365 Albums In 2013: April

[365 Albums In 2013 is a monthly feature in which I document the experience of trying to listen to 365 new albums released in 2013. It also features assorted accolades for the month’s best and worst music.]

APRIL

Ah, Spring. The sun is shining, and everyone’s happy. Unless you have allergies and have forced yourself to plow through mountains of sound every day. Okay, I can’t complain. I’ve done this to myself. And furthermore, I’ve overachieved valiantly and stupidly thus far. Not even halfway through the year and I’ve only got less than 100 albums to go until the goal is met. Why? Think of all the hours I could have spent listening to the new Daft Punk single instead of *looks at list* Tomorrow’s World? Who the hell are Tomorrow’s World? I don’t have the faintest memory of what that band is, despite supposedly listening to a full album of theirs. I’m quickly learning that perhaps there’s a very good reason that people tend to be exclusive with their listening habits. There are millions of bands out there, and great deal of them don’t stand out for good reason.  Is the occasional discovery really worth the countless hours of listening? It feels as though oversaturation has only made me pickier, writing off perfectly fine records because they just aren’t ‘good enough.’ The moral of April? Don’t do this. Listen to that new Yeah Yeah Yeahs record and ignore the rest until someone hand delivers you a recommendation.

Best Album

Stetson

Colin Stetson “New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light”

Colin Stetson is not a human being. Sure, he may look like a fleshy humanoid, but it’s clearly a ruse. Just listen to his latest record, keeping in mind that the songs are not performed by a saxophone quartet. It’s just one man with superhero-strength lungs. Whether or not Stetson is man or machine, one thing is for sure: he’s an astounding musician. After 2011’s excellent New History Warfare Vol 2., you might wonder “But what more can he really do with a sax?” Surely, Vol. 3 couldn’t showcase much more than we’ve already heard, right? And yet, Vol. 3 is every bit as exciting and diverse as its predecessor, as Stetson’s unmistakable sound has only gathered more force. Tracks like “Brute” hit the ears like a meteor tearing through the Earth’s atmosphere. Calling someone a ‘force of nature’ is something of a wrenched cliché, but Stetson is truly someone who lives up the expression. Vol. 3 is a sonic hurricane that will blast your jaw clean off your head.

Worst Album

Tyga

Tyga “Hotel California”

Who would have guessed that the guy who once rapped “Rack city, bitch, rack rack city bitch / Ten, ten, ten twenty on yo titties, bitch” would produce bad music? Head scratching, right? He even got together some of today’s biggest names in underachievement to help him, from the once-great-but-now-pretty-terrible Lil Wayne to the universally hated Chris Brown. Come on, what does Tyga have to do to get some respect? Well, perhaps he should start by making rap songs that don’t sound like worse versions of rap songs you’ve been hearing for the last 10 years. Rather than bring anything new to any table, Tyga rehashes out tired genre cliché after tired genre cliché to create something truly worthy of the descriptor “soulless.” You’ve got to give him credit though; “Hotel California” is an utterly perfect title for an album that’s every bit as eye-rolling as some douchebag playing the Eagles hit on guitar to convince the world that he’s a “rockstar.”

Best Song

The Flaming Lips “Try To Explain”

Back when The Flaming Lips were still making gummy skulls and unlistenable 24-hour songs, frontman Wayne Coyne provided an intriguing description of their upcoming album, calling the new songs “synthesizer-like church hymns; lovely suicidal music.” Flash forward a few months and that description doesn’t exactly hold true to The Terror (a more accurate one would have been “it’s like all of that slower stuff on Embryonic, but for an entire album”). But there is one song that fits Coyne’s blurb perfectly, album stand-out “Try To Explain.” As promised, it genuinely does sound like what you’d imagine a Flaming Lips church hymn would sound like, and the result is stunning. Coyne’s ever-so-fragile singing voice sits atop a mountain of organs, cooing “Try to explain why you’ve changed / I don’t think I’ll understand.” On its surface, it may seem like a relatively standard song of heartache, but the Lips’ subdued, yet still epic delivery makes it into something spiritual.

Other Notable Tracks:

Most Improved

Tyler Wolf

Tyler, The Creator “Wolf”

In 2011, it was just as easy to hate Tyler, The Creator as it was to love him. His sophomore album, “Goblin,” gained critical praise, but also sparked a great deal of controversy with its incredibly dark subject matter. Themes of rape and murder ran rampant, making it a difficult album to stomach. But in interviews around that time, Tyler noted that he wasn’t planning on writing about the same things forever. Thank God for that. With his demons exercised, “Wolf” is a significantly more enjoyable effort that really showcases what the young talent is capable of. He’s funnier, he’s wittier, and his beats are a breath of fresh air after Goblin’s suffocating production. At his best, Tyler has the same qualities that made Eminem such a blast in his early days, always maintaining a sense of humor and never dropping his energy. “Wolf” is particularly refreshing as it sounds like an album made by someone who’s simply having a lot of fun. And it’s hard not to grin along with him.

Album That Maybe I’m Just Not Smart Enough To “Get”

Haxan Cloak

The Knife STH

TIE: The Haxan Cloak “Excavation,” The Knife “Shaking The Habitual”

Maybe it’s time to finally admit it… Maybe I’m just not smart enough. That seems to be the only explanation as to why I just can’t seem to wrap my head around records universally praised for being “challenging.” What else could it be? How else would you explain the fact that I didn’t listen to The Haxan Cloak’s beloved “Excavation” and think “Wow, he’s making a profound statement about death by way of ambient sound,” and instead thought “Man, what should I do for lunch today?” How else would you explain that all that really stands out to me from The Knife’s “Shaking The Habitual” is the fact that it’s really. fucking. long. Look, there’s no doubt that experimental art takes a great deal more engagement than your average pop song; it really is like learning a new language. If you have the right tools, you can unlock a hell of an experience. But albums this obtuse are closed so tightly that they leave just as many baffled listeners as they do enlightened. You’ve got to learn the lingo… but Christ, where to begin?

Most Criminally Underappreciated

YYYs Mosquito

Yeah Yeah Yeahs “Mosquito”

There are a few things in this life that I will never understand. For example, why Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “It’s Blitz!” is so beloved. The band’s third album took all of the art rockers’ strengths and said “eh,” shrugging them all to the wind in favor of relatively tame electro pop. 4 years later, the trio returns full force with “Mosquito,” which is a polar opposite from their previous effort in both approach and reception. Rather than dip their toes into squeaky-clean accessibility, Yeah Yeah Yeahs return to their rawer roots crafting an album that’s finally as exciting and energetic as their still-solid-gold debut, “Fever To Tell.” And yet, Karen O and co. can’t seem to get no love in 2013. Met with mixed reception, “Mosquito” is a fierce album that landed like a feather, and that’s a damn shame. In fact, it’s sacrilege. Sacrilege. Sacrilege, you say?

Most Incomprehensible

Snoop Lion

Snoop Lion “Reincarnated”

This is where I would usually write a blurb, but I still don’t understand what the hell this album is, so I’m tapping out.

Other Noteworthy April Albums:

  • Neon Neon “Praxis Makes Perfect”
  • !!! “THR!!!ER”
  • The Thermals “Desperate Ground”
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