Top Ten of 2013 – Part 2

And now, the rest of the list!

 

The Knife – Shaking the Habitual

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It is only natural for a band to evolve as their career moves along. Some artists are able to get by on a consistent sound for decades – AC/DC and Motörhead are two chief examples of this strategy – but most bands will indeed change up their sound or style as the years go on, and the Knife is no exception to this rule. Shaking the Habitual is the Swedish duo’s follow-up to 2010’s collaborative work Tomorrow, in a Year, and though it is undoubtedly a step forward for the band in terms of sound, thematically the album concerns itself with evolution’s natural opposites: decay and collapse. Nowhere is this more evident than on “A Cherry on Top,” where droning synths give way to a detuned-sounding mandolin and a strained Karin Andersson vocal – the entire track sounds like a corpse rotting in the desert sun. Even advance single “Full of Fire” sounds as though it’s coming apart by the end of its 9-minute plus running time, the danceable percussion seemingly being drowned by warped synths and distorted, barely-human vocals. Shaking the Habitual is an intentionally challenging, schizophrenic and draining listen, but it’s also one of the finest albums of 2013.

 

Melt-Banana – Fetch

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Melt-Banana is a band that must seem like some sort of J-pop inspired nightmare to many.  But the shrill schoolgirl shouts of vocalist Yasuko Onuki and distorted guitar bursts of Ichirou Agata are the surface trappings of a very talented, energetic, and flat-out fun rock band. Fetch is Melt-Banana’s first proper studio album since 2007’s Bambi’s Dilemma and is yet another in a long string of frenetic, fist-pumping albums. Opener “Candy Gun,” for all of its noise rock excess, is a shot of pure musical adrenaline that wouldn’t be out of place at a hardcore punk show. “Lie Lied Lies” is a chaotic frenzy even by this album’s standards, but briefly slows down to a simple rock riff – the moment doesn’t last long but is memorable all the same. The production throughout the album is clean without sounding polished, a change from Melt-Banana’s earlier grittier works, and the pre-recorded percussion never sounds sterile. As is the case with many noise rock bands, Melt-Banana won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but for fans of the band or for those simply seeking solid punkish rock that’s a little bit off-kilter, Fetch is absolutely recommended.

 

My Bloody Valentine – m b v

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Writing the follow-up to a classic album is the nightmare of any band, especially when said classic album essentially codified a genre. Writing the follow-up to a classic album 22 years after the fact seems utterly impossible, and yet the reunited My Bloody Valentine somehow managed to pull it off. m b v is a tremendous comeback album, one that stands alongside Swans’ My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky and Celtic Frost’s Monotheist as examples of comeback albums that not only fit in with a band’s original output, but are excellent in their own right. m b v has all the typical shoegaze elements like walls of guitar and washed-out, indecipherable vocals, but this is no Loveless-rehash. Kevin Shields’ songwriting remains varied and engaging through m b v’s surprisingly brief runtime, expanding upon the band’s now-iconic sound without ever sounding tired or played out. Highlights include the warped pop prettiness that is “Only Tomorrow,” helmed by a remarkably young-sounding Bilinda Butcher, and the surprisingly abrasive closer “Wonder 2,” which sounds like the band playing in a wind tunnel.

 

Palms – self-titled

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The debut album of Palms came with high expectations. A collaborative project between the Deftones’ vocalist Chino Moreno and three of the five members of Isis, Palms has the legacy of two influential, extremely talented bands to live up to. To the band’s credit, Palms the album doesn’t try to sound like either the Deftones or Isis, instead opting for a sunnier, mellower middle ground. Moreno sticks mainly to Robert Smith-esque croon as opposed to his metal shriek, and while Jeff Caxide and Bryant Clifford Meyer’s respective bass and guitar lines retain their usual fluidity, they never become as crushingly heavy as they so often did in Isis. Instead, Palms dwells mainly in atmospherics, whether it’s the dreamy, wistful opener “Future Warrior” or the space-rock epic “Antarctic Handshake.” And though it may occasionally seem one-note or repetitive, Palms is still a remarkably well-crafted and enjoyable album, as suitable for close headphone listening as it is for a late night drive.

 

Paramore – self-titled

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“Paramore is a band.” This is a slogan that appears on Paramore t-shirts, has been personally espoused by lead singer Hayley Williams time and again, and seems to be the defining concept of Paramore’s self-titled album.  The three-piece, joined by session drummer Ilan Rubin, seemed intent on affirming to the world with this album that they still exist and indeed are “moving on” from the troubles of years past. Paramore the album is an ambitious, scattershot affair, with songs running the gamut from pop-punk and pure strain pop, to alternative rock and all of its trappings, post-rock, and even indie. It doesn’t always succeed – the three Interludes are charming but skippable and the album’s sequencing feels rather slapdash – but for the most part, this is a very enjoyable album for whatever musical mood you may happen to be in, whether it’s the immensely catchy bubblegum pop of “Still into You” or the sprawling, distortion-laden closer “Future.”

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