Music News

Backbeat writers look back on national favorites from 2013

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Skinny Puppy, Weapon (Metropolis Records). Synching the simplicity of its work for Remission with the sound-design approach of its side projects, Skinny Puppy crafted its strongest effort since 1992's Last Rites. Taking aim at the current international climate of fear and violence, the act poses important questions rather than providing pat answers. — TM

Vince Staples, Stolen Youth (Blacksmith, A.G.). Though Vince Staples may be best known as the rapper pressured out of Odd Future, he stakes his claim as perhaps the best MC of the bunch on Stolen Youth. Featuring surprisingly great production from a pseudonymed Mac Miller (aka Larry Fisherman), Vince is poetic and vividly descriptive while remaining as raw as he first appeared on Earl's "Epar." — NH

Marnie Stern, The Chronicles of Marnia (Kill Rock Stars). Marnie Stern's finger-tapping guitar-playing style creates a frenetic sound here that makes for extremely boisterous jangle rock. This album is a little more drawn-in than her work in the past, with longtime drummer Zach Hill having to dedicate himself full-time to Death Grips, but this just allows Stern's vocals to come through even more. With precision, her vocal lines fly around her fretwork like a butterfly, resulting in a unique and upbeat sound. — LS

The Stranger, Watching Dead Empires in Decay (Modern Love). One of the most unsettling albums ever recorded that could fall under the umbrella of "ambient," this latest from James Leyland Kirby is an essay — composed as a short story in sound — on the folly of modern humanity's technocratic hubris. It is beautiful and enigmatic, like artifacts from Göbekli Tepe. — TM

Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience (RCA). At this point in his career, JT didn't need to make an album this good to prove his worthiness as Michael Jackson's heir apparent (sorry, Usher). But he did, and he clearly had fun in the process. While most R&B artists sing endlessly about bedding whomever, Timberlake takes the high road here, preaching the virtues of commitment. — MS

Frank Turner, Tape Deck Heart (Interscope). There's an overwhelming pathos in Frank Turner's confessions, an earnestness that makes lyrics about self-immolation charming. Somehow, the lyrical bleakness on Tape Deck Heart never manages to weigh down the record. That's all thanks to the sheer rhythmic and melodic charm of Turner, who treats even the bluest words as opportunities to let his audience in on a little secret. — AG

William Tyler, Impossible Truth (Merge). 1. Take 100 bong hits. 2. Go to the mountains. 3. Contemplate everything while listening to Impossible Truth. When you return, reflect on the genius of this young guitarist. Heavily layered and reminiscent of both early Americana and Indian sitar music, this instrumental album is the only one you need for your next vision quest. — MS

The Underachievers, Indigoism (Self-released). Rarely has heady, esoteric rap been as easy to listen to as it is on Indigoism. Production from the Entreproducers is invigorating and perfectly echoes the mystical atmosphere the Underachievers effectively build. MCs AK and Issa Gold are completely in sync as they muse on auras, metaphorical space shuttles and the nature of evil. — NH

Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City (XL Recordings). Modern Vampires of the City does what Vampire Weekend's first two records couldn't do: It mixes studio polish and heartfelt emotion in a way that feels new, and the privileged Columbia grads come off as profound musicians and poets. There's little in the way of slickness here. The record shows real poetry and true depth. — AG

Kurt Vile, Wakin on a Pretty Daze (Matador). Kurt Vile brought back his brand of nostalgic, road-tripping rock on this album. He says that he made a mixtape for his production crew to get them in the right mindset for making this record; he wanted to invoke "loose/good vibes." With yawning, breezy guitar licks and lyrics like "chillin' on a pillowy cloud," Vile totally nailed that one. — AR

Washed Out, Paracosm (Sub Pop). Like his friend Chaz Bundick of Toro Y Moi, Washed Out's Ernest Greene reinterpreted the best sound ideas from synth-pop bands of the past to inform his latest work. Greene fully embraces the sense of wonder and emotional expansiveness of that era and imbued it with modern sensibilities. — TM

Wax Idols, Discipline & Desire (Slumberland Records). Heather Fedewa once played in the garage-rock-inflected Bare Wires. But her project Wax Idols and this album, especially, prove that she had greater sonic ambitions. A brooding but propulsive collection of dark post-punk, akin to the Chameleons and Siouxsie & the Banshees, Discipline & Desire crackles with defiant energy and a sense of conviction. — TM

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