It’s easy to get caught up in the present, but for the purpose of this post we ask you to take a minute to reflect on the not-so distant past. Without any further delay, Indie Current presents the first installment of our 2013 Year-End List. For the next couple of days, we’ll post the following three parts of the Top 100 Albums List, as well as lists featuring our top 50 EPs and our favorites songs of the year separated by hip-hop, rock, pop, electronic and remixed selections. Until then, enjoy these carefully curated record selections.
1. Doldrums - Lesser Evil
The stag Montreal-based artist-producer, Airick Woodhead (or Doldrums) is a dose of fresh air to the electronic music scene. Equal parts threatening and exuberant, this album was recorded primarily on a laptop belonging to Claire Boucher (Grimes); before he could finish the computer died. After listening to Lesser Evil it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. “It starts in a sleep clinic where a doctor administers a new drug to try to help trauma patients deal with the psychological damage by exploring the trauma through dreams,” said Woodhead in an interview with Pitchfork last year when describing the premise of his lyrical mythology, “They develop this chemical that allows the patients to have higher lucidity, so they're revisiting the same things again and again, and they draw a map to better solidify and manifest these places. And that map that you draw in this dream world is what you would call Fantasia, because that's the [fantasy world] from The Neverending Story.” The 24 year-old confines himself to the dreamy soundscape of this fantasy world on his debut record, and the results are dazzling.
2. Snakadaktal - Sleep In The Water
Melbourne, Australia spawned this dynamite dream-pop five piece, and their album Sleep In The Water is an impressive debut. Tracks like “The Sun I” and “Hung On Tight” are concaved with singular melodies and lagged guitar riffs, whereas album intro “Fall Underneath” and “Feel The Ocean Hold Me Under” employ the female voice of electronic instrumentalist Phoebe Cockburn. She softens the dense, watery timbre of the band, just as Lucy Rose alleviates with counter-melodies on collaborative tracks with Bombay Bicycle Club. Vocalist/guitarist Sean Heathcliff complicates the mix, his faint, ethereal licks disappearing, sinking to the ocean bed, just as their conjured up.
3. OOFJ - Disco To Die
You might recall watching one curiously haunting, apocalyptic drama in the fall of 2011 by Lars von Trier. The music of L.A. dark pop duo OOFJ is derivative of the film, Melancholia, in more ways than one. Originally enlisted to collaborate on the soundtrack for the award-winning film, band members Jenno Bjørnkjær and Katherine Mills Romans built upon their instant chemistry and continued to make material after the score’s production. Much of their initial stylistic tendencies have been preserved, OOFJ extending upon cinematic themes and fusing terse, orchestral movements with minimalistic electronic breakdowns. Their debut album, Disco To Die To, released April 29th via Fake Diamond, was an incredible accident. Jenno originally sought to initiate a solo, instrumental musical career, but his introduction to Katherine drastically changed his direction. The first track off the album, “Death Teeth” was recorded in the vocalist’s bedroom during a trip to South Africa for her father’s funeral. The rest of the album is similarly cosmopolitan, the duo recording in Germany, Copenhagen, and Los Angeles, along with recruiting the Prague Symphony Orchestra for grand-scale arrangements.
4. High Highs – Open Season
Last January, this Sydney, Australia-based lo-fi dream pop group released their debut album, following the success of singles like “Open Season.” Everything is airy and transient on this record, flecked with fuzzy static and droning feedback. Silence plays a big role here, swaying and rippling against the weight of Jack Milas and Oli Chang’s unique instrumental voices. Open Season feels like the moments just before sleep, where your mind is anchored to reality but reaching for something outside the spectrum of what is real.
5. Yamantaka // Sonic Titan - UZU
Ruby Kato Attwood and Ange Loft are frightening storytellers, representing the most vivid dichotomy, a glorious yin to the other’s tentative yang in Japanese art rock, self-proclaimed “noh-wave” band. The clamoring noise rockers sound like Smashing Pumpkins at their most volatile and like manga video game ballads at their most innate, shifting violently and convulsively through metal and dark pop expressions on this sophomore album.
6. Sky Ferriera – Night Time, My Time
21 year-old Sky Ferriera took a roundabout route to indie-pop stardom when, after the bust of 2010 EP One, she released her Dev Hynes-produced follow-up Ghost. Her debut album, in the tradition of subversive female pop stars like Liz Phair circa 1996, displays the singer-songwriter naked and quivering in a glass-panelled shower. The rogue nipple got a lot of coverage following its release, almost more than the actual music contained by the album artwork. Music writers objectified her debilitated stance as a young, helpless female, raped by the heavy gaze of her overly critical audience. Ferriera’s most impressive feats are when she completely abandons the pop star guise on tracks like “Night Time, My Time,” where grimy, industrial-tinged soundscapes are polished by her husky-timbred, ghostly vocals. On this song she sounds very aware of her listener’s admonitions. In response, she seems to be muttering, “Hop off my dick.”
7. Laurel Halo - Chance of Rain
Neurotic, free-form hysteria encompasses the greater part of Laurel Halo’s sophomore album release. It speaks to her days as a freestyle DJ at the University of Michigan and her classical music training. Chance of Rain further explores Laurel Halo’s penchant for Detroit house and Steve Reich-branded colossal minimalism through improvisational, blues-based melodies and fracturable sonic constructions.
8. Nightlands - Oak Island
Dave Hartely first played bass for The War on Drugs before diverging to form his own solo project Nightlands. This second full-length release is noticeable hazier and more lethargic than his 2010 debut Forget The Mantra. Hartley's take on dream-pop is exotic and foreign, embracing a fuller-figured idea of musicality with conga drums and brass ensembles. Nightlands never sounds alone on this record, despite having recorded much of it by himself, ushered through each preceding track with a densely construed chorus of far-off echoey exclaims.
9. Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt
Much like famed indie god Justin Vernon’s solo project Bon Iver, singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield commiserated with emotional and mental struggles through creative isolation. In Alabama, secluded from the world in her parent’s empty home, Crutchfield set her pain to music and produced the material for what would be her first album. Her follow-up is less DIY with positive results, the foundation of her backing band advancing abstracted songs like “Hollow Bedroom” and “Dixies Cups and Jars.”
10. Om Unit - Threads
After a moment having experienced production of hip hop instrumentals under the moniker 2tall, London-based producer Jim Coles has reinvented himself as Om Unit, his debut album released with Threads. There’s something magical about this eclectic album. Coles has created a bit of funk and flair leaving his listeners curious as to what the next track will sound like. Each track deters any trace of boredom or creative stagnancy as he has so many elements implemented from downbeat tempos, to drum and bass as well as keeping our focus with a fresh source of spontaneity. Since his transition from hip hop, Coles has obviously not given up his love for it, as noted in the track "Jus Sayin'" with guest contributor Gone the Hero, which should have felt out of place but overall worked very well. Threads is something to admire an album not to be overlooked for 2013.
11. Dawes – Stories Don’t End
The idea of classic rock might be flightless and oxymoronic—after all the very premise of rock ‘n roll thrives on social rebellion and political defiance, there’s nothing typical or usual about it—but something about this third release from Southern California-based roots rock band Dawes sounds, dare I say it, classic. Here, the band fully embraces a richer, more sophisticated aura, which consequently takes the shape of antiquated blues-based rock of the 60s and 70s. Tracks like single “From a Window Seat” tap into oral narrative of folk music with dynamic lyricism and punchy guitar riffs.
12. Charli XCX - True Romance
This UK female MC turned pop star has always been at the cusp of musical notoriety with her clever, bombastic mixtapes, which remixed and curated appropriated beats from other artists. Charli XCX's debut studio album received an impressive amount of US acclaim, bridging gaps between DIY online production and powerhouse pop scores. “So Far Away,” among other melodically sustained tracks, follows her old tradition of layered samples and fleeting, cyberspace synths to the tune of a romantically estranged ballad. This artist-producer presents us with a clouded image of her “True Romance,” what with all the tumultuous heartbreak and disdain patched together on this record. The most romantic ideal might be that Charli, in all her failings of intimacy, has come to fruition as a contending, subversive pop star who is almost exclusively concerned with having a good time.
13. Savages – Silence Yourself
This all-girl English and French grovely post-punk group Savages sound angry. Their debut record plays as a disgruntled, political manifesto, an aggressive revolt against the socio-cultural status quo. All that feminine-tinged bellowing and shrieking and white-noise guitar pedals eventually dissipate and give room for musical and aesthetic liberation. By the end of the record it’s more than apparent what all the fuss is about, why lead vocalist Jehny Beth feels so obliged to project such discordant hollering. It’s a cry for change, for the way things used to be.
14. Devendra Banhart – Mala
Venezuelan-American singer-songwriter Devendra Banhart released his eighth album this year, the most artistically poignant and danceable record of his extensive discography. On the album’s opener “Golden Girls,” the Brooklyn-based musician implores you to, “Get on the dancefloor,” and on tracks like “Your Fine Petting Duck” Banhart expresses himself quite literally. A folky, doo-woop he-she duet spirals from English lyrics to German at the three and a half minute marker, shattering the acoustic space with penetrating synths and techno progressions. This record knows no boundaries, showcasing Banhart’s obviously diverse musical talents, both in analog and artificial manifestations.
15. Saint Rich – Beyond the Drone
This deviated side project comprised of Delicate Steve members Steve Marion and Christian Peslak makes up this indie roots rock band from New Jersey. Signed to Merge Records, Saint Rich’s debut album is moody and dramatically funny in some parts, lavishly solemn in others, frequently resorting to a howling, guitar-vocal synchronized burst of soul.
16. Courtney Barnett - The Double EP: The Sea of Split Peas
In 2012, singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett self-released her EP I’ve Got A Friend Called Emily Harris promptly stunning the Australian rock music scene from her home of Melbourne. After a short tour stateside adjoined with this year’s CMJ Conference in New York, she released her first album of what was originally intended to be two separate EPs. Her bluesy, earth-toned sensibilities recall a spry, not-so-withered Bob Dylan, with lyrics that sound brash and unexpected coming from this soft, sincere female voice. But beyond spunky, Courtney Barnett has an incredible, lackluster sense of humor. “Avant Gardener” is one of the obvious album standouts, lasering in on a ripe Pulp Fiction reference, “Til I get old/ I get adrenaline/ Straight to the heart/ I feel like Uma Thurman/ Post-overdosing kick start.” Her backing band is rudimentary garage rock with substance, a flare of soul to further enhance the listless swaggering of Courtney Barnett’s musical and lyrical ramblings.
17. King Tuff – Was Dead
Kyle Thompson has been experimenting with sound since his early teens, developing the groundwork for what would be this album in between roles in folk revival band Feathers and grunge-metal group Witch. The same music on this record was heard nearly a decade earlier by fans on CD-R or cassette tape, but for the first time this year the album confronts the digital frontier thanks to Burger Records. Was Dead is a woozy, haggled and addled kind of retro-pop, like drunken mosh pits or angry post-acid touchdowns. The rhythm is bedraggled, the tempo constantly advanced, with just a hint of drugged-out funk.
18. Poliça – Shulamith
This dystopian future pop group started when Ryan Olson (producer of Justin Vernon’s side project Gayngs) met singer Channy Leaneagh and invited her to tour with the group as a vocalist. Their debut album, Give You The Ghost, is light years away from this 8-bit, lavishly produced electro-pop record. Long gone are the analog instrumentals and melodic breakdowns of their past material. If their debut can be thought of as R&B, than this is definitively a hip hop record, as if at any moment A$AP Rocky or Chance The Rapper might emerge from the fog of pistoning drum machines and pale-groggy synths on tracks like “I Need $.”
19. DIANA - Perpetual Surrender
This album might be one of 2013’s best kept secrets. The Toronto-based electro art-rock group started as a collaboration between percussionist Kieran Adams and saxophonist Joseph Shabason, extended after the addition of vocalist/guitarist Carmen Elle. Agitated polyrhythms and tropical ambience colours this record, a sincere expression of emotional dance music, more savvy and seasoned than Chvrches or Chairlift. Most tracks on this brief debut break loose of indie-pop and dissipate as lucid jazz or minimal house dance jams.
20. The Shouting Matches - Grownass Man
Justin Vernon dons a reverential, roots-based kind of stumble-drunk rock ‘n roll in this side project The Shouting Matches. The country-blues trio is made up of Vernon, Phil Cook (Megafaun), and Brian Moen (Peter Wolf Crier), a group of local musicians who strive for a grittier, imperfected vein of folk music. This album is feel good and shamelessly unhip, fairly distanced from Volcano Choir or “Hold My Liquor,” but nonetheless something warm and reliable to return to on those hot, tipsy summer days.
21. Big Black Delta – Big Black Delta
Los Angeles-based Jonathan Bates dropped the sophomore album of his solo project Big Black Delta with this self-titled release. Tracks like “Side of the Road” helped support its acclaim, a raucous and electrified two-step groove. The record is loud and tumultuous industrial electro pop, a glimpse of the 80s reverberated in the distant background with clattering synth melodies at the foreground.
22. Body Language – Grammar
This Brooklyn-based retro-pop got their start playing clubs around town, promoted by CassetteNYC and Percussionlab. Since then the funky, electronic-oriented four-piece has honed their style to a whimsical, jubilant kind of dance music; this sophomore album is their finest work yet.
23. Haim – Days Are Gone
This sister-act pop group hails from California’s San Fernando Valley, probably one of the most deserving cultural hype implosions of the year. Their millennial pop sensibility feels like an indie rock Destiny’s Child, three awfully talented, R&B-inspired independent parts which could never substitute for the whole. Haim translate sun-soaked, West-coast pop as irresistible, radio-friendly, just-enough-produced music. They sound pure, honest, nothing but genuine in this gorgeous regurgitation of the last three decades in pop music. Sorry, the best in pop music.
24. The Knife - Shaking The Habitual
The salient-psychedelic bro-sis Swedish duo return after a three-year hiatus with this colossal, Dionysian bacchanal of a record. It sounds as if the notoriously enigmatic siblings have spent the last 36 months consuming worldly ideas and influences, purposefully situating themselves at the cross-section of an angry cosmopolitan junction of sound on Shaking The Habitual. Everything presented in this record extends beyond music, towards interdisciplinary mediums of art: performance through dance, video media, and comic-stylized visuals. The Knife are changing the game. Their newest record demands an intense kind of participation with three songs at roughly ten minutes and their whopping “Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realized” clocking in at just over nineteen minutes. The mid-record centerfold is frigid and comatose saddled against free-form dance numbers “A Tooth For An Eye” and “Cherry On Top.” Found objects, feminist philosophies and insular creative motivation play a large role in this densely complicated but incredibly satisfying album.
25. Evenings – Yore
Virginia-based electronic musician Evenings has more or less diverted the spotlight of personal recognition in lieu of his success under the experimental trip-hop alter-ego. This record is imaginative and starkly romantic, a chop-screw rotation of alternating samples and sequencers. “Friend (Lover)” and “Lo-velo” are among the album’s more pop-oriented songs, just begging to be tainted by the low-toned, groggy vocal of some forlorn rapper.