PRINT December 2013

Music: Best of 2013

Johanna Fateman

Kanye West performing “New Slaves” on Saturday Night Live, New York, May 13.

1 KANYE WEST’S PERFORMANCE OF “NEW SLAVES” ON SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE West artfully used the dead vibe of the SNL studio to highlight the minimal instrumentation of “New Slaves” and to make the bitter political content of his lyrics and performance seem as out of place as possible. It was an unforgettable and poetic show of rage, restraint, and vulnerability.

2 NO BRA, CANDY (self-released) Susanne Oberbeck has very long hair, sings like a butch Nico, and performs shirtless. Layering menacing sprechstimme over skeletal electro tracks is her hallmark, but there are more live elements in the mix this time. The catchy lead track, “Minger,” sounds like the funk-inflected No Wave of the Bush Tetras.

3 DAWN RICHARD, WHITEOUT (Our Dawn Entertainment) Though R & B/pop songwriter Richard is best known as a member of Danity Kane, I love her cinematic solo stuff, which she sets in a sexy and austere mythic realm. Her Whiteout EP was my sound track to last year’s snowy season. If you like Kate Bush, Roni Size, and Cassie, maybe this is your cup of tea, too.

4 HAIM, DAYS ARE GONE (Columbia) This band reminds me of Fleetwood Mac, the Pretenders, and Joan Armatrading. Haim’s album is glittering and up-tempo, with all the stompy drums, intimate vocal harmonies, and cool guitar parts we’ve come to expect from these three sisters (and one guy) from LA.

5 FUTURE WIFE, WE’RE GONNA DIE (Virtual Label) Future Wife is experimental playwright Young Jean Lee’s “indie rock” band, and this CD release is based on her theater company’s existential cabaret production We’re Gonna Die. Lee’s monologues and songs feel almost taboo—they deal with tragedy, isolation, and mortality in a disarming, forthright manner.

6 “CUPS” I don’t want to endorse the terrible movie Pitch Perfect (2012), but I love that Anna Kendrick’s cover of the Appalachian folk song “When I’m Gone” on the sound track spurred a viral girl-culture phenomenon. Clapping and tapping a complicated beat on an empty Starbucks cup in unison with your friends is super fun.

7 MICHELLE CHAMUEL ON SEASON 4 OF THE VOICE Chamuel, the emotionally convincing, nerdy/sporty lesbian with a voice of gold, had me with her audition performance of Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl.” That she got so far in the competition was an unexpected pleasure, and her deep connection with her coach Usher was possibly the best buddy story of 2013.

Publicity image for Ebony Bones’s Behold, A Pale Horse (1984 Records, 2013). Photo: Tim Bret Day.

8 EBONY BONES, BEHOLD, A PALE HORSE (1984 Records) British singer-songwriter-producer Ebony Bones creates perfect amalgams of punk, drum and bass, and soul. Her high-fashion club-kid aesthetic is invigorating, and her cover of the Smiths’ “What Difference Does It Make” (featuring the New London Children’s Choir) is beautiful.

9 LORDE, PURE HEROINE (Universal) As of this writing, “Royals” has spent five weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100, and some of the other tracks on Lorde’s debut album are even better. Spare, dramatic production showcases the nonchalant power of this sixteen-year-old’s distinctive voice, and her lyrics are full of witchy underdog observations.

10 PUSSY RIOT Though Pussy Riot’s musical output has faltered in 2013 for obvious reasons, the significance of the young women’s revolt has only grown in light of a new wave of antigay legislation in Russia, and the dire conditions of prisoners globally. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova commenced her hunger strike in Mordovia weeks after California inmates protesting solitary confinement ended theirs, and as the force-feeding of detainees at Guantánamo Bay continued.

Johanna Fateman is a musician, a writer, and an owner of Seagull Salon in New York. She is working on a book about Andrea Dworkin.