Bear in mind that I'm not a music critic by any means, so this is simply my personal favorite selection of the albums that came out this year. There's such a wide amount of music out there that I could probably list 100 of them here - but I won't. Here are 10 of what I thought were the best electronic albums of 2013, in no particular order:
Boards of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest
Ever since hearing "RoyGBiv" on an electronic music compilation album, I have been a big Boards of Canada fan. They had disappeared from view for a while, but surfaced again this past year with the sublime Tomorrow's Harvest. It's nothing truly groundbreaking, just really, really good music.
Maya Jane Coles - Comfort
I first heard Coles when she did a compilation for the DJ Kicks series of albums. When I saw that she had a debut album coming out this year, I had to get it and was not disappointed at all. From the slow rolling sound of the opening single to the many different types of songs throughout the album, I found it a disc that I could listen to in its entirety several times.
F*** Buttons - Slow Focus
I can't use any videos here since all of them have the actual, uncensored name of the band, but I highly suggest you search YouTube for "Slow Focus" and get an idea of what it's like. It's different from their previous album, with nary a song like "The Lisbon Maru." It's kind of jarring, unsettling but ultimately worth listening to multiple times.
Disclosure - Settle
It's hard to believe that the people behind this music can't legally drink in some countries. When I was their age, I was trying to get into as many parties as I could, not make really good tunes like this. Now college kids are going to parties and listening to music by their peers.
Bonobo - North Borders
Ever since I heard "Sugar Rhyme" on M is For Monkey, I've been a big fan. This album definitely doesn't disappoint. It's excellent music for doing things creatively, like writing or drawing. It's also one of those albums that's just meant to be listened to one after the other - there's not really a song to skip, which is rarer in this day and age where singles seem to rule the marketplace.
Toro Y Moi - Anything In Return
Yeah, I know. He looks like Donald Glover. He's able to set some really great beats here with some really interesting lyrics. Listen to the album. You'll be hooked in no time. It's quite the relaxing album.
Sally Shapiro - Somewhere Else
Sally Shapiro isn't just one person, it's actually a duo of her and John Agebjorn. They produce some really stirring music - the instrumental version of "If It Doesn't Rain" is truly beautiful. Someone described it as 'ear candy' and that seemed to be the perfect description for it. Listen to it and think of summer.
Lindsey Stirling - Lindsey Stirling
She was on America's Got Talent and got voted off. Boy, Piers Morgan, Sharon Osborne ("Your act couldn't fill a theater in Vegas") and Howie Mandel must be feeling a little silly now at how Stirling's career has blown up since her debut album came out. It's electronic beats with a violin. Trust me. It's awesome.
Holy Ghost! - Dynamics
I got hooked on their first album and this one didn't disappoint either. I had to be careful listening to it when doing work, because I had to stop every few seconds and start boogieing along with the beats. Yeah, it'll hook you that fast.
Pretty Lights - A Color Map of The Sun
Aside from having a really, really cool album title, Pretty Lights has put forth a masterpiece. It's actually all the work of one person, Derek Vincent Smith, which is pretty amazing for the levels of complexity, 'Yellow Bird' is also a great song besides the one I showed.
Washed Out - Parocosm
This is an album to listen to if you're in a really bad mood. It can't help but cheer you up. It's also one of those albums that demand a full listen. I didn't find myself impatiently switching out of any of the songs. Just a really, really good work.
Yes. I know. I left off a certain album by a group that rhymes with Raft Dunk. It's not that I didn't like the album, but given how it had been marketed as being a game changer when it came to music, I found myself unimpressed. It didn't last in long rotation on my iPod. It almost seemed humdrum after all the buildup. SoLet me also leave you with one of my favorite tracks from this past year - Royksopp's "Daddy's Groove", a song that I found myself wishing to be about 5 minutes longer:
Lions Gate via Everett Collection
When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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As is the case with most "all star" seasons of reality television, the latest installment of Project Runway All Stars has a few qualified candidates and a bunch of folks who were simply more than available. And, like the various "all star" treatments out there, Project Runway's second outing falls trap to the notion that trying to mix and match old seasons doesn't necessarily make for an attractive new one.
That's not to say there weren't legitimate Project Runway all stars to be excited to see again during the Season 2 premiere last night. What happened to Andrae? Funny you ask, because he was there! Along with fellow runner-up talents like Uli, Anthony Ryan, and Laura Kathleen. (My money is on Uli taking this whole thing. Much like how Mondo nabbed the Season 1 All Star victory to make up for the loss during his season, Uli will likely do the same here.) There's the contestants there for sheer entertainment value like Casanova (who already provided some Soup-worthy quips), Gay Ryan Reynolds AKA Josh, and the villain everybody love to hate to hate to hate, Wendy Pepper. Then there's Suede and Kayne and Peach. (Names have not been changed.)
The problem with both incarnations of Lifetime's Project Runway, both the regular season and now the new All Stars, is that even though you can dress it up the same as the original Bravo show, the fabric of the series has fallen apart at the seams since the network swap. (Come on, who doesn't like a series of fashion puns?! Oh, right, everyone.) Project Runway started to lose its edge when the talent pool not only dwindled substantially as the seasons went on and the challenges were anything but challenging. Case in point: last night's challenge.
After host Carolyn Murphy (who is lovely enough, but is no Heidi Klum as far as hosts go) told the contestants they'd be paired off into dreaded teams, the designers assembled to take on their first "challenge": creating a line with the theme of "attitude". Isn't all high fashion about attitude? How would this be considered a challenge to a fashion designer? Making clothes out of plants and scrap metal and random items at a grocery store, that is a challenge.
Nevertheless, they were split into two teams with Team 1 consisting of Kayne, Uli, Casanova, Ivy, Althea, and picked-last-for-kickball Wendy, and Team 2 had Josh, Peach, Laura, Emilio, Andrae, and Suede. The teams were given the chance to pick a word for the attitude challenge and Team 1 went with "confident" and Team 2 picked "bold". You know since bold and daring are things designers rarely strive for, this was going to be a real stretch.
Given $250 per person and the looming threat that the person with the worst design on the losing team, they all got to work. As well they should have considering how much is at stake this season. Project Runway may be painfully boring, but they sure do keep it interesting for the stars. This year the winner gets to be the Contributing Editor of Marie Claire for a year without all the fun of having to go to J-School, an all-expense paid trip around the world to the various Fashion Weeks, studio space, and $150,000.
If you're a long-running — and at this point, suffering — you know the drill from here on. The designers visit Mood, they eyeball and tear apart each others' progress in the work room, someone makes a blanket statement ("I'm not here to be safe, I'm here to win", "You're only as good as your weakest link"), their models come in, they get ready for the runway show, they put on the runway show, the judges judge, a winner is declared, and a loser is sent packing. Of course, there are a few key differences with regular Project Runway and All Stars in that, like the host, there's an entirely different set of judges (Michael Kors and your totally bats**t analogies for outfits, where art thou?) and instead of the heartwarming Tim Gunn, there's Tilda Swinton doppleganger Joanna Coles.
The judges — composed of Murphy, Coles, Georgina Chapman, and Isaac Mizrahi (who made my favorite declaration ever last night when he pondered "I wonder about shorts anymore!"), along with guest judge, the aforementioned Mondo — watched on as Team Bold showed a series of not terribly bold black-and-blue outfits and Team Confident had a slightly more confident black-and-lace collection. And, despite having Kayne and his super hero gone awry outfit, Team Confident emerged the winner. Team member Anthony Ryan became Season 2's first champ thanks to a chic number with a sexy surprise lace detail in the back (hey, the guy's still got it), while athletic wear enthusiast Peach was understandably the first to get the boot because of her unflattering, long-sleeved disaster of a dress.
All in all, it was a pretty dull episode of Project Runway All Stars. Does the season have potential? Perhaps. Based on the trailer, it seems like Ivy is hell-bent on giving Wendy a run for her money as insufferable TV villain and Katie Holmes makes an appearance as a guest judge. But since these episodes can feel a little tedious and the show itself can hardly muster up the same inspiration that it used to, here's some fun games you can play at home should you choose to watch the rest of this season, such as:
Who Said It: Casanova or Gloria from Modern Family?
Is That Suede Or A Juggalo?
Kayne or Kanye?
That last one doesn't really make sense, but you know, make it work.
What did you think of the Season 2 premiere of Project Runway All Stars? Were you underwhelmed by the lineup and the challenge or just thrilled that you didn't have to go a full two weeks without an episode of Project Runway? Who do you think looks poised to take this season? Share in the comments section below.
[Photo credit: Lifetime]
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