When I first announced the artists that would be part of my Class of 2013, I basically promised that it would be even better than my Class of 2012. You could say that I had high hopes for all of these ten artists, and much to my chagrin, they actually delivered this year. There was plenty of action to be found, and plenty of profiles raised to new heights of popularity and stardom. It’s amazing to think that not only did virtually everyone improve their stature in the music world, but about half of them released full lengths that made my Top 50 Albums of 2013 list, not to mention many others’. In short, I’m exceptionally proud of the work all of these artists did over the last year, and invite you to join me now for a quick recap of what they did across 2013.
I wonder what earned AlunaGeorge more attention in 2013: their album Body Music, or the song “White Noise,” which was their collaboration with the white hot electronica duo Disclosure. No matter which way you slice it, they definitely got their name out there and on a lot of radars this past year. Though I didn’t write about it on the site, I felt privileged to have seen the duo’s first-ever North American show this past August, which took place in Chicago. It was a whole lot of fun to hear their album cuts performed live, and though they had done a bit of touring around Europe earlier in the year, they also seemed confident and experienced on stage, which is perhaps more than I can say about a band like Chvrches (more on that below). If you gave AlunaGeorge a chance either on record or on stage in 2013, I hope you’ve fallen in love with them. If not, what are you waiting for?
When it comes to hip hop, I’ve been screwed over at least twice in the last two years. Last year I named A$AP Rocky and Azealia Banks as members of my Class of 2012, and they then had the nerve to both delay their debut albums multiple times. A$AP Rocky’s record finally came out this past January, meanwhile Azealia Banks is now claiming her over-a-year-delayed debut album will be out this upcoming spring. I’ll believe that when I hear it. Speaking of Azealia Banks though, she got into a bit of a fight with Angel Haze at the start of 2013 that led to some pretty entertaining diss tracks from both camps. Beyond that though, Angel Haze had a pretty active 2013, whether it was covering Cat Power’s “Manhattan” with Ryan Hemsworth, releasing a funny video for her track “No Bueno”, giving away outtakes from her then-forthcoming album, not to mention covering Kanye West’s “New Slaves”. That’s just a snapshot, keeping in mind that during that period she also finished recording her album Dirty Gold and did a bunch of touring too. But where she really drew attention was at the very end of the year, when she grew so impatient with her record label for hanging onto her finished album until 2014 that she just leaked the entire thing on Soundcloud. Immediately afterwards, the label removed the stream and promised to release the record on December 31st. In other words, it made the cut for 2013, but not early enough to be included on any year-end lists. Not that it necessarily deserves to be there; I like Dirty Gold, but I don’t love it, you know?
Few members of the Class of 2013 had a bigger year than Chvrches did. Thanks to early release singles like “Recover” and “Gun,” they were able to build up hype for the summer release of their debut full length The Bones of What You Believe, which wound up on almost every single Top Albums list that I saw. Chvrches were also pretty smart and spent much of the year touring. I know they played at least 4 shows in Chicago, and I think all of them sold out. I was lucky enough to see the first show, which happened a couple months before their album came out. While it was a preview of the greatness that was to come, I did feel like they hadn’t quite found their mojo as live performers quite yet. Their music is so uplifting and spacious, but they seem rather reserved and distant when performing it live and that takes away just a slight bit of its power. They are slowly getting better on stage from what I’ve been told, so with any luck by their second album they’ll really skyrocket to stardom. As it stands, they made quite an impact in 2013, and I can already see large venues and big TV gigs in their future.
As somebody who’s not always at the forefront of the punk rock scene, it’s a little difficult for me to judge exactly how well FIDLAR did for themselves in 2013. I mean, they released their self-titled debut album at the start of this year to a lot of respectful praise but not quite raves, and then toured for pretty much the rest of the year. They played I think two shows in Chicago, both of which sold out rather quickly to the point where I was unable to get tickets to either one. The live videos I’ve seen of them on YouTube look pretty badass though, so I can understand why their fan base is so rabid and fun. The songs on their album are about surfing, drinking, drugs, and living hard and fast to the point of leaving behind a beautiful corpse. Their band name is an acronym for Fuck It Dog, Life’s A Risk, so of course they’re going to make songs and play shows like each one could be their last. One of the cooler things FIDLAR did in 2013 was the video for their song “Cocaine”, which starred Nick Offerman. That’s about the most mainstream exposure they got this year, and it leaves me wondering how much (or if) their popularity has risen the past 365 days. No matter what their current place is in today’s music scene, I’d like to think these guys are pretty satisfied with it. I’m looking forward to hearing (and hopefully seeing) what they’ve got up their sleeves next.
Of all the members of my Class of 2013, Haim was undoubtedly the biggest success. Let me try and measure that success by touring and venue size. In August, Haim came through Chicago for Lollapalooza. They played an aftershow at the 500 capacity venue Lincoln Hall. In spring 2014, the band is coming back through Chicago on a tour, and upon selling out the 1,300 capacity Vic Theatre, the show was moved to the Riviera Theatre, which has a 2,500 capacity. They quickly sold that out as well. So over the span of 6 or so months, they’ve more than quadrupled their audience. I haven’t really heard them on the radio in Chicago at all, but have seen them perform on a number of late night talk shows, not to mention a much coveted “Saturday Night Live” musical guest slot. Their debut album Days Are Gone received mostly rave reviews (including mine), and placed well on many year-end lists (including mine). Their song “The Wire” also happened to be my favorite song of 2013. Key to their success? I’d like to think that it’s pure, unadultrated talent. The three Haim sisters Danielle, Este and Alana are all masters of their instruments, which you might not be able to fully hear on their album but can definitely tell in a live setting. They also know how to write a great hook and have effortlessly charming personalities as a bonus. What’s not to love?
La Big Vic
As with every class, not everyone is going to achieve equally. Unfortunately, that means some people get left behind. La Big Vic aren’t a bad band by any means, and their album Cold War is probably one of the most underrated and underappreciated things from 2013, however they’re also not particularly active either. I think they played a handful of live shows in 2013, mostly in their hometown of New York City. Between that and their album coming out in the first couple months of 2013 with no music videos to help support it, you almost needed to go out of your way to discover this band and their record. The primary reason I chose them is because I thought based on some early sinlges that they were destined for much bigger and better things. That still may be true, it just didn’t quite seem to happen over the last year. Oh well, they can’t all be overachievers.
Little Green Cars
The primary reason I chose Little Green Cars to be part of the Class of 2013 is because their sound seemed to be the direction that music was headed at the start of the year. The Lumineers and Of Monsters and Men both became huge, and so this little Irish folk band with lush, Fleet Foxes-esque harmonies fell right in line with that. Yet maybe the folk revival peaked before Little Green Cars could make a significant dent. Sure, they’ve done a pretty great job in 2013, what with the release of their debut full length Absolute Zero and touring virtually nonstop to help support it. They played four shows in Chicago this calendar year, two of which I saw, and the crowds/venues only increased in size as time went on. Actually, their live show is probably the best thing about them. Not only is it incredible to hear the harmonies, but they really like going out into the middle of the crowd during the encore and performing a song entirely a capella. It brings a real intimacy no matter what size of venue you’re at, which is nice. They also had a couple of songs played on the radio, with their biggest hit being the single “Harper Lee.” If the primary goal of the Class of 2013 project is to select artists that will significantly increase their popularity over the course of the year, then Little Green Cars absolutely achieved that. I’m proud of them, even if they’re not the most unique or innovative band in the world, and continue to wish them success in the future.
At the start of 2013, Rhye was something of a mystery. Sure, we knew that Mike Milosh and Robin Hannibal were the two people behind the name, but there were no press photos and considering the vocals you’d be hard pressed to not believe there was a female involved. But no, that’s actually Milosh’s voice, which sounds oddly similar to Sade. I’d argue his vocal androgyny ultimately works to the band’s benefit, serving as a smooth element of seduction that attracts both genders almost equally. Rhye’s debut album Woman came out at the beginning of March and immediately won support from critics and music fans who were drawn in by its intimacy and strong singles like “Open” and “The Fall.” Interestingly enough, they also managed to subvert the idea that a band needs to relentlessly tour or at least make headlines in order to remain popular. Rhye didn’t create that much of a stir in the world of music news, nor did they do much touring, yet people kept talking about them consistently throughout the year. Maybe it was because the album was so good and people kept sharing it with their friends? I was lucky enough to see Milosh perform a bunch of songs with a full band (Hannibal doesn’t tour) shortly after the record was released, and it was one of the more magical experiences I’ve ever had at a live show. Before they started there was a request to not take any photos or talk during the show, and to hear Milosh’s vocals sound so perfect in person with nobody’s phone screens in the air to block my view and in a room where you could hear a pin drop just felt special. That was the point. I wish more bands operated this way.
We know who Ryan Hemsworth is in terms of a name and a photo, but do we ever truly KNOW him? That’s the one thing I’ve spent much of 2013 trying to figure out. The choices that he’s made in his music often come off as unfocused and schizophrenic. One minute he’s remixing Cat Power, the next Frank Ocean, and the next he’s crafting an original composition that’s based around a hip hop beat. It’s fantastic that he has such diverse interests and wants to do so much with so many different people, but it can get a little frustrating after awhile, as we learned all too well this year. If anything, the guy knows how to stay busy. In 2013 he released several remixes of pop songs and indie favorites, submitted at least 3 separate mixtapes filled with stuff he likes, gave away an EP of original material for free, and also delivered his debut solo LP (also of original material). Where does he find the time? Oh, and I forgot to mention he did quite a bit of touring this year too. I caught most of his set at the Pitchfork Music Festival, which was great for mindlessly dancing but otherwise didn’t offer much to look at except for a guy using a laptop and twisting all kinds of knobs. And though the original material he released this year was far more focused compared to anything he’d done previously, it nevertheless confounded expectations by moving in a different stylistic direction. So yeah, it’s now 2014 and I’m still left wondering: exactly WHO IS RYAN HEMSWORTH? No matter what, it’s been pretty fun trying to find out.
Like a parent with ten children, I know you’re supposed to treat them all equally and avoid choosing favorites. Yet I’m not too ashamed to admit that Savages are my favorites from the Class of 2013. As I’ve said many times, be it in a raving album review or as part of my Top 50 Albums of 2013 countdown, when I listen to Savages I’m reminded of the legendary forces of nature known as Joy Division. It’s that “take no prisoners, we don’t give a fuck” attitude that only makes me love them more. Well actually, they do give a fuck, very much so, about creating the best possible music that echoes their own emotions and forces the listener to look inward. They hang signs at their shows asking people to avoid talking and taking pictures during the set so they can live in the here and now. Really I think it’s so lead singer Jehenny Beth can stare daggers directly into your eyes from the stage rather than have to deal with your camera lens. Their live show is so incredible and powerful that your mind will take all of the snapshots you’ll need to remember the show for years and years to come. The stage is the one domain where Savages truly rule, and all four members prove their worth as individuals. There’s not a single weak link among them. You can hear it on their album Silence Yourself as well, which captures a lot of their live intensity, though the full gravity of it best comes into play when you see everything that’s going on with your own two eyes. The great news is, I’m not the only one who was visibly moved by Savages this past year. Critics and music fans embraced them, and their presence was ever-looming even as they received little to no support from radio and other promotional avenues. They have carefully timed out the release of music videos though, from “Shut Up” to “Husbands” to “Marshall Dear” and most recently “Strife.” The best part is, this is only the beginning.