This duo is one of the best collaborations in the genre of hip hop I’ve heard in a very long time. El-P teams up with Killer Mike, and neither of the two outshine each other; they’re an unbeatable pair. El-P’s beats are phenomenal and really make this album stand out, and when they’re both spitting rhymes, they do so aggressively, back and forth like an intense game of ping-pong (only cooler and much more intricate). They each have their own distinct personalities that make their contributions a perfect combination since their styles tend to complement one another. Overall, this is frankly one hell of a banger and surely to get a lot of spins in my car.
9. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
Whether it’s Matt Berninger‘s vocals that you find appealing, or the soft and driving force behind the sounds of the band itself, The National is a band that doesn’t go unnoticed. As far as I’m concerned, this band has released a pretty consisent discography, and this album is their best one yet. Several notable musicians make appearances on this thing, too: St. Vincent, Sufjan Stevens, Sharon Van Etten, and Richard Reed Parry (of Arcade Fire) to name a few. Matt’s lyrics are still depressing in a way that comes off as genuine and relatable. I connected with this album on many levels because of the human-like qualities it possesses, including the painful aftermath of a breakup and the longing for a past that cannot be made present.
8. My Bloody Valentine – mbv
The follow-up to their seminal shoegaze album Loveless sounds like it could easily fit into their 90’s catelogue, but simultaneously features new elements that demonstrate the expansion of their sound. The shimmery and heavy guitar riffs over dreamy vocals are still apparent; the fuzz and noise that sometimes drown out their two vocalists is still a distinct trait of their music (with the exception of their 80’s-reminiscent pop song, New You). Is this and Yes sounds like how you would imagine a slow alien abduction with its repetitive and eerie ambience. The last few tracks emphasize the change in sound that My Bloody Valentine has embraced: experimental dissonance, particularly the track with the airplane sounds sampled throughout. This is a new My Bloody Valentine, but not brand new. It’s certainly not a Loveless pt. 2, but it makes total sense to assume that this is the following album after 22 years of leaving everyone in suspense.
Will Wiesenfeld‘s music has always been colorful: a unique blend of glitch-hop and pop over electronic beats and samples. What made his debut album Cerulean so captivating was its array of glitch-y electronic instrumentals and often childlike samples. Some of the lyrics, however, dealt with more personal feelings, but the original blend of sounds definitely overpowered the lyrical content (the music itself was so refreshing that coming to terms with the lyrics took a while to unfold). On his new album, Obsidian, Will has taken the vibrant beats of his first release and made them more accessible, more exciting, and more equally balanced with his vocals/songwriting. In other words, it is much easier to connect with the stories behind each song because the singing flows smoothly along with his carefully calculated sounds. This allows for an album that expresses much more about Will’s personal life, a darker side of Baths, and the experience of listening to this is similar to that of reading a novel from front to back, though, you wish it wouldn’t end.
6. Disclosure – Settle
The two UK brothers make an excellent electronic duo that surpassed my expectations because this is only their debut release. Much like Daft Punk’s exceptional new album, Random Access Memories (still on my loved list, but did not make my top 10), this new album Settle adds color and intelligence to the genre of dance music along with the well-rounded contributions from the many featured vocalists. It smoothly blends elements of R&B, pop, and electronic to make each track come alive in their brightness. What’s also refreshing is that the hooks are infectious, the beats are rich and sometimes unpredictable, and the experience of listening to this is similar to that of being at a fun party. Lots of dancing, flashing lights, and a just a good time in general.
This electronic album, with techno and house tendencies, is constantly engaging with its pulsing bass lines and climatic beats. Some parts are repetitive, yes, but not in a dull or monotonous way. They drive the songs forward, building momentum, allowing the listener to wait in suspense for more. Some tracks are spacey and intricate, while others are beautiful and organic. With numerous listens, each layer is revealed more and unfolds some of the more subtle parts over time. What makes this album so fresh and interesting is its dance-like rhythms that are somehow atmospheric and mellow at times as much as they are upbeat. Immunity is definitely one of the electronic highlights of this year.
4. Dessa – Parts of Speech
Dessa’s latest album offers a wide range of styles, from the hard-hitting bangers (like Call off Your Ghost, produced by Paper Tiger) to the beautiful orchestral pieces, this release has a lot to offer. What stood out immediately was Dessa’s focus on singing more than rapping. Though she raps in a few tracks, her voice really dominates this from front to back, but her songwriting remains witty and thought-provoking. The storytelling on Parts of Speech is absolutely breathtaking at times. You can tell that Dessa wrote about some personal experiences as well as others that may not have been her own, but still had a profound effect on her. Annabelle, for instance, was inspired by a French film she saw that dealt with a man and his lover having dinner. The woman, Annabelle, is suffering a great deal of emotional damage and there is a mask on her face to portray the chaos of feelings overwhelming her, and the man imitates this by putting spaghetti sauce on his face because he wants to suffer with her; he loves her and doesn’t want her to feel alone. The fact that she can write a song and pour so much feeling into it when it’s not even based on her own life is truly admirable. If you’re looking for a hip hop artist far from conventional, with a wide range of influences, clever lyrics, and beautiful vocals, Parts of Speech has it all.
3. Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle – Perils from the Sea
What I love about Mark Kozelek's contributions to music, both in his older slowcore outfit Red House Painters and folky Sun Kil Moon, is his honesty and storytelling. He has the power to move you through his words–not just with his own experiences either. Lately, his music has taken on a more stream-of-consciousness style that makes you feel like you're listening to his jumbled dark thoughts as he travels to different countries and nostalgicly thinks of old times and loved ones. His songwriting has emerged from powerful metaphors that are intricate and deep to a more straightforward style that is equally emotive. Jimmy LaValle (of The Album Leaf) creates atmospheric and diverse electronic instrumentals that help Mark's vocals to shine in a completely new way. Mark's music typically is accompained (at least on his more recent work) by his nylon-string guitar, which sounds like a great companion to his melancholic voice and somber lyrics. Jimmy's beats have allowed for Mark's words to pop out in a totally interesting way. It's essentially an unlikely duo that creates a combination of sounds that somehow work together unexpectedly, like salty and sweet foods consumed together.
2. Milo – Things that Happen at Day / Things that Happen at Night
Both of these EPs felt like such a package together that I couldn’t separate them into two individual entities. Things that Happen at Day/Things that Happen at Night include everything I love about Milo’s music with even more depth, even more confidence. Rory Ferreira’s style as an emcee has clearly developed. Not only has he gained a better sense of his own direction musically, but he has put forth songs that encompass all of his quirky qualities with new additions to his philosophical and humble nature. Riley Lake’s production on Things that Happen at Day is what really floored me because there are remarkable instrumental pieces that sound brilliant with Rory’s songwriting. The album artwork, too, is stunning and makes these this double EP appear to be a unified concept. Milo’s newfound confidence soars high as he makes a list of things he shouldn’t do in his future (as a time capsule to remind himself of the person he does not wish to become), explores his philosophical awakenings, and even keeps his eccentric sense of humor with a track all about a pizza party with Open Mike Eagle and who to invite on their guest list (and NOT to invite, AKA Daniel Tosh). There are also some killer references and samples on this: a hook resembling “One Headlight” by the Wallflowers, a sample of the Warpaint song Billie Holiday, and a subtle shoutout to Talking Heads (“this is not my beautiful house, this is not my beautiful wife, how did I get here?”), the list goes on. It would be an understatement to say that Milo is a great hip hop artist—he has surpassed his previous releases by far and still has managed to release a couple more solid EPs after these two (Cavalcade and his new project Scallops Hotel: Poplar Grove or how to rap with a hammer). I’m stoked to see what else is in store for this nerdy Hellfyre Club member (If you’re interested in hearing more about this fantastic double EP, check out my review for it).
1. The Knife – Shaking the Habitual
I’m amazed by how much I love double albums (double-disc CD and triple LP); you’d think there would be more room for mistakes, pretentiousness, and a length that is so daunting you never feel like you have time to commit to it. Fortunately, this is far from the case with this new Knife album. Everything I ever loved about The Knife, especially on Silent Shout, has been raised to an ambitious level that allows even more room for creativity. Shaking the Habitual incorporates a whole array of music genres, including but not limited to: electronic, industrial, ambient, house, pop, and much experimental output. There are obvious themes of gender expression, political ideologies, and questioning society in general. A few of their songs are also named after the Margaret Atwood novel Oryx and Crake and their song, A Tooth for an Eye, references Karen’s favorite Jeanette Winterson book. Though the lyrics are definitely thought-provoking and interesting, the sounds this band produces are captivating, unusual, and abrasive. Certainly an acquired taste, Karen Dreijer Andersson’s vocals are outrageous at times, but they keep everything sounding exciting. Sometimes she sounds as if she is performing as well as singing, and that adds to the experience of this album that lasts over 90 minutes. I can’t think of a better album released this year because this has exploding songs, dramatic shifts in sound that are somehow cohesive, and catchy hooks that get stuck in my head endlessly. An A+ album, undoubtedly.