Music News

Backbeat writers look back on national favorites from 2013

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Joe Lovano Us Five, Cross Culture (Blue Note). While Joe Lovano has recorded and performed in many different formats, Us Five, which includes two drummers and bassist Esperanza Spalding, is probably his most adventurous group. And Cross Culture, which finds Lovano and company exploring the concept of music as a universal language, is the group's most courageous work to date. — JS

Valerie June, Pushin' Against a Stone (Concord). On Pushin' Against a Stone, Tennessee-born songstress Valerie June encompasses the soul and gospel of her Southern roots, owning a sound that feels inherently nostalgic even when a more unexpected sheen of Appalachian and bluegrass influences sweeps over her electric vocals, stark acoustics, country ballads, and tracks laced with slide guitar. — SA

King Khan and the Shrines, Idle No More (Merge). Berlin's psych-R&B act King Khan somehow manages to mix political lyrics regarding Canadian Aboriginal rights with garage rock that sounds like it's from a future invented in the '60s. Filled with pomp and grandeur, the Shrines' Idle No More features a horn section that adds a compelling exclamation point, taking you to an entirely different universe, one where James Brown and Brian Jones are king. — LS

Kneebody, The Line (Concord). For more than a decade, Kneebody has been defying genres with a shape-shifting sound that straddles jazz, funk and rock. The Line, the band's first release on the mini-major imprint Concord, is exceptionally ambitious in scope while also being the best-sounding disc the quintet has released. Kneebody is in fabulous form here. — JS

Kylesa, Ultraviolet (Season of Mist). On Ultraviolet, Kylesa perfectly synthesizes psychedelic, sludgy metal and ethereal rock without compromising the core virtues of either. Fortunately, this is not a crossover effort, and the sinuous brutality and imaginative riffing that have always made this band fascinating finds no short shrift. Soothing, bracing and expansive. — TM

Local Natives, Hummingbird (French Kiss). With the release of Hummingbird, Local Natives has grown into its sound, which is decidedly ominous, and absent an earlier false brightness. The album is absolutely lovely, lush with expressive harmonies and overwhelming swells of rhythm that contrast with a newfound art of subtlety. — SA

Locust, You'll Be Safe Forever (Editions Mego). This album would work wonderfully as a soundtrack to a Wim Wenders film, while a stripped-down version would work equally well as a haunted IDM album. Mark Van Hoen channels his genius for sequenced atmosphere and texture into darkly luminous fragments with immersive environmental electronic compositions, driven by big beats and culturally ambiguous vocal samples. — TM

Rudresh Mahanthappa, Gamak (ACT). Over the past fifteen years, virtuosic saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa has penned some elaborate compositions that fuse elements of Eastern Indian music with jazz, but Gamak might be his most cerebral and visceral effort yet. With guitar wizard David Fiuczynski on board, Mahanthappa's quartet traverses heavy sonic terrain here, especially on the heated opener, "Waiting Is Forbidden," and the fiery "Copernicus." — JS

Man Man, On Oni Pond (Anti-). Man Man took its avant-garde rock-and-roll-in-a-trashcan sound, smoothed it out, sexed it up, and spit out its most accessible album by far. "Head On" is so damn gorgeous and its lyrics are so touching — and the acoustic "Sparks" has a '50s pop thing going on that is so pure and moving, you won't miss the cacophony. — LS

Mac Miller, Watching Movies With the Sound Off (Rostrum Records). Watching Movies With the Sound Off is certainly a departure from the bubblegum Mac Miller that most listeners are accustomed to. It's a step back commercially, but a leap forward artistically. Never has Mac been as ambitious and confessional as he is here, while leaving room for some invigorating singles. — NH

Misery Signals, Absent Light (Basick). Absent Light is another release that may cause hipster metal fans to roll their eyes. Regardless, the album is solid and meets or exceeds every expectation. Haters gonna hate. — BL

Janelle Monáe, The Electric Lady (Bad Boy). Janelle Monáe's legitimacy as the weirdest R&B/rock singer working today is confirmed when you hear Erykah Badu (!) and Prince (!!) singing on the album's first two songs. While those artists are still relevant, Monáe is clearly establishing herself here as a compelling voice for a new generation. — MS

My Bloody Valentine, mbv (m b v). My Bloody Valentine cannily sculpted and sequenced this album — recorded at different times since 1991's Loveless — so that it reflected the band's present. The propulsive rhythms, whorls of melting guitar sound and ghostly vocals suggest the band's musical future while embracing its past. — TM

The Neighbourhood, I Love You (Columbia). The true impact of I Love You, like that of any great album, is gradual. Beyond the catchy chorus of the radio success "Sweater Weather," the Neighbourhood's debut record offers hidden gems for the careful listener. Songs like "Staying Up" and "Float" reveal a band with an impressive skill for pure mood and complex use of musical layers. — AG

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