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My Favorite Music of 2013

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This is a comprehensive list of my favorites. I spent quite a lot of time this year. Same disclaimer as always: this is my list. If you don't like it then make your own. I would challenge you to at least listen to the selections I have included for you in the form of video introductions to any of these artists you have not yet listened to. I look forward to seeing your written critiques and responses to my list. And please, if you have made your own list, include a link in your comment.

  1. The Weeknd – Kiss Land The album title refers to the strange world that an international pop star is exposed to when that fame comes seemingly overnight. After producing tracks for Drake and releasing 3 mix tapes in a row, Abel Tesfaye gained international acclaim as an artist in his own right. Kiss Land is his first proper studio album and the entire record is an exploration of the excess. Tesfaye constantly questions himself, second-guessing the lifestyle that he once sought after. He says on the title track, “This ain’t nothin’ to relate to.” The record is actually an indictment of his own baseless life as a hip-hop performer. His emptiness is well documented here, and he makes the pain beautiful to observe. On the first listen, it may seem a bit awkward that you are brought so deeply into Abel’s self-destruction, but give it another spin. The depression will wash through you like a smooth shot of expensive whiskey. Some of the content here is absolutely filthy and most of the visual media content that accompanies these songs that can be found on the Internet is totally NSFW. But don’t be mistaken…this is not a “sex sells” marketing ploy. The lyrics here are deeply emotive, sexually complicated and intelligent content. This record moved me. A lot. And as Tesfaye says, it really isn’t anything for me to relate to, but it is a deeply effective expose of a type of existence I will never access. I guess I appreciate it so much because it is so voyeuristic in nature…really seeing “The Other” in a truly personal and intimate setting. My absolute favorite album of 2013. Sounds like Michael Jackson accompanied by Miguel produced by Frank Ocean.
  2. Sigur Ros – Kveikur (Pronounced “Quaker”) This album so completely surprised me. There have been darker moments in Sigur Ros’ musical history, but never has that darkness so permeated an entire album as it does here. The band that once felt gossamer, beautiful and lilting now feels oppressive, driving and a little evil. I love it. Sounds like This Will Destroy You with the most unique vocals in modern music that I don’t know who to compare to.
  3. Have Mercy – The Earth Pushed Back Andy, this is my “Record that made this list and only this list, never to be listed on any other list on the Internet or elsewhere” record. It was a total accident that I even know this band exists. I was listening to You Blew It! on Spotify and Have Mercy was listed under related artists. I clicked on the name and was hooked immediately. Reminiscent of early EmoPunk like Husker Du and Rites of Spring, there is a pop sensibility added to the sound here…think Polar Bear Club covering American Football. It’s nothing new or revolutionary. They just do what they try to do very well. The band is focused on a very specific sound. I think some of you will like this, and I’m excited to see if anyone else becomes a fan so that I can have someone to go to a show with. Let me know.
  4. Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time This is seriously great music. The album has only been released digitally at this point, but it will be released on vinyl early nest year and I am already looking forward to adding it to my collection of truly fetish property. But, I don’t really think that this will go down as a guilty pleasure album as time passes. Really give the entire record a good once over...if you are not at least pleasantly surprised then I will be surprised. I seriously love this entire album so much. "You're Not the One" is the song of the year. Sounds like Siouxsie and the Banshees covering The Strokes.
  5. The Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation I’m thinking this will be on most of my friend’s lists. It’s just so awesome. To me, it sounds like Wonder Years stopped listening to Fireworks and Set Your Goals, and started listening to The Menzingers and Against Me. There is so much here that mimics what I loved about “On the Impossible Past.” Twangy guitars back up heady lyrics. There is just enough alt country influence here to make the pop punk sound like meaningful pondering instead of just meaningless fun. (not that there is anything wrong with that...I like Set Your Goals as much as the next guy) This is a giant leap forward for The Wonder Years and it definitely leaves me anticipating their next release.
  6. Phoenix – Bankrupt! My love affair with Phoenix began with Lost in Translation. I don’t even know why I like them so much. It seems like I shouldn’t. They seem like something an indie label dreamed up as a marketing ploy to trick people into buying records. But they’re not. They are an electro synth pop/guitar rock hybrid that writes very catchy and engagingly layered music. This is a true headphones record. Play it loud. Sounds like Vampire Weekend and Metric playing songs on stage at the same time.
  7. My Bloody Valentine – m.b.v. I don’t know what to say about this. I like it. I think not too many people do. I think that after seeing MBV live, my idea of what this music actually sounds like has changed. I don’t know if that even makes sense unless you have also seen them live. Sounds like Slowdive with way more reverb and almost no perceivable hook or traditional song structure. There are no choruses here…just big, fat walls of sound lurching aimlessly through a dark field.
  8. Chvrches –The Bones of What You Believe This is what happens when Tron becomes a band. Lauren Mayberry fronts this synth pop trio with sweet innocence in her vocal tone. That sweetness is a stark contrast to much of the content here. “You had better run from me with everything you own, cause I am gonna come for you with everything I have.” I have spent hundreds of hours with this album. Sooooooo catchy. The melodies will be stuck with you for days. Sounds like Feist singing over the Tron Soundtrack…seriously, tell me I’m wrong.
  9. 65daysofstatic – Wild Light I kind of always liked this band. But it was never more than that. Wild Light is something special though. This is the instrumental post-rock album that people like me absolutely dream about. More driving than any album M83 has ever released, and more electronic than anything This Will Destroy You has done. It’s the soundtrack to a late-night jaunt through a magical labyrinth. Headphones, turned up, by yourself. I think this is one that many of us will share on our lists.
  10. Deafheaven – Sunbather The biggest “duh” of the year. Curt introduced me to this band a couple years ago when Roads to Judah had just been released. That record was great. This one is too. I really like this whole album, and I think it would be higher on my list if I hadn’t seen it on every other list on the Internet. It doesn’t need a higher ranking to justify the need for you to listen to it. Every critic in the world likes it apparently. I’m not sure how though. It’s not really very accessible music. Sounds like Russian Circles and Ceremony joined forces and then let Daniel Weyandt sing lead. I’m confused by how many people like it. I think that probably makes Curt so angry. LOLZ. Oh well Curt, burn it down and walk away.
  11. Lorde – Pure Heroine Unreal. It is simply remarkable that a 16 year old 1. Has this much control over her own vocal tone and 2. Is so self-aware as to create brilliant commentary on the state of modern America. It is seriously encouraging to watch Ella Yellich-O’Connor shoot up the charts. It means that the youth of this country don’t just identify with the Kardashians or Miley. At the very least, it means that there is a market for sophistication in pop music. Joel Little’s production is sparse at times, putting the sweetness of Yellich’s vocals in direct contrast with droning bass riffs and repetitive, quiet piano melodies…see “Buzzcut Season.” Other tracks are loud and move quickly with layers of sound that serve as a welcome backdrop for the dry and sensual vocals as shown on “Team.” This is a coming out party for the both of them. This is not going to go away any time soon. Lorde is definitely here to stay. Sounds like Sinead O’Connor reborn as Chan Marshall produced by Mike Will Made It.
  12. Moving Mountains – Moving Mountains I have never really liked a lot of musical genre classifications. Post Rock is one of the most confusing and least-accurate names in the industry. From my own personal understanding, it is perfectly defined with this release. Think words like: atmospheric, expansive, multi-faceted, emotive, intricate etc. Sounds like Appleseed Cast, but with more melody and less droning.
  13. Drake – Nothing Was the Same Continually growing on what he started…Drake comes back with another truly genre-defining hip-hop record. He is the best songwriter in hip-hop. Period. He has taken the things that made Kanye’s “College Dropout” so addictive, and he has expanded it into something so truly unique. So much hip-hop ends up blending together with its ego, bragging and self-righteous nonsense. The production of most hip-hop albums sounds totally interchangeable. Drake creates atmospheres. His music sounds totally organic and completely unique to himself. Never afraid to leave the music alone, there are long stretches on this record with no vocals. It is an effective method in building anticipation for the next verse. His honesty is endearing as always, and his bragging comes off as sarcasm when compared to the constant self-deprecation on most of his tracks. Sounds like Drake.
  14. Ariana Grande – Yours Truly This is the best pure pop album of the year. Effective doo wop production is reminiscent of what D.J. Premier did with Christina Aguilera on her “Back to Basics” album. (It’s not as good as that though, keep in mind…that was one of the most brilliantly produced pop albums in history.) Grande sets herself apart from every single one of her contemporaries with her unbelievable talent. She is blessed with what seems to be a totally unmatched vocal range. Her timing is great. Her phrasing is so professional, it’s hard to believe this is a debut. She sounds like a seasoned vet. There are at least 4 bona fide #1 singles here. She is going to be a big star. This is just the beginning. Sounds like Mariah Carey at her peak.
  15. Run the Jewels- Run the Jewels It’s no secret. I have a soft spot for El-P. His futuristic, apocalyptic production has still not been matched after over a decade of stylization. He teams up with Killer Mike for a collaboration album. Mike’s R.A.P Music made my list last year for the relentless nature of his lyrics. Same here. “I'm stuck in a time capsule/ When rap was actually factual/ Meanest shit you spit might cause killers to come and clap at you.” Hardcore banger shit. Sounds like every other El-P record ever made, but as street as anything out there.
  16. Ciara – Ciara The production is tight. The vocals are smooth. The videos for the singles are great. If you have any inclination towards R&B…this is a must. Let’s dance. Sounds like Beyonce, if Beyonce had any hip hop sensibility.
  17. Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob I was not ready for this. Tegan and Sara released an electro pop record. What the hell? The gay community’s folk darlings can make dance tracks? Yes. Totally. A bunch of good ones. Sounds like The Naked and Famous made a record with Peaches.
  18. Vampire Weekend – Vampires of the Modern City One of the best-reviewed albums of the year. Receiving a score of 84 and an 8.7 user review score…this is a universally loved record. It’s really very good. We knew it would be.
  19. Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart Acoustic folky goodness. Songwriting is weaker than in the past, but it is just good enough to crack the top 20 this year. As always, the melodies are fantastic.
  20. The Appleseed Cast – Illumination Ritual Always been amazing. Always will be. If you are not already a fan, you are likely not going to become one just by listening to this record. Appleseed Cast is more of a slow burn. Their sound echoes through you long after you stop listening. Sounds like Explosions in the Sky and Band of Horses made a sleeping baby.
  21. Bastille – Bad Blood Capitalizing on the not-so-recent success of bands like Coldplay and Snow Patrol, Bastille creates a unique niche sound here. It’s nothing that will start a revolution, but the songs here are produced with big sweeping sounds, choir vocal chants, and that vague sense of something foreign that seems to permeate through music from the other side of the pond. I just really like it. You might too.
  22. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis – The Heist The only reason this album is not higher on this list is simply because I have not had enough time to really soak it in. I got on the bandwagon pretty late in the year. The sheer # of radio plays that the singles received turned me off from pure saturation. At some point, I figured I might as well check it out. Then, in my research, I found out that this record is self-produced. Two white guys from Seattle actually set out to subvert the entire game and succeeded. They didn’t play the game. They produced their own record, directed their own videos and collected all the ridiculous stacks of cash. But, here’s the kicker. This isn’t your standard hip hop fare. The lyrical content here is meaningful, wise and self-deprecating. Macklemore takes the common archetypes of shoes, money, spinners etc. and turns them directly on their head for our pleasure. Ryan Lewis is an extremely talented beat maker and he will go on to produce many other artists I am certain. Macklemore is a superbly talented wordsmith and has the rap talent of Slug with much more to say. All of this is evidenced perfectly on the track “Jimmy Iovine.” This track outlines the gold chain dangled in front of so many artists by the big labels. It lays out the narrative of a starving artist searching for a way to make it but ultimately declines the offer to make 7% of his own money after the label takes the rest. A track like this on the most popular record of 2013 called “The Heist”….this is essentially the biggest and best “fuck you” to the industry I have seen in a while. I have so much respect for these guys.
  23. MS MR – Seconhand Rapture This record is a Quaalude. Sweet lullabies that climb slowly in and out of heavy bass with sweet, subdued vocals lilting in and around with haunting melodies. I really like this band. This is the type of band that has the potential for a truly great sophomore release. We shall see. Sounds like Zola Jesus with a hint of Azure Ray.
  24. Russian Circles – Memorial As far as I understand it, the type of people who are into Russian Circles are hipsters with jet black hair that roll their own cigarettes. But that’s cool with me. Those guys need music too. For my part, I just think this album is very excellent. This is a very specific sound though, so probably not for many of my friends. Its sprawling black metal mixed in between moments of sweet post rock guitar plucks. Now that I think of it, it might be the perfect record to introduce yourself to this sort of melodic metal. It’s pretty accessible as far as metal is concerned. Give it a try. Sounds like Isis and Deafheaven. (Curt…it does. That might make your balls feel cold and small, but it’s true)
  25. The Naked and Famous – In Rolling Waves This is my guilty pleasure band. I can’t pinpoint what I like so much about this, but it probably has something to do with melody. (It always does) Interesting side note: the lead singer of this band looks a lot like someone from our past. Trivia question…who is it? Sounds like Matt and Kim and MGMT.

Top songs: Thiswas quite the year of great female artists. Either something has changed in me, or in the music, butmore of my albums are female artists (or lead by females) than everbefore. And, all 5 of my favoritesongs of the year are by ladies.

1) Sky Ferriera – You’re Not the One

2) Mia - Bad Girls

3) Ciara – Body Party

4) The Naked and Famous – Hearts Like Ours

5) MS MR - Hurricane

Best Album Art

Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge – 12 Reasons to Die This is just so cool.

Best Video

The Weeknd – Kiss Land – See above.

Worst Album of the Year

1. Kanye West – Yeezus Kanye is single-handedly responsible for his own shift from one of the most intriguing producers and rappers in the game to a mentally-retarded cartoon. His public personae aside, this music is relentlessly terrible. Yeezus sounds like Kanye consulted with Weird Al in some sort of strange meta-self-spoof irony. West has become a caricature of himself. If nothing else, this is proof-positive that critics will love anything they are paid to…there is no reasonable explanation why this record has a score of 84 other than the $$$ Def Jam was willing to shell out. I listened to this album twice, and I am not kidding when I tell you that it made me question whether I ever wanted to listen to any hip-hop again. Kanye almost made me swear off of an entire genre of music. Almost. I couldn’t let his absolute lack of genius suck the desire out of me. That would make him the victor. No way Yeezus, you filthy sack. No way.


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