Once a year, the Ca Va Cool writing team packs their favourite records from the past twelve months into the trunk of the car and journeys to an unassuming silo somewhere in the Ontario countryside to duke it out.* Today, we emerge from this lost weekend with a consensus: our twenty best albums of 2013. With 10 writers contributing to the list, the bottom half is as eclectic as ever; from rap veterans to young folk songstresses, noisy British debuts to even noisier British follow-ups 20 years in the making, Ca Va Cool heroes of studio and stage developing their sound to breakout bands to look out for, and yes, even Danny Brown. Listening to the entire album is always ideal, but we’ve included links to our top tracks to enjoy as you read. Check back later this week for the conclusion of our list.
*It’s 2013, people; we just argued in a Facebook thread.
20. Run the Jewels
Considering it only took a year for El-P and Killer Mike to release another collaboration following the latter’s 2012 album R.A.P. Music, it’s hard to be surprised by the potency of this free 33 minute digital release. Really, all they needed to solidify their newfound friendship and undeniable chemistry was a name – Run the Jewels. It’s the mutual respect and admiration these two have for one another that has them consistently delivering such fluid and often staggering jabs. Mike bluntly declares how highly he thinks of El-P on second track “Banana Clipper”: “Producer gave me a beat, said it’s the beat of the year. I said El-P didn’t do it, so get the fuck outta here.” Despite the unmistakeable fury that can be found on any release by either artist, the pleasure they tuck in with that cynicism has never been more evident than when the two share rap duties. With both underground veterans’ wit on display throughout, boosted by some extra playful brutality, Run the Jewels is an album that both Company Flow and early Killer Mike fanatics and new fans can enjoy. — Jay Winer
Listeners—and some critics—have accused The National of being too dreary, too drunk, too awash in self-pity. They’re not totally wrong, and on their sixth record, Trouble Will Find Me, the band has sunk further into their swamp of sadness than ever before. But The National are getting older, and if they sound defeated it only makes sense. Once upon a time, frontman Matt Berninger sang about the twenty-something transition into “the un-magnificent lives of adults.” Trouble Will Find Me is what it sounds like when you’re finally there.
There’s something about the 13 tracks on Trouble Will Find Me that feels very adult, even for The National. These are complex, layered melodies, and band MVP Bryan Devendorf still carries tracks like the first single “Sea of Love” and “Graceless” with his driving drums. But the band’s frantic energy, which burned so brightly on Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers and Alligator, has dimmed over the years. The man who used to scream “My mind’s not right!” on “Abel” is still here, but now he’s come to terms with his situation.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Berninger’s lyrics are still wonderfully weird, and on songs like “Pink Rabbits,” his grandiose, tragicomic imagery fits perfectly with the music’s heaviness: pianos and choirs are moaning right along with him. These songs aren’t meant to build you up, the way that rock music often does; they’re designed to weigh you down instead. Trouble Will Find Me is the soundtrack to the life the band is living rather than the life you want them to be living, and in that, it’s shamelessly honest. Sooner or later, we all have a moment where we need our girl.
Tags: The National
Primavera Sound is an overwhelming and vastly stimulating music pilgrimage made each year to Barcelona, Spain. Over two hundred bands across eleven stages and timetables that schedule sets well past five in the morning make the musical mecca a monstrous undertaking. Fortunately, 140,000 music lovers joined me over the course of the three main days and two satellite events to dance, sing, and even swim at the Parc del Fòrum and Poble Espanyol. The eclectic line-up saw everything from unabashed hip-hop to captivating folk ballads and electronic DJ sets. Though the scheduling and sheer volume of music can make it difficult, somehow we found time to sleep amid the madness.
Getting any rest was a predicament owing to the tension of anti-government protests consuming Barcelona’s Plaça de Catalunya over the course of the week. Demonstrators voiced their concerns over the political and economic situation in Spain emphasizing the growing problem of unemployment amongst youth in the country. Primavera Sound also overlapped with the UEFA Cup Champions League final between FC Barcelona and Manchester United. As a result, the Saturday night schedule saw a two-hour gap in music as fans flooded the Llevant stage to watch the match on enormous screens. Whether or not you were a football fan, Barcelona’s victory was instantly apparent as celebrations ripped through the streets and onto La Rambla well past the closing sets at Primavera that night.
Outside its musical aspects, Primavera held an array of meanings. The festival had its transformative qualities, for instance, the colour and amount of wristbands one donned was the founding rule of social hierarchies over the duration of the week. Wrist apparel, stickers, and swipe cards, clung, stuck, and hung off fans as they hustled across the festival grounds. The photo areas provided amusement by way of disgruntled Spanish photographers who complained of poor lighting throughout various sets. Ultimately, the true meaning dawned as I watched a communal dance break out during ‘Summertime Clothes’ by Animal Collective as they closed out the festival at 2AM on the San Miguel Stage. It is my hope that the following images, sounds, and commentary will help convey the innumerable untellable sentiments of Primavera Sound 2011 with you.
Tags: Animal Collective, Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti, Baths, Belle & Sebastian, Caribou, Cults, Deerhunter, Emeralds, Fleet Foxes, Gang Gang Dance, Glasser, James Blake, Primavera Sound, Sufjan Stevens, The Flaming Lips, The National, The Tallest Man on Earth, tUnE-yArDs, Twin Shadow, warpaint
Concluding our list of the best albums of the year, today we bring you our top ten. Though the airwaves are currently plagued by some kid from Stratford, Ontario with a terrible haircut, these are ten albums that will have a lifespan far beyond 2010. As always, thanks for reading, we hope you’ve enjoyed visiting our site this past year as much as we’ve enjoyed making it. See you in 2011.
10. The National – High Violet
Not much has changed for The National since Boxer, for better or worse. Matt Berninger still sings about drugs in an apathetic baritone, while Antony and Bryce Dessner layer drum hooks below guitar hooks below lugubrious three or four-note melodies. High Violet is a statement that the band have pretty much found their sound, and it’s very good listening, though it isn’t the high-water mark Boxer was. It features no ‘Fake Empire’-style polyrhythms, nothing quite as quizzically heartbreaking as ‘Brainy’; if anything, it’s cleaner and slightly louder than earlier releases, adding a touch more of Springsteen by way of The Hold Steady. The epic thickness of their sound is as comforting as ever. Clap your headphones on, dial the volume up, and lie back for 48 minutes on a road trip through your mind. Who cares exactly what a lemonworld is? It sounds good. — Josh Penslar
Maybe I’m getting too old for festival concerts. Between slathering myself with SPF60, eating $5 hot dogs, running spastically between stages, cursing the overlapping schedule, being inundated with corporate sponsorship and drinking watery beer, I was caught between disillusionment and laughter toward the predictable pattern of music fests.
The Osheaga Music and Arts Festival is in its fifth year, and has swelled from 25,000 to over 50,000 attendees. Despite my opening tirade, Osheaga has plenty to offer: a grassy hill with convenient stage view, venues of varying size (from cozy small sets to mega concerts), performances for many tastes (from small Quebecois bands to…Snoop Dogg?), the ability to walk freely with your drinks (goodbye, beer tent!) and free underwear to anyone willing to provide American Apparel with their email address.
When surrounded by so much chaos, I seem to morph into a reactionary skeptic. I should subtitle this post “The Festival Concert in which Sabrina Becomes a Huge Indie Music Cynic.” So, I apologize ahead of time if any readers take my grumbling opinion personally. But here it is, Osheaga 2010.