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Because You’ve Already Heard Yeezus: 15 Less-Than-Obvious 2013 Albums That Deserve Your Attention

written by: on July 9, 2013

We’ve reached the halfway point in the year, so naturally it’s time for everyone to share their lists of the year’s best release thus far. While it’s likely that these lists will be flooded with the likes of Kanye West, Daft Punk and Vampire Weekend, we figure that everyone’s already heard them and formed their own opinions. Instead of telling you more about those releases—and some of those other obvious titles—we’ve got 15 other ones you may have overlooked, but still deserve to be heard.

bathsBaths – Obsidian

Will Wiesenfeld’s first album, 2010’s Cerulean, offered us another promising new voice in the experimental pop arena. Sitting somewhere between Passion Pit and Flying Lotus, the album was somewhat spastic, but mostly pretty and fun. Obsidian, the 2013 follow-up, shows Wiesenfeld honing his craft. Darker and more immersive, the music gives the vocals more room to breathe, pushing forward stronger melodies and more provocative lyrics. And it may just be those lyrics that turn some heads away. Wiesenfeld is openly gay, but to take his words only for their homoerotic nature belies the universal themes addressed. While at times he’s cold and carnal: “It is not a matter of if you mean it/But it is only a matter of come and fuck me” (“No Eyes”), on “Incompatible” he recalls “On the nights you roll over and introduce yourself/Nurse this erection back to full health…I am elsewhere,” depicting an awkward, but realisitc picture of a failing live-in relationship. It’s that open, honest, straightforward writing that makes Obsidian affecting. – Chris Favata


deafheavenDeafheaven – Sunbather

Sunbather is one of the most successful nascent mainstream breakouts in a persistently difficult-to-define niche. Blending post-rock, post-metal, and post-everything, Deafheaven’s sophomore album is as tenebrous as it is triumphant. The band’s musical prowess is displayed within a number of individual opuses, “Dream House,” “Vertigo,” “The Pecan Tree,” and the title track, each clocking between nine and 15 minutes. In between are episodes that show the group’s versatility on top of their sheer instrumental talent; the whole collection is a cohesive panorama that exists almost as “post-genre.” – Rick Homuth


dirtybeachesDirty Beaches – Drifters/Love is the Devil

When Alex Zhang Hungtai dropped his breakout album, 2011’s Badlands, many critics referred to it as his debut. Long-term followers (or those fervently converted enough to scour his Bandcamp) knew better. His new double album expands on the ambient territory of his early releases, drawing from more personal experiences – as far as harsh truths go, the Badlands protagonist being “a fucking character I made up” will rank up there for newer fans. There are traces of that album’s lo-fi death trip: the circular, glowing “I Dream in Neon,” the lurching menace of “Casino Lisboa.” But even the “rockers” are more electronic here, the throbbing bass lines punctured by woozy organ buzz. With its largely unintelligible lyrics and INXS-on-acid vibe, Drifters is the night out—in casinos, alleys and other unsavory places—while the mostly instrumental Love is the Devil picks up the pieces on the morning after, all lonely landscapes and weary melancholia. The result is a surprisingly fillerfree travelogue of his past two years in transit—he throws in Spanish and French on “Mirage Hall” and “Au Revoir Mon Visage.” It’s a new-phase Dirty Beaches album, for sure, but also the most honest record he’s ever made. – Alex Bahler


Disclosure-SettleDisclosure – Settle

Debut records are easy because nobody expects anything of you. The downside of this axiom is that most debut albums fade relatively quickly from overhype. Yet from the brilliant early singles in mid-2012 (“Latch”), Britain house brothers Disclosure have rode the crest of a wave for almost as long as any hyped electronic breakout artist in recent memory. And why not? Melding elements of ’90s speed-jam (“You & Me”) and starlet English garage/R&B phenoms like Sam Smith, Jessie Ware and AlunaGeorge, the brothers Lawrence have crafted a vital and inclusive entry into contemporary electronica. Whether grooving to the incredible hook in “White Noise” or burrowing into the ministry sample on “When A Fire Starts to Burn,” Settle is a joyous debut that doesn’t make things any easier for stars-to-be Disclosure going forward. – Tyler Remmert


GalacticCannibalGalactic Cannibal – We’re Fucked

There’s a personal renascence to be had in one’s first listen-through of “We’re Fucked”—the middle school goosebumps all came flooding back like I’d just heard Andrew W.K. for the first time, or seen my first basement punk show. The debut full length from Milwaukee’s Galactic Cannibals has all the hallmarks of a textbook pop-punk album: contagious verses, heavy, solo bass riffs, and snotty shout-alongs. But the band of hardened DIY veterans bring to the table such relentless energy that calling it “pop-punk” seems oddly vulgar, and undoubtedly insufficient. Regardless, We’re Fucked is abrasive ass-kickery injected straight into the neck, and I challenge anyone to listen to this record and drink a beer slowly. – Rick Homuth

jamesblakeJames Blake – Overgrown

“Suddenly I’m hit” felt like the most perfect way to describe an unexpected and life-changing love for James Blake. For Overgrown, this guy fell hard and deep, throwing all his emotions on the table to provide an entrancing experience for the listener. With “Retrograde” and others, the buildup felt intoxicating. Much like the blinding captivation of this romance, the lush, colorful love became echoed in each sonic explosion. This album coerced undeniable infatuation with love, the kind that reels and conquers and governs over all forms of life. James Blake fell in love and wrote down his feelings in the most classic and casual way before formally articulating these thoughts through sound. And the singer, in true genre-bending formula, spiffed up his synthesizer, tuned his guitar and tightened the bassline for some powerfully mature and transient effects. We won’t hear music this remarkable for a while. – Jason Radford


lauramarlingLaura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle

As a folk revivalist channeling Shirley Collins vocals and employing raw lyrics akin Neko Case, Laura Marling has never been much for sugar or fragility in her songwriting. But, the warrior approach Marling takes in Once I Was An Eagle makes the odes of wisdom and cunning heard in her previous albums appear to be poppy spats of feminine proclivities. Eagle showcases a 23-year-old Marling who continues to stretch her wings (pun intended), establishing herself as a female singer-songwriter whose music refuses to be categorized by the counterproductive “girl power” nuance. Rather, adder-tongued songs such as “Master Hunter” and “Undine” are delivered with an intensity that establishes Marling as a soothsaying crooner with gladiatorial capabilities that dwarfs her contemporaries, as evidenced in the title track: “Once I was an eagle, and you were a dove.” – Ciara Shook


localnativesLocal Natives – Hummingbird

Reminding myself not to compare Hummingbird too harshly to the original Local Natives album Gorilla Manor really challenged me. I couldn’t tell if the change in tone was a rapid growth in maturity where the band had moved onto deeper emotional patterns or if a more serious tone acted as a means of avoiding the classic sophomore slump. Maybe the content fell in line with whatever was happening in the band’s personal lives. But when I shut my mind off, I felt the youthful, promisingly professional energy that had never wavered in the four years between two brilliant albums. I found something to jive to and something to relate to just as I had in previous experiences. And God damnit, I had missed hearing such wonderful words uttered behind a mustache as appetizing as Taylor Rice’s. Hummingbird landed exactly where it was supposed to. – Jason Radford


Mikal-Cronin-MCIIMikal Cronin – MCII

Coming off a strong self-titled debut and a guitarist spot in pal Ty Segall’s band, Mikal Cronin could have darted into a San Francisco studio with 12 demos and a few hours of free time to make a hasty Part Two. But MCII is a sequel in name only, besting its predecessor the way The Empire Strikes Back did to A New Hope: with more gut-wrenching pathos than you’d previously thought possible. “Weight” offers empathy for those trying to make a similar improvement to themselves but choking on the inertia. Segall shows up exactly once, but this is Cronin’s show, and anyone still thinking he’s Ty’s sidekick will be swiftly corrected. Soft spoken in person, Cronin lets the melodies do the talking, his Brian-Wilson-meets-J-Mascis melodic swoon on full display here. He ditches the garage for the beach, and tracks like “Shout It Out” and “See It My Way” belong in the sand with any towel, cooler and 12-pack. The best part is the left-turn climax, “Piano Mantra,” a brutal track that’ll leave you barely breathing. Hope that sunscreen’s tear-proof. – Alex Bahler


misterliesMister Lies – Mowgli

Chicago-based musician and producer Nick Zanca caught some attention with his 2012 EP Hidden Neighbors, under the moniker Mister Lies. By now, everyone’s heard gorgeous, ambient beats paired with the odd vocal sample, but no one could deny the extreme beauty and replay value of its closing track, “Cleam” (seriously, click that link and listen to it right now). Nevertheless, the full-length is a tough task for that style, so it’s no wonder Mowgli  sounds like it could have been made by an enitrely different person. Its beats are heavier, its scope is bigger. The vocal samples are no longer pivotal, only making occasional appearances. It’s easy to put the album on to get your groove on, but it’s just as easy to use it as mood music. Over the course of its 34-minute runtime, Mowgli showcases an artist struggling with emulating the greats that influence him while proving that he is an individual. Zanca plays the balancing act well, and by the time the wonderful horn sample fades on finale “Trustfalls,” it’s hard not to pin Mister Lies as a name to remember. -Chris Favata


parquetcourtsParquet Courts – Light Up Gold

Carefree post-punk has never sounded better than on the tumbling tracks of Light Up Gold, the first full-length from Brooklyn DIY scalawags Parquet Courts. Although initially released in August 2012 on frontman Andrew Savage’s label Dull Tools, the album enjoyed massive critical and commercial acclaim as a reissue on the large label What’s Your Rupture? in January of this year. The four-piece outfit brings a freewheeling sense of fun and youthful energy to every song, but the zippy rush of “Borrowed Time” is the best example of garage rock running free. – Leah Pickett


SSavages-Silence-Yourselfavages – Silence Yourself

As their ferocious name implies, the British punk rockers of Savages defy the cutesy girl band stereotype with music that snarls, blazes and rips our modern, tech-obsessed society to pieces. The insanely talented quartet has a poised command of such blunt-force songs as “Hit Me,” “No Face,” and “Shut Up,” with guitar cuts searing and bass drums pulsating like heartbeats throughout. However, the phenomenal first single “Husbands” still resonates as the most eerily gratifying track on Silence Yourself, one of the rawest and most astounding debut albums since Nirvana’s Bleach. – Leah Pickett


Telekinesis-DormarionTelekinesis – Dormarion

In the third release from this Seattle-based one-man band, Michael Benjamin Lerner’s music establishes a young artist who has explored the darkness and light of his own songwriting, and has settled for the tempered but wise sound heard on Dormarion. The tracks run the gamut of supercharged adrenaline shots (“Empathetic People”), to rosy campfire ballads (“Symphony”), all of which force a bobbing head or rocking hips during the appropriate intensities. Telekinesis demonstrates a breed of “smart pop” whose tracks are easy to listen to, but are by no means easily executed by the multitalented Lerner. As an album ideal for a sunny afternoon stroll or late night drive, Dormarion is the summer album you haven’t yet heard. – Ciara Shook


veronicafallsVeronica Falls – Waiting for Something to Happen

On their second full-length release, London’s co-ed quartet Veronica Falls have successfully avoided the dreaded sophomore slump, for the most part. Such a stellar debut was a tough act to follow, and there’s no “shock of the new” on Waiting For Something To Happen, but their songwriting skill and musical confidence have strengthened nonetheless. In fact, newness was never their strong suit—the group’s songs are so pure and to-the-point, it becomes difficult to distance them from their inspirations, and at times it’s hard to see Veronica Falls as more than just an assemblage of their influences. Upon first listen, many critics lumped them into the bands inspired by the seminal C86 collection released by UK music periodical New Musical Express (most apparently The Shop Assistants and The Pastels). But in interviews such as my conversation with their drummer in early 2012, the group’s members have been quick to distance themselves from that source of inspiration, pointing more toward American indie-pop like Beat Happening and New Zealand’s The Chills and The Clean, and are clear that they never compose songs aimed at sounding “like this” or “like that.”  While it’s not as perfect as their eponymous debut, even the album’s weaknesses grow on the listener after repeated spins. – Craig Bechtel


waxahatchee-cerulean-saltWaxahatchee – Cerulean Salt

With Liz Phair’s seminal Exile In Guyville turning 20 this year, it seems only fitting that Katie Crutchfield would release one of the more worthy successors to that record. Varied in tone, tenor and tempo, Cerulean Salt is a reminder that no matter how disjointed the sonics can sound, a great songwriter can hold almost any record together. Vascillating from sun-drenched beach-pop (“Lips and Limbs,” “Coast to Coast”) to bedroom folk (“Hollow Bedroom,” “You’re Damaged”) to dirge-y post-emo (“Misery Over Dispute,” “Peace and Quiet”), Waxahatchee’s sophomore record is confirmation that while Guyville’s excellence may have been a flash in the pan, prodigious emotional talents like Katie Crutchfield are more than capable of carrying Phair’s mantle in the 21st century. – Tyler Remmert