Best Albums of 2013
Looking at this list of mine, if I had to say there was one trend for 2013, it was that, in an ever-increasing number, females are finding their way onto the highest echelons of my musical taste.
I would never call myself sexist, but my musical interests throughout my life have steered towards guys. Guys in bands. Guys with guitars. Guys who sing about girls. Maybe it's a new sign of maturity, or maybe I've just been waiting for a genre other than alt.country to make me fall for ladies all over again. Whatever the case, it was a good year for women across all genres. Even one of my favorite albums from a pair of dudes sounds like women made it.
Besides getting in touch with my feminine side, 2013 was a year of unexpected discoveries butting up against old favorites. In the case of the former, a bunch of artists I had slowly been losing interest in bounced back with a vengeance, causing me to renew that love I thought I had lost.
A handful of those new discoveries came from artists who have been around forever. Even for a music fanatic like me, certain artists can slip through the cracks. Either you write them off too soon, or you never gave them a chance in the first place. Luckily, though, we can always revisit them, and give them a second chance to surprise us.
I'm sure this list has a few surprises on it. It is as all-over-the-map as anyone who knows me should expect, yet I think it tells a story of 2013 pretty well. And it tells the story of my 2013 even better.
The Next Day
Aging rocker's 1st album in a decade sounds refreshed & refreshing, proving vital works can come late. Choice Cuts: "The Stars Are Out Tonight", "The New Day"
This dreamy/tribal rock from Ohio might be dismissed as Animal Collective-lite but maybe that's why I enjoy it so. Choice Cuts: "Colerain", "Macando", "Get Healed"
The edges have softened since their debut Gorilla Manor, but the shimmering melodies are even stronger here. Choice Cuts: "Heavy Feet", "Breakers", "You & I"
The Invisible Way
The veterans have been making the same great, slow rock for years but this might be their 1st album to grab me. Choice Cuts: "Just Make It Stop", "Plastic Cup", "So Blue"
An old-fashioned house LP made by precocious brothers & a cavalcade of guest stars, anchored by showstopper "Latch". Choice Cuts: "Latch", "Defeated No More", "Help Me Lose My Mind"
The Silver Gymnasium
I was ready to skip this LP until witnessing a boisterous live set in Oct. Back on the bandwagon. Choice Cuts: "Down Down the Deep River", "Stay Young"
The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas
Aussie's frank, confessional Americana snuck onto my list in the 11th hour w/ dry humor & subtle twang. Choice Cuts: "Avant Gardener", "History Eraser"
Once I Was an Eagle
Still doing her best Joni Mitchell impression, but one full of foreboding & a stark beauty. Choice Cuts: "Master Hunter"
Husky-voiced singer's soulful solo debut recalls the atmospherics of her father's Soft Dangerous Shores. Choice Cuts: "Gradual Return", "Never Enough"
Sophomore LP is easily my fave "true" country album of 2013 & has me excited for the rest of Rose's career. Choice Cuts: "Only a Clown", "Silver Sings"
Bounces back from a lackluster sophomore effort w/ an effervescent, extended EP reminiscent of their sunny debut. Choice Cuts: "Who Have I Become?", "This Lonely Morning", "I Don't Know How"
For no reason, it took me until this year to get into Callahan/Smog. Bought this & 3 others on the same day. Choice Cuts: "Winter Road", "Ride My Arrow"
From the Hills Below the City
I'm a sucker for this brand of Appalachian roadhouse country & sad it's never quite in vogue. Choice Cuts: "Penitentiary", "On the Road"
The Dismemberment Plan
Like a long-lost friend; you miss the old days, but mostly you're just happy to see them again. Choice Cuts: "Invisible", "White Collar White Trash", "Waiting"
Regions of Light and Sound of God
Took a while for me to warm up to this, but that buttery voice is undeniable in any form. Choice Cuts: "Of the Mother Again", "Actress", "State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)"
The Ballad of Boogie Christ
A loose concept album & one of the finer efforts from the prolific singer-songwriter. Choice Cuts: "All the Old Heroes", "Saint of Impossible Causes"
Electropop-tinged rock likely doesn't get attention in their jazz-heavy city, but this New Orleans duo deserves it. Choice Cuts: "Put a Light On", "Awake"
Autre Ne Veut
Always sexy, never crass; blue-eyed R&B recalls the best of the early '90s sound: heavy beats & bedroom eyes. Choice Cuts: "World War", "Play By Play", "Counting"
Mark Kozelek & Desertshore
Mark Kozelek & Desertshore
Kozelek trades his usual rainy day milieu for one w/ sun breaks, the brightest being "Mariette". Choice Cuts: "Mariette", "Seal Rock Hotel"
Austin psych-rockers mature on wax w/o losing the rambunctious, infectious spark of their live set. Choice Cuts: "Pretty Green", "At Night in Dreams"
Lacks the immediacy of The Suburbs, but I'm sure I'll come back to this later and wonder why it wasn't higher. Choice Cuts: "Afterlife", "Reflektor", "Here Comes the Night Time"
I'll Find a Way
The Blind Boys of Alabama
Guest-heavy set curated/produced by Justin Vernon, who wisely mantains focus on the Boys. Choice Cuts: "Every Grain of Sand", "I've Been Searching", "I'll Find a Way (To Carry It All)"
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Along w/ Aussies Tame Impala, these Kiwis are importing '70s-style psych-rock swagger back to America. Choice Cuts: "So Good at Being in Trouble", "Swim and Sleep", "Monki"
Lonely, wintry, synthy '80s rock in the M83 vein, but more wistfully nostalgic, it stuck to me like a ladybug on a finger. Choice Cuts: "In the City", "Ankles", "Where's the Time"
The Shouting Matches
Casual, tossed-off blues rock is everywhere, so why this? Phil Cook & Justin Vernon, that's why. Choice Cuts: "Gallup, NM", "Seven Sisters"
Vested in Culture
Slinky, sly R&B sans any trace of hip-hop, which is hard to find these days. I guess Danish origins help that. Choice Cuts: "Hey Love", "It's Gonna Get You", "Favorite Star"
The Jose Gonzalez-fronted trio adds new textures, growing beyond their inauspicious folk-meets-electronics beginnings. Choice Cuts: "Suddenly", "Line of Fire", After All Is Said and Done"
The 20/20 Experience
The songs are too long, part 2 is superfluous & "Mirrors" was just OK, but the rest? Very good. Choice Cuts: "Pusher Love Girl", "Suit & Tie", "Let the Groove Get In"
Ghost on Ghost
Iron & Wine
Sam Beam continues his pattern of adding new layers to his once-quiet sound. This time, more pop & soul. Choice Cuts: "Caught in the Briars", "New Mexico's No Breeze"
Wakin on a Pretty Daze
Aptly titled LP is the sunnier counterpart to 2011's rainy day masterpiece Smoke Ring for My Halo. Choice Cuts: "Wakin on a Pretty Day", "Never Run Away"
Matthew Houck's slow rise to prominence has coincided neatly w/ his growth as a country/rock songwriter. Choice Cuts: "Terror in the Canyons", "The Quotidian Beasts", "Ride On / Right On"
We the Common
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down
As fetching as ever, Thao truly comes alive onstage, where I saw her perform 2x this year. Choice Cuts: "Every Body", "Holy Roller", "We the Common (For Valerie Bolden)"
Scottish rockers have become the new so-conistently-good-that-they're-boring-and-nobody-cares band. Choice Cuts: "The Oil Slick", "Dead Now", "The Woodpile"
The Cave Singers
My interest in the band was waning, then fully renewed by this record and a live set back in May. Such grooves. Choice Cuts: "Have to Pretend", "Canopy", "Northern Lights"
Big Wheel and Others
A sprawling double album of meandering, idiosyncratic folk from a criminally underrated songwriter. Choice Cuts: "There Can Be Only One", "Home on the Range", "Aeon of Aquarious Blues"
The Happiness Waltz
An unexpected return to near-greatness from the veteran singer-songwriter; his best since Nashville. Choice Cuts: "The Western Isles", "A Lot Like Magic"
Love's Crushing Diamond
Delicate pop finds its home between Sufjan's grandiosity & the quietude of Perfume Genius. Choice Cuts: "Advanced Falconry", "Strong Swimmer"
The Music Is You (A Tribute to John Denver)
An all-star roster pays tribute to John Denver; best cuts transcend inherent cheese w/o shying away from it. Choice Cuts: "Prisoners", "All of My Memories", "The Eagle and the Hawk"
Dream of '90s lady alt-rock in the Liz Phair tradition is alive & well in the music of Katie Crutchfield. Choice Cuts: "Dixie Cups and Jars", "Lips and Limbs", "Coast to Coast", "Peace and Quiet"
Pushin' Against a Stone
Spunky Tennessee-bred singer-songwriter's debut deftly melds blues, pop, folk, soul & country. Choice Cuts: "Twined & Twisted", "Wanna Be on Your Mind", "Tennessee Time", "The Hour"
Bright, cheery dance pop built from expertly curated guests, beats & samples; the perfect summer soundtrack. Choice Cuts: "Holding On", "I'll Get You", "All You're Waiting For", "Long Lost"
The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You
With a Fiona-esque title, Neko turns her storyteller's eye inward, and is as funny & pretty as ever. Choice Cuts: "Night Still Comes", "Local Girl", "Man"
The most enchanting R&B record of 2013. Michael Milosh sounds like Sade & Robin Hannibal (of Quadron) is a master of mood. Choice Cuts: "3 Days", "Major Minor Love", "Open", "The Fall"
Trouble Will Find Me
Their old quiet/loud dynamic has been traded for a more measured approach, but the gravitas remains. Choice Cuts: "Sea of Love", "Pink Rabbits", "I Should Live in Salt", "Demons"
Stark & haunting; as if Depeche Mode, "One More Try" & Sinead's "Nothing Compares 2 U" had a threesome. Choice Cuts: "Turns Turns Turns", "Bugs Don't Buzz", "I Do Sing for You", "Silver Rings"
Days Are Gone
It's no coincidence these sisters were featured on last year's Fleetwood Mac tribute album. It's uncanny at times. Choice Cuts: "The Wire", "Honey & I", "Falling", "Days Are Gone"
Mom and Pop
Swirling, hummable indie girl pop in the grand Spector tradition, full of memorable hooks & impressive vocal chops. Choice Cuts: "Two of Us on the Run", "Until We Get There", "Turn It Around", "Tempest"
Seasons of Your Day
Rhymes of an Hour
A sound unchanged yet not out of step w/ modern times, a nearly impossible feat after a 16-year hiatus. Choice Cuts: "In the Kingdom", "Common Burn", "California"
Random Access Memories
Guest-heavy tour through late-'70s/early-'80s rock & disco through the eyes of time-traveling robots. Choice Cuts: "Get Lucky", "Fragments of Time", "Doin' It Right", "Touch"
I knew Justin Vernon had it in him, but I never expected this side project to be worthy of my full attention. Choice Cuts: "Byegone", "Dancepack", "Alaskans", "Almanac"