AUX's top 25 albums of 2013

by AUX staff

December 19, 2013






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In a year where Daft Punk resurfaced, the biggest names in hip-hop dropped monumental albums, and the Arcade Fire drummed up oodles of hype for Reflektor, it was hard to pick our favourite albums—especially when some of the year’s most anticipated fizzled after repeated listens. (Here’s to you, Comedown Machine.) Nonetheless, 2013 produced plenty of gems, including more than a few unexpected contenders, and our crack team of indie, pop, hip hop, electronic, punk and metal specialists sorted to the wreckage to pick our faves. Scroll to the bottom of the page for an Rdio playlist assembled by the AUX team.

By: Josiah Hughes (JH), Jeremy Mersereau (JM), Tyler Munro (TM), Mark Teo (MT), Nicole Villeneuve (NV), Jabbari Weekes (JW), and Aaron Zorgel (AZ).

25. Daft Punk
Random Access Memories

The wave of hype that preceded Random Access Memories’ release might have given it a sales bump, but it didn’t help its reception. As North America continued its love affair with EDM and welcomed the return of the French kings, Daft Punk headed in the other direction. With copious amounts of live instrumentation and un-synthesized guest vocals, the album can be considered funk, disco, pop or R&B as much as it can be called electronic. Yet, although they’ve tinkered with their sound, R.A.M. is still undeniably a Daft Punk record, filled with rousing anthems about gratification, hope, and love. In the past, Daft Punk albums have been able to gradually garner respect over time and it feels like R.A.M. was built to do that as well. (CJ)


24. Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle
Perils From the Sea
(Caldo Verde Records)

Drawing comparisons to everything from Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska to Bright Eyes’ Digital Ash in a Digital Urn, Perils from the Sea is the stunningly minimalist collaboration between The Album Leaf’s Jimmy LaValle and Mark Kozelek, and in turn, the best of the latter’s remarkably busy 2013. Contrasted with Kozelek’s roots-y work with Desertshore, Perils from the Sea carries itself on waves of beeps, blips, and bloops, riding the tide of the Red House Painters singer’s distinguished croon. At once precise and free flowing, Perils from the Sea is a triumphant mix of folk, electronica, and whatever we’ve decided slowcore is. Kozelek released three studio albums in 2013—that this was the best only speaks to his consistency and output. Look for Sun Kil Moon’s upcoming 2014 album to keep the momentum going. (TM)


23. Solids
Blame Confusion

It’s easy to dismiss Solids as the life-affirming rock duo the world never needed. After all, we already have our power-chord churning, arena-filling, Jagerbomb-pounding soundtrack—they’re called Japandroids. So we won’t blame you if the thought of Solids, a power-punk duo from Montreal, makes you want to rip off your carabineer, torch your Vans Authentics, and get fitted for a Zegna suit on your way to the accounting firm. But Blame Confusion, which will see a re-release by Dine Alone next year, is nothing if chameleonic: When it first landed in the office, AUX editor Nicole Villeneuve noted its similarities to ‘90s Cancon—the Doughboys, the Asexuals, the Killjoys. At times, their stark minimalism recalls the D.I.Y. scrappiness of another Japan-themed band (Japanther, natch). But mostly, they, like Vancouver’s Weed, hit the sweet spot between pop-punk and Mascis-esque slackerdom: “Haze” and “Traces” are positioned on kaleidoscopic guitar swirls; “Laisser Faire” and “Through the Walls,” are mid-tempo, moodier cuts; opener “Over the Sirens,” meanwhile, is a vintage push-mosh masterpiece. Indeed, Celebration Rock it ain’t—but that shouldn’t be a deterrent. (MT)


22. Arcade Fire

Reflektor has been out for just over a month at the time of writing, and seems to have followed the same pattern that a lot of big event releases took this year: huge anticipation followed by a largely underwhelmed reaction followed by overall indifference (Daft Punk, Justin Timberlake, Jay Z, Lady Gaga, etc.). It’s likely as much to do with current music culture than the albums themselves, a culture that Arcade Fire hand-wrings over on Reflektor. Win Butler has never been my favourite lyricist, but somewhere not quite deep down enough resides a permanent youthful angst that gets it. But still. We get it, Win. (See: “Normal Person,” “Reflektor.”) It was made to be a divisive album, and any album that has the Clash’s Sandinista! as a handy comparison is bound to be. But being weird and cerebral for the sake of it isn’t necessarily a bad thing—it’s when it steers too deeply into its indulgence that Reflektor hits its biggest nerves (the clattering “Here Comes the Night Time,” the sleepy “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)”). That’s when it forces you to engage. It’s cause for contemplating the point of being pretentious, something Arcade Fire almost make a mission out of. Their seeming simple defiance is actually all too rare, and if suffering through some winding disco moments to witness that ambition is what it takes, it’s worth it. (NV)


21. Protest the Hero
(Razor and Tie)

Volition is what happens when a band takes its next step both out of necessity and progress. The result of a monumentally successful crowd-funding campaign, Protest the Hero’s fourth album highlights just how far the Whitby-born outfit has come since its snotty punk rock roots. With Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler filling in for longtime kit man Moe Carlson, who left early in the songwriting process, Volition attacks with a different rhythmic dynamic, one that’s as calculated as it is natural. The band’s technical chops are well established, but singer Rody Walker sounds more at home than ever between the never ending shred—the result is an album that blend the hooky melodies of Scurrilous with the unending business of Fortress. (TM)


20. Kacey Musgraves
Same Trailer Different Park 
(Mercury Nashville)

I’m pleased we were able to squeeze some country music onto our year-end list, and don’t even worry, it’s not the wallet chain-sporting doofuses in in country-pop powerhouse duo Florida Georgia Line. Texas-born Kacey Musgraves writes starkly personal songs, and though they’ve got that radio-friendly sheen, she’s about as punk as pop country gets—not only does she write her own songs (a rarity for the Nashville machine), she’s got a single on country radio (“Follow Your Arrow”) that advocates same-sex love, a feat beyond even Macklemore’s gangly reach. For anyone who isn’t attuned to what’s happening in country music right now, Kacey Musgraves is a good gateway artist. (AZ)


19. James Blake

Despite being critically acclaimed and winning the coveted Mercury Prize for album of the year, James Blake’s Overgrown for whatever reason seems to have dropped off everyone’s radar. Overgrown is an album that doesn’t make an immediate impact—and doesn’t try to. The strength of the album presents itself when played from front to back without interruption, enveloping you in a sphere of eerie falsettos and eccentric electronic diversions that show Blake’s growing mastery of both soul and electronic. You’ll hear how heavy the steel pan hits in the opening moments of “To the Last” or the slow, encroaching humming in “Retrograde” before Blake’s falsetto hits its climax in the final moments of the song. Far removed from the talks of post-dubstep and the shadow of breakout single “Limit To Your Love,” here, Blake evokes a sense of calm in stark contrast to the stormy collisions of disorienting noise in his debut. (JW)


18. Gorguts
Colored Sands
(Season of Mist)

Colored Sands was an unlikely revelation for Gorguts, not because anybody expected less from Luc Lemay, but because he managed to recapture the band’s essence after 12 years away with an entirely new line-up. Colored Sands carries a new immediacy for Gorguts, striking a less directly disorienting sound with occasional restraint, sometimes holding back in pace and tempo before exploding with unbridled brutality. The contrast between atmosphere and dissonance is therefore all the more jarring and, conversely, cohesive. In true Gorguts fashion, Colored Sands is an album finely crafted from start to finish, and in 2013, a future death metal classic. (TM)


17. Sky Ferreira
Night Time, My Time

For a few years it seemed like Sky Ferreira might never get this album out. Falling into a too-typical young signee narrative of scattershot major label delays and less-typical acting and modeling stints, the 21 year old Myspace vet finally completed her debut Night Time, My Time with former Hippos’ frontman turned superstar-pop-producer, Ariel Rechtshaid. And NTMT couldn’t be a better way to focus our various ideas about Ferreira: it’s self aware and smart, sweet and so sludgy, pop star burnout pastiche, summoning the Psychedelic Furs as much as Cyndi Lauper as much as Garbage as much as Robyn. A complete musical melting pot is the rule, not the exception, in 2013, but there might be no better instance of it working so well to create a perfect pop-rock album this year—check “Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay)” or lead jam “Boys” for definitive proof. (NV)


16. Forest Swords
(Tri Angle)

It’s no accident that the legend himself, Lee “Scratch” Perry, just remixed Engravings’ “Thor’s Stone”: Forest Swords (aka producer Matthew Barnes) could be called the one-man master of dub music in 2013, and even the old king has to give up a co-sign. But is Forest Swords really dub? Ghostly vocal snippets, underwater bass, and guitar so verbed out it might as well have been recorded in an aircraft hangar all firmly indebt Engravings to dub, but it’s Barnes’ amorphous injections of everything from shoegaze to industrial that turn the results into something singular and mystical. The real magic of Forest Swords is how Barnes turns tracks that could be dismissed as “just mood music” into something deeply haunting and affecting, but above all natural. Mixed on a laptop outdoors, the tracks sound like hymns from the earth itself, or maybe Stonehenge-era chart toppers. In all its sparseness and mysticism, Engravings isn’t exactly for everyone, but neither is it just for Enigma fans or people who get excited about the new William Basinski joint. Dub, ambient, experimental—whatever it actually is, Engravings is for anyone looking for something that sounds like absolutely nothing else. (JM)


15. Hoax

The rise of a hardcore punk band to blogosphere prominence often means they’re faced with two choices: get weird or get soft. Fucked Up’s continued trip through every genre under the sun sees them in the former camp, while Trash Talk’s Odd Future-approved spectacle is more tie-dyed t-shirts than substance. It’s refreshing for a band like Hoax to come along and punch everyone in the face. Literally, if you try to brave the broken glass and rowdy fireworks often going off at Hoax’s show to sing along with frontman Jesse Hanes, there’s a good chance he’ll punch you in the face. It’s not just fetishism of violent punks here, however. Musically, the band’s self-titled debut is a mess of shitty guitar tones, pummeling bass, and growled vocals, but there’s an artfulness to the packaging (likely a result from spending too much time with Mark McCoy). Here, Hoax proved it’s possible to move to L.A. and release a critically acclaimed, artful LP while still sounding like the scary anarchopunks down the street. (JH)


14. M.I.A.

M.I.A. has always been a bit reckless, but it’s her tenacity that’s created some of her best work, and Matangi has that same mischievous streak. More like a well-curated mixtape than an album, Matangi is still a favourite because of Maya’s ability to mesh cultures and sounds with crass competence. Who else can snap together a Bhangra-fuelled revision of Shampoo’s ‘90s hit “Trouble,” while also flipping Drake’s (thankfully) retired Y.O.L.O. campaign into a pop record about reincarnation and karma? Admittedly, the album does feel a bit disjointed at points with a series of dated references (is KONY still a thing?) and singles (looking at you “Bad Girls”). But the album contains a ferocity and instrumental chaos not seen since her introductory mixtape, Piracy Funds Terrorism. At its core, Matangi haphazardly slaps together so many sonic elements that are ready to combust, and I’m more than happy to be along for the ride. (JW)


13. A$AP Rocky
Long. Live. ASAP.
(ASAP Worldwide/RCA)

Expectations for Rocky were stratospheric after the Live.Love tape, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that the general consensus when Long.Live.ASAP was released was kinda underwhelming. It’s a tall order for a rapper to emerge with a fully-formed style and productions as next-level as “Peso” once, much less to do it again two years later. But “underwhelming” doesn’t mean that Long.Live.Asap doesn’t have more than its share of mindblowing moments, or that it isn’t as strong as any of the more consistent, less top-heavy hip-hop releases of 2013. The fact that Long.Live is mainly made up of moments rather than a cohesive whole was the main issue with the album, but when the moments are as incendiary as Wild for the Night” or Fuckin’ Problems, then you kind of have to re-evaluate your priorities. True, none of the productions on Long.Live touch “Peso” when it comes to sounding like they’re being broadcast from another planet, but insanely great beats like “Goldie” and “Fashion Killa” come as close as possible, and manage not to sound like retreads in the process. Rocky’s rapping isn’t going to be what people remember after hearing the album, but he doesn’t need to impress in that respect: the whole ASAP crew survives on attitude and style, and in 2013 Long.Live.Asap was the embodiment of both. (JM)


12. Disclosure

In 2013, some mainstream EDM fans finally stopped waiting for the drop. Why? Because the drop is fucking everywhere. The drop is in a Taylor Swift song. The drop is in Doritos commercial. Avicii even got so bored of his own shit that he made a song that sounds like Mumford & Sons. This year, there were legions of bro-step and Skrillwave fans who were thirsty for a change, and the Lawrence brothers’ Settle emerged as the next mainstream crossover. These guys initially hooked me with their impressive live performance setup, incorporating bass guitar, live synths, drum triggers, and live vocals, proving that it’s possible to give people an engaging performance without just pressing play and letting a pre-timed lightshow do the heavy lifting. Settle quickly shot to #1 on the UK Albums Chart, producing six singles and counting, and by my estimation, it won’t be long before Mr. Pringles cops their sound to sell chips. (AZ)


11. Deafheaven

A fawning tweet by Born Gold’s Cecil Frena—who himself produced a wonderful album in 2013 in I Am an Exit—tipped me off to Sunbather. At first glance, I was confused: Why was a post-hardcore kid who plays electronic pop celebrating faux black metal? Could a melodic metal record actually tie together such disparate universes? And if it did, would it actually be good? Yes. See, Sunbather is the type of record that’d piss of genre purists—somewhere, someone’s arguing over its authenticity, its validity, its black-metal bona fides. No matter. Because Deafheaven has created an LP that’s merges Alcest’s post-rock with Liturgy’s American nouveau black metal—and somehow, that fusion works better in practice than it does on paper. And that’s because Deafheaven have an eye for pop’s theatricality: this feels every bit as cinematic as Explosions in the Sky, but somehow, Deafheaven crams blast beats, gnarled pedals, and harsh noise into the fray. (And, as with opener-masterpiece “Dream House,” these elements often all collide within a single passage.) This is extreme metal, no doubt—skip midway through the LP’s title track for proof—but it’s also been sugarcoated to the point that yes, NPR dad and his death-metal listening son could enjoy this. And that’s a rare feat. (MT)


10. Danny Brown
(Fool’s Gold)

From the moment the break drops in the opening seconds of “Side A,” it’s clear that Danny’s on some whole different shit on Old. Having only been released in October, Old already stands as the definitive how-to manual of stitching together hip-hop with strains of electronic DNA; mainstream rappers who six months ago were injecting warmed-over trance riffs into their songs are going to be cribbing from Old for years to come. Brown’s assembled army of top-shelf producers don’t disappoint—Oh No’s off-kilter version of a Dipset beat for “Torture,” and the digital corkscrew of UK grime master Darq E Freaker’s “Handstand” standout on an album full of standouts. But the real production star is London’s Paul White, who gifts Danny so many wonky leftfield beats he has a legitimate claim to a Ryan Lewis-level of co-cred. Saying Danny’s lyrics and imagery are “on point” here is an understatement; the idea of pairing horrific stories of street violence with party-crushing anthems on the same release is inspired. He decided on Old, but he could’ve easily called it The Shape of Hip-Hop to Come, and it would have been hard to disagree. (JM)


9. Tegan and Sara

If you’ve been paying close enough attention, Tegan and Sara’s move to Top 40 radio was inevitable early on: their gradual, assured transition from teenaged folk duo to sophisticated synth-dabbling songwriters has been unfolding since their 1999 debut, snapping into clearest focus on 2007’s Chris Walla produced The Con. Here, the songs got tighter, and on follow-up Sainthood, they had genuine would-be hits on their hands in “On Directing” and epic album closer “Someday,” songs that were so straightforward but retained the ragged textures, the small charms, of their back catalogue, that it was maybe harder to see the bigger, more commercial picture. Enter the strategic Heartthrob, made with legit pop heavyweight producers like Greg Kurstin (Kelly Clarkson, Ke$ha, the Shins) and Mike Elizondo (Dr. Dre, Eminem, Fiona Apple), and made for career longevity, in the form of both reinvention and karaoke potential. It’s an unabashed love letter: to obsession, the radio, to Cyndi Lauper and Def Leppard and Roxette (as if that “I Was A Fool” intro doesn’t have you humming “Listen to Your Heart” every time). It’s so shiny and irresistible, and at the very end, on “Shock to Your System,” it gets heavy—who would have thought Tegan and Sara would ever have had a beat like that? (NV)


8. Autre Ne Veut
(Mexican Summer)

When everyone else was expressing their disapproval over the term “PBR&B,” Autre Ne Veut’s Arthur Ashin was busy finalizing his strongest work yet. Anxiety is a flawless mix of academic pop approach and pure, raw sex—Ashin is, after all, a guy with a master’s degree in psychology who put a glistening labia on the cover of his 2011 Body EP. Put simply, Anxiety is a breathtaking work. The album offers something new on each listen, and encourages different sorts of listening as well. You can play it at a party, or you can sit down and struggle along with its heart-wrenching themes. On the production end, Ashin’s aided by his former roommate Daniel Lopatin, who’s a modern synthscaper if there ever was one (his other 2013 offering as Oneohtrix Point Never is among the year’s best, while his Ford & Lopatin collaborator Joel Ford also cranked out a synth-pop classic as one half of Ejecta). Everything sounds vast, expensive, and most of all commanding, laying to rest any notion that Ashin’s a mere bedroom performer. Though it comes with vintage R&B references and, on first listen, a whole bunch of cheese, there’s nothing ironic about Anxiety. Instead, it’s Arthur Ashin baring his soul, one throat-shredding heartbreaker at a time. (JH)


7. Iceage
You’re Nothing

Iceage’s Dan Kjær Nelson was among the worst interviews I’d had all year. It’s not because he was surly, distant, or rude. Rather, it’s mostly that he didn’t speak much English, and accordingly, he couldn’t properly articulate the sheer, nihilistic power of You’re Nothing, the fiercest post-punk LP in a year brimming with them (see: Savages, Holograms, et al). But he didn’t need to articulate much—You’re Nothing does all the talking. Let’s back up: In January, this LP was among my most anticipated, even if I never expected it to compare to Iceage’s flawless debut, New Brigade. It didn’t simply compare—it bettered their debut. From the falling-apart breakdown of “Ecstasy,” to the piano-driven military march of “Morals,” to the pummelling choas of “It Might Hit First,” You’re Nothing was at turns all-out negativity, dead-eyed hatred, and no-future nihilism. And it’s not hard to see why the band got accused of fascist tendencies—there’s certainly a militaristic, mechanical backbone to Iceage’s negativity, which undoubtedly scored (and improved) the year’s lowest moments. So kudos to you, Iceage. And viva hate.  (MT)


6. Pusha T
My Name Is My Name
(G.O.O.D./Def Jam)

After singing to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music imprint for his solo venture in 2010, Pusha T had been sitting in a sort of limbo until this release. While his impressive turns on G.O.O.D. Friday, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Cruel Summer built his track murdering reputation into legend, his Fear Of God II EP and mixtape Wrath Of Caine did little to build buzz for his debut outside of the Clipse fiends that will forever be down—but that fell right into West’s anti-establishment, fuck-everybody 2013 plan. The brash rawness of Pusha’s street tales was ideally handled by Kanye and his blockbuster production team; the outcome: an incredibly stark, tight record that all at once encompasses Pusha’s past, present, and future, playing like a timeless artifact that embodies the strengths of the thrilling ‘00s-to-now MC. My Name Is My Name will be remembered as a crucial cog in West’s minimalist movement. (CJ)


5. Vampire Weekend
Modern Vampires of the City

It wasn’t exactly a hard decision to put Vampire Weekend on our cover back in May. They were gearing up to release Modern Vampires of the City, a record that cemented them as an all-time great. (My criteria, FYI: all-time greats should have at least three incredible records. Few artists reach that level, low as it seems.) When I interviewed them in a glassy, upscale hotel room in Toronto, they completely sold me on their high-concept LP: Modern Vampires completed their trilogy by writing an ode to their NYC home, its characters, its soul. It’s a marvelous pop achievement even sans lyric sheet: Stripping away the electronic elements that defined Contra, Modern Vampires pulsates with organic warmth. The rushing drums and hard-hammered piano on “Unbelievers,” the airy organs and spindly harpsichord on “Step,” the vocal-violin interplay on “Finger Back”—there’s countless moments on the record that mirror the urgency, the breathless pace, and the nuance of big-city bustle. The New York in Modern Vampires is the one we’ve all fetishized as kids from the suburbs, or the Midwest, or from shit towns we’re trying to escape: It’s romance, narrative, largesse, complexity. And it sounds damn good. (MT)


4. Blood Orange
Cupid Deluxe

Last year, the work Dev Hynes did on Solange Knowles’ Trust EP suggested he had hit his stride. The wide scope covered across his preceding projects displayed hints of genius alongside a youthful restlessness. It’s clear that Hynes wasn’t ever willing to put continuity ahead of creativity. This release as Blood Orange revels in his eclectic freedom. Cupid Deluxe references Massive Attack’s classic 1992 debut Blue Lines as it brings together a collective of vocalists and merges improbable elements (funk licks, go-go beats, grime MCing) to create an engaging, captivating record that plays like a comfortable trip through Dev’s own hauntingly beautiful universe. (CJ)


Days Are Gone

The most frustrating thing encountered while discussing the prodigious pop sisters HAIM this year is the whole antiquated, “they play their own instruments, and they’re GIRLS” mentality. Divorce Days Are Gone from gender (yes, an impossible feat, but follow me), and it’s still a tremendous pop record. But yes, they just so happen to be women. Why does the fact that Alana, Diana, and Este Haim are good musicians blow our minds? It’s not for a lack of talented ladies out there, obviously. Marnie Stern can outplay 99% of shredders. For my money, St. Vincent is one of the most creative active songwriters, period. I could go on and on and on and on, but I shouldn’t have to. Truthfully, it’s obscenely rare that a band like HAIM gets the mainstream recognition and exposure that’s steamrolled them to a ubiquitous darling-status this year. Days Are Gone might not sell a million records, but if even a few of HAIM’s young fans are inspired to start bands, their importance will be realized. (AZ)


2. Drake
Nothing Was the Same
(OVO Sound/YMCM)

And so we have album number three from the Champagne Papi—aka Drake—in Nothing was the Same. While the internet continually (though mostly lovingly) mocks Drake’s character (cue Drake hands) at every turn, there’s a reason why he remains at the forefront of popular music and NWTS reinforces that. In his most musically cohesive, lyrically concise album yet, NWTS showcases Drake’s ever-imposing versatility with songs that have become symbiotic with those precious moments of bliss (“Worst Behavior,” “Hold On, We’re Going Home”) or for the long train ride home when you stare out the window despondently, wondering how life went so wrong (“Too Much”). Too dramatic? Guess Drake has me in my feels again. NWTS has the bonus distinction of probably being the only album on the list to inspire numerous Google Maps searches for Toronto’s “Markham road in the east end.” (JW)


1. Kanye West
(Def Jam)

In a year where hip-hop’s heavy hitters dominated music’s headlines, there was no singular album more important (and conversation-worthy) than Yeezus. The roar around Kanye’s sixth solo album even drowned out the publicity machine of the man himself: Despite his struggles in the fashion world, he landed a high-profile collab with French label APC. He had his first child. He punched up a few paparazzo. Nonetheless, it was his new, and aggressively dark, musical aesthetic that earned Yeezy the most attention. Deservedly so, we might add. It seemed like everyone—from Ellen to your octogenarian grandfather—had an opinion on Kanye, and so, too, did we. AUX assembled our team of writers to opine, argue, and celebrate the year of Yeezus.

Well, this wasn’t supposed to happen. Aging rock journalists have long believed the age of consensus—where high and low art agreed, pop and underground culture combined, and multiple generations met over a band like, say, The Smiths—was long dead. For the most part, they were right. Micro-genres reproduce as quickly as we’re willing to consume them (and please, let’s not pretend that’s a bad thing). The two polarizing forces behind all art consumption—criticism and publicity—have become democratized, with nearly every artist, marketer, consumer, and critic having access to a platform. And we were never supposed to agree on anything ever again. Then Yeezus happened, and we were all, “Sheeeeit, didn’t see that coming.” (MT)

There’s a scene in David Wain’s sadly underrated Wanderlust where, in an effort to get himself pumped up for adulterous sex, Paul Rudd stares at himself in a mirror. “I’m gonna give you my diiick,” he says, emphasizing and elongating each filthy letter of the word, so that the vowels are obnoxiously agape and the consonants are rock hard. Over and over again, staring at himself, he shouts about his phallus with increased intensity. It’s hilarious. Kanye West’s Yeezus is essentially a dead serious take on that scene: A man, staring deeply into his own eyes, angrily yells about his penis. It’s self-indulgent, it’s uncomfortable, it’s even occasionally blasphemous. It’s also raw and engaging; a flawed, savage work of genius. (JH)

Off the bat, this album didn’t impress me. It was clear Kanye was trying to do some progressive stuff, but it all felt a bit gimmicky and not all that progressive. It’s not groundbreaking for a rapper to have a God complex (Jay calls himself Hova and Nas has God’s Son tatted across his belly). It’s not groundbreaking to buy the rights to TNGHT’s biggest banger and then spit the chorus of the 1999 C-Murder and Snoop Dogg club standard “Down For My Niggaz” it was flipped from over it. It’s not groundbreaking to snatch up a pair of the hottest Chicago rappers and put them on your record. It’s not groundbreaking to use dancehall samples and artists on a rap album. It’s not groundbreaking to have Charlie Wilson’s soulful croon soar across your album’s last track. But once I was able to look at Yeezus for what it actually is, and not what it was supposed to be, I was able to find some appreciation for it—a lot of appreciation. The famed stripping down of this record by “reducer” Rick Rubin correlates to the stripping down of my own expectations/apprehensions before I was able to roll with this record. Still, I maintain that this can’t be the best record Kanye West could have released in 2013 and while I’ll listen to and enjoy Yeezus for years to come, that will always bother me. I appreciate his attempts at approaching things differently but I’m more interested in seeing an artist deliver their best rather than try to make some sort of convoluted statement. (CJ)

 Yeezus seems to succeed on people’s expectations of it. It’s a should-be polarizing album that’s achieved nearly consensus acclaim, with challenging songs that had no trouble finding their way into cell phone commercials and basketball games. And because it’s not atop my list, there’s the assumption that I don’t like it. I do; just not as much as everyone else. Yeezus is good, but—brace yourselves—I’d still rather rock 808s and Heartbreaks. After My Dark Twisted Fantasy, Yeezus feels desperate, but not in the almost perfect way we’re used to. This is Kanye West throwing whatever he can at the wall and seeing what sticks. Not everything does, but what works works. But for me, that’s not enough. (TM)

As the holy scripture from Yeezus reads, “Now you sittin’ courtside, wifey on the other side/ Gotta keep em separated, I call that apartheid.” It’s almost comical – sans marital status- how much this line applies to my interaction with people over the album. Since its release, I’ve been in countless arguments, mocked and treated like a social pariah (mainly for my live rendition of Blood on the Leaves) in Yeezus’ defense. However, it’s a testament to the nature of the record that it makes you feel or remember anything amongst a sea of bland releases this year. (JW)

Abrasive, raw, defiant, not one fuck given. This is future music, period. Yes, Death Grips are truly the voice of the zeitgeist. But jokes aside, It’s a pretty safe bet that Ex-Military or The Money Store were banging around Kanye’s head in one form or another during the Yeezus sessions, but Yeezus is still 100 per cent Kanye. Nothing else in 2013 was visceral as the stealth ”He’ll Give Us What We Need” sample (“On Sight”) or the suicide doors opening up and TNGHT’s “R U Ready” clotheslining Nina Simone (“Blood On the Leaves”). Most listeners probably would have been happier with Dark Fantasy part two, but it’s his need to push against complacency that’s always been Kanye’s most endearing quality. “Bound 2” makes it clear: “Yeah, I could still do this, but I want to give you something new.” Uh huh honey. (JM)

There was only one album this year that shut the AUX editorial department down when it leaked and that we silently torrented then and decamped to a room with a door that we could close so we could turn it up too loud to talk over. Just one album that we constantly marveled and laughed at and argued about. One whose movie references we parsed. One album that had a six-minute surprise banger with a Nina Simone sample that shut down any bar we were in. One album that had the greatest rap verse of all time. One artist whose interviews we chopped and remixed. One artist whose tour delays we mourned. One guy whose every internet move we traded in Gchat all day every day. Just one Yeezus. There’s only Kanye. There’s only ever been Kanye. Kanye is always right. Kanye is Yeezus. (NV)



This article originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of AUX Magazine. Download and subscribe for free in Google Play for Android devices, and the App Store for iPhone and iPad.


Tags: Music, News, arcade fire, Autre Ne Veut, AUX Magazine December 2013, Daft Punk, danny brown, Deafheaven, Disclosure, Drake, Forest Swords, Gorguts, HAIM, Hoax, Iceage, James Blake, kacey musgraves, Kanye West, M.I.A., Protest The Hero, Pusha T, Sky Ferreira, Tegan and Sara, Vampire Weekend, Yeezus






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