October is always hit or miss when it comes to our faith in humanity—and this one stood out as a real miss. As Best Coast gets pelted by cheeseburgers and Arcade Fire proves that our reflektions are just as reflektive as we thought, it seemed there would be nothing good to come from the witchy month, and Mercury needed to just get right the fuck out of metrograde already. But in a serendipitous turn of events, music was at its height in October, and some unexpected favorites leaked into our psyche, lodging a place for all of eternity. The big surprise here is that the release that stood out to us most was a little unheard-of, free, self-released EP of B-sides by a musician named Cross Record. Every single one of us who heard this EP were floored, and one notable Senior Editor remarked it might help to listen to this in, well, the boudoir.
The Best Album of October 2013
Austin transplant Emily Cross, whose album Be Good was just rereleased by BaDaBing! Records, casually put up Etc. on her Bandcamp last week as a compilation of extraneous recordings from the past three years. Etc. feels not at all like a collection of B-sides, but instead a photograph of sonic bits and pieces that fit together like an instrumental, experimental puzzle. Particularly in Emily Cross's confoundingly gorgeous and challenging cover of Chris Isaak's “Wicked Game”, you'll find that Etc. is a self-conscious title for a record that actually gives much more than it lets on. Tune in at the fifth track, “Stuart Beach”, to hear some gentle waves at the close of a minor-melody instrumental, and you'll be so captivated as to be entranced. It's experimental and lilting and full of immaculate depth, and does much to serve Be Good as both a companion in tone but also a complement in exhibiting her skill as an aesthete. For an example of what we mean, get buried deep by this Isaak cover, download for free on the Cross Record Bandcamp, and let the winter season begin to wash over you.
And without further ado, we present:
The Best Music of October (in no particular order):
D33J’s Anticon debut, Tide Songs EP, was a cordial introduction to an electronic artist whose identity is largely attached to the WEDIDIT Collective. But, if the debut EP was D33J’s assimilation, proving his salt in an emerging canon of Shlohmo’s Bad Vibes LP and Ryan Hemsworth’s Last Words EP, then Gravel is his departure.
Hailing from Providence, Rhode Island, James Hinton has been turning heads with his original productions recorded as The Range. His Disk and Seneca EPs found the perfect home on the Donky Pitch label, an imprint that has been none too shy about its bass-centered visions of party music while blurring the lines between subgenres with every release. Nonfiction proves to be a wonderful representation of this aesthetic, connecting the dots between jungle, footwork, and R&B. Each song is its own amorphous part of a unclassifiable whole, a potential nightmare for those quick to pigeonhole The Range's sound.
Jonwayne turned his debut record Rap Album One into an event. He's operating on a level that could possibly cause a metamorphsis in how Stones Throw is not only perceived, but how it's run as a label. For now, these are theories to be dog-eared for later appraisal. Yeah, we're looking at a saltine album cover making a statement, but its presence is not going to out hype the music.
Read our feature interview with Jonwayne here.
September introduced the New York duo of Armand Hammer, comprised of billy woods and Elucid, with the Half Measures mixtape. In a month's time woods and Elucid have unloaded two albums worth of material. Half Measures is the foundation, but there's no mistaking Race Music as the group's definitive debut. With production by Steel Tipped Dove, Marmaduke, Willie Green, and Blue Sky Black Death, Race Music is a deadly medley of indigenous New York rap.
Palehound's music can appeal to all, but it’s nice to find something so confidently written and performed from a perspective I—and many other young women—can understand. It feels club-like, occasionally exclusive, but positively familiar. The Bent Nail EP in particular is dripping with female experience, especially in lines like “Vandalize my body if it helps you sleep soundly” and “My true love was a bummer.” Her music seems built from lines gabbed over at sleepovers and late-night diner visits. Palehound is as much Liz Phair as she is Mirah and Annie Clark, but presented through a youthful, not-yet corrupted lens. Her cunning, self-aware lyrics ring of Doug Martsch, Travis Morrison, and all the staples of the nineties that made us feel with our brains and not our hearts.
Upset is the trio of our dreams, made up of Best Coast/Vivian Girls' former drummer Ali Koehler, Hole's Patty Schemel, and La Sera guitarist Jenn Prince, and their first track, the terse and to-the-point "Oxfords and Wingtips" is a gently moving poppunk 90s throwback. Utilizing some of the similar Vivian Girls' shoegaze but not eschewing Best Coast or Hole's approachable melodies, Upset is a power trio beyond even what we could dream up, and the full album speaks to their ability to make music for both our teenage selves and the adult minds that wrangle with our former teenage selves. It's an album for both the Rookie Mag set and the poppunk literati.
The singles leading into Hot Sugar's Made Man EP featured relatively unknowns like Bill Ding (not the experimental 90s Chicago indie band) and r&b crooner GTW. The remainder of the features on the Made Man EP are more expected, an all-star lineup who've benefited from the Hot Sugar production since before the name started gracing the album cover instead of the liner notes.
Streaming on Hot Sugar's Bandcamp, the EP features collaborations with usual suspects like the Greedhead posse of Big Baby Gandhi, Heems, Kool A.D., Weekend $ and members of Children of the Night. In the span of 10 tracks Big Baby Gandhi appears to be far from retired, Open Mike Eagle dedicates an entire song to Gallagher (yes, the watermellon-smashing comedian!!), Kool A.D. keeps on referencing Robert Altman, and Antwon smokes meth.
San Francisco label Dark Entries unearthed and restored a collection of Cowley recordings, some of which were originally used for a gay porn directed by former Playgirl pinup John Coletti. The recordings were dusted off after spending decades in the garage of Fox Studio – the gay porn company, not to be confused with Fox Broadcasting Company. The scores were written for a films entitled School Daze and Muscle Up, but much of the recordings were also loose ends which Cowley had kept as experimental pieces that were too outsider for his disco records.
Chance of Rain, her latest, is a further refinement of her craft, trading that startling voice for a dense, intensely detailed set of instrumentals. This change means that a wide range of sounds share equal time in the spotlight, and the result is consistently well-balanced. Everything here is rigidly metered, with the structured deployment of sounds replacing Quarantine’s queasy formlessness. Yet the music still manages to hint at similarly unsettling themes like isolation, mortality, and decay.
Vibrant is a term that gets thrown around a lot in the music writing genre—sometimes it feels like music can be so alive from our speakers that it practically bleeds out like a big rainbow. In the case of Monster Rally's Return to Paradise record, a release inspired by vintage National Geographic photographs, "vibrant" couldn't be a more accurate descriptor. Utilizing both vintage soundscapes that feel as though they could soundtrack a Hawaiian vacation in the late 60s, and modern-day, plush tones that allow a digital listen to not feel cheap, Monster Rally has given color back to music. Imagine watching all your favorite black-and-white films as they are turned into color projections. The feeling is both old and new, warm and exotic. You will emerge from the record feeling like you'd taken a pleasant boatride down the Amazon, with Mai Tais in short order and a palm leaf to fan yourself.