Words by Devin Kelly, James Passarelli, and Ryan Waring
It’s always hard to believe the year’s half over whenever it’s objectively half over; that is, unless you mark time by album releases. If you do like we do, then 2013 must feel like it’s crawling, the days barely able to keep up with the rate at which quality albums have been dropping.
I mean, this is just ridiculous. Usually by the time we’re dealing with a pool this deep, we’re mulling a “Best of Decade” list. For god’s sake, this year’s already pulled new material from My Bloody Valentine, David Bowie, Boards of Canada, and the Pixies. We’ve just heard from Yeezy, we’re about to hear from Hova, and the Killer Bees are on the swarm again. What genie did I sleep with to make this happen? At this point, I’d be more shocked if Jeff Magnum DIDN’T post a link to download an In the Aeroplane Over the Sea followup in some obscure subreddit next Thursday night (I’ll even bet my ears there’s a hologram Anne Frank somewhere along the upcoming NMH tour).
So before we completely drown in great music, the Ferret had to take some time to wade through the first half of 2013. Here, in a first-come, first-served order, we’ve started to organize our thoughts on 15 legitimate title contenders come six months from now. It’s the only way we can fathomably approach this year-end list.
A$AP Rocky – Long.Live.A$AP (January 15)
Yes, the Harlem prince and A$AP ring leader is certainly over-concerned with life’s pleasures; and his major label debut, like the mixtape that launched his young career into orbit, certainly suffers at times when the hedonism’s laid a little too thick to bear (here’s to you, “PMW” and the Skrillex-billed “Wild For the Night”). But once A$AP checks the singles off the list, he lets himself venture into some expert moments of intimacy on the back half of the album. “Phoenix” and “Suddenly” show a new side of A$AP, a young talent able to pump the brakes and deeply probe exactly what all interested parties want out of him. “The bible or the rifle,” it’s a slick-sounding but ever real dilemma, and A$AP tackles it with just as much of a keen mind as a sick flow. The West Coast top dog who translated it “Halle Berry or Hallelujah” shows up twice to lend his rhymes to “F__kin’ Problems” and “1 Train,” a pair of tracks that are as much crowd pleasers and exec pleasers as they are critic pleasers. “1 Train” is a thesis statement from a new generation of hip hop, and any time I actually enjoy the obvious radio single featuring Drake, the album is definitely doing something right. -RW
Yo La Tengo – Fade (January 15)
The thing about career arcs is that they’re supposed to arc. On your debut, you’re getting your feet wet, then it all starts coming together, then it all comes together, then it all falls to pieces, and then at the end, you mail in adult contemporary until the cash cow runs completely dry. Some’ll get tossed a ‘return to form’ bone if your cash cow lasts long enough for the next generation to kindle a faux-nostalgia, but for the most part, the parameters are pretty rigid for enduring acts.
Ever the author of their own story, Yo La Tengo, the uniques they are, just can’t conform to the traditional narrative. Their career arc is a straight line, parallel to the axis but leagues above it. Every album is a perfect distillation of who they are when they are, and Fade is the epitome of who and where Yo La Tengo are in their post-Y2K over-the-hill era. It’s modest, it’s honest, it’s seasoned, it’s secure. There isn’t a band active today that could puree krautrock and folk as harmoniously as “Stupid Things,” where such spectrum wide gaps, so cold a rhythm, and so warm a melody, are tied so thoroughly that all you hear is Yo La Tengo being Yo La Tengo again. -RW
Local Natives – Hummingbird (January 28)
I’ll admit, when some friends of mine started getting into Local Natives after their brilliant debut album, Gorilla Manor, I refused to listen. Mostly out of jealousy, I think – I mean those are some good-looking guys. And they can sing. Really well. But I couldn’t stop listening to 2013’s Hummingbird, which was recorded under the watchful eye of The National’s Aaron Dessner. Dessner’s influence is remarkable here, and it’s heard in the delicate arrangements of some of the album’s best songs, such as the soft opening to “Heavy Feet,” or the intricate guitar picking on “Colombia.”
“Colombia” is perhaps the most beautiful song of the year so far, and Kelcey Ayer’s plea in the ending coda, when he begs the question, “Am I loving enough,” is beautiful and moving and haunting. Front to back, though, Hummingbird has no weaknesses. Buoyed by the driving rhythms of drummer Matt Frazier, and made atmospheric by the textured harmonies of Kelcey Ayers and Taylor Rice, the album is at once dark and melodic, sweeping and rich. It is one of the best sophomore albums I have ever heard from a young band, and it marks Local Natives’ place in the indie world. They have arrived, and they are here to stay. -DK
My Bloody Valentine – m b v (February 2)
Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and Loveless; and the greatest of these is Loveless.
There was never ever going to be another Loveless, that much is to be expected. But for a time, in fact for a couple decades, it gravely looked like there would never even be a followup record from My Bloody Valentine. The reclusive Kevin Shields would pop up here and there to plant suggestions that the gang might reunite for a tour, or that post-production was almost done or to say “Hi, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson,” but in their guts I think die-hard cult MBV fans had long-ago begun to stomach the despairing thought that expecting new material post-Loveless was, well, hopeless.
But hope is one of those eternal virtues, and it finally paid its dividends some 22 years later. m b v isn’t the classic its predecessor is, but it hardly misses a step, delivering distorted shoegaze euphoria with aplomb. From the entrancing wah of ‘if i am” to the frenetic thrash of “in another way,” m b v makes plain that Shields is still the master of mastering. -RW
Night Beds – Country Sleep (February 5)
Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon might have just lost his place atop the throne as the best voice in indie music when Night Beds and its lead singer, Winston Yellen, put out Country Sleep earlier this year. Anybody that can open an album with a captivating and brilliant acapella (see “Faithful Heights”) is either stupid or brave or both. But Winston Yellen’s voice is soft and broken, full of Southern character and steeped in an intrinsic maturity. It is unlike anything I have ever heard before. And, under the gentle hum of reverberating guitars and thumping, echoing drums, Yellen’s voice gains the backdrop it needs to entrance a captive audience.
Country Sleep shows that there is life left for the roots music of America in a music world that gives up on character and heartbreak for pretentiousness and fake attempts at happiness. Beautiful songs like “Cherry Blossoms,” as well as the moving closer, “TENN,” tell stories of loneliness, despair, and youthful stupidity, all with Yellen’s unbridled voice. Though it might not be the best album of the year, Country Sleep might be my favorite, and Night Beds, as a band, gives hope to the idea that there are still some musicians out there who are normal people, just like us, going through the vicious cycles of heartbreak and loss, dying for a chance to tell someone about it. I’m always going to be an avid listener. -DK
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