Here’s five of my favorite records from 2013. I’ve spent weeks and months obsessively listening to each one of these, so I know they will stand the test of time. Enjoy!
5. CHON – Newborn Sun
18 minutes of pure, unadulterated exhilaration. Imagine the twin lead guitar lines from The Beatles’ “And Your Bird Can Sing” — now raise that to the 1000th power and multiply by jazz, math-rock, prog-metal, and chip-tune influences. Guitarists Erick Hansel and Mario Camarena twist and twirl around each other in intricately arranged melodies. Each short song is a fully through-composed miniature double guitar concerto, with precise accompaniment by drummer Nathan Camarena and bassist Drew Pelisek. Breathtaking execution is balanced out by soulfulness and a cutting-edge approach to soaring, angular melodies. Plus, it fucking rocks!
4. Etienne Charles – Creole Soul
This album is exactly what the title says it is — soul music that creolizes jazz and traditional Haitian and Trinidadian styles. Etienne achieves the seemingly unattainable dream of every jazzman/woman — he put out a record that’s extremely easy on the ears and fun to listen to for non-musicians, yet contains enough heavy-duty slick shit under the hood to keep the jazz folk entertained on repeated listens. Top-notch soulful playing from pianist Kris Bowers, drummer Obed Calvaire, and saxophonist Brian Hogans, and a masterful selection of originals and familiar covers carefully re-imagined by Etienne himself.
3. KNOWER – Let Go
This set from the collective subconscious of drummer/producer Louis Cole and vocalist Genevieve Artadi checks all the pop music boxes for 2013: uptempo dance rhythms, big trance synths, dubstep breakdowns, sci-fi buildups, and sticky hooks. Look under the surface, though, and you’ll discover an extremely forward-leaning approach to harmony and chord voicings, and top-notch production married to Genevieve’s understated vocals. Plus, new jack swing and DX7 sounds are back!
2. Derrick Hodge – Live Today
This is truly the future sound of jazz. A few bass-heavy interludes notwithstanding, this is not a bass-player’s album. Derrick does here what he does best, which is compose beautiful, hymn-like melodies, get the right cats in the studio, and then get out of the way. Every bass note he chooses is perfect, and where he chooses to rest even more perfect. Collective improvisation and vibe is king here, as the album dreamily drifts from electronic fusion to spoken word to singer-songwriter to traditional gospel to simmering funk. Chris Dave and Mark Colenburg both provide a killing foil on drums, and trumpeter Keyon Harrold deserves special mention for his luscious, closely voiced horn arrangements. Adventurous mixes from Jon Smeltz complete the picture.
1. Laura Mvula – Sing to the Moon
Without a doubt, one of the most scintillating records I’ve heard in a long time. Laura takes her classical composition chops and applies them to her exquisitely poignant songwriting. Beautiful, haunting melodies, soaring anthems, lush orchestral instrumentation, deceptively tricky time signatures, creative vocal arrangements, and engineering and production that will knock your socks off. Imagine Mancini scoring madrigals for film, remixed by James Blake. This is what it’s all about!