Ballou’s 2013 Music Superlatives

2013 was a very strong year for music, local or otherwise.  You’ve already seen our list of favorite releases from SC artists, now for something completely different.  Each of this lists is presented in no particular order with the only following rules:  If I picked an album as one of my favorites, then none of those songs would be included in the list of favorite songs (and vice versa).  Without further ado, my favorite music of 2013.

Favorite Albums

James Blake

James Blake – Overgrown

When James Blake released his self titled debut in the early months of 2011, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed.  I had fallen in love with his string of EP’s released the year before and wanted more of the same off the wall experimentalism.  What I found instead was an artist who really just wanted to sing.  In the years that have passed, Blake has simultaneously refined and broadened his sound.  This seems like a contradiction but these are the words that come to mind, especially if you listen to his work from those early days through both albums.  Bonus points for getting a RZA feature spot and that information not being leaked to the internet prior to the album’s release.

Kanye West – Yeezus

What more can we really say about Kanye?  I never did write a review of this prickly animal of an album, largely because by the time I sat down to actually write the thing I realized I had already said everything I wanted to say 1,000 times over.  Love him, hate him, ignore him; everyone has an opinion on Kanye.  I will say this:  no one in contemporary popular music is even attempting to do the things he has done over the last few years musically (and its really not even close).  The Kid A of hip hop albums.

Run The Jewels – S/T

El-P and Killer Mike seem like lost souls who have finally found each other in middle age.  Both have fairly accomplished careers under their belts as solo artists, but they seem revitalized by this collaboration.  The best pure hip hop release of the year.

Danny Brown - Old

Danny Brown might have a thing or two to say about that last sentence I just wrote.  Brown has earned a reputation as a “party rapper” (constantly referencing Molly will do that), and has spoken in recent interviews about how nowadays he feels, well, old.  Could’ve fooled me, as the back half of this release was chock full with trap bangers.  But before you got to those we had an extensive meditation from a star who has risen just as he reaches his mid 30’s.

Machinedrum - Vapor City

Travis Stewart aka Machinedrum had a banner year.  Outstanding releases under the Sepalcure and JETS (Jimmy Edgar+Travist Stewart) monikers preceded this release, his Ninja Tune debut, and it did not disappoint.  Check out his website with the interactive “boroughs” and video for each track

Burial – Truant/Rough Sleeper + Rival Dealer EP’s

The mystery man of electronic music (unless it’s been Four Tet the whole time) emerged from the haze of South London at the very beginning and very end of 2013, sharing five tracks split over two EP’s.  In a statement released after the more recent Rival Dealer, he stated that the music was intended to be anti-bullying themed.  I don’t know about all that, but I do know that “Rough Sleeper” is one of the most beautiful pieces of electronic music I’ve ever heard, and almost a year on still resonates with me as much as it did on the first listen.

Darkside – Psychic

Nicholas Jaar’s collaboration with  Dave Harrington technically put out two albums this year, one of them just so happened to be an elaborate reimagining of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories.  The other was a wildly psychedelic take on atmosphere and rhythm.  Evoking similar sounds and feelings as some of Jaar’s headier material, Pitchfork called the album the best approximation of Dark Side of the Moon since…ever.  Backing it up with an incredible live show that emphasizes the darkside of their name (zing), I feel that this album has legs and will continue to grow for me.

The Knife - Shaking The Habitual

THE forgotten gem of 2013, The Knife returned with their first official release since 2006’s Silent Shout.  In between they were busy working on an opera inspired by Darwin, and you can definitely tell that their ideas about music have shifted.  Out with the sugary sweet pop, in with the discussion of gender roles in society!  Thankfully they did not discard their undeniable sense of rhythm, and as weird as some of these songs are they are still danceable (I promise).

Death Grips - Government Plates

Released late in the afternoon of November 13th with zero warning, Death Grips did it again.  Not as wildly aggressive and abrasive as last years No Love Deep Web (don’t get crazy, it’s still Death Grips), the lastest work from the punkest band on the planet seems more like a science project in comparison.  Lead single “Birds” is probably the weirdest song they’ve ever released, which for this band is saying something.  As the band say themselves, “This Is Violence Now”.

Gold Panda - Half of Where You Live

Gold Panda’s sound has always had a distinct sense of youth and playfulness, and this album is no exception.  There is a definite aura of worldliness here and not just in the song titles.  This is the soundtrack to an imaginary train ride across a continent.


Favorite Songs

Chaz Bundick aka Toro y Moi aka Les Sins


Les Sins – “Grind” (from the Grind/Prelims EP)

2013 was a big year for retro-disco, and this song might have been my favorite lick of it

Sepalcure – “He Said No” (from the Make You EP)

Another Travis Stewart side project (alongside Praveen Sharma), Sepalcure appears to be where his more elegant and beautiful ideas are house.  This track is no exception.

Mount Kimbe – “You Took Your Time” (ft. King Krule) (from Cold Spring Fault Less Youth)

Mount Kimbie releases rarely involved feature vocal spots, but I don’ t think I can imagine a better voice for their music than King Krule.  Each has a distinctive weirdness and charm, and I would be very interested in a more extensive collaboration between the two

Queens of the Stone Age – “Kalopsia” (from …Like Clockwork)

QotSA have long been the modern masters of the heavy metal ballad (see: “Make It Wit Chu”), and this song was my favorite from a triumphant return album.

Shigeto – “Detroit Part 1″ (from No Better Time Than Now)

For someone so clearly indebted to J Dilla (who isn’t these days), it was fitting that Shigeto’s latest album would leave off with an homage to the Detroit beatmaster.

JD Reid – “Hawaii” (from the 88 EP)

A gem uncovered from the depths of Plastician’s Rinse.FM shows, this song was ice cold and gorgeous.

Favorite Mixes

Travis Stewart aka Machinedrum

KMLN – Spring Heals Winter Live @ Otis, San Francisco 3.13.13

I heard this mix at what amounted to an after party Friday night at Mountain Oasis this year, and since it has haunted my dreams.  The opening track is unforgettable, and with deliciously smooth transitions and more than a few familiar songs selected, this mix was equal parts alien and comforting.

Machinedrum – Essential Mix, BBC Radio 11.16.13

A delicious blend of juke/footwork, jungle, hip hop and R&B,  Machinedrum’s Essential mix covers a lot of ground.  I’ve heard him described as the “Disclosure of footwork”, and his pop side definitely shines through here.

Djemba Djemba & Mr Carmack – Diplo & Friends on BBC, 6.1.13

Bringing a higher minded idea of what trap can be to the table, Djemba Djemba and Mr. Carmack’s Diplo & Friends set felt feverish at times.  Given both artists’ penchant for variety, its a fairly straightforward mix but MAN does it pack a wollop.

Kode9 – Rinse 22, 5.20.13

Founder of the legendary Hyperdub label and a long time vet of the institution that is Rinse.FM, it seems crazy that there have been 21 other artists to do an official Rinse mix before Steve Goodman aka Kode9.  Hitting on that classic “Rinse” sound, while blending in plenty of Hyperdub label mates (and more footwork!), this mix has it all.

Ta-ku – Boiler Room Los Angeles 3.26.13

Luxury trap was everywhere in 2013, and there might not be anyone better at hitting that sweet spot between heavy 808’s and R&B than Regan Mathews aka Ta-ku.  Someone get this man a high hat counter.


Favorite Remixes

The Ta-Ku Drake Chart

Ta-ku – Closet Drake Fans (remix of Drake’s “Over”)

Disclosure – “You & Me” (Toro Y Moi Remix)

Machinedrum – “Gunshotta” (Om Unit’s Rollers VIP)

Gladys Knight – “Grapevine” (Mr. Carmack Remix)

Destiny’s Child – “Bills” (James Blake Remix) (NOTE: this was technically done 2 years ago but was not released until this fall)

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