Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Year End Music Roundup - The Best of 2013

As the calendar turns over, it's finally time to assess the albums of the previous year into a list of those that are not to be missed. This year it was pretty clear for me to determine which albums belonged in the top ten or so, but as usual, after that it gets kind of murky. The rest of the list could have gone a million different ways. Over the past week I've been spending my time listening to the albums that could make up #11-#25 trying figure out which ones would edge their way onto the list. The one thing that process proved to me was that there were a ton of great records this year. If you feel I've missed anything, which I'm sure I did, please let me know. Enjoy.

#1. Portugal. The Man - Evil Friends: It was really tough to decide on which album would be number one, but this album finally won out. From beginning to end, I completely love it. This is definitely one of their best efforts to date, showcasing their catchy psychedelic indie sound at it's best.
#2. Arctic Monkeys - AM: I kept going back and forth on whether this should be number one or two, but in the end it doesn't really matter because it's fantastic. AM maintains the heavier groove of their last album, but adds the eerie elements of psychedelic pop. They're not as angry as they were on their first two albums, but they make up for the lack of angst by upping the musicianship to yet another level.

#3. Beady Eye - BE: Interesting enough this album title follows the same structure as the album above, and also like that album, it's a band who I've admired for a long time who came through with some of their best work. Over the course of 17 songs, the band has finally found its identity beyond Oasis. This doesn't sound like Oasis, it sounds clearly like a Beady Eye record. The band has moved on, and without Noel on board, the other members seem to be hitting their creative stride, quite impressive for musicians with such amazing careers.  

#4. The Icarus Line - Slave Vows: I loved this album upon first listen, but for some reason it fell out of rotation in the last few months. Over the past week, I've been listening to it again and remembering how amazing it is. There is something about their music that captures that seedy L.A. vibe, dark and dangerous and irresistible at the same time. Fantastic stuff.

#5. Kurt Vile - Wakin On A Pretty Daze: A masterpiece of psychedelic folk. This double album plays like a mellow Dinosaur Jr. album washed in a haze of a lazy day. The entire album keeps a consistent groove throughout, making it almost feel like one continuous song. With each album, Kurt seems to improve, and he's well on the way to becoming one of the best songwriters of the moment.

#6. Samantha Crain - Kid Face: Samnatha's voice is easily one of the best around and her songs tell such beautiful stories. On this album, there's a return to the gloom that hangs over her first EP, and which works phenomenally well with her voice. This is a really powerful album.  
#7. Kanye West - Yeezus: It would be so easy for someone of Kanye's stature to simply repeat himself and play it safe, which is one of the reasons why it's so commendable that he continues to push himself to give people something they've never heard before. This record, like his last, is the sound of an iconic artist given the space to experiment and succeed. 
#9. Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats - Mind Control: A wonderful heavy psyche album. While it lacks the manic frenzy of their last album, Blood Lust, it makes up for it with heavier droning riffs that harken back to Black Sabbath, yet keeps the relentless guitar and haunting vocals of a ghost hidden in the music. 
#10. Mazzy Star - Seasons of Your Day: After 17 years, the L.A. dream folk band finally return. Every song on this record is soothingly beautiful, and captures the wonder and worry of being alone. Worth the wait...definitely.
#11. Babyshambles - Sequel to the Prequel: Musically, like previous Babyshambles records, this album draws on a wide-range of influences that come together in vagabond brilliance, offering poetic insights on the world through the perspective of a disillusioned and tragic romantic.
#12. Low - The Invisible Way: When you've perfected a sound as well as these guys, there's no real reason to mess with it. Their songs are incredibly minimal, but incredibly powerful emotionally. Another truly wonderful album to add to their catalog.
#13. Manic Street Preachers - Rewind the Film: For their first album in three years, the Manics seem to be moving away from their more radical politics to a sense of living for ourselves. They no longer seem to be preaching an all out revolution so much as a revolution of perspective and personal discovery.
#14. Neko Case - The Worse Things Get...: Neko returns with her best work to date. This album sounds like a coherent folkish version Fionna Apple. The songs are amazing and meaningful. Glad to have her back.
#15. Earl Sweatshirt - Doris: Earl has his own easy going style, spitting rhymes about this that and whatever and not caring about the image he projects. It's definitely a stoner rap album, and satisfies that niche to perfection. 

#16. Ty Segall - Gemini & Sleeper: Another year and another wealth of releases from the non-stop Ty Segall (member of Sic Alps). His two solo efforts this year outshine the band's releases. He channeled his garage sensibilities into neo-psychedelic folk rock with an amazing softer sound. 
#17. Rob Zombie - Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor: Sun soaked psychedelic metal infused with a healthy dash of psychotic hillbilly horror, without ever managing to feel like a gimmick. The metal version of Trout Mask Replica

#18. The Bevis Frond - White Numbers: This is his first album since 2011's phenomenal The Leaving of London. Like that album, this is another double album of fantastic rock. There isn't a bad song among the 24 tracks, and the album ends with a 42 minute monster of a jam.

#19. Lightning Dust - Fantasy: Over the course of their career, the band has progressed from the minimal sound of their debut to a more traditional indie folk sound, even including some electronic elements into this record. Amber Webber (of Black Mountain) has such an amazing and fragile voice that has always made this band stand out among a sea of indie folk rock.
#20. Dead Meadow - Warble Womb: Another fantastic achievement in fuzzed out stoner bliss from one of the leading bands in the genre. I've always loved the way they meld heavy psyche influences from the late '60s with heavy riffs, yet manage to keep this California easy vibe going.
#21. Secret Colours - Peaches: Formed in Chicago, this band describes itself as the seed of 60's psychedelia and '90s Britpop. This album is definitely influenced by both, showing moments of early Pink Floyd and then shifting into Spiritualized type hymns. 
#22. Enforcer - Death by Fire: This album is so authentic to the speed metal played in the early 80's that it would fool even the most die-hard metal fans. But it's not simply an ode to that music, or a knock-off, more like a re-birth. It's incredibly great, the perfect mix of pounding drums, screeching guitars and classic NWOBHM vocals.
#23. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros: L.A. based psychedelic folk band with a hippy groove that is heavily influenced by Paul McCartney quirkiness and Beatles mantra of all you need is love. Super enjoyable, and at times, quite brilliant.
#24. Midlake - Antiphon: The haunting vocals are accompanied by a wash of Pink Floyd rhythms, creating a beautiful sound. Midlake has always been able to stand out among the wave of bands using similar textures and influences, and once again have succeeded in making another outstanding album. 

#25. Nik Turner - Space Gypsy: Teaming up with other members of Hawkwind, this album returns to the space rock roots of the '70s band. This is pretty flawless, and could easily pass for a classic Hawkwind album.

Honorable Mentions: Here's some other albums that came close to making the list, and as I said, on other days may have made it.
Black Sabbath - 13
The Flaming Lips - The Terror
Kadavar - Kadavar
Dead Ghosts - Can't Get No
Black Spiders - This Savage Land
Brendan Benson - You Were Right
Queens of the Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork
Terra Tenebrosa - The Purging
The Strokes - Comedown Machine
White Denim - Corsicana Lemonade
Woodpigeon - Thumbtacks and Glue
Psychic Ills - One Track Mind
Okkervil River - The Silver Gymnasium
Kings of Leon - Mechanical Bull

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