Their Bated Breath: Best 25 Albums of 2013

December 12, 2013 at 8:27 am Leave a comment

This was a difficult year for me to try to select the Top 25 records. Usually, I have an idea about which two or three records stand out above the rest, and then I work my way around the list by compiling the others. After quickly writing about elements or songs I like on each record, I then begin to order them for preference. Lists are always fun to read, but terrible to put together. First, you have to know what you’re talking about and actually listen to hundreds of records. Second, my big question is: What is the difference between saying one album is No. 7 and another is No. 9? It’s silliness really. I ordered them, mostly for you readers. But truth is I like to think of it as a list of the 22 or 23 best albums and two or three that are clearly marvelous. In the end, all the records below are worth bending your ear. Hopefully, my comments inspire you to get out of a music rut. I’ve noticed most people throughout a year (besides the hardcore music fans) are content to listen to the same two or three CDs they always do. But really, the world is meant to be experienced — as is its music. Venture out, try things that you normally wouldn’t. What’s the worst thing that could happen? (For the record, I listened to The National and Vampire Weekend’s new works, but just couldn’t get into them. I might have to revisit them. Barely missing the cut were most likely albums by Marnie Stern, Speedy Ortiz, Queens of the Stone Age, Mark Mulcahy, and Kelela.) — Words/art by David D. Robbins Jr.


For those of you wondering, my official No. 26 spot is filled by a record that should have made this list if I was more conscientious, Mark Mulcahy’s “Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You”. It’s fantastic and could take the place of any of the records in the No. 25-through-No. 15 spots. Try out his track “Everybody Hustles Leo”. Earlier this year I wrote, “To take the latter, you must accept the former. Mulcahy packs his punches in tightly, like little diamonds, in songs no longer than four minutes.” Be sure to buy his record and read the archived Their Bated Breath review of it here.


25. SAVAGES | SILENCE YOURSELF
Silence Yourself is one monster debut for a band just trying to mark its mark. The album opener “Shut Up” defines the band like an introductory gut-punch. It’s cool to hear such a heavy collection of antecedents in this record, and yet Savages finds a way to remain true to themselves. Listen closely to that dark opening track and you’ll hear Siouxsie and the Banshees and Bauhaus influence. You can hear tons of Joy Division in that neurotic lead guitar that fights so beautifully to counter the tempo of the rest of the band. And then there’s the obvious stuff, like “Husbands” being a clear homage to Patti Smith’s “Horses”, lead singer Jehnny Beth even mimicking the vocal delivery on the blunt-force chorus. There’s nothing better than more women in rock. And these ladies can add their band to the list of wonderful female-only bands like Warpaint and Dum Dum Girls.
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24. DANNY BROWN | OLD
“Old” may not be as strong and eclectic as Brown’s 2011 mixtape, “XXX”, but there’s enough going on to tide fans over — the one’s that love the party animal half of the artist or his everything-be-damned side. For those folks that think all rap is Kanye West, or all rappers are misogynistic idiots with gold chains — well, okay — you may be partially right. No, seriously, you’ll hear a ton of offensive stuff in Brown’s music, but if you take the time to listen closely you’ll also hear an artist who knows his way around double entendres, humor, clever wordplay and more. Take one of the strongest tracks on the record, “Red 2 Go”, with wonderful rhymes about partying (“Blowjobs from model twins /Doin’ drugs with acronyms”) and funny conceptual associations (“So many lines thought this shit was Bush Garden”) and modern-day references to everything from video games to WWF (“This blonde made the dick do the spray outta’ Contra / You disrespect I hit you with the slap of Tatanka”.)
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23. TIM HECKER | VIRGINS
I’ve never heard anything like Hecker’s “Virgins”, even by his standard of releases. It’s a remarkable cacophony of sounds. It’s an ear assault, and clearly one of those albums that simply cannot be listened to without a high-quality set of over-the-ear headphones. It’s easy to say this record isn’t for everyone, but that’s a cop-out, a resignation to the unadventurous modern music listener, who may be content to go out to Spotify to listen to the same 10 songs everyday year after year. If you want to expand your listening, pick up this record. Don’t let the “experimental music” designation scare you off. (Believe me, it took Hecker and Julia Holter to completely destroy my fear of that so-called genre.) The first track, “Prisms”, which musically seems to mimic the name of the song itself, begins like a low but rising flock of church bells. But there are so many, with the pitch slightly shifted, that the faster they reverberate, the more singular they become. It’s turns into one crystalline note, interspersed with some kind of glitched keyboard sample. The entire record feels as if it were made on another planet, for some other type of sentience. Utterly gorgeous.
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22. VARIOUS ARTISTS | AFTER DARK 2
“After Dark 2” is a collection of Italians Do It Better artists, produced by Johnny Jewel. The artists and bands featured on the album include Glass Candy, Desire, Chromatics, Mirage, Appaloosa, Symmetry, Twisted Wires, Farah, and Mike Simonetti. But what first drew me to the record were two songs in particular, Glass Candy’s 80s-synth pop-influenced “Warm In the Winter”, and the first time I saw an extended fashion-focused video for the song “Looking For Love” by Chromatics. The latter is bathed in My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult sex and swagger, fitting perfectly with the steady pace of runway models traipsing amid The Grand Palais in Paris, an event filled to the brim with style hounds, pleasure seekers, and surely the scent of Chanel No. 5 wafting in the air like the song’s hypnotic mantra, “I’m still looking, looking for love.”  This record is a throwback to pop-love and heavy hooks, candy-coated melodies and good old-fashioned fun. Listen to the standout, “Half Lives” by Twisted Wires or Glass Candy’s addictive “The Possessed”.
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21. CHARLIE XCX | TRUE ROMANCE
Charlie XCX always seems to be looking forward, drawing a demarcation line between old and new music. The best song on this record, “You – Ha Ha Ha” lays down the foundation: “Because we used to be the cool kids / You were old school, I was on the new shit / We were addicted to the blueprint / But we threw it in the flame and now we’re never gonna trace it.” This record pulls together disparate elements, like bubblegum Madonna pop, girly choruses that inspire thoughts of high school slumber parties and pillow fights. That’s not a criticism, but rather a complement, that Charlie XCX has tapped into a sound that is both universal and slightly off-kilter because of her inability to hide her uniqueness and eccentricities. Her range is stunning. She’s like a chameleon, changing shades and shapes randomly. At times she sounds like Santigold, other times you’ll hear Martika in a song like “Stay Away” — which wouldn’t feel out of place in a list of “The Best of the 1980s”. Charlie XCX may talk modern, but the allure of her music is that it’s edged with age. Admittedly, I shied away from her music because I thought she might not develop beyond pop singles. But I was wrong.
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20. JIM JAMES | REGIONS OF LIGHT & SOUND OF GOD
Seems Jim James’ record was applauded when it came out, but has been largely forgotten in the end-of-the-year lists that I’ve seen.  That’s too bad. Apparently, it’s not enough for James to be the guitarist and lead singer for My Morning Jacket — so he’s served up nine buttery electronic and funked out spiritual songs. It might seem perplexing to fans as to why an artist like James (or Thom Yorke for example) want to venture out of something that’s going so well. It’s easy to hear the answer in James’ elegant and intergalactic “Know Til Now”, which lets him release some of his inner Soulman. Underneath the bouncy keyboard the singer seems to answer that question himself: “Now I can see, how sweet it can be.” The gem on this record is “Dear One”, another track about finding clarity and one’s place in life and love: “Dear One / You always push the boundaries of my soul / With life and love we finally gain control / Now all life unfolds for us only / Every minute your possession of my mind / Ticking synchronicity of time / Your life synced to mine, on a dime.”
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19. DEERHUNTER | MONOMANIA

A band is only as strong as its individual parts, coming together in unison. But let’s face it, at least the outward persona of Deerhunter is largely shaped by their mercurial frontman, Bradford Cox, who is as proficient in creating music (including a solo project Atlas Sound) as he is in generating news around his outlandish behavior and interview soundbites. Underneath the singer’s Smiths-hating, dress-wearing, scrawny stance peeks a gargantuan talent adept at leading his band into the world of fuzz, clanks, guitar screeches, and weirdness that is the centerpiece of this rock ‘n roll maelstrom. Cox is the eye of the storm. “Monomania” is a fantastic record — leering, rough, dreamy, and as musically contradictory as its singer. The songs shift from a kind of Southern tonk-rock like “Dream Captain” to the gorgeously understated masterpiece of the record, “T.H.M.” — a song with a rush of cascading melodies, both instrumental and vocal. The lyrics are teetering, in direct contrast to the upbeat, relaxed rhythms.
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18. THESE NEW PURITANS | FIELD OF REEDS
This record showcases yet another aspect of music that These New Puritans can make. There are only nine tracks, but it feels epic — with the band changing pace from its previous two LPs. This time they’ve created an album that’s part rock, part classical, part indie, and quite self-serious compared to the wildness of the past. But this move seems to fit, despite the darkness, the sweeping wind instruments, the reedy and deep vocals, and the haunting dissonance that’s both enchanting and scary as a Grimm tale. The longer I listened to the record, hitting the middle of it with “V (Island Song)” and the stunning baroque beauty of “Spiral” I began to understand the method behind the madness. It’s like listening to disintegration, lonely atonal brass moans, piano chords are purposefully distance and off-tempo, a horn mixes with a sway of string in “Nothing Else”, falling away into reverie. But it’s the uptempo “Fragment Two” that sets the bar — congealing everything into what this band does best.
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17. CHANCE THE RAPPER | ACID RAP
“Acid Rap” is a hodge-podge of rap, revival gospel, black pride, soul, and R&B that drops shout-outs to Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman”, recalls the death of childhood friend (Chance is fresh out of high school and saw his friend get stabbed to death), teases with the Rastafarian accent of Bob Marley, name-checks Matt Lauer, and hints about wishing the future where a lot like the old days  with a safer hood and a mama’s cocoa-butter kisses. As much as the rap game likes to battle, especially since Kendrick Lamar laid down the law, this is a record without a beef, without agenda, existing as a giant circus tent of styles for all kinds of rap fans. Like the best rappers in the business, Chance’s greatest skills are his writing ability, his off-kilter rhymes, and his ability to stagger his flow and rap in a variety of vocal styles. There isn’t a music fan out there who can deny the catchy brilliance of “Cocoa Butter Kisses”: “Okie dokie, alky / Keep it low-key / Like Thor lil-bro / Or he’ll go blow / The loudy saudy of sour Saudi / Wiley up off peyote / Wilding like that coyote / If I sip any Henny / My belly just might be outtie / Pull up inside a huggy / Starsky & Hutch a dougie / I just opened up the pack / In an hour I’ll ash my lucky / Tonight she just yelling, ‘fuck me.'” If you think that’s mad, check out “Everybody’s Something”.
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16. BLOOD ORANGE | CUPID DELUXE
Like a lot of music fans, I’d been waiting to see what Blood Orange would come up with after Dev Hynes whispered the verse, “Come to my bedroom” in the “Champagne Coast” back in 2011. This is clearly Hynes’ project (one of many) but a number of well-known names help throughout: producer Clams Casino, the oft-maligned Dirty Projectors frontman David Longstreth, Samantha Urbani and Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek contribute backing vocals and duets. Hynes is also busy working with others outside of his own music, co-writing and producing successful singles for Sky Ferreira and Solange Knowles. So you can see how this record must come as a freeing relief, Hynes letting loose on his preoccupation with 1980s music, upbeat island rhythms, turning it all into a kind of pop-soul hybrid.
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15. THEE OH SEES | FLOATING COFFIN
John Dwyer and company start the record going zero-to-100 mph in seconds flat with the adrenaline-rush of “I Come From the Mountain”. It’s straight, driving punk force and swirling psychedelic guitars, only topped by one of the best songs of the year, the inexplicably named “Toe Cutter – Thumb Sucker”. The music on this record comes off like a box of explosives, or perhaps more accurately like fireworks — holding the balance between calming segues, high falsetto and blasts of noisy guitar and guttural yelps. “No Spell” begins with a wall of white noise that fades away into hyperkinetic percussion, pretty guitar flourishes and warm vocal harmonies.
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14. ICEAGE | YOU’RE NOTHING
“Pressure, pressure! Oh god, no!! Pressure!” screams Iceage frontman Elias Rønnenfelt, on the opening track “Ecstasy”. Yeah, like a lot of punk bands before them, Iceage’s music is full of belligerence, drive-by snare rolls, fuck-you anthemic choruses, and the kind of thundering approach that leaves kids bloodied, soaked in sweat and spent. So what makes these guys different from all the hundred of punks before them? I’ve always believed that the best punk bands have a way of building frenetic pace, rhythm and general craziness while holding close to some method under it all. And the vocals on “You’re Nothing” may seem like screaming to your average music listener, but it’s not quite like other punk bands. Rønnenfelt lets fans in by giving his utterances more emotion than screaming fury. The band has a ferocious energy, putting the hammer down all the time, wonderfully balancing noise and melody, sloppiness and ripping tightness on a track like “In Haze”, which should blow your damn hair back.
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13. DEAFHEAVEN | SUNBATHER
So far, reading comment sections on other “Best Albums of 2013” lists, I’ve noticed that the inclusion (but more often the exclusion) of Deafheaven brings up a lot of displeased commentary. I can see why this band drives some listeners nuts, while for others Deafheaven are a kind of holy grail of hardcore. This might not be the style of hardcore for the dedicated metal heads who think screaming Swedish bald guys who spit on the stage are the only ones keeping it real. But it’s hard to imagine what else they want. It’s difficult not to appreciate a band that opens its record with a nine-minute long sonic blast (“Dream House”) that sounds like Explosions In The Sky, Mogwai and Slint decided to play simultaneously. (Okay, I’m exaggerating there, but you’ll hear moments of each in some of the soaring sounds.) But Deafheaven is more than a band that screams, turns and burns. They still find the time to wind down with tracks like the soothing three minute “Irresistible”, that works like a pretty interlude, controlling the record’s dynamics by shifting volume and tone so that everything feels unexpected.
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12. KING KRULE | SIX FEET BELOW THE MOON
King Krule is another decisive act, especially for music fans who find clean, traditionally melodic vocals are the main reason they buying records. A few of own friends seem to think I’m an idiot for enjoying this record. But I try to tell them, listening to King Krule often feels like listening to The Clash. Archy Marshall is just some regular British kid who used to make music in his bedroom with his pals, including the single that launched him, “Out Getting Ribs”. He sings with a heavy Cockney accent, and it might take some getting used to. But then again, the same could be said for Tom Waits and Bob Dylan. There’s a pretty soulfulness underlying King Krule songs like “Easy Easy” ( a song about trying to escape one’s life predicament) and especially “Border Line”. What’s remarkable about his music, is his obvious and often depressing honesty. There’s nothing brilliant about most of the lyrics, but there’s a bleeding-heart truthfulness to them. Take “Has This Hit?” a song about trying to find a silver lining to life through love: “I know when I look into the sky / There is no meaning / Girl, I’m the only one believing / And that there’s nothing to believe in.”
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11. NEKO CASE | THE WORSE THINGS GET …
Neko Case just keeps getting better. Maybe it’s the company she keeps, Elvis Costello and, well, whatever pets she has running around the house. The first single off the record was “Man”, a rollicking number presumably about a woman redefining herself as a man’s man. It’s lovely work. It’s so refreshing to listen to Case, because she let’s it all hang out: “And if I’m dipshit drunk on pink perfume / Then I’m the man in the fucking moon / ‘Cause you didn’t know what a man was / Until I showed you.” But the song I was most impressed with on this album is the fantastic “Night Still Comes”, a song with dazzling rhyme and natural imagery: “There are so many tools that are made for my hands / But the tide smashes all my best-laid plans to sand.” The song appears to be about a relationship, appreciation, endings, loss, identity, inevitability, and finding comfort in the solitude of the woods. It’s one of the best tracks of 2013. It’s most passionate moments grow from soft vocals building into a chorus that borders on spiritual awakening: “You never held it at the right angle”.
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10. KANYE WEST | YEEZUS
What is it exactly about Kanye that sets him apart from other musicians. Is he the best rapper? No. Does he have the greatest flow? No. How about his lyrics? Well, if you’ve heard that line he wrote on Yeezus about Deepak Chopra, you know that West can write the most embarrassingly bad verses. Cringe-worthy stuff. But when he nails it he’s great. Complex songs like “Black Skinhead”, “New Slaves”, “I Am God” and even the soulful “Hold My Liquor” are really tight. Truth is Kanye has changed everything about rap — combining music, spectacle, performance, the art world, fashion and media unlike anyone else. West’s music doesn’t exist by itself. It’s symbiotic to that big package called all-caps YEEZUS filled with things as incongruous as Prada, religion, marathon shows, blackness, and a mercurial personality. The medium is half the message. And the other half can be interesting too. “Black Skinhead” touches on race, with West exalting in the love of white fans, while still creating a harsh distance: “You see a black man with a white woman / At the top floor they gone come to kill King Kong / Middle America packed in / Came to see me in my black skin.” There’s a lot of contradiction here and that’s the fuel that feeds the Kanye fire.
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09. CUUSHE | BUTTERFLY CASE
It feels like I’ve lived with the music of Cuushe for years now. This is her debut record, but I’ve been writing about her singles, and her 2012 EP since it first came out via the Flau imprint. The Tokyo-turned-Berlin singer’s first official record is a special kind of magic — lush, dreamy, and full of the kind of musical ingenuity you rarely find in young musicians. (Listen to the album opener, “Sort of Light”.) This record is warm and shimmering synth, combining subtle electronic soundscapes and rhythmic percussion to back Cuushe’s understated, whispery vocals. Her music is sedate, soft and narcotic — with a sheer elegance rich as silk and billowy as the pre-dream state of the old Greek Lotus-eaters we read about in ancient mythology.
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08. DISCLOSURE | SETTLE
Disclosure balances dance and pop with smoking beats — and like a number of other electronic pairs (like Zero 7, Massive Attack) they understand that their music can only get better if they hire out, grabbing the best of guest vocals, like Jessie Ware, Sam Smith, AlunaGeorge and Eliza Doolittle. It probably feels natural for most listeners to compare these guys with Daft Punk and “Random Access Memory”, a record that brings back elements of disco, making it relevant again with a monster pop single like “Get Lucky”. But where that record, in its totality, feels a bit gimmicky in parts, “Settle” keeps me along for the full ride. I remember reading a Billboard writer’s review saying that where Daft Punk offered something more conceptual (spelled out in a track like “Giorgio by Moroder”), Disclosure’s “Settle” didn’t have the equivalent. Well, I think that’s plain wrong. The concept begins with the album opener, “When A Fire Starts to Burn” — which is really a metaphor for that feeling people get listening to great dance music. Also, unlike RAM, even the weaker “Settle” tracks don’t fall completely flat. Where “Latch” and “F For You” might feel a tad saccharine, they’re pretty enough to get you to the club chorus of “White Noise”.
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07. WAXAHATCHEE | CERULEAN SALT
Waxahatchee is the name for the solo project of songwriter Katie Crutchfield and “Cerulean Salt” is a pretty impressive group of 12 songs. I think I was lucky to first experience the marvel of Waxahatchee through the best song on the record, “Dixie Cups and Jars” — a song about a wedding gone wrong, the stack of champagne flutes stacked shoddily, the bride’s make-up described as thick tar. The narrative of the track is told from the viewpoint of an observer, one that dreams and keeps thinking of getting out of this place, whether that’s the wedding itself or the town. It’s not hard to imagine the singer herself (originally from Alabama before moving to Philadelphia) sitting at a wedding like this, thinking one day she’d leave all that behind. Perhaps that’s reading too much into it, but it’s clear Crutchfield has a wonderful way with words, accenting them in “Dixie Cups and Jars” with a searing, dirty guitar riff: “I’m not a whipper in the wind / Or solace laying at the bottom of a bottle / Or your thick skin / Escape yells both our names out loud / We run like hell, I’ll write a tragic epilogue and you’ll act it out.”
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06. MY BLOODY VALENTINE | MBV
I was never a big MBV fan to begin with. Yes, I own “Loveless”, but in a way it was a touch before my time, and it languished unappreciated. Well, now 22-years later MBV released “mvb”. The first song, “She Found Now”, begins familiarly, with all that warm and fuzzy guitar — blends naturally into “Only Tomorrow” and “Who Sees You” (my favorite track on the record). Luckily, for fans, the new album found MBV sounding better than ever, guitars melding into a fur muff for the ears with the steady sound of a swarm of bees. Really pretty stuff. I’ve been listening to this record a number of times this year, and it still amazes me just how loud and forceful this band can be and still remain atmospheric and lush. Has there ever been a band this guitar-heavy that still managed to sound so soft and delicate?
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05. PHOSPHORESCENT | MUCHACHO
When I first heard this record, I thought it felt flushed out like a full band. Granted, there are heavy strings, and an array of instruments — but Phosphorescent is really the brainchild of Alabamian singer-songwriter Matthew Houck, who now lives in Brooklyn. The other thing that stood out about this record was the wonderfully meandering lyricism that recalled some of the more graceful moments of a songwriter like Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce. But there’s an even greater sense of gentility, like this verse from “Song For Zula” about love and disillusionment: “See, honey I am not some broken thing / I do not lay in the dark waiting for thee / No my heart is gold, my feet are light / And I am racing out on the desert plains all night.” Or the gorgeous poetics of “The Quotidian Beasts” (that musically sounds like a sister song to Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”): “She took the beak of a raven / Ah, she laid it out just for show / She spun it round on the table, honey / Hey, I thought you should know / I saw the streets were of lightning all out the window below.”
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04. DAVID BOWIE | THE NEXT DAY
David Bowie’s first album in 10 years, “The Next Day”, is baffling and brilliant. It plays like Bowie took all his various musical incarnations, from “Space Oddity” and “Aladdin Sane” to “Low” and “Reality”, fused them together and set it all to neutron bomb. That’s why the record feels both nostalgic and postmodern. On the title track he growls like P.I.L.-era Johnny Rotten; the sinister “Dirty Boys” opens with dissonant bass like a Tom Waits junkshop tune; and there are shades of Arcade Fire, Ballad Bowie, the Thin White Duke, The Pixies, The Beatles, dear old England, and “Lodger”. The record is all over the place stylistically, but still feels unified by tone, theme, and a matchless musical acumen. Frankly, I’m getting tired of reading comments online about this record being “mediocre Bowie” or that somehow this isn’t as good as his more canonized releases. People who say that don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.
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03. LAURA MARLING | ONCE I WAS AN EAGLE
In all seriousness, this is the kind of music an artist makes after making a deal at the crossroads. Yes, I think it’s that good. The opening four-song suite, “Take the Night Off”/”I Was An Eagle”/”You Know”/”Breathe”, is one of prettiest pieces of genius I’ve heard in years. It’s enough to make me want to go back and listen to Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” all over again. (Don’t get angry at me, but this record is better.) There are touches of that world weary, old-soul acoustic wisdom you hear at moments in albums like “Led Zeppelin III”, Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon”, and I once heard something close when St. Vincent (i.e., Annie Clark) performed a single called “Oh My God” for Lake Fever Sessions back in 2009. Luxuriate in this woman’s talent now because this is a once-in-a-lifetime record. Also, one underrated part of this record is Marling’s guitar playing, much the same way Bob Dylan’s lyrics on a song like “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” might make you forget that the guitar is equally as lovely. Listen to her high vocal intonation on the verses, “When we were in love / … If we were / I was an eagle and you were a dove.” It’s majestic. Songs outside the suite are good too, like “Devil’s Resting Place”, but perhaps the crowning achievement is “Breathe”.
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02. ARCADE FIRE | REFLEKTOR
I have this feeling that “Reflektor” is suffering a bit from the same thing that hit the band’s friend David Bowie. Sometimes a band or artist is so good that expectations for them are different than they are for every other artist. It’s also the nature of music that people don’t want to keep supporting and giving “Best Of” spots to the same artists again and again. I feel their pain, sorta. Okay, I don’t. Give credit where credit is due. This is a great record. And just because that’s become commonplace for Arcade Fire, doesn’t mean championing it is somehow “hipster” — the new dirty word equivalent of “doesn’t like the same music I do” or “I’m a hater” or “I just don’t understand this music because I have no patience.” (Another word made equally useless by its misuse and overuse: “pretentious”.) Hey, deal with it — whether you like it our not — Radiohead, Arcade Fire and David Bowie are all extremely popular and beloved by critics — and for good reason. There are so many good tracks on “Reflektor” — just play “We Exist” (has one of the best bass beats of the year) or “Porno”.
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01. MUTUAL BENEFIT | LOVE’S CRUSHING DIAMOND
“Love’s Crushing Diamond” begins with a tinkle of wind-chimes, a scattered build-up like an orchestra tuning up for a show. There’s a naturalness to all that cluttery flutter, like being out in the wilderness and realizing every random noise (autumn leaves falling, branches rustling against each other, wind whistling across the top of a pool of water) circles you, and swells like the rising lovestruck strings of the song itself — and if you listen closely enough you’ll hear the rising of what might be called the natural cathedral of god. It’s the music coming alive, finding its autumnal golden light. This record is a Great flood, Americana unspooled, nature’s symphony. And Brooklyn multi-instrumentalist Jordan Lee’s folky falsetto in harmony with his friends, Virginia de la Pozas, Cory Siegler, and Julie Byrne is that rare thing in music — the auditory example of a coalition of people who are so obviously in love with making music. The arrangement of “Advanced Falconry” is traditional, graceful, pillowed, and plays in a constant state of hovering. Even the lyrics are balletic, about a man observing the movements of his love: “And oh the way she moves / Always on the run / And to look into her eyes / Will make a fool of anyone / And she talks softly / sees through me / says something / I can’t hear it / But I won’t forget / The way she flies / Oh to stare into the void / And see a friendly face / And find meaning in a word / In a moment of rare grace / And she talks softly / Sees through me / Says something / I can’t hear it / But I won’t forget / The way she flies / Talk softly / Walk slowly / Take nothing / I can’t hear it / But I won’t forget / The way she flies.” I can’t be sure, but maybe the movement of this woman is the metaphor for advanced falconry. Or maybe it’s equating the movement of thought to a type of flight? I can’t say. But it’s such an interesting and unique sentiment. (Something this short record is full of.) The lyrics reminded me of Theodore Roethke’s famed poem, “I Knew A Woman” — when he writes about his love, “Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one … / These old bones live to learn her wanton ways: / (I measure time by how a body sways).” What’s even more wild is that “Advanced Falconry” might not even be the best song on the record. I’m partial to the Asian-tinted masterpiece, “Strong Swimmer” (below), where strings seem to play the type of sound one associates with a Japanese shamisen, before it fades away into floating vocal harmonies and what sounds like a banjo. The fact that this band was largely “discovered” (as the story goes) via bandcamp proves the internet can actually play a vital role in finding fantastic music.

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Their Bated Breath Archive

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Guilt-Free Listening Zone

This is a guilt-free listening zone. We've built relationships with bands, artists, labels and PR firms to give you the best in new music. All songs on this site are sent to Their Bated Breath directly from the artists, their PR firms, their record labels, or are available via stream. Thanks so much to all of them. It's important to me that nothing posted here take away anything from the artists. Enjoy. -- David.

2014: Good Listens …

  • • Leonard Cohen "Popular Problems"
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  • • Warpaint "Warpaint"
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  • • Cibo Matto "Hotel Valentine"
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  • • Sharon Van Etten "Are We There"
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