The first half of 2013 was dominated by a string of solid releases in the garage punk and disco-house genres, and it also featured cameos from some indie-pop gems and the occasional decent R&B album. But January-through-June was owned by a very recent hip-hop release that any true head would have trouble not listening to on repeat.
1. Quasimoto-Yessir Whatever
Technically a compilation of unreleased tracks from the last 14 years, Yessir Whatever hits harder than its predecessor, 2005’s The Further Adventures of Lord Quas, and is less experimental than the Madlib alter-ego’s revolutionary 2000 debut The Unseen. The beats are raw, the samples are mind-blowing and, in a nod to the old-school LP format, the songs are refreshingly succinct. (Only two of Yessir Whatever’s 12 tracks clock in at more than three minutes.) New releases by Kanye and Jay-Z will receive a lot of attention this year, but if you listen to one hip-hop album in 2013, make sure it is Yessir Whatever, and discover why Madlib is the true king of the game.
2. Tiger & Woods-Banana Balls [EP]
This mysterious German duo does cut-up nu-disco in the early Daft Punk/Todd Edwards tradition. The result is some of the best groove-based, slow-build dance music I’ve heard since Homework. With their new Golden Bear EP enjoying a quick sellout of its first run upon its release earlier this week, I’m interested to see what other remixes and original productions these guys will come up with during the second half of 2013.
3. Breakbot-By Your Side
By Your Side came out across the pond last fall, but it enjoyed its first U.S. release with a slightly modified track listing in 2013. This album is half bright disco/French house and half slickly-produced ‘70s-inspired pop a-la Hall & Oates. The disco/French house numbers are absolutely incredible. The pop tracks and happy ballads are not so much my thing, but they are also extremely well done.
Four guys from Athens, Greece play hard rock from the Ty Segall school, turned up to 11. As sort of neo-garage records go, this album is as spring reverb-heavy, vocally fuzzed out and riff-happy as anything you’re ever going to hear. If you like artists like Jay Reatard and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, you’re definitely going to want to check this out.
5. Shannon and the Clams-Dreams in the Rat House
Dreams in the Rat House channels many late-‘50s/early-‘60s influences, including American garage, Buddy Holly-esque rock, girl groups, and doo-wop, and presents them in a fuzzed-out, light-hearted package. The vocal chemistry and interplay between band members Shannon Shaw and Cody Blanchard give the band its personality, and provide the foundation upon which all of these songs are crafted.
6. Bass Drum of Death-Bass Drum of Death
Lo-fi, in-your-face garage punk by a fellow named John Barrett from Oxford, Mississippi. What sets this kid apart from other artists in the currently exploding southern garage punk subgenre is an affinity for some jangle with his fuzz (“Such a Bore”), and the fact that he plays all of the instruments on these studio recordings.
7. Chico Mann-Magical Thinking
This is pretty much electro-boogie/funk in its purest form. Magical Thinking is solid throughout, and the songs that feature guest female vocalists especially stand out. The album veers into cheesy territory at times, but if you’re into acts like Chromeo or James Pants, this LP is for you.
8. Useless Eaters-Hypertension
More southern garage punk, this time from Memphis, with an occasional propensity for the metronomic drum beats and synth-y guitar licks that characterized a lot of that New Wave-revival stuff from the early 2000s. This New Wave approach combined with the usual spring-reverb on steroids and uber-fuzzy guitars that you would expect from a garage punk band from Memphis results in a pretty cool listen. Track 6 features detached, Ian Curtis-inspired talk-vocals, and track 12 includes a “Police On My Back” guitar send-up.
9. Shiny Darkly-Shiny Darkly [EP]
A fantastic six-song EP, from wire to wire. This Danish three-piece combines super-fuzzy, dark, Raveonettes-esque guitar sounds with songwriting and vocal deliveries reminiscent of British post-punk and Jesus and Mary Chain white noise. The result is an angsty brand of rock ‘n’ roll that is catchy despite its darkness, a la Echo and the Bunnymen.
10. Charles Bradley-Victim of Love
New Daptone release has the late ‘60s, early ‘70s soulful feel that the label has become known for. Bradley’s voice is of the scratchy, “soul screaming” extraction in the tradition of David Ruffin, and at times on this release he unabashedly (and somewhat admirably) emulates James Brown. The only drawback is that, stylistically, Bradley is something of a one-trick-pony vocalist, and some of the ballads on Victim of Love suffer as a result. But Daptone never messes up throwback soul, and if classic southern soul is something you enjoy, particularly that of the Stax variety, you’re going to love this album.