Sunday, March 31, 2013

Best Of The Year 2013: First Quarter Update

As we've done every three months since the beginning of 2011, we will again be doing quarterly updates in 2013. All of the staff here at MuzikDizcovery listed our top five albums that we've heard so far in 2013, and wrote up little blurbs about why we love these albums. We really hope you check out the albums on our lists, as I'm sure most of them are very dear to us. There's a very wide variety of music that you'll find on these lists, as groups such as Owel, Autre Ne Veut, Justin Timberlake, K Sera, The Story So Far, My Bloody Valentine, Youth Lagoon, Foals and Frightened Rabbit all have mentions from at least two of our staff members, so we guarantee that there will be at least one artist on here that you will end up loving. Check out all of our lists below.

Casey Whitman

1. Owel - Owel
Coming out of nowhere to be the strongest release I've heard thus far in 2013 is Owel. Formerly known as Old Nick, this post-rock and emo influenced group out of New Jersey puts together dense landscapes of guitar, keys, and strings creating a sprawling beauty that is their self titled record. Ambitiously opening up with the longest song on the record, "Snowglobe" is ruled by vocalist Jay Sakong's gorgeous voice and an unbelievably catchy keyboard pattern that buries itself in your head. In a weak start to 2013, Owel easily takes the cake for the best release.

2. Autre Ne Veut - Anxiety
I would probably enjoy How To Dress Well far more if he wasn't intent on the ambience and dreaminess of his music and instead focused on enormous soundscapes. Luckily, I now have Autre Ne Veut to croon to me behind some of the most intricately overblown arrangements of the year so far. Songs like "Counting" and song of the year candidate "Play By Play" have what feels like dozens of layers going on, but each is distinct enough to maintain clarity. Anxiety is definitely a pop record with an R&B edge, but I doubt there'll be another pop record this year with as much weirdness and risk taking in the instrumentation as Arthur Ashin does on this.

3. Tegan and Sara - Heartthrob
Fairly straightforward electropop doesn't usually hit me as hard as Heartthrob did. It may partially be the fact that I've been a fan of the band for years now even before they moved in this direction, but Heartthrob takes the sound that's dominated that Katy Perry has dominated the mainstream with for years and adds maturity and more heart to the table. Songs like "I Was A Fool" and "How Come You Don't Want Me" are both insanely catchy and emotionally gripping, as the twin sisters pour their hearts out as usual. This may be very derivative from the duo's early work, but Heartthrob could very well be the record that pushes them into households everywhere. After nearly 20 years of making music, they deserve it.

4. Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience
The announcement of Justin Timberlake's return to music may have been one of the biggest events of the year. Pretty much everyone was talking about the return of one of the world's most beloved pop stars, and the hype was as intense as the amount of advertising that Justin was involved in around the release of the album. Amazingly even after all the hype the album was no letdown. Sprawling orchestra arrangements combined with Timbaland's production put the album on a larger than life scale, but Justin's smooth vocals remain a constant. "Strawberry Bubblegum" and "Spaceship Coup" are just two of the sexy pop jams that are found throughout the album, and the sounds are diverse enough for anyone with even a distant interest in pop music to enjoy.

5. Paramore - Paramore
This may be a gut reaction, as I only got my first listen to the album yesterday, but Paramore's self titled is just as good as the rest of the band's strong catalog. The departure of the Farro brothers along with the mediocre singles series put a bad taste in many people's mouths, but the final product of Paramore should do nothing but excite long time fans. "Ain't It Fun" is possibly the best track the band has done, featuring marimba, a fantastic chorus, great vocals, and a even a freakin' church choir at the end. There's some extra fat that could have been cut off, but the amount of solid tracks combined with a couple catalog headliners keep this as a strong album.

Will Robinson

1. Naibu - Fall
Earlier this month, I predicted that Naibu's Fall EP would be my favorite release of the first quarter of 2013. Though it's been challenged by Justin Timberlake's The 20/20 Experience, it has held on firmly to that top spot. And why shouldn't it? It's probably the best drum & bass release I've heard since Noisia's Split The Atom - and it might even be better. As I said in my earlier reviewFall is an emotional rollercoaster of a liquid DnB album, comparable in my humble opinion to Burial's Kindred EP, a comparison I do not make lightly. The album is nothing short of incredible - it's beautiful, shimmering liquid drum & bass that stays far away from many pitfalls of the genre. Every single track is amazingly serene and gripping, especially single "Play With Fire" and its gorgeous chords and bassline. If you like drum & bass at all, this is absolutely worth a listen or five.

2. Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience
Not surprisingly, this release is one of the best albums of the year in my opinion, as is true with many other people. The 20/20 Experience is aptly named - it's an eye-opening release that could change the game of R&B and soul. It's shockingly excellent, and I'm not sure anyone expected JT to release an album that was of this kind of quality. The seven- and eight-minute songs don't feel overlong - they feel complete in a way that I'm not sure any other R&B release has been in a very long time. "Pusher Love Girl," probably my favorite song from the album, is a good example of this, with its incredible harmonies in the chorus working perfectly in tandem with the song's poppy synth lines. It's an expert album, with near-perfect moments and very high lows, and it's comparable to (and possibly even better than) last year's Channel Orange.

3. This Town Needs Guns -
"Havoc In The Forum" is possibly my favorite song of the year. The rest of the album follows brilliantly, but This Town Needs Guns has crafted one of the best songs of the year with the second track of I love the schizophrenic drumming (fellow writer Jacob Royal's words, not mine), I love the crazy picking, I love the weird time signatures, and I love the abrupt ending. It's a relief, then, that TTNG has come out with a full album which follows up on the promise of "Havoc In The Forum." The album is varied, fascinating, and most of all fun. The clean finger-picking is excellent and refreshing, the drums are varied and complex, and the singer's clean voice fits the feel of the album perfectly. is a math-rock triumph, and it ought to be considered as such.

4. How to destroy angels_ - Welcome oblivion
Trent Reznor's "side project" finally came into its own on Welcome oblivion. The album as a whole feels like a fully realized version of what HTDA tried on previous EPs, and it works quite well on the whole. How to destroy angels_ has become its own entity here, rather than continuing on as a side project of Nine Inch Nails, and their beautifully chilling sound is a prime feature here. Vocalist Mariqueen Maandig most certainly helps the album become a HTDA one instead of another NIN one, with her alternating between soft crooning and whispers and full-out belting aiding in the success of the album to a high degree. Granted, the album is somewhat monotonous and homogeneous, but not nearly enough to be a major detractor overall. It doesn't quite match The 20/20 Experience in feeling complete rather than overlong, but it's excellent nonetheless and an incredible industrial release in its own right.

5. K Será - Collisions and Near Misses
As our own Jacob Royal said on fellow music site, Collisions and Near Misses smells strongly of The Dear Hunter's Casey Crescenzo. While some people might see this as a bad thing, the result is strikingly impressive. Every song on the album is at worst very good, and K Será has done an excellent job of making a consistently high-quality album here. Though of the five albums on my list Collisions and Near Misses is the most formulaic, it doesn't really matter all that much because there's enough variety between all the tracks that the whole thing sounds fresh and fun. It's kind of like a lesser version of my favorite album of last year, The Classic Crime's Phoenix (though admittedly it is a bit of a weak comparison) - it's kind of similar to already-released material, but it doesn't matter because the album is so good. It's an excellent album, and deserves its place on this list for many reasons - most importantly, it's damn good.

Moses Kim

1. Dorena – Nuet
From my review: "Over the past three years, my love of post-rock has waned some as the genre’s been saturated with unearned crescendos and banal, empty fury, draining but never invigorating. Dorena’s approach is in many ways the antithesis to an increasingly stale approach: yes, there are some towering climaxes on this album, but it’s the little things the band does that’ll truly tug at your heartstrings. That same sense of smallness permeating every layer of Nuet is why it sounds more profound to me than any post-rock album I’ve heard in years."

I will just add: if you haven't listened to any new post-rock in 2013, this album is absolutely essential.

2. Thao and the Get Down Stay Downs – We The Common
We The Common, singer-songwriter Thao Nguyen’s fourth release, is more akin to a neighborhood barbecue than an acoustic session. Musically, it’s a smorgasbord of genres held together through the album’s central themes of community and connection—and the songwriting doesn’t drop the ball. Nguyen is also gifted with a profound sense of empathy (dedicating the title track to a prisoner she connected with), reflected in the rousing, insightful lyrics and the wholly unique mood, melancholy but never, ever defeated. The lives of the common have rarely sounded this celebratory.

3. Morningbell – Boa Noite
Boa Noite is so good that I've listened to it front-to-back twice--and I still cannot find a single word to qualify its uplifting, awe-inspiring, joyful reverie (other than all of those adjectives). It's out on May 21, when I can finally turn my gushing into actual words.

4. Air Review – Low Wishes
From my review: "What Low Wishes amounts to is so much more...a celebration of what you see when you leave your house and enter a world so much bigger. A celebration of feeling lonely, powerless and unimportant--because believe it or not, everybody who matters felt lonely, powerless and unimportant once. A celebration of leaving your childhood behind without shedding it, wielding your foolish hope into a weapon with which you will shape the world. The gang vocals echoing over almost every track may be replete with sorrow, but they find camaraderie in how human it is to admit to, well, how human you are. They swell and burst, the music ends in a glorious haze, and we find the strength to move on."

5. Vicky Cryer – The Synthetic Love of Emotional Engineering
A bunch of dudes from Louis XIV, Muse, The Mars Volta, and various other groups all over the rock spectrum jamming together doesn’t sound very campy, but The Synthetic Love of Emotional Engineering, the end result of the group’s collective tinkering, fits that spirit perfectly: it’s an album about finding emotion in artifice, impeccably engineered and surprisingly heartfelt underneath its lewd sheen. Even better, the album brings the rock back to rock music again, throwing curveball after curveball in its ten tracks. Even moments of indulgence, like marathon-length closer “A Single Cut (Is Worth A Thousand Words),” are bursting with exuberance. That’s what happens when you hand the reins over to the masters of the trade, I suppose.

Honorable Mentions
Featuring horrid album title puns!

1. Wildlife – ...On The Heart

Flawed in minor ways but undeniable anyway, Wildlife's latest lives up to its ambitions. Read my review here.

2. OneRepublic – Native
Waking Up was an experiment in minimalism, stripping OneRepublic down to the bare basics and pushing the importance of songwriting: the practice pays off on Native, which effortlessly straddles the line between candlelight intimacy and pop power.

3. Home By Hovercraft – Are We Chameleons?
Nope, but the fine folks in Home By Hovercraft churning out top-notch chamber-rock (is that a word?) certainly show their colors proudly on this debut.

4. ON AN ON – Give In
Something so sad shouldn't be so empowering. Give In? Yes, I will.

5. Cloud Cult – Love
The title of the album says it all...and then some.

Maxwell Harcsar

1. Bring Me The Horizon – Sempiternal
Sempiternal is the perfect evolution from 2011's There Is A Hell..., and is one of the most memorable metal albums I've heard in years. The post-rock influence and atmospheric tone of Sempiternal is vital in a scene where many metalcore bands are regurgitating breakdowns. It's Bring Me The Horizon's best, showing growth and maturity that some heavy bands can only dream of.

This album completely took me by surprise. Though I never listen to much of Old Gray before, I gave the album a listen and was blown away by the perfect melding of screamo, spoken word, post-hardcore, and post-rock. Though the album is short, it packs quite a punch and left a lasting impression. I still find myself listening to it several times a week, screaming “ I will keep breathing, but I won't feel alive!” at the top of my lungs.
    3. Soilwork – The Living Infinite
    Over ten years ago, I gave Soilwork a listen and was hooked from the first few seconds of “No More Angels.” I credit Soilwork, particularly Stabbing the Drama, with getting me into any type of metal to begin with. Though I wasn't a fan of the band's past few releases, The Living Infinite is a violent and abrasive double album featuring some of Soilwork's best work to date. The blitzkrieg of death metal songs imbued with soaring choruses instills new life into melodic death metal, blending progressive instrumentals with the blast beats and riffs one can expect from the Swedish legends.

    4. Silverstein – This Is How The Wind Shifts
    After releasing the subpar Rescue, I thought Silverstein were doomed to fade away into the post-hardcore realm of mediocrity. However, Short Songs jolted Silverstein back into action, and This Is How The Wind Shifts raises them back up on the pedestal of importance. The album has some of the band's best music, like "Stand Amid the Roar" and "On Brave Mountains We Conquer". The breakdowns feel heavier and more technical, the drums feel crisp and tight, and the songwriting has never been so strong.  It feels familiar but still fresh as Shane Told's vocals blow the band's back catalog of vocal hooks out of the water.

    5. The Story So Far – What You Don't See
    Although What You Don't See doesn't harbor any breakthrough staples or revolutionary moments, it proves that The Story So Far can write catchy pop-punk and that they aren't a one-album wonder. I find myself singing lyrics to “All Wrong” and “Playing the Victim” while standing in line at the ATM or supermarket, so they must have done something right. I don't expect the album to remain on top for long, but it is still a solid release that deserves to be heard amongst fans of pop punk. More importantly, it shows that the young members of The Story So Far have just scratched the surface of their potential with "The Glass."

    Honorable Mention:

    Brave Bird - Maybe You, No One Else Is Worth It
    As one of the strongest emo albums I've heard in a while, Maybe You, No One Else Is Worth It is a unique and catchy record that stands out from the pack of the twinkle wave. The whiny, rough vocals mixed with the guitar noodling hits the sweet spot, creating a vibe of an indie record with the punch of a pop punk one. I'm not sure of the lasting value on this record, but for now it's a great spring jam.

    Daniel Rhoads

    There’s ten times more personality in this half-hour sprint than most of the low-production guitar records of the past two years combined. Whether they were thought out or they just fell out, the lyrics are smart as hell - angsty, nasally, abstract, but smart as hell. Beyond that, it can’t be taken in a single sitting, not because it’s some kind of big conceptual masterpiece that must be appreciated uninterrupted, but just because it won’t let you get up. You heard me, beware. 10 seconds in, you’ll be pinned to your seat, helpless and at the mercy of the incessant beats and choreographed guitar stabs crashing down on you like waves faceplanting you again and again into the sand, but every time you come up for air you’re still laughing. Yeah, it’s really good. 

    Desperate, slimy, fast, and angry, this record delivered where Cloud Nothings’ Attack On Memory stumbled last year, providing to futureless kids worldwide not just a couple raucous anthems but an entire defiant mini-world to immerse themselves in, one where they’re actually headed somewhere. It’s activist music, an unfailing catalyzer. Throw this on for your roommates or your friends or the sad kids smoking around campus and watch as it pulls them up and makes them move. Sure, it’s a little militant, but what do you expect? The bored and prospectless can only stew for so long before they ask: “Why the hell am I so bored and without prospects?” 

    More than any album on this list, m b v was a milestone. It wasn’t an A+ or a five stars or a 10/10, but it was great. “She Found Now” was one of the most comforting things I’ve heard in a long time, and that unfiltered drumroll that kicked off “Only Tomorrow” right afterwards was one of the most meaningful. I’m not sure they could have handled their comeback any better. All countless “What If” questions have been answered, all ends tied up, and, 20 listens later, I’m still loving it. Allow yourself to be pulled away from earth one last time. The envelope of Loveless’ legacy has been sealed. They may keep making music, but they’ll never be Our Bloody Valentine again. 

    4. Matmos - The Marriage of True Minds
    I think I’ve got a soft spot for middle-aged guys making dance music with a well-tuned sense of humor. I guess it’s just encouraging for me to hear that you can still be having as much fun as these two guys are after your Spring years have come and gone. I might love this album for its remarkable ability to remain artistically satisfying whilst minimizing pretension and seriousness. It could be the absurd concept, or the moments of small-scale beauty plucked carefully from the transcripts of funky pseudoscientific tests (think the second scene of Ghostbusters). “There’s a light... at the end of the tunnel... but it isn’t daylight,” jesus, why has no one ever said that before? Maybe they have. Who knows. Wanna know the real reason I love it? I honestly don’t think you’ll this much fun with one long player for the rest of the year. 

    Boy oh boy. Can we just stop for a minute and think about the implications of this record’s infinitesimally short liner notes? It’s really true that one particularly possessed indiestar hopeful with a bit of talent can take a break from socially networking and do just about anything. The miracle is that it doesn’t sound like an album by a full band. Trevor Powers isn’t just a lonely guy pretending he’s got friends to play backup. He’s a conductor, corralling his hissing pastel thoughts (see: the cover) into cohesive compositions, and damn good ones, even when they carry on a bit too long. Add to all this that the album is a fairly clear window into the artist’s twistingly complex psyche and you’ve got a product that can’t be overlooked. 

    A Few Honorable Mentions, in some kind of order:
    Yo La Tengo - Fade
    Rhye - Woman

    Dan Hounslea

    1. Youth Lagoon - Wondrous Bughouse
    The transition from your late teens to your early twenties is probably the most radical in terms of maturity and personal development. Blossoming and failing relationships feature heavily for many and they shape and impact you in ways unimaginable to your younger self. Undoubtedly, Trevor Powers too has undergone these changes in between the release of his debut and his sophomore, and yet in all his recording life the topics he writes about are mature and engaging as he avoids the clichés. As he staunchly delves into the human psyche and beyond we are treated to incredible atmospheres, intricate layers and swirling progression, and yet these are just a few of the reasons why Wondrous Bughouse is so brilliant, and it rightly deserves to be top of my pile for 2013 so far.

    2. Silverstein - This Is How The Wind Shifts
    Now fully established after carefully honing their craft for the best part of a decade, post-hardcore mainstays Silverstein have continued to go from strength to strength. Switching between post-hardcore and alt-rock seamlessly, This Is How The Wind Shifts focuses more on the former than the latter and thankfully so, as Silverstein have always shone brightest at their heaviest. The acoustic covers on the deluxe edition cement Silverstein’s lofty place on the list, namely the almost tear-inducing “Massachusetts” as is the sincerity and pain channelled by lead singer Shane Told.

    Ah Kvelertak. Rarely has a blend of black metal and punk rock been described as refreshing, but that’s exactly what Kvelertak’s latest album Meir is. Following on from their raucous and infectious self titled debut, Meir builds upon the boisterous merriment and adds progression and catchiness into the mix. The head-banging riffs are still there, and so are the guttural vocals, but above all else Meir is Kvelertak flexing their creative muscle, showing that there is more to these Nordic destroyers than initially meets the eye.

    Foals is becoming a frighteningly consistent band. Three releases in, and the quality of their music hasn't wavered since their debut. Not only that, but their sound has consistently evolved through subtle changes and maturity, the culmination of which is Holy Fire. It might be true that there are some pitfalls amongst the highlights but it is nitpicking at its most pedantic, and the strength of lead single “Inhaler” and the off the scale grooves on “My Number” provide some of the strongest indie cuts of 2013.

    The Wasted Youth EP is one which is as surprising as it is enjoyable. Where a quintet from the sunny, relaxed isle of Tenerife get so much anger and passion from is perplexing, but when they write tracks as excellent as these then who cares? Heavily influenced by producer and ex The Ghost of a Thousand guitarist Jag Jago, the songs gallop and drive from start to finish, boasting a memorable chorus or two in the process. Opener “Take It (Leave It)” is the best cut on offer here, and if you only listen to one Canary Islands rock song this year, make it this one.

    Honorable mentions:
    Frightened Rabbit - Pedestrian Verse

    Jacob Royal

    All Hail Bright Futures is by far the cheesiest album to ever grace the top of my quarterly list, but I didn't expect anything else from the release. Its title should be fairly representative of its blatant optimism, after all. See, I'm not fazed by a band that goes a little too over-the-top with its cheerful endeavors, because it's so rare to find a band with the audacity to do so. This courage is All Hail Bright Futures' biggest strength-- from one track to the next, it's clear And So I Watch You From Afar knows exactly what it's doing. No longer is the quirky post-rock collective dabbling in tepid atmospheres, either, for its latest release focuses on lasting riffs and unique instrumentation. In other words, ASIWYFA emphasizes the most enjoyable elements from the group's first two albums.

    The album can be as energy-addled as a caffeinated puppy, but when most of the end result is stellar there's no reason to worry. I really didn't think And So I Watch You From Afar was capable of releasing an album so worthy of holding my attention, and I think that's because my brief attention span leads me to pass up most releases. All Hail Bright Futures seems to have been tailored exclusively for me, though-- one explosive moment coalesces into another, and with interludes that tie together the experience. Color me impressed, and eager for another dose.

    2. Omnium Gatherum - Beyond
    There's nothing groundbreaking about Beyond, even if its title implies otherwise. Honestly, the album is what one would expect melodic death metal group Omnium Gatherum to make after listening to a lot of progressive. The funny thing about Beyond, though, is that despite its sense of predictability, it really does work. The melodies are unforgettable, the guitar leads are massive, and the riffs are unrelenting. Beyond sees a much more restrained Omnium Gatherum, though, working with more straight-forward instrumentation to achieve a simpler end. And it's refreshing-- the group hasn't sounded this fresh since its inception, to be honest. If you can handle the deep, guttural vocals, I'd certainly recommend Beyond to anyone who's looking for melodic death metal done well.

    3. Bonobo - The North Borders
    Do you know that feeling, when you just know an album's going to have a huge impact on you? This is exactly what I'm experiencing, only from having heard the album's first half. The North Borders is downtempo paradise, with Simon Green providing more serene palettes than his discography ever imagined. It's obvious Bonobo gets better and better with practice, because this album already feels like a much-improved continuation of what 2010's Black Sands established. I wouldn't be surprised if this release climbed up my list for the year, but I guess we'll have to see how I feel in several months.

    4. K Será  - Collisions & Near Misses
    Surprise surprise-- Casey Crescenzo himself produced Collisions & Near Misses, the album which was written by K Sera, but could have easily been by The Dear Hunter! It isn't really a problem that the two bands sound so similar, because I'm inclined to believe that K Sera actually improve upon The Dear Hunter's formula here. The album's brief, but it says all it needs to say in its runtime. In fact, this album's a more concise representation of The Dear Hunter's sound than the latter's newest release, Migrant. Collisions & Near Misses possesses a sense of vibrancy and theatricality that was present in Crescenzo's early releases, but there's no need to stories of prostitution here: Collisions & Near Misses is a success because it doesn't feel too overblown.

    5. Foals - Holy Fire
    Holy Fire is inconsistent, but when the album succeeds it feels like a refined form of its predecessor. The lively indie-rock group continue to work with the instrumental buoyancy that was present on Total Life Forever, but also infuse more atmosphere into the record. This leads to a less uniform record overall, but still one that should please Foals fans.

    Nathan Flynn

    The only thing better than this album a quarter of the way into the year is the anticipation for its second half, which is scheduled to come in November. The album certainly has flaws- “Mirrors” would be the runaway song of the year if it wasn’t for the three minutes of superfluous chanting , Timbaland still unnecessarily interjects himself into songs- but these flaws are minor. The production is impeccably layered and surprisingly dense, with much more meat than the standard 808’s and accent kits that homogenize most pop music. The 20/20 Experience doesn’t tread much unchartered water, Channel Orange put its stamp on the self-involved R&B niche last year and nor does Timberlake, who often sounds like he’s emulating stars of yesteryear Prince and Michael Jackson, but the sharpness of the execution is enough to compensate, and perhaps deceive listeners into believing this is all totally original. I could write 2000 more words (and I’ve already written 800) about things like the intricacies of “Pusher Love Girl,” and how unobtrusive and natural-sounding the guitar solo is on “Spaceship Coupe,” but that would be boring. This album is the real deal, but I’m not sure it has the staying power to continue to thrill me for the next 9 months.   

    This album, similarly will certainly grow off of me in due time. But, for now, it stands tall as the best hip-hop release of 2013. This isn’t the same Rocky that we heard on 2011’s breakthrough mixtape Live.Love.A$AP, he’s clearly more focused on generating mainstream hype- look no further than radio smash “Fuckin Problems” or surprise Skrillex collaboration “Wild for the Night” as proof- than dropping the atmospheric, hazy stuff he was putting out in 2011. Despite LongLive being something of an attention grab, Rocky still gives it his all- going in over aggressive beats and taking his foot off the accelerator for slower ones, focusing on pensive lyrics instead of punchlines. If nothing else, this album showed us that Rocky isn’t a one-trick pony, nor was he reliant on Clams Casino for his success as some had speculated. The biggest flaw on the album is the hooks, which are often half-assed and showcase Rocky’s lack of vocal chops. Thankfully, when he sticks to rapping, he’s one of the best in the game. 

    3. The Story So Far - What You Don't See
    Not much to say here. It’s straightforward pop-punk done really well. The group has taken the edge off a little bit compared to 2011’s Under Soil & Dirt, but their songs still retain the early-20s aggression of frontman Parker Cannon that put them on the map. Although it would be naïve to call this music sophisticated, this band is as close as it gets within the genre. The guitars often synchronized but are better when left to their own devices, splitting off for a few seconds to cut loose a neat little riff that accents the main chords and punchy bass. The rhythm section is tight as can be, providing a hard-hitting back line that create the perfect framework for the guitars and Cannon’s not-quite-clean vocals; they more represent caustic yelps. The songs aren’t necessarily catchy, but the verse writing is spectacular. There is a steep drop in quality at the end of the album, the last three songs are the worst, which is the only complaint that keeps What You Don’t See from appearing higher on the list.    

    If The 20/20 Experience hadn’t exceeded my expectations, Anxiety would have easily been the best R&B album of the quarter. It doesn’t try to redefine the genre, and Autre plays it too safe on the album’s second half, but there are many stunning moments to be heard on Anxiety. The schizophrenic keyboards on “Counting” make it one of the most exciting songs of the year and Arthur Ashin, the man behind the name, has one of the most brilliantly elastic voices in music. His music may not be easy to define, it fits none of the established molds, but there is beauty in its uniqueness. Even the lyrics, ripe with self-criticism and uncertainty, are poetic in their pondering. Perhaps if Ashin didn’t suffer from these feelings, Anxiety would be ambitious throughout and would occupy the throne atop these rankings. Regardless, this is the only album that legitimately caught me off guard this quarter; an under-appreciated little gem that landed in my lap some time in February. 

    I had a hard time picking this fifth album primarily because nothing really stood out to me and secondarily because I had only listened to this album once and I didn’t really pay attention. In retrospect, I’m not sure how I could ignore this album. Holy Fire is a very atmospheric record, perhaps too much so, and is fully enveloping. There’s no empty space on the record, it is filled to the brim with occasionally excessive guitar chords, both lightly plucked and sustained for what feels like days, light tinkles of the piano, and snare hits that just might be too strong. This experimentation in massive, arena-filling sound isn’t typical of Foals, nor is it them at their best, but some songs like “Inhaler” are simply too powerful to ignore. Coming off of 2010’s incredibly strong Total Life Forever, dedicated Foals fans may not be entirely enthralled about this album, but it’s a strong work that accomplishes its goal of being an unwavering wall of sound held together by Yannis Philippakis’ wails and shouts.   

    Jonny Hunter

    1. Geskia - Silent of Light
    Geskia finally managed to succeed in making an album acting as both a multitude of single parts and a complete whole simultaneously. Basic melodies disguise a city-sized wealth of instrumentation and absolutely masterful incorporation of glitchy percussion. It’s as if Squarepusher were Japanese and still, in every sense of the phrase, “on it.” Anyone interested in vibrant and complicated electronic music will melt into this as soon as it reaches their tiny little robot ears.

    2. Betacicadae - Mouna
    Mouna is best described as a reflective pool in a cathedral of ambience: glimmering back replications of all kinds of styles in a calm and measured reverence. The album is exceptionally intelligent in both the way it displays its influences and in the way it binds them into a continuous narrative. It is simultaneously dark, holy (in an Alio Die sense) and a silhouette of the brassy style popular in the origins of the genre. I’ve had this spinning for a good few days now and still don’t fully understand it. Absolutely outstanding work.

    3. Clem Leek - Rest
    What makes Rest so special? I’d like to say it was only the composition but I think it has something to do with it’s scarcity as well. Only a few dozen copies were made originally, and the reprint satisfied demand for barely an hour. Everyone who hears this wants a piece of it physically: a memento to trigger that little bit of acoustic/ ambient warmth seeping out of the record as it plays. It’s a fantastic album on its own as well, but in its intimate and private state Rest is even better.

    4. Julia Kent - Character
    Criminally overlooked cellist Julia Kent releases another fantastically emotional and rich classical album, and nobody cares: again. Olafur Arnalds releases another pretty dull classical album and lots of people care (even if they’ve all now forgotten about it). Bad internet! I’m disappointed in you.

    5. Fol Chen - The False Alarms
    The False Alarms is an experimental pop album which managed to squeeze its way into this list at the very last moment. As I was writing up #3 in fact, which should give you some indication of how turbulent and temporary (and unprofessional) this ranking is. Sold as “the soundtrack to the future that never was,” the album mixes cluttered, Eastern-style electronics, a smooth LA-indie feel and dreamy female vocals into a perverse alternative reality of indie pop. It flickers between dark and fantastical whenever it feels like it, and offers an incredibly interesting and catchy -if a little rough around the edges- introduction to Q1, 2013.

    Mat Fukano

    Christoffer Franzén is brilliant. He put out a debut album for his solo project, and was able to make a lasting impression with the record that will stand the test of time. Building from the ground up, Aerials' Nowhere EP was created and slowly transformed into Reanimation, which stands its ground against any other post-rock release, Deep Elm label or no. It's going to be tough to knock this record down from #1.

    2. Mogwai - Les Revenants
    When Mogwai writes a record, there's a degree of quality you can expect. However, this time, the band had a thematic element of restless quietude they needed to include, since Les Revenants is the soundtrack for a show (of the same name). It features no hugely attention-grabbing tracks - and this works perfectly set behind any monologue or dramatic, unsettling scene that needs added tension.

    Owel is the first band I've heard to integrate acoustic classical string instruments throughout and that, in addition to beautiful musicality on every track, help make this album a rare beauty. Jay Sakong knows exactly how to inflect his vocals over the song to make them powerful without necessarily having to put volume to back them. With great song diversity and individuality presented on their self-titled effort, Owel brings tons of ingenuity to a genre where creativity rules.

    4. I am waiting for you last summer - Edge Party
    In somewhat the same strain as a Port-Royal / God Is An Astronaut mashup, I am waiting for you last summer released Edge Party as a culmination of their EP and single efforts. With a lot of post-rock, electronic effects featured generously, and slight touches of post-metal to further enhance the album's depth, the band's debut full-length is a strong one.

    5. Oak - Not Afraid Anymore
    A traditional post-metal album that stands out against most other releases in a mostly stale first quarter, Oak (like IWFYLS) released their first full-length album towards the beginning of the year. Unfortunately, it didn't get the kind of attention that I think it deserved, and the awesomely depressing Not Afraid Anymore has a lot to offer metal fans that are missing big releases so far, or anyone wanting a healthy dose of wonderful, music-inspired sadness.

    Ali Welford

    1. Frightened Rabbit - Pedestrian Verse
    No surprises here. Frightened Rabbit are pretty much my favourite current band, and after a brief spell of adaptation their fourth record revealed itself as pretty much everything I'd hoped for. Arguably their finest lyrical achievement to date, Pedestrian Verse finds Scott Hutchinson in surprisingly buoyant mood, each and every word coated in a wry and humorous take on self-deprecation which truly ignites the likes of Nitrous Gas and The Oil Slick. Sure, it's more commercial than previous outings, but in all honesty it's difficult to think of a group more deserving of a mainstream breakthrough.

    2. John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts
    Queen Of Denmark, John Grant's solo debut is quite simply one of the essential records of the past few years, and although slightly inferior this follow-up is also towering success. Continuing his struggles with drugs, depression and homophobia, Pale Green Ghosts is essentially more of the same from a thematic perspective, but this time the singer's troubles come wrapped in an electronically-orientated skin which, although somewhat hit and miss, works wonders on cuts such as Blackbelt and the opening title track. That said, this record's finest moments arrive when the former Czars man reverts to type - GMF and Glacier in particular displaying just why he's become one of modern music's most cherished songwriters.

    3. My Bloody Valentine - m b v
    Two months on from its release, the fact m b v exists in the public domain still seems like something of a minor miracle. Perhaps even more remarkable is the fact Kevin Shields' two decade soap opera has not only yielded a product worth listening to, but also one which in no way seems out of place in his band's legendary catalogue. Ok, it's not quite as amazing as many of us want it to be, and duh, it's no Loveless, but petty, unrealistic complaints shouldn't blight what a phenomenal achievement this record is.

    4. L. Pierre - The Island Come True
    Admittedly, objectivity isn't my strongest point whilst assessing the work of Aidan Moffat. Simply put, the man is my hero. I love everything he's ever done, be it with Arab Strap, Bill Wells or The Best Of's, and his solo work under the L. Pierre moniker is no exception. Even without the rose-tainted glasses, however, I think it's pretty clear The Island Come True is his strongest collage of abstract electronic ambiance to date; its masterful command of samples, field recordings and accumulated tension depicting an artist who's becoming increasingly confident and accomplished outside his vocal comfort zone.

    5) Laura Mvula - Sing To The Moon
    I've read plenty of criticism of Laura Mvula, claiming she's "2013's most nailed-on success story" and merely the latest from the British soul production line that's also spouted the likes of Emeli Sande and Adele. Personally, I just don't see it. Whereas that pair deal in commercialist wallpaper warbling, this Birmingham singer's voice is wrapped in a blanket of lush harmonies and instrumentation, not to mention being set to songs which soar well clear of her contemporaries. There are one or two places where her debut LP loses its momentum, but in this post-Winehouse age we'll probably not find anyone better equipped to pick up the reigns.