We're in the home stretch, I promise. 14 or 15 more full reviews and one more of these and then [throws papers out window] BYE YALL. 2013 list will be up some time after just about everyone else's. I'll do better next year.
Boards of Canada
Tomorrow's Harvest (2013)
Almost thirty years too late to make a "Boreds of Canada" joke, and they deserve better, but this is one of those lingering downbeat things that just blows right in and out of my apartment like an unnoticed breeze.
These New Puritans
Field of Reeds (2013)
!! CAUTION !! - So so precious -- classical aspirations, vocals derived from 19th century Portugese music, more session musicians than the Wrecking Crew and Polyphonic Spree put together, and yet its labored foreboding and schmaltz just sounds like where we always knew British "art rock" was headed, doesn't it?
Uncanny Valley (2013)
Sad about this one, because they're one of the bands I feel I'm always championing to deaf American ears who wonder what it would be like if Muse was in on the joke; it's not sonically all that different from the previous two, but the writing's taken a dive, even if the group's wicked sense of outsized fun remains -- but I was in the minority position on Tame Impala too so don't be discouraged from checking in.
!! CAUTION !! - Slick to the point of barely existing, this is polished major label surf-punk pap and exactly the wrong direction for a band that wrote great songs and distorted the hell out of them with glorious abandon, were potentially the next Barracudas; I'm not slamming it because the kid turned out to be an asshole -- I'd feel a hypocrite given the kind things I've written here and everywhere about Phil Spector (convicted murderer), James Brown (definite batterer), Sam Cooke (possible batterer), John Lennon (self-confessed (in a Beatles song, for heaven's sake) batterer) -- but I don't mind telling you it, as an ancillary, feels sort of good not to be telling you to buy this.
Warm Blanket (2013)
Dude, you are so fucking smart and talented, please stop writing the same song over and over.
Major Arcana (2013)
Not really qualified to offer an informed take on this because it's heavily influenced by a branch of alt-rock (heavy post-grunge; I'm not hearing the Pavement comparison) that never did much for me growing up -- it sounds remarkably like something I'd have turned on the radio and heard around '96 and then turned off to go listen to synthpop -- but it's certainly convincing, passionate and crafty, with special notice to Sadie Dupuis' captivating vocals.
Slow Focus (2013)
!! CAUTION!! - Still empty, and whether you like their boorish meandering or not, this does nothing you're not expecting it to when you turn it on, and it does that nothing at length.
Invisible Empire / Crescent Moon (2013)
RECOMMENDED - Hey, I actually liked this -- a little goes a long way, but Tunstall's whisper and acoustic guitar meld into a highly specific sad that makes for near-perfect mood music at the right lost moment.
!! CAUTION !! - Goofy vocal layering and careful key-pressing is no different from a gazillion New Agers, but neither are Fuck Buttons; they just know their own audiences and take the one-note atmospheres to their groan-inducing, lofty limit, by now so indulgently that the results are simply asinine to anyone excluded from that audience.
!! CAUTION !! - Laughed a lot the first time I heard it, because I set this to play just after the above album and honestly had no idea that one had ended and this one had started.
Nine Inch Nails
Hesitation Marks (2013)
Could honestly echo every word I wrote about The Fragile in 1999 (had been a massive fan at an age when the PMRC would have not approved of me listening to "Big Man with a Gun") if I could find it; the point was/is, he is a fucking master -- one of the best creators of sound in the business, ever -- and if he would stop his perpetually adolescent whine from playing over all of it I'd be onboard, subsequently proven in the wild by his film scoring, but it's clearly just a taste quirk of mine by now.