Top 50 Albums of 2013: 21-50 Pt. 2 (unranked)
December 21, 2013 § Leave a comment
Keep it going, keep it going.
Pokey LaFarge – Pokey LaFarge
(Third Man) (July 2)
If there is one album in the 21-50 rankings that gets closer and closer to the Top 20 with every listen, it is this Pokey LaFarge jam. Honestly, if I were to have stayed in upstate New York this autumn and winter instead of moving to Tulsa and then ultimately back to Portland, OR instead, this would probably be like a top 5 record, because this whole western swing, jazz, old timey country thing that Pokey does better than anyone? Yeah, it’s my favorite sound in the world. He’s not the only dude on the block making this real old-timey sounding music (and I don’t mean string band and CERTAINLY not Mumford territory), but this is something else. What I like about Pokey though, is that he doesn’t really come off as hokey as a lot of people (Jay Sparrow), nor does he really try to put a twist on it to make it super modern twist on it (Devil Makes Three), he just seems like a guy who should probably have been making music in the 30’s and 40’s and instead, is making music in the 2010’s. Pour a glass of bourbon, sit on the porch and listen to Pokey.
Postiljonen – Skyer
(Best Fit) (July 5)
I think this is probably the only one of the 50 albums on this list that I have yet to read a review about – not because there is a lack of them, it’s a relatively highly buzzed about album – but just because I usually don’t give a shit about this type of post chillwave, dream-pop, airy female vocal, electronic pop music. I mean I like all of those things singularly, but there is this certain sub-genre that has existed within the last 10 years where I like a few songs, but mostly I just don’t care. I feel like there was a lot of indie-electronic pop stuff in this vein this year, and I checked out a lot and I feel like there were a couple of really good dream-pop records and what not, but this one is one of the few that really stuck with me. I think even though it stays slow most of the time, and the vocals are super whispered and echoed, there is something about the production that keeps the songs a lot more interesting than most of their peers – something that drives the songs forward, keeps them almost danceable. “We Raise Our Hearts” is one of my favorite songs of the year. It kind of goes into the M83 style of pop music a lot of the time, but maybe less corny? Anyway, this is a record I tried to dismiss, but it always hooks me.
Pure Bathing Culture – Moon Tides
(Memphis Industries) (Aug. 19)
I’ve been waiting for an album that sounded like this for an awful long time. One that sounds like the cover of this particular album suggests it sounds. It’s dream-pop, and there has been lots of good dream-pop records of the past decade, but there is something about the sound of this record – it being almost equally poppy and dreamy that really slays me. Pure Bathing Culture gets compared to Cocteau Twins a lot, but then secondly to Beach House and Fleetwood Mac. All of those are great comparisons and points of references. It’s crystalline and crisp but blurred. The vocals float amongst the music, but the melodies are pure Fleetwood Mac poppiness. It’s dream-pop for the coast, for the summer days (and nights), and was probably the record that I was addicted to the most this summer. I don’t think it’s as good a record as “Teen Dream” by Beach House or anything, but it certainly has this lightness to it that that record lacks – just makes me want to go surfing in the daytime. It’s almost exactly the type of music you’d expect a Portland-based duo to make in 2013 after a trip to the Oregon Coast, which I’m guessing is basically how it came to be. Really melodic, beautiful stuff.
Purling Hiss – Water On Mars
(Drag City) (March 18)
There was a short time in March where I was repainting old dormitories in the snow where I probably considered this my favorite record of the year. I think this album alienated some “long time” Purling Hiss fans because it actually sounds like music now, rather than just basement fuzz, but man – this is one of the best 90s throwback records in a long while. The opener sounds like Nirvana, “Rat Race” sounds like Pavement or Evan Dando, there are instrumentals, psychedelic, more acoustic numbers and sometimes I get this Hot Snakes/Rocket From The Crypt feel. It all has this awesome fuzz and distortion to it that shows that it is clearly related to Ty Segall in some way. “She Calms Me Down” is a track that actually calms me down and was listened to while inebriated way too many times this year. Just a great throwback record that fell on a lot of deaf ears.
Queens Of The Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
(Matador) (June 4)
I guess I should have figured that bringing back Dave Grohl and Nick Oliveri into the band would have resulted in their best album since “Songs For The Deaf”, or maybe that they were leaving their major label deal for Interscope. Or that Josh Homme is now married and has kicked drugs and has been dealing with the fallout. Or that the album would feature Alex Turner and Mark Lanegan and…Elton John. Or maybe even the fact that the song or two that came out as a preview to the album’s release were just fantastic should have clued me into the fact that this would be a special record. It could’ve been the awesome artwork or Josh Homme’s star rising on television (with Bourdain) or on the radio and podcasts – coming off like a legitimately hilarious dude. I don’t know, there were lots of things that were pointing out to me that this could be a really great record and I still gave it like two months after the release before I actually checked it out. And I was blown away. It rocks, it’s more straightforward and stuff, but really has a more unified sound than a lot of their albums and it definitely hovers around the mid-tempo level more too. It is some of the best songwriting that Homme has done and tracks like “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” are definitely a little subversively dark (well, not by title), but it just carries on. You HAVE to play it loud – I didn’t experiment with driving to the record too much, but come this spring – it is on.
Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels
(Fat Beats/Fool’s Gold) (June 26)
Let me just say that the album art, t-shirts and distribution model that El-P & Killer Mike went with for this album is about my favorite shit of the year. That out of the way, I’m gonna admit I have this weird relationship with Killer Mike. It’s a one way thing, because he’s unaware of it, obviously – but I like most of his releases, from his debut album about 10 years ago to the various GRIND TIME RAP GANG mixtapes to his recent work with El-P, but I don’t usually LOVE his releases, because I find listening to him exhausting. More than that, I think more than with any other rapper, I feel like Killer Mike is just talking down to me. He’s preaching at me with his superior intellect and yet still keeps it fucking gangster. That’s why El-P sharing the verses on this record is a breath of fresh air, because I love El-P’s raps. I actually think El-P is super underrated as a rapper. Killer Mike is great and lyrically and style wise is obviously one of the best we have going, and I like this album a lot – but I maybe not as much as “Rap Music” from last year and definitely not as much as the El-P album from last year, but it’s great at the same time – I just can’t get addicted to it like the rest of the rap albums on this list. I don’t want him to tone it down, it’s my issue and everything, but it probably isn’t going away. Wonder what Mike would sound like with a classic boom bap production. Whatever, it’s still good and often great.
Russian Circles – Memorial
(Sargent House) (Oct. 29)
In November of this year, I tried really hard to get into a bunch of metal and post rock releases from this year I had just kind of had sitting in Spotify playlists and Itunes and seen posted around and what not, and while there were a bunch of releases I found very good, it was almost too predictable that the one that would really stick with me and becoming addicting was going to be the new Russian Circles. I love instrumental metal like this. I’ve talked before about how Capricorns’ “Ruder Forms Survive” is one of my favorite metal albums of the past decade, and how I love old Pelican and the instrumental passages that Mastodon and Isis and Wolves in the Throne Room mess with. I loved much of the Sunbather album from this year too. And Windhand, and Castevet and Inter Arma and Year of No Light and even Pelican, but this record, man. I don’t know. I guess some people were a little disappointed with it, some people praised it highly, but it is just one of these records that checks off all the boxes on what I am looking for with this type of release. It crushes, but it’s pretty. It’s epic in scope, is sequenced wonderfully (the first half IS better than the second), and on the whole the record is under 40 minutes. It’s a great record for the winter and in a year when there were good metal releases that I actually paid attention to, this one just won out.
San Fermin – San Fermin
(Downtown) (Sept. 17)
This is my token NPR-approved album of the year. I mean, a lot of my list probably overlaps with their various lists, but San Fermin is a “band” that I probably wouldn’t have given a chance if not for All Songs Considered relentless pushing of this album and particularly “Sonsick” towards the end of the summer. And this is an album custom-made for the hip, older crowd that will also appeal to the pretty hip younger crowd. It’s pretty, we can get that out of the way. And if you want to get specific – it’s pretty much equally influenced by Grizzly Bear, The Dirty Projectors and Sufjan Stevens with vocal duties split by a guy who sounds like Bill Callahan (Smog) one song and Matt Berringer (The National) the next and the girls from Lucius who sound like the girls from Dirty Projectors but less kooky. There are horns, strings, and 17 songs over the course of 55 minutes, so it goes kind of all over the place – but whereas lots of indie rock that fits a ton of tracks into this time frame seems to be really hyperactive and cut through things really fast, Ellis Ludwig-Leone’s training is as a classical composer from Yale allows the songs to remain interesting for those of us with a low attention span, but still gives them room to breathe. It’s huge, orchestral pop that challenges the listener to really listen to everything going on and not just be subverted by the beauty.
The Night Marchers – Allez! Allez!
(Swami) (Jan. 22)
I think back in March or April or whenever I firsttalked about 2013 albums, I described this record essentially as a Thin Lizzy record on speed. Funnily enough, for those who don’t know – frontman John Reis also goes by Speedo, and he is in TOP form on this record. Look, I love or really like just about every record in the Drive Like Jehu/Rocket From The Crypt/Hot Snakes camp because they are no bullshit, awesome rock n roll. Over the past year, this one has come to be one of my very favorite from the camp though, just because I feel like it has this groove to it that I don’t always get in their records. It’s dumb, fun as hell and super loud. I mean, the second track is called “Loud, Dumb & Mean”. Other track titles include “Thar She Blows”, “I Wear The Horns” and “Fisting The Fanbase”. But this record swings man, that’s what really gets me. Like it’s a punk record you wanna dance to and not just mosh to (you do), but actually just dance by yourself or with friends or whatever, it’s really deceptive. Shit rocks and has stuck with me longer than any record this year.
The Stepkids – Troubadour
(Stones Throw) (June 11)
Apparently The Stepkids made some waves earlier this year by doing jazz covers of Justin Timberlake and Daft Punk. I just found that out. I usually consciously ignore that stuff. But what I do know is that I really enjoyed the first Stepkids record and generally try to check out most everything that Stones Throw puts out, but all that being said – this record being on this list is probably the biggest surprise for me. Here’s what the band did for this record: abandon the badass psuedo-Funkadelic sound of their first record for a stream-lined Steely Dan/Joe Jackson/Doobie Brothers/Yacht rock sound for this one. It’s like they knew the way into my goddamn adult contemporary-loving heart. Not much on this record is life-changing, but it is just a great comfort for those of us who love this style of music. And it isn’t a direct copy or anything, it still sounds pretty modern and all, but it is a great homage to a sound that people try to pretend they don’t like anymore. “The Lottery” sounds like a Donald Fagan b-side, “Desert in the Dark” sounds like Rockwell or The Time or some other Michael Jackson or Prince disciple, “Insecure Troubadour” doesn’t sound like any other music, it’s bizarre and simple, “Moving Pictures” does sound like Prince sort of and there are moments of Oingo Boingo and Talking Heads and other lite-rock stuff. It’s all over the place and terribly fun.
Vic Mensa – Innanetape
(Self-Released) (Sept. 30)
In the early stages of this list, I was contemplating teaming up Vic Mensa’s debut mixtape with Chance The Rapper’s masterpiece and then I realized that if I did that, I’d have to include the rest of the great #Savemoney releases from this year and then it would be hard for me not to give a bunch of really good albums combined the #1 spot. So I took the two best. Chance is in the Top 20 (SPOILERS!), and Vic just barely missed. All things considered, probably #22 or 23. This is just a fantastic (free!) record, especially for a first one (yeah I know it’s not the first music he’s made), but I just love almost everything this whole crew is doing. While most of Chicago’s rap that is coming out seems focused on THE TRAP or the Kanye-isms, this crew of young dudes who are friends with a lot of the dudes shooting each other up (same neighborhoods at least), this stuff is so alternative and weird and just amazingly melodic and paired with Kendrick and TDE is the freshest stuff being put out (funny that it’s come to light that Chance The Rapper was offered a spot in TDE). But with Vic – he actually sounds a lot like Chance, maybe more stoned and less weird, less high pitched and more linear, but he is a pretty incredible rapper in his own right – stupidly fast and playful, but not just putting out party rhymes. He flips from conscious, introspective raps weed and computer raps in the blink of an eye. It’s just one of the best rap albums of the year, no doubt about it. And I’m posting just one video, from probably his most known track, but almost every track on this mixtape has a video at this point, so search Youtube.
Volcano Choir – Repave
(Jagjaguwar) (Sept. 3)
Those damn warm summer nights. This past summer, I lived in what was termed (by me) “The Hut” up in New Hampshire at a youth camp I worked at. It was a great, rustic place. Rustic in bad ways, mostly – but it had electricity and all that, so I wasn’t going full on Bon Iver or anything. Except I was, because this record came (yeah, it leaked early) this summer and I immediately became addicted to it and declared my vendetta against Justin Vernon over and that this was the best record of his. Like it was at the point where this was a top 5 record of the year, no doubt about it. And then the autumn hit and this record started to fall out of favor with me, though I still think it’s mostly great – but a lot less great than initially. Look, it doesn’t try to be nearly as emotional or as anthemic as either Bon Iver records, but it’s still really pretty and really dreamy and definitely goes by through a haze of clouds or night fog or something, but Justin doesn’t drown his vocals in all kinds of effects. Echo, sure, but you take a song like “Alaskans” and it sounds like an old Coldplay song, but also sticks in your head and makes you think it is one of the best songs of the year (even though “Byegone” or “Almanac” are probably the real winners here). But look, if you are a Bon Iver fan (there are millions of you) than you should probably get this record if you don’t have it. If you like dreamy stuff or somewhat rustic stuff or just wanna be comforted, look – it’s a pretty great record.
William Tyler – Impossible Truth
(Merge) (March 19)
When he was still alive, I probably put Jack Rose in the #1 or #2 spot as my favorite living musicians. When he left us, there was this gaping hole in the acoustic, instrumental guitar music scene that was filled up by people like James Blackshaw, Glenn Jones (also had a great album this year), Harris Newman, and William Tyler. Tyler’s last album kind of wasn’t on my radar until a while after it came out, but it was a marvel. “Impossible Truth”, as I said at the beginning of the year, might actually be the best album of the year. Or at least, in the future will be the album I consider to be the best. It’s probably my favorite solo instrumental record since Rose’s “Kensington Blues” and it’s a lot more diverse than that record. On this record, Tyler has scripted what, to me, is something like the ultimate American landscape record. Some tracks are straight up 12 or 6 string acoustic jams, some have huge amounts of echo (and overdubs I think), but every single track is a finger workout, a record that has an excess amount of beauty throughout and one in which it seems like each track perfectly illustrates the title of itself. There are occasional band members providing bass and percussion, but Tyler’s work is the focus, no matter the track. It is really an astounding listen and one I wish I would have devoted more time to this year.
Willie Nelson – Let’s Face The Music And Dance
(Legacy) (March 5)
Another year down, another album full of Willie Nelson covers of standards. At 79 years old, the dude can and does do whatever he wants, but he ain’t standing still. Maybe he’s sitting now, though. He put out two good records this year, I like this one better than the one with all the female singers, but I tried to hate this record. I tried throughout the year to just write this album off as lazy and sloppy. And it is. I read Willie’s book that was published this year or late last year probably during the recording of this album and it was one of the worst thing I’ve ever read. It read like an 80-year old man just discovered how to update his status on Facebook and what not, and that still didn’t make me dislike this record. He attempts to channel Django a lot here, which is a tough feat, and he doesn’t even come close, and yet the sloppiness of it all, the wear on his voice and the gentle feeling that all these songs exude, gosh Willie, I love you. The record sounds rushed and hushed and like you’re just sitting around at the ol’ Nelson farm and sipping red wine and this is happening RIGHT NOW. Whatever, if you like Willie, you should probably have this record.
Yo La Tengo – Fade
(Matador) (Jan. 14)
Is there even anything new to say about Yo La Tengo at this point? This is something like their 13th album proper, but really they’ve put out lots of EPs and singles and other one-off projects that who even knows. And here’s the thing: nothing they’ve ever done has been outright BAD. That’s something that very few (if any) bands with this amount of output can say. Some things are all-time classics, some things are just good, but nothing bad. “Fade”…I thought Fade was their weakest album of all at first. And then I listened. And I listened again. And then I listed one morning at the end of March when the snow was thawing and then it was hard to stop listening. This is THE Spring album of 2013, whatever that means. It sounds more like “Summer Sun” than their heavier guitar based songs – it’s a little lighter, has some electronic washes and generally keeps the tempo pretty moderate, but it really feels like an album that is slowly burning away clouds. I don’t know if there is a better band than Yo La Tengo at this point, it’s like putting on a sweater, or taking the sweater off if you’re too warm. We’re better people because Yo La Tengo exists.
Rankings after Christmas.