It’s that time of year: it’s the beginning of January, a time when I take to some Internet something to exhaustively share music musings related to the past year. It’s a reflection on works behind us that I’ve obsessed over in a vacuum and is an opportunity to share what people were and weren’t listening to. This is purely objective and from a very specific point of view. Unlike last year, I realized that this list isn’t very vanilla: it’s fucking weird. It’s not intended to be but, hey, the music that gets me off is typically oddball electronic, ambient, and experimental in nature. That’s kind of a warning: this list may not be for everybody. It’s also a long ride: hold on to your butts.
First, let’s take care of some business from last year’s list….
Best Proof Of Concept (But Not Much Of Anything This Year): Holly Herndon
Herndon is one of my favorite working musicians and, despite a late-in-the-year wow moment, she didn’t do much this year. She toured a lot, yes, and Tweeted a lot, yes, but she didn’t release a lot of work. That’s okay: she is still in school. But, when she is out, she better explode all over our faces with new work.
Sliding Out From Overrated: Grimes
I discovered her song “Symphonia IX (My Wait Is U)” and realized she is good. I don’t like her persona. That may be the issue. Visions was still way overrated but she has talent and I respect her (despite the ridiculous song names). Apologies for last year, boo.
Still Overrated: Julia Holter
“Why are we interested in Kim Kardashian? I’m not complaining about it, I’m just exploring it.” The fuck? Don’t even get me started. You’re giving LA a not great name, girl!
I Forgive You: Charli XCX
More on this later.
Needs A Retraction: Sky Ferreira
More on this later.
Keep Going Away: Brooke Candy
Stop trying to make Brooke Candy happen.
Best Ambient: Kyle Bobby Dunn
This album is a classic. Way overlooked.
Grew Most: Jam City’s Classical Curves
This should have been my *almost* number one of last year. It’s so damned good.
Still Number One: Voices From The Lake
To Review…BUT DID NOT: Terre Theamiltz’s Soulnessless
I spent the $70+ on this at some point in 2013 and still have not listened. To any of it! Still need to listen—and am still mega stoked about it! The question: do I upload this to my iTunes or what? I think that’s what is standing in my way of listening.
Least Excited For In 2013: 2004
I told you guys.
A Household Name In 2013: Haim
CALLED IT. CALLED IT. CALLED IT.
Most Excited For In 2013: Cassy
Had a feeling she was going to do this: she did not release the album. She fucking flaked! She did a decent mix but then skipped out on the long awaited album. Cassy: I love you but you are super fucking undependable. Am not banking on anything from you other than nothing.
The Best Music Of 2013 (To Me)
Best Remix Of 2013: Nothing!
For the first in about ten years, remixing was an art that was very much forgotten. The remixes that came out were forgettable and unexciting and did not get to the magic of the format: another artist rethinking the initial song that an artist slaved over. There was some good work this year but nothing was particularly new. Thus, no overt “Best Remix.”
…This Was Decent, Though: Herbert’s “It’s Only (DJ Koze Remix)”
Did not see this coming and, despite Koze being a god, this was still not enough of a blast to the brain to be *the* song. It was good, yes, but he’s also done better work.
Match Made In Heaven, I: Planningtorock’s “Misxgyny Drxp Dead (Holly Herndon Remix)”
Also a decent remix, the pairing of PTR and Holly Herndon was so perfect. A brilliant pairing of two ladies who are doing crazy shit musically, it only could yield great work. The only issue is that the incorporation of lyrics/vocals is wonky. Other than that, brilliant.
Match Made In Heaven, II: Kelela’s “Keep It Cool”
Kelala burst onto the music scene this year with her fantastic Cut 4 Me mixtape. It played like a beautiful list of collaborators all aimed at marrying sexy R&B with electronic. The best release on the effort was “Keep It Cool,” her collaboration with Jam City. The song is so weird and so—Umm.—cool. It’s the most unlikely production setting for an R&B jam but it blasts past everything else to have been made in this world, last year. Kelela and JC need to do an entire album together. (Want more of their collaborating? Here.)
Best Proof Of Concept: Katie Gately
Gately, an LA based sound editor turned musician, got a lot of attention with her crazy unique and special debut EP. It was weird and creative and beautiful. Her Blue Tapes entry was equally as special and powerful. Still don’t “get her”? HERE.
Most Overrated Album & Artist: Sky Ferreira & Night Time Is My Time
Sky has been cockteasing listeners for years. YEARS. She got busted for drugs this year and she was in a few movies and she FINALLY released an album, kind of out of nowhere. How was it? BOOOOORRRRIIIIINNNNNNG. There were some gems—”Boys,” “24 Hours,” “I Blame Myself,” “Heavy Metal Heart”—but too many turds—”Ain’t Your Right,” “Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay),” “Kristine,” “Love In Stereo,” “Night Time, My Time,” and—most importantly—”Omanko,” above. The problem: Sky feigns alternativeness and being a “victim of the system” and having been taken advantage. Listen to that album though: she is clearly willingly infantilizing herself and willingly letting others—Terry Richardson, Gaspar Noé, etc.—do all the edgy work for her. Songs like “Nobody Asked Me” are temper tantrum spewing and “I Blame Myself”—while a great song—is a song that Britney Jean Spears thought was too conceptually tired. “Is it because you know my name? Or is because you saw my face on the cover? Either way it’s just the same. It’s like talking to a friend who is trying to be your lover.” REALLY???? You are not that famous to be complaining about men using you for fame, Sky. Nor are you and DIIV dude Courtney and Kurt. Still not convinced? Exhibit: EVERYTHING.
Do Not Have Time For You: Lorde
Stop. Wash your hair, too.
Did Not Appreciate: DJ Koze’s Amygdala
People loved this album. I did not. I love Koze and think he is one of the best musicians working now but this album did not work for me. Primarily, it was not as creative and smart as he can be. Previous works like “40 Love” and his take of Matias Aguayo’s “Minimal” and Cosi Comes Around were brilliant from top to bottom—and entirely new. This was just showing off (tired) collaborators and a means to get poppy. Don’t care about that Sgt. Peppers’ inspiration, either. I hate The Beatles.
Lost Most Steam: Lady Gaga
If there was any artist who drank too much of her Koolaid, it was Gaga and her Artpop. It was a masterpiece of self-indulgence, if anything. With a name like “Artpop,” we should have had no doubts that album would be like this. It was way disappointing since she is such a great entertainer. Advice: step back from yourself and do what you do best. What’s that? Make wild music—not “art.”
BUTTTTTTTTT: “Do What U Want”
If Artpop was fifteen songs of this, I would be all for it. The song is perhaps the best pop song of the year because it lives up to the artist’s initial premise of being ridiculous and crazy and absolutely outlandish. This song is a coming out of a sluttiness, which also has Gaga channeling her inner diva vocally. The initial pairing with R.Kelly was “good” but so straight and lame: this was only a clever pun for Gaga tp literally ask Kelly to pee on her. Adding O.G. millenial diva Aguilera to the mix? Genius, as it’s two ladies urging each other to get all over each other. Brilliant! Subversive without doing much. Disagree as you will but the lyrics are some of the best to come out of 2013.
Best Pop Concept: Glasser’s Interiors
A lot of people thought this album was okay but I thought it was a breakthrough for Glasser. It made her debut seem more powerful and showed that she has a rich point of view. The concept to this album is music kind of, almost, semi-inspired by architecture. Some call bullshit on that but I thought she fulfilled the conceptual goal flawlessly. It was a beautiful collection of songs that were unique and well produced enough to show that Tauba Auerbach’s BFF indeed has legs of her own.
Song Of The Year, I: Autre Ne Veut’s “Play By Play”
Autre was the most underrated artist of last year and his debut Anxiety was a modern R&B/pop/electronic masterpiece. He taught me to realize that, yes, you can be some sexy white dude and make brilliant, artistic sex music. The song is like eating a whole bowl of Wheaties and then performing at the Sexcapades: it’s that good. Autre is an artist who will become such a big thing in the future.
Song Of The Year, II: Planningtorock’s “Misxgyny Drxp Dead “
A lot of stuff happened with sex in relationship to politics last year. Of all the musicians, Planningtorock kept her own and made a song that gave a middle finger to all people who don’t “get” where the future is headed in relationship to gender, sex, etc. “Misxgyny Drxp Dead” was her dancefloor move that paired rattling synths with prickly guitar chords to make you face modern sex via music. Bonus points for her coming out as andro via bringing her new name “Jam” in as an outro.
:( Omar-S’s Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself
Dude: despite the Luke Hess collaboration, this follow up was so flat. And you are anything but flat!! The most memorable part of the album were the song’s outros/intros, which captured gross-out hilarity in quite a humorous way.
Best Thing From 2002 Discovered In 2013: William Basinski’s The Distigration Loops
Basinski is a modern ambient electronic master and this huge body of work is a necessary listen to anyone who appreciates ambient or electronic music. The work in these releases are all based from tapes deteriorating as he attempted to transfer them to digital, a moving, poignant image if there was ever one. These songs are complex and exciting and never not new. I cannot count how many times I listened to this release. It is a modern classic.
Best Follow Up: Austra’s Olympia
Not only was Austra’s follow up gayer, it was stronger: they turned up their cabaret tendencies as well as their dance notions. The result was a whirlwind album that got you even more excited about what they can do. All related media to this album was quite special, too.
Best Album Art: Laurel Halo’s Chance Of Rain
Despite this follow up being very, very OK, the artwork for Chance Of Rain with its pen drawn corpses and cemetery walkers does capture the album’s mood perfectly. This is only made better by the fact that her father designed it in the seventies.
Biggest Surprise: Omar Souleyman’s Wenu Wenu
Who knew that a Middle Eastern wedding singer would make one of 2013’s best albums? I sure did not see this coming! The seven track “party album” is forty minutes of happiness and feels both contemporary and referential. At the risk of sounding terribly racist, this album is what I wish all of M.I.A.’s work sounded like.
Label of The Year, I: PAN
First, an explanation: to be considered a Label Of The Year, a label must release new, inventive, and unknown works that both good and consistently released throughout the year. To be a veteran label and considered a contender here, you have to have had some really big, exciting releases—and stayed atop of your proven track record. PAN is a New York/Berlin based label that specializes in particularly experimental electronic music. They broke new ground this year with their amazing Heatsick release, Black Sites EP, and the return of Rene Hell. All great work.
• Heatsick Re-Engineering
• Rashad Becker Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. I
• Rene Hell Vanilla Call Option
• Black Sites Prototype
• Lee Gamble Dutch Tvashar Plumes
Label of The Year, II: RVNG Intl.
RVNG is coming off a great 2012 and 2013 was another success, mostly because their kept releasing works without warning. The biggest breakthroughs this year was Gardland’s debut and Blonde’s way brilliant follow up that no one knew was being made. What Blondes did should not have been as good as it was and was such an improvement from their good—not amazing—debut.
• Tornado Wallace Desperate Pleasures
• Gardland Syndrome Syndrome
• Blondes Swisher
• Maximillion Dubar House Of Woo
Label of The Year, III: Pampa Records
DJ Koze’s album may not have been a home run for me but his label basically took over what Kompakt should be doing: making wild, creative house music from Europe, slanted toward minimalism.
• My Orphaned Son / It’s Only
• Isoleé Allowance
• DJ Koze Amygdala (Remixes, Pt. 1)
• Die Vögel The Chicken
Best New Artist: Ten Walls
I have no idea who this person is. I do know that the first two releases from the concept—Gotham and Requiem—were a revelation. Deep house in this light has not been made this well in years. Title song “Requiem” is a near perfect seven and a half minutes and, because it came out in December, was largely missed by listeners. This act is one to bookmark.
Best Pop Act: Haim
Knew they were going to be big this year! What was most out of nowhere for them was getting their act together fast enough to release a bunch of singles this year and then a stellar debut. It was polished and cool and was so refreshing to hear. Who knew a sister act of Valley Girls could sweep the music world so quickly? Big congrats to them.
Best Pop Album That Was Forgotten: Charli XCX True Romance
Going into 2013, I was very cross with Charli. She had let me down a lot and I felt burned. I held off from listening to her debut LP but finally caved and—Wow.—this is the best pop release of the year. It was consistent and smart and only had one song that failed. (Ahem.) Somehow, her solo work this year was overlooked under the shadow of Icona Pop and Sky Ferreira. You guys: screw those other acts and listen to Charli.
We Can All Agree On: Rhye Woman
That album was good.
This Will Be Divisive: Rhye Is The 2010s Answer To The Postal Service
Remember when you first listened to Rhye and were confused if the singer was a male or female and where they came from and what was going on? Remember when you couldn’t tell what the album art was? Remember when the album was called Woman and you thought it was by Sade? Yeah, it wasn’t. It was by two dudes. That’s fine but, after seeing them in concert and it was just a Milosh show where he kept reminding us that he was married to a woman and that he had a new album coming out and that he loved his wife and then went off into jazzy tangents, you realize this project was never more than a one-off thing. They were as committed to their audience as much as prostitute is committed to a john: it was all for the money. Halfway through the show, Milosh just sang from Jetlag. THAT WAS NOT WHAT I WANTED. Moreover, there was no playing into the beautiful ambiguity of gender the album gave you, this androgyny that made for a spectacular listening experience. The rug got pulled out after the album started popping up in Starbucks and people started to question the masculinity of its makers. Moreover, Woman came out ten years—LESS THAN A MONTH TO THE DATE.—after The Postal Service’s Give Up came out. Throw that album away: every college freshman for the next ten years will be passing this shit around like the illest blunt they ever saw through 2023.
Best, Best, Best Debut/Concept Album: Ejecta’s Dominae
The combination of Neon Indian’s Leanne Macomber and genius producer Joel Ford as Ejecta was the year’s biggest surprise. Like 0PN and Ford’s Channel Pressure concept piece, the album is about love and loss and the mixture of the two via hyper sleek, creative production and Macomber’s dainty little voice. You go into this album—like Ford & Lopatin’s record—knowing that it is a concept and a wonderful experiment. It sounds like any other light electronic pop record but wears on as a terrific exercise in creativity on all fronts. This album was criminally underrated, too. Top five of the year, easily.
Best Mix: Force Of Nature’s Expansions
I almost gave this award to no one because there were no impressive mixes this year save for the below and this. That DJ Sprinkles one was OK, at best. I literally know nothing about the Force Of Nature guys other than they are Japanese and put together a seriously mean disco mix that hit every sweet spot of the past and present without overstaying its welcome. This is a very easy listen and one that will satisfy any listener. A peerless gem.
Best Mix, Runner Up: Laurel Halo For XLR8R
This mix was better than Halo’s 2013 album and was so exciting. It featured wild spoken word from Ken Nordine on flesh tones in addition to her own experiments. For a free mix, she went above and beyond the required task.
Best Ambient: Steve Hauschildt’s S/H
Thirty seven songs spanning three hours of works otherwise unheard by Hauschildt? Yes, please. The work here covers a huge range and has no lulls. It is beautiful.
Best Music Video, I: Austra’s “Home”
So well done. So simple. So powerful.
Best Music Video, II: Oneohtrix Point Never’s “Boring Angel”
While his “Still Life” is a masterpiece, one that investigates the relationship betweens humans and technology (An overarching theme in his work.), and while “Problem Areas” was an artistic jizz, “Boring Angel” was at the intersection of humor, art, and Internet culture. The video is perfect.
Best Music Video, III: Sky Ferreira’s “You’re Not The One”
I’ll let this Tweet say it all—but I will add this reference point.
AGAIN: THE BEST HORROR MUSIC VIDEO OF 2013 http://t.co/Fdbire00a6
— KYLE FITZPATRICK (@1234KYLE5678) October 16, 2013
Artist Of The Year: Oneohtrix Point Never
Dude did everything this year: he made three stellar music videos, one amazing Warp album that broke him outside of experimental niches, and has embarked on a huge tour. No artist who worked in 2013 tackled anything close to what he did in making a computerized work of art that brings in fake human voices to question what is and isn’t human. 0PN is an artist with a singular vision that, like his music or not, demands respect. He earned that this year.
Entertainer Of The Year: Kanye West
Kim Kardashian. Jimmy Kimmel. North West. Yeezus. “Black Skinhead.” I mean, this was Kanye’s year. I have yet to actually hear a song or indulge in anything West does but I do find reading about him sooo entertaining. He is a force and he deserves a lot of respect, both as a musician and a personality.
The toppest of the top in 2013 in no particular order.
Midnight Davis Severance
Daniel Avery Drone Logic
Helena Hauff Actio Reactio
Fuck Buttons Slow Focus
Logos Cold Mission
Sequence Report Secromance
Hot Natured Different Sides Of The Sun
Julianne Barwick Nepenthe
Lust For Youth Perfect View
Mount Kimbie “Made To Stray”
Donato Dozzy Plays Bee Mask
Autre Ne Veut Anxiety
Jon Hopkins Immunity
Var No One Dances Quite Like My Brother
Zola Jesus “Fall Back”
Skin Town The Room
Haxan Cloak Excavation
Youth Code Youth Code
Raica Lucent Glances
Pharoahs Replicant Moods
Album Of The Year [TIE]: Oneohtrix Point Never R Plus Seven & Tim Hecker Virgins
While Oneohtrix Point Never went the nontraditional route, Tim Hecker doubled down and got deeper in the trenches of his dark ambience. This is funny because, last year, Hecker and Lopatin collaborated to make a great album called Instrumental Tourist. When you split the sound of that release, you can see where both artists were heading in their independent works. Thus, R Plus Seven and Virgins arrived as two parallel 2013 albums to rule the year. They require listeners to confront both artists in relationship to their own canons and relationship to each other.
Daniel Lopatin’s 0PN is clearly this year’s connective tissue: look at this list. He had a hand in so many musical pots! But, of all the electronic releases to come out, R Plus Seven inspired so much to reflect upon and dig into. 0PN has always been an act that deserved respect but here—on a Warp release—it was time for him to do something bigger and better. What did he do? Made a quickly moving mass of technologic hysteria intended to confuse and grate while drawing you into it, picking up on how beautiful techy cacophony can be. It’s like he repurposed the sound of dial-up Internet access and made it into a microscopic, frantic, contemporary opera.
Virgins is Hecker’s follow up to 2011’s Dropped Pianos EP drawn from the LP Ravedeath, 1972. In this, the prettiness in his work is cut and a one hundred eighty degree turn is made, moving toward grittier territory: you actually hear the crash of the aforementioned pianos, a sound that is confrontational and overwhelming. What he made is a suffocating mixture of bone rattling keyboard bangs and swells of dirty static. Whereas Lopatin made the ugly pretty, Hecker made the pretty ugly. As the title suggest, the album is about the loss of something, specifically the perfect shine of that which is pure. He brilliantly handles loss by letting his sound crash.
To Review In 2014: Terre Theamiltz’s Soulnessless
…because I did not do it in 2013.
Watching You This Year: Wavy Spice
I don’t know much about New York House rapper Wavy Spice. What I do know is that she is making an interesting high end/lofi mashing of street and club sounds. She’s like Azealia Banks multiplied by Aaliyah and J.Lo—plus she is super mysterious. Keep your eye on her.
2014 Belongs To: Planningtorock
I didn’t listen to that Knife release and, really, I refuse to. It felt like a conceptual ambush and like they were trying to steal from PTR’s gender political scope in order to make money from the Urban Outfitters crowd. While that is not true (PTR interpreted one of their songs.), she definitely grinned and bore Karin and Olof doing whatever so that she could do something even bigger. What is that? Her third LP, All Love’s Legal. This is a release on her label Human Level, a subset of DFA where she has been releasing all sorts of crazy great queer music. As you can tell, All Love’s Legal is very directly confronting the world’s issues with gender and sex, making for the year’s sexiest album because that is almost exclusively what it is about. It includes a few familiar songs—”Misogyny Drop Dead,” “Patriarchy Over & Out,” “Public Love,” “Welcome“—that all plainly tell it like it is. “Gimme a human drama, all sexuality is not the same. Gimme a human drama. The personal is so political,” she sings in “Human Drama” (Above). That paired with the stiff armed equality titles like “Words Are Glass” and “Beyond Binary Binds,” PTR could be the musician to make an outright queer masterpiece. Her sound has always inhabited this zone and, in 2014, she is going full force toward the goal: make all love legal and let every human just be a human. Sex and gender is different for everyone—and that should be embraced. (Via an avant garde dance tune, too.)
If you made it to the end of this fucking long ass piece, thank you for your time. You can peruse my Rdio too, if that is your kind of thing.