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ten 2013 albums worth checking out [Tom Stillwagon]

So much cool 2013 music is out there to be heard people.

We got new Iggy & the Stooges, new Strokes, new Kid Kudi, new Ra Ra Riot, and new Tomahawk.

The soundtrack for The Great Gatsby appears to not suck, and allegedly, the Vampire Weekend record that just came out is quite good (although I’ve only heard a few tracks).

While you patiently wait for the new Daft Punk album to drop tomorrow, here’s a list of ten solid albums you may have missed this year. Spotify can’t make all your decisions in life, you know.

Atoms For Peace – AMOK

Thom Yorke and Flea are in a band together? Yeah, we got it. The real surprise here is that the record kicks ass. It plays way better than Yorke’s 2006 release The Eraser, which was the impetus for this project. The songs are much more cohesive and the performances are much tighter.

The beats here are blippy, big and heavy and the bass playing locks in so beautifully that all EDM artists should take note of these old rockers. The crisp Nigel Godrich-produced sound makes it feel absolutely smashing on the ears. A real treat.

Radiohead still puts out great records, but I’m much more interested in seeing what the future has in store for Atoms For Peace. I hope Yorke gives this new group time to evolve into a cohesive unit.


The Joy Formidable – Wolf’s Law

Head of BBC Radio 1 George Ergatoudis recently proclaimed that “guitar music is definitely on the way back.” If The Joy Formidable, Foals, and Palma Violets is what he’s talking about, then I’m all in.

Welsh alt-rock trio The Joy Formidable have been popping around promoting their records for about six years now. The bulls-eye was hit with this new release, packed with tunes that twist and turn and go all kinds of places. Nineties rock styles are highlighted but never dominate the modern sound.

Singer Ritzy Bryan can’t weigh ninety pounds, but she can smash a guitar as good as Townshend or Cobain any day. Where she has them beat is she does it with big a fat grin on her face.

This record makes me smile every time I put it on. Isn’t that what it’s all about, at the end of the day?

Recommended tracks include “Maw Maw Song,” “The Leopard And The Lung” and “Cholla.”


Foals – Holy Fire

Foals bring a fire to guitar rock that I’ve not heard in awhile. This album rules from top to bottom.  The rhythmic qualities separate it from its peers. Not only does it rock, but it grooves too.

This is one dance-y guitar band.

I have little to say about this, except that you should check it out.

So check it out. I’ll wait here.

Recommended tracks include “Inhaler,” “My Number” and “Late Night.”


Palma Violets – 180

The Palma Violets are a good, old-fashioned rock and roll band in a lot of ways. The sound of 180 evokes classic fifties and sixties records. Think modern kids channeling Velvet Underground, re-filtered backwards in time through Eddie Cochran.

I understand that might take some imagination but fuck it, just listen.

The creamy B3 organs and washed out fuzz guitars of yesteryear are a welcomed inclusion to the sound of 2013, and the old-school crooner vocals are full of win.

The Palma Violets were critical darlings at this years SXSW and this album justifies the hype. The songs are stellar, the production is slick and the band sounds great.

Top notch debut from these newbies.

Recommended tracks include “Best of Friends,” “Step Up For The Cool Cats” and “Rattlesnake Highway.”


Eels – Wonderful, Glorious (Deluxe Edition)

I feel like I’ve waited a decade for an Eels record that did not have so much suck in it that it was rendered relatively unlistenable. Probably because I have. Not that all their recent albums have been terrible, just that they had enough crappy in them that I wouldn’t put them on for a “long play” listen.

Face it, old-school hipsters, the Eels last reeeally good record was Souljacker in 2002 and that was a long time ago.

That’s okay. The wait is over and finally there’s a good new Eels record out. The lyrics are adorable and ugly at the same time, the guitars are crunchy and buzzy and in your face, and they give way to lush and lovely string arrangements and pop drum machines with equal respect. It’s just like an Eels record should be.

Thanks, E. I’ll stop calling your house in the middle of the night, let you and Bobby Jr. get some sleep.

Recommended tracks include “Bombs Away,” “The Turnaround” and “Wonderful, Glorious.”


Major Lazer – Free The Universe

Diplo is rad. No two ways about it. That dude is cool. Switch is rad, too. No two ways about it.
So what do you get when they team up to do the damn thing? More rad, of course.

The duo tends to gravitate towards mixing modern dubstep techniques with a pure Jamaican dancehall sound, which is probably why they were picked to produce a lot of the new Snoop Lion record.

This album is a better use of your ears, though. Nothing against Snoop, his record is a’ight. But Free The Universe is better.

The guest appearances from Santigold, Wyclef, Tyga, Ezra Koenig, and Shaggy certainly help keep things moving. What makes this record so good though, is its beats. The great tracks outnumber the good tracks outnumber the mediocre tracks.  This makes for great late night driving music.

Recommended tracks include “You’re No Good,” “Get Free” “Jessica” and “Keep Cool.”


Tyler, The Creator – Wolf

Wolf is juvenile and offensive and racist and misogynistic and homophobic, sure. Tyler the Creator would ask us to lighten up, though.  After all, he’s only kidding.

If you are weakened by offensive lyrics, skip it. If, however, you’re interested in knowing what the future of hip hop sounds like, then climb on the Odd Future bus before it’s too late.

Tyler’s gang of hooligans have already spawned one big star, Frank Ocean, and Tyler has worked with everybody in the last couple of years, both as producer and guest rapper. The O.F. mixtapes are legendary at this point.

These kids are poised to be everywhere. In fact, at this point, they kind of already are.

On his third solo outing, Tyler blends a cocktail combining schizophrenia with Nintendo, and ends up with very original results.

Guest vocalists include Erkah Badu and Pharrell Williams, as well as the majority of the Odd Future clan (Ocean, Earl Sweatshirt, Hodgy Beats, Domo Genesis, Mike G and Jasper Dolphin all make appearances.) The lyrics are brave, albeit ridiculous at times.

Recommended tracks include “Jamba,” “Domo23” and “Party Isn’t Over/Campfire/Bimmer.”


The Flaming Lips – The Terror

The Flaming Lips are weird. Real freaking weird.
These are the guys who put out an album that required four stereos to listen to. These are the guys who once put out a six hour song.  I assure you, this album is weirder.

Slow creepy soundscapes dominate the audio spectrum, all but burying singer Wayne Coyne’s voice. Sound effects and studio trickery rule over conventional guitars and keyboards on almost every song.

Oh man, it works.  It works even better on headphones.

It’s not for everybody, of course, but if you’re down for the journey, you probably won’t be disappointed.

Recommended tracks include “Be Free, A Way” and “Butterfly, How Long It Takes To Die,” although a “front to back” listen is actually recommended here. Either way, The Terror is a beautiful thing to put into your ears.


The Knife – Shaking the Habitual

The Knife is weirder than the Flaming Lips. Enough said.

The sibling duo from Sweden is back shaking things up with a new sound that implements tribal and world grooves into electronic beats, with nightmarish vocals on top. They are bold and original, like nothing you’ve heard (unless you’ve heard The Knife.)

It is high concept art at its danciest.  Shaking The Habitual is a tough listen.  By the end, you will find yourself dancing in spite of yourself, and really, that’s a pretty neat trick.

Recommended tracks include “A Tooth For An Eye,” “Full OF Fire” and “Raging Lung.”


David Bowie – The Next Day

Seriously, you haven’t listened to the new David Bowie record? Fix that. Fix that now.

66 and still down to experiment in the studio? Fuck yeah.
Besides, what Bowie fan can’t appreciate the irony in the album cover gag. I dig it.

What? You have…reservations?

Okay, nitty gritty: there are tracks here that don’t work. A lot of it works really well though. When you conjure your music from as many places (and from as many eras) as Bowie clearly does here, you’re going to find combinations that a listener won’t quite relate to.

Others will introduce the listener to great new heights. It gives, it takes. Great experimenters are never on point 100% of the time. This is the case on The Next Day.

Now, having said all that, the title track absolutely slays. “Where Are We Now?” “If You Can See Me” and “Love Is Lost” are all highlights as well. Bowie fans old and new should be able to find plenty here to keep them pleased. The accompanying music videos are a good time too. At the end of the day, I recommend the album highly.


Okay, that’s all for this week.
Here’s a playlist with a track from each of the above mentioned albums.  Just a taste.
Rock over London.  Rock on Chicago.

F&N 05/20/13 – 2013 albums worth checking out (sampler)