Thursday, 12 December 2013

Eireeindiana's Top 5 Albums of 2013

In a blaze of complete critical yuletide indulgence, a debased spectacle of unadulterated personal taste, hence accordingly follows a shameless top 5 rundown of eireeindiana’s favourite album releases of 2013. In no particular order because of reasons pertaining to ‘who cares’. In all seriousness, 2013 has seen some strong releases, a lot of them from some familiar names staking out new territory and some fresh newcomers to complement. A major trend throughout the list seems to be that of evolution and renewal. Most, if not all of my choices seem to be influenced by those artists with a specific unfolding of artistic creative trajectory, those that take left turns when the next step seems obvious. What follows can perhaps more accurately be described as a scruffy love letter to those elusive moments in popular music where you open the box expecting to find one thing and end up with something else entirely. Perhaps you'll find something here you weren't looking for like I did.

Mark Kozelek and Jimmy Lavalle – Perils from the Sea

The foremost track of the record is titled ‘What Happened to my Brother’ but a more pressing question is exactly what happened to Mark Kozelek in 2013?? Aside from emerging from a relative period of dormancy for two years he followed up the palette cleansing Among the Leaves in 2012 with a patchy but quirky enough to be interesting covers record Like Rats, a collaboration with Desertshore that achieved minor infamy through its lyrical trolling of the guitarist’s guitarist Niles Kline and several live albums too exhaustive to list here. By any rights you’d expect such output to be beholden to the law of diminishing return but the joint effort with Jimmy Lavalle was much better than it really had any right to be.  Perhaps anxious that he might be in danger of stagnating through his decades spanning role as angst ridden troubadour, Perils from the Sea finds Kozelek jumping on some ascetically stripped back electronica beats courtesy of Lavalle and abandoning romantic yearnings that characterised Red House Painter and Sun Kil Moon records in favour of an austere lyrical realism more akin to the meandering and disenganged prose of David Foster Wallace. Grappling with the painful minutiae of his day to day existence, whether it be about the mental deteration of a relative as outlined in the aforementioned opening track, a frustrated retelling of Kozelek's hiring illegal migrant workers to fix up his house and it all very predictably going to shit, or even just a wandering narration on hanging out with his girlfriend that lapses into a breakdown of all his favourite hotels to stay in on tour. Perils from the Sea is not quite so much a welcome return to form for Kozelek but rather a remarkable overhaul of an entire modus operandi.

Factory Floor - Factory Floor

The trio of Gabriel Gurnsey, Dominic Butler and Nik Void, otherwise known as Factory Floor have been savagely metering out face melting performances of their unique industrial/hacienda/minimal/whatever brand of digital clusterfuck for a minute or two now (since 2005, according to Wikipedia), with recorded material so far being few and far between. It seems fundamentally necessary therefore that their eponymous debut would finally materialise under a heavyweight label such as James Murphy's DFA records. A criticism occasionally levelled at electronic live performances is a lack of visual presence, often presenting an uncanny point of departure between a visceral and totalising sound that feels desynchronised with the spectacle of what is often essentially reducible to ‘guy on his laptop’. Factory Floor seem to be totally analogue to that notion - the arrangement of bodies onstage is coordinated as if an attacking football formation - all three members ordered into a robust triangular configuration, concentrating forward energies in a seemingly indefatigable and relentless assault on the neural engine. The resulting record Factory Floor does little to shy away from the attack and sustain mechanism of live performance, as it builds and produces intensity over all of 10 tracks with little let up. Though bearing many of the hallmark traces, to confine Factory Floor to being a dance act seems crude, as evidenced by electronic noise pioneers Chris & Cosey of Throbbing Gristle eagerly showcasing them a few years ago in a series of ICA shows and collaborations. Factory Floor finds the group as eager to exert their transgressive punk credentials as much as their overtures towards the hedonism of rave and acid house.

Kanye West - Yeezus

On the subject of transgressive music, it was pretty fucking peculiar that 2013’s most transgressive record would come not only from the quarter of rap but also perhaps the biggest marquee name in the rap world right now. But this is Kanye West we are talking about right now, an extravagant public personality that I really want to believe is some Andy Kaufman-esque meta joke that keeps surpassing itself right when you think the punchline is about to be delivered. Yeezus is a remarkable exercise not really seen elsewhere in hip hop, an uncomfortably close confrontation of pure masochism and narcissism. The aural claustrophobia permeating through much of the record feels like a monolithic zeitgeist of current sonic trends - enveloping industrial, minimal, juke and punk like some kind of pulsating mutant parasite arbitrarily ingesting mp3 blogs, attaching the viscous remains to itself as crude new limbs as it swells in terrible mass. Kanye’s delivery is as unrelenting as the soundtrack, using an excessive economy of misogynistic rap tropes alongside afro-centric social anxiety (will never be able look at a civil rights sign in the same way again) to the extent that Yeezus begins to more closely resemble the through sexual excess of a Bataille novel rather than any other of his hip hop contemporaries. It was pretty telling to see Jay-Z, the other self-appointed ascendant to the rap game throne, clamour in 2013 to appropriate big names in the contemporary arts world and coming off more insecurely as a vain Roman Abramovich big money collector than actual innovator for his Magna Carta effort. Yeezus didn’t need a bigger name other than Kanye himself (and it really did sell itself, reaching number 1 like, everywhere), and here we found Kanye’s ego in plentiful supply. Not so much laid bare as in tedious rock star confessional but gushing forth like a nefarious and pestilent stream of tainted acid water.

These New Puritans - Field of Reeds

Much of the narrative of noughties indie music seems to one of regression, void ambitions and active withdrawal from public relevancy. These New Puritans, were fermented in these conditions and are indeed of them to an extent, beginning as a fairly typical rock band of the period drawing upon a prehistory of post-punk. They weren’t bad at it; probably the best of the crop in fact, but they weren’t breaking radical new ground either. They had already begun shedding their juvenile skins by sophomore release Hidden in 2010, a concept album about the knights Templar and numerology or something like that with orchestras and tectonic dancehall beats that sounded sort of like MIA when she was still OK. For all the world it sounds unlistenable on paper - and frankly a little fucking nuts, but it really did work! Honest! This year’s follow up Field of Reeds made even further excursions into undiscovered countries, this time around based around a meditation on walking the length of the Thames river from the mouth to city. If the concept is more lucid this time around, the musical arrangement provides greater degrees of nuanced complexity, departing from the relatively more conservative song structures of previous records for an amorphous multi-instrumental wanderings punctuated by the occasional electronic shifts that externalise the psycho-geographical intensity of the subject matter. Field of Reeds is seems to find its greatest success in its relation to the rest of These New Puritans career trajectory, introducing more expressive and mosaic elements to the body of work whilst remaining sonically true to what has already been disclosed. Also more importantly, I totally swear that arch toss rag NME published a blog post earlier this year along the lines ‘Have These New Puritans Completely Disappeared up their Own Arse?’ (seemingly and perhaps tellingly all blog posts not published by Lucy Jones seem to have completely disappeared themselves so I cannot verify this), which makes the whole thing so much more credible and brilliant and would probably put an extra notch on the review score if I actually did that sort of thing.

Braids – Flourish/Perish

Flourish/Perish is one of those records that makes so much more sense when considered in relation to its live counterpart. When I saw Braids earlier this year at End of the Road festival earlier this year, due to late arrival, could only manage a half an hour set - but that was all that was apparently necessary for them to get underneath my skin. Icy rhythms borrowed from minimal soundscapes weave in and out of perception, fluctuating outwards before enclosing back on itself to create a neat kind of intimacy, like all that exists right now is you and this sound. Seeing them earlier this month at XOYO I can safely concur that not since Liars have I seen a group make a performance feel so fluid and adept, producing an undertow of sound that lapses through to an audience universally engrossed in this snug shell of aural space – a location that’s sometimes eerie, sometimes beautiful, but always totally sensory and engaging. Frontwoman Raphaelle Standell-Preston deserves special mention as the pivot upon which the rest of the outfit rotates. Her personality asserts an unusual kind of incandescent charm, consummated in alluring vocal flourishes that conjure forth a haunting presence from within the ornately arranged electronic textures. As a companion to the live perforances, Flourish/Perish is overwhelmingly successful in translating this uniquely rigid intensity throughout its 10 something tracks, perhaps waning momentarily in the median parts before mobilizing itself towards a convincingly strong finish that adroitly showcases the seductive tensions that Braids bring so well to the live stage.

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