Top 10 albums of 2013 critics' picks: Mike Usinger


Half the records below are made for the debauched night before, the other half for the morning comedown after. See if you can figure out which are which.

Jon Hopkins
After years of toiling behind the scenes as a producer (Coldplay’s Viva la Vida), collaborator (with fanboy Brian Eno), and remixer (Four Tet), Britain’s Jon Hopkins officially arrives with a collection of gorgeous, largely instrumental soundscapes. Immunity throws back to the golden era of late-’90s electronica, the proudly analogue tracks making you wonder what the hell the world sees in Skrillex, Steve Aoki, and that jackass with the giant rodent’s head.


Sleigh Bells
Bitter Rivals
Sleigh Bells finally finds the right mix of concussion-causing drum-machine bombast and candy-barbed Hiwatt hooks. Bitter Rivals will have you debating whether singer Alexis Krauss and guitarist Derek E. Miller were most influenced by Led Zeppelin, Public Enemy, or Big Black, the answer probably being all of them equally.


Queens of the Stone Age
…Like Clockwork
What doesn’t kill you not only doesn’t kill you, it also, in the case of …Like Clockwork, leads to a late-career triumph. After almost dying during a routine knee operation, Queens mastermind Josh Homme roars back with a record that adds coal-black piano ballads and art-funk detonators to his famously peyote-fried stoner-rock template.


Sigur Rós
Long famous for meditative postrock soundscapes with grand symphonic flourishes, Sigur Rós gets noisy in a big and often terrifying way. All speaker-frying distortion spikes, doomsday drum violence, and wraithlike vocal washes, Kveikur celebrates the art of delicious chaos without sacrificing the band’s trademark beauty.


Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Push the Sky Away
Forgoing the bile-and-brimstone that’s marked his classic works, Nick Cave goes for something lovely on the quiet and contemplative Push the Sky Away. Badass has seldom sounded so beautiful.


Blood Tears
Sandra Vu steps away from her job as Dum Dum Girls’ drummer and reinvents herself as a synth-loving experimentalist with no time for surf-flavoured doompop. Blood Tears dabbles in styles ranging from neon-splattered new wave to glitched-out techno to distortion-scarred noiserock, with results that make one hope SISU’s newly minted frontwoman is in no hurry to get back behind the kit.


The Marshall Mathers LP 2
Even though he’s released records sporadically since an addiction-related 2007 hiatus, it’s only on this sequel to the landmark The Marshall Mathers LP album that Eminem is officially back in fighting form. This is classic fuck-the-world Slim Shady, the rapper’s machine-gun flow matched by a ragingly anthemic production job.


Kanye West
Hate him for being an obnoxious blowhard, raging egomaniac, and unrepentant asshole, but don’t deny that Kanye West has an insane amount of game. For thinking outside of the hip-hop box with a record that’s claustrophobic, clattering, and entirely audacious, Ye has earned the right to call himself Yeezus, Yishnu, Yuddha, Yallah, or whatever the hell he wants.


Somewhere Else
Copenhagen’s Søren Løkke Juul offers up dreamy chamber-folk that mixes gauze-swaddled synths with six-shades-of-grey violins and reverb-bathed percussion. This is music for stargazing, preferably while standing in a snow-dusted forest clearing on a crisp and clear winter night.


There’s a very good argument to be made that Maya Arulpragasam was beamed down from some other planet, one where Bollywood films are scored by phaser-wielding aliens on a mission to answer the question “What would futuristic hip-hop sound like on the frontlines of an under-siege Fallujah?” Yes, Matangi is that fantastically out-there.

Comments (9) Add New Comment
Rating: +4
Pretty poor ... this can't be a Top Ten list.It's gotta be a joke.Kanye,MIA,Eminem = Yuck.Even Nick's album is rather average.QOSA is OK.
Rating: -4
Not a single local record?

for shame!
Rating: -12
Dead Ghosts?
Rating: -12
A. MacInnis
May I nominate Bison BC's Lovelessness for "single local record?" It would definitely be on my top ten list, if I had listened to enough new music in 2013 to have a list. Oh, wait - it came out on October 2012. Damn! Psychedelic pill, too...

Did like Lee Ranaldo's Last Night On Earth, fyi. Haven't figured out how I feel about the new Pere Ubu, Lady From Shanghai, but maybe Saturday night at the Biltmore will convince me one way or the other? ("Musicians Are Scum" is pretty great).

I feel estranged from most of the picks people are offering - I only half-liked the new Nick Cave, to be honest. Still, I am glad I maintain a position where I never, ever feel professionally obliged to have to listen to Kanye West, let alone review him... but who knows, maybe I'm missing out...
Rating: -7
"I never, ever feel professionally obliged to have to listen to Kanye West"

Rating: -11
A. MacInnis
@Missing - I've never actually heard any of Kanye's music, wouldn't know one of his songs if it dropped from the ceiling and started humping my shoulder, so who knows how I might actually react to it on exposure, but the epiphenomenon around him (media exposure, etc) seem completely uninteresting, and lead me to suspect that his celebrity has more to do with the American worship of wealth, beauty, youth, status and power than anything musical, poetic, aesthetic, intellectual, spiritual, etc. Not only do I very much doubt I would find much to like if I DID hear his music, no matter how often I am told that I must, it's stuff I strive to generally protect myself from exposure to, don't trust, am actually afraid of, lest is somehow infiltrate and corrupt me - like it carries some sort of American Mainstream Mass Media Virus or something. Plus - what if I liked it? Maybe next I'd be listening to One Direction or Madonna or something. How did that go...? "Block them out and bar the door! Block them out forevermore! ...Curse go back!"

Kanye's behaviour towards Vancouver fans did manage to pierce my veil of ignorance, mind you, but neither that nor his referencing himself as "Yeezus" make me more inclined to explore his work. He seems like Just Another Rich, Famous Asshole; why do I care what music he makes?

Then again, maybe I'm just a punk rock dinosaur or something. Of the most interesting albums to me since October 2012, three out of five of them are by artists in their late 50's (Lee Ranaldo, Pere Ubu, Nick Cave), and two by people in their late 60's (Black Sabbath, Neil Young). Even Bison aren't exactly youngsters. Maybe I'm just getting old and curmudgeony...?
Rating: -2
John Lucas
@A. MacInnis: I noticed the "Break Through in Grey Room" reference you threw in there, even if no one else knew what the hell you were on about.
Rating: -11
A. MacInnis
Actually I got it from Haxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages, but I mean, same diff...

In other news, Pere Ubu was great, and the Biltmore was full, so whew! (but there was a guy with some serious issues who was heckling DT, screaming bizarro stuff like "I want to hear about ME!" Seemed like he was trying to provoke something, obnoxiously moshing into people and screaming stuff like "Vancouver sucks!" He didn't last the night...)
Rating: -8
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