As I type this, it’s December 26th – and with just a few fleeting days left before 2013 sails out the door and into history, it seems like the most opportune time to do my write-up of the best albums I came across this year.
It should be noted that I’m coming in late to this game; pretty much everyone else has had their lists put together for awhile now (and no, I wasn’t held up on account of “restructuring” for that new Beyoncé album – it’s not on here, although based on the few cursory listens I’ve given it so far, it probably should be; just go ahead and sub it in for the thing below you like least, if its absence irks you).
Better late than never, right? Yeah, that’s right. Anyways, onto the list:
THE TOP 25 ALBUMS OF 2013
25) KAVINSKY – OutRun
The loose concept tying OutRun together has something to do with zombies. Or cars. Or zombie cars. I’m not really sure. What I can say is that Kavinsky, in spite or perhaps because of this concept, has crafted a wonderfully moody set of songs that do seem to be emanating from somewhere that’s not here. Whether that place is The Past or The Beyond varies from song to song, but that feeling stays with you, hanging in the air. Like a zombie car. Or something.
Oh, and hey! That one song from Drive is on here, too. So there’s that.
24) FACTORY FLOOR – Factory Floor
What an odd, odd dance album this is. Because it is a dance album – but, like its name suggests,
these songs sound as if they’re tumbling off of an assembly line somewhere, right onto the floor. The dance floor. Nay, the Factory Floor! Okay, enough with that. Anyways: this an album you’ll have to struggle to keep time with, and the song titles (Work Out, Here Again, Fall Back) all suggest a straightforward, down-to-business attitude. Factory Floor’s debut LP knows that small talk is for suckers – it’s best to take things straight to the floor.
The dance floor.
23) VOLCANO CHOIR – Repave
I guess you could consider Repave a sort-of companion piece to Bon Iver’s self-titled album from 2011. I don’t believe that was the intention, but the way the two albums ebb and flow suggest a harmony between them. Granted, Repave doesn’t have the intricacy of Justin Vernon’s last musical outing (to be fair, few things do), but much like the songs on that 2011 Bon Iver album, the songs on Repave grow and change right before your ears. It’s a transition record, a great soundtrack for snow, or rain, or fog, or anything that will eventually give way to sunlight.
22) 65DAYSOFSTATIC – Wild Light
When last we left 65daysofstatic, they were doing their best to make their most dancefloor-friendly album with We Were Exploding Anyway (also: they did this). Now, it seems they’ve swung that pendulum all the way to the other side of things, as Wild Light is both the band’s most abstract and least dance-able album yet. I’m not sure the band’s sound was meant to be divided this way – beats from texture, pulse from breath – but the songs here are a different kind of rush to listen to precisely because of that divide. This is music meant to be heard in a big city at night – but while walking, not while running.
21) EELS -Wonderful, Glorious
So this year, Mark Everett released his most potent and affecting batch of songs since 2005’s Blinking Lights and Other Revelations – and nobody gave a damn about it. For shame, tastemakers and blogophiles! For. Shame. Wonderful, Glorious is one of those records that’s a delight because it reaffirms the folks who made it. This iteration of Eels is basically the same as the one that trudged out Hombre Lobo, End Times, and Tomorrow Morning – but whereas those albums had a tendency to feel maudlin or distant, Wonderful, Glorious is like that one Fatboy Slim song: Right Here, Right Now.
20) THE DISMEMBERMENT PLAN – Uncanny Valley
Speaking of things that no one gave a damn about, what the hell happened here? The Dismemberment Plan, arguably the most inimitable indie band of the 90’s, comes back after a decade and change with an album whose songs are as…well, inimitable – and as killer – as this, and it’s greeted with a resounding thud? Are you people nuts? Okay, yes: Uncanny Valley is not their best album, and it was never going to be – but when listening to it, you get to hear a band that hasn’t lost a step in all those years, making only music they could’ve made. The fact that this album was greeted with the same indifference as that new Pixies EP is nothing short of outrageous.
19) TIM HECKER – Virgins
My favorite Tim Hecker album still is Radio Amor. That album is like a ghost hovering over you, flickering in and out of existence. That being said, Virgins is probably Tim Hecker’s best album. It’s his most fully-formed, if nothing else. There’s layers to these compositions that the material on Ravedeath, 1972 or Mirages simply don’t have; those albums float through space, but Virgins both moves through and occupies space. It’s thrilling to take in, despite there not being any choruses, hooks or guest spots. What’s that zen saying? Form is emptiness; emptiness, form. Yeah. That’s this.
18) FUZZ – Fuzz
Ty Segall is a man displaced by time, born into the wrong era. He’d be right at home in the 60’s, jamming amongst the company of The Troggs and The Seeds. Listening to his music is in of itself almost a form of time travel; he always makes a very convincing case that it’s 1967, smartphones and HDTV be damned. And Fuzz, an erstwhile garage-psych band consisting of Segall and old pal Charlie Moonheart, elicits a similar response – but only to a point. There’s something primordial about these songs, as if they’ve been here all along, and Segall and Moonheart are merely the blown-out mystics who are pulling them into our dimension. I guess in that sense you could call this album “Lovecraftian” – and why not? There’s an Old One on the cover, isn’t there?
17) THE APPLESEED CAST – Illumination Ritual
I’m resigned to the fact that The Appleseed Cast will never get the recognition they deserve, which is a shame, as they do so greatly deserve it. Illumination Ritual, like all of the band’s best work, unfurls into grandness and majesty at times both expected and unexpected, before receding back into relative tranquility. I say “relative” because Nathan Wilder’s particular brand of drumwork is full of motion and little flourishes, even at its most relaxed. I can’t pinpoint the why of it, but The Appleseed Cast are one of those bands that just make me smile whenever they come on. And this record does just that.
16) NICK CAVE & THE BAD SEEDS – Push The Sky Away
Earlier this year, I read Nick Cave’s first novel, And The Ass Saw The Angel; with each page, I marveled at its dichotomy, at both how poetic and how vicious it was. Push The Sky Away is not particularly vicious (not when compared to, say, Murder Ballads) – and it’s not Cave’s most poetic effort either. But there’s crackling menace to it, as though these small, hushed songs could erupt with some unseen malignancy at any moment. Sometimes, an album’s greatest strength is its ability to keep you at arm’s length.
Huh. That rhymes. If Cave were here, he’d probably tell me I’m not much of poet.
15) LONESOME LEASH – I Am No Captain
This one’s going to take some explaining, since I’m fairly certain I’m the only one who’s going to have this record on their list. So here goes: Lonesome Leash is, to the best of my knowledge, one of the gentlemen from the band Dark Dark Dark. I saw him perform live earlier in the year at the Empty Bottle in Chicago. Emphasis on him. He sang, played accordion and trumpet (sometimes both at the same time), and he played the drums with his feet. The whole thing kind of sounded like if Dan Bejar from Destroyer just up and took over all the instruments of A Hawk and A Hacksaw by himself. I Am No Captain is an absolutely mesmerizing album, and I urge you to check it out.
14) SHOUT OUT LOUDS – Optica
I was familiar with the name Shout Out Louds, but I didn’t know much about them until this video surfaced about a year ago. The song Blue Ice was almost an afterthought for me; I’m a sucker for the strange, so this as-of-yet untitled album earned a permanent spot on my 2013 radar for little more than its promotional audacity. And when that album, now titled Optica, arrived a few short months later, I was struck with how needless that video really was, as the music quickly overshadowed any of the novelty of barely-corporeal frozen 7″‘s. This is the type of album that the likes of Washed Out, Neon Indian and Toro Y Moi have been hinting at with their work, but haven’t yet achieved. Maybe they should be the ones sending out DIY ice records next time.
13) 30 SECONDS TO MARS – Love Lust Faith + Dreams
30 Seconds To Mars, admirably and with gusto, perform a very necessary function in pop music: that of the arms-to-the-heavens, stadium-shattering, anthemic rock band. I mean, with U2 in a state of only semi-activity, there’s really no one else filling this role (Muse have tried to, but they can’t commit solely to rock – they’re still trying to make their version of 2112). Regardless, I’m glad that Mr. Jared Leto & co. are carrying that torch. Love Lust Faith + Dreams is capitol-B Big in every way, but perhaps most miraculously, it’s the kind of album you actually wish were bigger.
12) ARCADE FIRE – Reflektor
Let’s confront the uncomfortable truth together, shall we? Ready? Okay: Arcade Fire will never make a better album than Funeral. Never. Oh sure, they might make a collection of songs that’s better than the collection of songs Funeral is made up of. You could maybe even
argue that Reflektor accomplishes that (I won’t). But even if such a pack of songs surfaces, it’ll still have to claw its way out from under Funeral‘s shadow; it’s just one of those records with a history that has a far reach. That being said, it’s lovely to hear an album that doesn’t sound like the band has resigned themselves to that fact (see: The Suburbs). Indie-art-disco. Who’da thunk it?
11) NIGHT BEDS – Country Sleep
Much earlier in the year, I came across a video of Night Beds trying their damnedest to cover Robyn’s Dancing On My Own for AV Undercover. They didn’t quite succeed, but I was drawn to the sound they were trying to impart to it. Country Sleep, much like the debut albums of Iron & Wine and Great Lake Swimmers, feels indelibly keyed into a specific place; the songs are fragile, and the space around them can sometimes feel overwhelming, like everything is in danger of being swallowed at any second. It’s a quiet, delicate album, but it hits harder than anything by The Civil Wars or The Head and The Heart.
10) LOS CAMPESINOS! – No Blues
Both mercurial and irreverant, Los Campesinos! have never made a record that could be called serious until No Blues (the original title of which was What Death Leaves Behind – definitely less flippant than the title of their last album, Welcome Sadness). Now, it isn’t completely serious, mind you, but it’s impressive to see that the band can take their collective tongues from out their cheeks on occasion and still make some great – and truly addictive – pop misery.
9) TOUCHÉ AMORÉ – Is Survived By
I initially thought the opening lyric to the title track of this album was “It’s a song of faith/so bow your heads.” But it’s not. It’s actually “It’s a song of thanks/sung by a hack.” That little slip-up of mine sums up this record perfectly: emotions are a messy business. Is Survived By is primarily concerned with legacy, and for 29 minutes, Jeremy Bolm screams his heart out while he’s trying sort out what will become of both him and his work once he’s gone. It’s gripping, cathartic stuff. Bow your head and let it in.
8) LORDE – Pure Heroine
“I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air/So there.”
It’s a rather polite dismissal of the can’t stop won’t stop circus that pop music can devolve into when it’s at its worst, and least compelling. But there’s no anomosity here. “And you know we’re on each other’s team”, she reminds us just beforehand. Because we all need a little reminding from time to time.
7) THE WORLD IS A BEAUTIFUL PLACE AND I AM NO LONGER AFRAID TO DIE – Whenever, If Ever
Yes, the name is obnoxious. And the emo tag the band keep getting slapped with isn’t helping anything, I’m sure (sidenote: when, exactly, did emo become a dirty word? and can we tar and feather the guy who made it so?). But if you can get past all that (yes, you – you know who you are), Whenever, If Ever is one of the most exuberant records of the year. It’s emotional without being whiny, sentimental without being cloying, and there’s a surprising melodic turn seemingly tucked into every corner (trumpets! cello! gangsta synths!). More than that, though, it’s the sound of a group of musicians trying to harness youth itself into an amber keepsake for anyone who might want it.
6) KANYE WEST – Yeezus
Forget for a moment about SNL, Jimmy Kimmel, and all the media scrutiny. Forget about the “cover art” and the video installations. Forget about the crazy tour merch, about Rick Rubin and about minimalism. Forget about Seth and James and Trey and Matt. Forget about croissants. If you want to hear an artist at the absolute top of their game, there’s no better album this year than Yeezus. It’s just the thing for you. If that’s not what you’re after, I hear Eminem released a Marshall Mathers sequel.
5) CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe
Will Scotland’s CHVRCHES follow in the footsteps of Sleigh Bells? Will they, after trickling out some buzzed-up singles and releasing an album that’s a perfect musical statement, struggle to follow it up with something meaningful? It’s quite possible. First impressions are everything (ask Arcade Fire), and expectations are a motherfucker. But, like Sleigh Bells’ debut Treats, The Bones of What You Believe is so damn good that it doesn’t much matter either way. There’s not a stronger set of dancefloor-ready pop anywhere else this year.
4) VAMPIRE WEEKEND – Modern Vampires of the City
Ezra Koenig should’ve called Vampire Weekend’s third album “The Album That Will Make People Who Are Generally Indifferent If Not Outright Hostile To Vampire Weekend Fall Right The Fuck In Love With Them.”
Rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it? But it’s true. After a few albums of fluttery afro-pop that only sometimes hinted that this band was holding something back, they’ve up and opened the floodgates here. And I’m glad they did.
3) PARAMORE – Paramore
I’m still in awe of how great this album is. Paramore, sans the Farro bros., have somehow managed to take the best parts of about a dozen different bands, and make something uniquely their own out of all of it. It’s rare for me to listen to a 17-track monster like this and not get burned out, but everything’s done so well, it’s hard, if not outright impossible, to this album turn off, once it gets going (which takes approx. 16 seconds). If you haven’t listened to this, listen to it. And if you don’t listen to it simply because the band’s called Paramore, yer a sucker, and a fool.
2) DEAFHEAVEN – Sunbather
You don’t typically peg a black metal album as “passionate”, but then again, as all the naysayers will tell you, Sunbather‘s not black metal. That last bit’s not completely true, but the fact remains that Deafheaven have made, in Sunbather, the closest thing to an accessible black metal album as we’re ever likely to hear in this lifetime (did I mention that this is the best-reviewed album of 2013?). So enjoy it. Because if you can get past the wailing and blast-beats, it is profoundly satisfying in a way that most intense music is not, and never could be.
1) MY BLOODY VLAENTINE – m b v
I came home.
I turned all the lights off.
I put the vinyl on.
I cranked the volume.
I sat down.
And I closed my eyes – and I let the sound wash over me. Engulf me. Overtake me.
Few things that take 22 years to do are worth a damn. Fewer still are worth the wait.
m b v is worth both.
(NOTE: I’m not posting a song link for this because doing so is tantamount to blasphemy)
And there we have it. Another list for another year. Questions, comments, and insults welcome. Until next time!