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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.