Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Record Binge, Favorites 2013

Ya boy done fucked up. Dropped the ball. Misspoke in egregious fashion. It happens on occasion, but never often enough that I can't feel comfortable admitting it when it does. So I'll cut the frivolities and drop it at the jump: contrary to what I wrote in last year's retrospective installment, there wasn't anything that even held a candle to Kendrick's good kid, m.A.A.d. city. That record is a masterpiece, eleven strokes of genius and an obligatory homage to Dr. Dre.. but whatever whatever I'll have a chance to expound upon it later since the dude K-Dot extended his reign of peerless domination right on through twenty-thirteen. But for now, at least, consider that slip up rectified to a lesser degree.

Now, none of that is to suggest I won't make the same error this time around. That's how music works. The best of it elicits an evolving relationship over time and with continued reflection. In light of the understanding that twelve months is not enough time to aggregate, digest and rank the year in aural art and BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH. Blah. Look, I know constructing these end-of-the-year album-or-song-of-the-year enumerations is about as masturbatory as it gets, but I have to do it. I spend unmentionable amounts of money on physical music media, and I need validation. This shit is impossibly important to my being. I mean I'd feed my dog before I fed myself, sure, but I'd also cop some quality vinyl before I fed my dog. We'd go down like that.

So with that, here's all the stuff I fucked with the hardest this past year. Sorry that Arcade Fire snoozefest didn't make the cut. I waited 'til the New Year proper because muhfuckas be dropping surprise albums and 101-track mixtapes at the last minute and all that. Also, I don't get paid for this blog shit. So there ya go.


Twistable, Turnable Man: A Musical Tribute to Shel Silverstein / Various Artists

Highlights: "The Winner", "Twistable, Turnable Man"
Shel Silverstein was my jam when I was a wee lad. I was low key obsessed with Where the Sidewalk Ends probably longer than I should have been. I paged through A Light in the Attic and Falling Up a bunch, too. I remember going through them all again as an 11- or 12-year-old when ol' Uncle Shelby kicked the bucket (dude was only like 60) and still appreciating them on a level above simple nostalgia. When I was in college I crossed paths with the dude again (possibly in the midst of a fevered Wikipedia binge) and ultimately stumbled upon some of the of his contributions to Playboy, which predated his kids lit shit. Somehow, though, I made it all the way to this past Black Friday without ever being exposed to his music catalog, which is surprisingly (or unsurprisingly, really) extensive. As part of Record Store Day pt 2 (apparently a thing now?), Merge Records released Twistable, Turnable Man, a collection of 15 songs penned by Silverstein performed by some real class acts. I bought it for novelty's sake, and it turned out to be one of my proudest pick ups of the year. My Morning Jacket gets their yim yames on for the reverent opener "Lullabies, Legends and Lies". Andrew Bird follows up with a masterful, transfixing take on the title track. Dr. Dog gives "Unicorn" their trademark barbershop quartet of brotherly love treatment. The standout for me, though, has to Kris Kristopherson on the witty, bemusing number, "The Winner". Most of these songs have at least one foot entrenched in country tradition (in a good way! -- Lucinda Williams is here on "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan"). If you're as uninitiated as I was, you'll likely be surprised by how many tracks on this compilation you've previously heard popularized by others, most notably "A Boy Named Sue", "Queen of the Silver Dollar", and "Cover of the Rolling Stone". The second to last song is basically The Giving Tree put to music in a way that won't make you cry, which is -- as I put it after my first listen -- "pretty fucking plesant." Long story short: go pick this up, and don't search out videos of Shel singing these songs, himself.

The Chronicles of Marnia / Marnie Stern

Highlights: "Noonan", "East Side Glory", "Immortals"
Marnie Stern will periodically utilize this one structural motif that I've really grown rather fond of where she more or less approximates the form and function of a defibrillator. It resurfaces this time around on the eponymous track of her adorably titled new record The Chronicles of Marnia. The frenetic, jittery rhythm that suffuses so many of her songs breaks to a stark, escalating swell as if the instrument is charging for another jolt, and then BAM! the tachycardia returns for another verse. Stern is a bona fide guitar goddess, a true woodshredder. Even other finger-tapping revivalists pay homage. Her prowess, though, has in the past come at the expense of her song construction, and her tendency to gravitate toward layered excess can become aggravating. Her melodies often get muddied and difficult to isolate. These breaks in her characteristic breakneck pace have always served to juxtapose the (somewhat) controlled chaos and remind the listener that she really can write beautiful music (which, of course, merely fuels additional frustration). On Chronicles, though, the tunes are given longer breathers more often, and they're so much better for it. The hyper-technical tapping is still present throughout, but this time you can actually follow and appreciate it to its fullest. The cutting away of suffocating layers allows those that are left to breathe and reach their way into the sunlight. The bass guitar emerges forth and adds considerable depth, as on album closer "Hell Yes". Stern's vocals are actually functioning as a vehicle for conveying lyrics rather than merely providing additional percussive clutter. This latter development is especially rewarding, because as it turns out Stern's got a lot to say on the subject of late-thirties existential self-doubt. On "Noonan" she repeatedly questions, "Don't you want to be somebody?" as if apathetically recitng a lecture she's undoubtedly heard a million times and long ago tired of. She gets, dare I say... old.. ish(?).. when recognizing on "Nothing Is Easy" a pair of realisms I'm sure a lot of us will come to know at some point on our trek up The Hill: "Nothing is easy [and] no one has ever been cool." There's still tons to latch on to here, but this time the hooks-a-plenty are especially hearty. Turns out all she ever had to do was get out of her own way.

Baba Yaga / Futurebirds

Highlights: "Tan Lines", "Serial Bowls", "Death Awaits"
My grandfather has an oft-repeated theory when it comes to music in which there are but two kinds: country and western. I let him slide because he's spent over a third of his life in South Dakota and almost never listens to anything produced post-Hank Williams II. That's what I'm getting at. Country music isn't intrinsically terrible; the overwhelming majority of that played on modern country radio just makes it seem that way. But the genre -- and namely its older contributions -- has its redeeming qualities, and indie rock has been making use of them for some time now. Its appropriation of pedal steel, especially, has been increasingly prevalent and particularly fruitful. I'm not sure anyone has better integrated western inflection and the old soul elements of country heritage than have Futurebirds on their fantastic debut, Baba Yaga. Credit KUCR's strange-sounding hipster/goober/nerd and his long-running Thursday afternoon program for the find. I was hooked the first time I heard the sun-saturated, intercontinental longing of "Tan Lines". Futurebirds' brand of urban cosmic-country sounds about how the genre would had it originated somewhere off Silverlake Blvd. Except these guys are from Athens, GA and thus manage to avoid seeming dishonest in their pastiche. The band has three songwriters and at least as many vocalists, but Baba Yaga somehow manages to stay surprisingly cohesive throughout, alternating between boozy, bar-top bawlers ("Dig", "American Cowboy")  and rollicking barn burners ("Serial Bowls") with easy swagger. Especially good for twilight drives into the desert, if you're into that sort of thing.

Repave / Volcano Choir

Highlights: "Acetate", "Comrade", "Bygone"
It's pretty impossible not to like Justin Vernon. It's even harder not to support the guy. He's just such a genuinely good dude. As the poster boy of indie darlings, my man could be a total dick and would probably still have mad peoples going to bat for him. Instead, though, he utilizes the sizable amount of notoriety he's been afforded earned to lend credence to other bands and projects whose work would likely fly under the radar otherwise. After emerging emotionally resurrected and unapologetically balding from the the frozen tundra with classic in hand, Vernon used the ensuing two years to release collaborative records as Gayngs and Volcano Choir. After solemnly circumventing the sophomore slump with his wonderful Bon Iver, Bon Iver in 2011, the Eau Claire native again took time away from his meal-ticket to record and tour behind a blues-rock record as The Shouting Matches with a couple of longtime friends. He also put out a second piece as Volcano Choir, his experimental unit with fellow Wisconsinites Collections of Colonies of Bees. (Oh, he also worked with Kanye twice and gave the Grammy acceptance speech to end all Grammy acceptance speeches somewhere along the way.)

The first Volcano Choir record, 2009's Unmap, sounded a lot more in line with previous efforts made by the five-sixths of the band not named Justin Vernon. It sounded like what would happen if dude sat in with Martin Dosh or something. I keep it on rotation exclusively in situations where I need to study, write or pass the fuck out. In contrast, Repave is far more conventional, structurally speaking. It's bigger. It's grandiose. It sounds an awful lot like a new Bon Iver album aimed at the nosebleed seats, and it'd be easy to mistake it as such were you none the wiser. Vernon's vocals are more frequent, more prominent and more intelligible. He shifts from his trademark falsetto (with and without the vocoder) to his natural, husky baritone and back from verse to chorus and track to track. There's still a lot of delayed guitar bouncing between the left and right sides of your stereo, but whereas it somehow still seemed sparse on Unmap, it's rich and full on Repave. There are at least a handful of soaring, inspirational mega-moments on this record (see: basically every second of tracks 2 thru 4), but none more so than the chorus of centerpiece "Bygone". What's most clear in Justin Vernon's releases with The Shouting Matches and Volcano Choir in 2013 is that the guy is having a lot of fun. It's refreshing to hear, because I don't know if anyone else in the business deserves it more.

Monomania / Deerhunter

Highlights: "Monomania", "Pensacola", "Dream Captain"
During the run-up to the release of Monomania, just about every advance review of the record would at some point cite the punk aspirations of Deerhunter's sixth studio album. Usually within the first paragraph. And while those designs and attitudes are immediately evident, in reality the band done been punk for some time now. I mean, merely a year prior, Deerhunter braintrust Bradford Cox had received a fair amount of publicity for responding to a heckler's holler for "My Sharona" with an impromptu, 60-minute rendition of The Knack's classic. He also called the heckler up to the stage and made him undress as punishment unto himself and entertainment for everyone else. Does it get more punk than that?

Deerhunter's performance of Monomania's titular track on Fallon clearly signaled that the answer to that question is yes. Yes, it does.

Album openers "Neon Junkyard" and "Leather Jacket II" deliver on the promise of punk. The most immediately apparent transformation are the guitars. Normally dreamy in their construction of ruminative, reverb-soaked sonicscape, here they're acidic and gritty, their rhythm rather off kilter. Cox's vocal is distorted along similar lines. Everything sounds intentionally strained while stopping short of harshness. The following track, "The Missing", is classic Deerhunter and would have been entirely at home on their last release, Halcyon Digest. For the remainder of the record, the band bounce between and (more often) blend these two ends of the spectrum (I wouldn't call either an "extreme" as they're never too shoegazey or riotous). Bradford Cox is the keystone keeping the two strains of style in harmony, because he sounds entirely volatile across the album's twelve offerings. On the otherwise subdued "T.H.M.", there exists the real possibility (threat?) he could pop off at any point. In an era of the standard, sterile four-piece, the guy might be the last true frontman. Or at least the last frontman with a gravitational pull on the spotlight. The last one worth caring about. For whether you're spinning this record or seeing Deerhunter live, you're paying fucking attention. Bradford Cox commands interest, and to the dude's credit he never fails to deliver once he's got it.

Sunbather / Deafheaven

Highlight: "Dream House"
Ya boy don't typically dabble in anything labeled "metal". When the descriptors "black" or "heavy" are further applied, you know I'm staying pretty far the fuck away. Deafheaven is a black metal band, and I know this because it is invariably mentioned in the first or second sentence of every review of the record immediately to the left. Yet, this is a fact my brain has difficulty reconciling with seemingly contrary evidence as aesthetically up-front as that cover art.. I mean it's fucking pink and has the word "Sunbather" written on it. That certainly sounds like some shit that'd be right up my alley.

The mixing of messages doesn't stop at the surface, either. The first twenty-five seconds of the nine-minute, album-opening epic "Dream House" sound as you'd expect from a record with a cover that's just shy of being outright flamboyant even outside the metal community. A single soaring, brightly distorted guitar. Then another that almost renders the chord progression into chiming static. And then... a fucking blast beat. It's a gripping, clensing chaos that exudes cathartic release. Sunbather is emotionally jarring. The swelling relentlessness and ephemeral excursions into carefully constructed serenity and meditation tug on your gut and your core, not your heartstrings. I'd comment on the lyrics if I could understand any of them past the throat-scorching scream (or if I could see much of a point in reading through them online in spite of their delivery). In a way I find rather masterful, I don't see a need to read the lyrics to know what the guy is saying. I certainly feel what the fuck he's saying, which is the most difficult part of making music (or the very point of music, arguably). I honestly can't tell you the last time I listened to more than five minutes of something that sounds like this record. I don't know if I ever will again. But if more alleged black metal was as dynamic and panoramic as Sunbather, I'd say there's a good fucking chance of it happening.

Highlight: "Nosetalgia", "Numbers On The Board"
"It's the black out, 'rari got the back out, showin' my black ass, engine in the glass house. Started in a crack house. Obama went the back route. Kill bin Laden, 'nother four up in The Black House."

Yo, when I heard that "Trouble On My Mind" shit, I knew Pusha was back in business. Like a lot of white dudes, I go pretty hard for Clipse. Hell Hath No Fury is nearly flawless, a lesson in expertly merging streetwise swagger and clubwise hook consciousness with quote-unquote "real shit". Their debut, Lord Willin', is quintessential in its own right, helping define That Neptunes Sound. Actually, fuck it.. if y'all don't own both them joints, go 'head and Ctrl+Tab that ass over to iTunes and cop 'em right quick. Stop by Dat Piff and pick up their dopest mixtape while you're at it. Anyway, anyway.. all I mean is that the returns on Pusha-T's solo material since the Clipse went on hiatus had been a bit closer to the shallow end of the spectrum. So, needless to say it was refreshing as fuck to hear the guy straight body the track that would end up becoming his reintroduction to the rap game (as I see it, anyway).

Yet, as reinvigorated as was Terrance Thorton's sneer on the aforementioned collab with Tyler, The Creator, it's nothing to that featured throughout My Name Is My Name. If you were curious about what kind of affair his first release for Kanye's GOOD Music imprint would be, "King Push" draws that line very clearly ("Carry on like a carry on, and my side bitch I let tag along. Call me 'daddy' from a complex, because her mother's fucker wouldn't marry mom."). GAWD. The ensuing "Numbers On The Board" doubles down on the grit and growl. The only break from Kanye's subterranean, blown-out bass rumble is a three-second snippet of Jay-Z's "Rhyme No More". Ain't no refuge from that coke flow, though ("Whether rapping or I'm rapping to a whore, might reach back and relapse to wrapping up this raw."). It lightens up a little bit after that, because g'damn... it's just gotta. Muhfuckas be shittin' them shorts otherwise. "Hold On" has some of that annoying auto-tune croon 'Ye's been getting too fond of, but it's also got the best and most penitent verse Rick Ross has put out probably ever. The third-fourth of the record is a little light, but the final three jams are absolutely killer. And "Nosetalgia"? Holy fuck... we'll get to "Nosetalgia". While it ain't perfect, My Name Is My Name houses some of rawest, most tenacious cuts of the last couple years. Straight up, Pusha's still got them keys that can unlock ya.

Highlights: "The Wire", "Forever", "Don't Save Me"
I really wanted to hate this band from the get-go. From their billing as The Next Big Thing 2013 to the critical obsession over their back story and sound that supposedly evoked pop music spanning the Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties, I was pretty set in my preconceived notions. I also wasn't immediately feeling the lead single, "Forever" (though, I was all about the bangin' Giorgio Moroder remix that spawned almost a full year later). I talked considerable amounts of shit from that point on. When I caught wind of "The Wire", though, that all started to change. Call it the right song for the right time in my life or whatever it was. Call it indie rock or indie pop or just straight fucking pop, but just call it great. I copped the album soon after and, try as I might, was unable to fend off the melodic suavette of the LP for long.

The sisters Haim are a tough act to pin down. Realistically, Days Are Gone sounds like almost nothing else in my record collection or digital library while also sounding somewhat like everything contained within both. Lead guitarist Danielle Haim sounds a bit like Leslie Fiest. Younger guitarist/keyboardist Alana Haim a tad like Christie McVie. The oft-cited Fleetwood tags really are too easy, but on songs like "The Wire" and "Honey & I", the comparison is just... you know... there. On the whole, though, Haim keep both their proverbial feet planted pretty firmly on the pop side of the pop-rock divide, engaging in Lindsey Buckingham-like guitar episodes only in bite-sized, subtle fills. Though evident in more modest stylings, what's not up for debate are the ladies' chops and show(wo)manship. Look no further than their slaying of their SNL showcase for proof. (That ain't no small feat, y'all. That stage ruins careers.) Girls got game, girls got groove for days. So you ain't even got to be ashamed when you get caught on the corner belting out the stutter-stepping verses of "Don't Save Me". Just own it. I even 'bout to hate.

Highlights: "Good Ass Intro", "Chain Smoker"
Acid Rap had to be the come-up of the year. It's an infectious mixtape that integrates elements of funk, Chicago soul, and Motown groove behind Chance the Rapper, one of the most spastic, hyper-caffeinated rap artists to emerge in a good while. It's immediately enjoyable and unabashedly endearing so long as you're not put off by the Chance's higher-pitched, sorta nasally delivery and weed-scratched warble (I don't think it's all that big a deal, but that's just me or whatever). Oh, and it's free (follow dat DatPiff link). Free is always a plus.

The 20 year old Windy City MC can't yet cop a forty, a fact that's both ever-present and almost impossible to believe. The youngblood's skill, confidence and uniqueness behind the mic insist he's twice his actual age. That he's pulling features by recognizable names like Twista, Childish Gambino and the main dude Action Bronson speaks volumes as to the cred he's established on the back of so little actual material. Yet, the album is littered with fond allusions to those comforts of home largely taken for granted 'til they're absent. There are open-mics, cocoa-butter kisses and diagonal grilled cheeses. There are plenty of references to a high school tenure spent slacking off and getting suspended. Even the oldies-inspired, throwback instrumentals appear in tribute to the classics young Chandler probably grew up on. It shouldn't be of any great surprise to anyone that's traversed the treacherous three-year window between the last lunch period and first last-call. That turbulent adjustment period when "knowing everything" feels a wholly inadequate introduction to the real world. A lot of what's contained on Acid Rap is a recoil to that realization ("I still miss being a seeeeenior," dude croons on "Acid Rain"). What makes it a next-level mixtape, though, are the moments where the Rapper, Chance, looks forward, instead. He takes some surprisingly sober stabs at mature themes of inner-city violence and intrapersonal conflict, offering adult-like commentary instead of glorification. Perhaps no more potent than when, after kicking off with the unabashed spazzfest of "Good Ass Intro", Chance continues in kind with "Pusha Man" before shifting starkly to the warped wobble of "Paranoia" and exploring a number of epidemics (theft, murder, abandonment) from first-person perspective. Growing up is tough, but watching the kid kill it on Arsenio's show, you get the feeling he's starting to figure it out.

Highlights: "Song For Zula", "The Quotidian Beast"
If there's one thing that can be said for sure of Phosphorescent, it's that they can lay down a mean cover. My first exposure to the band was through their head-bobbing, bar rocking revitalization of Neil Young's rather listless "Are You Ready For The Country". Delving further into the catalog, I came across their collection of Willie Nelson covers, more contemplative and layered in their construction, though obviously with similar western affectations. It's a dichotomy that was present on the first two tracks of the band's last original full-length, Here's To Taking It Easy, as well: "It's Hard To Be Humble (When You're From Alabama)" was snappy, ramshackle roller that typified their alt-country tag (complete with a title referencing a Mac Davis classic) while "Nothing Was Stolen (Love Me Foolishly)" featured gorgeous euphony, sun-washed SoCal pedal steel and enough lyrical sentiment to make ol' Willie smile.

It's the latter of those two varieties that the band really key in on over the course of Muchacho. If those plush arrangements the band tangled with in past efforts were fleshed out and not tied to Telecaster chime, this would be the result. Or if Fleet Foxes (ca. "Blue Ridge Mountains") were from The South by way of Brooklyn. On the whole, though, Muchacho is less rural-sounding than might be expected. The harrowing, harmonic builds of its intro/outro piece "Sun, Arise!"/"Sun's Arising", overlay arpeggiated keyboard flirtations that yield to the heartbeat-like fluttering of 80s-era reverbed bass guitar on the spacious, bucolic standout "Song For Zula". Even the songs with considerable suburban bounce ("A Charm / A Blade", "Ride On / Right On") always maintain Muchacho's patient pace. Horn sections and string arrangements persist throughout the record, lending to grandiosity without feeling forced or overbearing as so often befalls indie bands that go for big, high-minded statements. Though, to be sure, Muchacho is one of those kinds of statements. Lots of lyrics about slaves and masters and chains and cages, etcetc, are apparent allegory for what sounds like a significant trough in bandleader Matt Houck's life, especially when delivered through his torn, trademark yelp. Get this now if you haven't already.

Highlights: "Walkin On A Pretty Day", "Goldtone"
There's an unassuming nonchalance that permeates Kurt Vile's music and insists, quite inacurrately, that what he's doing ain't all that difficult. Or at least that he's not trying all that hard. Hell, on Walkin' On A Pretty Daze, he even says as much, himself: "Making music is easy. Watch me!" he wisecracks on "Was All Talk". That line manages to catch everyone's attention. It sounds pompous, but not really because you know he's dicking around, but not really because a beauty like "Walkin On A Pretty Day" is fairly supportive of such an assertion. It's gorgeous. It's packed with spacey, compressed guitar phrasings that sound entirely effortless in their meditative meander. I've so often found myself wandering inward into some warm daydream (or, dare I say, some pretty daze) around its midpoint, only to rehappen upon reality X-minutes later encapsulated by the same jammy explorations. Shit's seriously beautiful, sons. It's the kind of shit that will make ya pause when you realize it came by the hand of a hessian-looking motherfucker that used to drive a fork-lift in Philly.

Save for the track "Too Hard" -- which would have fit perfectly on 2011's Smoke Ring For My Halo -- the hyper-precise finger-picking that's kind of become Vile's trademark is much less prominent this time out. For the most part it gets buried beneath layers of production in the space that had previously been reserved for his vocals. Now, though, Vile's voice is at or near the head of the mix on songs with more intentional pop gravity (or at least songs that sound like more sprightly versions of "Jesus Fever"). Here, atop an accompaniment that skips from one weed cloud to the next (though he insists he "never, as they say, touch[es] the stuff" -- right.), his offhand asides come across as seasoned witticisms from a dude that's been there / done that. The true gem is "Goldtone", a metered dose of everything that makes Kurt Vile and Wakin On A Pretty Daze enjoyable. (But, ay yo. Real talk: if you have a dog, keep the motherfucker away from the stereo when that final, panning guitar lick dances its way to the fore. They hate that shit something real.)


"Control" / Big Sean feat. Kendrick Lamar & Jay Electronica

This joint right here. "Control" was the happening in the hip-hop universe this year. In an annus that saw full-length releases from Jigga, Em' and 'Ye, nothing had anywhere near the immediate or lasting impact of the jam credited to Big Sean for all of about its first three minutes on this planet. Like, this beast split the year (and the current rap landscape, really) in two. There was a time before "Control", and there is the present day that exists in its wake. On one side of the divide are a bunch of glad-handing muhfuckas, and on the other there's King Kendrick Lamar. Really, ain't nobody e'en talmbout "Control" the song. Ain't nobody got time for that. All discussion is moot that is not centered directly on the track's main course: the three-and-a-half minute "guest verse" / "feature" / "outright massacre" laid down by K-Dot wherein, after ranking himself the best MC alive (followed by living legends and classic-makers HOV, Nas, Andre 3000, and Eminem), he carpetbombs every last notable motherfucker who failed to make that list, including the same two dudes sandwiching him on this very track. Remorseless shit.

The hip(ster)-hop tastemakers over at Pitchfork remain intent on stoking whatever semblance of rivalry exists between Kendrick Lamar and Aubrey Graham. That's all well and good or whatever. However, for reasons that defy logical explanation, when given the opportunity to take a side in the matter, they continue to advocate the furtherance of the spa-rap agenda with what appears to be zero regard for taste or art in general. Because let's be clear about this: no one is on Kendrick Lamar's level right now. He's where Wayne was when he let loose Tha Carter III but with more conscious interest in integrating depth and substance. No one is putting in the kind of intellectual labor lacing every cut on good kid, m.A.A.d city (edit: especially not Macklemore's lame ass). The brilliance of his verse on "Control" -- what ultimately twisted up so many banana hammocks -- wasn't that Lamar dissed half the game or did so by name. It wasn't that the West Coast's second coming all but annexed the Big Apple. It was that he made clear the merits of his assertion that he existed and operated on another plane entirely.  Every response verse that poured in during "Control"'s immediate aftermath only served to drive this point home further and further and further. It's telling that even in the age of the that's-cool-but-now-what's-next internet, the Kendrick diss track within a track stayed hot and relevant as lackluster, feeble retorts continued to trickle in four months after the fact.

gkmc is on the fast track to classic status. And with good reason. One thing that Kendrick Lamar made clear in his flawless debut was that he doesn't do throwaway shit. Every time the dude steps to the mic, it's with one intention: to quash competition. He's out to be the G.O.A.T., not just the best rapper alive. On "Control", he put the world on notice that the era of high-fives amongst rap homies had ended. If you let him on the track, you should know he will erase you if given the oportunity. Kendrick's taking kill-shots. If you standing on his corner, best make sure your colors correct.

Here's the hit list, served protein-style.

"Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around" / Sharon Van Etten &Shearwater

The A.V. Club's "A.V. Undercover" series is one of my favorite things on the web. It's high time you get familiar if you aren't already. The basic premise is that bands and solo acts choose songs from a predetermined list to cover for the site. Covers may not be repeated, and so the list narrows as each season nears its end. Tourmates Sharon Van Etten and Shearwater knocked out Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty's surpise b/w hit "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" in mid-2012, but it was formally released as a single this year on Record Store Day, so I'm including it on this list. I'm also including it because it rules and improves upon the original by increasing the tempo about ten beats-per-minute and substituting that early-80s soap opera guitar lick for something decidedly pastoral. The star, unsurprisingly, is Van Etten, whose vocal turn simply sounds more battered, weary and worn to shreds than Nicks' ever did.

"Get Lucky" / Daft Punk, "Blurred Lines" / Robin Thicke

I'ma be honest. I ain't even trying to hear for the umpteen-millionth time about how sexist the "Blurred Lines" video is. I'm just not.. I'll grant you that it's in bad taste, but that's about as far as I'll go. And how long's it been since we reasonably expected our pop stars to be purveyors of decency? A long fucking time, that's how long. The "Blurred Lines" clip is tame compared to the backyard rap video onslaught of the early aughts, and how hard did we cry about it back then. Furthermore, I know all the grouchiest feminazis be the first ones out on the floor when big Rob come in like, "E'rbody get up!" Talking shit the whole time. Don't deny it. I done seent it happen.

Anyway, you already know these were the two biggest goddamn songs of the year. I'm grouping them as one because they're all but inextricably linked to one another and will probably continue to be so for the better part of our lives due to their contemporaneous ubiquitousness and unimpeachable, retro-leaning pop cool. One's the best disco song ever laid down by French robots (or maybe anyone, ever), and the other is the best party jam Marvin Gaye's family wish he wrote. Oh, and Pharrell Williams somehow managed to carve out a niche on both, as well. I'm not remotely tired of either of these songs, and considering the extent to which they saturated the Summer of 2013, that kind of says it all.

Ladies, quit trippin' if you ain't the hottest bitch in this place.

[Ayo, I got all kinds of kids linking over here from Nickolodeon and shit, sons. (I gotchu, tho. NSFW shit right hurr.)]

"Pretty Boy (Peking Lights Remix)" / Young Galaxy

Young Galaxy's original "Pretty Boy" cut is pretty solid. Like I'd probably bump it on the semi-regular as it were. It's an earnest and driving confessional that I dig quite a bit. At the very least it's not something that immediately strikes as being in dire need of a reworking. What makes the Peking Lights remix of the track so neat is that the alterations are mostly minimal, but the effects on mood and vibe are substantial. The most beneficial addition is that of an almost inaudible, major-key bass rumble into the cavernous underbelly of the original mix. The subtle, pulsating rhythm succeeds in giving the song additional forward push while simultaneously instilling some much-needed levity. The underlying sentiment shifts from quasi longing to an almost pensive appreciation. It plays like a beach-side drive up the One, where natural beauty is amplified by the splendor of a significant other in the side-seat. Very wisely, the remix takes that feeling and stretches it out an additional two-point-five minutes replete with accentuated, augmentative percussion, both creating and making the absolute most of open space.

"Bound 2" / Kanye West

We all deserve Yeezus. All of us. Well, really the brunt of the blame has to go to National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. I mean, had they just given the dude the W for any of his three Album of the Year nods (The College Dropout, Late Registration, Graduation), we probably wouldn't be where we're at. Really, their biggest fuckup was not even nominating his best and most-deserving offering, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. I mean that thing was captial-A Art, through and through. And to get no respect? Of course that's going to cause some irreparable damage to a psyche (especially to that of a megalomaniac like Kanye West). Of course that's going to have repercussions, b. Regardless, though, we're all culpable to some extent if only for not hitting it with the hype it deserved. Any which way you cut it, Yeezus is essentially our comeuppance, Ye's capital-F Fuckyou. (Yo, look at the album cover. And he let Skrillex produce a goddamn track.) Of the many adjectives I could use to describe the record -- difficult, harsh, aggressive, etc -- "fun" sure as hell ain't one of them. If someone plays this in the car, they ain't trying to hear none from the backseat. If someone plays this at their house, they're trying to clear the place out. If you make it through the nine initial sonic assaults, though, you get the Classic Kanye gem "Bound 2". He's a fucking asshole, but the guy can pretty much kill it at-will.

"The Wire" / Haim

It took probably twenty-some-odd listens on SiriusXMU, but now ya boy rides for "The Wire". It just breaks down your defenses, and I -- just like so many others, I'm sure -- eventually submitted to its infectiousness. Honestly, I ain't even sorry about it. I fucks with the album version. I fucks with the variant they threw down for Daytrotter. Any which way way you cut it, "The Wire" is a perfect pop song. There is certainly an unconventional element to it, and it's got little to do with the Fleetwood-meets-Brandy tag critics keep trying to lob on it. It's interesting in that it's a break up song where the only crime committed is an uneventful end of a spark. It's an admission of what is often the harshest truth: that sometimes he or she is just not that into you. It's a resolution to pull the plug before the emotional obligation reaches critical mass and the ensuing fallout becomes less manageable. The song structure is in kind, forgoing the kind of chorus that would rile up a Staples Center worth of middle-aged moms for one approximating a cool (though not quite callous) shrug. The guitar riffs, though? Thems is ready for the Staples Center, no doubt.

"Nosetalgia" / Pusha-T

Yo, what's colder than cold? This motherfucker, right here, that's what. This joint is ice-motherfucking-cold. Like the mountains on this motherfucker ain't even dark blue, they blue-black. Everything about this "Nosetalgia" shit is perfect, a impeccable execution of minimalism. The beat is about as bare bones as it gets: some scant bongo action and singular, menacing plucks of an electric guitar. The imagery is so rich. Crack fumes in the kitchen, crack slinging in the school zone, crack fiends selling they nephew's Sega games for crack. Realness, y'all. There just ain't any room for flashy shit. There's mad amounts sonic real estate up for grabs here, and it gets filled to its borders with glacial sneer. Neighborhood P pulls another gem from his bag of top-tier coke tales, taking us back to Virginia where ain't shit to do but cook. Some of the sharpest lines (and THE harshest couplet) of the year are here, and T's full resurgence is all but encapsulated when he spits, "We don't drink away the pain when a ni**a die / We add a link to the chain, inscribe a ni**a's name in ya flesh." WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Rick Flair shit. It's only fitting that he hands the baton halfway to the only up-and-comer worthy, the dude Kendrick Lamar.

Now, remember just upstairs when I warned about the perils of giving Kendrick a feature, about how dude will stage a coup soon as you turn your back? If you're going to do it, this is how it's done, yo. King Push keeps it onehunned right off the bat so youngblood can't run away with the track. Dude keeps a watchful eye on son (metaphorically depicted in the fittingly frigid video below). I mean, Kendrick still does the damn thing. It's unquestionably his best verse of the year, artistically speaking. It's just nice to see the whole affair elevated when he's paired with someone else at the top of their game. "Nosetalgia" is Kendrick's "Control" challenge/call-to-arms in action. The effects are palpable and endlessly enjoyable.


Happy New Year, ya bish.

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