I tried counting how many albums I listened to in 2013, and stopped when I hit 100, so…more than that. To turn that obsession into something in which others might find value, I thought I’d share some of my favorite albums of the year in an exciting countdown list.
(I didn’t want to imbed a lot of videos on this page, so just know that 99% of the links below go to YouTube).
Honorable mentions: The Spectrals, Palma Violets, Surfer Blood, and others. Those might have even been in my top 20, but I didn’t get around to writing about them, and gave myself a January deadline for this so I could start listening to 2014 music!
20 Guards – In Guards We Trust
Cults put an album out this year, and it was pretty alright (though not as great as their 2011 debut). I mention Cults because the brother of the girl in Cults has a band, and that band is Guards. Their sound is similar to Cults with a little 90s reverb here and a little 90s fuzz there, but there’s a tad more anthem or arena rock thrown in. The songs are a little predictable in that they all basically build to a catchy hook, but the catchy hooks are super catchy and I got hooked.
19 Telekinesis – Dormarion
This is the third album by Michael Lerner, aka Telekinesis. This guy can write one hell of a catchy pop song, and I’m glad to hear he’s moving away from the semi-boyish twee sound of his first two albums, as this album has a bit more “rock” than previous albums. Telekinesis is three for three in my book. Actually, five for four thanks to covering Guided By Voices on an EP a few years back. By my math, that means Telekinesis could put out a bad album and I’d still like him, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
18 Disclosure – Settle
This might come as a surprise, but I am never in “da club”. That is to say, I do not gravitate toward 8 minute long, looping, repetitive electronic dance music “jams”. The reason Disclosure is on my list is because they somehow made EDM accessible. Yes, a song like “Grab Her” is repetative, but it’s also…good? I don’t know, I’m never in da club; I don’t know what makes EDM good or not! What I do know is this album is chock full of PHAT BEATZ that are catchy AND don’t get old instantly. In 2013, Disclosure was #killinit.
17 Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time
Sky got her start at 15, uploading videos of her singing on Myspace. Then she sat in frustrating limbo for 4 years while record execs tried to decide when and what kind of album she would release, so she said fuck it and made her own album! Starting in February, she’s going to be opening for Miley Cyrus. Not bad. Thankfully, her album backs up whatever spotlight she’ll be getting as it’s a solid pop-rock album through and through.
16 Alpoko Don – The Ol’ Soul EP
I don’t know why this is called an EP when it’s a full length album with 11 songs, but I’m not complaining. You may have seen this guy on YouTube rapping and banging a pen cap on his porch for the beat–that’s more or less what this album is. The production isn’t anything special, but the minimalism of it is what makes it feel special. I really dig how this guy can blend soul, blues, and rap all into one style that clearly comes from the South.
15 Missing Monuments – Missing Monuments
I was a few years late to the Exploding Hearts – Guitar Romantic party, but it really is one of the better albums of the past 20 years. Exploding Hearts is a tragic tale, but you’ll notice the name “King Louie Bankston” in the writing credits for a majority of the songs on that album. King Louie lived on, and his band Missing Monuments released their sophomore album this year. It’s great, if you’re a fan of that garage power-pop stuff.
14 Free Energy – Love Sign
I will admit that I think Free Energy may have gone a little overboard with the cowbells, handclaps, and ooh-ooh-oohs so reminiscent of 70s jukebox rock. But, I will also admit that there is not a goddamn thing wrong with that. I don’t think this album is as strong as their first, but I do think it’s chock full of catchy tunes that touch on a primal instinct to turn the volume up. Also, still one of the best live shows I’ve seen in a while!
13 Jason Isbell – Southeastern
Despite my appreciation for good country and alt-country music, I never got into the Drive-By Truckers, so I wan’t aware of Jason Isbell until the press started telling his story of how alcoholism got him kicked out of that band, and now thanks to rehab and sobriety, Jason Isbell put out a good album. This is not a good album, this is a great album. “Elephant” is one of the best songs this year. He could have easily fallen into the country cliché of what it’s like at rock bottom, but instead he sings stories about love, death, sobriety, redemption, struggling with living in the present while living with a dark past….you know, the good stuff. God bless the busted boat that brings us back.
12 Daniel Romano – Come Cry With Me
When I first heard this album I announced on twitter that he reminded me of “Gram Parsons meets George Jones”. Those are some legendary boots to fill, and I’m not saying Daniel Romano is legendary, but at times his voice reminded me of those legends, which is a pretty impressive feat. I can understand why in this day and age people might not be a fan of ol’ fashioned country crooning, but I am when it’s done right, and Daniel Romano does it more than right.
11 The Dirtbombs – Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey!
Hey you got your Detroit garage rock in my 60s bubblegum pop! No, you got your 60s bubblegum pop in my Detroit garage rock! Wait, it’s two great tastes that taste great together!
10 Lorde – Pure Heroine
Anyone with a radio has probably heard one or two of Lorde’s songs on Top 40 stations. And if you’re like me, you thought those songs actually sounded good compared to the rest of the dreck. You might be surprised to learn that Lorde is no one-hit pony (or not so surprised now that she just won two grammys), and her entire album is pretty great. When a 17 year old covers the Replacements, and sings “I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air“, my faith in the future of pop music is restored.
9 Chance The Rapper – Acid Rap
I can see why Yeezus topped so many lists as a “game changer”, but overall I enjoyed this album more. It’s hyper, but cohesive…like jazz. You get the sense that Chance pushes himself in each song, but is also in control. That he’s putting his heart on his sleeve, but guarded. He seems to be all about dichotomy: summertime is great, but more people are killed in the summer. Whether it’s what he says or how he says it, he has a great voice, and I’m on his trip.
8 Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels
Last year, Killer Mike’s R.A.P Music was #15 on my list. That album was produced by El-P, who also released a pretty good album last year. Run The Jewels is the combined effort of Killer Mike and El-P performing as a duo, and they pull off an album that sounds hard, but also…friendly? Fun? I don’t know, but these two clearly have chemistry and work well with (and off) each other. You don’t have to be a math major to figure out that two positives make a positive. That’s science.
7 Ex Cops – True Hallucinations
This happens every year: a song will come on shuffle and I’ll say “oh this is good, who is this?” and then I’ll look and reaffirm that yes, I really like that band/album. Half those times this year it was Ex Cops (the other half was the above-mentioned Spectrals). They put out a dang good indie-pop album with catchy, snappy songs. Then I saw they put out a video that paid tribute to The Replacements, and I knew this band and album were worthy. It also helped that the album came out in January and never got old. One of the more impressive debuts in 2013.
6 Rhye – Woman / Quadron – Avalanche
I’m cheating and putting two albums here because it’s kind of a double album. Kind of. Robin Hanibal is a Danish producer. In Rhye, he teamed up with a classicly trained Canadian cellist and created a smooth, moody R&B album. In Quadron, he teamed up with a female Danish singer, and created an upbeat electronic-soul album. Quadron’s “Hey Love” won the title for “my jam” in 2013. I’m convinced Robin Hanibal could team up with a donkey and make a cool-sounding album.
5 Oblivians – Desperation
Allow me to get autobiographical for a moment. I lived in Memphis when Compulsive Gamblers (a band I thought was great) morphed into Oblivians (another band I thought was great). I would spend many a day at Shangri-La Records, and many a night at The Antenna (holy crap…in looking at that YouTube channel, I was actually at this show! Though I didn’t see me in the video, and that’s probably for the best). I was pretty giddy to hear that the Oblivians were releasing a new album 15 years after their last. With high expectations (and the added pressure of personal nostalgia), the album did not disappoint. It’s not as lo-fi or raw punk as their 90s albums, but 2013 was a little better knowing the Oblivians still got it.
4 Fidlar – Fidlar
I learned two things writing this article: 1) FIDLAR stands for “Fuck It Dog, Life’s A Risk” and 2) Two of the guys in this band are the offspring of a guy that played in T.S.O.L., while another is the son of a famous surfboard designer. Both of those things make a lot of sense, because the album reeks of surf punk played in a California garage. They play songs about how their drummer can’t surf or how they drink cheap beer (and so what, fuck you). That’s about all they have to say, but they have a hell of a lot of fun saying it, and that makes the album a hell of a lot of fun to listen to. If you want a New York version along the same lines, check out The So So Glos.
3 Peals – Walking Field
Peals is the collaboration of two dudes from the Baltimore bands Future Islands and Double Dagger. I’m a big fan of Future Islands, so I was very interested in hearing this, even though I knew it was radically different than either band. Walking Field is an instrumental journey, for lack of a better word. The songs are full of chimes, bells, toy pianos, cellos, and other pretty-sounding instruments. There’s no vocals; no drums or bass, so songs just kind of float by. That’s not to say there’s no substance and this is just background music, but that the songs flow from one to the other and before you know it, you’ve listened to the entire album (again). And at the same time, the songs stand on their own when they show up on a shuffle–they’re atmospheric, full of melody, and beautiful. It’s just a universally pretty album, perfect for sunrise or sunset, the beach or camping, warm summer nights or windy winter days.
2 Lady – Lady
I’m a sucker for that 70s soul sound, but contemporary retro-soul is a tough thing to pull off; it can sound gimmicky, disingenuous, or both. Lady (a transatlantic duo) has no problem avoiding those pitfalls. Thanks to fantastic production, this entire album showcases their top-notch vocals while sounding like they could be sandwiched between the Jackson 5 and Wilson Pickett on a bill. I can not sing as well as these two ladies, but this album didn’t stop me from trying.
1 Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold
Their album was released on January 15th, 2013 (re-issued from a small release in August 2012), and remained my favourite album of the year since that day. That’s an impressive feat considering the sheer volume of albums I listened to this year. A “clever” critic would describe them as “imagine if Pavement and Minutemen got stoned and made an album,” but that’s TOO clever, and does a disservice to this album. Yes, there’s the slacker vibe of Pavement, and the DIY punk vibe of Minutemen (complete with swapping lead vocals), but there’s also the new wave jangle of the Modern Lovers…hell, throw in a bit of Wire, Mission of Burma and and a little dash of [insert your favorite band here].
They put out an EP a few months ago that I liked just as much, and I hope they keep it going–they’re good musicians who can write a hell of a song. No bullshit two-guitars-bass-and-drums rock and roll. Tight and minimal, but with grit. On paper, a 5+ minute song called “Stoned and Starving” sounds awful–Parquet Courts make it one of the best songs of the year on my favorite album of the year.