No Age | Nouns | Sub Pop
To say that this was the year of No Age is to perhaps overstate the two-piece’s influence. It’s not like they were in The Dark Knight or pal around with Katy Perry. But to a certain subset, No Age became the voice of a maturing downtown L.A. scene, one that reverberated not only westward to Venice and Santa Monica but eastward to Chicago, New York and London. Yes, on the surface, No Age is but two punkers banging on drums, kicking on effects pedals while strumming on distorto-guitars and singing little songs about ... what, exactly? It’s not gonna earn them a Nobel Prize (though it did earn them a Grammy nomination — for best packaging). But the excitement that Dean Spunt and Randy Randall generated in the world of rock felt so real, so thrilling, because it’s always cool to be reminded that rock & roll can still birth The New, that beneath its signifiers, postures and millions of spent verse-chorus-verse patterns that have risen from it, something surprising, joyful and genuinely hummable and danceable can arrive on our doorstep that both honors and ignores all those other songs. Nouns: Eleven cuts in 30 minutes, the lot of which was probably recorded in a few weeks and for a few hundred bucks, but that hits more raw emotion than a hundred million copies of Chinese Democracy.
Flying Lotus | Los Angeles | Warp
If all you’d heard of Flying Lotus was his album debut, 1983 (if you’d heard it at all), the local newcomer might have seemed an odd signing for Warp Records, a label with a rich history of pioneering top-shelf electronic music. That 2006 release was exceptional only in parts — namely, the nugget groove of each track, which was ultimately looped anywhere from one to six minutes too long. Lotus’ grimy beats begged the accompaniment of rappers who never showed, and despite favorable digital flourishes and the occasional sampled string swell, the listener was left searching elsewhere for drama. But those shortcomings are now excusable: That record was an outcropping of Steven Ellison’s work in crafting bumper music for Adult Swim. For his true album-length debut, FlyLo turned to his own city and found drama aplenty. Gone are the locked grooves, and in their place: a mercurial landscape that never rests. Dirty, complex and dynamic, Ellison’s work exudes vibes that instantly mellow all they touch. It’s entrancing music under a shimmering haze of crackle and ambient noise, with a bump underneath that pulls liberally from African, boom bap and IDM sources.
The Chapin Sisters | Lake Bottom LP | Plain Recordings
Whether it’s the result of heredity or environment, the Chapin Sisters have a special talent for weaving their voices to create gorgeously haunting harmonies. Abigail and Lily Chapin are the daughters of folksinger Tom Chapin, half-sister Jessica Craven is the daughter of horror-film director Wes Craven, and all three are nieces of the late songwriter Harry Chapin. They earned some initial notoriety for their glacially mournful remakes of such fizzy pop ephemera as Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” Madonna’s “Borderline” and the Smiths’ “I Know It’s Over,” but the release of their full-length debut, Lake Bottom LP, this year showed that the trio can also write memorable songs. The bewitching “Kill Me Now” frosts its austere acoustic-guitar plucking and Jessica’s lovelorn lyrics with windswept, high-&-lonesome harmonies, while Abigail’s funereal ballad “I Hate the Moon” is even starker and sadder, and just as beautiful. The songs are delivered with little more than Abigail’s and Lily’s guitars, apart from the occasional coloring from a guest pianist or violinist, but they don’t need much embellishment because of the trio’s marvelous voices, which are more distinctively beguiling than the better-known Watson Twins’.
The Knux | Remind Me in Three Days | Interscope
You move to L.A. to become a rapper, a writer, an actor, a statistical casualty. Your boggle-eyes become bleached from strong sun and bright, blinding bulbs. You follow the girls to the club because you don’t know where else they cluster. You can’t get in. A phalanx of fedayeen in fedoras slither past you — they mumble slick, snarky snipes in your direction. You remember their faces. Eventually, you figure out how to gain entrance. At first, you can’t comprehend the jive, but soon, you assimilate. You learn when to nod blankly. A corn-haired Barbie from Bel Air puffs a Parliament and tells you about Marc Jacobs boots, Yorkshire terriers and Daddy. What’s your name, again? The screenplay sells or you get the part or the advance is fat. You acquire your disciples: scions, party kids, deep-pocketed old men with mercury eyes. You learn where to purchase the best blow — how to ladle it out in slow, cruel increments. Naïvete corrodes into a cold realism that neatly parallels the slimy, grainy powder clinging like burrs to the back of your throat. At 2 a.m., the party shifts back to your starter palace in the hills. There’s an aspiring actress in your bed, lurkers lingering in the living room. You want to sleep but your blood is bilious, your limbs cataleptic, your mind drifting through an early-morning amphetamine haze. You limp to the balcony to watch a sallow sun drip sulfurously onto an ashen dawn. That’s the story of the Knux’s Remind Me In Three Days. If greatness doesn’t lie in this pair’s future, remind me in three years.