Listen up. Here is my list of top 10 albums for 2013. What a year for music. New music. Old music. Bands breaking up in studio. Bands finally finding their sound. Stories of redemption. Stories of destruction. Do yourself a favor. Pull up your spotify (Rickman Cubed 2013 Top 10), find my playlist for this group and thank me later.
Editors Note: This is part three of an end of the year post. Find Part 1 on Books, here. Find Part 2 on Movies, here. As always I have tried for diversity in picks, my apologies for the whitewash that is my list but nothing hip-hop, rap, or otherwise struck me.
Pain Is Beauty– Chelsea Wolfe. From the opener, Feral Love, to the chaser, Lone, this is an album that aggressively comes at you. The sound is hard and at times discordant, but there is a sort of beauty and grace that echoes from its throbbing heart. The main instrument on the album is Wolfe’s brittle vocals. That is usually backed by minimalist soundscapes (pianos, guitars, drums, but rarely all together) creating music that feels distant and close all at the same time. I am not sure about the truth of the title, but Wolfe’s pain is definitely beautiful.
BEST TRACK- Destruction Makes the World Burn Brighter.
A seductive riff pounds as Wolfe’s lyrics tear. Masterful.
The Civil Wars– The Civil Wars. This is what it sounds like to witness a break-up. In the lush country sound of this album produced gorgeously by one of my heroes Charlie Peacock, you hear two people coming apart at the seams. The album is the proverbial car crash from which you can’t look away; and as I listen to it I think more groups ought to break up while recording a new album. From the Jack White-esque dirtiness of I Had Me a Girl to the Gospel burner From This Valley, the album burns with passion and misplaced affection. Even if they never record again, they can know they produced a masterpiece that very few bands (even those tougher for periods of time dwarfing their run) can touch or claim.
BEST TRACK: Devil’s Backbone.
This sinner meets saint and both begin praying for the survival of the other combines a stellar story with burning vocals and groaning guitars. A blues classic for years to come that could be made into a movie I would watch on opening night.
Random Access Memories– Daft Punk. This summer it seemed that everyone was dancing to the DP / Pharrell track Get Lucky; but the album had far more jams than just that one. From the narrative heavy Giorgio by Moroder to the bells and whistles minimalism of Contact, the album had a jam right in your wheelhouse. By combining old school funk and disco with new world computer-generated beats, these helmeted French musicians revolutionized the EDM world, again.
BEST TRACK– For my money the danceable joy Lose Yourself to Dance (the other collaboration with Pharrell) was the show stopper.
This Is– Icona Pop. We all need joyful exuberant music to pump us up when feeling blue or ramp up the good vibes of a good time. These Swedish songstresses brought the joy. Whether it was in the playful nihilism of I Love It or pop-psych anthem of In the Stars, this was my jam this fall. Need some inspiration to get it done at work, Icona. Need some good vibes to buttress a long day, Icona. Need motivation to finish the work-out strong, Icona.
BEST TRACK: We Got the World.
I first heard this gem the same weekend as McArthur’s Strange Fire Conference, and personally it felt a great answer to the man. Of course the writers would probably scratch their heads at this usage but such is great music.
Southeastern– Jason Isbell. A quiet peaceful meditation on a life once lost and now found, this is Isbell’s (formerly of the Southern Rock power groups Drive By Truckers and the 400 Unit) first recording as a sober man. The entire album revels in his newfound sobriety and maturity. A southern rock / alt-country masterpiece that one day will hopefully stand alongside Highway 61 Revisited and Folsum Prison Blues as markers of how to get the genre and craft just right.
BEST TRACK: Stockholm.
The lyric “nothing prepared me for living with you…” is a great descriptor of a man shaken awake and a metaphor for this album itself.
Pure Heroine– Lorde. If you weren’t singing and thinking about the pursuits of Get Lucky this summer, chances are you were bemoaning the false vanities of Royals. On this album the 16-year-old daughter of a painter and poet showed the world the definition of the word prodigy. Her eminently hook-worthy lyrics evoked the trials of teen (and adult) life in ways that Miley, Katy, Taylor, Britney, and a host of others have not even dreamed of being able to do. Lorde could have been a kitschy pitch to the tweens like the aforementioned, her music had a broader appeal than any of her counterparts.
BEST TRACK: Tennis Courts.
Another great send up of her teen world.
Meet Me At The End Of The World– Over The Rhine. Sandwiched here between new artists exploding onto the scene is the vets of OTR who have been quietly making amazing music for two decades. They are definitely the best group you have not heard on the radio (and should have). This couple from Ohio have been making Americana flavored jams with precision lyrics that need to be heard. This year brought a second 2 Disc outing full of songs as deep and meandering as the floodwaters that give name to their band. Any of the great jams on the album evoke deep meaning as they describe a wealth of characters longing to find a love as pure as Johnny and June’s.
BEST TRACK: All Over Ohio.
This was the first song I heard and perfectly shows why they are great: earthbound lyrics, soothing instrumentals, and the interplay of voices. This song about a couple looking to settle down into the dust of Ohio together is memorable and moving.
Don’t Look Down – Skylar Grey. This met my need for a feisty, R&B inflecked songstress. I first heard the movie credits ready Tower (Don’t Look Down) as an I-Tunes freebie and was hooked to the flow of Grey’s jams. This was great outing with strong confident pop-dance tracks. “If you don’t know what to believe in / let me be your religion” she asked us. No better religion debuted this summer.
BEST TRACK: Final Warning.
This revenge jam was everything you could ask for with a great hook, acerbic commentary and an urgent warning about the cost of cheating on her heart. Whoa be the truck or neck of the man to be so stupid.
Bitter Rivals– Sleigh Bells. I learned about Sleigh Bells in a column about the new wave of lo-fi rockers bringing great grungy garage rock back to the mainstream. This noise pop duo marries big pop hooks with crunch rock distortion. This EP excites both the ears, and the feet. Eminently danceable and bangable hits Sugarcane show how we do.
BEST TRACK: You Don’t Get Me Twice.
The vocal misma of Alexis Krauss is the perfect foil to the handclap, snappy rhythms laid down by Derek Miller. That you get a clever song about the struggles of young love seeking their American Dream is icing on the cake.
Modern Vampires Of The City– Vampire Weekend. This was the album that married the cleverness of their first EP with the mature sound of their second effort. Combining world rhythms with punk chord progressions and witty lyrics, this album sustains and builds to fulfill the frustratingly hit and miss promise of their first two albums. From the opener, Obvious Bicycle to Young Lion, there is not a bad song here.
BEST TRACK: Hannah Hunt.
Yeezus– Kanye West. A masterclass sonically but West’s ego is beginning to tire. A little humility or lightness could go a long way for West (think Em’s ability to make himself the but of joke song-wise). LISTEN NOW- Black Skinhead.
Reflektor– Arcade Fire. Back in the saddle after an up and down Suburbs (in my opinion). LISTEN NOW- Afterlife.
Fade Away– Best Coast. Another pop noise great. LISTEN NOW: I Don’t Know How.