Wednesday, December 19, 2012


*...not featured on my albums of the year. I stole this concept from Nick Southall, and as it seems a nice way to give a tip of a cap to some excellent artists whose albums I didn't like quite as much as some others, I decided to do it again. These are roughly arranged in descending order, but they're all equally worthy of your attention (although some, like Evian Christ, are worthier than others). Enjoy!

I've said quite a bit about this track already, but Evian Christ's concept mix is, quite simply, stunning. You should download it right now if you haven't already. Like Tim Hecker's set for Moogfest last year, I'm astonished that such high quality music is available for free. Droning, unnerving, unsettling, "Duga-Three" is also never anything other than interesting. This is the kind of music that you inhabit (and, in turn, that inhabits you), and I've spent more time living in this than almost anything else this year.

Romanthony's turn on "Do It" might have received most of the plaudits, and Lauren Halo and Panda Bear might have received more attention for their appearances, but for my money Kelela turns in possibly the vocal performance of the year on this track. The stop-start rhythms of the verse give way to a chorus that the word soaring was invented to describe and Kelela moves from tough to breathy to blissful on a dime. Capturing the kind of in-the-moment lust that someone like Ke$ha wishes she could reflect, "EFX" makes me wish all pop music could sound this glorious.

The synths here are at once slinky and disorienting, a kind of late night delirium that suggests a fever dream of a club more than an actual one. Cooly G's vocals go one step further than the muted backing, though, being at once nape-of-the-neck intimate and fleetingly vague, always disappearing back into the reverb and synths, a ghost of desire more than desire itself. As an album, Playin Me's excellence came from its mastery of restraint, its post-coital drowsiness even as it seduces you, turning its R&B and club music template into something more intimate and more vulnerable.

Speaking of vulnerable, Abel Tesfaye's first post-Trilogy release continues his turn to overtly pop forms from Echoes of Silence without sacrificing any of the pyschodrama that made his three mixtapes last year such compelling listens. A plaintive, piano-driven ballad, "Enemy" revisits his concerns about fame, identity, and sex, Tesfaye's conflicting demands to the female he addresses as always revealing more of his own insecurities than any kind of bravado. The sample in the chorus--a brilliant reframing of Morrissey's yearning chorus to "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want" as the kind of demonic voice that seems to drive Tesfaye's narratives--continues The Weeknd's razor-sharp production choices and suggests that there won't be any letdown in the quality of the music, PBR&B or not.

The audio equivalent of a bubble bath, the opening tracking of Tipped Bowls sets the tone for the rest of the album: pillow soft, gauzily pretty, and gently twinkling. The sound isn't a million miles from early Four Tet (c. Rounds, say), which isn't a bad thing, though without the manic jazziness of Kieren Hebden's beats the track is much more patient, slowly lifting off over the course of its five minutes. Nothing's really breaking a sweat here, and that's just fine, as its chilled out vibes carry off its sort of dazed wonder quite effectively.

I have to say that this track, the opening to the duo's album Dasaflex, reminds me more than a bit of Leila's "Lush Dolphins." This isn't a strike against, though, as where that track uses its tremulous synths and vaguely trip-hop drums to build up a heartbreakingly starry-eyed melody, "Lonely Moon" manages just as much (if not more) in the way of emotional payoff with much, much less. Like Cooly G, the keyword here is restraint, as Farrah's beautiful vocals are pitched and twisted every which way to give voice to the titular emotion, supported by a few blips and scrapes, a clap, and not much else. The soundtrack to dreams of the future and eerie as hell in the best possible way, I wish the rest of the album had followed its lead.

Steven Ellison does double duty on this one, producing under his Flying Lotus moniker and rapping as his alter ego, Captain Murphy, with an assist from Odd Future's Earl Sweatshirt. The dusty loop that the track opens with and the gently loping beat underneath it all are vintage FlyLo c.Los Angeles. The distortion- and echo-drenched vocals are a little hard to parse, but the atmospheric smearing of syllables and words helps the occasional line that catches the ear hit harder, and also contributes to the lost-song-found-in-an-attic feel. The brief instrumental coda tagged onto the song doesn't hurt, either.

Shrines is a little homogenous as an album. Each song basically does the same thing, and you're either going to like it or not, so picking any one track to highlight is a little difficult. With an aesthetic as hyper-focused as the one that Purity Ring work within, the subtleties become crucial. Without them, the album becomes an undifferentiated mass of sounds and little girl vocals. "Ungirthed" is my pick for song of the album for its "Ears ring and teeth click" chorus, during which the processing on Megan James' vocals is both unnerving and weirdly beautiful, an uncanny balance that the duo tries but can't quite maintain throughout the whole album. Here, though, the balance is just right, and the results are stunning.

Wonderfully blown out, "Crystallized" is psych-rock as effortless as summer sun. Melody Prochet's vocals are just submerged enough to gain some much needed mystery to go along with their breathiness, and the vaguely kraut-y trance rock of the first half gives way to some sandpaper-y fuzz in the back half that's a perfect contrast to the sweetness and light of Prochet. Kevin Parker's production is perfect here, allowing just the right amount of heat to float up out of the track to the listener.

Suitably cosmic in introduction, the title track to Rose's first solo album is a glittering piece of zero-g pop music with an unabashedly huge chorus of wordless vocals. The drums are the real star here, though, driving the verses forward and keeping the momentum up during the mid-song instrumental. Its three and a half minutes feel cruelly short, like the sudden comedown from a sugar high. 

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