Music

2013 in music: Josh Durham and WH Chong's highlights

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Josh Durham has culled his myriad enthusiams into a tight nine song list, plus a bonus hits and bits. DJ JD’s list starts with a killer Boards of Canada tune, peaks with The Drones and lands perfectly with Neko Case.

My Bloody Valentine, Melbourne Feb 2013
“Better without earplugs”

BACK FROM THE DEAD
Boards of Canada — Reach for the Dead
Its two minutes in when the chopper blades start circling and mutating into twisted hip hop beats and the John Carpenter haze recedes that you think, yes, Boards of Canada are back — same, same but different. More sinister perhaps. Not the standout track of a very solid album, but the one they built the album hype around, the one that sent out a clear message: the magic is still there, are you coming along for the ride?
My Bloody Valentine — Only Tomorrow
Servers crashed, nerves jangled — was it even going to happen? And then there it was: ‘mbv,’ the 1st new My Bloody Valentine album since 1991, and it was good — great even! Only Tomorrow could have been written in ’91 it fits so neatly into the ‘Loveless’ era MBV sound. It’s comfort food. I just love the way the guitars shift gears like an F1 driver through an annoying chicane — like the flexing of a muscle. And hell, they still manage to make the sound of a vacuum cleaner being pulled out at the wall melodic and intoxicating and just that is something to celebrate.
The Chills — Night of Chill Blue
NZ’s finest return with a new ‘live in studio’ album and a new song (not this one — the pop gem Molten Gold), but this 2013 version of classic Night of Chill Blue from the  ’Somewhere Beautiful’ album has an urgency and emotional potency to warrant repeat plays this year. Martin Phillips sings it like he’s covering a Joy Division song. All twinkling piano chords, blurry droning guitars and Moe Tucker drums, it’s intense and beautiful, a million miles from a Heavenly Pop Hit.

Gareth Liddiard of The Drones by Jason Benjamin, Archibald Prize entry 2011
THE STRIPED SUNLIGHT SOUND (Oz music)
Dick Diver — Alice
At some point during the 2000s inner city Melbourne bands remembered they live in Australia and not New York or Berlin and raided their parents’ record collections for Go-Betweens albums and the odd Flying Nun cassette. Ostensibly a love song to Alice (place, not girl) told through the eyes of city folk who ‘don’t deliberate, you set goals and you reach goals’ — as a counterpoint to a quiet spiritual awakening in the outback. Set to a melody with an ache worthy of Forster/McLennan, let’s hope they get out of Fitzroy more often.
The Drones — Why Write a Letter You’ll Never Send
Song of the year. The Drones on the other hand drink from a much darker, sinister well. It’s hard to write about this song, the last on ‘I See Seaweed’, without focusing on the lyrics — it is wordy and nine minutes; the two are intrinsically linked to build an intensity culminating in Gareth Liddiard screaming about Nazi Popes, the History Channel, anarchy and the Karma Sutra. Apocalyptic? Yes, but laced with humour and supple enough to swing from fury to tenderness without drawing breath.

Neko Case tours Australia in 2014, and will perform at Melbourne Zoo.
MANY HAPPY RETURNS
The Knife — Full of Fire
An epic nine minute return from The Knife taking their brand of haunted house music to to a frighteningly intense level. I can remember ‘Silent Shout’ being a staple in hipster clothing stores in the mid 2000s. Uncompromising and industrial, ‘Shaking the Habitual’ has more chance of inciting riots than shifiting skinny jeans.
The National — Graceless
Such grace — could The National ever be truly graceless? They are hardly Motley Crue. C’mon its Dad rock! ‘Trouble May Find Me’ was a patchy affair for me — their Coldplay moment if you will. Graceless sits neatly in the subgenre of rumbling National songs — coming out of the blocks with familiar quiet intensity and then kicking the door down (thoughtfully) with a bespoke shoe. And I am a sucker for them. There is that sense of dislocation at the emotional heart of a lot of their songs — that sense of a drunk rich middle-aged man dancing alone in his penthouse — that makes it hard to care about the characters in a National song. “There’s a science to walking through windows” intones Matt Beringer and for once you believe him.
Jon Hopkins — Open Eye Signal
Jon Hopkins’ richly textural sprawl of colour, Open Eye Signal, is both hypnotic and addictive. In techno parlance this would be termed a ‘banger.’ But it’s not strictly a club-only affair as it pushes and pulls with buzzy abrasive synths behind a lumbering distorted beat that threatens to run out of energy, before guzzling energy drinks and hitting the dance floor again to try out some new and even more elastic moves. From the Four Tet school of progressive house music you can listen to in the comfort of your home.
Neko Case — Night Still Comes
Neko Case repeating herself? When it’s this good, who cares? “If I puked up some sonnets, would you call me a miracle?” she asks.  The voice, THAT is the miracle. “I revenged myself all over myself” she says and I’m left thinking that minus the idiosyncrasies Ms Case would be massive — everything’s there — the songs, the chops, the voice for godsakes — so perfect you wouldn’t change a thing.
 
NEWBIES
Deafheaven — Vertigo
Forest Swords — The Weight of Gold
Dawn of Midi — Ijiraq
Julia Holter — Maxims I
OUTER LIMITS
Colin Stetson — To See More Light
The Necks — Open
Matana Roberts — Amma Jerusalem School
BEATS AROUND THE HEAD
Fuck Buttons — Stalker
Autechre — Itlite (get o)
Ka — Off the Record
Pantha Du Prince — Spectral Split
Oneohtrix Point Never — Zebra
GUILTY PLEASURES
Daft Punk — Get Lucky
Pissed Jeans — Bathroom Laughter
Foxygen — San Francisco
Vampire Weekend — Step
FAREWELL TRANSMISSION (obituaries)
Jason Molina (Magnolia Electric Company) — Farewell Transmission
Lou Reed — I’m Waiting for the Man
Josh Durham is a graphic designer who wishes he was old enough to have worked for Blue Note Records in the 60s. He is also a music obsessive and political tragic in that order.
+ + +

John Grant’s Pale Green Ghosts
Addendum: Editor’s choice by WH Chong
Favourite post break up album: John Grant — Pale Green Ghosts
Following Queen of Denmark, his folkily beautiful debut of love and love lost (Mojo’s Best Album of 2010), Pale Green Ghosts (Rough Trade‘s Album of the Year 2013) is pulsing disco threat and as funny as it’s scathing (“You could be laughing 65% more of the time”). Grant is touring Oz next year. The last track, Glacier is an epic piano ballad with my favourite old-style lyrics of the year:
This pain
It is a glacier moving through you
And carving out deep valleys
And creating spectacular landscapes…
Favourite belated album: Shabazz Palaces — Black Up (2011)
Finally caught up with this piece of aural excitement. Critically acclaimed for its politics and sound,the former spices the the latter which is turns me on; unpredictabilty as virtue. The Independent review suggested: “Elsewhere, themes of lust, power politics and rebellion are smuggled in via unusual locutions, de-synchronous beats and treated sample-loops — interesting stuff, though occasionally one yearns for a decent tune.” It is exactly the lack of tunes, instead a remarkably coherent set of disparate sounds, which madeBlack Up my most played album of the year.
Also:
Earl Sweatshirt — Chum
 (“Too black for the white kids and too white for the blacks.”)
James Blake — Retrograde (Blake says the song comes out of Sam Cooke’sTrouble Blues. He’s right, compare the opening vocals.)
David Bowie — Where Are We Now? (If any 70s rocker is going to flower into their sixties and seventies it won’t be Dylan or McCartney or Paul Simon. But there’s Lenny, Waits, Joni. And of course Bowie. Where Are We Now from this year’s ‘The Next Day’ has a beautifully vulnerable, faded and jaded vocal — touching (“Aint there one damn song that can make me / Break down and cry?” — Young Americans). But check the videos for Valentine’s Day andLove is Lost to see how willing Bowie is to display his age.
Lorde — Royals  Wow!
WH Chong is Crikey’s Culture Mulcher

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