Playboy’s 2013 Music Guide

By Rob Tannenbaum

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Playboy’s 2013 Music Guide:

This glamorous, leggy Norwegian singer and bass player is somehow unknown in the U.S., which is odd because her best songs, including “Bummer Gun” and “On It (Kapow!),” have a funky electronic eccentricity that recalls the 1980s smashes Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis concocted for the S.O.S. Band, Alexander O’Neal and Janet Jackson. And Vik’s cover of Ready for the World’s “Oh Sheila” is so spot-on, it’s no wonder she has a Jheri curl.

It’s easy to admire the range of music and musicians this South Indian American pianist explores, including, on his wonderful recent album Accelerando, Michael Jackson and Duke Ellington. But what distinguishes him is his storming groove, which falls in rapid clusters of notes and gales of chords. Iyer plays as though he thinks his piano is a drum kit.

On the band’s Facebook page, a follower from Chicago recently likened being a My Bloody Valentine fan to rooting for the Cubs. That’s not fair: Cubs fans have been waiting since 1908, and MBV took a mere 22 years to follow up Loveless, a shimmering landmark of noise and overtones, a kind of Sgt. Pepper’s for hipsters. The new release, m b v, is small by comparison but still distorted and gorgeously mysterious. Another great development: The band has resumed touring, and its shows are not to be missed. The one time we saw MBV, the volume was so loud we had an auditory hallucination.

Black music never sits still for long, so to call José James a traditionalist means he’s conversant with more than 50 years of influences, including dim-the-lights jazz, the minimalist funk of Gil Scott-Heron and the kind of soft-falling hip-hop beats used by D’Angelo and A Tribe Called Quest. It’s a rebirth of cool: On No Beginning No End, this son of a Panamanian sax player uses his voice like a horn, murmuring oblique lyrics about separation and desire.

Here’s the Nashville they don’t show you on Nashville. Caitlin Rose is the daughter of a successful country songwriter, but at the age of 16 she preferred the Ramones. Now 25, she writes graceful, tender songs at the outskirts of the country tradition—Patsy Cline never sang “Let’s move this fucking jet.” But it’s not the cursing (or the banjo and slide guitars) that elevates her second album, The Stand-In; it’s how Rose finds sensational new ways to describe loneliness and regret.

All blogs have strong opinions, but few have the expertise and imagination of Any Major Dude With Half a Heart. A champion of the championless, the Dude puts together thematic MP3 playlists. The best posts at HalfheartedDude.com are the R&B compilations from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, which resurrect great songs that should never have been forgotten.

Kendrick Lamar was born 25 years ago in Compton, California, the same time and city in which N.W.A introduced the fuck-tha-police code of gangsta rap. Guided by N.W.A producer Dr. Dre, Lamar recounts his adolescent delight in drugs, women and crime. But he’s not a gangsta—he’s caught between gangs and cops, neither of whom he likes. He calls his album good kid, m.A.A.d city “a short film,” and the striking narrative may remind you of The Wire. We won’t spoil the ending.

Richard Hell (no, it’s not his real name) was a founding member of three momentous mid-1970s New York bands: Television, the Heartbreakers, and Richard Hell and the Voidoids. His memoir I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp fearlessly recounts the social, musical and narcotic history of downtown culture and punk rock: poverty, ennui, safety pins, foreign films, misanthropes and a dead turtle Hell kept in a glass jar “as a sort of decoration or artwork.”

Lots of white boys in T-shirts can make a guitar ruckus, but these mangy Cleveland hair balls steer through the skids as they mix astringent guitars with bristling lyrics about postcollege frustration, harnessing mayhem to keep moving forward. Singer Dylan Baldi has said Attack on Memory’s eight songs are “all sort of depressing,” but depression is rarely this exhilarating.

Eighties electro-pop hasn’t sounded this great since, well, the 1980s. Amid chilly, stabbing synthesizers, Lauren Mayberry (half Natalie Portman, half Audrey Tautou) calmly coos lyrics such as “I’ll be a thorn in your side till you die.” With “Lies,” “We Sink” and “The Mother We Share,” this retro Glasgow trio became our favorite new band of 2013, as they would have been in 1983.

The traditions of AC/DC and Led Zeppelin have gone awry: It’s more difficult than ever to find headbangers who don’t sing about Satan’s cock or howl as though they’re surrounded by zombies. Baroness, a quartet out of Georgia, achieves twisted catharsis in heavy, complex ruminations that never sound ludicrous. The band has toured with Metallica, but its songs “Little Things” and “Cocainium” also show a curiosity about funk music.

There’s no way around the comparison: Deap Vally sounds a lot like the White Stripes. Vally plays loopy, distorted blues rock, and it’s a duo. But it’s a duo of women, which is a crucial difference. When singer-guitarist Lindsey Troy crows, “I’m gonna make my own money” or reprimands an unfaithful man, she and drummer Julie Edwards claim an equal right to defiance and autonomy.

They look like they escaped from the pawnshop basement scene in Pulp Fiction. Masked, mysterious and often bare-chested, Goat claims a backstory that sounds like bunk: Supposedly the band lives in a commune in Korpilombolo, a small town in northern Sweden with an ancient history of voodoo worship. On World Music, Goat combines 1960s psychedelic guitars, tribal village percussion and organ drones with simple, ominous chants (“Boy, you better run to your mama now”). It’s an evil yet joyful din, like a pagan cult having an orgy under a solstice moon.

He has been making records since 1968 and has won a couple lifetime-achievement awards, yet 314 million Americans have never heard this sensational British rock guitarist. Thompson’s new album, Electric, adds plenty of ornery, braying solos to grimly funny songs about conflict and betrayal. The uninitiated could start with earlier records: Amnesia, Hand of Kindness or Shoot Out the Lights, about the collapse of a marriage.

Launching a jazz label in the 21st century seems like an insane idea. Yet since it started in 2001, Pi Recordings has released vibrant, daring records, often dominating critics’ polls despite issuing only three to five releases a year. David Virelles, Henry Threadgill and other Pi artists all “aim for some edge that hasn’t been reached out to before,” says Yulun Wang, a former investment banker who runs the label with founder Seth Rosner.

R&B singers should do one song about sex for every two songs about love, and this personable NYU grad caught our ear with “Sound Proof Room,” a bouncy, commanding request for a noise-making tryst. Her debut album, Perfectly Imperfect, has a hint of throwback (classic-soul fans won’t be disappointed), as well as a winning sense of humor: “I can’t help being depressed/When I look down at my chest,” Varner sings amiably.

By incorporating interviews with musicians from Barry Manilow to punk-rock howler Lee Ving, Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters turns his documentary Sound City into a poignant and funny recounting of the heyday of a dilapidated Van Nuys, California recording studio. It’s on a par with our other favorite rock docs, which are now easy to find online or through pay-per-view: 1984’s Stop Making Sense, a giddy and elegant concert film of Talking Heads’ theatrical funk-rock; and 2010’s Who Is Harry Nilsson?, which retraces the lovely art, grim childhood and madcap addictions of an American singer beloved by the Beatles.

Sound City Stop Making Sense Who Is Harry Nilsson?


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