Wadada Leo Smith
Ten Freedom Summers
Any single disc of the overflowing four-CD Ten Freedom Summers may be considered one of the year’s best. All together, the four-plus hours of music from the avant-garde jazz trumpeter is a mammoth achievement, tackling themes concerning the American Civil Rights Movement with reverence, an adventurous spirit and tremendous resonance, utilizing a superb jazz ensemble and a chamber orchestra.
Dark and difficult, yet endlessly fascinating, the latest album from the former ’60s crooner and heartthrob mixes both high-brow and low-brow references with a peculiar sense of humor, combining Walker’s wailing, operatic voice, terrifying music with foley work one might expect to hear in an experimental film. Nobody else in the world would dare to make music quite like this.
Shelley Hirsch and Simon Ho
Where Were You Then?
The eccentric, unconventional singer Shelley Hirsch teams up with composer Simon Ho for this vibrant, compelling album that packs an emotional wallop with memorable storytelling, told/sung using a mind-bogglingly wide variety of vocal styles and accents.
As harrowing and mind-scarring as ever, Swans’ latest double-album is sprawling and absorbing, with punishing sonic peaks and tension-wrought spaces. It’s an exhausting journey—not for the weak—that puts a stranglehold on your attention.
The Magnetic Fields
Love at the Bottom of the Sea
After numerous themed albums, Stephin Merritt’s pop group The Magnetic Fields emerges with one free from any such expectations, leaving Merritt unfettered to explore his loves (new wave, bubblegum pop) with synth-pop and wickedly clever lyrics in his purely fictional universe with transvestite-crushes, unicorn-slaying and mariachi obsessions.
Hello Kitty fronts The Who at a Cuban dance party populated by friendly, killer robots.
The Money Store
Possibly the most unhinged hip-hop album of the year, The Money Store projects a certain kind of terror not through a show of force, but instead using its instability, uncertainty and unexpected methods; every sound is damaged, and every lyric damaging.
Trevor Watts & Veryan Weston
Dialogues in Two Places
The best pure free-improvisation album of the year is this live double-album featuring the British duo of saxophonist Trevor Watts and pianist Veryan Weston. The constant give-and-take is intriguing listening, with instant transformations and the duo’s uncanny ability to create engrossing music out of thin air.
Getatchew Mekuria & The Ex & Friends
Sensing his life is nearing its end, the Ethiopian saxophonist Mekuria teamed up with the Dutch post-punk band The Ex for another album, this time leaning toward a more sensitive, reflective approach. Mekuria is as expressive as ever, and the bonus disc of haunting and spirited archival material, reaching back to the ’60s, is outstanding, too.
Melody’s Echo Chamber
Melody’s Echo Chamber
French singer Melody Prochet and Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker collaborated on this gorgeous, sun-drenched psychedelic pop album with stick-to-your-ribs tunes, a charming and pretty personality and just the right level of nostalgia.
Tune in next week when The Pulse features Ernie Paik’s Top 10 reissues and archival releases, in addition to his first two new reviews of 2013.