There’s been so much amazing music released as of late that it’s coming at us from almost every direction. The Editors at Across the Margin highlight a few songs that sum up perfectly just how flush 2013 has been (so far)…..
2013 is only halfway done and already we find ourselves delightfully buried under a sea of sound. Old standbys1 have dusted off their instruments and come out strong while more mainstream, established talents2 have wowed us again with their latest offerings. Add to that a healthy crop of fresh, newfangled acts3 that have come out swinging, injecting new concepts and sounds into a dynamically changing musical landscape and one would be hard-pressed to argue that 2013 is not turning out to be a brilliant year for music.
So as the first half of 2013 comes to a close, we here at Across the Margin encourage you to sit back, turn the speakers up to full and let us show you just how good this year has been (so far)….
Song for Zula by Phosphorescent
Song for Zula, the second track on Phosphorescent’s latest masterpiece Muchacho, has a heartbeat. One that attracts like a magnet a dizzying whirlwind of sound that sucks you in and holds you ever so tight. And deep within the symphonic choir is Matthew Huock’s voice, a highly capable instrument that unleashes a gravely drone, a perfectly cracked tenor, that reeks of pain4, regret5, yet with it strength6. Song For Zula is an elegant song for those who have been broken, shattered beyond recognition, but who found a way to lift themselves up by their bootstraps – brought to you by an artist who conveys heartbreak with the conviction of a man who surely must have been gutted whole. It’s a six minute ride that finds a way to dwell on the memories of pain, the anguish that will remain with you like a scar, while settling your heart and clearing your sight for life beyond the misery. Song for Zula has a heartbeat indeed, a broken heartbeat, but one that will persevere.
New You by My Bloody Valentine
Sometimes you can spend your entire life waiting for a moment to come. And then when it finally arrives you are never quite the same. New You is that moment. The song stands out on its first listen, with Belinda Butcher’s hazy, ethereal lyrics pulling you down gently into her world of comfy enchantment. My Bloody Valentines third studio album, mbv, was over twenty years in the making but it has been well worth the wait. The tremolo on New You sounds absolutely amazing, its perfect execution just chugging along, pulling you softly forward into a musical embodiment of pure bliss. The song is subtle yet seemingly effortless, with clean guitars and melody, while still remaining powerful enough to be engaging, perfectly illustrating why My Bloody Valentine, the pioneers of shoegaze, are still one of the greatest alternative bands of all time.
Blood on The Leaves by Kanye West
Say what you will about Yeezus, and plenty has been said, but there is something special about the album. At worse it is simply interesting, experimental, and polarizing. At best it is genius, and possibly the most unique “hip-hop” album to hit the mainstream. But regardless of your take on the album, there are a few tracks that we can all agree are flat out outstanding7, chief among them is Blood on The Leaves. The track hauntingly begins with a sample that cascades throughout the entire song, setting the tone – Nina Simone’s cover of Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit. Immediately you know this song is going to be different, more profound than what has come before it. The strange fruit hanging from the Poplar trees isn’t fruit at all of course, but rather this distressing imagery represents the aftermath of a lynching, with blood staining the leaves. Kanye impressively parallels this metaphor to discuss his own embattled personal life, and the toll it has taken. It’s a stretch of course, but one that works. What’s more is that the track bumps. Once the heavy beat drops with a resounding thud after the first minute, the songs many layers intertwine triumphantly, unveiling some of the most complex music Kanye, or anyone, has bestowed upon us.
Fragments of Time by Daft Punk
A considerable amount of Daft Punk’s new musical masterpiece, Random Access Memories, seems totally out of character for the French electronica duo. That in no way is a bad or unwelcome thought, for if Daft Punk has taught us anything at all about their musical talent it is that it’s deep. Drawing heavily on the music coming out of LA in the late 70’s and early 80’s, Daft Punk have proven unequivocally that disco can be cool again. These masters of hard-hitting electronica have chosen to shy away from the genre which made them famous to bring us an entirely new take on an old sound, and it works, beautifully. Gone is the heavy use of samples and the reliance on machines and synthesizers to create their music. All of that digital modernity has been stripped off, replaced with the more analog sincerity of live musical performances. Fragments of Time, featuring an old Daft Punk alum Todd Edwards on vocals, is almost completely unidentifiable as a Daft Punk song. It’s a playful, melodic wandering, with splashy, light-hearted lyrics that would be more at home on a Steely Dan album than on a record put out by a duo performing in pimped-out robot disguises. The songis a super smooth, dynamic and energetic, pop/rock nugget that dances around your cerebrum like a youngster at play, hoping to “turn our days”, as the songs goes, “into melodies”.
This is The Last Time by The National
Contrary to popular belief, The National have some real bangers. They hold in their arsenal a plethora of tracks that could cause one to not only nod their head, but to actually, dare I say it, dance. Well, This is The Last Time is not one of them – but it is arguably the most elegant and heart-wrenching song on their latest album, Trouble Will Find Me. The song begins as a majestic ode to a love that lingers, a connection that is so enduring it pulls you back time and time again, only to conclude with a triumphant closing duet – Matt Berninger matching his bottomless baritone vocals with St. Vincents subtle whisper. This is The Last Time is moving. It’s beautiful. And it’s a melancholy journey you’d want to revisit many times over.
Alive by Empire of the Sun
Coming off their 2006 landmark album Walking on a Dream, Empire of the Sun’s sophomore offering, Ice on the Dune’s is a bigger, more cohesive, and equally ambitious album8. They’ve taken their bread-and-butter, “infectious and catchy synth-pop grooves”, and blasted them brilliantly into an array of joyful, ecstatic dance songs. Alive, their first single from the album, is just one of those songs, a powerfully layered wall of sound that comes at you with thumping bass beats and synth hooks popping off all around you like fireworks in July. If summertime is made for those songs best played with the car windows down and the volume cranked up then Alive fits the bill. It’s a perfectly crafted anthem that champions the sensation of being just that…..alive.
A two for one on a list such as this is always cheating. Everytime. But rules are meant to be broken and life is meant for living. So let’s run with it. This duo of tracks surfaced on the best of the year (so far) list due to the exact same reason – they are both examples of some of the rawest and most impressive young talents in the rejuvenating game of hip-hop. 1 Train features (Get this!) Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson, AND Big K.R.I.T., and they all vigorously attack the mic. Similarly Rusty features the cream of the crop of the Odd Future crew in Tyler, Domo Genesis and Earl Sweatshirt. Both of these ensemble tracks bring to mind two words in regard to hip-hop : The Future.
Where Are We Now? by David Bowie
If you are looking for classic Bowie on David Bowie’s triumphant new album The Next Day, then Where Are We Now is the song where you’ll find it. His latest offering, and get this…his 24th studio album, is a Bowie rock album through and through, a welcome surprise from a musician that many thought had hung up his guitar. But not only is it a rock and roll album, it is also a window into yet another side of Bowie. We all know that David Bowie is the master of invention. That he’s been many different people at many different times, spanning a musical career that encompasses psychedelic folk to glam rock, soul to funk, electronica to neoclassical, and a little bit of everything in between. But with Where Are We Now we get a feeling that Bowie has turned inward, become more reflective, choosing to look inside himself instead of outward to the world at large. Released as a single on Bowie’s 66th birthday, Where Are We Now’s lyrics are startlingly simple and meditative, offering random glimpses of wanderings through Berlin’s city streets, flecked with fragments of yearning and lamenting for a life long lived. It is a tiny, flawlessly poetic song, short on big conclusions and long on mystery, never quite revealing all that could be told.
Waking on a Pretty Day by Kurt Vile
Kurt Vile’s fifth album, Waking on a Pretty Daze, makes one thing clear: Kurt has arrived. It was possible to make this statement after Smoke Ring for my Halo, yet Vile’s latest displays a natural confidence throughout that exemplifies his maturation as an artist. Although his smooth lo-fi psychedelic brand of rock comes off as relaxed, and uncomplicated, it is anything but. Kurt honed his skills in the undervalued War on Drugs and is slowly molding himself into one of his generation’s greatest songwriters. Waking on a Pretty Day is a lengthy track, a seamless journey as pleasant as its name would imply. So much beauty can be unearthed in the simplicity of not only the lyrics, which soak their inspiration from everyday life, but of the songs continuous flow, which sweeps you up with it, taking you on a stroll where problems don’t exist, and elegant, beautiful music is in ample supply.
Hannah Hunt by Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend have finally come into their own, surmounting the peak of their musical career with a giant leap upwards. Modern Vampires of the City, their third studio album, is an emotional and spiritual tour de force, portraying an “all grown up” Vampire Weekend. And if Vampire Weekend have finally reached their peak, then Hannah Hunt is the flag they are waving at the top. A shining gem from this album, Hannah Hunt is a soft and casual ode to ambivalent lovers as they drive cross-country. It begins as an unobtrusive, simple waltz, supplying a hypnotic, melodic calm that builds itself up nonchalantly, as if indifferent to the world around it. And by the time Ezra Koening and Rostam Batmanglij arrive to harmonize, the song has grown into a well-layered tune, its instrumentals coalescing beautifully to create a sound pleasingly similar to Radiohead’s 4 Minute Warning9. Add in a brilliant musical attack from 2:40-3:18, a playful little burst of energy that reminds you of Vampire’s youthful roots, and you can see why Hannah Hunt is a seriously perfect song.
- David Bowie, My Bloody Valentine, Daft Punk, Boards of Canada, Nick Cave, etc. [↩]
- Deerhunter, The National, Kanye West, Vampire Weekend, Phosphorescent, etc. [↩]
- Kurt Vile, Laura Marling, Portugal the Man, Mikal Cronin, etc. [↩]
- “Yeah then I saw love disfigure me, Into something I am not recognizing” [↩]
- “I will not open myself up this way again” [↩]
- “See honey I am not some broken thing,I do not lay in the dark waiting for thee, No my heart is gold, my feet are light, And I am racing out on the desert plains all night.” [↩]
- Lou Reed described the last minute and a half of Hold My Liquor where Kanye just lets the beat run as “devastating, absolutely majestic.” We couldn’t agree more. [↩]
- As if pop had mated with electronic dance music and produced a futuristic love-child [↩]
- One of the most beautiful songs We have ever heard. [↩]