sharon van etten’s upcoming album are we there is a highly anticipated release over here at dimestore saints. initially bolstered by the excellent “taking chances,” the record provides additional support with “every time the sun comes up,” its final track. van etten’s vocal melody is slightly jarring throughout the verses, perfectly complementing its mournful timbre, but the refrains always offer some form of resolution and security. stream “every time the sun comes up” below, courtesy of jagjaguwar’s soundcloud page.
maybe “reworked song” would be a more apt description in the title. oh well. it’s been a treat to watch the rest of the world slowly catch on to the true gem that is phox. there’s traffic here on almost a daily basis looking for the band’s 2013 ep confetti (sorry, they took it down), and the baraboo sextet have been picking up steam, playing sxsw and receiving coverage from npr all while working on their self-titled album, their first for partisan records. the album is due out june 24th, and the band put up a bunch of pre-order information on their website today. along with the pre-order comes “slow motion,” a re-recorded version of the opening track off confetti. the overall structure of the song remains fairly consistent, but subtle nuances like organ swells and a greater presence of percussion make “slow motion” even sharper, building tons of anticipation for the rest of the album. take a listen below, courtesy of the band’s soundcloud page, and look for phox to come to a city near you this summer.
good things come to those that wait, right? does this phrase even really apply to this situation? probably not. it may be a bit delayed, but my albums of the year list is finally done. i’ve written long-form essays on my favorite fifteen records of 2013 over at playground misnomer; you should definitely head over there and check it out, along with lists from the other contributors to that site. if you don’t feel like reading, below are some quick and simple pictures of my top five albums of 2013. enjoy.
5. milo – cavalcade
4. chvrches – the bones of what you believe
3. daughter – if you leave
2. caroline smith – half about being a woman
1. majical cloudz – impersonator
i’m upping the ante and treating you to my ten favorite songs of 2013, as opposed to last year’s five. my choices don’t necessarily reflect contenders for album of the year, but don’t be surprised if some of the same names show up over the next couple of weeks.
10. oostende – keep shelly in athens: “oostende” was my first true glimpse at sarah p.’s vocal personality, which stretches from hesitant to confident within the duration of a verse and a chorus. the synth pads are brooding throughout, but the lead line that kicks in three quarters of the way through the song routinely gets stuck in my head. easily the best track off of the duo’s debut album at home, the power of “oostende” is only bolstered by an incredibly heart-wrenching music video.
9. collapse – vancouver sleep clinic: the second of just two tracks released by vancouver sleep clinic this year, “collapse” easily proves what tim bettinson is capable of doing with his voice. retaining an incomprehensible aesthetic akin to bon iver, “collapse” evokes a frigid winter landscape that has already become relatable. the production behind the vocals is also impressive, molding some james blake drum pads with soft-rock, folky guitars. both vancouver sleep clinic songs have been firmly distinguishable so far, but “collapse” flexes the ensemble’s potential the most.
8. graceless – the national: trouble will find me still hasn’t fully settled in yet. while the cohesive aspect of the album may be lacking, i know that “graceless” is probably one of the best songs the national have ever written. there’s that underlying post-punk tone that harkens earlier tracks off of alligator and boxer, along with a truly anthemic final chorus. the national is a band that ages well, and a sustained break from their earlier influences helped to add depth to that sound.
7. diamond mine – pillar point: i love a good mystery. when i found pillar point through polyvinyl’s twitter page, the sheer absence of a biography or any sort of personal identity attached to the project made me appreciate the music that much more. “diamond mine” is a chillwave standout that mixes a multitude of pulses, but that lead synth line is always an earworm, whether syncopated or straight in time. the lyrics are a bit melancholy, juxtaposing the sunny, up-beat accompaniment, but that only adds to the overall sophistication of the songwriting here.
6. tennis court – lorde: i could talk about “royals,” but everyone talks about “royals.” lorde stands for something that goes against the mainstream materialistic values and idolization of glamorous pop stars, but she’s also still a kid, barely out of high school and three years away from turning twenty. that doesn’t detract from the fact that she’s very self-aware and intelligent; i think “tennis court” showcases this the best. its lyrics are less about dissociating from material goods and more about defying social trends and chasing perfection. “tennis court” is fairly autobiographical, highlighting lorde’s naivete in the music industry, but her skeptic tone suggests that she won’t buy into its extravagancies. i guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
5. savage – majical cloudz: there’s a lot to be said about majical cloudz and their fantastic, under-the-radar year. devon welsh’s voice is routinely haunting, pairing well with the minimalist compositions that define the aesthetic of the duo. impersonator was an admirable record, but i was drawn to “savage,” a bonus track released just last month, more quickly than any song found on the album. the ostinato keyboard part sets the tone for welsh’s lyrics, a fairly direct romantic narrative. the first time i heard him break from his declamatory phrasing to croon “high on lsd with you,” i was sold, and i’ve felt the same tingling sensation every listen since.
4. summer skin – teen girl scientist monthly: someone likened teen girl scientist monthly to the pains of being pure at heart on steroids, a comparison that works especially well for “summer skin,” the opening track on their newest album modern dances. the opening guitar line sells the song as an instant earworm of powerpop, but the gradual additions of keyboard textures and gang vocals find the brooklyn ensemble as an amalgamation of the answering machine and arcade fire. “summer skin” is the kind of song you would wait around for hours to hear on the radio, but thankfully, you don’t have to do that.
3. comrade – volcano choir: “byegone” garnered understandable praise for volcano choir, with its anthemic folk rock feel reminiscent of bon iver’s sophomore album. but “comrade” is the essence of what volcano choir has become: the marriage of collections of colonies of bees’ post-rock leanings and justin vernon’s vocal tendencies. responsible solely for the lyrics and vocals on repave, vernon was in his element, generously modifying his voice to embellish the experimental aesthetic of the band. the autotuned coda at the end of “comrade” makes the song and is gloriously powerful live; watch the video below for a frame of reference.
2. lungs – chvrches: any song off of the bones of what you believe could contend for a spot on this list. chvrches was one of the most impressionable bands of 2013, seamlessly blending pop hooks with indie sensibility and dance floor beats. “lungs” is buried deep within the album and is a syncopated gem; lauren mayberry’s voice is subtly doubled with a vocoder, adding a harsh undertone to an otherwise crystal clear timbre, but it’s the quarter note-triplet pattern fed through a filthy bass synthesizer that defines this song. friends of mine who almost exclusively listen to electronic dance music appreciate chvrches due to this song, further showcasing the band’s accessibility across a wide variety of genres. “lungs” is on par with every single released off of the bones of what you believe, and is probably better than some of them.
1. boat rich – dads: it didn’t take long before “boat rich” was my most-played song of 2013. clocking in at under three minutes helps, but the fact is that the guitar work is too catchy to not listen to on repeat. dads started to receive some national attention this year with the resurgence of emo, but the new jersey duo are just as likely to throw a quick meter change into a song as they are to wear their hearts on their sleeves. the chorus of “boat rich” is anthemic in nature and each repetition builds, culminating in a climax following a triplet-based interlude. check out dads’ pretty good ep if you haven’t already, and keep your eye out for more material in 2014. i know i will.
the title of “best new artist” sometimes confuses and is misleading to me. i frequently see bands that have two or three albums already under their belt pop up on various round-up lists, and sometimes a band releasing their debut full-length constitutes as a “new artist,” even if they’ve been together for a few years and have released a string of singles and eps. the big to-do events like the grammy awards are always the best; i’ll never forget how amused i was to see bon iver take home the award for “best new artist” at the 2012 ceremony, despite for emma, forever ago being released to critical and commercial acclaim four years prior.
for my “best new artist” category for 2013, i decided to look at bands that didn’t exist in 2012. at all. that meant painful axings for savages and chvrches, fantastic groups that put out really important debut albums this year. that meant pity sex and daughter didn’t qualify either, as prior years of demos and eps established each band quite well in their respective circles. while i’m just one guy who inevitably misses out on a lot of what goes on in the music world, there was one brand new band this year that really caught my attention and got me really excited for their subsequent output in 2014.
now, without further ado, let the accolades of 2013 in music begin.
– best new artist: vancouver sleep clinic –
it’s been hard to ignore tim bettinson’s rise from obscurity and his subsequent impact on the indie blogosphere over the past six months. since the release of his debut single as vancouver sleep clinic, “vapour,” at the end of june, the seventeen year-old from australia has garnered a significant amount of buzz. early comparisons were made to bon iver and james blake, similarities further condoned by bettinson’s self-admitted adoration of those two artists, but there’s a level of maturity and coherence in both his lyricism and compositions that is beyond rare for someone who graduated high school last month.
i waited in the edge of my seat for months before the next vancouver sleep clinic song dropped, but the artistry attached to “collapse” was worth it. it’s the lead single off of the band’s upcoming debut ep, already one of my most-anticipated releases of 2014. the winter landscape “collapse” evokes struck at the perfect moment half a hemisphere away, and this was reflected by vancouver sleep clinic reaching the top of the hype machine charts within days of the song dropping.
the success of both “vapour” and “collapse” foreshadows vancouver sleep clinic’s potential to be a heavy hitter in the ambient, atmospheric realm, as well as the band’s capacity to cross over into elements of folk and post-dub with relative ease. london grammar just picked up bettinson and company as the support act for a string of tour dates in australia next january. at the rate this band is snowballing, i wouldn’t be surprised to see vancouver sleep clinic dominating heavy-hitting sites like pitchfork and stereogum within the next few months. they’re certainly worthy of the buzz.
it’s not very often that you find a band with a name that so accurately describes their intended aesthetic. aside from the slight geographical misdirection (the sleep clinic is based out of brisbane, not vancouver), tim bettinson’s music functions just as you would expect. he openly admits that his songs are catered towards fans of bon iver and james blake; i see the former much more than the latter in his new song “vapour.”
it’s airy and driven by a very similar falsetto and acoustic guitar tandem approach to the one that appeared on justin vernon’s first album, but “vapour” also retains some discernible electronic elements, perhaps creating a loophole for people who would be quick to write him off as another rustic cabin wannabe. if it’s any consolation, i live in eau claire and think this song is worth a listen. check it out below and see for yourself.
i’m happy that this album is finally available in north america. i’ve been following daughter since early last year, when the london trio began picking up steam and recognition on this side of the atlantic. still, the band’s media presence is just about as low-key as the music they create, and those are the two aspects i enjoy the most. led by elena tonra, daughter craft morose and hauntingly ethereal songs that provide the perfect backdrop to sleepy wisconsin winters and long walks in the snow. with a collection of demos and two superb eps under their belt, daughter was poised to take the next step and procure a more cohesive offering of their capabilities.
rumblings about if you leave began surfacing as early as last fall, when the band released a new song entitled “smother” backed with a reworked version of an early demo, “run.” after disappearing for another short stretch, daughter confirmed that they were putting the finishing touches on their debut album and that if you leave would be available in mid-march. this was followed by the release of another single, “still,” along with an accompanying music video.
armed with two very strong lead-in singles, daughter confirmed my suspicions; they were only going to get better. if you leave contains ten one-name tracks, including fully realized versions of early demos like “tomorrow” and “shallows,” as well as a reworked version of “youth,” my favorite song off of their stellar the wild youth ep. upon simply gazing at the tracklist, cause for concern due to repetition was initially felt, but these songs feel fresh, with new arrangements and more confident vocals and ensemble presence felt throughout. the flow and contrast of if you leave is greatly aided by “human,” a standout track that feels positively upbeat in comparison with the rest of the band’s repertoire.
the absence of love is not absent from the core of if you leave, as reflected in the album’s title itself. tonra still masterfully sings about solitude and bleak outlooks on life; “touch” finds her almost begging for physical contact, confessing “i’m dreaming of strangers/kissing me in the night/ just so i can feel something.” the album title sneaks into its finale track, a reworked and substantially longer version of “shallows,” originally the opening song on a collection of early daughter demos. it’s fitting that their catalogue would come full-circle, and in such an eloquent fashion.