2013: A Year in Review – I

“Alone in the darkness, darkness of white.” – Arcade Fire

I foresee that the year that has passed will have to be documented in more than one blogpost in order to keep it from digressing too much while talking about my (some not so)favourite things in retrospect. Please tolerate any twisted references that I might make in the process.

Through a Glass Darkly

This year has been a turning point for a lot of things – each intertwining with the other both chronologically as well as in a causal manner. This included the massive expose of NSA’s nefarious activities while the US was severely advocating military assistance to Syria. Meanwhile US itself saw its President’s reputation taking nosedive thanks to dubious accounts of his failure in setting up an effective system of health records for his people while a federal organization recorded seemingly useless information on exhilarating scales under his very nose.

Here in India, we saw massive societal changes thanks to the blasphemy from the year before, finally managing to stir people to do more than just rant. This was further strengthened by the great floods ruining nearly one half of the nation along with the status of its poorly faring leaders. With the opposition already on a roll with amassing support in large numbers and peppered with a sumptuous variety of elaborate scams, it clearly was only a matter of time before people turned away from the existing leaders.

But more than that happened. 2013 saw Internet going to streets and changing people, organizations and governments. Over the closing months, we saw the birth of a third front and its rise to prominence. Overnight, a party that had seen a long string of failures in garnering people’s attention and over time being refused to be taken seriously, rose to such power that has made almost everyone rethink before they took the next step in ‘building the nation.’

What probably hasn’t changed much is the general mindset of decision makers who still seem to dwell in the past that they have created for themselves and attempt to re-establish it. What hasn’t changed is the pointless anarchy in people’s minds that appears to have blinded them from rational thinking. What hasn’t changed is the obsession with results that often ends up in screwing the process.

Metamorphosis

Surprisingly, 2013 for me has followed the same trend that 2012 followed, with a terrible first half contrasted by a great second half – but this time only larger in magnitude. The year started off with a terrible semester at college coupled with me working for an organization that finally unleashed its nastiness over time. Of course, these months have also served as valuable life lessons in terms of understanding people, understanding myself and setting priorities.

Over the next few months, I have constantly tried to grab every opportunity that came my way, at times, falling short of time to fulfill some their requisites to a justifiable level. But those which I was truly passionate about, well I’ve been doing just fine. Incidentally, I have also made a number of new friends over media that I never expected to be so powerful.

I worked as an intern over summer in a city where I had lived as a little kid. It was a mixed experience of both learning, questioning as well as retrospection – visiting the neighborhood that I grew up in, the places I had loved to go, the places that I had hated, and talking about childhood friends to another person from the same locality that I only met years later. These were the few days I had lived independent of any framework at all (as opposed to home or my nazi-hostel). Around the same time, I also happened to meet an old friend, and eventually collaborate with him on a then pet-project which is now reaching crazy heights.

In terms of my career, this has been a moderate year with some modest achievements in metrics that others deem too important. However, I’m currently in my final semester at college and a fair amount of uncertainty still shrouds the days that are to come. Musically, like I have discussed before, I have had major shift in perspective, ideas as well as my methods. I have made more music than ever before and have gained immense experience in the field. I feel more confident about taking over some serious projects now. Hopefully by next year, I shall have bigger things to talk(brag?) about in this regard. This, of course, calls for certain amount of rein over my own fears of failure and uncertainty, and I hope I achieve that in time.

With that closed, we now have some best-of-2013 wrap up sessions up ahead. Okay, let’s do this.

Books/Literature

This year, I saw myself more inclined towards non-fiction as opposed to the love for artistic literature that I had cherished over years. This partially stemmed from long discussions with friends at college about the world, its people, their purpose and their means. So here we go, my favourite book among the ones I’d read in 2013 is:

Image

In this book that either explains or debunks almost every rumour associated with this much fabled piece of land, Annie Jacobsen provides an amazing journalistic account that at times thrills and sometimes appalls the reader with the level of detail. She does so, while explaining the post-war scenario of the rest of the world, hence connecting some of the chief American defense operations, their cause and their affects on the rest of the world, and how it has resulted in the subsequent decades as we see it today.

Reading this book also followed a number of sleepless nights while I read up on conspiracy theories and tried gauging the probability of them being true, thus taking over a month to finish it. Add this to recent expose by former NSA agent Edward Snowden and you know how great a read this book has been for me.

But that said, Area51 is a must read for anyone interested in any of these: politics, world war history, technology, economics.

Music

This is going to be a really long section, more so because 2013 has been a great year for music. There have been more underground movements from all parts of the world getting the attention they truly deserve while mainstream turned around in imperceptible angles trying to create better music. This year has also been the first time I’ve caught up with all the new stuff and did not stay dwelling over music of the past for too long. My list this year also begins to explain my subconscious genre preferences over others. That said, I still have discovered some great artists that I wish I had listened to earlier.

But let’s not talk about that. Let’s talk about

Best Tracks of 2013

10. In Another Way by My Bloody Valentine

Over twenty after their previous work, My Bloody Valentine has found a way to stick to its roots while still evolving to incorporate new forms of music from the current era into this track. Dubbed to be from the Act: Drum n’ Bass this track blends looping percussion and blanketing synth pads with their traditional abrasive guitar and ethereal vocal melodies.

9. Warm in the winter by Glass Candy

One of the most energetic openers that I’ve found this year. Beginning with delayed synth notes and 80s drum samples, the track tries to bring you the retro atmosphere, albeit with more quality and layers thanks to modern music production. Oh, and wait till you fall in love with the vocals.

8. S.A.D. by Atoms for Peace

Perhaps the most underrated song from Thom’s ‘side business’. This track has all the trademark Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich production elements, only this time with some groovy bass lines from none other than Flea. S.A.D. probably has the most distinct of rhythms among most songs under this project and keeps you intrigued with its open ended lyrics.

7. Golden Arrow by Darkside

Another great opener that keeps startling you with its glitch samples and stutter effects. Spreading out for over ten minutes, Golden Arrow slowly fades into a more mellow track with a nice and sustained guitar solo, and reinventing its rhythm that is pleasantly evocative of Pink Floyd’s music.

6. Shut Up by Savages

Another opener? Why yes. This one certainly has some strong vocals and a mean bass line that will make you stop reading this if you’ve hit the play button already. Nevertheless, what’s even more profound about it is its theme and the opening speech (varies in the album version, but is as awesome as this one). Not everyday do you get to see a post punk act that knows what its doing.

5. Come Down to Us by Burial

This track released in the latter part of 2013 and instantly climbed up to be one of my favourites with its ambience and experimental song structure. Burial seems to have been constantly reinventing his music since his early days, and this is certainly a bigger statement than his previous work, addressing more tangible and raging issues to do with identity crisis and ends most aptly with a speech by a transgender film maker.

4. Carry Me by Bombay Bicycle Club

This little single here will first confuse you with its seemingly odd-time synth drenched opening before moving into a fast paced frenzy elegantly carried by a syncopating bass melody and vocal harmonies. It only makes me anticipate the bands upcoming album more.

3. Giorgio by Moroder by Daft Punk

Beginning with an anecdote from the composer during the 70s and his early tryst with electronica, this song teaches you to truly enjoy it during its course of nine minutes and truly stands testimony of how electronic music could well be the ‘sound of the future’ before progressing into a synth rock section while you still hear how important it is to lose inhibitions about the current forms of music in order to open up to new ones. Easily one of the better songs to have released year.

2. Reflektor by Arcade Fire

It is intriguing to see how Arcade Fire has made a track that is both happier as well as darker than most of its previous music. After losing its grand orchestral sound and giving rhythm some more importance (thanks to James Murphy’s production), the band has come to write a song on this bright era of humanity that has little packets of sorrow seeping out of each of us. From the idea of telecommunication to virtualization of almost everything in this world Reflektor also makes philosophical references to the illusions of life and death, all in analogy to a little reflecting ball at the dance floor in a discotheque. Fancy?

1. Full of Fire by The Knife

This track may come off as pretentious or downright nasty on first few listens, but gives you all the provocation you need to break free from the chains that tie you to your mediocre life. “What’s your story/That’s my opinion” over raw and abrasive electronic synth notes pulsating in all directions easily sums up as the most experimental music from this year. This song can pump up your rage and anger – at first at the song itself, and then towards everything around you. But sometimes that’s just what you need in order to get over your own passivity and take charge of things around you.

Best Albums of 2013

Honorable Mentions

Wild Light – 65daysofstatic
Rival Dealer EP – Burial
Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action – Franz Ferdinand
MBV – My Bloody Valentine
Trouble Will Find Me – The National

The Top 10

10. Psychic by Darkside

psychic

While retaining some of the traits from Nicholaas Jaar’s solo work, this album contains more of intelligent electronic music that takes the extra effort to keep you secure with its occasional guitar work and analog synthesizer soundscapes. Then again, what you might come across in the album is a totally new set of instrumentation with truckloads of sampling and sequencing that seamlessly run into one another.

Must Listen: Golden Arrow, Heart, Freak Go Home

9. After Dark 2 by Various Artists

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This is a compilation by producer Johnny Jewel, whom I discovered after listening to Kill For Love by The Chromatics (of Drive fame, if you remember). Packed with more 80s retro sound, this album presents some really pleasant night time utopia to you with reverberating snare shots, bass octave jumps and all the italo-synth arpeggios from the yesteryears.

Must Listen: Warm in the Winter(Glass Candy), Looking For Love(The Chromatics), Half Lives(Twisted Wires)

8. Random Access Memories by Daft Punk

daft

After a phenomenal success with their previous work from over ten years ago, Random Access Memories is a brilliant come back. Only this time, the duo instead moves to live instrumentation and dabbles with retro music, producing some colourful results.

Must Listen: Giorgio by Moroder, Get Lucky, Motherboard

7. Electric Lady by Janelle Monae

electric

I had merely done a few listens of her previous funk-pop album Archandroid when this one came up. Electric Lady presents some much needed light hearted funk music with its genre bending features that have soul samples, funk guitar patches and symphonic interludes. Not to mention little radio-show gimmicks to keep the feel going.

Must Listen: Givin Em What They Love, We Were Rock & Roll, Ghetto Woman

6. When Trees Were Higher by Hospital

Hospital

Not every day do you get to see an album that is inspired by all your favourite bands from before. Holding on to a late 80s/early 90s sound, this Russian band has presented a variety of music, mostly still falling into the category of indie rock. However, they still take liberty with trying out a diverse range of guitar effects and synth tones interspersed with string sections at outros, creating a different atmosphere with each track.

Must Listen: Secret Place, Spellbound, Made of Sand

5. Amok by Atoms For Peace

atomsforamok

Though it is the debut album for this peculiar mixture of musicians from so many different places, it consists of some highly experienced people trying to make rhythm driven music. After we saw the band’s rendition of much of the solo work from Thom Yorke (who’s the band’s frontman), the group went on to produce an album, still dominated by Thom and Nigel, but incorporating acoustic rhythm elements inspired by Fela Kuti’s aftrobeat. Besides, Amok consists of some of the most upbeat tracks written by its front man till date.

Must Listen: Default, Ingenue, Reverse Running, Amok

4. Modern Vampires in the City by Vampire Weekend

modern

Losing their folk sound a little, this time the band has made more cohesive music that somehow turned around from their mildly irritating Contra. Nevertheless, the album still packs as much energy with its uber-fast vocals and drumrolls, and is ideal for road trips.

Must Listen: Obvious Bicycle, Diane Young, Finger Back, Worship You

3. Reflektor by Arcade Fire

ARCADE-FIRE-REFLEKTOR2

After their grand, yet personal The Suburbs, Arcade Fire took a radical shift in their style of music, instantly losing a large part of their string sequences and instead focusing on their rhythm sections thanks to massive changes in their production style which you can almost hear saying “Rhythm is King” when you listen. What Reflektor features is a laudable attempt by a band trying reinventing its own sound, in the process, trying to address a more contemporary set of themes about embracing technology as a part of life.

Must Listen: Reflektor, We Exist, Here Comes the Night Time Part I, Hey Orpheus

2. Silence Yourself by Savages

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For a debut album, what this all-girl band has done is sheer brilliance. This dark and energetic post-punk album packs an intensity that I have seen in few other post-punk/revival bands over the years. Clearly inspired by Joy Division and Siouxsie & The Banshees, Savages churns out some much needed mature feminist rock. Special kudos to the Jehnny Beth for her Ian Curtis-inspired stage antics, and the Ayse Hassan’s crazy-but-awesome riffs that downright drive the music.

Must Listen: Shut Up, Strife, She Will…wait no. Listen to the whole album.

1. Shaking the Habitual by The Knife

the-knife-shaking-the-habitual

One word: Aggression. This album emerged out of nowhere into my playlist during the brief aftermath of a nasty spring semester in early 2013. With their sheer brute force of chaotic production and absolute disregard to subtlety, The Knife has created what could well be called a masterpiece. But make no mistake, there is a good chance you may not like the album at all, thanks to its divisive nature that serves as a test to those who might really be open to experimental music. Starting with tribal music achieved using analog modular synths, the album progresses into some of the darkest realms of music, as well as those of human mind, provoking its sense of harmony, balance and placidity. With each track being open to interpretation in so many ways, often in surreal ways, Shaking The Habitual is definitely my Album of the Year, and stays true to being indie in nature. 

If you cannot tolerate the entire album: Tooth for an Eye, Full of Fire, Without you my Life would be boring, Networking, Stay Out Here

Okay, so now let’s get back to where we left this off.

Discoveries in 2013(Music)

This year I’ve opened up to various genres incorporating electronic music, and a lot of retro-synth pop. Also, there was trance music. Some of the memorable music I’ve listened to include those by College, Kavinsky, Chicane and Clint Mansell. The two biggest discoveries this year, however, would have to be:

Massive Attack

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Although I had heard lots about this band over the years, it wasn’t until a few months ago that I properly listened to the pioneers of the Trip-Hop genre. Over the course of its career, Massive Attack has created a diverse set of music by merely sampling bits and pieces and making a beautiful collage over which they laid out their own compositions, often collaborating with other members on certain aspects of the music. From their debut Blue Lines, to their massive hit Mezzanine all the way to their recent Heligoland, the band has constantly looked for ways to make new music with their existing methods.

Some of their most popular works include Teardrop, which was also featured as the opening/title track for the TV Series House.

Some good pieces from them: Unfinished Sympathy, Blue Lines, Teardrop, Pray For Rain, Girl I love You, Atlas Air

BT

bt

Brian Transeau, better known as BT is a Grammy award winning(overrated, but still) electronic dance musician specialized in fundamentals of classical music as well as the nuances of modern electronica. What this results in is a blinding conflagration of a number of different genres, often in the same song. I’ve still not listened to all of his works, but to the extent that I have (which is about three albums), I must say I hit gold.

This ranges from absolute trance music in his record Ima, to hip-hop driven Movement in Still Life all the way to ambient electro-classical epics from This Binary Universe. What I find here is such beautiful blending of a variety of different sounds, effects and the right kind of tension at every breakdown section. Need I also tell you that he composes the OST for the Fast and the Furious franchise?

Here are a few of these epics: Movement in Still Life, Mad-Skills, Namistai, The Internal Locus, 1.618

Indian Music

2013 has also been a great year for indie artists from India and I must say there has been a huge spurt in the number of acts emerging every other day. Here are some of my favourite albums:

5. Doppelganger by Dualist Inquiry

aoty5

Metalhead turned DJ, Dualist has churned out a comfortable combo of electronica and guitar pop music to shift focus of the Indian youth from the regular film music. The album was followed by a nation-wide tour to a number of university festivals and other music events, hence garnering the artist a pretty good fanbase.

Must Listen: Specter, Exile, Anathema

4. Kaleidoscope EP by The F16s

kaleidoscope

This post-punk/indie rock band from Chennai seems to create very familiar rock music inspired by all the right artists from the genre. You can read more about here. Yeah I’m lazy.

3. Calamitunes by The Bicycle Days

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Once again, an alternate rock band that has a few progressive rock elements blending with extensive sampling and synth sequences often shifting across time signatures in the same track with their influences ranging from The Flaming Lips to Burial.

Must Listen: Vicious, Conundrum, Circles

2. Where EP by Sky Rabbit

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Sky Rabbit is a Mumbai based electro-rock band with energetic and playful lyrics over fresh sounding music. After their eponymous debut album, Where EP takes a little turn with more guitar and less synth leads.

Must Listen: It has only four songs in all. Check them all out!

1. Till You Appear by Sulk Station

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This album is a little older and not a 2013 release. But the band has risen to fame only this year and their debut album is easily the best music from India that I’ve heard this year. Sulk Station is a downtempo/trip-hop duo from Bangalore that makes minimalist atmospheres with claustrophobic, yet dramatic vocals laid over them – often in Hindi. The album also has its own characteristic Indian touch with Hindustani vocal embellishments over phrygian scale bass lines.

Must Listen: Downlift, Take Me Home, Piya II, Wait

So this ends Part One of my 2013 review. I shall post a Part Two soon, talking about the movies I’ve watched, and other noteworthy things from the year.

Until then,

Happy New Year!

-Sumanth

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One Comment

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  1. Pretty good blog.
    Seeing a change in your music list and not surprised at all. Electronic music has dominated your list this year.
    I agree. It has been a good year for indie music in India. And I’d have not discovered any of them without your recommendations. Must check Dualist Inquiry. Although, I still prefer The F-16’s at the top just because I like post-punk 😛

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