Wondering what to listen to? Here are VICE’s top 50 albums of 2013.
Frank Zappa once said that “music criticism is people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, for people who can’t read.” We’re onboard with that statement, which is why this time of year always gets our goat, and then rams a splintery chopstick up our poor goat’s dickhole. It’s year-end top-50 review season.
Allow us to explain a few things about year-end top-50 review season. It’s a moment when neck-beard music critics get to throw their weight around, kick their Converse up on their desks, and wax critical about something that’s fully accepted as impossible to quantify—the best albums of the year. According to Billboard, something like 75,000 albums are released each year, and that’s not counting stuff your dirtbag cousin throws on Bandcamp. With an average running time of 45 minutes per record, the average human could listen to music 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and not make a dent.
All this mathy stuff illustrates that year-end lists are based 100% on taste. There is no canon of pop music, and anyone who says there is most likely just wants to keep his job as a music journalist. So allow us to present our taste, in order, as collected in 12 issues of VICE Magazine over the past year. Before you get all pissy in the comments and accuse us of neglecting HAIM, Chance the Rapper, Jon Hopkins, or whatever garbage you think deserves critical respect, keep in mind that A) 99% of all music is terrible, B) some of these reviews are on the top 50 because we liked the review, not the band, and C) we really, really, really don’t care.
Christian Workout Power Pack
Capital Christian Distribution
You were probably proud when you found the Desperate Bicycles’s Remorse Code LP in the dollar bin, but when I came across this gem I felt like fucking Friedrich Miescher. Get this: it’s specifically and explicitly a triple-disc collection made for Christian women aged 30 to 45 to help them break a sweat at the local YWCA. Plus, there are no digital downloads, it’s only available in Christian bookstores, and Christianity is a vicious celestial dictatorship that encourages ignorance, cruelty, and genocide.
UV RACE/EDDY CURRENT SUPPRESSION RING
Australian punks are the best punks. This is because they drink the blood of kangaroos, which makes them all “hopping mad” and really good at pogoing. Does this mean that kangaroos are the punkest of all animals? I dunno, but I am sure those fuckers will kick you in the face something fierce, with or without steel-toed Docs. They definitely get some kind of props for that.
When he’s not busy making proggy black metal with his other band, Liturgy, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix (son of Helen and Jimi, for all you flower children out there) is making blackish prog rock with his new project, Survival, and—hey, Joe—let me just tell you, I’m mad about this album. Hunt-Hendrix, along with bandmates Greg Smith and Jeff Bobula, expertly revives first-wave math rock with the added punch of hardcore gravitas, and it’s got me floating, got it? I would almost even go so far as to say it’s as good as it gets! I know what women (and men, sometimes) want, and it’s more spasmodic rhythms and unpredictable melodic narratives from this Brooklyn trio. Are you experienced, yet? I’m just trying to pay it forward and bask in the rays of the new rising sun.
In The Red
Sometimes when I’m listening to Drake’s lyrics, I’m all like, “Oh, for fuck’s sake, this is totally something my mom would say.” Not so with these dudes. Sure, they could be talking about white-wine spritzers and alimony, but who the fuck can tell? They’re loud, they have unintelligible lyrics, and they named their band after a diaper. Drake can go shit his pants standing and then suck a good man’s dick.
TYLER, THE CREATOR
Kids are so fucking scary now. I’ve always thought that the most terrifying horror and thriller movies are the ones with really stoic, black-eyed kids in formal wear who have no emotions and wait around to slash your ankles or face with found objects. I would literally be afraid to be in the same room as Tyler, the Creator. He looks like he’d peel off a person’s top layer of skin with the very tips of his front teeth and fingernails so that he could later don the victim’s epidermis as a cape onstage while calling your mother a series of very bad names. Which, I think, is exactly what he’s going for, so we can do nothing but encourage it (or die).
2013: The Year in Bad Cops
Most Racist Police Department: New York City
The country’s biggest police force would be hard-pressed not to wind up with some very awkward incidents—when you have 34,000 officers, some of them are going to mess up. But a few bad apples can’t be blamed for the NYPD’s stop and frisk program or its CIA-style monitoring of Muslims. For all the cops’ spying on mosques, they produced no useful tips, and stop and frisk didn’t lead to many arrests either. Between January 2002 and June 2012, nearly 4.5 million New Yorkers were stopped on the street and searched for drugs or weapons, and nearly 90 percent weren’t doing anything illegal. The majority of these searches were performed on black or hispanic individuals, giving the whole thing a strong stink of prejudice. Though the policy’s supporters—including lame-duck Mayor Mike Bloomberg—claim this makes the city safer and that minorities aren’t singled out because of their skin color, civil liberties activists begged to differ and sued in 2010. In August, a federal judge ordered reforms and oversight to the officially racist policy, but two months later she was dismissed from the case for being biased against the city. Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has pledged to reform the practice once he takes office in January, even if some cops oppose his efforts.
Most Kafkaesque Definition of “Assault”: New York City, Again
A Manhattan grand jury, faced with the case of officers who shot two bystanders during an effort to apprehend an unarmed mentally unstable man in October, have decided assault charges are warranted, which makes sense given that, well, two people were shot. Except they have declined to charge the officers who shot the women, instead blaming the unstable man who had been darting in between cars and causing a bit of a scene on the day in question. He forced the cops to pull out their weapons and fire, apparently, and also made them miss. (By the way, he was eventually brought down by a Taser.)
Hey, look, we made it into Tumblr’s Year in Review roundup of the top tumblr posts of 2013! We’re not entirely sure of how the top posts were chosen (we’re guessing that this list excludes all the artsy porno that makes checking the dashboard such an exciting gamble), but we couldn’t be happier to be on the list.
And if for some reason you’re not following already VICE on tumblr, click here to do so!
BEST OF THE BEST OF 2012: NPR’S TOP 50
It’s that time of year again: anus itch season. Talkadoodles and decidamathons. Music music guess what’s what. A time when publications that talk about music release their you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours list of artists whose record labels bought ad space or sent free download codes. Or, less cynically: music from the year, presented in a more digestible form than most of the time, cranked out and hastily invoiced by beleaguered critics everywhere, hopefully in time to get the poor bastards on the bottom rungs of the biz a little extra holiday cash, and editors and mid-tier scramblers can wait out the clock until the new year by dicking around on Twitter and calling it business. Yes, that’s the least cynical version I can think of for what happens every December with the lists. It’s a mad dash to be the first to limp to the finish.
The good news for regular citizens is you can finally just read one thing and get some straight answers out of people. Or at least less crooked answers. Most of the time music reviews are complete bullshit, like that timesomebody at Vice didn’t like the new Metz album because apparently in that particular 20 minute chunk of their lives they had a migraine and the drums kicked too much ass for them to handle without pukeyfacing. Music reviews are bullshit because the person writing them is getting paid somewhere between zero and some piddling useless amount of dollars, and therefore there’s no stakes, and therefore say whatever you think is best to keep the piddling useless dollars coming in, and do it quick with the first thought that pops into your head because your opinion will never matter as much as word of mouth plus time anyway, and it’s not like the free download is a huge favor because the internet exists. BUT: end of the year lists pare down all that regular bullshit and focus on the bullshit that these people apparently actually believe.
I am a fan of year-end lists because they serve as a roadmap to what kind of people believe what outlandish bullshit things. I like to take these lists, most of which consist of stuff I never heard of because I’ve managed to limit my informational intake to hyper-specific, reliable filters which generally do not waste my time telling me about stuff I have a low chance of actually liking, and attack them with my own kneejerk bullshit. Why? Because that’s even lazier and more cynical than writing a list of my own, and it results in more piddling useless dollars for me. You’re welcome.
Take for example the alphabetically arranged non-hierarchical list supplied by the poor deluded fucks at NPR. Alright gang, let’s riff. Let’s have an NPRty.
Ab-Soul, Control System
I’m sure NPR likes this because this guy is saying some moderately thoughtful stuff and the beats are less predictable than usual, but who actually wants to listen to a song called “Double Standards”? Why stop there? Why not a club banger called “Airport Security”?
Alabama Shakes, Boys And Girls
Making music your parents would like isn’t just for the Fleet Foxes anymore.
Alisa Weilerstein, Cello Concertos (Elgar & Carter)
Look out Yo-Yo Ma, there’s a new cellist in zzzzzzz
Alt-J, An Awesome Wave
Here’s the first of probably many entries on this list which seems like its primary reason for existing is to be transition music on NPR. Like there’s some report on a Peruvian ballet troupe struggling to make art with their limited resources, and then this pops on for fifteen seconds to help convince you that what you just heard was in fact very interesting and not a desperate attempt at interestingness which combines several things you don’t care about. It is relatively high energy, but stark and dramatic at the same time, and it’s constantly throwing “interesting” sounds at you, like bassoons and toy pianos, and layering everything a million times for no reason. And now here’s Terry Gross with “Fresh Air.”
Andy Stott, Luxury Problems
This is the kind of electronic music you’d hear in a modern art museum and it’s actually more boring than silence.
A nice lil’ multi-culti entry for NPR, this one apparently a Chilean version of MGMT. There is actually some very cool shit going on in Chile right now. This is the Wavves to that cool shit’s Thee Oh Sees.
Berlin Philharmonic, St. Matthew Passion
You know who I love? Classical radio DJs. They’re the best. Just in general, when people are only into classical music: the best. I mean, terrible, yeah, but taking the stance that nothing good has happened for over a hundred years is incredible. I can just picture them wincing at the overbearing city noise and fully bear hugging not just their ears but the entire sides of their heads in agony as a wailing ambulance drives by them on the street. Classical-only people are so prim and snooty and delicate they’re like some vestigial form of cultural renegade. I imagine if you pushed one over they would just lie there totally fucked like an upside-down turtle. You’ve got to love it when human society subverts nature and allows people like that to exist.
Meek Mill, Dreamchasers 2
I feel like hip hop at this point is as horrible and predictable and soul-crushing and ceaseless and artless and stagnant as the poverty and violence on the streets it comes from. This guy tells the narrative of how he grew up in a terrible place, sold drugs, and then became successful while so many others didn’t, and his embrace of every trapping of his prosperous lifestyle is fueled by guilt and regret. You may be familiar. Also: you can dance and fuck to it and play it real loud in a car with a lot of bass. Not that NPR listeners are doing those things. Instead they’re nodding their heads to the narrative and saying “oh, isn’t it awful” and “good for him.”
Bobby Womack, The Bravest Man In The Universe
Damon Albarn picked Womack up off the scrap heap and produced this album. It’s kind of like an extremely crappy version of the Rolling Stones reviving Muddy Waters’ career, or a more commercial and electric version of Jon Spencer and R.L. Burnside. I wonder if Bobby knows or cares what the hell is going on here.
Bomba Estereo, Elegancia Tropical
You can guess what this sounds like: an impulse buy CD at a fair trade coffeehouse.
Brooklyn Rider, Seven Steps
If you type “Brooklyn Rider, Seven Steps” into Google, the first results are Amazon, Brooklyn Rider’s website, Brooklyn Rider’s website, Brooklyn Rider’s website, and NPR First Listen. They’re a string quartet, FYI. An extremely well organized one. With a name that sounds like they should be a 2000’s synthpop version of Bachman Turner Overdrive.
Cafe Tacvba, El Objeto Antes Llmado Disco
If a band from Mexico sounds like 70’s Italian prog (think Gentle Giant plus opera) meets Animal Collective (i.e. post-digital American prog), are you allowed to not like it? Not if you’re NPR.
Carla Morrison, Dejenme Llorar
The score so far. Hip hop: 2, soul revival: 2, classical: 3, Spanish language pop: 4, bland Indie pop: 1, minimalist techno: 1, boring: yesalways.
Cat Power, Sun
Cat Power is the musical equivalent of Say Yes To The Dress (the least intolerable reality show my girlfriend watches).