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:Retrowerks: 2013 Year in Review – Stephen Beck Fey

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2013 Year in Review
By Stephen Beck Fey

A lot of crazy stuff happened this year. Harmony Korrine put out a film that doesn’t suck, the Vatican appointed a pope who’s actually pretty cool, some people in South Korea managed to carve out a profitable niche streaming themselves eating dinner in an oddly normal not-sexy fashion, and (weirdest of all) I moved to Italy.

While all that was going on, however, a whole bunch of people recorded sounds and released those sounds to the world that we might better shove them into our ear holes. And, as always happens at the end of the year, COMA is allowing me to use my soapbox to tell people which sounds were the best ones and pretend that my opinion matters.

So let’s get started.

The Five Best Goth, Industrial, Trip Hop, Synthpop, and/or Otherwise COMA-Relevant Albums of 2013 (as decided by me)

Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest: A new Boards of Canada album is always something special and this one is no exception. Tomorrow’s Harvest sees everybody’s favorite Scottish downtempo IDM act returning to an earlier soundtrack-influenced sound while adding an extra helping of minor-key arpeggios and vague menace. The result is essentially the polar opposite of their last album, 2005’s warm and comforting The Campfire Headphase, but it’s almost as good. “Almost as good as their last one” may not sound like high praise, but given that The Campfire Headphase is one of my favorite electronic albums ever, it’s quite a thing to live up to. Really, it’s every bit the nostalgia-soaked masterpiece you’d expect from a BoC release (especially one seven years in the making).

The Causticles – Eric Gottesman: Caustic and The Gothsicles are pretty much a match made in rivet heaven; they both traffic in the kind of silly fun that industrial really needs more of. It was only a matter of time until they finally did a whole album together and now they have. And it’s a blast. There’s nothing particularly complicated here, just four-to-the-floor oontz topped with Matt Fanale and darkNES shouting about aliens, role-playing games, and ruining parties; it’s all so bouncy and catchy that you really can’t help but jump around enthusiastically. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Eric Gottesman is, no contest, the dancing around your room in your underwear album of the year. Maybe even the decade.

Clams Casino – Instrumentals, Volume 3: I don’t know how cool the scene is with hip hop these days, so Clams Casino might not be on your radars, but he damn well should be. Despite being an in-demand mainstream producer, Clams makes surprisingly weird music. His beats are songs unto themselves, hazy acid-washed synths and New Age samples tethered to a 4/4 pulse. It’s the kind of genre-pushing stuff that sits right on the boundaries of acceptable for genre-specific zines like this one; it’s hip hop, but it’s dark trippy electronic hip hop, so where do we draw the line? Personally, I’m erring on the side of inclusion because it’s a great listen and it deserves your attention.

Kevorkian Death Cycle – God Am I: Listening to Kevorkian Death Cycle is like listening to The Buggles, I love the hell out of both of them, but they’re so inextricably linked to their time and place. Or at least, they used to be (KDC, that is, not The Buggles). With their comeback album, God Am I, they’ve made what was a distinctly late-90s sound into something modern and vital. And honestly, they didn’t have to do that, they’d still have made this list if they’d just rewritten Dark Skies and called it good, but instead they went and made an absolutely tremendous record. And I mean “tremendous” as in size; they’ve clearly been taking notes from European EBM on how to produce songs so that they truly fill the room. And listen to those keyboards; it’s all just so epic! I expected God Am I to be good, but KDC totally blew me away here and it’s always nice when bands do that.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away: Nick Cave’s been putting out albums for over thirty years now and, in all that time, he never seems to have run out of steam. A lot of that can be chalked up to his willingness to completely change directions whenever a creative well runs dry. Apocalyptic post-punk not doing it anymore? Time to write some pretty piano ballads. Piano ballads losing their appeal? Better start making crazy garage rock, and so on. In this case, we find Cave tiring of loud, fast songs and once more making quiet, slow ones. But Push The Sky Away isn’t just pretty the way you might expect, it is pretty, but more than that, it’s heavy and brooding. It’s a forty minute hangover. It’s the sound of a man realizing he’s too old for this shit and doing it anyway because he can’t survive without it. And it is awesome. (Though I still have no idea what he’s on about with “Hannah Montana does the African savannah”.)

The Two Best Albums of 2013 Not Relevant to the Interests of This Publication (also decided by me)

Remember when I said Clams Casino falls right on the boundary of genre-relevancy? Well, here’s the section where I take a paragraph to talk about a couple things I liked on the other side of that line. Specifically, Howl by JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound and Labyrinth by Fleshgod Apocalypse. The former is ’70s Soul at its rocking-est punched up to kick even more ass. The latter is symphonic death metal in the most epically Wagnerian and most technically brutal sense of those respective terms. They don’t have much in common other than their shared usage of guitars and drums, but they both came out this year and they’re both amazing, so go check them out if my one sentence descriptions sounded even remotely like something you’d enjoy.

My Favorite Newly Discovered Artist

I debated long and hard over whom to give this most coveted honor to. I was introduced to so many great artists this year that, at one point, I even considered just making a top five list (That list would have gone “Bear//Face, Flammpunkt, Monomorte, Pallbearer, Surgyn,” by the way). But during the writing of this article, one of my friends sent me something so awesome that I immediately knew which band had to be my number one pick.

Winny Puhh (pronounced “Winnie Pooh”) is an Estonian experimental—you know what, why don’t I just show you the video that my friend sent me. Here, watch it, I’ll wait. (Unless you have epilepsy, in which case don’t watch it. Just listen to it.)

Back? Yeah. That’s the kind of thing that either you hate it and turn it off ASAP or you immediately rush to the internet to grab the album. Unfortunately, neither of their albums have that song on it, but most of their songs sound just like it anyway (except for the odd catchy synthpop tune here and there), so I highly recommend Brääznik, their second album. I would recommend their first one as well, but I haven’t heard it yet. It’s probably equally excellent though.

Outro

So that was 2013 in my subjective musical experience. I hope I put you onto at least one or two cool things you hadn’t heard. I know I missed a bunch of stuff, so I’ll probably be spending most of 2014 catching up on all the music I missed this year, but that’s just the way it goes.

At any rate, I wish all you awesome folks happy holidays (if there are any left by the time this goes up) and a prosperous new year! Thanks so much for reading COMA; it really does mean a lot to us.

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