Top 50 Albums of 2013: 21-50 Pt. 1 (unranked)
December 18, 2013 § Leave a comment
So this blog is pretty dead, that’s ok. Rush killed the blog (it was dead before that), but HEY it is the end of the year. Alright so this might be the last list. This is the 10th writeup I’ve done, 11th overall list I’ve made (in 2005 I just posted it in my AIM Profile Info), and I’m just sort of done with it. Got too much music to pay this much attention to new stuff all the time (was much worse this year than last year). That being said, it was a pretty great year for music both new and in respect to reissues. There are a bunch of albums that just missed the cut (like always) and will likely find themselves in my very favorite albums of 2013 in the coming years, but whatever. Also, I’ll probably do a list of my favorite comics of the year and favorite movies of the year. BUT HEY, check it out. The bottom 30 are unranked, as I’ve done for the last couple of years, top 20 will be ranked. Enjoy.
Alan Jackson – The Bluegrass Album
(Capitol/EMI Nashville) (Sept. 24)
I passed through Nashville for a night for the first time ever earlier this year, it being a place I’ve wanted to visit as long as I can remember. It wasn’t a particularly good visit. It happened to be Labor Day weekend and the crowds of skirts and pink boots, hilarious jeans and drunkenness was about too much to handle. But I did make it a point to attempt to get into The Station Inn when I was there, knowing that Alan had been performing tracks from this album quite often. It was filled to capacity and “sold out”, so whatever, but once the album actually came out – I devoured it. It’s a really fantastic album, this coming from a guy who has never really been much of an Alan Jackson fan (ok, he’s great but he writes a lot of really bad songs). I hasten to say it’s actually a bluegrass album, because his voice is SO country and it’s really quite slow. It’s a more countrified version of the 1970’s new grass scene than any kind of bluegrass album. More Alison Krauss than Bill Monroe, I suppose. Anyway, it is a great, engaging listen and has gotten better with subsequent listens.
Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe
(Domino) (Nov. 5)
As I write this on Tuesday, December 17th, Dev Hynes aka Blood Orange has just announced that his apartment in NYC has burned down, his music, art and dog Cupid along with it. It’s a really hard thing to stomach for a guy who clearly puts a lot of passion into the things that he does and is essentially on the cusp of taking over pop music. At least he was able to give us this frequently brilliant album before this tragedy. It’s not a perfect pop record and there are a few tracks on here that I just don’t actually like, but the thing about Dev and his songwriting and production is that when he is ON, he is REALLY on. You take the first two tracks “Chamakay” and “You’re Not Good Enough” and there very few songs as good as them this whole year. He was responsible for the best song of 2012 too, with Solange. This whole idea of new R&B championed by him and Cassie and a bunch of other people that are really fresh and hip is terribly exciting (though not always good), and this is probably the most complete album of the sound. Some of the ideas clash here, some seem a little bit sloppy or too indebted to nostalgia that I don’t particularly care for, but there are just these fleeting moments of “holy shit” that few songs or albums were able to give me this year and for that alone, I gotta include this album as one of the best of the year.
Caitlin Rose – The Stand-In
(ATO) (March 5)
Caitlin Rose’s previous album, 2010’s “Own Side Now” was on my best albums list that year, and “The Stand-In” is an even better record, though remarkably less country than it’s predecessor. Her voice has gone much more into the Zooey Deschanel register, the music is more filled out and occasionally veers into Chantal Kreviazuk territory, but she has this pop sensibility and vulnerability in her delivery that just makes me love her. You take a song like “I Was Cruel” and it’s really one of my favorite slow burns of the entire year, just clearly one of the best songs. And then you take a song like “Everywhere I Go” which I have to imagine is being optioned for a hundred different romantic movie montages as we speak and then on to “Menagerie” which is actually good enough and poppy enough that I put it on constant rotation at the rock climbing gym I worked at this past winter. She’s covering a lot of territory and will probably be a star before long.
Danny Brown – Old
(Fool’s Gold) (Oct. 1)
The hype leading up to the release of this record was insane. It seemed like a damn year that Danny Brown was teasing us with a song here and there, a video, a documentary, a million guest verses on everything. It was reaching the point where essentially I was ready to award this album of the year before I even heard it. And I have never even been that big of a Danny Brown fan, just a modest one. Well, it delivered AND didn’t deliver. It’s clearly not the album of the year, but it is definitely one of my favorite rap releases in a year in which there was dozens and dozens of great albums and mixtapes. So, if you don’t know, this is split into two sides. The first half is the “introspective” side, where Danny Brown is using his lower register, his street side. It’s still super modern sounding and really the half that most people are pointing to as the classic part of this album. The second half is the HYPE Danny Brown that really got him famous in the first place. You got dubstep drops, his crazy high voice and rapid fire rhymes and lots of talk about sex and drugs. I love this Danny Brown. I love both Danny Brown’s, really – and thankfully neither side goes on TOO long (it could probably half like 2 less songs on each half), but it’s an awesome album, awesomely sequenced and while it’s not the classic I was hoping it would be, it kinda leads me to believe maybe his next one will be.
Friendzone – DX
(Self-Released) (Oct. 9)
Friendzone is a production duo doing awesome things in the loosely affiliated “cloud-rap” subgenre made famous by people like Lil’ B and Main Attrakionz and even A$AP Rocky before he was one of the biggest rappers on the planet. Equally inspired by Japanese culture and E-40, weed and green tea. I made those up, but that’s what I get from listening to Friendzone’s first “proper” album of instrumental hip hop. They’ve produced some great tracks over the last couple of years, but I have to say that this record showcases their production in a way that connects with me a whole lot more than the vocal stuff. I probably haven’t heard an instrumental hip hop record as inspiring or as good since Clams Casino’s first collection, and this is in a very similar vein – but while most of Clams’ stuff just stayed dreamy forever, this goes a few different directions. The soundtrack to a 1980s Ninja Gaiden-esque, Japan-only release video game, walking through the inner workings of the neon signs of Las Vegas, chillin at your house, reading Jonathan Hickman’s Infinity series for Marvel. And it hits hard. It’s been one of my favorite records to drive to this autumn and winter. Really exciting stuff.
Fuzz – Fuzz
(In The Red) (Sept. 30)
Just about every year I have like a month where I get super into garage rock and punk and psychedelic music again and feel like just giving the bird to the world and growing my hair long and being dirty. Then I get over it. That happened around February this year, and then disappeared until the beginning of October when Ty Segall’s Fuzz album was released. Yeah Ty Segall releases an album every week it seems, and most I don’t really care about, but this is less garage rock and more Black Sabbath psychedelic awesomeness. It’s my favorite kind of rock n roll, just distorted as hell and dirty and awesome. It’s lo-fi but doesn’t feel especially lo-fi because it’s got such a great low end. Anyway, this will be a record I go to a lot over the years, especially once the sun comes back out.
Haim – Days Are Gone
(Polydor) (Sept. 30)
Look, I get why this band is so divisive among people. They are totally a 90s pop band. Sound Opinions said they were basically Wilson Phillips. A buddy of mine likened them to Shania Twain b-sides. Their image seems totally manicured to be these awkward, long-haired sisters – but man, I can’t find a record that opens stronger than the first 5 tracks of “Days Are Gone” all year. Like, I get the criticisms on the whole, but I also had the realization this year that I’m ok accepting my love of good Adult Contemporary pop of the likes that Haim represent (and I don’t really think they actually do). Pop music is pop music. I listen to Don Henley and Phil Collins and hell yeah I used to listen to Wilson Phillips on cassette all the time on family road trips. That doesn’t have a whole lot of bearing on Haim, who just make really catchy pop music to me. A track like “Falling”, has a really cool, intricate sound that harkens back to music we’ve heard a hundred times. “The Wire” has every right to be as big as it is, bassface on SNL or not. And I loved when they performed Sheryl Crow’s “Strong Enough” with Lorde on that VH1 concert special, because that is a near perfect pop song to me. Look, it’s not my favorite thing ever, but as far as feel good music goes – I like this a whole lot. And Vampire Weekend isn’t even on the list this year.
Heirlooms Of August – Down At The 5-Star
(Caldo Verde) (June 25th)
Mark Kozelek (of Red House Painters / Sun Kil Moon) released two pretty great albums this year. Neither are on this list because it usually takes a lot of time for me to get into his songs and the directness of them. On the other hand, his former (current?) bass player released an amazing (and amazingly similar to RHP/SKM) album that slayed me from the get go. I mean, it sounds VERY familiar to Sun Kil Moon, down to Jerry Vessel’s voice being a slightly less emotive Kozelek. It’s slow, it has a folk feel, but it’s super dreamy too. And the songwriting is great. It’s quickly becoming an essential “slowcore” album for me, like all time, because I love it so much. I can’t really describe what separates it from others, but it just works. The slide guitar that is heard throughout sends chills. “Ghosts of a Great Highway” is a 5/5 album, but I almost feel like this is an album equally deserving of that album title. It sounds like music that was made 100 years ago, or has existed for all time and it is my de facto nighttime album of the year.
Helado Negro – Invisible Life
(Asthmatic Kitty) (March 5)
On the whole, I took a pretty big hiatus in the Latin music department compared to last year. Well I mean, I still have tons of stuff I haven’t listened to yet in a Spotify playlist, but it really dominated most of 2012 for me, and this year, there are only a few records that I really loved. My favorite of the bunch was Helado Negro, because god I love this dude’s dreamy Spanish Bon Iver thing he has going on. The music is a little more psychedelic here and there, maybe even a bit more pop-oriented than the last record, but on the whole this is like delicate, floating and calming indie electronic music with lots of echo and sung in spanish. Totally delightful stuff.
Jai Paul – Jai Paul (Stolen Demos)
(Not actually released)
This is a pretty weird story. Jai Paul has had like 2-3 songs in the last few years, all of them essentially sounding like demos, all of them awesome. Drake even sampled “BTSTU” on one of his best songs. But Jai Paul is notoriously reclusive and no one knows anything about him other than he is eventually going to release an r&b album that will change the game. Then one day a mysteries jaipaul.bandcamp.com page turned up and it was a full 16 track album of unlabeled songs that seemed fishy, but we don’t know anything about the guy so maybe it’s real. A bunch of us internet people got it, we loved it, we listened to new songs and all their lo-fi glory and HUMONGOUS bottom end and the cover of Jennifer Paige’s “Crush” that is maybe my favorite song of the year and then suddenly Jai Paul and XL actually come out and say it was stolen and none of these tracks are finished. What a trip. But IT IS really great. It’s super lo-fi and sounds drugged out and surreal and is unlike any other r&b you’ve heard and it’s danceable and drinkable and just great. I didn’t listen to it nearly enough and every time I do, I’m mesmerized. Bummer about how it came to be, but hope we can get some true Jai Paul music soon.
John Wizards – John Wizards
(Planet Mu) (Sept. 2)
Just about every year I’ve ever done this list or any sort of writing in which I try to talk about electronic music, something about my love for Four Tet comes up. Four Tet in general is my favorite electronic music producer and has been so for about 10 years. Four Tet put out a record this year that was decent, but probably my least favorite of all his records. Who filled that gap? John Wizards. I relate the two because like Four Tet, John Wizards has the ability in their music to let the music (for the most part) breathe. There are lots of sparse arrangements here that let the South African/Rwandan vocals become the main focal point of the track, but occasionally there are tracks that are rave ups. Regardless, all the tracks come across as pretty organic sounding, like a dreamy African club/lounge night or something. It’s a unique sound, a modern update on some of the African electronic from the 80s and 90s that you find on obscure blogs and some of the later Ethiopiques releases. There is a bit of a lo-fi sound to a lot of the tracks, but it’s mostly clean. I don’t know, it’s a peaceful, comforting record for the most part and just sounds like something that should have existed and broke open years and years ago.
Lilacs & Champagne – Danish & Blue
(Mexican Summer) (April 23)
For years now, Grails has been one of my favorite post-rock/psychedelic/instrumental bands. I’ve been fortunate enough to see them here in Portland and they are just innovative as hell. So when two of the dudes started putting out instrumental hip hop last year as Lilacs & Champagne, it was odd at first – then realized, it’s really not that unlikely for the band members to do it. The s/t record from last year got some praise but I didn’t really dig it that much – this one, though…this one has maybe gotten more plays since October than any other album this year. It’s very much in the Dilla/DJ Shadow camp, but I actually think it reminds me of some early Blockhead production more than anything. It’s not super trippy or cut up or anything, it is just vibes that are a little dark and twisted, a little airy, sound like they’ll probably soundtrack some extreme sports videos in the future. Essentially the dudes seem to sample some deep rock or pop cut from forever ago and build the drums around it. It’s simple stuff a lot, but it’s smooth as hell.
Luke Winslow-King – The Coming Tide
(Bloodshot) (March 26)
This album totally crept up on me through like the whole year. It never once blew my face off, I rarely listened to it and was immediately thought it was one of the great albums of the year, but unbeknownst to me, it was one of the albums I listened to the most this year, because it is so damn comforting, reassuring and just…American? I don’t know, this album is part gentle singer/songwriter, mostly old New Orleans Jazz, but it’s like soft. There are muted horns and trombones and piano keys and stuff, but Winslow-King has this really plaintive, almost whispered, like he’s had too many glasses of wine ease about his voice and delivery, it’s just too good. The songs fill a room, make you kinda lilt and bob and all that. A totally joyous listen and probably the one record this year that I found myself putting on over and over when I couldn’t figure out anything else to listen to.
Lyn Saga – Venice
(CD Baby/Self-Released) (Jan. 14)
If you’ve been trying to scratch that Weezer itch for a long time, now that Weezer and most Weezer-influenced bands suck – then you should probably go ahead and get this album. Lyn Saga was a somewhat successful Youtube musician from what I gather, but this record just rules. One of the best power pop records I’ve heard in a while and haven’t seen almost anything about it in the press. Just classic Weezer/Fountains of Wayne/Letters to Cleo/Beach Boys sunny day music. The guitars crunch, Lyn Saga has a fun voice, the harmonies are just great. There’s horns, it’s simple, the songs are about self-hate and love and hanging out and everything. It wears its influences super well and is just one of the most fun records I’ve heard all year – I wish she would’ve blown up, because it’s great.
Paramore – Paramore
(Fueled By Ramen) (April 8)
I have tried to ignore Paramore for what – like 8 years now? Hayley Williams is still some obnoxious teenager in my mind, even though they’ve ruled the world and put out a bunch of good albums – I just didn’t want to even TRY with this band. And then I did with this album. And man, is this the catchiest record of the year? Probably. Apparently it has a lot of different sounds that the past albums didn’t, I don’t know what that means, but it’s mostly still pop/punk and can sound like Florence and the Machines and No Doubt and tons of other bands, but there are also tracks that are totally just theirs, including little super hip ukulele interludes and what not. I don’t know anything about this band, but I know people obsess over Hayley and they are still really popular (but maybe not AS popular?), I don’t know – almost every song here is pretty great, even if they are embarrassing to play loud in your car.
Ok, part 2 of the bottom 30 soon.