Best of 2013: Books and Music

Books

I read a decent number of newly released books in 2013, which is surprising considering I spent a large amount of time in other activities but still that meant I came across a couple of gems.

I present to you three great books — one is a left-of-center thriller, the other two being collections of eclectic short stories.

All three are absolute must-reads, if you ask me.

Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon

BleedingEdge

There’s no denying the kind of enigma Pynchon is in the face of modern literature. A mystery to many, he is one of the last attempts in this increasingly marketing-oriented world who maintains his anonymity and for once is able to dissociate his works from his actual persona. Bleeding Edge is a Pynchon thriller in the truest sense. A heady combination that ties the 9/11 with the dot-com collapse in a ridiculously insane rollercoaster ride encapsulating both the universal and personal. Skipping between multiple genre, Pynchon’s trademark style flows through every sentence of this book and it only serves to enrich the troubled characters he portrays here. If there was ever a page-turner in 2013, this was easily the best example of it.

Smart, intelligent, reasonably interpretative and no-filler,no-nonsense thriller in the best ways possible.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

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I hadn’t read Russell’s earlier work Swamplandia which was praised by a few of my peers online, so I came into this not expecting anything. But what a brilliant and eccentric short story writer she turned out. Churning out eight gothic tales from the most unlikely scenario, it was her vivid writing which brought out the lush and dark imagery of her worlds. Evoking Lovecraft most commonly, Russell’s sensibilities and quality are consistent throughout which is fairly rare for a short story writer. Particularly the “Grave Doll of Eric Mutis” was a chilling coming-of-age tale.

Bright Lights and Glass Houses by Ashton Raze

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Some of the greatest horror tales do not involve any supernatural or “monster” element but instead is a shattered mirror reflecting our own selves and the world that we live in. Ashton Raze’s collection of twenty-two short stories are filled with numerous gems which are all stark reminders of our own lives all connected by some common themes underneath them all — death, loss and love. Raze is a fine writer as already evidenced by the excellent adventure game Richard & Alice, but this is easily his best work thus far. Conjuring up images while maintaining a cohesive style, BLGH is a great collection which even when it falters on a couple of stories, it still manages to paint a hauntingly beautiful imagery of the world it describes. One very much like our own.

Music

Best Album Cover

Kanye

Yeezus by Kanye West

Many great album covers in 2013 but this one takes the cake because it best summarizes both the raw, quickly and crudely production of the music inside and also of Kanye’s intention of doing whatever the fuck he wanted, fans’ expectations be damned. Never change.

Best Music Video

Marshal Dear by Savages

This beautifully animated anti-war video is a perfect complement to the intense and somber goth-cabaret closer from the Brits’ debut album.

Best Tracks

10) “How’s That?” by FKA Twigs

9) “I Sat by the Ocean” by Queens of the Stone Age

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOXaUjGk-yY

8) “Shut Up” by Savages

7) “Virginal II” by Tim Hecker

6) “For–Peter–Toilet Brushes—More” by Nils Frahm 

(also the best live performance in 2013)

5) “Master Hunter” by Laura Marling

4) “Innocence is Kinky” by Jenny Hval

3) “Where Are We Now?” by David Bowie

2) “Come Down To Us” by Burial

1) “Full of Fire” by The Knife

Albums

Honorable Mentions:

Wakin on a Pretty Daze by Kurt Vile

Modern Vampires of the City by Vampire Weekend

Mbv by My Bloody Valentine

Wild Light by 65daysofstatic

[self-titled] by Beyonce

The Bones of What You Believe by  CHVRCHES

EP2 by FKA Twigs

Lamentations of Swans by Azam Ali & Ramin Logan Torkin

Pain is Beauty by Chelsea Wolfe

Yeezus by Kanye West

Woman by Rhye

Random Access Memories by Daft Punk

Sunbather by Deafheaven

Virgins by Tim Hecker

Excavation by The Haxan Cloak

Sugarbread EP by Soap&Skin

The Top 10:

10) Reflektor by Arcade Fire

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Reflektor may have disappointed in some aspects but it was still a very solid album. After winning a Grammy and getting mainstream attention, this was going to be the album that was essentially going to split the fanbase on two. Instead, Arcade Fire chose to build their own path through the neon-lit corridors of 70s disco which under James Murphy bloomed beautifully on some tracks. Negating fans’ expectations is a hard thing to do, but its’ often the hallmark of great artists and Reflektor proved that once again. 

9) …Like Clockwork by Queens of the Stone Age

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For too long since their debut around 2000, QOTSA felt like they were regurgitating on their past formula trying in vain, to find their lost magic. That magic was found with …Like Clockwork which saw Josh Homme lead a determined band where almost everyone had found their groove. The riffs were meaner and noisier than their previous efforts but more importantly ridiculously infectious and catchy constructing incredible rock songs centered around their strengths.

8) The Electric Lady by Janelle Monae

Janelle+MonAe

Janelle Monae is the female pop icon our world doesn’t deserve. In an ideal world, all the teenage girls and women would look upto her but not in our world. On her official sophomore effort, Janelle collaborates with a variety of artists be it the oozing sensuality with Prince, the cool club-beat with Miguel, hip-beat with Erykah Baydu or the infectious title track with Solange. But above all, Janelle continues to reaffirm why she’s one of the most talented artists in today’s era skipping multiple genres with almost no effort, her voice and her style always carrying through all.

7) Rival Trader EP by Burial

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The mysterious South London enigma announced a new EP just mere weeks before he dropped us. There are fewer cult following for independent artists than Burial and the excitement was apparent. Turns out Rival Trader marks another brilliant addition to his “EP as an art form” line-up following his brilliant previous EPs like Kindred and Truant/Rough Sleeper. On this EP, Burial explores more personal issues especially related to bullying, alienation and gender identity crisis. Three tracks over a space of 25-odd minutes mark another brilliant and deeply effective work from the masterful artist.

6) Spaces by Nils Frahm

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Nobody had quite heard of Nils Frahm in the indie circles I stay in besides his few EPs, but when he dropped Spaces, many could not talk about anyone else. A brilliant collection of neoclassical music comprising of arrangements alternating between minimalist piano and richly textured synthworks. Nils’ brilliant performance in London sealed his reputation as a rising star.

5) Silence Yourself by Savages

(also Best Debut of 2013)

Savages

The Brit all-female quartet are so assured of their musical style and internal dynamics that its unbelievable that this is their debut. With music which harkens back to the early 80s particularly to Joy Division and Wire, Savages spin a modern twist to the post-punk formula with a relevant message to be angry about. They back that up with a perfect dynamic where each band member complements the other, churning out tracks which showcase some of the best works of the genre since Interpol debuted a decade back.

4) The Next Day by David Bowie

(also Comeback of 2013)

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It took me a whole minute into David Bowie’s comeback music video Where Are We Now? to realize that he was really back. Seeing him back, talking about seeing the world through the eyes of dead, looking back at his own legacy and contorting and twisting it — both with the album cover and the tracks — Bowie created one of 2013’s best self-referential albums which felt like a perfect “Thank You” to his fans who had hoped out of hope he would return. Not just that his voice has incredibly matured and that merely adds a layer to some of his tracks. That said, he’s still the soulful eccentric and that’s why  I’ll always love him.

3) Once I Was An Eagle by Laura Marling

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This 22-year old Brit continues to amaze me with her incredible maturity in her lyrical content and the expertise with which she can construct beautiful melodies with her acoustic guitar. On her fourth and most ambitious album yet, Marling begins with a five-song suite where one song easily melds into another, with small touches and string choruses to make it feel like a 20-minute ballad which is in itself an achievement for folk music. She follows it up with some of her most mature work yet, with songs that delve into relationship psyche as well as of solitude and its upsides. So early in her career, she still seems like she’s only getting into her stride now.

2) Innocence is Kinky by Jenny Hval

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2013 was ruled by the Scandinavians.

This eccentric Norwegian brought forth one of the most vicious and thoroughly eccentric “spoken poetry” album that incorporated elements of minimalist folk and post-rock into some of the most engrossing folk ballads I’ve heard in a while. Being a writer herself, Jenny’s lyrics are incredibly descriptive and vivid literally peeling out layers of female sexuality, occasionally evoking body horror and insecurities. Her voice with an incredible range is melded according to the lyrics, dynamically altering it with each phrase as the music around it wraps it in a coating that can best be called a heady mix of folk and poetry.

And it’s fucking awesome.

1) Shaking the Habitual by The Knife

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It was so obvious.

The Swedish duo of siblings abandoned their witch-doctor masks and disappeared in the background instead allowing a group of LGBT performance artists to take fore in all the promotional footage. This reflected deeply in the album and its title which was literally anti-establishment.

Literally dismantling conventional pop structure which came after their popular 2006 success Silent Shout, The Knife constructed complex rhythms comprising of Afro-beat, drone and intentionally jarring loud synths as they set apart in creating the artistically most cohesive album in a long while.

Nothing felt out of place. Not the 20-minute ambient drone piece splitting its two halves, nor the mirror-like relation both sides had to one another, or the 9-minute experimental string section Fracking Fluid Injection which imitated Mother Earth’s echoing screams of agony. In a year that continued an increasing global shift towards anti-establishment sentiments due to disillusionment of masses, this album at once best captured the mood of people in this day and age.