Best New Albums 2013: #1 – Yamantaka // Sonic Titan – Uzu

Running through the end of the month (with a short Christmas break), I’ll be running a post each weekday taking a look at one of my top 20 albums of the year, slowly working my way down to number one. Some I’ve reviewed previously for Bearded Gentlemen Music – I’ll provide links where necessary – and the entire list will eventually end up there, too. But for most of these records, this is the first time I’m writing about them at length, making this a chance to explain my choices in a little greater detail. Last year’s list is no longer online, but for 2011′s Best Canadian Music click here and for 2010′s list, click here.

#1 (aka my favorite new album of 2013): Yamantaka // Sonic Titan – Uzu (Paper Bag/Suicide Squeeze)

A while back, Yamantaka // Sonic Titan (YT//ST) exploded on my radar with a self-released, self-titled album. It was a stunning debut: they sounded a little like a lot of things, but a lot like nothing else. Their stage show was already killer too; when I broke down that year’s Polaris Prize ballot, I actually knocked them points for being so good on stage.

Over the past year and a bit, little leaks and trickles of a new album found their way online: Adult Swim released a song last summer and there was new music in the trailers for their crowdfunded video game Your Task Shoot Things. Alongside this came record deals, first with Canada’s Paper Bag Records (who immediately reissued their debut) and later with Suicide Squeeze, and accolades from all over.

Even so, Uzu knocked me out. Minutes after I got my copy, I was listening to it on headphones while I puttered around the house. And I kept stopping, pausing my iPod and going back. What was that? A native chant? A flood of water? A tsunami of guitars? Pounding drums and shouted vocals, a storyline just vague enough to make it a concept album (remember those?) and music filled with touches of just about everything Alaska B, Ruby Kato Attword, et al could get their hands on. I was floored.

A while back I chanced across a promo copy of Grimes’ LP Visions. If you’ve never gotten one of those, they’re basically like the CDs you can buy anywhere but they don’t have any liner notes. And on the back, instead of any album art, there’s a track listing, some media contact info and usually 200 or so words of promo copy, usually written by some anonymous PR rep at the label. A phrase from the copy of Visions stayed with me: “post-internet.”

At the time, I rolled my eyes; another day, another buzzword. But I’ve come around on it and think it’s a good way to describe this music. We live in a connected society. Youtube, Grooveshark, Reddit, Tumblr. It’s easier than ever to find new music and listen to it, often without having to pay a cent. It’s also easier to get inspired by it.

There are traces of almost everything here. Sometimes a song reminds me of the Visual Kei bands an old girlfriend used to listen to, other times I think of David Bowie or Sonic Youth. Sometimes the music goes somewhere else, like on the aching piano ballad Atalanta or the pulsating, relentless rhythms of Bring Me The Hand Of Bloody Benzaiten. And that’s not even getting into the secondary aspects of this album: a loose storyline about the Buddhist god Mazu, the visual angles (if their appearance on CBC Radio’s Q is any suggestion, it’s going to be a doozy of a live show), the connection (is there one?) to Your Task

Like I said in my original take, this was a hell of a listen. And even if I’ve waffled on my list a bunch, moving albums up and down, adding and dropping as I go along, there’s never been any doubt about sticking this at the top spot. Next time I break down a Polaris Prize ballot, there’ll be no doubt for who’s getting my vote.




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