2013 – The List (Albums)

This year was pretty amazing musically, probably better than any since 2007. As such, my list of top albums is stretching to 35. There were quite a few other albums I liked, but these are the ones I liked enough that I would feel bad leaving them off a list. I’ll do a separate list of songs in a few days; I find those much more difficult to rank.

I’m slowly adding comments to these, though I’m not sure I’ll add something to every entry.

35. Sleigh Bells – Bitter Rivals
I’m still waiting for Treats‘s equal. This is fun, but there’s enough lyrical awkwardness here to give plenty of pause. Play it loud, and don’t think about it too hard.
34. Action Bronson – Blue Chips 2
“… in a Porsche and the seats are made of mastodon.” Action Bronson … still ridiculous. Also one of the most consistent (and prolific) creators of memorable one-liners. There’s nothing high-concept about him (yet), but his lowbrow is better than your lowbrow. Guaranteed.
33. Cassie – Rockabyebaby
32. Yamantaka // Sonic Titan – UZU
31. Windhand – Soma
In the spirit of 40 Watt Sun and Pallbearer, Windhand have this year’s best doom record. Complete with a half-hour final track, Soma is even perfectly titled. While I doubt the muscle-relaxant is the intoxicant of choice for experiencing the record, I’m sure it soundtracked many stoned hours this year.
30. MIA – Matangi
It’s definitely no Kala or even Arular, but Matangi is a step back in the right direction after MIA’s last outing. It’s definitely a little disappointing that nothing else on it is as good as “Bad Girls” though.
29. Party Supplies – Tough Love
28. The Range – Nonfiction
27. Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe
26. Chance the Rapper – Acid Rap
25. Danny Brown – Old
24. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
23. Mikal Cronin – MCII
22. Marnie Stern – The Chronicles of Marnia
21. Kurt Vile – Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze
20. Survival – Survival
It’s not Liturgy, but it does share some of the experimentation with rhythm that I enjoy so much about HHH’s other band. Survival is certainly more accessible, if ultimately less satisfying.
19. Dan Friel – Total Folklore
18. Jai Paul – Jai Paul
This will probably have changed significantly when (if?) it officially gets released, but even in the leaked form it was a really nice development of the style Paul exhibited in “BTSTU” and “Jasmine”.
17. Torres – Torres
16. Forest Swords – Engravings
15. CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe
14. Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana
13. Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience
12. Majical Cloudz – Impersonator
11. Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels
10. Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time
09. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
08. Haim – Days Are Gone
07. Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady
06. Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt
I didn’t hear American Weekend until this year, ie about a month before Cerulean Salt came out. I still think this is the lesser accomplishment, but impressive nonetheless, and it is admittedly much more musically diverse.
05. Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety
04. Disclosure – Settle
03. Deafheaven – Sunbather
There was a lot of discussion around about this being a crossover album, but make no mistake: this is metal. If I were to make a list of my favorite metal tracks this year, I’m pretty sure the top of the list would be every track on here. It’s in the running with Liturgy for my favorite metal album ever.
02. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
01. Kanye West – Yeezus
This is the year of Yeezus. Nothing else came close. You may not be on board with Kanye the character, but Kanye the musician is unimpeachable. As long as he remains at the top of the mountain, he can yell as loud as he wants from up there.

Statistics: Pitchfork stuff

Pitchfork‘s various end-of-year lists came out a couple weeks ago (Top 50 here), and I always think it’s interesting to see how their lists correspond to the ratings they assign during the year (and particularly the BNM distinction). During the course of the year a total of fifty (interesting …) albums/EPs were given the Best New Music tag. They range in rating from 8.2 to 9.5 with an average of about 8.6 (and a standard deviation of about .3). Eight albums received ratings of 9.0 or higher.

Of the fifty BNM albums/EPs, forty ended up on the Top 50 list, one was on the Honorable Mention list, which leaves nine that were unrecognized. The highest rated albums to be on neither list were Converge’s All We Love We Leave Behind and Twin Shadow’s Confess, which each received 8.6. The eight albums which received a 9.0 or higher all ended up in the top twelve slots. The ten albums on the Top 50 list which were not BNM all had ratings between 7.8 and 8.2, as did all of the Honorable Mention selections aside from the lone BNM album (Frankie Rose’s Interstellar) and two which hadn’t been rated (Jeremih’s Late Nights with Jeremih and Waxahatchee’s American Weekend).

I haven’t recorded the results from previous years, though I have looked at this several times and the results are usually pretty similar. Getting a BNM tag basically gives an album at least a 75% chance of being on the Top 50 list, and getting a 9.0 or higher basically guarantees it. BNM albums which seem most likely to be left off are metal/hardcore. I’m not sure if there has been a 9.0+ album that hasn’t made the Top 50; if their site had a better search feature I’d find out.

2012 – The List

A hell of a lot happened to me in 2012, and it was the first year that was actually better than the previous year since 2009. Musically my favorites are dominated by guitar-heavy rock and electronic stuff (a lot of it fairly minimal), which is an interesting dipole. I didn’t get into a whole lot of rap or folky stuff this year either.

I’m not going to bother with any “honorable mention” albums this year, although I do want to say something about a couple. First, The Seer by Swans. I’m still not even sure if I like the album, and furthermore I don’t even know that “album” is the best word to describe it. It is an experience. When listening to The Seer you will leave this world, enter the world of Swans, and remain there for damn near two hours (!). This, I think, makes it successful whether or not the listener ends up liking it. Next, Kendrick Lamar. His album is fantastic, and I really wish more rappers would try to put together cohesive statements like this. Also, best use of skits ever. Some people (I’m looking at you Pitchfork) said it’s the best rap album of the last 10 years though. That’s just a bunch of gibberish … motherfuckers act like they forgot about ‘Ye. It’s not the kind of album I can just put on and enjoy so far; it really requires me to set aside time so I can pay attention, which is why it’s not on this list.

With that out of the way, here are my top 25 albums for this year, with associated commentary when I have something pithy to say.

25. Burial – Kindred (EP)

If he releases an EP like this every year then I don’t even think I’d need a real sequel to Untrue.

24. Royal Thunder – CVI

This is basically a mix of hair metal and classic rock, and it really works. There are some serious grooves here.

23. Jessie Ware – Devotion

Everybody that listens to (or makes) “adult contemporary” music should be forced to listen to this to hear it done correctly.

22. Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light

Jesus please be my bullet and gun. Shoot all the sinners down, every one. Kill all my demons, and that would be fine. But I would be reloading all the time.

21. Action Bronson & Party Supplies – Blue Chips

Action Bronson is ridiculous. Every rap is about food, drugs, and/or sex, but he does it with such creativity and frequent hilarity that he gets a pass for his often wildly inappropriate lyrics.

20. Angel Haze – Reservations
19. Horseback – Half Blood
18. White Lung – Sorry

10 songs in 19 minutes. This is straight up punk rock: high-energy, catchy, and fun.

17. Blondes – Blondes
16. Primitive Weapons – The Shadow Gallery
15. Dum Dum Girls – End of Daze (EP)

If this had been album-length with the same quality it would have definitely been top-5.

14. Whirr – Pipe Dreams
13. Passion Pit – Gossamer
12. El-P – Cancer for Cure
11. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

I hadn’t ever listened to Godspeed much before this year, but this is great meditative instrumental rock. I’m looking forward to exploring their catalog.

10. Andy Stott – Luxury Problems
09. How to Dress Well – Total Loss
08. Baroness – Yellow & Green
07. Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind

Another veteran band I hadn’t listened to much before this year. With polished production, brilliant musicianship, and a lot of catchy hooks, this has become one of my favorite hardcore records and basically what I would point to as the epitome of modern hardcore.

06.5. Purity Ring – Shrines

I included Purity Ring on my list of favorite albums last year (at #6) based on what I heard at their live shows, which was the material from this album. They would have been #7 this year, but I’m not officially including them on the list.

06. Crystal Castles – III

This duo, aside from putting on a pretty spectacular live show, are for me the most dependable electronic act around. I basically love just about everything they do, and their newest LP is no exception.

05. John Talabot – ƒin

Simple electronic music is created in such vast quantities that it takes something pretty special to stand out. Everything about this album is just so right.

04. Chromatics – Kill for Love

Chromatics play perfect nighttime driving music.

03. Pallbearer – Sorrow & Extinction

I certainly wouldn’t have thought my favorite new artist this year would play extended, ponderous metal ballads. I’m seriously entertained by the fact that the vinyl release is a double-LP with just 5 songs.

02. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory

This was pretty close to being my favorite album this year, and a year with two rock albums this good is a great year indeed.

01. Japandroids – Celebration Rock

Ah, Japandroids. Post-Nothing was my 2nd favorite album of 2009 (behind the XX), so this was one of my most-anticipated releases for the year. Unlike the XX’s Coexist, which is probably my biggest disappointment of the year, Japandroids delivered a sequel that not only lived up to my expectations but actually exceeded them. I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for great rock songs, and these guys are one of the only .

Some songs that I particularly enjoyed this year (that aren’t on any of the above albums):

Usher – Climax

This was my favorite song of the year. It’s. Just. So. Good. I can’t say I ever really liked Usher before, but he basically gets a lifetime pass for this. Also Diplo, but he’s already got several such passes.

Le1f – Wut

I’m an emperor, wanna see me in my new clothes? Favorite rap lyric this year.

Kate Boy – Northern Lights

This owes a serious debt to the Knife (as does Purity Ring), but it’s still awesome and I’m really looking forward to their LP.

Death Grips – I’ve Seen Footage

This is the most “normal” song from The Money Store. Also the only one I could really get into. I guess I’m not weird enough, but this song is still awesome.

Blawan – Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage

I don’t know how, but Blawan makes weird work on a regular basis.

Bat For Lashes – All Your Gold, Laura

I wasn’t nearly as fond of The Haunted Man as I was of Two Suns, but these songs were standouts.

Frank Ocean – Thinkin Bout You

Perhaps the reason I couldn’t get into Channel Orange as much as everybody else is because this track set the bar too high for the rest of the album.

MIA – Bad Girls

Aside from having an insane video, this song brings me hope that MIA can bring back the quality of her first two releases. Perhaps my most-anticipated LP of 2013.

Diplo & Nicky Da B – Express Yourself

I think this actually came out in 2011, but I didn’t hear it until after the video came out this year. And OMG what a video.

Major Lazer – Get Free

Hey, look! More Diplo!

A$AP Rocky – Goldie

I’m so bout it bout it I might roll up in a tank. I think he could probably afford one too.

Jack White – Sixteen Saltines

Vintage White Stripes rock, which is always a good thing.

Homeboy Sandman – The Carpenter

Just listening to his rapid-fire delivery makes me short of breath.

TNGHT – Higher Ground

Sorry Jibbs, but this beat is bananas. And it has a tuba. You have no tuba, and now you have no bananas.

Fidlar – Cheap Beer

I! Drink! Cheap! Beer! So! What! Fuck! You!

I’m just gonna go ahead and put this out there: Call Me Maybe is a good song. So, that’s on the internet now.

2011 – The List

2011 was a pretty terrible year for me in general, but a great year for music. Unlike the last few years, there was no clear choice for best album; my top five are essentially tied for that honor. I decided to give the nominal top spot to Youth Lagoon, for which I’ve been meaning to write a review since right after posting the one for HtDW. It’s a beautiful, vulnerable, and poignant album and I really hope Trevor Powers keeps up the good work.

I get sort of tired of ranking things around number 25, so I cut the list off there and I have another 10 “honorable mention” choices. I quite liked all of these albums, but they’re “just” solid offerings as opposed to sock-rocking statements of musical prowess. Without further ado, here they are in alphabetical order:

Black Lips – Arabia Mountain
Des Ark – Don’t Rock the Boat, Sink the Fucker
Feist – Metals
Gobble Gobble – Neon Graveyard
Mastodon – The Hunter
Phantogram – Nightlife
Radiohead – The King of Limbs
Terius Nash – 1977
YACHT – “Shangri-La”
Zola Jesus – Conatus

And now the top 25, in reverse order for heightened suspense.

25. Nacho Picasso – For the Glory
24. Ty Segall – Goodbye Bread
23. James Blake – James Blake
22. Austra – Feel It Break
21. Action Bronson – Dr. Lecter
20. Battles – Gloss Drop
19. Frank Ocean – nostalgia,ULTRA
18. Cults – Cults
17. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
16. Grouper – A I A: Alien Observer/Dream Loss
15. Foster the People – Torches

He got a bunch of money, and then he put it right where his gold grill is and dropped the most interesting rap debut in recent memory.

13. Wild Flag – Wild Flag

It’s not Sleater-Kinney, but it’s pretty damn good.

12. Watch the Throne – Watch the Throne

This was a bit of a weak year for rap. I vacillated (and still do) on which record was the better between this and Rocky’s, but in the end I decided Watch the Throne’s cover was apt because anything Kanye West touches actually does turn into gold.

11. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

I am one of the apparently few people who didn’t particularly care for their first album, but this one is a different story. It’s a bit more polished, but the Foxes clean up nicely.

10. Fucked Up – David Comes to Life

This one was hard to place. It’s such a well-crafted experience, but at 78 minutes it’s almost too much of a good thing. It probably deserves to be a few spots higher.

9. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l

This totally scratches my itch for weird indie pop/rock. Bird Brains was weird and interesting; this is just weird and awesome.

8. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints

This gets better every time I listen to it. From soft and whispered to arena-worthy rock, Erika is always on point. It’s kind of disturbing how catching a song about slashing wrists can be.

7. The Rapture – In the Grace of Your Love

I was not much of a Rapture fan before this album, but as far as I’m concerned this is a perfect distillation of the post-LCD DFA sound. I want more.

6. Purity Ring

Ok, so they didn’t actually put out an album yet. This is purely based on the 3 (yes, just 3) tracks they’ve released, and the others which they played live. I do what I want.

5. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes

This came out way back at the beginning of March, and it’s hard for me to compare things that came out so long ago with stuff that I’ve been excited about much more recently. However, this was a significant step up from her first album, and it’s been near the top of my mental list all year.

4. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

Yes, it’s good. I don’t really need to say much else here.

3. The Antlers – Burst Apart

This was the sleeper hit of the year for me. I wasn’t that high on it right when it came out, but that has obviously changed. One track is particularly resonant for me, but whole thing is rife with emotional power.

2. The Weeknd – House of Balloons / Thursday

The Weeknd are the breakout internet stars of 2011 and poised to be the breakout commercial stars of 2012, fresh off their collaboration with Drake and a great Florence and the Machine remix. Thursday doesn’t come close to the raw power of House of Balloons, but it’s still a worthy addition to the canon. Expectations for Echoes of Silence are immense.

1. Youth Lagoon – The Year of Hibernation

This is ostensibly a small and personal record, but its almost child-like wonder and blossoming melodies are infectious. It’s all up in my brain, and that’s fine with me. Call me a Youth Lagoon zombie.

I usually end up modifying my list a bit after checking out other year-end lists (like this one, or this one, or this one, or this one, or the impending pitchfork list) and finding things that I overlooked during the course of the year, so I may post an update at some point. I also caught up with some older releases for the first time this year. I had never bothered to check out the Black Keys’ catalog, because I had apparently confused them with another band that I didn’t like very much which had a similar name, but it turns out they’re pretty ok. After a couple of listens I think El Camino is their weakest release, but the older material is nice. I also discovered Murder City Devils (thanks Ameni) and American Nightmare/Give Up the Ghost (thanks internet) this year, to my enjoyment. I’m also really going to be looking out for more stuff produced/remixed by Clams Casino. He’s the new hotness. And with that, I’ll close. Bring it on, 2012.

How to Dress Well – Love Remains

Artist: How to Dress Well
Album: Love Remains
Label: Lefse Records
Year: 2010
Rating: 8.6
Posted: October 23, 2011

How to Dress Well (HtDW) is the alter-ego of Tom Krell from Brooklyn-and-sometimes-Cologne, who is a philosophy graduate student in his spare time.  His first LP, Love Remains, was released on Lefse Records about a year ago after a torrid period of song releases through his blog.  His style is a sort of abstracted R&B; it evokes a similar mood but does so with minimal percussion, drone-like arrangements, and ethereal falsetto vocals that are almost uniformly indecipherable.  The overall effect is something akin to the soundtrack of a dream or memory … the emotion persists but the details fade into the background.

The “lo-fi” production style that Krell employs has been a common talking point surrounding HtDW.  I put quotes around it since the term “low fidelity” was originally intended to signify a recording of poor quality which didn’t actually reflect the content that musicians were trying to convey.  These days lo-fi is used more as a catch-all term to represent either production styles that mimic the sound of older recordings (most often from the ‘60s), or people who produce in home studios (“bedroom”, “amateur”, “lap-pop”, etc).  HtDW falls into the latter category, but lo-fi is sort of a misnomer in this case since the content is presented exactly as Krell intends.  An abundance of reverb and layered vocals are the cornerstones of HtDW’s sonic signature.  Effects such as vinyl pops/hisses and blown-out speaker distortion pepper the periphery of the recordings.  The noise can be slightly jarring (e.g., “You Won’t Need Me Where I’m Going”), but these sharp edges give extra depth to songs that are often quite simple in their construction.  To me, it sounds almost like the songs are distorting themselves in their struggle to escape from the speakers.

There are only a couple of places where the album’s consistency breaks down.  At the end of the live recording “Walking This Dumb” (the only such track on the album), the audience breaks into applause.  It’s an odd experience which really breaks the musical continuity, and could have just as easily been excised.  I’m not exactly sure why he’d choose to leave it in.  The other decision I question is the inclusion of “Mr. By and By,” which sounds much more like traditional R&B than the rest of the album.  This isn’t to say it’s a bad track, but its driving (I use the term loosely) beat feels forced given the otherwise languid pace of the album.  These aren’t major faults, but they do bear mention.

The album’s title, Love Remains, seems to almost be an attempt to counterbalance the overwhelming sense of melancholy that pervades the work.  Even though the lyrics are indecipherable with rare exception, song titles like “Suicide Dream” (two of them), “You Won’t Need Me Where I’m Going”, and “Can’t See My Own Face” don’t conjure images of rainbows and unicorns.  In a certain sense the lack of vocal definition is a boon, since it allows the listener to simply appreciate the beauty of the music.  With such spare arrangements, well-defined vocals would dominate the tracks.  I don’t want to say that HtDW couldn’t succeed with that type of song, but it would be a fundamentally different approach to songcraft.  One of the strengths of the album is its accessibility, since it doesn’t make many demands of the listener to decipher cryptic lyrics or parse complex musical structures.

For a first official album, Love Remains is remarkably cohesive.  This could be attributed to the large body of work Krell created prior to its release, but I think the more important factor is how well he has defined the aesthetic he wants to cultivate for HtDW.  For me, and I assume many others, Love Remains sort of appeared out of nowhere in 2010.  Now that the (small) spotlight is on, I’m extremely curious to see how Krell chooses to develop the HtDW sound on his next full-length.


Hi there.  I am El Oso Dudoso, and I like music.  I have threatened at various points in my life to start writing music reviews, and I have reached a point where I’m confident enough to make that happen.  So, what you will get here are my opinions on albums.  I don’t know how frequently I’ll write or whether I’ll stick to writing only about music I want to recommend.  I imagine that the latter depends on the former.  It will take me a while to really develop my vocabulary and style, but hopefully you can find something of interest.