Another year, another onslaught of wreckids with some words and sounds that blew our collective minds. As with 2012, we’ve ditched number rankings and went alphabetical, making sure you realize that another hilariously genius chapter in Serengeti‘s ’Kenny Dennis’ boom-bap hip hop saga takes absolutely no precedence over Courtney Barnett‘s garage pop redefinition of millennial relevance. Unless we happened to christen one of those artists LYRICIST of the YEAR. But even then, favoritisms need not apply. To the class of 2013, thank y’all for putting pen to paper like a room full of bosses.
Of all the 30 is the new 20 psychoanalytic jibber jabber that’s rumbled about the intranets this year, Cedermark’s Home Life contextualized it best, painting a swarthy Americana squall that at its sweeping, Crazy Horse-ian end offered a how-to catharsis on coming to terms with an innocence that gets lost quicker than a Google search. This is a record cut from an organic cloth, not in the interest of being organic and sentiment gouging, but real deal of the fuzzian amp earth, positing a spin on the age old singer-songwriter proverb, “Ask not what you can do for your pain; ask what you can do with your pain.” Fully breaking out of Titus Andronicus‘ shadow, the band’s former guitarist uses Jersey and NYC lands as the setting of 2013′s finest reclaiming of twenty-something, “Memories, Ah,” before another asshole with an Instagram account puts a filter on some polaroids and whores out the coddled nostalgia of his youth for “likes:” [LISTEN] – Gavin Paul
Aussie garage poptress Barnett may get “party – cool,” “arty school” cute from time to time – see also her move to call her debut very much LP a double EP – but elsewhere she’s pure anti-hipster freewheelin’ invigorating, like some bastard child of Courtney Love and Buddy Holly, frank about her masturbation habits but spun right and quick into singsong feminism jam, assuring, “It just helps me get to sleep/
And it’s cheaper than Temazepam.” She’s tearing down walls, asking “where’s the more important person in the room?” on hazy, opener, “Out of the Woodwork,” chipping at 9-5 expectations on “Are You Looking After Yourself,” and in her most strident moments erasing millennial history before it even gets started here on the record’s defining scrap-punch, “History Eraser:” [LISTEN] – G.P.
Give Danny Brown credit because despite all the antics and crazy stories and hype he still stayed true to himself. Old could have been a disaster had he submitted to what his fans wanted, and to some extent his label. Instead he stood his ground and showcased a wide array of skills on the mic, masterfully fluctuating his tone to match the mood of whatever story he was telling. On songs like “Torture” and “The Return” Danny goes back to straight jaw cracking lyricism while on “25 Bucks” and “Dubstep” he shows that he’s just as relevant today as he was a decade ago. Everything in between bridges the styles, and paints a complete portrait of Detroit’s finest: [LISTEN] – Jeff Min
DG love scrounging the darkest corners of their psyches to produce records, while openly less fond of live performances. Their latest may have suffered a bit from repetition of ideas thanks to this ridiculously quick output. But even still, it’s light-years ahead of the competition in terms of innovation for rap, punk, and noise music. They even spice it up with occasional amphetamine-fueled dance beats (“Big House”) and their first hint of sensitivity (“Birds”) as to their wheelhouse of hostility. Not only that, but the latter also reflects on their strange, A-list-infiltrating status: [LISTEN] – Karl Ernest
While it’s not a surprise that Doris was a fan favorite, it’s still remarkable that it pulled a LeBron James and actually lived up to the hype. The process wasn’t easy, being holed up in a Samoan boarding school battling addiction while your friends were living it up. But it was exactly what he needed – to bury himself in a hole and retreat from distraction. The iso-style is his bread and butter and he finally seems at home. The production – handled primarily by Earl under the pseudonym RandomBlackDude – accents his drawling pace to which he explores everything from fame and fortune to heartache. It is a complete project and a cue for the next pop counter culture icon to take his rightful place on the throne: [LISTEN] – J.M.
Seemingly incapable of creating anything less than stunning, London Grammar’s understated blend of digital beats, hushed melodies and echo-laden guitars initially and inevitably drew comparisons with The xx. But Hannah Reid’s mesmerising vocal range – capable of soaring to stadium-filling levels while still retaining a sense of intimacy and vulnerability – a restrained use of cinematic strings and several ‘wise beyond their years’ laments on the uncertainty of love soon saw them carve a distinct but equally magnetic identity of their own: [LISTEN] – Jon O’Brien
Los Campesinos! stepped up this year to fill the Arcade Fire-shaped void felt by those who love sincerity and emotion, but aren’t into disco beats, dress codes, and pretense. How do you get more timely than that? With witty wordplay on the “knee-knocking” butterflies of an “I’m not okay, you’re not okay” courtship, some heartbreak and yearning based around football (soccer) metaphors, and hooks for days, this album was more than under-appreciated – it was an indie sleeper smash. As a former (intentional) ignorer of Los Campesinos!, I’ll be following them regularly from now on: [LISTEN] – K.E.
In a year when pop plunged to new depths of crassness, enigmatic duo Rhye showed that it was possible to be sexy without being overtly sexual on a gorgeously sensual Quiet Storm homage which had many believing that the yearning androgynous tones of frontman Milosh belonged to the next Sade. Using a minimal but quietly effective backdrop of gentle house piano, smooth jazz sax and languid basslines to create an intimate boudoir vibe, the pair’s unabashed romantic sound proved that in the right hands, contentment can be as compelling as heartbreak: [LISTEN] – J.O.
Kenny Dennis is to Serengeti as what Ignatius J. Reilly is to John Kennedy Toole. The full length is its own Confederacy of Dunces and offers a closer examination of the legend himself. This campfire narration handled by Anders Holm allows us into Kenny’s life through intimate firsthand accounts. We learn about everything from his place in American Gladiator history and connection to Bo Jackson’s wife to his love for humidity. Odd Nosdam is spot on with the beats as it plays to Kenny’s affinity for classic, golden-era style loops and boom-bap. The Kenny narrative is one of the best stories going in rap, and if you’re just getting wise peep Dennehy and let the hilarity ensue: [LISTEN] – J.M.
Patagonian Rats’ release gave music journalists a chance to compliment a band they previously couldn’t understand. In truth, it was kind of a step back for the brilliant pop-shredders, as it didn’t really satisfy instrumental nerds or lyric-freaks, but X’ed Out is the straightforward indie rock collection everyone pretended they got the last time around - less tapping and odd-time, blazing bits borrowing from zones more diverse and traditional. The tone has changed from sharp, citrusy shards to a “thick slime” caught in one’s hair, and even the dreamiest track centers around “Snake Lake.” It’s all far deeper into the Krueger/Simpsons aesthetic that they espouse, but it also powerfully recalls everything from Weezer to King Crimson, while maintaining a silly and sometimes sarcastic sense of humor: [LISTEN] – K.E.