Favorite Albums of 2013:
1. CHVRCHES – “The Bones Of What You Believe”
I first heard “The Mother We Share” this summer and instantly fell in love with the Euro-electronic beats on this offering from CHVRCHES. Waiting patiently for this album to drop, I bought the Japanese version of their EP that preceded this LP. With just this small snippet of “Bones”, I could already tell that I was going to like the rest of what they brought to the table. There’s a mystifying incorporation of Madonna/Cyndi Lauper-esque vocals from Lauren Mayberry on tracks like “Tether” and “Gun.” While her voice enchants, the lyrics haunt and emanate of former lovers and bad breakups. Listening closely to the words, there is a huge emphasis on the concept of the fury of a scorned lover.
Earlier this year, there was an article written lamenting the death of guitar rock. The point of the article was that electronic music has taken over the airwaves, and where we used to see guitars and drum kits on stage, we now find MacBooks and drum machine software. While some mourn the so-called “end of guitar rock”, I for one welcome our new electronic overlords. Firstly, I see this as a gross overreaction to the recent surge of electronic-based music. Secondly, electronic music as a genre label encompasses far too many styles of music. There is a big difference between DJs like Avicii and Zedd, and bands like CHVRCHES and LCD Soundsystem (yes even though they’re technically retired.)
All four of these music artists are labelled as electronic musicians, but I feel there is more to it than to just slap that name on each one of them. Avicii and Zedd mix music to create danceable beats en mass and sample from other musicians that are rarely recognized for their parts in the song. A great example of this statement can be found on Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” – the uncredited Aloe Blacc is the musician who not only provided the vocals for this track, but also wrote the original song. If you were to hear his original song though, I’m willing to bet you’d say, “Hey this is that Avecii song.” On the flip-side though, bands like CHVRCHES write their own lyrics and create their own music. Without digressing this album review any further, my main point is that the electronic music genre has more facets to it than I think people realize.
Favorite Track: “We Sink”
2. Arcade Fire – “Reflektor”
It’s hard to not have this album at #1, or rather a tie for first.
“Reflektor” was one of the most anticipated albums I can remember in recent history. Hipsters and music aficionados alike couldn’t wait for it to come out after the title track dropped later this year. Call me a fanboy but when you mix Arcade Fire with a guest appearance by David Bowie, that’s pretty much nectar to me and you’ll have my attention no matter what you’re selling.
I enjoyed the fact that this was a double album in the sense that both albums had their each individual feel to themselves. Across both discs though there is a heavy Haitian influence as credited to a trip they took recently. While openly mocked by more than a few particular journalists, I thought the addition of marimbas and bongos added a whole new element to Arcade Fire’s ever growing catalogue of music.
The most overlooked piece of this album is that the great James Murphy produced the whole album. Fans of the sadly defunct LCD Soundsystem will remember that he just recently retired a few years ago from the band. He’s been very busy though, and it’s nice to see that he’s clearly still got the magic to create incredible albums. If Arcade Fire makes a new album soon, I’m really hoping to see another AF/Murphy mashup.
Favorite Track: “Normal Person”
3. Lorde – “Pure Heroine”
There’s not a lot to be said about Lorde and her debut in the American music scene that hasn’t already been said a billion times already. With that in mind, I’ll share my thoughts on the album itself.
This album is music for the misfits drenched in tones of the underdog. My absolute favorite thing about this album is how relatable it is, how it’s not a cookie-cutter pop album. Each lyric is thoughtfully crafted and mindful of her past. I posed this theory to a few different people after I heard “Pure Heroine” a few times through: “It doesn’t pretend to be something it’s not and it glorifies the things in life that don’t always glitter.” An example is the lyric from “Team”…
“We live in cities you’ll never see on screen, not very pretty but we sure know how to run things.”
Born a midwesterner and waving the flag of pride for my region, I relish lyrics like this. Too often our ears are obnoxiously abused with songs about filling up the cup in Vegas and the crazy antics that happened in NYC one night. For me, this is what alt-pop needs to break into the mainstream…true, honest lyrics about real life.
I expect we haven’t heard the last of Lorde and I can’t wait to see what projects await her in 2014.
Favorite Track: “A World Alone”
4. Vampire Weekend – “Modern Vampires Of The City”
Lead singer Ezra Koenig shows off his talent as a master poet of the lyric on this album. For me, Vampire Weekend holds a lot of personal memories of my days on college radio. Their self-titled album was a frequent play on “Radio Revolution” and they brought a hip/nerdy New England sound to college radio. “Modern Vampires Of The City” expands upon the same sound that we’re used to from VW. It’s clear though, they’ve graduated from the days of “A-Punk” when you sit down and listen to the story in “Hudson” and “Unbelievers” … they’ve draped themselves in a more mature and thoughtful persona unlike ever before.
Favorite Track: “Ya Hey”
5. Best Coast – “Fade Away”
When I first heard “When I’m With You” after BC’s SXSW debut a few years ago, I instantly loved their sound. They teased us with tiny EP treasures here and there but never put out a full LP until “Crazy For You” came out. Returning to this mentality, they gave us “Fade Away” this year. Released later in the fall, Bethany Cosentino laments in the most melancholy voice about the fears of growing up too fast and not being the same person she was a few years back. It’s soulful and soul-searching at the same time. Singing about searching for love never sounded so wonderful.
Favorite Track: “I Don’t Know How”
6. A Great Big Pile Of Leaves – “You’re Always On My Mind”
I came across AGBPOL when they were opening up for Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin earlier this fall in Madison, WI at The Frequency. The band spends time on the record discussing pet mice, slumber parties, and the kinks of relationships in dead-pan form:
“You never deliver
in the times when I need you
Tired from the day, I don’t blame you
I still need you to follow through” – “Snack Attack”
You could consider this an alternative supergroup considering members of the band hail from Farewell To Arms and Taking Back Sunday, but AGBPOL sounds like neither one of these groups on “You’re Always On My Mind”. The overall sound of the album is alt-pop that could really gain a cult following in the college radio circuit if it hasn’t already.
Favorite Track: “Snack Attack”
7. Daft Punk – “Random Access Memories”
This is a very thoughtfully created album. It’s been a few years since we’ve heard from Daft Punk, and “Random Access Memories” has not disappointed. The French duo penned an unusually less dance-heavy album and by that, I mean it’s a departure from songs in their youth such as “Technologic” and “Robot Rock.” For the most part, this is a very relaxed album with an appropriate amount of dance to still make it feel like you’re listening to Daft Punk. While the casual listener will recognize “Get Lucky”, it’s worth giving the entire album a listen all the way through. There’s some real gems on this creation.
Oh, and crank the volume on “Contact” as far as your music device will allow you.
Favorite Track: “Doin’ It Right”
8. Various Artists – “The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver”
John Denver was one of the original musicians that inspired me to begin playing the guitar over fifteen years ago. His music continues to be timeless and magical, and this new album of covers is a fitting tribute to one of the most prolific songwriters of the last century.
There’s an overall country rock mentality to this record that captivates the listener. Dave Matthews’ version of “Take Me To Tomorrow” was an instant favorite for me, as was Kathleen Edwards’ take on “All Of My Memories.” I’m a fan of pretty much anything Mary Chapin Carpenter has put out in the last fifteen years, so I was also happy to see her name associated with this album.
As far as tribute albums go, this was bar none my favorite from the past five years.
Favorite Track: “Take Me To Tomorrow”
9. Volcano Choir – “Repave”
Bon Iver fans will recognize quickly some of the stylings of Justin Vernon on “Repave.” Before the rest of you go, “Oh great, a Bon Iver knockoff album” I invite you to give it a chance.
Spoiler alert: It sounds nothing like Bon Iver.
I first made the comment to a friend that there seemed to be a nautical/ocean theme to a couple of the songs, and it didn’t help matters that the cover of the album has a picture of tossing waves in the sea. The guitar work on songs like “Alaskans” definitely give off the feeling of being on a ship bound for somewhere cold…riding the waves and feeling the wind tackle your face.
Admittedly I’m not a Bon Iver so I know when I bring up the band’s name, many people might also turn from listening to this album. However I strongly suggest listening to “Acetate”, “Alaskans”, and “Byegone” before you rush to judging this album. You may surprised – I sure was.
Favorite Track: “Byegone”
10. Washed Out – “Paracosm”
I like many other people jumped on the Washed Out bandwagon when I first heard the opening song to Portlandia. I have no shame in admitting that.
I decided to take a chance and buy “Paracosm” because I liked how “Feel It All Around” made me feel when I listened to it. Right away this album took me to a place of serene relaxation and happiness. Ernest Greene created such a blissfully happy sounding record that really made me rethink my previous beliefs of the genre “chillwave.” I suddenly find myself riding the chillwave with no inhibitions whatsoever.
Something that unfortunately gets overlooked when reviewing albums and songs is the emotion you feel when you listen to it. I think “Paracosm” is a great study of how an album can make you feel a certain way or take you to the place where you first heard it.
Favorite Track: “It All Feels Right”
Favorite Songs of 2013 (in no particular order at all:)
Dawes – “Most People”
CHVRCHES – “We Sink”
Arcade Fire – “Here Comes The Night”
Dave Matthews – “Take Me To Tomorrow”
TV On The Radio – “Million Miles
Remi – “Sangria”
Mapei – “Don’t Wait”
David Bowie – “Next Day”
Phosphorescent – “Song For Zula”
Yuck – “Rebirth”
Vampire Weekend – “Obvious Bicycle”
Best Coast – “I Don’t Know How”