Thursday, January 23, 2014

Favorite Albums of 2013

My goal with these things is to get them finished by the end of the first month of the year. Looks like I've done it again! I apologize if the quality of the writing has dropped off a bit, but you gotta do what you gotta do. Now, without any further ado (I had to look up the spelling on that), my favorite albums of 2013:

Honorable mention:
Youth Lagoon - Wondrous Bughouse
Sat. Nite Duets - Electric Manland
Duckworth Lewis Method - Sticky Wickets
Touche Amour - Is Survived By
Los Campesinos! - No Blues

#11) Torres - Torres

I guess this lady's (real name Mackenzie Scott) family pooled together some money to buy her a guitar and some time at a recording studio, and this is the result. No doubt, she's a talented lady. I couldn't have done it. Last year, it was Family Band; this year, it's Torres. Two bands that struck very similar chords for me. Somewhat spooky, ethereal, emotive, intimate stuff.  Lilith fair? Maybe. Was she the baby given up for adoption in Moon & Back? Who knows. Why are there eleven albums on the list? Because I'd forgotten about one until it was too late. Nowhere to go but down. Nothing to do but drown.

Slay Tracks: Honey, Moon & Back, Don't Run Away, Emilie, Waterfall

#10) The Veils - Time Stays, We Go

In digging in a bit to write this, I was struck by the number of reviews of this album that cited The Veil's 2006 album Nux Vomica as one of the overlooked classics of the last decade. I can't say I disagree. That album is full of unparalleled gothic bombast. Their 2009 album Sun Gang's wasn't too shabby either.  Time Stays, We Go catches the band at an interesting moment - this is a very capable band that can effortlessly click into a taut melody, but now seem less sure of where to take them. They've downplayed the big upswells, and the feverish, possessed vocals -- the things that made them so previously compelling. Instead of being driven by the music, this seems to be a band very much driving the music - and they do it very well. I just wish they'd bring a little crazy back.

Slay Tracks: The Pearl, Sign of Your Love, Turn on the Rain, Another Night on Earth

#9) Speedy Ortiz - Major Arcana

Female Malkmus. Pioneer Valley. Chunky, lo-fi guitars. Indie in the early 90s sense of the word. A bit too heavy on the brokenhearted bad romance vibe, one mustn't complain.

Slay Tracks: Tiger Tank, No Below, Cash Cab, Plough, MKVI

#8) Polvo - Siberia
After taking a decade off, these guys ended up at #5 on my 2009 list. They came almost as close this time around. To label them as "math rock" is probably more of an insult than an useful descriptor, but that's what they're often tagged as. If they are experimenting with weird time signatures and whatnot, it doesn't get in the way at all. The songs grow and mutate, but always in a melodic and interesting manner. In fact, of all the albums on my list, I find this one the most chilled out.

Slay Tracks: Total Immersion, The Water Wheel, Some Songs, Anchoress

#7) The Strokes - Comedown Machine
I'm probably the last living Strokes fan. But, what can I say, I like these guys. And this, to me, seems like a bit of a return to form. Not that they can ever really get back to that bygone era, but you can still have a nice time listening to it.

Slay Tracks: Tap Out, Welcome to Japan, 80's Comedown Machine, Slow Animals

#6) The National - Trouble Will Find Me
This album got kind of a bum wrap earlier this year. One of my buds went as far as writing that it ruined the first 29 years of his life. Sure it's sometimes a little boring, and as another one of my buds pointed out, Matt Berninger hasn't screamed for the past three or four albums, but if you don't compare it to every thing else that they've done and don't look only for shortcomings, it's a very good album. Hushed, referential/reverential (allusions to the Beatles, Nirvana, Elliot Smith, Violent Femmes, and even earlier National albums), this is a great album to listen to as the Summer fades and the cool winds of Fall sweep in.

I have only two emotions 
careful fear and dead devotion 

I can't get the balance right

Slay Tracks: Demons, Don't Swallow the Cap, This is the Last Time, Graceless, Humiliation

#5) The Virgins - Strike Gently
These guys sound a lot like Tom Petty (in a good way). The album is the first release from Cult Records - a record company owned by Julian Casablancas of the Strokes (see earlier entry). No doubt, this album has a bit of a Strokes vibe too. It's nice stuff though. Easy listening. Entertainment Weekly said this about it: "Strike has the Modern Lovers' deadpan vocals, Television's jagged Grooves, and Lou reed's street-hassle guitar riffs."

Slay Tracks: Prima Materia, Wheel of Fortune, What Good Is Moonlight, Travel Express (From Me).

#4) Arcade Fire - Reflektor

Hey, has anybody seen my connector around here? no, that's not it - that's just a reflector. Another big band that got kind of a bad wrap because they changed up their style a bit. These guys played in Haiti and wanted to make an album of music that you didn't need to know to enjoy here. They mainly succeeded. The second half is killer -- the stretch between the Hey Jude tones of Awful Sound and Afterlife is as good a run as any they've ever had.

Slay Tracks: Joan of Arc, Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice), It's Never Over (Hey Orpheus), Porno, Afterlife

#3) Future of the Left - How to Stop Your Brain in an Accident

Andy Falkous' (the lead singer) tongue is so deeply planted into his cheek that I imagine it's bleeding. On first listen, I didn't expect to like this album as much as I do - it's harsh, angular, and initially seemed relatively dark and bleak. But subsequent listens warmed me up to it, and I found incredible melodies and songwriting. This album is so f'ing funny to me now. Falkous is a man who seems deeply unsettled by the world, but absolutely loves it as well. It's like how we learned that the political spectrum is actually a circle and not a line -- the same holds here: despite the world-weary cynicism, there is an unrelenting optimism.  He takes great pride in pointing out it's ridiculousness. No one else could write these lyrics: "Once I dreamt of owning my own home and renting six bedrooms to call center veterans: good tenants and better communicators / But ambition encountered an economy dominated by forces so deep they confound themselves." 

Maybe Eddie Argos, the lead singer of Art Brut, said it best:

THE NEW FUTURE OF THE LEFT ALBUM REALLY IS WHAT ALL GUITAR MUSIC SHOULD ASPIRE TOOOOOOOOO!!!!! HOOOORAYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! MOTHERFUCKER !!!!!!!!!!!!BUY THIS ALBUM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Slay Tracks: Bread, Cheese, Bow and Arrow; Johnny Borrell Afterlife; I Don't Know What You Ketamine; How to Spot a Record Company; Donny of the Decks 

#2) Frightened Rabbit - Pedestrian Verse

Another popular band around these parts (aka, my apartment). Frightened Rabbit returned very early this year (I can remember listening to this as I dug my car our of major snowstorm last January) with their fourth album and found the band if not still ascending, then at still riding their peak. No doubt, you'll remember that FR walked away with the cherished title in 2010. They came damn close this year. I'm a sucker for optimistic Scottish misery and there isn't a band who does it any better. I have never wanted more to be a man and build a house around you / I am just like all the rest of them: sorry, selfish, and trying to improve. Looks like we're growing up.

Slay Tracks: Acts of Man, Holy, Dead Now, The Oil Slick.

#1) The Drones - I See Seaweed

i see seaweed on the lawn
there's no point coming here no more
do you remember way back when?

when weeks sank in the swimming pool

holidays were cotton wool

your bald tyre friends, the pelicans, cowboys and indian
admit it, she was kinda cute
her panties were your parachute
they found her near the airport, in a crater, near the bend
where she and i'd walk by the zoo
not knowing we'd do what all plagues do
i forget her all the time these days and be forgotten too

So begins the Drone's 6th album and there's no turning back. Over fifty minutes of the most thoughtful and raucous music you'll ever hear (and they've added a keyboardist).  Per usual, Gareth touches a lot of interesting subjects, but what's always so fascinating is the unique way he does it. Overpopulation: "we're lockstepping in our billions / lockstepping in our swarms / lockstepping in the certainty that more need to be born" Old arguments: "it's like i'm shooting at a shadow that a bomb burned on the wall." Google Maps: "i took a strangely disembodied walk down memory lane / to the home of my late mother and my youth / under the full glare of a hot LCD sun / i rode nine eyed survivor Street View." Genocide, climate change, corrupt politicians -- yeah, yeah, we've heard it all before. How is this different? Well, let the man speak: "Every time you go in and do something you’re a different person. I’m not 22. It never gets old. It never gets boring.” Exactly right, Gareth.

He touches on a lot of stuff, but it never bogs down the music because he does it so artfully. That's a good part of a fun for this band; that, and the fact that they make extremely rocking music in an era where it's popular to sit quietly in your room and make electronic music on your computer. A real palate cleanser this, as always.

Slay Tracks: I See Seaweed, Nine Eyes, Laika, Why Write a Letter You'll Never Send


The Cast said...

i too like this music with indie rock. we should share music with each other to grow our taste together :)

The Cast said...
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RyanStapler said...
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