It’s that time of year again: the end. That means it’s time for everyone on the internet to arbitrarily list their favorite everything of the past 12 months. Given that this is a music column (and unfortunately not a food column, because I’d love to rate things I ate on pretzel buns), allow me to introduce my ten favorite records of 2013. These ten selections aren’t necessarily the best albums released the year, simply the ones I found the most enjoyable on repeated listens. They're the ones that have stuck with me throughout the year and hopefully will continue to do so throughout the next.
If you share similar tastes, or have a similar list, feel free to use the comment section below to compliment me on my excellent choices, patting me on the back for my solid selections. If you are unsure as to who any or a few of these bands are, then leave a comment as well, so that I may pat myself on the back for having tastes that are “unique” and “indie,” or whatever. At the end of the day, all a music writer really wants it to be patted on the back and told they like good things while telling other people to share their opinions. The list that follows reflects my opinions.
My top ten albums of 2013
For those who are unaware, Hellogoodbye stopped releasing guilty pleasure pop that you had to bury under a different name in your iTunes library right around 2010 with the release of Would It Kill You?. The album ushered in a new sound for the previously earworm reliant group, replacing spazzy synths and overly tuned auto-vocals with singer Forrest Kline’s actual voice and a summery Beach Boys meets Weezer vibe. Their follow up, this year’s (Everything Is) Debatable, expands on that sound in a way that seems naturally logical, but is no less surprising and delightful, by adding in scant traces of their past, but in a more reserved and intelligent manner. There are blips, cracks, and slips of synth scattered throughout the somewhat retro, 80’s inspired indie-pop romp, but they serve more to set the stage rather than take it by storm. Showcased instead are the groups actual talents when it comes to crafting songs that can at once prove hooky and infectious without relying on any sort of radio-friendly formula. It is another perfect example of pop at its finest.
Doom Loop is easily the fuzziest record I’ve heard, if not this year, then in my entire twenty so years of life. Guiatrs crunch and chug as vocals verge on the edge of the explosive rasp. It’s impressive to see an artist go from whisper-quiet to full on loudness in just two short listens, completely revamping and refueling their style in such a small fraction of time, but Mansions’s Christopher Browder does so flawlessly. The album reeks of early 00’s era emo music, with it’s nearly shouted, patchy vocal work, the production that is meant to sound like a lack thereof, and songs that careen unexpectedly from soft to rigid and back again without so much as a moments notice. It’s rough, it’s raw, but it’s so much fun.
While the Icelandic natives’ previous effort, last year’s Valtari, was aired-out, ambient to a tee, and sparse, their latest, Kveikur, is a darkly industrial affair. The washed-out, almost completely instrumental haze of the past is fogged over with the thick electronic backdrops, rigid guitars, and the typically ethereal vocals of Jonsi now delivered in an equally beautiful manner, but hauntingly so. Kveikur is not a Sigur Ros album for a quiet-time escape onto an otherworldly plain; Rather is a it a stiff right hook to the jaw, a journey into a nightmare world of darkness through which only trace glimpses of light are allowed to glimmer.
After taking over a year off between releasing albums (an eternity for a group that’s released nine full-lengths in seven years) Portugal. The Man decided to mix up their sound that, while always interesting and enjoyable, had become slightly predictable. Instead of an album full of the expected psychedelic breeze typically complimented with the wooing falsettos of vocalist John Gourley, Evil Friends is a trip-hop infused jam session that leans more heavily towards stoner rock than their previous acid-induced affair. With the added collaboration of producer Danger Mouse, Portugal. The Man created with Evil Friends a record that exudes elements of The Black Keys mixed with Daft Punk: a thumping and churning rock marriage between soul, funk, and good ol’ fashioned electronics.
The dream of the eighties is alive and kicking oh so strongly in Hearthrob, the latest effort from the Canadian sisters. With overblown pop choruses and flagrant overuse of nostalgic synth, Tegan and Sara provide a hopelessly sappy romp through a decade past. Despite their previous endeavors that tended to sway more towards the rock side of the indie spectrum, Hearthrob suits the duo more than any other sound they’ve explored in the past, as their vocals are allowed to soar in ways never even hinted in the past. On “I Was a Fool,” the duo banter back and forth, running from simmering altos all the way up to sugary falsettos and the snazzy electros dive-bomb in and out. Hearthrob is an album for the golden age lamenters, the 80’s children born a decade or two too late, and for people who like their pop with a little bit of a sugary glaze.
Intersections is the album that defined the fall season for me; It was at once mellow and introspective with just enough of an edge to keep me awake during my morning commutes. It’s clear Evan Weiss does not want to be pegged with the cliché title of a simple singer-songwriter. He’s takes quite a mixed bag approach with the album, sneaking some inspiration from fellow their / they’re / there cohort Mike Kinsella and kicked the guitar complexity and songwriting progression several steps sideways. With songs that start on the somber side and end on the bombastic, tunes that teeter on chaos and serenity, and some that barely break the mid-tempo spectrum, Intersections is an awakening of sorts for a musician that’s always felt like he was teetering on the verge of something great. Welcome to Evan Weiss’s sophomoric masterpiece, and its anticipated introduction to a career that, while already deep, is apparently just getting started.
The Scottish quintet return with an album that pits their upbeat, folksy blend of indie-rock against face-forward, downtrodden and blunt lyricism. On one hand, Frightend Rabbit are a lot of fun to listen to; On the other, they’re a downright drag. It’s not hard get caught somewhere between troubling weight of Scott Hutchison’s weighted vocal deliver powered by bitter lyric matter, and the songwriting that will sweep you away into a festive world of drinking and dancing the night away in a lonely, but cozy, Scottish pub. The album creates a musical rift, an area at which I’m not sure how to feel when I listen; I always find myself stuck between two warring states, in a place where I am at once peaceful, and scared. Still, in that place, I am content, and I could stay there forever. Listen to Pedestrian Verse and try to find that place for yourself.
Trouble Will Find Me is a gloomily brooding record that manages to bear an incredible weight that spreads across songs both dense and minimal to an almost barren extent. Each track features bare bones instrumentals-- some lightly thumping bass drums, a mellowly plucked guitar chord, harrowing keys --that build a heavy foundation of bitterness, all of which is accented by the deep baritone of Matt Berninger. For a rock band, The National spend little time venturing above a murmur or even a mid tempo on this one. Instead, the songs lull in a way that will drag you down to their level in a strangely calming and euphoric manner, creating a feel good album that presents a sort of camaraderie to those who find a bit of their life and themselves in the deeply personal and depressing lyrical subject matter. Call it the “feel good because you feel bad” album of the year.
I’m chalking Vampire Weekend up as the most pleasant surprise of the year. I remember first queuing it up on Spotify on a whim, curious to see if the band that put out “Oxford Comma” and “Horchata” could recapture that preppy, indie-pop magic that first got them noticed. It turns out I had severely underestimated what this group could do, and just how much they’ve managed to transcend themselves on their latest effort; from the muted echoes of “ Step“ to the odd, synthesized computer “ya-ya’s” of “Ya Hey,” With Modern Vampires of the City, Vampire Weekend have proven themselves capable of creating diverse and interesting music that keeps just enough of their past sheen to liven things up.
The Greatest Generation is bar none the best punk album to come out this year, and quite possibly the past several. With two solid contenders in their back catalogue, it was hard to see The Wonder Years toppling pop-punk anthems like “Came Out Swingin’” and “All My Friends Are in Bar Bands.” Within seconds of opening, the track “There, There” kicks things off the an unassuming and unexpectedly slow start reminiscent of The Get Up Kids with minor Modern Baseball vibes, making it obvious that this is not standard Wonder Years affair (or at least not entirely, as the misdirection leads to a classic TWY chorus explosion by the finish.) With heavy inspiration from early 00’s alternative and emo, the group brings their trademark gruff and fast punk minced with a little bit of Pinkerton-era Weezer. Throw in an expertly placed half-slow jam, some impressive falsettos, a few bells for flair, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a year-stopping record. With The Grestest Generation, The Wonder Years managed to prove that, if they’re going to be outdone, it will only be by themselves.
If this were a top 20 list, these albums would have also made the cut (in no particular order.)
The Swellers – The Light Under Closed Doors
It’s loud, fast, and rough with just the trace elements of production and refinery. This album exists quite ferociously for thirty minutes or so and then steps out until you’re ready to party again.
Fall Out Boy – Save Rock and Roll
With two handfuls of solid pop gems that manage to simultaneously exist as the group’s heaviest and most sugary concoction of tunes to date, Fall Out Boy deliver the tongue-in-cheekiest rock album this side of the mainstream music line.
The Dear Hunter – Migrant
Casey Crescenzo shows that even when The Dear Hunter strip down, they still prove to be never-nudes at heart with an admittedly smaller ensemble that still proves more lush and diverse than virtually any other group out there.
Volcano Choir – Repave
Justin Vernon’s latest release since he decided to hiatus himself from the Bon Iver moniker sounds a lot like, well, Bon Iver, just with a bit more immediacy.
K Sera- Collisions & Near Misses
K Sera had me at 8-bit bridge “breakdown” with their single “Dream, Like I Do.” If that’s not enough, the vaudeville piano and classic show tune vibe of album opener, the aptly titled “Collisions,” should do the trick.
HRVRD – From The Bird’s Cage
Their latest endeavor features a more dialed-back sound from its predecessor (2009’s The Inevitable and I), setting the stage with rock tunes that are both hauntingly mellow and vivacious with just the right bit of edge.
They’re / Their / There – T/T/T & Analog Weekend
The emo-rock “supergroup” consisting of the likes of Owen’s Mike Kinsella and Into It. Over It.’s Evan Weiss, didn’t make the cut simply because they didn’t’ release an actual full length this year. Aside from that technicality, both of their ep’s were jammed full of some of the best, and most complex, indie rock of the year and quite possibly the decade thus far.
The Lonely Forest – Adding Up The Wasted Hours
The perfect marriage of indie-rock with slight folk elements, The Lonely Forest sound like what a more experimental Death Cab For Cutie would have been if they listened to more Bob Dylan.
A Great Big Pile of Leaves – You’re Always On My Mind
Pete Weilands’s deep vocal work and the beachy, mid-level guitar vibes combine for a Minus The Bear meets the National combination of seriousness and quirky, progressive rock.
Kanye West- Yeezus
Hate him or praise him, it was pretty hard to ignore Kanye West in 2013, not just for his talk show rants or Twitter feuds, but for his release of the most vulgar and crushingly electronic, experimental rap album of the year.
I’ll just throw a few honorable mentions out there for the road. Have a great 2014 and beyond.
Childish Gambino – Because The Internet
Owen – L'Ami du Peuple
Sleeping At Last – Atlas
Local Natives - Hummingbird
Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Lorde – Pure Heroin
The Reign of Kindo – Play With Fire
Chrvches – The Bones of What You Believe
City & Colour – The Hurry and the Harm
Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart
Kevin Devine – Bubblegum / BulldozerImagine Dragons - Night Visions