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Matt Forney’s Top Ten Albums of 2013: Part Two

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Read First: Matt Forney’s Top Ten Albums of 2013: Part One

This installment will focus on honorable mentions; albums that are good, but not good enough to get into the top ten. I’ve also included the most disappointing records of the year, plus the absolute worst.

Honorable Mentions

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Herein Wild — Frankie Rose

After last year’s astounding Interstellar, a triumphant, synth-driven New Wave record, Frankie Rose has followed up with more of the same. While Herein Wild is overall an enjoyable record, it doesn’t have the oomph that Interstellar had; it doesn’t have any standout tracks on the level of that record’s title track and “Gospel/Grace,” and it doesn’t stick with you in the way Rose’s prior album did.

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Last Night on Earth — Lee Ranaldo and the Dust

Lee Ranaldo is a nice guy, and Last Night on Earth is a nice record, but the guy comes off to me as a persistent underachiever. While I loved last year’s Between the Times and the Tides, this album is at best a sideways move, weighed down by Ranaldo’s weak, amateurish lyrics. The big innovation with Last Night on Earth is that, inspired by the Grateful Dead, Ranaldo made this album into a jam session, meaning that each song drags on for two or three minutes longer than it should. While the three opening songs and title track (about life in New York after Hurricane Sandy hit) are catchy and compelling, listening to Ranaldo’s extended guitar noodling made me want to scream “Will you just GET IT OVER WITH already?”

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Move in Spectrums — Au Revoir Simone

Au Revoir Simone’s first record in four years (not counting 2010’s schizophrenic remix record Night Light), the intro track “More Than” kicks things right off with “It’s been a long time coming.” In contrast to the understated, languid sound of Still Light, Still NightMove in Spectrums smacks you right in the face with driving, in-your-face synths and prominent, floaty vocals.

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Seasons of Your Day — Mazzy Star

2013 must be 90’s Revival year or something, with no less than My Bloody Valentine, Neutral Milk Hotel and Mazzy Star re-forming for reunion tours and long-awaited follow-up records. The latter has held up remarkably well; while Seasons of Your Day isn’t much of a leap forward from their last album, Hope Sandoval’s velvety vocals and the band’s dreamy, relaxed sound is as enjoyable now as it was two decades ago.

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Static — Cults

Indie pop duo Cults follows up their self-titled 2011 debut with this record, which features a richer, more complex, more danceable sound. “I Can Hardly Make You Mine” is the standout track.

Most Improved Follow-Up

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MGMT — MGMT

Remember when MGMT didn’t suck? The psychedelic rock duo burst onto the scene in 2008 with the awesome Oracular Spectacular, then proceeded to shit on their fanbase with their 2010 follow-up Congratulations, a meandering puddle of hookless guitar mush. This third album is nowhere near Oracular Spectacular, but when you’ve made a record as awful as Congratulations, there’s really nowhere to go but up. MGMT is driven by slow-paced alien synths and otherworldly vocals (as exemplified by “Alien Days” and “Plenty of Girls in the Sea”), making for a catchy if unexceptional record.

Biggest Disappointment(s)

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She’s Gone — Upset

Ali Koehler is the Dave Mustaine of indie rock. After being unceremoniously fired as Best Coast’s drummer two years ago, she regrouped with former Hole drummer Patty Schemel to form Upset, which is totally gonna be bigger and betterer than Best Coast! She didn’t want to be in that stupid band anyway!

Well… not really.

While She’s Gone is an endearing record, it’s because of its sincerity, not its musicianship. Like Kate Nash, Koehler’s songs revolve around the simmering social rejection that comes with being a fat girl (“Back to School,” “Game Over”), with upbeat-yet-sad vocals and mechanical drumming from Schemel. However, Koehler’s guitar playing isn’t up to snuff, as most of the riffs sound like generic nineties pop punk and the songs themselves are short; all but two are less than three minutes long and four are less than two minutes long. While it’s an okay debut from one of indie rock’s most underrated musicians, I expected more.

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Sock it to Me — Colleen Green

Somebody needs to tell Colleen Green to buy a new drum machine. Better yet, she should save up her pot money and hire a real drummer to perform with her instead. (I hear Ali Koehler’s available.) When the first song on your album begins with a generic rock beat being sputtered out by a drum machine at a blatantly lower fidelity than the rest of the music, the atmosphere is all but killed for me. While Sock it to Me has some good songs showing Green’s growth as a guitarist (“Time in the World” being my favorite), the fake-sounding and uninspired drum programming tanks the album as a whole.

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The Terror — The Flaming Lips

I wouldn’t say that Wayne Coyne has completely disappeared up his own asshole just yet, but he sure seems to enjoy the view inside his rectum. While it’s a massive improvement over last year’s collaboration-fest The Flaming Lips and Heady FwendsThe Terror’s aimless guitar work and directionless synths fail to leave an impact. The best track on the album is “Sun Blows Up Today”… which is only available as an iTunes bonus.

Shittiest Record(s)

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Mosquito — Yeah Yeah Yeahs

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Reflektor — Arcade Fire

I’m reviewing these two shitpiles together because not only do they have the same producer—James Murphy—but because Arcade Fire and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs each represent the worst aspects of indie rock: pretension and cultural gentrification. Arcade Fire is the ultimate in hipster smugness, a group of art school washouts appropriating exotic instruments and musical styles not for any higher reason, but because they sound “cool.” Their pompous arrangements and whiny lyrics match their grandiose self-image; they were actually arrogant enough to try and enforce a dress code at their concerts, and Wayne Coyne once called them out as a bunch of abusive pricks (before backtracking like a pussy). Not to mention that Régine Chassagne looks like a Jamaican tranny.

As for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, they’re the finest in rich girl musical cosplay. When she isn’t busy slaughtering Led Zeppelin tunes, Karen O tries oh so hard to be a punk badass with such daring antics as… spitting on herself on stage! Wooooooh! The Yeah Yeah Yeahs desperately try to ape the sound and feel of seventies/early eighties New York punk but come off as the musical equivalent of a seven-year old playing dress-up in her mom’s clothes.

In walks James Murphy to make two crummy bands even worse.

After disbanding LCD Soundsystem for reasons no one ever understood, Murphy has promoted himself to his level of incompetence by becoming a producer. It’s hard to say which album is worse, but I’ll go with Reflektor because for all their phoniness, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs offend me less than Arcade Fire. Mosquito marries Karen O’s already shrill, grating voice with annoying choruses and stupid effects that make it sound like she’s screaming into a bullhorn, and the riff scrap piles that her collaborators squeeze out don’t make it any more bearable.

As for Reflektor, the intro and title track immediately put me off; it marries an obnoxious disco drum beat with alternating vocals from Chassagne and Win Butler, the former sounding drunk and the latter sounding like he’s getting Dildozed in the ass. The record tosses Arcade Fire’s usual overblown arrangements in with Haitian rara music and LCD Soundsystem-style dance-punk beats, creating an unappealing stew that succeeds at nothing. The fast songs are jittery and cluttered; the slow songs are mushy and sentimental; all of the songs go on too long (Reflektor is a double album). Think of Talking Heads’ Remain in Light if David Byrne had suffered a grievous head injury before recording and you have Reflektor in a nutshell.

That’s Mosquito and Reflektor: two puddles of sonic vomit by bands that are unreasonably pleased with themselves.

God, I can’t wait for Bill de Blasio to scare the hipsters out of New York.

Read Next: Matt Forney’s Top Ten Albums of 2012