Kevin J. Elliott

Top 10 Albums

Britney Spears
Femme Fatale

I know what you’re thinking, and I honestly don’t care what you think. Femme Fatale is simply the best pop album of year. And this is not so much a nod to Britney Spears as it is to the millions of dollars spent on producers and studios and backing tracks to make her comeback possible. Ms. Spears is merely the vessel that propelled the album to blockbuster proportions. Really it could have been anyone. On Femme Fatale, there are numerous dalliances with K-pop, dubstep, baile funk, nu-rave and nu-house. Here they all get star treatment and become prophesies of what the future holds for the spirit of radio. Like it or not, that maximalist approach to musicmaking (and myth-making) will eventually permeate most everything you hear in everyday life.

Times New Viking
Dancer Equired

For what seems like the first time in five albums, Times New Viking took a breath on Dancer Equired. To their critics who often complained about melodies hiding under thick blitzes of crackle and hiss, the trio answered with their most contemplative and reflective recording to date. This is Times New Viking deliberately being the Times New Viking everybody else asked for, but still created within their rigid aesthetic parameters. It’s not as if the past was without premeditation. Every note on each successive album was met with deep thought. It’s just here that deep thought is concerned with a sunny disposition, mellowing out, and exploring the prospects of dismantling what they’ve built since 2007 piece by piece instead of tearing it all down in one fell swoop. It’s hard to imagine Times New Viking existing past this perfect summit.

White Denim

In old age, I’ve come to adore everything ever laid to tape by the long lamented Grateful Dead. But who is that band’s modern equivalent? There is a generation completely doing it wrong (the tedious jam-band circuit) and very few who take virtuosity to heart and convey it through roots-rock, progressive noodling, jazzy rhythms and sonic experimentation. Not only does White Denim do all of the above, they do so without all of the pretentiousness associated with such indulgence. Somewhere between the pasty bore of Fleet Foxes and the arena-damaged psyche of a once formidable band like My Morning Jacket sits the Austin quartet, constantly reinventing traditional arrangements to sound like screaming hirsute diz-busters carving through the classics from another dimension.

Twin Sister
In Heaven

Initially, Long Island’s Twin Sister was perceived as a lazily spun, indie-pop reinvention of Fleetwood Mac. They were easy to pass off as hipster soft-rock, but among the folds one could tell they were capable of much more. In Heaven is Twin Sister fully realized, with fevered dreams of minimal sidewalk funk (“Bad Street”), transcendent shoegaze peaks and valleys (“Kimmi in a Rice Field”) and plenty of stunning electro-exotica—all of it orbiting the alien coo and bewitching sensuality of singer Andrea Estrella. The beauty of In Heaven, though, is not necessarily centered on Estrella. This is a psychedelic group effort first and foremost, and the album’s finale, “Eastern Green,” provides proof that there’s a miasma of sound underneath the slick, sparkling surface.

Gang Gang Dance
Eye Contact

While not the multi-layered, textured complexity found on Gang Gang Dance’s previous record, Saint Dymphna, Eye Contact is no less transcendent, even if the group opts for immediacy and spectacle. The brash techno-thump of “Mindkilla,” the lover’s rock mock of “Romance Layers,” and the epic Boredoms-cum-disco of “Glass Jar,” are all conducted with a bigger-than-life gravitas that veers closely to becoming garish and irritating. But it’s that worldly omniscience that sets them apart from most bands of the day. Seeing them play out this persona live, though, is the ultimate representation of what Gang Gang Dance is capable of achieving.

Psychedelic Horseshit

It’s a shame that Matt Horseshit is still being thrown under the umbrella of lo-fi and is still carrying albatross of shitgaze round his neck, as this, his first release for FatCat, is crafted with a maximalist vision which incorporates everything from Eno atmospherics, Kanye West’s mainstream sampling savvy, and cross-sections of Radiohead and the Animal Collective. Sounds mighty ambitious, and maybe that’s where the confusion sets in, as it’s the listener’s responsibility to weed through this beautiful mess of a record to find the eureka moments where Horseshit shifts from noisy cobbler to sonic alchemist. Throughout, one can sense much bigger things on the horizon.

Youth Lagoon
The Year of Hibernation
Fat Possum/Lefse

The Year of Hibernation is filled with huge, hook-filled pop songs that come whispered instead of shouted. The record is almost insufferably quiet and barely registers, requiring even more of an ear to enter the insular and warm glowing atmosphere presented by Trevor Powers. Because of this, you have to find your own structure in the guy’s out-there existentialism. Chronic anxiety and a hard-luck break-up are said to have shaped Power’s music, and you can hear it. He’s a man with a strong knack for pop, but hides it in the folds.

Shabazz Palaces
Black Up
Sub Pop

It’s been a while since I cared about a hip-hop album as much as I do for Black Up. Then again, Shabazz Palaces are an exception to usual hip-hop tropes, just as Ishmael Butler’s previous crew, Digable Planets, was many years ago. The beats here are dark and meticulous, the rhymes abstract, and the overall experience a cryptic spelunking into the depths of how far the genre can be warped.

Ford & Lopatin
Channel Pressure

Though it’s hard to truly follow the storyline of Channel Pressure—protagonist Joey Rogers seems controlled by his Intellivision, swooned by digital sirens and eventually bows to hi-fidelity—it’s quite easy to become engaged in the imaginative world Ford & Lopatin conduct with their spaceage arsenal of electronic gewgaws. The duo have explained in advance that the sonic arc of Rogers’ journey and the whole of the album were very much inspired by the incidental music from ’80s Z-grade teen romps, hair metal training montages, big-named instrumentalists like Jan Hammer (in whose studio they tracked the album), and higher fare zaniness like Weird Science. The best testament to this blatant indulgence is that Channel Pressure rarely falls prey to the novelty of how that list looks on paper. This is far from disposable dance music. Channel Pressure is cosmic funk, awkward progressive jazz, smooth quiet storm R&B, noise-laden 8-bit circuit twisting and, above all else, purely airy pop.

New Brigade
What’s Your Rupture?

Punk has never completely disappeared, but rather become completely unrecognizable after splitting into specialized sub-genres, as well as being parodied, exaggerated and mocked. In essence, it just has less meaning than it once did. All the more reason that we needed a band like Denmark’s Iceage to craft a debut that not only captures the spirit of the classics (Wire, Warsaw, Crass and Discharge), but is also an urgent call-to-arms revealing that punk is still a vital resource for catharsis. Though the hype was at full tilt by the end of Iceage’s first American tour, it was hard to ignore the magnetic force of New Brigade. Youth and nihilism, chaos and melody, blood and bruise—by record’s end, even if you’re not convinced that there’s a revolution going on, you’re a believer in Iceage’s visceral energies and groundbreaking appeal.

The Next 10

20. Kurt Vile, Smoke Ring for My Halo (Matador)

19. John Maus, We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves (Domino)

18. The Horrors, Skying (XL)

17. Oneohtrix Point Never, Replica (Software/Mexican Summer)

16. PJ Harvey, Let England Shake (Vagrant)

15. Kitchen’s Floor, Looking Forward to Nothing (Siltbreeze)

14. Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Unknown Mortal Orchestra (Fat Possum)

13. The War on Drugs, Slave Ambient (Secretly Canadian)

12. Psandwich, Northren Psych (Columbus Disount)

11. Ty Segall, Goodbye Bread (Drag City)

Favorite Singles

Lana Del Ray, “Video Games” (Stranger)

Perfume, “Spice” (Tokuma Japan)

Beyoncé, “Countdown” (Columbia)

Tyler the Creator, “Yonkers&rdquo (XL)

Britney Spears, “I Wanna’ Go” (Jive)

Drake, “Marvin’s Room” (Universal)

Rihanna, “We Found Love” (Def Jam)

Azealia Banks, “212” (self-released)

HyunA, “Bubble Pop” (Cube)

Tove Styrke, “High and Low” (Sony)

A$AP Rocky, “Peso” (RCA/Polo Grounds)

Frank Ocean, “Novacane” (Def Jam)

Favorite Reissues

Harald Grosskopf, Synthesist/Re-Synthesist (Rvng Intl.)

Various Artists, Boddie Recording Company: Cleveland, Ohio (Numero Group)

Koroush Yaghmaei, Back from the Brink (Now Again)

Axemen, Three Virgins (Siltbreeze)

Talk Talk, Laughing Stock and Mark Hollis, Mark Hollis (Ba Da Bing)

Favorite Live Shows

Forma at Double Happiness, December 3 (Columbus)

Lindsey Buckingham at Midland Theatre, November 9 (Newark)

Paul McCartney at The Great American Ball Park, August 4 (Cincinnati)

Guided By Voices at Cannery Ballroom, January 14 (Nashville)

Friends at Ace of Cups, November 30 (Columbus)

Iceage at Public Assembly, June 17 (Brooklyn)

Gang Gang Dance at Double Happiness, July 12 (Columbus)