she builds on this by adding instrumentals, creating a much more full and rich sound. Barwick manipulates and layers her voice, making it another instrument in the production’s orchestra. I don’t use that last word lightly either, this is the stuff of grand concert halls.

Listening to Nepenthe is a beautiful experience. Playing it on your iPod while walking has the ability to transform your environment into a dreamlike landscape. That’s no simple feat; few albums can absorb the mind and spirit like this. Considering the doldrums of everyday life, perhaps a drink of nepenthe is something we could all use. – Duncan

ctrar11 | Chance the Rapper | Acid Rap 

Despite being named after a hallucigenic, Acid Rap is one of the most lucid releases of the year. The mixtape is a dense listen, as frantic and enlightened as the mind of an 18-year-old stoner/truant/rapper can be. Chance The Rapper (as he says himself, please say “The Rapper”) writes his raps in a stream-of-consciousness style, not only mentioning parties and trips, but conflicted relationships with parents and mixed feelings about gang violence. Through all this he manages to sound fresh, and not even a little bit cheesy as many rappers do when addressing such topics. A lot of his effect is in his brutal honesty, his complex worldview, and the fact that he wrote much of the tape while in high school.

Chance The Rapper’s wordy lyrics are only bolstered by his incredible instrumentals. In an age where drill and trap tendencies are monopolizing Chicago’s rap scene, everything on Acid Rap feels deep and lush. The mixtape’s live instrumentation and slow-burning beats pull influence from soul and funk, picking up where Kanye West’s early instrumentals left off with an added after-school band practice aesthetic.

As a whole what makes Acid Rap stand out is energy. The tape felt tailored for summer nights full of parties, and summer days spent road tripping to the next one. Chance The Rapper sounds happy, and when he doesn’t, he can speak of mistakes and missing his mom without making himself sound disingenuous. The tape is a look into the diverse talents of an individual who may come to be one of the most important figures in new-school rap. – Ben

ds10 | Disclosure | Settle

For a long time, I wasn’t sold on this album. The debut album from young UK dance duo Disclosure, Settle, blew up in England and received (mostly) critical acclaim across publications, but I would be the first to point out the low points and long running time as faults. It wasn’t until recently when my friends joked, “What is this album? You play it literally every day.” Settle becomes a part of you. Suddenly the album wasn’t too long, it felt far too short. Every song felt like a hit single and only continued to become more engrained into my everyday activities.

Settle is all about love, and similarly, it becomes even better when you loose yourself into it. For a dance album, I never found myself dancing while listening, simply nodding my head and feeling enamoured with it warm synths. From the huge “Latch” begging to give into love, the wobbling “F For You” and its infatuated narration, the beautiful closing moments of “Help Me Loose My Mind” begging for devotion, or the most emotional and powerfully positive “Defeated No More”, the entire album is like a pep talk from a friend to ask out that person you’ve been absolutely infatuated with.

Settle does the exact opposite of what its name would suggest, it doesn’t simply Settle it strives to find the love of our lives, the beauty in all the world around us, and it strives for perfection. It’s like a spontaneous combustion baby. – Keith

ctbowyb9 | Chvrches | The Bones of What You Believe

My favourite genre of music, outside of simply synthpop, would be night drive music. This is music that seems to have been recorded with night drives in mind, songs that fit the unique and otherworldly atmosphere of a night drive immaculately. M83, The Cure, Grimes and Chromatics (who, fittingly, have an album called Night Drive) are all excellent examples. Lorde and Sky Ferreira put out albums this year that would fit well, also. Chvrches are a band that I can listen to anytime, but this album is particularly well-suited to night drives. The synth flourishes, Lauren Mayberry’s soaring and infectiously accented vocals, relentless hooks rendering any song a potential single. I can’t think of a more exhilarating moment this year than when I was driving fast down an empty road at night, windows down, the thrilling release two minutes into “Tether” hitting me like the bursting of a bubble of gum.

But the shiny neon exterior isn’t all Chvrches are concerned with. What really works for me about the band’s music is the intimacy. They are earnestly giving us deeply heart-on-the-sleeve, impassioned details about love and intimacy and the dissolution of these things, and it all results in a smorgasbord of cathartic synthpop releases. Every song emits a powerful emotional response from me (the highlights being “Recover”, “We Sink” and “Night Sky”), because it all sounds so sincere and so real. An appeal to the heart, perfect for a night drive. – Jake

a&8 | Arca | &&&&&

&&&&& is the Cthulhu of beat tapes. Incomprehensibly massive and primal, dripping of ooze, summoned by some mysterious force, it throws its weight around for almost half an hour and then fades away. Do we even want to know what it is or where it came from? Maybe some repressed bit of our psyche does. Or maybe last.fm does.

Arca is the chosen stage name of Alejandro Ghersi. Ghersi makes beats for Kanye West and FKA Twigs. &&&&& is his mixtape that he released this year.

For its entirety, the mixtape hosts a dark and echoing atmosphere, leaving the most basic elements of rap beats to scrap amongst themselves as the sounds of the conflict bounce and reverberate in the abyss. Drum hits and synths refuse to play along to the beat, and samples warp out of tune as they emerge. Every moment of quiet inevitably gives way to a beat infinitely more menacing than the one before. It is easy after hearing the tape to understand Arca’s direct input into tracks on Yeezus such as “Send It Up” and “I’m In It” although &&&&& as a whole never feels more than a distant cousin. Instead the beats stay in their own half-world, not begging to be rapped over, but commanding your attention nonetheless. – Ben

afr7 | Arcade Fire | Reflektor 

Sprawling, ambitious, and reflexive, Arcade Fire’s fourth album, Reflektor, is a change of pace for the Canadian indie-rockers, yet feels like the exact change they needed. With production help from LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy*, Reflektor was hyped as Arcade Fire’s “dance/disco” album, but calling this just disco is selling it short.

As the opening title track suggest, the album is all about reflections, as Arcade Fire spend the album reflecting various genres and exploring the power of music itself. The track “Reflektor” is a lengthy dance rock jam which has already become an indie anthem. “Joan of Arc” begins with jolting punk rock before becoming stadium rock chants, while “Normal Person” feels like its simultaneous mocking and perfecting rock music as as singer Win Butler asks, “Do you like rock n roll music? Cause I don’t know if I do.” “Here Comes the Night” feels like an equal mix of African funk drumming and the Under The Sea sequence of The Little Mermaid. Basically, this album goes all over the place musically, but still feels cohesive as an exploration of the power of music.

Besides how brave the album is musically, it’s also Arcade Fire’s most consistent since their debut Funeral, with its second disc stealing the show with the streak of “It’s Never Over”, “Porno”, and “Afterlife.

Reflektor is a big giant mess, but the pieces all fit together beautifully, making it one of the most daring and rewarding releases of the year. – Keith

* Sidenote/Warning: I’m a huge James Murphy fanboy.

dnwts6 | Drake | Nothing Was The Same 

Back in 2011, in something of a throwaway line off of the bonus track “The Motto”, Drake coined the term “YOLO.” Everybody declared their hatred towards the ridiculous phrase, but you would be hard pressed to find a person who never proclaimed it in alleged irony. This is the embodiment of Drake as an artist. For better or for worse, he is so unapologetically himself that it is impossible to deny his impact.

Drake’s last album Take Care was a magnum opus of sentimentalized passion and anguish. It was flooded with fantastic tracks, and was an absolute pleasure to absorb. With all that expressed pain came a dilemma though: it was a tad cumbersome. It appears that Drake realized this, coming back with a much leaner and focused album. Perhaps not as consistent as his last effort, Nothing Was the Same sees him putting out songs that outdo anything that’s come before them.

Drake’s lyrics and delivery are both on point, and 40’s production is as good as anything else in the genre. The biggest treat of this album is “Hold On, We’re Going Home,” which not only solidifies Drake as a phenomenal R&B artist, but is also one of the best songs you’ll find in any genre this year. Realizing the promise to Hip-Hop Kanye put forth with 808s & Heartbreak, Drizzy has proven that there is plenty of room for the undisputed “softest rapper in the game.” – Duncan

vwmv5 | Vampire Weekend | Modern Vampires of the City 

Looking at the rest of the top five, our list is dominated with albums that are trying to push the boundaries of their genre, or music as a whole. Modern Vampires of the City doesn’t do that. Nor was Vampire Weekend trying to do that. They have planted themselves firmly inside the box, but they explore each and every inch of it.

This album is an absolute celebration of music. It’s not breaking down any barriers, but it’s the best thing to happen in indie music this year, and the best album Vampire Weekend has ever produced. The music is dynamic and brimming with vitality, making it impossible not to sing along.

When discussing this album, I mistakenly referred to it as the “feel good album of the year.” This was a miscalculation, overlooking its exceptional complexity. The album is full of life, overflowing with energy and passion. But emotion should not be confused for happiness. There is an extensive range of feeling here, and it is so easy to immerse yourself in it.

Ezra Koenig has always been an interesting singer, and that doesn’t change, but he’s proven himself to be an impeccable songwriter as well. Tackling a diversity of themes, there is a surprising level of depth here in a genre that simply never demanded it before.

There is a feeling of growth and development from Vampire Weekend’s previous material. If this album is representative of where they are heading in the future, we have plenty to look forward to. – Duncan

ksth4 | The Knife | Shaking the Habitual 

Following up, a full seven years later, on a widely respected and acclaimed hit electronic album with a challenging, politically-motivated feminist manifesto is perhaps a little bold. But then, it would have been underwhelming had a band like The Knife returned with anything less uncompromising than Shaking the Habitual. The Swedish duo have been busy in the interim (Karin Dreijer Andersson put out a solo album as Fever Ray in 2009, and both heavily contributed to the opera Tomorrow, In a Year in 2010), but Shaking the Habitual is their welcome (if polarizing) return.

This album is far more interested in transmitting a political ideology than their dance-fused masterpiece, Silent Shout. Working through themes surrounding feminism, queer theory, environmentalism and other topics, The Knife has strong messages, and only the most fearless music could possibly accompany them. Accessibility is the last priority when there are so many sounds to manipulate into something that seems out of control, but remains compelling and maybe a little uncomfortable. Andersson’s androgynous vocals serve a less obtuse purpose in this mess of ideas, all the shouts and screeches and noises cohering into a distinct intellectualization of their themes. Unwisely dismissed by some for a lack of hooks and apparent inscrutability, The Knife invited us to look a little more closely, and they did so aggressively enough that we had no choice but to listen. – Jake

opnr+73 | Oneohtrix Point Never | R+7

R+7, in spite of being one of my favourite albums of 2013, was nearly impossible to talk about. Many of the reviews of the album spent more time talking about Daniel Lopatin’s influences, the album cover, and other details that are relevant but not essential. It is just truly hard to give somebody who hasn’t heard the album a concrete reason as to why it is so captivating, and maybe that is the inherent appeal of it, like some kind of critical Ouroboros.

Put simply, R+7 is an electronic album. The music itself is comprised of various outdated samples and synthesizers that sound cheesy or unexciting because of how familiar they are to us. Garageband synth presets, fake choirs et al. The material is draped over the exoskeleton of various electronic music forms such as house, drone and IDM that gives it newfound appeal. It really is more than the sum of its parts, the end result being a series of slowly rising, complex compositions that are breathtaking to listen to.

I really did mean that part about R+7 being breathtaking. The first time I heard “Still Life” I felt like the city bus I was on was going to take off a la Magic School Bus or something. I was enchanted, and this is the kind of music that gives me faith that electronic music has so much capacity to tug at emotions in unexpected ways. – Ben

dhsbth2 | Deafheaven | Sunbather 

“Accessibility” is a dirty word in the music community. In an attempt to escape the perceived drivel of the Top 40, listeners struggle to find sounds that are pushing the boundaries of the medium. But there is something to be said about music that breaks down the barriers of entry, finding middle ground across genre divisions. Sunbather is an album that accomplishes just this.

Deafheaven builds upon their Black Metal origins with the striking appropriation of Post-Rock and Shoegaze, creating a sound that is absolutely absorbing. The production draws you in through these more subdued instrumentals, but ultimately transcends the achievements of its foundational influences.

Black Metal fans can call foul, claiming Sunbather’s genre colonization has caused it to lose its identity, but there is a reason why this album has been able to breakout of a typically niche genre. Not through compromising its virtues, but expanding their possibilities. That gorgeous pink cover does not represent a swan song, but rather a musical manifest destiny.

Sunbather is an emotional powerhouse. Wailing guitars drown into slow sorrowful misery. The album is spiritual and dynamic, with constant development that refuses to retread its past strides. George Clark’s tormented vocals transform the poignant lyrics into more of a feeling than language. There is a quality of sincerity here that escapes metal’s alienating theatricality.

As you turn the album on, all the contextual noise is extinguished by the beauty of the experience. Its existence was unanticipated: Sunbather is the true sleeper hit of 2013. – Duncan

kwy1 | Kanye West | Yeezus

2013 was the year of Yeezus. From the performances on Saturday Night Live, the city wide projections of “New Slaves”, the outrageous “Bound 2” video, the seemingly doomed but daring Yeezus Tour, and one of the strangest musical beefs of the year followed by one of the most honest interviews with late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, West was on fire in 2013. However, nothing eclipsed what was most important, the album itself.

Kanye West’s 2010 critical darling, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, opened with the question, “Can we get much higher?” Well, apparently we can’t. In between screams on the relentless “Black Skinhead”, West fiercely claims, “Follow me up, cause this shit bout to go down.” Dark Fantasy featured five interchangeable covers, Yeezus doesn’t need a single traditional cover. West went from orchestrated maximalism to experimental minimalism. As West said during his interview with Zane Lowe, he can do perfect, he’s done perfect, but now it’s time to destroy it.

The album begins with a harsh noisy acid influenced synth line and never stops beating down hip-hop expectations from there. Each song is a statement and journey of its own, both challenging hip-hop norms while delving deeper into West’s own twisted psyche. West is angry, as he passionately and violently berates our culture in “New Slaves”. “Blood on the Leaves” becomes an antithesis of “Runaway”, where the latter has West admitting to his own faults, the former has West pushing the blame onto everyone around him. Yeezus is the darkest parts of us all.

But, at the end of the day, the album tells us exactly why its here in its very first track.
He’ll give us what we need / It may not be what we want.

– Keith

Personal Lists

thvBen

1 | Kanye West | Yeezus
2 | Oneohtrix Point Never | R+7
3 | Arca | &&&&&
4 | The Knife | Shaking The Habitual
5 | Chance the Rapper | Acid Rap
6 | Jai Paul | Jai Paul Leaked Demos
7 | Autre Ne Veut | Anxiety
8 | Vampire Weekend | Modern Vampires of the City
9 | Tim Hecker | Virgins
10 | Denzel Curry | Nostalgic 64

I think that I would describe most of what I liked this year as “colourful.” It was nice to see artists expanding their creative horizons through healthy experimentation while still working with a musical palette I recognised and enjoyed. I’m emoji-prayer-handsing that Panda Bear and Kanye West deliver in a similar way in 2014.

asaplla

Duncan

1 | Vampire Weekend | Modern Vampires of the City
2 | Kanye West | Yeezus
3 | Deafheaven | Sunbather
4 | Drake | Nothing Was The Same
5 | Julianna Barwick | Nepenthe
6 | Arcade Fire | Reflektor
7 | Oneohtrix Point Never | R+7
8 | Daft Punk | Random Access Memories
9 | These New Puritans | Field of Reeds
10 | A$AP Rocky | LongLiveA$AP

To be honest, I do not listen to nearly as much music as the other contributors to this list, so please take any overarching statements with a grain of salt. 2013 was the first time that I made an effort to listen to a lot of the music out there. I don’t think I could’ve picked a better year to do so. This year had so many phenomenal things, across all genres. To all the nostalgic defeatists, I say, “maybe music isn’t dead. Maybe we all just forgot what it fucking sounded like.”

sfntmtJake

1 | Chvrches | The Bones of What You Believe
2 | Baths | Obsidian
3 | Kanye West | Yeezus
4 | The Knife | Shaking the Habitual
5 | Sky Ferreira | Night Time, My Time
6 | Lorde | Pure Heroine
7 | Pure Bathing Culture | Moon Tides
8 | Beyonce | Beyonce
9 | Majical Cloudz | Impersonator
10 | Haim | Days Are Gone

The more music I listen to, the more I look for intimacy and sincerity. There’s a place for music that doesn’t engage with these things, and I love some of it, but I return more often to music I can find these qualities in, and there was a lot of it this year. For me, that comes in many different ways, but Chvrches worked in those areas and hit me in a way unlike anything else. Most of the albums here went down similar paths, emotionally direct like Baths or Majical Cloudz, and I hold them all closely for that reason.

basinski_nocturnes_sleeve_type3

Keith

1 | Kanye West | Yeezus
2 | Disclosure | Settle
3 | Oneohtrix Point Never | R+7
4 | My Bloody Valentine | mbv
5 | These New Puritans | Field of Reeds
6 | Deafheaven | Sunbather
7 | William Basinski | Nocturnes
8 | Drake | Nothing Was The Same
9 | Julianna Barwick | Nepenthe
10 | Julia Holter | Loud City Song

For my part-time job this summer I was allowed to listen to my iPod during work hours, which made this one of the most fun years of music for me, allowing for a lot of discoveries and re-listens. What made 2013 really special though was how much I enjoyed all the blockbuster albums (Kanye West, Disclosure, Arcade Fire, The Knife) while still finding a bunch of little guys to champion (These New Puritans, William Basinski, Collen, Sean McCann). A great mix of releases this year, and what was probably my favourite year of the 2010’s so far.

4 Quick Things

Okay, so this post comes in four parts. It’s really just four things I think are worth sharing, so this one’ll be pretty quick.

Tegan and sarasiamese

1.)  Is it just me, or does, “Back in Your Head,” by Tegan and Sara sort of sound like, “We are Siamese if you Please,” from  Lady and the Tramp. Think about it! The harmonies, the tone, even the tune is vaguely similar. Frankly, this comparison makes me like Tegan and Sara much more.

2.)  “If This Dance Catches On,” by the Mounties is probably my favorite song of the summer. I struggled to choose between some other good songs until I discovered this one, and realized how catchy and musically stimulating it is. I love how it plays around with a bunch of different sections, which makes the tune sound like a journey rather than a destination, because it’s always moving somewhere. It is a testament to the song’s creativity that I always get a different section of it stuck in my head, because they’re all good in their own way. Considering it only has around 8000 views on YouTube, it is certainly worth checking out.

3.)  So, R. Kelly did a remix of Phoenix’s, “Trying to be Cool” (Here it is). I still really have no idea what I think about this, but it’s definitely worth listening to. I just find it so unexpected. Why this song? I mean, I like Phoenix quite a bit, but what made R. Kelly of all people decide that this was a song he would work on. I’m pretty sure it works, but I’m still not positive. R. Kelly even said in a post-Coachella interview that he thinks Phoenix have a similar vibe to The Beatles (maybe because they’re European and there are four of them?).  Let me know what you think (or don’t…)!

Yesterday, Jake ranked all the Pixar movies. Here’s my list:

toy story1.) Toy Story
2.) Up
3.) Finding Nemo
4.) Monsters, Inc
5.) Toy Story 3
6.) The Incredibles
7.) WALL-E
8.) Toy Story 2
9.) Monsters University
10.) A Bug’s Life
11.) Ratatouille
12.) Brave
13.) Cars
14.) Cars 2

– Kevin

Best of 2013 (So Far)

As the halfway point of 2013 has come and gone, it is customary to take stock of all the entertainment we’ve encountered so far and determine what’s worthwhile. We decided to have some AA writers pick one thing from a list of categories (Film, TV, Album, Song, Video Game) as their favourite of the year so far, tell you why, and maybe mention some other notable things. Take a look, share your own, enjoy, don’t enjoy, see if I care.

FILM

Jake

My favourite of the year so far is, without question, Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers. In some ways, it was very misunderstood. tumblr_mpwkdxOHcr1rrsipro1_500Based on the marketing and the general vibe of “Disney girls gone wild”, expectations were shattered for many filmgoers who went to see it. I can’t help but feel like this was by design, at least partly because Korine just enjoys fucking with people. The actual movie is a surreal and hypnotic masterpiece of social commentary paired with obnoxious glorification, willfully presented as a collection of ideas not necessarily organized in any way and intended to disturb, entertain and interpret however you see fit. Korine himself succintly described it as a “pop poem”, and it’s a beautiful one at that (horrifyingly beautiful, really). Also well worth noting is Shane Carruth’s long-anticipated follow-up to Primer, the cerebral and sublime Upstream Color. You don’t have to get it completely (you won’t), you have to just give in and let yourself experience it (multiple viewings are recommended). A science-fiction film that’s less about answers and more about what brings people together and what identity actually means. With the gorgeous cinematography and muted but nuanced performances, it’s absolutely essential viewing. I was also pleasantly impressed with giallo homage Berberian Sound Studio, James Wan’s terrifying and atmospheric The Conjuring, and Rob Zombie’s continuing quest to make his music career obsolete with The Lords of Salem.

Kevin

WARM-BODIES_510x317

Warm Bodies: Even though this film didn’t get particularly good reviews, I thought it was a unique and thoughtful rethinking of traditional genre films. I enjoyed seeing how the comedy was derived from the problems associated with mixing romantic comedies and zombie films, because it made the film feel self-aware and intelligent. It was pretty well-acted (especially by Nicholas Hoult, who played the lead) and well shot, with some pretty funny moments sprinkled in throughout. Aside from the film being a bit predictable, I thought it was a very enjoyable 97 minutes of cinematic fun.
Monsters University: I thought this was a great movie (in comparison to average Hollywood films), but only a decent Pixar movie. What I mean by this is that it was very enjoyable to watch and I never really felt bored, but looking back on it, I realized that nothing unexpected or particularly original ever happened, compared to other Pixar movies. The whole film essentially just followed a typical coming-of-age film’s plot, and then added in a bunch of monster themed stuff (which was awesome, funny, and heartwarming). Overall, I enjoyed watching this movie, but I think it should have been better. Billy Crystal and John Goodman were still perfect in their characters (Mike and Sullivan).

Duncan

627

2013 has been a solid year for film thus far. Yes, the hollywood blockbusters may have been especially bad this year, despite surprise favourites Iron Man 3, and the funnest film of the year so far, Fast & Furious 6. But the real star of this year has been the independent releases, where the lovely Frances Ha, and not fully accomplished but still haunting, The Place Beyond the Pines have stood out. But for my money the best movie of the year, hell the last 3 years, is Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight. Following up on two fantastic predecessors, Midnight is the strongest and most engaging in the “trilogy”. I don’t think I’ve ever been so involved in the lives of two characters before. I’m ecstatic when they have their amazing sequence long conversations, and I’m heartbroken when it begins to fall apart. There’s room for people to call the film a gimmick and exploitive, but frankly I don’t care. If Linklater broke some unwritten rule when he produced this film then so be it, I don’t want to watch movies in a world with rules that keep films like this from me.

TV

Jake

Orange-is-the-New-Black

I’m going to ignore my own rule because there’s just too much great TV. For pure entertainment value, nothing beats Game of Thrones, which probably just had its best season yet and delivered one of the deepest gut punches any piece of entertainment has ever given me with the Red Wedding. I’m not quite finished it yet, but Netflix’s Orange is the New Black is phenomenal and will hopefully reach even more people than House of Cards did, with its stellar writing and diverse ensemble cast, making it ridiculously addictive. I was skeptical when I learned that Netflix ordered a second season before even putting the first one on their service, but now I totally get it. They probably just wanted to see more, like everyone else. Then there’s Hannibal, which is easily the best show to premiere outside of cable in years with its stellar cast led by Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen, beautiful imagery, mood and atmospherics, and great writing thanks to creator and dark mastermind Bryan Fuller. Girls avoided the sophomore slump with a messy but overall fulfilling season including great, glorious scenes like this one (“She’s too self-involved to commit suicide.”). Enlightened was cruelly cancelled after being cruelly under-watched and the whole thing still just makes me sad so that’s enough about that. Also, 30 Rock‘s final few episodes in January put the show out on top, providing an emotional but hilarious farewell; Archer remains the most under-appreciated comedy on television; Justified continued its solid run of clever dialogue, great performances and killer storytelling; Mad Men‘s sixth season left some feeling unsatisfied but I think it worked wonderfully, and deserves to be mentioned if only for finally giving us this; and New Girl was great and funny all season but especially deserves recognition for the expert handling of The Kiss. And despite its many flaws, damn it was nice to have Arrested Development back.

Kevin

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Game of Thrones: I was a late bloomer to the amazingness that is Game of Thrones, but in the last two months I’ve watched all three seasons, leading me to conclusively say that this is the best show on TV right now. Acting? Better than most films I’ve seen. Directing? Excellently shapes the many story lines into one fairly understandable package. Cinematography? Beautiful and rich. Red Wedding? Horrifying beyond belief. It is no surprise that Game of Thrones has received 16 Emmy nominations for season 3.
The Voice: Considering how many reality TV shows there are about singing, and how many of those have become quite terrible (*cough* American Idol *cough*), The Voice is really surprisingly good. I loved Usher and Shakira as judges, especially compared to Christina Aguilera, and I think their charisma and actual understanding of the modern music industry helped the show out immensely. Though I was unhappy with the results, I thought the level of talent on the show, as well the show’s format, was better than anything of its genre I’ve ever seen.
MasterChef: I’m a sucker for cooking-competition shows, and I think that MasterChef is the best of its kind. In this program, Gordon Ramsay is far less of an unapologetic dick, and actually lets his food do the talking sometimes. I think the contestants that the producers bring on the show tend to be more appealing and likeable, to the point where the viewer would actually want to see them succeed rather than fail. Season 4 continued to impress me with its original challenges and captivating story lines (which are admittedly somewhat formatted by the producers, and then relayed to the contestants).

Duncan

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It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me to talk about the strength of a year of television over another. With the majority of shows coming out in a year being renewals of the previous season, there’s pretty good insurance of a year’s quality of programming. I certainly haven’t been keeping up with enough television to fairly make this judgment, but I’ll do so anyways. This year has seen the return of a few heavy hitters, Game of Thrones in particular just came off a very strong season. I ask you to look past all the hype of the big dogs, sorry Mad Men, for the show that has been the strongest this year. This is a little bittersweet considering the show’s untimely cancellation, but I believe it needs to be celebrated regardless. Enlightened delivered a season early this year with more narrative direction, as well as emotional strength. The show has a weird charm to it, and feels different than anything else on the air. Forget about Tony Soprano, never has a character made me feel so divided than Laura Dern’s Amy Jellicoe. This season also took the time to follow the supporting men in Amy’s life by spending episodes following Mike White and Luke Wilson’s (who was robbed of an Emmy nomination) characters. Screw the overpraised Girls, White and Dern have created the most consistent and powerful show in HBO’s line up, and nobody noticed.

ALBUM

Jake

Obsidian_album_coverMy favourite album of the year so far changes at least daily, if not hourly, so I thought that instead, like the TV section, I would mention a few that I really love. Baths are a band (or rather, person – Will Wiesenfeld) that I missed the initial buzz on, back in 2010, and only discovered a short time before the new album, Obsidian, dropped in May. But while Cerulean, the debut, was a collection of great electro-pop songs, Obsidian is Baths’ fully-realized vision. With deeply personal lyrics and a more expanded but refined sound environment, it is the type of thing practically made with my enjoyment in mind. Austra followed up on their excellent debut, 2011’s Feel It Break, an album that is very personal to me, with Olympia, a more collaborative and optimistic group of songs. Led by Katie Stelmanis’ beautiful opera-trained voice, their music still feels gloomy, it’s just surrounded by some more great beats this time. Then there is Yeezus. Kanye West‘s new album is that rare breed of “mildly disappointing only because it’s not perfect”, but then, that imperfection seems intentional. So despite the occasionally lazy lyrics and misogyny (and those two things are definitely intertwined), it’s still miles ahead of pretty much everything else. I’ve fallen out of love with some of this year’s “comebacks”, like Justin Timberlake and Daft Punk, but one that I still connect with is The Knife‘s Shaking the Habitual. Acting simultaneously as a feminist manifesto and experimental electronic album, it is full of ideas and good beats, too. I’ve also really liked the new albums from Vampire Weekend, Savages, Phoenix and Sigur Rós.

Kevin

WFTDWaiting for the Dawn – The Mowgli’s: This whole album (and the greater collection of work by this band) is pure joy. The Mowgli’s are an extremely positive band, with a very full sound (they are an 8-piece after all) and a tendency towards interesting instrumentation. I love that they have a guy who plays the melodica in a lot of their tunes because that’s just the kind of band they are (the weird kind). I also love that they are named after a character from The Jungle Book. Great band, uplifting album.
The 20/20 Experience – Justin Timberlake: As I’ve said before, this album is good, but not great. I stand by that, though it is still one of my favorite releases of the year. Timberlake shows a lot of his tendency to experiment with his music and sample beats and melodies from various cultures and countries, while still creating music friendly to American top 40 radio audiences. I love that he’s not scared of putting several eight-minute songs on the album, and that he truly shows a lot of variety in the style of his tunes. I just wish every tune was as good as “Mirrors”.
In a Tidal Wave of Mystery – Capital Cities: Capital Cities is a really fun indie pop duo who definitely generated some good press with the release of their EP in 2011, which featured, “Safe and Sound,” a completely dancey dance track. The band’s debut album is a collection of songs that are both catchy and intricate, leaving the listener grooving and thinking at the same time. “Kangaroo Court,” Is my favorite track from the album. The tune (and many of the other tunes on the album) features a prominent trumpet counter-melody, which is a nice surprise to see coming from a pop duo. This band will be big in the future (I’m still not sure if that’s a good thing…).

SONG

Jake


It is incredibly hackneyed by now to claim that any buzz band is “the next big thing”, but I really hope that CHVRCHES start to get a lot of attention when their debut album, The Bones of What You Believe, drops in a couple months. Every song they put out, from The Knife-inspired “The Mother We Share” to the delightful earworm that is “Gun”, I love them more. But my favourite of the released singles and of the year so far is “Recover”, the type of song that you can listen to over and over and never get sick of it (trust me). This is electro-pop perfection, people. “No Eyes” is the standout track for me from Baths’ Obsidian, with its personal story of sex addiction and infectious beats. “Full of Fire” is perhaps The Knife’s greatest achievement yet. “Blood on the Leaves” may mix Nina Simone with a tale of alimony, but Hudson Mohawke’s beats and Kanye’s impassioned delivery make it the highlight on Yeezus. “Latch” is truly wonderful, but is also indicative of how great Disclosure’s debut album, Settle, is in its entirety. Others worth noting: “Hannah Hunt” + “Diane Young” by Vampire Weekend, “Play by Play” by Autre Ne Veut, “Hurt Me Now” by Austra, “Now I’m All Messed Up” + “Closer” by Tegan and Sara, “Attracting Flies” by AlunaGeorge, “Ain’t It Fun” by Paramore, “Black Roses” by Charli XCX, “Get Lucky” + “Giorgio by Moroder” by Daft Punk, “The Real Thing” by Phoenix, “Human” by Daughter, “Warm in the Winter” by Glass Candy, “She Will” + “Husbands” by Savages, “I’m Waiting Here (feat. Lykke Li)” by David Lynch and “Slasherr” by Rustie.

Kevin


Say It, Just Say It – The Mowgli’s: I already wrote about how much I like the album, and this tune is probably the highlight for me. It perfectly summarizes their tendency towards group-sung choruses and really happy sounding instrumentals (major chords FTW). It’s high energy, well sung, and well written. Though I’m unlikely to hear this one on the radio anytime soon, I’d definitely call it my top summer song, and hopefully the band can gain a bit more of an audience because they certainly deserve it.
I Want Crazy – Hunter Hayes: Yeah that’s right, fuck you, Jake.
Centipede – Childish Gambino: Donald’s back and clever as ever. “Centipede” is inventive, catchy, and experimental. It’s maybe one of his most ambitious tunes yet. Gambino’s singing sounds better than I’ve ever heard it before and his rap is definitely impressive. What I love most about this tune is that it shows a progression in his work. This is a different side of the guy we came to know in Camp, and after just one song, I think I like it.

GAME

Jake

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Admittedly, I haven’t played too much from this year. But two that I have played are perfect examples of extremes in the gaming industry. On the one side, you have Bioshock Infinite, a mainstream, big-budget game that proves how good blockbuster games can be. Although it has its issues (including a major narrative problem with the Vox Populi), it is thoughtful storytelling complemented by beautiful visual aesthetics and a real emotional connection that develops between the player and Elizabeth, your companion. And on the other end of the spectrum is the indie point-and-click Kentucky Route Zero. Although only two Acts out of an eventual five have been released (the first in January, the second in May), the first two have been enough to impress me substantially with this quiet but gripping tale of a truck driver trying to make his way through the mysterious Route Zero in order to make a delivery. Even working on such a small budget, the game manages to create a beautiful and enigmatic atmosphere, along with a focus on Lynchian storytelling, strange sense of humour and all. I’ve also just finished The Last of Us and really enjoyed it, despite how much it borrows from other franchises, particularly in terms of gameplay and combat. There’s also the fact that such an adult, depressing, deliberately paced and engrossing narrative must be coupled with a high head-count in order for it to be a blockbuster game, a quality shared by Bioshock Infinite (the games also share a deep bond between the two main characters, and you get very emotionally involved with both). In the end, though, this game’s shortcomings are beyond forgivable because of how production values and outstanding execution (not to mention a top-notch story with a perfect ending) can make all the difference. If I had to choose, it would be my favourite of these three.

Kevin

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Temple Run 2: I can’t tell if this pick is going to come across as a troll or not, but I legitimately love Temple Run 2. The original was a game changer (semi-pun?) for mobile gaming, and I think the sequel stepped up and delivered some key improvements, while maintaining the game’s original vibe.  It’s still chaotic and still frustratingly difficult, but now it’s far more visually appealing and offers several new obstacles. I’m stoked to see what they’ll come up with for Temple Run 3.

The Last of Us: I’m going to preface this pick by saying that typically most of the years best games come out closer to the end of the year (for Christmas and such). However, The Last of Us was great. Like, really, really, really great. The game is intelligent, violent, and heart stopping. My only gripe is that it sometimes feels a little linear, but that’s okay because it’s FUN.
Side note: Journey was the best game of 2012 because REASONS.