The following represent my personal favorite of the year, not necessarily the “best”.
Albums of the Year
1) The Seer by Swans
Calling this album “bone – crushing” would be putting it lightly. On the outside The Seer seems engineered to polarize. It’s not as experimental as Soundtracks for the Blind, towards the middle of the album there is a country – western ballad with Karen O, and Gira’s menace is on full display. This album was not made for anyone but Gira himself. The vision and scope is so specific, playing to exactly what he wants. The result is a pure distillation of savage rage and determination.
It makes sense Gira would revive the Swans moniker now. Fourteen years was a nice time for Gira to explore his softer side and appropriately Swans’ return see’s Gira back to his tyrant self. Nicely though, he was held on to the restraint, musicality, and songwriting that made Angels of Light so enchanting. Most of all, he knows when to throw it all away for the violence that established him so well in the No Wave movement.
While all this was already on display in 2010’s excellent My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky, The Seer gives each concept an organic run time to develop fully. With only 11 tracks yet a two-hour run time, Gira indulges in his most pressing fantasies. It’s egotistical almost, in a good way like Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. It’s single mindedness allows unique ideas to flourish both musically and lyrically. I found myself empowered during “Song For a Warrior”, a track that essentially portrays Gira as a savoir through his music. The driving yet smooth, folky laments at the end of “Mother of the World” work as an excellent and unexpected tag to the opening savage layering. Adding white noise suddenly in the end of “The Wolf” registers as a natural supplement to the mood already created in the short track.
Going on to discuss each turn and touch would be a waste. This is the mind of one of America’s top composers on display. The Seer is not for everyone but it invites you to witness or experience. Both are fruitful despite your relationship with Gira’s outlook on life and music.
2) WIXIW by Liars
There was no better time in Liar’s career for this record. After their two most conventional albums and the “chicness” of dropping their name wearing off, WIXIW seems like a gift for all the fans who were always up to see what style was next. Liars established they still wrote kick ass punk music and Sisterworld flaunted their gift for instrumentation. WIXIW almost seems like the culmination of everything they have ever done, with the past two albums serving as transitions into more conventional song-writing territory. The sparseness of They Were Wrong, So We Drowned and the grooves of They Threw Us all in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top both in tow. But most of all, the consistent moodiness of Drum’s Not Dead. WIXIW proves there is still inventiveness in conventional song – writing / structure. It serves as the definitive statement on what unifies each of Liars albums in terms of sound. That unique mood that makes one feel lonely, adventurous, and savage all in one.
3) NO LOVE DEEP WEB by Death Grips
In a year when nobody would shut up about this group, Death Grips capitalized on this by showcasing the possibilities of their sound. Any of their three albums can be argued as best, it just relies on what you like best about their aesthetic. My vote is NO LOVE DEEP WEB because the bare-bones instrumentation and consistent sound creates a primal and unified vibe. The other two albums seem more complimentary with Flatlander and Zach Hill serving as producer for MC Ride’s rapping. On NLDW, Death Grips feels like a band, with each aspect of the tracks working together to flesh out the terrifying and spacious tone. “Come Up and Get Me” is a monster of an opener with the bass pad beating with MC Ride’s off-kilter flow creating a coordinated assault of a beat. The pre-chorus of “World of Dogs” matches the drums steady build with MC Ride’s clam repetition. These moments are frequent display creating what feels like a fully fleshed out thought with no breaks for breath.
Comedy Special of The Year
New in Town by John Mulaney
In a recent interview on Nerdist, comedy elder Dave Atell discussed how his approach to stand-up is to just go for funny. This seems obvious but in the age of Louie and WTF with Marc Maron the ability comedy has to explore deep themes is being studied frequently now. While Atell might sound dismissive of thinking deeper into comedy, he and John Mulaney are similar in that the two both explore deeper themes almost as a result of the two simply going for funny. New in Town is funny as hell and manages to explore the neurosis and fantasies of being a child, the odd prejudice that is evident everyday, the neurosis and fantasies of adult life and so much more. These themes come from the fact that big laughs come from flesh out and unique points of view as well as joke-writing prowess. Most of all, that funny is what kept me coming back to this all year. Every joke is memorable, from his review of Home Alone 2: Lost in New York as a def jam comic to more stories from his hard drinking past. Mulaney expertly bounces through personal stories to pop culture rich observations, with a few absurd fantasies weaved in-between with ease and expert pacing. Mulaney is on top of his game right now with only two albums under his belt.
Comic Series of The Year
Hawkeye written by Matt Fraction, art by David Aja and Javier Pulido, Colors by Matt Hollingsworth
The Release of The Avengers film in 2012 left many comic veterans and rookies alike asking what the hell is the point of Hawkeye. Matt Fraction responded firmly with Clint fucking Barton. He brought along the perfect team to help. I admit I knew nothing of Hawkeye the character going in and in just five issues Clint Barton and Kate Bishop have been embedded into my mind as two of the greatest characters in modern comics. I know the top of this list said this is about my favorite but I meant it when I said best in that last sentence. Clint’s a douche, a sweetheart, full of flaws, and profoundly un-badass. Focused on his life not as an Avenger, Clint encounters adventures both quaint and large scale full of humor and drama. What are so great are the small details, like when he has sex with a mysterious woman he just met despite his labeless relationship with Kate or the frequenting of BBQ’s in his rundown apartment building. His constant inner- thought is accompanied by some of the most beautiful though appropriately cartoony art by Aja and Pulido. The lack of realism makes the characters all the more believable, with more personality and a natural look for the unnatural action sequences. The true star is Hollingsworth, with his simple, unsaturated color choice balancing the real characters in the impossible world. It has a vibrant yet intimate look making almost like a reflection of how Clint sees the world. Everything about this series is beautiful and immersing. Best of all it only gets better.