Our Favorite Albums of 2013
by Andrew Sacher and Bill Pearis
We've done some year-end lists in the past at BrooklynVegan, though you might notice that we're not the most consistent with them. This is for a few reasons, one being that with the varying tastes of our current group of contributors, we could never in a million years agree on a top 10, let alone an Album of the Year. So in an attempt to get around that obstacle, this year two BV writers, Bill Pearis and Andrew Sacher, have made individual lists of the albums they loved most which we think each represent different parts of 2013 here at BrooklynVegan. They both made top 20s (and only had two albums in common), with commentary on the top 10, and you can check out both lists below...
Andrew Sacher's Top 20 Albums of 2013
Making a year-end list gets harder every year, with way too many great albums coming out in the course of 12 months to squeeze into a top 20. This year had major, unexpected comebacks from veterans like Daft Punk and My Bloody Valentine that I would have loved to include here, as well as albums from several promising newer artists like California X, Placeholder, Pharmakon, Pity Sex, Cloakroom, Aye Nako, A Great Big Pile of Leaves, Big Eyes, Jenny Hval, Courtney Barnett, Caravels and so many others that also deserve recognition. Few things are harder that excluding great stuff from these lists, but I had to narrow it down to the 20 albums that I really went back to the most, that affected me the most, and that best represented 2013 in music to me. That list is below, with commentary on the top 10, and I'm sure there's plenty to disagree with, so bring on the hate.
20) Torres - Torres (self-released)
19) Jon Hopkins - Immunity (Domino)
18) Deafheaven - Sunbather (Deathwish)
17) Swearin' - Surfing Strange (Salinas)
16) A$AP Rocky - Long. Live. A$AP. (Polo Grounds/RCA)
15) Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Push the Sky Away (Bad Seed Ltd.)
14) Comadre - Comadre (Vitriol)
13) Kvelertak - Meir (Roadrunner)
12) Disclosure - Settle (PMR)
11) Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City (XL)
10) Waxahatchee - Cerulean Salt (Don Giovanni)
On her 2012 debut album as Waxahatchee, American Weekend, ex-P.S. Eliot member Katie Crutchfield abandoned the punk sound of her old band for raw, stripped down tunes with little more than an acoustic guitar and her voice. For its followup, Cerulean Salt, she brings in higher production value, expanded arrangements, and some backing vocalists and ends up with the kind of lyrically honest indie rock record that we've seriously been missing from indie rock. There's a lot of musical reference points on the album, but for me it mostly brings back memories of Death Cab for Cutie/Rilo Kiley-style songwriting, and it does so in a way that can never really feel dated. Katie's lyrics reveal so much that it's hard to listen and not be affected by every one. It's not the kind of fun-in-the-sun indie rock that comes and goes, and that we have all too much of. It's the kind where the fans at shows literally sing back every syllable. The kind that might be remembered one day as the record that got you through a breakup or a family problem the way certain 10ish-year-old Death Cab and Rilo Kiley albums are for people now.
Listen to it via NME.
9) James Blake - Overgrown (Republic)
James Blake's self-titled debut album quickly proved him as one of the strongest and most original new artists, bringing together Bon Iver-style songwriting and Burial-style production work (among other traits and influences) to create a sound that's been copied but never equalled many times since its release. I'm not ready to say if Overgrown is better or worse than its predecessor, but while it could have been a chance for James to repeat himself or make his sound safer and more accessible, he chose to do neither. The closest he does come to radio-ready here is "Retrograde," and though it's an excellent pop single, it's not very representative of what he achieves on Overgrown as a whole. The atmospheric, futuristic dance music of his Brian Eno collaboration "Digital Lion" and the art-trance of "Voyeur" cover new ground for James and the world of indie/pop/R&B subgenres. Other moments where he comes closer to traditional song structure, like the first three tracks, still maintain his knack for forward-thinking production and off-kilter arrangements. Sure, the album isn't without its flaws (the RZA guest verse is the one noticeable misstep), but neither was his first, and both of those albums are pretty strong statements that pop music is continuing to be pushed forward.
8) Speedy Ortiz - Major Arcana (Carpark)
One of the great trends that really started taking off this year was the resurgence of indie rock that isn't afraid to actually rock. Speedy Ortiz began picking up speed with 2012's Sports, an impressive EP released by Exploding In Sound Records, which, like Speedy Ortiz, was rooted in a thriving scene of Massachusetts bands who pile on the distortion and throw wild live shows. With their debut full length Major Arcana, released on their new label home of Carpark, Speedy Ortiz bested all of their previous material and proved themselves as one of the most promising bands of this sound. If you're cynical and thinking that we don't really need these bands since we already have Pavement and Dinosaur Jr., you should think again, because Speedy Ortiz aren't just about nostalgia or wearing their influences on their sleeves, they're about writing great rock songs, and so far every generation since rock's early days needs that. Sadie's lyrics are clever, biting, and overly honest in a way that's destined to reach and affect kids now, even if those kids have the ability to hop online and download old Breeders albums. And this isn't a record of recycled riffs anyway. It's got loads of diversity, tapping into singer/songwriter-y indie, noise rock, math rock, dissonant chord progressions, and more in its 10 songs that clock in under 35 minutes. It's genuinely great indie rock, and achieves more than a band in their position even needs to achieve.
7) Arctic Monkeys - AM (Domino)
Arctic Monkeys have sure had an interesting and unexpected career path. While most of the breakout bands of the garage rock/post-punk revival of the 2000s have broken up, are long forgotten, or are making depressingly mediocre music, Arctic Monkeys have continued to take creative turns. Their third record, 2009's Humbug, saw them slowing down their frantic garage rock in favor of sludgy riffs overtly inspired by Black Sabbath and Queens of the Stone Age (whose Josh Homme co-produced the record). The slower vibes continued on its followup, Suck It and See (though much of that record is also poppier), and on their fifth record, AM, the band tightened up those explorations and came out with the most concise record of their latter period. There's no moment as purely heavy as "Pretty Visitors" or "Don't Sit Down 'Cause I've Moved Your Chair," but they've instead taken that massive riffage and given it a new makeover with hip hop beats and R&B falsettos. Alex Turner's quick-witted storytelling is still intact too, this time touching on topics ranging from calling after having a few drinks to calling when you're high, and punny references to the Rolling Stones. It's not all riffs and danceable beats though; "No. 1 Party Anthem" is as good an Arctic Monkeys Ballad as any, and "Fireside" sounds different than just about any other song they've done. Four of the twelve songs were already released as singles, and the fact that every other track is infinitely playable enough to also be released as one may not have been this true since their debut.
6) Arcade Fire - Reflektor (Merge)
It's no longer uncommon for indie bands to enter the mainstream, but Arcade Fire are one of the few at the moment who have become certifiable rock stars. These are Grammy Award-winning, Billboard chart-topping, arena-headlining rock stars. But the reason so many indie-types are still excited about them is that they're rock stars with an artistic vision, and as rock stars with artistic visions tend to do, Arcade Fire have given us a double album. Like the most classic double albums do, Reflektor carries a lot of weight. Just like it will forever be rewarding to listen to White Album, Exile on Main Street, and Physical Graffiti in their entireties, it will also be forever tempting to skip songs and play others at random. Those things are both true for Reflektor, and like those records, Reflektor reveals more on every listen. The danceable "Afterlife" is already one of the Top 5 Arcade Fire Songs for me, yet I wouldn't be surprised if years from now I'm claiming that one of the less immediate songs like "Awful Sound" or "You Already Know" is the greatest song they've ever written. The record's unlike anything they've done before -- and having LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy produce may be part of that -- but it's also full of the kinds of songs you can only imagine Arcade Fire coming up with.
5) Kanye West - Yeezus (Def Jam)
There isn't one record this year that I love that I've had to defend my love for as much as Yeezus. All the negative talk about Kanye that I (and probably you) have encountered frequently is about his ego, his rants, his wardrobe, and just about anything else that isn't the music itself. When the music is hated on, it's often compared negatively to his earlier material or accused of being a watered down version of certain "underground rappers." Music taste is all opinion, and everyone is of course entitled to their own, so it is in my humblest opinion that I'm prepared to call Yeezus easily the greatest rap album of the year, one of the greatest albums of the year in any genre, and one of the best Kanye albums in a discography free of duds. Kanye has always appealed to the mainstream as well as the indiesphere, but for those who have doubted his indie appeal, Yeezus truly demolishes that doubt. Its predecessor, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, will probably always go down as his crowning achievement; his OK Computer, his Nevermind. But like Radiohead did with trip-hop and post-rock on Kid A, and Nirvana did with noise rock on In Utero, Kanye has used his megastar status to legitimately and successfully bring sounds from avant-leaning corners of the underground to the mainstream. Forward thinking producers like Evian Christ, Arca, and Hudson Mohawke were brought in to help him with his vision, and in turn they were rewarded with significantly more exposure than ever before. Not to mention mastermind electronic duo Daft Punk have their fingerprints all over this album, Bon Iver's Justin Vernon appears as a singer and co-writer on multiple songs (his third time on a Kanye-related album), and Frank Ocean appears for a short but crucial contribution to the end of "New Slaves." The production here is his most dark and twisted and the lyrics are everything from funny to angry to ridiculous and always memorable. He's never made an album this raw or this concise, and unlike MBDTF, where "Power" (and soon other songs) were inescapable for months before the record came out, Kanye released no singles ahead of Yeezus, forcing us to all hear the whole thing at once in an era where that happens less and less. Luckily for us, there's not a dull moment.
4) Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience (RCA)
Like Kanye West, Justin Timberlake has had a fascinating and complicated relationship with the indie world. When the former boy band star first set out on his own for 2002's Justified, he didn't have much more than a few great singles, but on it's 2006 followup, FutureSex/LoveSounds, he returned with a full album of forward-thinking pop that won over tons of non-pop fans. Still, for much of the indie folk, it was tempting to file JT under "guilty pleasure," but on this year's The 20/20 Experience, he's bested both of its predecessors, and there's nothing guilty about it. At ten songs and just over seventy minutes, JT, Timbaland, and the rest of their team go through the type of future-R&B younger singers like Frank Ocean, Miguel, The Weeknd, Jeremih, and others are doing, beating many of them at their own game. They touch on traditional soul, danceable polyrhythms, and progressive art pop, all in ways that truly feel like the goal here is to push boundaries and create interesting music, not be formulaic for the sake of radio play. You can't be much more of a pop star than Justin Timberlake, and it's rare that pop stars make such interesting music. But consider The 20/20 Experience a modern day version of Pet Sounds or Rumours, albums by bands who were certainly pop and not very "cool," but have lived on excellently because the music is just that good.
3) The National - Trouble Will Find Me (4AD)
Every National album up until this one, even if only subtly, has expanded upon the last. Their most recent, High Violet, pushed their sound about as far as you could imagine it being pushed, fleshed out with rich vocal harmonies and string arrangements that made their deceptively simple sound grander than ever before. Trouble Will Find Me is their first record to not do this, but it's still one of their best. On Trouble, they sound more casual and effortless than ever before. They no longer sound like they're trying to write great songs, but instead just laying down some ideas without thinking too much about it, and ending up with great songs. And though they do sound more at ease here, none of this is to say that they sound more content. Matt Berninger's highly visual lyrics are as heartbreaking as ever. He's still singing about his demons, he's still got tylenol and beer, there's still cars crashing into gardens, and Let It Be and Nevermind will still make him cry.
2) Touche Amore - Is Survived By (Deathwish)
Touche Amore has been one of the heaviest hitters in punk and hardcore scenes for a few years now, but their third and best album Is Survived By pushes them beyond those niche circles. It's one of the best rock records of the year, regardless of specific microscenes and subgenres. Their sound has been expanded in just about every way, with their rhythm section more punishing than ever before, and their interlocking guitarists churning out gorgeous subtle intricacies that were only hinted at on previous records. Not to mention they've got basically the perfect production for their sound, courtesy of Brad Wood, who's proved via other emo/post-hardcore masterpieces like Diary and Brother, Sister that he's pretty good at this kind of thing. But it's not all nerdy stuff about production and instrumentation that makes this great. Like most great hardcore records, it's one where you're left hanging on to every word, feeling revitalized simply by the fact that someone is saying so much of what you've thought, and giving you a chance to scream it back to them at the top of your lungs.
1) Kurt Vile - Wakin On A Pretty Daze (Matador)
Like every year, there were countless great records in 2013, but not one of them satisfied just about any mood I could be in like Wakin On A Pretty Daze. Kurt had his breakthrough moment on his last record, Smoke Ring For My Halo, and now that he's really got a sound he can call his own and that we're all familiar with, he takes it further than ever before. Pretty Daze is a double album, but unlike Reflektor, you never feel like you're listening to one. As he casually jams on tunes, bringing them to 9 or 10 minutes, you get too sucked in to actually notice they're longer than the 3-4 minute songs on Smoke Ring. He's experimenting a lot here, bringing in layers of psychedelia and elements of jam bands, but without ever being too indulgent or losing his sense of a good pop song. And while just about every obvious comparison is to decade-old artists -- the jammy folk rock of Neil Young, the clever wordplay of (and a similar drawl to) Bob Dylan, the everyman's songwriting of Bruce Springsteen -- Kurt manages to always sound like he's looking forward, and has given us one of the best folk rock records of the new millennium.
Bill Pearis' Top 20 LPs of 2013
Call me a contrarian, but these were the albums I listened to the most, was excited to tell people about, and often had me dancing in my kitchen. (Am I oversharing?) My top three records are basically a tie for first place, and I've shuffled the order of them about 20 times. All three are highly recommended -- and pretty underheard I think. The same could, mostly, be said for my whole list. (And no, I'm not on the take from Slumberland, they had a great year!) These are my 20 favorites. As Yukon Cornelius says, you eat what you like, I eat what I like!
20. Heavenly Beat - Prominence (Captured Tracks)
19. Kurt Vile - Wakin' on a Pretty Daze (Matador)
18. Heaven's Gate - Transmuting (Inflated)
17. Wax Idols - Discipline + Desire (Slumberland)
16. Weekend - Jinx (Slumberland)
15. Suede - Bloodsports (Suede Limited)
14. Mikal Cronin - MCII (Merge)
13. King Krule - 6 Feet Beneath the Moon (4AD)
12. Joanna Gruesome - Weird Sister (Slumberland / Fortuna Pop)
11. Minks - Tide's End (Captured Tracks)
10. Ooga Boogas - S/T (Aarght)
Australian musician Mikey Young stays busy with a bunch of bands (Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Total Control, Lace Curtain), all of them excellent. And here's another as part of Ooga Boogas. Their self-titled album genre hops from Fall-influenced indie rock to Stranglers-y new wave to the vaguely Talking Heads-ish groovers. (Also "Studio of My Mind" is the best LCD Soundsystem song they never wrote.) But damn if they aren't all great.
Listen to a few songs here.
9. Girls Names - The New Life (Slumberland)
For their second album, Girls Names dropped much of the murky gloom prevalent on their debut, instead opting for more crystalline production, driving basslines, propulsive drumming, prominent keyboards and markedly improved songwriting. It's all a little early-'80s Bunnymen, but Girls Names bring their own style to the proceedings, and every little atmospheric detail works. You still wouldn't call it happy, but you can dance to it.
Listen via RDIO.
8. Factory Floor - S/T (DFA)
25 years since it's Detroit birth, the sounds of techno and acid house are still inspiring new artists. UK trio Factory Floor take those squelchy 303s and filter them through krautrock and post-punk sensibilities for a near-relentless hour on their long-awaited-but-worth-it full-length debut. While using some of the same equipment Juan Atkins tinkered with in his bedroom in 1987, in Factory Floor's hands, it still sounds like the phuture.
Listen to it here.
7. No Joy - Wait to Pleasure (Mexican Summer)
Working with Violens' Jorge Elbrecht, Wait to Pleasure goes beyond the No Joy's pummeling shoegaze start, showing off previously unheard textures, melody and beauty. They can still attain tinitus-level volume (just see them live), but they've now got other cards too and the ebbs, flows and crashing waves make for a great listen start-to-finish. One of the most pleasant surprises of 2013.
Listen via RDIO.
6. Cate Le Bon - Mug Museum (Wichita / Turnstile)
Written following the death of her maternal grandmother but recorded after moving from Wales to her new home of California, Cate Le Bon's third album, Mug Museum, hits the happy/sad sweet spot like a ray of sunshine peaking through the grey. A little less skronky than last year's CYRK, Cate Le Bon's quirky Welsh charm, songwriting skills and bewitching voice remain.
Listen via NME.
5. Jon Hopkins - Immunity (Domino)
Having helped create textural work with Imogen Heap, Brian Eno (and Coldplay), Jon Hopkins delves into dance music for the first time, with this concept album exploring, instrumentally, an epic night out. While it may not feature any Disclosure-style dancefloor bangers, Immunity is an absolute stunner, a record that needs to be heard as a whole, and one whose synthesizers throb like a beating heart.
Listen to it via RDIO.
4. Outfit - Performance (Double Denim)
After a few singles/EPs, UK group Outfit make their long-player bow and I wasn't quite prepared for what a leap they made. This is sleek, elegant dancepop, endlessly inventive and a little nerdy/quirky -- but not so much that it ever pulls you out of the groove. Comparisons to Hot Chip are pretty easy to make but Outfit have their own distinct style. This record remains a UK import. Somebody over here sign these guys!
Listen via The Guardian.
3. La Femme - Psycho Tropical Berlin (Born Bad)
The title of Parisian band La Femme's debut album, Psycho Tropical Berlin, is a pretty good summation of what to expect: crazed psychedelic pop with a krautrock/coldwave backbone and an affinity for surf rock. Add to that the inherent French element (Ye-Ye enthusiasm and smoky Gainsbourg cool), you get an inventive, modern, highly entertaining album, unlike anything anything else I heard this year.
Listen to it here.
2. Warm Soda - S/T (Castle Face)
Matthew Melton formed Warm Soda immediately after his previous band, Bare Wires, imploded onstage at SXSW. He doesn't really alter the power-pop formula with his new band but the change has definitely made his creative juices more effervescent. Keeping with those late '70s vibes, Warm Soda's debut actually kind of sounds like it is coming out of a transistor radio: tinny and compressed (in a good way), but with giant hooks and choruses packed into 27-minute running time. It's hit after hit after hit.
Listen via RDIO.
1. Hookworms - Pearl Mystic (Gringo / Weird World)
This group from Leeds, UK practice a visceral blend of noise, drone, motorik rhythms and impassioned vocals that basically demands to be listened to at top volume. The parts are old but Hookworms' electrifying energy makes it feel like they came up with the idea. Seeing them live during CMJ, where singer Matt Johnson seemed to leave his body on stage, nudged this record ahead just enough for me to name is at my favorite of 2013. For that matter, their non-LP single, "Radio Tokyo," was my favorite track of the year. Hookworms win.
Listen via Spotify.