Overlooked Albums of 2013
It’s an unavoidable byproduct of today's hyperactive music coverage and the album release cycle: For listeners passionate about music -- especially the type of indie rock that floats under the mainstream radar -- there are always a few albums that feel undeservedly overlooked. But what can you do? Screaming for justice to the high heavens seems a bit melodramatic, so instead, we put together a list of some of the most overlooked albums of 2013 so far.
Blue Hawaii is a Montreal-based synth-pop duo working in the same personalized electronic music continuum as Purity Ring, Doldrums and Grimes. On their debut, vocalist Raphaelle “Raph” Standell-Preston and Alex “Agor” Cowan explore themes of human distance and love with influences ranging from techno to U.K. bass to folk music. There’s a fragile core to ‘Untogether’ that’s executed in the beautiful sonic dialog between Raph and Agor throughout the record.
California X are a drama-rock three-piece from Amherst, Mass. The band builds on the 25-year legacy of rock music from their hometown (Dinosaur Jr) and crank it to 11. ‘California X’ is all jean jackets, monster riffs and anthemic vocals clawing through the noise. The key to the band’s success is their ability to balance tight punk rock songwriting and gnarled guitars with a melodic bombast similar to bands like Japandroids.
For fans of James Blake’s more threadbare, stripped-down compositions, Cloud Boat’s ‘Book of Hours’ might be of interest. The London-based duo connect the dots between Burial-esque U.K. garage and insular chamber folk, spinning sparse, longing-filled yarns over jerky drum programming, tender guitar plucks and lots and lots of tense silence. The results are just short of stunning.
With the deluge of groups pairing R&B with indie electronics this year, it’s easy to write Deptford Goth off as just another member of the pack. But the U.K. artist’s aching vocals, subtle arrangements and heartbreaking lyrics about life, death and love set him apart. To the point that the R&B assertions actually feel a tad contrived. There’s a weight to much of ‘Life After Defo’ that few others in this field have managed.
Some have said that ambient music composer Eluvium’s seventh record is his strongest to date. Whether it’s true, ‘Nightmare Ending’ is a staggering piece of work. A 14-track double-album filled with huge, physical melodies, deep emotions, spectral piano and guitar work, and the general existential awe that Eluvium has built his career on.
This album isn’t for the faint of heart. Hair Police is a Wolf Eyes-related experimental project that pairs rustic tool-shed sonics with insane-asylum shrieks. It’s not just another album of noise terrorism however. There’s a subtle, foreboding sense of atmosphere that gives ‘Mercurial Rites’ a dark ambient edge and a care to the live arrangements that qualifies as downright subtle.
Norwegian singer-songwriter Jenny Hval’s ‘Innocence Is Kinky’ is one of the most artistically inclined and musically adventurous releases of the year, period. Atop an unwieldy array of styles that range from spoken word to noise to alt rock, Hval explores the human body and how it relates to emotion and perception. It’s an album that searches out answers to human existence and it also happens to be a damn good listen.
Milk Music approach the Dinosaur Jr. fuzz-rock formula with a blown out, widescreen sensibility and a subtle country-fied focus reminiscent of Neil Young & Crazy Horse at their most fiery and/or spaced out. ‘Cruise Your Illusion’ is a freewheeling 40 minutes of unkempt rock ‘n’ roll and one of most promising guitar-centric releases of the year.
Los Angeles producer Nosaj Thing’s contemplative sophomore record is a far cry from his spastic 2010 glitch-hop debut, 'Drift.' ‘Home’ is a more introspective affair, layering glimmering outdoors-y textures over a decidedly oily canvas. With the stunning Kazu Makino (Blonde Redhead) guest spot on “Eclipse/Blue” Nosaj Thing may have a lock on the most beautiful beat-oriented release of the year.
‘Crawling Up The Stairs’ is an emotionally dense record filled to the brim with psychic turmoil. The Austin-based trio decided to step out behind the cloudy slow core of their 2011 debut with something a little more direct and the results are devastating. Pure X are still weaving slowed reverb-drenched, guitar-driven tapestries, but as Nate Grace’s frustrated screams makes clear, they’re ready to exorcise some demons as well.