The Best Music of May 2013

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Dirty Beaches

So many of the fine albums of May aimed for the annals of rock-dom, sought the faint memory of what it meant to be a rockstar before it became an energy drink and is probably buried in the tomb of Kurt Cobain. A belief lingers, for good or bad, that musicians are worthy of worship. Most would rather we treat them as peers than visages beyond our puny minds' capacity and the reasons for that sociological shift in the idea of the rockstar are abundant – far greater than I'd care to tackle at the moment. Savages stormed the gates with a manifesto of demands, Bradford Cox shackles himself to the ankles of Patti Smith, Vår covered their pale selves in mud, and Majical Cloudz have that unblinking seriousness that Brooklyn won't shut up about. It's all been done before and was taken seriously in previous eras because no one behaved in such a manner.

If Alex Zhang Hungtai had the egomania for it, he could better than us, but he was born in the wrong month, I suppose. His Dirty Beaches project broke lose with Badlands, which painted him as a Leader of the Pack type, who fell victim to the same devil's deal that haunted Robert Johnson. He was pure rogue Americana and he took it to the stage. He'd stand alone in blue jeans and a white t-shirt, guitar slung over his shoulders, a singular blade of hair slicing down his forehead, and he was breath taking whether you found it cool or sexy or macho or intimidating. But, he'd end his set smiling, embracing a friend in the audience – whether old or new – and he'd be overcome with gratitude, the type a truly gracious smile cannot fake.

Hungtai could be a rockstar, in the traditional definition, but he knows the fate of it, like he knows the risk he'd run if Drifters/Love Is The Devil imitated the success of Badlands. In presenting himself, in his triumphs and his flaws, Dirty Beaches is free to evolve alongside the man. Hungtai is free to challenge us with a double disc of mostly instrumental wanderings and free of the pretension we'd assume had Bradford Cox presented the same album.

I'll leave you with this quote from our interview with Hungtai to consider:

“Because the media is a direct way to manipulate how you want people to perceive you. It's another tool with which a lot of artists attempt to shape or control their “image,” whether it’s David Bowie or Grimes. I think it's great but also a dangerous tool, to blur the line of the public self and the private self. It's dangerous in the sense that when you don't hold back or go too far, people will read certain things about you, and perhaps misinterpret it, and approach you to seek something out from you (from fictional characters to a single line you said in some interview that you don’t remember cuz you just played a show, exhausted, drunk or high). Which is why I chose to tear the mystery from it all. Just some dude making music and his trials and tribulations. Boring real talk shit. Life itself is the most interesting thing for me”

The Best Album of May 2013

Dirty Beaches, Drifters/Love Is the Devil (Zoo Music)

Badlands was the story of a transient living just out of reach of his demons. Every time Hungtai slowed down and got contemplative, a black, nameless feeling drifted up from the shadows of the seedy motel rooms that ornamented the album’s landscapes. There was the sense that if he stayed in one place too long, everything would go up in flames. Early on in the arc of Drifters/Love, all that hellfire finally consumes Hungtai. Tension and escapism defined Badlands. Tragedy played a role in it, but it was always just around the corner, something the album’s characters were perpetually outrunning. Drifters, the first and more song-oriented half of this double LP, is where we’re finally forced to pay the price for indulging in all the broken promises and midnight trysts Dirty Beaches’ dark romance is constructed on. It’s where we have to stare tragedy in the face, and agonize as it stares back at us.

The Best Music of May 2013 (in no particular order):

Shannon & the Clams, Dreams in the Rabbit House (Hardly Art)

With its reflections of yesterday sounds heralding from the dreams and the worlds of imagination. From the group's 50's and 60's music model for transferring internal and mental emotions to the corresponding space-fantasyland-waves reminiscent of the McGuires Sisters, Zager & Evans.

Vår, No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers (Sacred Bones)

As Vår, they’ve used a mirror for an album cover (explains Rahbek, “Looking at it, you are the cover”). They have a music video that’s a love letter to a childhood buddy turned male stripper. They changed their name from War to the Danish word for “spring.” And now, expanded to a quartet, they’ve made No One Dances Quite Like My Brothers, a record that’s at least as pretentious as all of this suggests. But really, no one can make pretention seem as interesting as a band of brooding Danes who are just old enough to begin eulogizing their teenage years. The competing elements of stone-faced self-seriousness and naïve curiosity toward proto-industrial electronic textures on display here take Vår to some places no one else is bothering to explore right now.

Dead Gaze, Dead Gaze (Fat Cat/ Palmist)

Dismissing this record as merely another lo-fi psychedelic sampler would be an oversimplified disparagement. It’s dense with effects and manipulation, and does ring out with DIY beginnings, but Dead Gaze’s S/T is actually tonally large, full of intelligent melodies, and best of all, emotionally complex.

Creative Adult, Bulls In The Yard EP (Run For Cover)

Not many bands can cram the quiet moments from Fugazi's The Argument EP against the menacing fists and riffs of hardcore and polish it off with a balanced dab of “Teenage Riot”-esque post-everything in the span of a 4-song EP. Creative Adult leave few knooks of “post-dom” un-explored on its Bulls In The Yard EP.

Ryan Hemsworth, Still Awake EP (self-released)

When remixing king and perennial Internet sweetheart Ryan Hemsworth released a track from his forthcoming EP, Still Awake, last week, we knew something was different. He was taking a noticably sweeter, more digi-inspired vibe—less direct cuts from rap songs, more of a syrupy goodness pop music vibe. He's barreling down a summer stream in Japan and making us all cry a little bit in the process. Now that the full EP is released, we see that we couldn't be more right about his deepening emo vibes.

Roomrunner, Ideal Cities (Fan Death Records)

Following up “Weird”, the first song to drop, “Bait Car” is an easy win with its heavy bass line and mid-song break into light-touching melody, immediately followed by hardhitting grungey garage rock again. It's a face melter and a throwback.

Deerhunter, Monomania (4AD)

Monomania, in the smelter of Deerhunter discography, is the band’s most confounding work, a collection of reverent rock ‘n’ roll songs sculpted nearly to the bone, knotted in lyrical enigma, and layered in lofi grit—a puzzling juke from a band that seemed to be headed straight to clear, consistent formula.

Erros Mágicos, Shambhala (Moon Glyph)

If you've been waiting for your morning tune-out, this new track from Erros Mágicos, “C'est Tout Noir”, is a perfect trippy tapestry of sounds that feel as rooted in 70s psychedelia as it does in Serge Gainsbourg's sprawling sexy France. Though the title indicates that “everything is night,” the lightness that pours out of this soft, rolling tune is all warm oranges and yellows, giving the song a handsome dose of flower power.

Crystal Shipsss, Crystal Shipsss EP (Three Rings/Raw Onion)

There's a J. Spaceman quality to Crystal Shipsss lone player, Jacob Faurholt that suggests he's been countering doldrums with the escape of imagination for a lifetime. Spaceman sought the solar systems, while Faurholt is in the dark forests, where the shadows are spaces for the creative mind to fill in and where a bit of kiddish terror leaks in. In an all too fleeting 13-minutes, Faurholt lets a Daniel Johnston song ruin his afternoon, compares a crushing feeling to a skull beneath the tires of a four-wheeler, and weighs the options of jumping from a third story window or screening Night of the Creeps. The details of Faurholt's life inform his writing, from Johnston to Maurice Sendak, to a point they deserve shout outs in the liner notes. You get the feeling were it not for the bookshelf, the record collection, or the Spike Jonze adaptation getting reccommended on Netflix, that Faurholt would have gone to a much darker place, but his favorite things beat him to the punch.