The 2013 Emmy Awards

Well, y’all, this appears to be the first awards show I’ve done twice. Actually, the VMAs probably should be, since the nominations came out a little before the Emmys, but that’s still forthcoming. Mainly because I’m a capricious, unpredictable bastard, and also because the Emmys are fundamentally less interesting, and therefore easier to write about quickly. Anyway, you know the drill. I’m right, they’re wrong, any discrepancies are the result of the Emmy voters being bribed by the cigarette and cookie companies.

Best Variety Series
Oh hell. I don’t know. The Daily Show did a pretty good job with a substitute host. I guess them, although every year that Stephen Colbert continues to be funny in the same character in what is essentially a one-man show, I’m more impressed. Maybe next year.


Reality Competition Program
It really should be Chopped, but of course the Emmy nominators hate Ted Allen as much as everyone else should1. If you suspect that that sentence doesn’t make any sense, you’re wrong. Anyway. I like the judging panel on So You Think You Can Dance, but also the judging panel from Project Runway.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: The winner will be decided by a reality competition program that is made from holding a reality-show judging competition between the judging repertory panels of So You Think You Can Dance and Project Runway. It would, of course, be judged by Tom Colicchio, because nobody out-judges Tom.

Host for a Reality or Reality Competition Program
You know who should never, ever win anything? The people involved in The Taste. That show sucked. In fact, I think Anthony Bourdain should have some awards taken away from him for his involvement in that nonsense2. Tom Bergeron and Ryan Seacrest have had the same job for a billion years, and as far as I can tell they’ve done their job the same way for each of them. Nobody gets awards for that. I refuse to acknowledge Betty White’s Off Their Rockers, because what the hell, America? So Cat Deeley or Heidi Klum3. Well, Heidi Klum4 has been doing this for a long time as well, but she’s had to deal with changing networks and shit. I think she’s also a producer or something. I don’t know. Anyway, Cat Deeley is a great host and I think she’s just swell. Although she probably wouldn’t have stood up to the Heidi Klum5 of a few years ago.


Miniseries or Movie
Once again, American Horror Story is nominated as a miniseries. Is this because each of the seasons is self-contained? Is this all a ploy to get more Emmy nominations? Can that possibly be a concern for FX? Anyway. I should probably be more excited about Top of the Lake, and I should probably have more to say about Behind the Candelabra, but I’m a simple man, with simple tastes.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: American Horror Story: Asylum

Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special
Man that’s quite a list of directors. Seriously. That’s quite a list of directors.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: I dunno. Does David Mamet have an Emmy? He should probably have an Emmy.

Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or Dramatic Special
Do people really even make dramatic specials anymore? Don’t they just count as movies? Anyway.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Parade’s End. I haven’t seen it, I just think it would be funny to give Tom Stoppard an award for writing American television. I bet he would too.

Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
I just want to point out that these category titles are coming directly from the Emmys’ website. So apparently whatever a “dramatic special” is or used to be, it’s not allowed to have great supporting actors in it. I kind of don’t want this to turn into a giant expose of how much I love American Horror Story, but I’ll be damned if I’m giving Count Backula a goddamn award.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: James Cromwell. He’s taught pigs to herd sheep, discovered the warp drive, and now chopped Chloe Sevigny’s legs off. Truly, he is a hero.

Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
I haven’t seen the Lifetime remake of Steel Magnolias.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: ….but boy Alfre Woodard is a good choice to play Ouiser. Also, I have nothing else to say about this category.

Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
I am woefully behind in my miniseries or movie watching this year. Al Pacino’s hair as Phil Spector was impressive. Michael Douglas’ hair as Liberace was impressive.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Toby Jones, because why the hell not?

Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
No, but really. Every year I think “I really should watch these things that everyone’s always going on about” and then every year I think “yeah, but none of these things look funny and I’m not spending three hours on something dumb, even if it does have Helen Mirren (or Sigourney Weaver, or Ellen Burstyn, or Alfre Woodard, or Matt Damon) in it.” It’s hard being me, y’all.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Oh, it’s probably Sigourney Weaver. I mean, honestly. How could it not be?

Comedy Series
I don’t know how it got nominated, but this category was won before it was ever even decided on. 30 Rock went out, and that’s nice. Girls had a troubled second season, so this isn’t the year for it, Modern Family did fine work doing what it always does, The Big Bang Theory probably shouted their catchphrase a bunch, and Veep was honesty, legitimately great. But none of them should win.

Directing for a Comedy Series
I will say this: Lena Dunham, despite being a lightning rod for people hating her beyond all possible explanation6, is an excellent director, especially of television. And I’m sure those other people are too. Glee looks like it takes a lot of work, for example. Plus this could be the Emmy’s big chance to show how deeply they cared about Corey Monteith or something, but honestly?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Louis CK, Louie. Because, really: it’s hands-down the best comedy (if not the best show outright) on television.

Writing for a Comedy Series
GUYS. THERE’S GOING TO BE A PATTERN HERE. Anyway. Television is, I feel, for comedy. At least most of the time. It’s possible to have a rewarding television drama, even outside of premium channels, obviously, but it’s a lot more difficult and you have to forgive a lot more. All of which is to say: Episodes and The Office are just fine, if a bit not quite worthy of addition here. And, actually, I bet “Hogcock!” could have won. I want to give these things out to other shows, I really do. It’s boring to see a sweep.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: “Daddy’s Girlfriend (Part 1)” is one of the best things I’ve ever seen on television. Ever.7

Guest Actor in a Comedy Series
….why do Saturday Night Live hosts count as guest actors and not as hosts? That’s weird, and I’ve never noticed it before. Anyway. This is going to start to look like a conspiracy, because I love Jenna’s boyfriend Paul, and I love Nathan Lane on Modern Family, but seriously.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Louis C.K., if only for the “Lincoln” digital short and his monologue. And that’s the last one that goes to him, I promise.

Guest Actrss in a Comedy Series
OK RIGHT UP TOP: I had to come down here and check to make sure that neither Maria Bamford nor Parker Posey was nominated for Louie before I swore off giving awards to Louie. Melissa Leo did a fine job, but since she wasn’t even the best guest star in that season, she doesn’t get to be the best guest star of the year. Molly Shannon and Mike White working together is the stuff that dreams are made of, but unfortunately I’m behind on Enlightened and haven’t caught her on it yet. Glee sucks.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Melissa McCarthy, who did one of the only consistent jobs hosting Saturday Night Live all year. She didn’t do anything as good as the “Lincoln” digital short, but that’s ok, because she was also much better in sketches.

Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Man, this one comes down to my two favorite comedy characters on television. So to start with the easy stuff: Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Ed O’Neill are funny, but they’re not even the funniest people on their show, let alone of the year. Bill Hader was too inconsistent, even if his exit from SNL was basically the best thing ever. So is it Ty “Phil Dunphy” Burrell or Tony “Gary Walsh” Hale?

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: I honestly don’t know. I wouldn’t want to see either of them lose. I legitimately call this one a draw.

Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
No, but seriously, Glee sucks. Sofia Vergara and Julie Bowen are both very talented women whose characters have grown increasingly one-note. Merritt Weaver, Mayim Bialik and Anna Chlumsky all have funny names.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jane Krakowski, I guess. Since Will Forte couldn’t get it for Paul, we’ll have to hope that he accepts it in costume for Jane Krakowski.

Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
…..shit. I didn’t look far enough down the list. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.


Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
I know I should have noticed this before, but none of the actors on Modern Family are nominated in lead roles, even though Ed O’Neill quite famously earns, like, ten times as much as everyone else. That’s kind of nice. Also: this is the hardest category in which to make a decision. Laura Dern, Amy Poehler and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss are all doing yeoman’s work. I mean, Tina Fey probably deserves some love, but one of the problems with long-running tv series is that the characters are the things that suffer, and Liz Lemon was no exception. Anyway.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Julia Louis-Dreyfuss. Because at least she has Louis in her name.

Drama Series
I should just copy and paste my entry from last year. Nothing’s changed.


Directing for a Drama Series
Y’know, although each of these episodes of television is competently directed, there’s also a pretty stultifying sameness of style to them all. Oh, sure, Breaking Bad’s actual cinematography is better, but there’s still the same extremely-formulaic layout of shots and setups that says “this are srs teevees.” That’s not necessarily to anything’s detriment: television, as a medium, relies pretty heavily on being able to use that shorthand to tell its story, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Nevertheless, it leaves one in a bit of a bind when it’s time to decide who should get the award for it.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: “House of Cards, Chapter 1”, because it isn’t directed to look the same as other television dramas. Although this could also be because it wasn’t actually directed to be on television. Or, well, not broadcast on television anyway. You know what I mean.

Writing for a Drama Series
Do the Emmy people not know that the adjective form of the word is “dramatic”? It’s “dramatic,” guys. Anyway. Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, blah blah blah. Hell, throw in a blah for Homeland. They’re all shows that survive on, respectively: their cast and scenery, their IP, fanservice and scenery and Mandy Patinkin’s beard. And not their writing.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: I suppose it’s “Dead Freight,” but really, it all comes out the same in the end.

Guest Actor in a Drama Series
Harry Hamlin always looks like a fake person to me. Like someone actively decided that they were going to look like a police sketch. It turns out this is all I have to say about the nominees for this category.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: This award will have to be not given out, so that we have an extra one to give out back during the Comedy Supporting Actor tie. Sorry, guys. There’s only so many of these things.

Guest Actress in a Drama Series
On the one hand, yay for Margo Martindale, and yay for The Americans. On the other hand: yay for just about everyone else in this category! This is a good category.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Jane Fonda, who’s basically the only actor on The Newsroom that hasn’t spent at least 50% of their screentime thoroughly embarrassing themselves.

Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
As much as I like Peter Dinklage, and as much as I like Mandy Patinkin’s beard, there was only ever one place for this to go.


Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Uh. Well. Hm. I feel like Anna Gunn deserve some sort of restitution for having to play a character who’s not only written to be the most awful, but also for having to deal with people that can’t separate her, as a person, from her role (look it up). I feel like Emilia Clarke and Christina Hendricks aren’t actually acting so much as “having boobs, only one of which exposes them to the cameras but honestly that’s probably fine.” Morena Bacarin is great. Christine Baranski is great.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Oh, it’s probably Morena Bacarin. I have to stop holding Firefly against her sometime.

Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Well, it’s Bryan Cranston again, although good job, Jon Hamm.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Bryan Cranston, although if there’s a way to rig one of these up with some sort of Batman-villain-style memory-destroying dust and blow it up in Jeff Daniels’ face so that he has absolutely no memory of being associated with The Newsroom and is therefore able to go about his life doing other things, then he should get it, but only under those circumstances.

Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Some of you are almost definitely doubting my commitment. You’ve read this far and you’ve thought “my word, has he changed? Has growing old softened him? Has he, in fact, gone mad?” No, my fine, feathered friends. I remember why you’re here. I remember why you’re reading. I remember my purpose not only in setting out upon these awards show guides, but in continuing them, and it’s for one reason only. And that reason is right here in this category.

THE RIGHTFUL WINNER: Mrs. Coach’s hair. Oh, the show may be somewhat silly, but her hair is doing absolutely wonderful work8.

1 I mean, Chopped is great, but Ted Allen still isn’t.
2 this isn’t necessarily anti-Bourdain sentiment. If I thought that anyone else on that show had ever won an award, I’d demand they have their award taken away as well.
3 and, technically, Tim Gunn.
4 and, technically, Tim Gunn
5 and, technically, Tim Gunn
6 I know that last year I pledged not to get into it, and I’m still not going to (albeit at this point because it’s all post-facto), but I think we can all, as grownups, agree that the level of hatred people have for Lena Dunham is not commensurate with how we should feel about someone who makes a television show.
7 except, possibly, “Daddy’s Girlfriend (Part 2)”

8 also, I think that Keri Russell is being criminally slept-on for her work in The Americans, but I would like to take this opportunity to say that I’m glad she wasn’t nominated for an emmy, because the very idea of having to choose between Felicity’s hair and Mrs. Coach’s hair was almost enough to make me faint dead away. So thank you, Emmy Nominating Shadow Government, for that if nothing else.

Februarymakeup’s Exra-Official Best Songs of the First Half of 2013

Hey there! It’s the beginning of July again, which means it’s time for me to tell you what the things worth hearing have been! As always, this list is definitive. There were many more than 50 good songs in this six month period, but these 50 are, irrefutably, the best. You can find them here, should you want to download them all in one giant folder. Thank you.

=kitty= – ☠DEAD❤ISLAND☠
Really, the only problem here is answering the question “where does an equal sign that actually represents whiskers go when you’re alphabetizing.” I’m putting it here at the beginning, mainly because that’s where iTunes puts it. Anyway, kitty1 wins this year’s award for “artist that turned out not to actually be the most-outward-facing part of a kind-of useless trend,2” which is a plaque that would have to be huge to fit all of those words on it.

A$AP Rocky – Fuckin’ Problems (f. Drake, 2 Chainz & Kendrick Lamar)
2013’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” also provides us with the most useful hip-hop lesson of the year: that Kendrick Lamar really is the best rapper out there. Also that Drake never actually sounds very cool.

Akron/Family – Until the Morning
Still not from Akron! Still not a family! The press material for this album makes much hay of Akron/Family’s stint as the backing band for an Angels of Light record3, but it doesn’t really sound much like Akron/Family and Angels of Light. It’s a good record, though, and “Until the Morning” does have a lot of the majesty that record generally traded in.

Atrium Carceri – A Curved Blade
The world is a big place. Every once in awhile I will discover a band that is so firmly in my wheelhouse that I’m kind of embarrassed I didn’t know about them sooner. Atrium Carceri is one of those bands. They’ve been around forever, they have a bunch of great records, and “A Curved Blade” is the best song on the most recent one of them.

Bangladesh – Ray Charles
Bangladesh is easily the best hip-hop producer to come out of Des Moines, Iowa. “Bossy,” “A Milli,” “What’s Your Fantasy?,” and “Six Foot Seven” are enough to ensure that he goes down as (at least) an under-heralded legend. His mixtape, Ponzi Scheme, would, in a just world, change that. He turns out to be a pretty good rapper as well, as “Ray Charles” shows. Maybe if he puts out a label-supported album he’ll get to be the Swizz Beatz the world actually needs.

Bilal – Back to Love
After a couple of downright banner years for R&B, Bilal sort of came last through the gates. “Back to Love” is just fine, and may even be noteworthy as the point at which “twenty-teens-flavor R&B” started to become a subgenre you could specifically set out to work in.

Boards of Canada – New Seeds
A grown man has needs. And sometimes those needs are to feel like I’m in the tense part of a particularly hard-boiled thriller at basically all times. For these needs, there’s Boards of Canada.

Boris – Elegy
After three records in one year showing off their riffing, dancing and uh….pop-ing sides, Boris finally gives us the full post-metal that we’ve needed after sticking patiently by while they got the rest of that nonsense out of their system. This may be the best song Wata has ever sung.

Brokeback – Don’t Worry Pigeon
Ten years after his last record, Doug McCombs is still calling this particular band Brokeback, even though it has no members in common with the Brokeback that last recorded. It does, however, have Chris Hansen4, which is, I think, an improvement, since it resulted in a better Brokeback record. Also, did you know that the thing that Doug McCombs plays is actually a six-string bass guitar, and not a baritone guitar? I didn’t either. Hopefully with this out of his system, he can round up the rest of Tortoise (John McEntire produced this record!) and get down to the business of making another Tortoise record. Please?

Chance the Rapper – Acid Rain
It’s not for sure that it will be the case that Chance the Rapper is the apex of the drill and post-drill Chicago hip-hop scene that’s taken the public eye by siege. If it is, it won’t be a bad thing, and as it is right now, he’s definitely sort of a synthesis of everything that’s been worth being happy about in hip-hop, Chicago or otherwise. An excellent and expressive user of his voice (something that King Louie or Chief Keef could probably learn something about doing, and that Kendrick Lamar could even take some notes from, given that it’s basically the same voice), Chance weaves so many different things together from song to song it’s unfair to even think of it as pastiche (actually, it’s precisely unfair to think of it as pastiche, but I get it).

Daft Punk – Georgio by Moroder
Sometimes the gift of this record wasn’t nearly as much in its music – which is kind of weird, kind of soft, and frankly, sometimes kind of dull – as in the attempts of people falling all over themselves to not admit that they don’t like it very much. I (and, to be fair, most right-thinking people I know, I’m not trying to take some sort of credibility from the following pretty-standard opinion) don’t think of Daft Punk as much of an “albums” band, and the album does have a couple of pretty great singles on it. “Georgio by Moroder” – an ode to another boundary-pushing dance musician who made great singles and kind-of-dull albums – is the best of those. Apparently they used a bunch of microphones to record that vocal. Writing this piece is apparently going to be extremely informative, here. Anyway, what I didn’t need Wikipedia to tell me is that Georgio Moroder sounds a lot like Paul F. Tompkins’ Werner Herzog.

Eluvium – Don’t Get Any Closer
Eluvium’s records tend to have a lot in common with cotton candy – they’re gauzy, kind-of-filling without being super-substantial, there’s always room for them, and while it’s not often that you need to eat the whole thing, sometimes that’s awfully satisfying. “Don’t Get Any Closer,” then, is like that wad that’s wrapped directly around the little paper cone – it’s been packed down enough that you can actually suck on it for awhile, and it’s never worth passing up when it’s available. I mean all of this in the best possible way. I love Eluvium.

Dan Friel – Ulysses
When a band breaks up, there is sometimes a member of the band who goes on to have a career full of records that sound, basically, like his contributions to the band that broke up. I always have a soft spot for those records, and so Dan Friel’s Total Folklore (not his first solo record, but the first since the mighty Parts and Labor broke up), which sounds like a Parts and Labor record where Dan Friel plays all the parts, is in my sweet spot. “Ulysses” is the standout, mainly because there’s a whole lot of song here.

Frightened Rabbit – Nitrous Gas
I feel like one can only write so many words about Frightened Rabbit without saying the phrase “Scottish Miserablists.” So I won’t even try. And then I won’t say much else about this song, because, really, “Scottish Miserablists” pretty much covers it.

Ghostface Killah – The Sure Shot (Parts 1 & 2)
Is it a great song because it’s the advance single from a new Ghostface Killah album, or because there’s an overwhelming feeling of relief at the fact that it has nothing to do with any Beastie Boys song ever? The world may never know.

Grouper – The Man Who Died in His Boat
The companion to the reissue of Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, the title track to The Man Who Died in His Boat is so good it makes one wonder why, exactly, this album never came out. Much like its compatriot, The Man Who Died in His Boat was a relatively-straightforward record, largely forgoing the noise-ish, ambient work of more recent Grouper albums. Whatever her reasons were for not releasing it, it’s a good thing she did, and her 1.000 average for great albums continues unabated.

Lauryn Hill – Neurotic Society
Even if it hadn’t been a pretty great song, “Neurotic Society” would have been an especially interesting one if only for forcing us, for a moment, before we hit play, to consider what it was, exactly, that we expected out of a Lauryn Hill song in 2013. In all honesty, I don’t really know, although I don’t think that “Neurotic Society” would have been it.

Jason Isbell – Elephant
Jason Isbell’s best songs have always been about the dissolution of a relationship. It’s worth noting that that’s true even when the album he’s most-recently released immediately follows his marriage (and his introduction to sobriety). Southeastern is by far his best solo album yet, which has to sort of make all that seem worth it, doesn’t it?

Jasper, TX – Rivers Flow
It seems Dag Rosenqvist wasn’t kidding when he said this would be the last Jasper, TX album. That’s a damn shame, because it might also be the best one. It’s at least the best since Black Sleep. Anyway,it was a good year for ambient-type drone stuff.

Talib Kweli – Before He Walked (f. Nelly & Abby Dodson)
The Bob Odenkirk of hip-hop continues to do excellent, consistent, fairly low-key work while his former partner makes not-very-interesting movies and generally does a good job of seeming like a super-swell bloke in every aspect except his work6. Abby Dodson comes out of wherever it is that Talib Kweli keeps her in between singing awesome hooks, and Nelly (!) comes out of…wherever it is that Nelly stays, period to prove that he really was a much better rapper than his career bore out.

Local Natives – Mt Washington
I guess if losing their bassist was what it took to make them a better band that it’s not such a bad thing that they lost their bassist, but I’m not entirely sure how that can be true. He was just the bassist. Also: more miserablists. They’re not Scottish this time, though, so that doesn’t carry as much frission.

Low – On My Own
Formerly plowing a field known to be almost exclusively described in terms of adjectives like “cold” and “spare,” Low have spent the last couple of records warming up. Perhaps it’s Alan Sparhawk’s increasing time spent in projects that weren’t as insular-seeming as Low, but the band itself seems to have opened up considerably7. Much was made of their decision to tap Jeff Tweedy as the producer, and I suppose that may make some of the difference, but I can’t imagine it does anything but help the band get where they want to be. Anyway, “On My Own” is a pretty firm departure from the Low of yore, and it is, as such, the most satisfying song on the whole record.

Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie “Prince” Billy – Breakdown
It’s been hard to be a Bonnie “Prince” Billy fan these last few years. He’s made a handful of records that were, at best, pretty good, and a handful of fairly interesting EPs and singles that were generally hard to track down. And the idea of an album of Everly Brothers covers wasn’t….precisely confidence-inspiring. But coupled with Dawn McCarthy (who sang on The Letting Go, which is, to date, the last great BPB record), and with a band composed of Emmett Kelley, Johnny Cash’s former bassist Dave Roe, and Kenny Malone (!), the record turned out much better than expected. They take on some of the Everly Brothers songs you might’ve expected, but it’s “Breakdown” that provides the most rewarding moment of the whole project, and one damn fine recording as a result.

Mark McGuire – The Instinct
Sigh. I guess if Emeralds had to break up, this is a fine consolation prize. It continues Mark McGuire’s high-water-streak, and is more than enough to tide even a rabid Emeralds fan over, but what happens then, Mark? Anyway. “The Instinct”: a lesson in being happy with what you’ve got, even if stupid Emeralds have stupid broken up. Stupid.

The Men – Bird Song
When they started, The Men seemed like they’d be an easily-replacable part of the crust-punk revival that never actually happened a couple of years ago. Then they started being an actually good band, and now they’ve made a country record. Well, as much a country record as a projected-former-crust-punk revival band could have been expected to make.

Merzbow, Mats Gustafsson and Balazs Pandi – Like Razor Blades in the Dark
Guys. Balazs Pandi is only a month older than me. Seriously. Anyway. He’s been Merzbow’s live drummer for a few years now8, and Mats Gustafsson has had a pretty high-profile year as well, although his collaboration with Merzbow came as a bit of a surprise 9. Anyway, the point is: Merzbow’s last few records have been a bit like a grinder, and this album is a bit more like a log-splitter. This isn’t a literal sonic interpretation (since, actually, Kibako and Mer Mar sound more sonically like a log splitter, and actually, Cuts, the album from whence this song comes, sounds a bit like a coffee grinder), but rather an attempt to describe how the songs derive their momentum. Look. Every year Merzbow makes records and I listen to them and love them, and never do I share them with you people, and if this paragraph doesn’t tell you why, then nothing could. Also, I feel after all that I have to say: I legitimately and honestly think that “Like Razor Blades in the Dark” is probably the best song on this list, or at least in the top 5.

Mogwai – Portugal
This is the first of two records from which I did not take a cover of Washington Phillips’ “What Are They Doing in Heaven Today?” Mainly because it’s a nice cover, but not as compelling as the rest of the record (you’ll read a very similar sentence when I talk about Colin Stetson in a minute). Of all the songs that Mogwai recorded to soundtrack the French television series Les Revenants, “Portugal” is the best, and also the most classic-Mogwai. And dammit, if it takes French soundtrack work to make Mogwai sound like Mogwai, then by jove, that’s what it takes10

My Bloody Valentine – Wonder 2
I don’t know what took twenty-two years to finish either, but I would be lying if I didn’t agree that it was probably worth it. Kevin Shields has always had a pretty frankly-acknowledged relationship to noise music, but “Wonder 2” is the band’s first proper step into genuine freak-out territory. Kudos to them for it not sounding like a Neu! ripoff11 and actually being an inspired, bracing bit of free music in and of itself. I bet in forty-seven years, when the follow-up comes out, we’ll all be super impressed by how unmoored from traditional song structures the next record is.

Pere Ubu – Mandy
It’s impossible to tell if I would be such a die-hard Pere Ubu fan if they weren’t from Cleveland, but I also don’t think it would matter much when it came to Lady From Shanghai, which is a top-notch record even by Pere Ubu standards. Plus the “Ring My Bell” part is awfully funny.

Pharmakon – Crawling on Bruised Knees
Noise music, mentioned often here in this space, isn’t actually that old a genre. Oh, there’s precursors going back several decades (Albert Ayler is no spring chicken), but the idea of “noise” music is only just about forty. It’s hard to pin down an origin date, but it’s actually possible, even easy, to come up with an origin date for “power electronics,” the genre of choice for Pharmakon – Psychopathia Sexualis came out on July 20, 1982, and William Bennett coined the term then. Pharmakon, who gets as much press for being 22 and female and from New York as she does for her actually-excellent music, wasn’t even born at that point (for that matter, neither was I), and that brings us to the point: the current crop of young people who are making a great deal of noise music are also the first generation raised entirely in a world where noise music wasn’t moored to avant-classical or jazz work, but was, basically, always indebted to Throbbing Gristle and Merzbow. I think that’s neat, and I think “Crawling on Bruised Knees” displays that kind of constancy.

Prurient – I Understand You
Another “power electronicist’s” contribution to the last single released on the venerable Hydra Head records. It pretty much runs circles around the JK Flesh half of the singl. Also, it’s probably another thought for another time why Prurient is basically a part of the metal scene and Pharmakon isn’t. Metal fans are weird.

Purling Hiss – Mercury Retrograde
I always find it hard to figure out what to say about rock bands in these writeups. It’s not that there’s anything wrong or uninteresting about Purling Hiss, it’s just that there’s basically nothing for me to add to the conversation. I haven’t heard the whole album this is from, but I really like this song.

Radar Brothers – Couch
Eight is clearly the best record recorded by someone who was an extra in The Crow12 in all of the first six months of 2013. They should make more songs like “Couch.”

The Retribution Gospel Choir – Seven
It’s almost hard to think of the Retribution Gospel Choir as one of Alan Sparhawk’s side projects, given how much Low has changed to sound like them since their founding. Nevertheless, it’s also hard to think of a two-track, forty-minute EP as anything but the indulgence you’d allow a side project. The fact that it’s also the best work RGC has done to date is just a bonus. “Seven” is a monster, albeit a monster that’s as long as an episode of Modern Family.

Run the Jewels – 36’ Chain
Alright, time to fess up: I don’t actually know if this project is meant to be called Run the Jewels, or if El-P and Killer Mike are using their names and the album is called Run the Jewels. It’s like Watch the Throne only not ridiculous or self-indulgent. Deciding to weld their talents together after Killer Mike’s top-shelf R.A.P. Music (among other things in the last couple of years), Killer Mike and El-P have turned out to be plying the lesser-furrowed (at least these days) rap duo trade, to pretty amazing effect.

Savages – Husbands
Yes, the hype cycle went a little crazy on this one, but that’s not really the fault of Savages. After all of the hyperbolic blog entries and whatnot happened and the record came out, turns out they still just sound like a cross between Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Pop Group. But honestly, that could be a lot worse, and “Husbands” is a pretty good argument for over- rather than under-hyping this record.

Schoolboy Q – Yay Yay
Man, it really isn’t fair to be a member of Black Hippy that isn’t Kendrick Lamar13. It’s especially not fair when you seem like the least-thoughtful member of Black Hippy. That said, Boi-ida absolutely brought an a-list beat to this track, and Schoolboy Q is an awfully intense vocalist, even if his lines about Compton aren’t quite as groundbreaking or conscious as Kendrick’s.

Travi$ Scott – Drive (f James Fauntleroy)
Owl Pharoah is nearly impenetrable at first (although the more I listen to it, the more I think it’s secretly a great record), so “Drive” gets the nod here for being the way in to the heap of sounds that Travi$ Scott’s debut comes off as at first. Who knows what’s really going on with Travi$ Scott, but for right now, this’ll work just fine as a weird-ass slice of what Houston party-rap would sound like if you were actually at a party in Houston (i.e. cut up into pieces and full of car noises, but with an absolutely bangin’ chorus). Oh, and synthesizers apparently left over from some late-eighties cop movie soundtrack.

Shonen Knife – When You Sleep
Concurrent with My Bloody Valentine’s return (finally) to making new music was Yellow Loveless, a whole album of Japanese bands covering older MBV songs. Some of it was great (Boris covering “Sometimes” is the sort of thing I’ve always dreamed about happening), some of it was, as is the way with tribute albums, really dumb, but Shonen Knife’s trad-pop ba-ba-ba-ba version of “When You Sleep” is the kind of thing that improves your life immeasurably, even if you didn’t know you needed it before you had it.

Colin Stetson – Among the Sef
This is the second of two records that I did not take a cover of Washington Phillips’ “What Are They Doing in Heaven Today” from. Bass saxophones are cool. Surrounding yourself with a bunch of microphones to make a rhythm track out of your clicking keys, your breath and your fingers is pretty cool. “Among the Sef” is a really cool song.

The Thalia Zedek Band – Walk Away
Thalia Zedek was in a bunch of bands that the oldest guy in any given record store probably bought records by back when they were around the first time. She sometimes makes her own solo records and is a lovely singer. And “Walk Away” is one of those times.

Thee Oh Sees – Toe Cutter/Thumb Buster
I will always think it’s kind of adorable how different Thee Oh Sees records apparently sound to John Dwyer. Not that I’m complaining, mind you: it’s a hell of a sound. It just doesn’t appear, to at least one person who runs a blog out of Ohio, to be changing all that much, well, ever.

The Thermals – Born to Kill
Is Desperate Ground a masterpiece on the order of The Body, the Blood, the Machine or Now We Can See? No. But it doesn’t need to be, because my speakers go up really loud and that’s the important thing.

Justin Timberlake – Mirrors
Yeah, most of The 20/20 Experience is…less than great. In fact, it sounds like a bunch of records before it that were recorded without a lot of time and with the help of a lot of cocaine – undynamic fast tempos, songs that are a bit too long and a bit too produced, the whole thing seems pretty familiar. But “Mirrors” is basically anything we’d want out of the second single from a Justin Timberlake album, even if “Suit & Tie” wasn’t everything we would’ve wanted out of his return.

Tyler, the Creator – Domo 23
It was obvious from the get-go that Tyler, the Creator was never really going to be a full-length-album-oriented success. Bastard seemed better than it was at the time because it was so closely-accompanied by the actual arrival of Tyler. Goblin was entirely too long but had two monster singles (and was the album that most of the initial touring happened around). And so now Tyler, along with no longer being the highest-profile member of Odd Future, has to deal with the fact that Wolf, while lacking the singles of Goblin but certainly not worse, is receiving all of the disappointment that would have been due his albums in general if only people paid more attention. Oh well, at least “Domo 23” is a good song.

Underachievers – Philanthropist
Alright, it was unfair to say that when I didn’t have something to say about a band it had anything to do with them being a rock band. I have nothing particularly interesting to add to Underachievers, either. At least they’re not more miserablists.

Kanye West – New Slaves
There are a lot of things to say about Yeezus. If you google around a bit, or if you’ve read anything published about music in awhile, chances are you’ve already seen some of it. And some of those things are worth defending, and some of them are not, and often they’re aspects of the same facet of his personality. He’s a lightning rod for people who are determined to find fault in whatever it is they’re looking for: he’s a shameless egotist, unrepentantly impulsive, completely unable to manage his own public profile, and he takes more drugs than a touring funk band14. His attitudes (or at least the attitudes expressed in his songs) toward women are pretty terrible, his attitudes (or at least the attitudes expressed in his songs) toward race remarkable, even if they just throw the sexism in sharp relief. And, of course, interesting in the meta-text is the fact that while he’s literally in no way the first musician to be popular and to also be sexist, egotistical, thoughtless and seemingly un-self-aware, every time he says anything in public it’s treated as though massive figures in pop music have always been demure kittens. It’s hard not to compare Kanye West to a bizarro-world Prince: where Prince could do seemingly no wrong (despite the ego and the sexism and the weird public behavior and the bitchiness), there is a segment of the pop music audience that firmly believes that Kanye is incapable of ever doing anything humanly tolerable (because of the ego and the sexism and the weird public behavior and the bitchiness, and also the wife, which, let’s not get into how much this doubles back on itself or we’d be here all day). It’s a good thing it seems to bother Kanye about as much as it bothered Prince – which is to say, not at all – because, also like Prince, he is an unmitigated genius. “New Slaves” represents the whole thing: it’s great and terrible, laudable and indefensible, but most of all it’s that beat, and that vocal, and that beat. “Black Skinhead” is (despite its title) easier to swallow, “I’m In It” is basically impossible to like, and “New Slaves” is the bridge directly from one to the other and, as a result, is the best song in months, if not years.

Xiu Xiu & Eugene S. Robinson – Menagerie in Munich
All-time favorites Xiu Xiu hook up with Oxbow’s head weirdo Eugene S. Robinson and make a bunch of songs that already sound like one long tone poem torn into a thousand screaming pieces. At this point I’m pretty sure that Jamie Stewart wakes up every morning with a better album in his head than most human beings could ever hope to make.

David Yow – Thee Itch
The first missive from the world’s foremost lead-yammerer, the man with the most appropriate last name in rock music turns out to have been harboring some seriously avant-garde juice lo these many years.

!!! – Meet Me at the Station
Guys, guys. Nothing brings me greater joy than to say that there is actually another good !!! song, after a couple of albums full of false starts. The caveat here is that it’s probably only good because I’ve adjusted my sights, but still. That chorus! It’s pretty good! Stay with me here, folks!

HONORABLE MENTIONs: Pusha T’s “Blocka” is a reasonably-ok song with a ferocious Young Chop beat. In five years or so, I bet you could take the paragraph I wrote about Bangladesh and apply it to Young Chop. Deathfix’s “Hospital” sounds an awful lot like Girls Against Boys with a better drummer (Brendan Canty is, to be fair, a better drummer than almost anybody), and that’s fine, I guess. Wasn’t Brendan Canty the reason that Fugazi couldn’t be together anymore? Shouldn’t he be not-being-in-a-band? The Weeknd’s “Kissland/John Coltrane” was a nicely-reassuring advance single for an album that, basically, i’m afraid to get entirely behind lest I get my heart broken. Mavis Staples’ “Holy Ghost” is not that album’s cover of “What Are They Doing in Heaven Today” (no, really, she also covered it. It’s the same song that Mogwai and Colin Stetson covered), and it’s also a cover of a Low song from the same album as the song on this list, which I guess something something anyway it’s pretty good.

1 formerly Kitty Pryde, and technically =kitty=, but seriously.
2 tumblr-rap, soon to be virally marketed by the viral marketing people at Yahoo, and no less annoying.
3 a digression (seriously, those of you who are opposed to my periodic screeds are just going to want to move on): Akron/Family are, legitimately, a great band. They make great records. And I feel sort of ambivalent about the amount of attention that is paid to a band that says “we made a record that sounds like a record we made ten fucking years ago” because that record was made with someone who in a completely separate band (this is Swans, here. Michael Gira, head Swan, was also the head Angel of Light) turned out to be a critical darling in the future. That sentence is hard to parse, so my point is this: I don’t think anyone getting press is bad, I like it when bands I love get famous, but the music press jumping on this one biographical detail of the band and pretending like that’s what a band with over a decade worth of excellent recorded output in a tradition and a scene where collaborative albums are frequent and generally not-that-noticed is completely unfair to the band. It’s also worth noting that, at the time of its release, Akron/Family & The Angels of Light was a freak-folk record – Young God Records (Michael Gira’s erstwhile label) was fucking Devendra Banhart’s record label. Remember that shit? WELCOME TO OLD-AGE, FELLOW TRAVELLERS.
4 the one from Pinebender, not the one who wants you to have a seat over there.
5 through at least two different hype cycles, even!
6 If Mos Def, Talib Kweli’s David Cross*, revisits Black on Both Sides like David Cross, Bob Odenkirk’s Talib Kweli, did with Arrrested Development 2013 will pretty much be the best year ever.
* for those of you not following, you have either not watched Mr Show enough or you have not heard Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Black Star enough.
7 before you listen to this song, go listen to “Do You Know How to Waltz” and marvel at how claustrophobic they used to sound. Not that that’s a bad thing – When the Curtain Hits the Cast is at least twice the album that The Invisible Way is, and I quite like The Invisible Way.
8 the significance here being that Merzbow himself started out as a drummer, and one would logically assume that the live drummer for someone who could be doing it himself must be good enough to hold down the job. For the less-able-to-discern among you: Balazs Pandi is more than drummer enough to be Merzbow’s touring drummer.
9 I guess. Kind of. They did a record together with Sonic Youth a few years back. I don’t know. I guess it will always kind of be surprising? This is probably more me than anyone else)
10 after all, it did a great job for Can and Pink Floyd, so Mogwai is in good company.
11 I guess it probably says something about me that I always thought that “My Bloody Valentine freak-out” would just end up sounding like Neu!. I promise not to keep footnoting things just to reference Krautrock bands. I realize this is the second one in a row.
12 the lead Radar Brother was the guitar player for Medicine, the band that sounded like My Bloody Valentine that was singing the dumb song in the bar.
13 whose shadow is so far over hip-hop right now that he’s come up four times in this writeup alone, despite not having a song on this list, or even having released a song of his own since last year. He is on the single from that Talib Kweli album though.
14 sing it!