Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Georgy's top 25 for 2013

I had a baby in April, and during those first few months home with a hungry pooping machine, I did two things: one, faithfully add new releases to my "2013" playlist on Spotify to listen to whenever I had the opportunity (and to guzzle once I was back at work and in my office) and two, listen to the Alternative station on Music Choice (yes, cable TV's hit-and-miss answer to Pandora and Sirius - we were camped on the couch for several weeks, so...), which actually exposed me to a decent amount of new music. (You can also check out, in no particular order, my favorite songs from 2013 on Spotify.)

So, all things considered, I'm pretty pleased I was able to come up with a reasonable top 25 list for 2013, and that my daughter was born during one of the best years for new music in recent history. Maybe all of these bands were saving it up just for her.

  1. Jay Z - Magna Carta… Holy Grail

On January 1, I never would have predicted this as my top album of the year -- and maybe you're surprised, too. I like Jay Z well enough, but I’ve never been a super fan. But with this album -- which I caught up with a bit late, due to the baby and all -- there was always a new track to obsess over, from the Justin Timberlake-helmed torcher “Holy Grail” to the jazzy “Somewhereinamerica” to the infectious “BBC.” I’ve always known Jay Z was a talent, but in consuming this album, I came to appreciate the fact that he’s really one of the best musicians out there today. "Magna Carta... Holy Grail" simply gave me the greatest listening pleasure out of all the albums I discovered this year, hence its place atop this list.

  1. Neko Case - The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight

What more can we say about Neko Case? She’s more than a mere singer-songwriter; she’s a force of nature. Yet at the same time, she is inescapably real and accessible. This album, an admittedly more personal effort than previous releases, once again puts everything on the table, from the defiant “Man” to the haunting (particularly to this new mom) “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” to the touching “City Swans.”

  1. Tegan and Sara - Heartthrob

Over the years, Tegan and Sara have evolved from a sort of folky duo to a dance-hall favorite. But throughout the course of that transformation, the formula has remained the same - lovelorn pop songs rich in melody and tight harmonies. “Heartthrob” is no different. Oh, Canada, indeed.

  1. CHVRCHES - The Bones of What You Believe

A lot of good things come from Glasgow, and we can add this electro pop group to the list. Lead singer Lauren Mayberry’s sweet vocals are carried along a smooth current of beats and blips, and each track on this release is a neat little package tied up with a crunchy, synthy bow.

  1. The National - Trouble Will Find Me

The National have a thing: lush, brooding pop. And when your thing works, why change it up? The latest album by these Ohio-bred rockers continues to refine the formula, showing themselves as likely to offer up a guitar-driven rocker as a sweeping, orchestral dirge. Thanks to The National, self-loathing never sounded so good.

  1. Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady

From her attire to her songcraft, Janelle Monae defies labeling. And thank God for that, or else we wouldn’t have this eclectic collection of jams, rich in soul and rhythm, trembling with energy and a throwback vibe, and at times just downright weird. That’s what I like most about Monae and her music. She’s not afraid to be odd, and to make odd feel pretty damned sexy.

  1. Minor Alps - Get There

What happens when Nada Surf’s Matthew Caws and Juliana Hatfield get together and put out an album? You get a heartfelt collection of pop songs rich with sweet harmonies, classic melodies, incredible songwriting, and an electronic shimmer that makes the whole thing glow. This collaboration is really a delight.

  1. Lorde - Pure Heroine

I didn’t realize that Lorde was one of those bands that I’m not supposed to like for some reason (too mainstream? too popular?) until not only “Royals” but the rest of this damn album had seeped into my brain. The languid rhythms drape themselves across a low-key soundscape of beats and blips, making this

  1. Capital Cities - In a Tidal Wave of Mystery

Now this is what I call fun. This electronic pop duo has released an album -- anchored by the rightfully ubiquitous single “Safe and Sound” but also fleshed out by blippy jam “Kangaroo Court” and the dance floor gem “I Sold My Bed, but Not My Stereo” -- that works as well for day drinking as it does for night moves.

  1. Prince of Spain - His Majesty

Some albums just feel comfortable, like that worn penny you keep in your pocket and always turn over with your thumb and forefinger when you need to keep a grasp on something familiar. For me, that’s this album - warm, gentle, forthright pop with a timeless appeal.

  1. Laura Marling - Once I Was an Eagle
  2. Cults - Static
  3. Phosphorescent - Muchacho
  4. The Head and the Heart - Let’s Be Still
  5. Frightened Rabbit - Pedestrian Verse
  6. Telekinesis - Dormarion
  7. Dawes - Stories Don’t End
  8. Hem - Departure and Farewell
  9. Mark Mulcahy - Dear Mark J Mulcahy, I Love You
  10. Yuck - Glow and Behold
  11. Laura Veirs - Warp and Weft
  12. Mike Doughty - Circles
  13. Toad the New Sprocket - New Constellation
  14. Sebadoh - Defend Yourself
  15. Joanna Gruesome - Weird Sister

If you've made it this far, please enjoy my playlist of my favorite songs from 2013, in no particular order:


Curtiss' Top 25 Albums of 2013: 5-1

5. Blue Stahli - Antisleep Vol. 3

Blue Stahli is back with his third collection of songs intended for use in soundtracks, scores and music beds. He never fails to disappoint. While some of the tracks are starting to sound a lot like the stuff he's released previously, he always finds a way to throw in something new. If you listen to this album and you don't at least start bobbing your head (which is about as close as I ever get to dancing), you are broken inside.

4. Nine Inch Nails - Hesitation Marks

I had no idea Trent Reznor would release another album with Nine Inch Nails, and I definitely never imagined that it would make my top 5 list. Of course, that was before Hesitation Marks was released. While I've always been a casual fan of Nine Inch Nails' music, I've also always felt like everything released under that moniker was just a commercialized re-hashing of something Ministry had already done. That's changed, now. Hesitation Marks is a unique, enjoyable experience from an older, more mature Reznor. He's found a way to inject a completely new personality into NIN. His signature vocals are still there, of course, but the music is radically different. At times it's bouncy, other times it's a bit creepy. He's stripped away the over-production used on some of his previous efforts, and really pared it down to the basics. With this album, the music builds suspensefully to a crescendo, over and over again. While this album may not satisfy all of the people looking for another Broken or Downward Spiral, it is definitely an amazing, interesting and artful album.

3. Sevendust - Black Out the Sun

This was the first album I heard this year that I knew, without a doubt, would end up on my list of top albums for the year. This is a tour de force from Sevendust. It retains their signature sound, but adds so many new elements. At times, the album reminds me as much of classic, heavy Living Colour as it does of classic Sevendust. For the most part, they retain their signature vocal sounds, the aggressive scream mixed in with the occasional harmony, but they also throw in a little bit of a death metal growl at times, which gives this album a fresh, unexpected twist. This album also includes a handful of obligatory slower, almost-ballad, tracks, but they're done in the traditional Sevendust format, making them a lot more enjoyable than a lot of others. For anyone that's looking for a great rock/metal album, but doesn't want the same cookie cutter crap that's being played on rock radio every 5 minutes, this is definitely worth picking up.

2. Living Sacrifice - Ghost Thief

This album is everything that's great about Living Sacrifice. I fully recognize that this album is not going to appeal to the masses, but, if you're into heavy, aggressive music, this is one you can't miss. Living Sacrifice returns with their unique blend of classic Slayer, Sepultura, etc. and throws in a few new sounds. Bruce Fitzhugh, the band's lead vocalist, has not lost a step in his signature growl; while the rest of the band has picked up some great new tricks. While many "metal heads" will discount this album, and Living Sacrifice as a whole, simply because they are a Christian band performing songs with Christ-centered messages, this album truly is metal at its greatest.

1. Amon Amarth - Deceiver of the Gods

I have no idea what to say about this album, except for the fact that it fully deserves to be at the very top of my list this year. This an absolutely astonishing effort from Amon Amarth. This album melds old and new metal together so perfectly, it's almost frightening. There are so many classic metal elements woven throughout this album, but the unique sound of Amon Amarth would immediately give it away as a modern album. There were many people who praised Avenged Sevenfold's latest effort as a "great mix of classic and new metal," but I, personally, think they completely missed the boat. That album wasn't a great mix of anything, it was a blatant rip-off of classic metal with nothing unique thrown in. Deceiver of the Gods, however, continues the ball moving forward while giving very appreciative nods toward the classic artists that helped pave the way. There is an occasional Slayer-style dualing-guitar riff, a Maiden-inspired solo, a Megadeth-driven guitar break and even a classic prog-metal (Queensryche, Helloween, etc.) vocal run on the album (provided by a special guest, the former lead vocalist of Candlemass). This album is a shining example of what metal should be today.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Curtiss' Top 25 Albums of 2013: 10-6

10. Celldweller - Blackstar Act One: Purified

This is another absolutely amazing album from Celldweller. This album mixes new styles of ethereal, dubstep, industrial, techno and more to compose a full score for his first novel; yes, you read that right, he is scoring a novel. Honestly, this album probably would have ranked even higher on my list, but it was released just a day before I finalized my top 25.

9. Adrenaline Mob - Coverta

This is a fantastic EP of nothing but covers from one of Mike Portnoy's new projects. The covers are unique and energetic. Musically, this album is incredibly interesting, while many of the vocals are freakishly true to the original sounds of these songs. Some songs, like Break On Through, waver between sounding almost exactly like the original and sounding like something out of the stoner rock scene of the mid 90s (you know, that sound that Queens of the Stone Age dredges up every once in a while from Josh Homme's past with Kyuss). Other tracks, like The Mob Rules, are frighteningly similar to the original versions. If I didn't know that this was recorded after Ronnie James Dio's death, I would swear this was some new re-recording performed by "Heaven & Hell" (the group that the Dio-era of Black Sabbath became after Ozzy exerted his rights to the name Black Sabbath).

8. Alice In Chains - The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here

The previous release from Alice In Chains took a little getting used to. It was different, and strange, and didn't sound like I wanted Alice In Chains to sound. Don't get me wrong, I still enjoyed Black Gives Way To Blue, but, without Layne Staley, it felt like something was missing. With this sophomore release from the post-Staley AIC, it feels like they're starting to find their own sound again. It's still not the same as it was before Staley's tragic death, but it is good. This album does a much better job than Black Gives Way To Blue of melding the old, harmonic, dropped-tuning sound that made AIC so popular in the first place, with the new unique sound they were striving toward in the last release.

7. Avicii - True

This is such a bizarre album. I picked it up, expecting all of the tracks to sound similar to their hit single "Wake Me Up." What I got instead was a manic. heterogeneous collection of crazy songs that run the gamut from haunting to peppy and everywhere in between; I love it. This album is amazing. Enough said.

6. Bastille - Bad Blood

The first few times I listened to this album, I enjoyed it, but it didn't really speak to me. I figured it would appear on my list somewhere, but didn't imagine it would be in the top 10, let alone almost break the top 5. After I gave it a few more listens, though, I began to truly appreciate it. This entire album is like an extremely well-done tribute to the classic sounds of Erasure and The Cure, with a modern twist thrown in. Also, if you're interested, there's a great album full of remixes of some of the tracks from this album available, too.

Eric's Top 19 Songs of 2013: Spotify Killed the Album

In a digital, post-Spotify world, the album is irrelevant. The single is everything.
(defend yourself, sir)
I am a full-fledged believer in the concept of a ‘concept’ album. That ideally, albums should tell a moving, beautiful and thoughtful narrative through a series of interweaving songs. But they don’t. Hardly anyone makes records like this anymore.
(But Radiohead does!)
Yes, they do. A few others, too. But not many.
(…but Radiohead does!)

The vast majority of bands write a bunch of songs, record the best 20, and the best 12 make the cut. They are then organized in a sequence where they transition well into each other, but hardly ever do the songs work together to tell a larger story - except perhaps at a very broad thematic level. In fact, the only reason we think an album should have 10-12 songs is because an LP record used to have 22 minutes of storage per side and that’s all that could typically fit. In the digital age, a band can release music however they want, but most of them stick to the format we know, because it’s the format we know.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about the concept album. But until the ‘concept’ part comes back with it, let’s not pretend these things are anything more than the 12 best songs the group has come out with in the past 2 years.

So, in the spirit of efficiency, here are the 19 songs I listened to the most this year. I organized them in a sequence where they transition well into each other. In fact, this may be the best album of the year. But, it’s not. It’s just a bunch of great songs. And it's the best way to discover new music.

White Lies - Max Frost
Sun - Sleeping at Last
Sacrilege - Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Even If We Try - Night Beds
Song for Zula - Phosphorescent
Sweater Weather - The Neighbourhood
Entertainment - Phoenix
America Religious - Caroline Rose
Tennis Court - Lorde
Love Like This (Acoustic) - Kodaline
Retrograde - James Blake
Miracle Mile - Cold War Kids
Lay My Burden Down - Aoife O'Donovan
Another Story - The Head And The Heart
Silhouette (feat. Ellie Goulding) - Active Child, Ellie Goulding
Earth - Sleeping at Last
Dropla - Youth Lagoon
Ghosts and Creatures - Telekinesis
Cover Me Up - Jason Isbell

Eric Olsen
Director of Enrollment Communications
Lewis Univeristy

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Curtiss' Top 25 Albums of 2013: 15-11

15. Revocation - Teratogenesis

I'd never heard of Revocation before this album was featured earlier this year. It's actually just an EP with only 5 tracks, but those 5 tracks are so brutal, I had to keep listening. The album combines elements of Sepultura, Slayer and many more classic metal bands, and throws it all together in a brilliant mix of brutality.

14. Hatebreed - The Divinity of Purpose

Hatebreed is back again, releasing another great album with their signature sound. Not much to say about this, except, if you're a fan of Hatebreed or hardcore, you should definitely check this one out.

13. Children of Bodom - Halo of Blood

This is a super-brutal album from one of my favorite melodic death metal bands. Children of Bodom brought it again with this album; their signature screeching vocals, the melodic tone of their guitars, the grinding low-end and the unique drumbeats.

12. Deathfix - Deathfix

Despite the name of the group and the album, this is actually somewhat of a dark horse in my list (especially at this point in my list, where many of the spots are owned by heavy, hard music). This is a truly interesting album. It’s been featured on NPR and on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). The group is made up of Brendan Canty (former drummer of Fugazi), Bob Mould’s former DJ partner Rich Morel and two former members of a group called Medications. They are being called a “DC Supergroup” by the Washington Post. The album itself is a cool, mellow, emo-type of release. Canty’s vocals are a little bit gruff and sweet, similar to the sounds Shawn Mullins or Pete Yorn have when singing.

11. Dream Theater - Dream Theater

Dream Theater has been one of my favorite bands since the early 90s. I've enjoyed everything they've done, and this album is no exception. While the absence of Mike Portnoy does change the dynamic of the group's music a bit (he was a driving creative force, and added a bit of much-needed levity at many times). This album is a little more technical than their previous efforts have been, falling back on the talent and shrugging off a little more of the emotion that they'd put into their music over the past 10 years or so. That said, there's no denying that this is a fantastic album with some unbelievable riffs and outstanding vocals, just what you'd expect from Dream Theater.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Curtiss' Top 25 Albums of 2013: 20-16

20. Five Iron Frenzy - Engine of a Million Plots

Five Iron Frenzy is back again with another enjoyable album. For those unfamiliar with 5IF, they mix a lot of ska, a little swing and tiny bit of extra punk into their music, making for a fun romp through the album.

19. Ministry - Enjoy the Quiet: Live at Wacken

This is a great live album from one of my favorite groups of all time. Ministry put this album together from a combination of songs mostly off of their four most recent studio albums, with three of their most popular classics thrown on at the end, for good measure. This live album proves one thing: although Jourgensen continues to age, he's still got it, and Ministry still kicks some serious ass, in studio or on stage.

18. Erasure - Snow Globe

Quite honestly, the only reason this album ranks as lowly as it does on my list is simply because it's Christmas-themed. This is definitely my favorite new Christmas album, but I just can't see myself wanting to listen to most of it once January or February rolls around. That said, despite the Christmas theme within this album, and the fact that they do perform five or six of the "standards", this is every bit an Erasure album. It is so great to hear this duo back together and holding themselves to the same standards they always have.

17. Moby - Innocents

Moby is almost what I would call a "guilty pleasure" for myself. Although he's incredibly popular, his music definitely doesn't fit into the mold of much of the music I spend my days listening to. That said, I still love him. This album is quite a bit different than the stuff you're probably used to hearing on the radio, but it's still a good album with some real diamonds on it.

16. Bad Religion - True North

Bad Religion is starting to become more and more like Motorhead every year. When I say that, I don't mean that they're making the same kind of music, or sounding like them. Instead, what I mean is that they're simply consistent. Just as you can rely on Motorhead releasing basically the same album over and over again, with a new title and some new lyrics, every year or two; you can rely on Bad Religion for the same thing. The difference, for me, is that I haven't yet gotten tired of hearing Bad Religion do so (which is weird for me to say, as Motorhead was among my top 5 bands for a long time). If you're a fan of Bad Religion, and you're looking for yet another collection of purely Bad Religion songs to add to your collection, this is definitely a good one to pick up.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Curtiss' Top 25 Albums of 2013: 25-21

25. - The Goo Goo Dolls - Magnetic

This is far from the best Goo album, but it's still pretty good. I wanted to rank this higher than 25, but it just doesn't have the punch or energy of the Goo Goo Dolls stuff I've come to love. There are still a few gems on the album that remind me of the classic "radio" version of the Goo Goo Dolls, but there aren't nearly as many of the harder, edgier songs that filled out most of the rest of their albums. Aside from "Come To Me", which is a great song, most of the rest of the tracks on this album sound more like Everclear songs than classic Goo Goo Dolls. It's still not bad stuff, which is why it made my list in the first place, but it's just not what I want from these guys.

24. - Within the Ruins - Elite

This is a great, brutal, metal album. It incorporates a handful of electronic elements and a hell of a lot of technical virtuosity, which is part of why it made my list this year. It's not just your typical death metal album, it's more like death industrial, which makes it somewhat unique.

23. - How to Destroy Angels - Welcome Oblivion

This is an interesting effort. This is the sophomore release from Trent Reznor's latest side project. It's good, and it's very similar to their freshman effort. Musically, it's not terribly different from the Quake soundtrack that Reznor put together years ago, but it's a little less creepy and even a little bit bouncy at points.

22. - They Might Be Giants - Nanobots

Not quite as enjoyable as some of their older stuff, but still a great album. This definitely wouldn't be the album I'd use to introduce someone to TMBG, but it's still a solid release.

21. - Five Finger Death PunchThe Wrong Side of Heaven and the Righteous Side of Hell (Volumes 1 & 2)

This is actually two separate albums that were released about 3-6 months apart from each other. Because they're two "volumes" of the same album, though (kind of like GNR's Use Your Illusion), I decided to put them together on my list. These are great collections of unique covers and new songs from 5FDP. Both albums include some fantastic guest artists, and the music is intense. The albums are basically what you'd expect from the band. For me, 5FDP is one of those rare groups where the music and the vocals are able to connect with my emotions on a base level, which makes it that much more intriguing to listen.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Blurred lines: Andy's top 50 of 2013

Don't miss the Spotify playlist of 50 tunes from these top 50 albums. It's at the end of the post. Or here, if you just can't wait. - AC 

Robin Thicke's hit single "Blurred Lines" aptly sums up my 2013 musical experience.

This year's buffet of albums I most enjoyed represents a broad array of genres. In my top 50, you'll find from Appalachian-influenced bluegrass (Steve Martin and Edie Brickell) to New Orleans-style jazz (Jon Batiste and Stay Human), from the infectious pop of HAIM to the techno-dance stylings of Avicii and Chvrches to the techno-disco (disco!) of Daft Punk, the folksy country of Caitlin Rose and Samantha Crain, rockabilly-tinged U.K. pop (Jake Bugg), rootsy storytellers old (Guy Clark, Steve Earle) and new (Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark), hippiefied power pop (Mowgli's) and throwback power pop (Free Energy). There's even some heavy metallurgy thrown in for good measure (Black Sabbath, whose album 13 was much better than it deserved to be). My top 50 includes geezer rockers like John Fogerty, David Bowie and Paul McCartney rubbing elbows with up-and-comers like Cults, Lucius and Foxygen. It includes new wave legends (Johnny Marr of the Smiths) and long-gone guitar maestros (Jimi Hendrix). Oh, and I even included some rock and roll (Queens of the Stone Age) and pop punk (the Thermals).

But you won't find any Robin Thicke in my list.

The most surprising thing to me was just how much Americana music made it high on my list. In a year of great pop-style music. Maybe my redneck roots are starting to show.

Anyway, here's the list, with commentary and video for the top 10:

1. Jason Isbell - Southeastern

Ex-Drive By Trucker sobers up and creates the album of his life. Essential tracks: "Elephant," "Traveling Alone" and "Flying Over Water."

2. David Bowie - The Next Day

The Thin White Duke returns with an album that reminds us Bowie is as otherworldly as ever.

3. The Mowgli’s - Waiting for the Dawn

The feel-good album of the year. Hippie dippy poppy fun! I just wish they'd learn proper punctuation.

4. Laura Veirs - Warp and Weft

A beautiful audioscape of Americana.

5. Brandy Clark - 12 Stories

The best of a new crop of "hard" country female singers. (Sorry, Kacey Musgraves fans.) Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette would be proud.

6. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories

Dance music for droids. Catchy stuff. "Get Lucky" was the best earworm of 2013.

7. Steve Martin and Edie Brickell - Love Has Come for You

The oddest duet since Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. Great banjerpickin' by Martin accompanying the sharp, spare lyrics of Brickell.

8. Paul McCartney - New

A wistful look back at a survivor's legendary career. It rocks in places, uneven in others, but overall a terrific album.

9. Foxygen - We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace

Want to know what ennui sounds like? It's captured in the lead singer's voice.

10. Guy Clark - My Favorite Picture of You

This video of Clark describing the inspiration for the album's title track says it all.

The next best 10:

11. Arcade Fire - Reflektor

Another reinvention from a band that continues to over-deliver.

12. Public Service Broadcasting - Inform - Educate - Entertain

Recordings from old British propaganda films dubbed to danceable beats.

13. Jon Batiste and Stay Human - Social Music


14. Johnny Marr - The Messenger

Former Smiths guitarist unleashed. All the great riffs of a Smiths album without the annoying croon of Morrissey.

15. Ha Ha Tonka - Lessons

Most underrated roots-rock band, in my opinion. Also, they're from the Show-Me State. All Missourians should give a listen.

16. Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady

Taking up where her last album, The ArchAndroid, left off: Dystopia set to dance.

17. Kasey Musgraves - Same Trailer Different Park

Like Brandy Clark (see No. 5, above), one of a crop of great singer-songwriters to come out of Nashville. This gives me hope for country music.

18. Steve Earle and the Dukes and Duchesses - The Low Highway

Timeworn troubador Steve Earle sings tales of the down-and-out, but with a hint of optimism.

19. Jake Bugg - Jake Bugg

Kid from England who loves rockabilly. Good for him. Good for us.

20. HAIM - Days Are Gone

Trio of sisters whose vocals fit well in a percussion-heavy production.

The rest:

21. Lorde - Pure Heroine
22. Portugal. The Man - Evil Friends
23. Boz Scaggs - Memphis
24. Waxahatchee - Cerulean Salt
25. Avicii - True
26. Atoms for Peace - Amok
27. John Fogerty - Wrote A Song for Everyone
28. Free Energy - Love Sign
29. Neko Case - The Worse Things Get The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight The More I Love You
30. Best Coast - Fade Away
31. Frank Turner - Tape Deck Heart
32. Hanni El Khatib - Head in the Dirt
33. Bleached - Ride Your Heart
34. Okkervil River - The Silver Gymnasium
35. Caitlin Rose - The Stand In
36. The Thermals - Desperate Ground
37. Mavis Staples - One True Vine
38. Samantha Crain - Kid Face
39. Valerie June - Pushin’ Against A Stone
40. Chvrches - The Bones of What You Believe
41. Cults - Static
42. Arctic Monkeys - AM
43. Black Sabbath - 13
44. Lucius - Wildewoman
45. Various Artists - Sound City: Real to Reel
46. Elvis Costello and the Roots - Wise Up Ghost and Other Songs
47. Sebadoh - Defend Yourself
48. Jimi Hendrix - People, Hell and Angels
49. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City
50. Queens of the Stone Age - Like Clockwork

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Our top 50 albums for 2013

Playlist below.

The countdown continues. Here are our collective picks for top 50 albums of 2013. Please, weigh in with your comments.

50. MIA - Matangi

Her worst songs can be annoying. Her best songs are perfect. - SB

Thanks to MIA and "Y.A.L.A.," I'll never, ever purchase a Nissan Rogue. - AC

No. Just, I'm over it. - RB

49. Cults - Static

No sophomore jinx for this duo. Singer Madeline Follin's sweet vocals collide with the fuzz and bombast of guitarist Brian Oblivion to create something electrifying. With Static, Cults shows us that the band is not content to stay in one place. - AC

I didn't want to like this album, but...it's just catchy enough to draw you in and not let you go. - RB

48. Sebadoh - Defend Yourself

A band that hasn't made an album since the last century delivers with this one. Sebadoh delivers their brand of pop-punk as well today as they did in the '90s. - AC

If you'd told me that this album was made in 1997, got lost in a warehouse someplace before they could mass produce it and was discovered in 2013 when they finally decided to release it; I'd believe you. - RB

47. Frightened Rabbit - Pedestrian Verse

Frightened Rabbit didn't get a lot of buzz for their new album, and I'm not really sure why. They changed their tactics by playing their new songs on tour long before they went into the recording studio, and the result is a fine collection of "well-worn" songs. They may tread into Dad Rock at times, but their songwriting and sound are impeccable. - dw

46. Oneohtrix Point Never - R Plus Seven

Whoever in our group thought this was so awesome didn't bother to tell us why. I wish I had a clue. - AC

45. The Lone Bellow - The Lone Bellow

The Lone Bellow's self-title record is filled with great melodies and instrumentation. Definitely a highlight in folk music for me this year. - JG

One I didn't listen to much but probably should have. - MD

44. How to Destroy Angels - Welcome Oblivion

Underrated because it’s automatically overrated? If you go in wanting this album to be something it’s not, well yeah, you’re not going to like it. For what it actually is, it’s spectacular. Just because it involves Trent Reznor and isn’t named Nine Inch Nails doesn’t mean it sucks. Just because his wife sings doesn’t mean Trent’s gone soft (if you don’t like her singing that’s another issue). My advice is to embrace the album for what it is: meticulously crafted electronic music with insane attention to sonic detail. I love it. Sorry to get all defensive… it’s really OK if you’re not a fan, I swear. Essential tracks: Too late, all gone; The loop closes; On the wing - SB

What Steve said. I truly appreciated this Trent Reznor side project, but not quite enough to add to my top 50. - AC

43. The Civil Wars - The Civil Wars

Another solid effort from The Civil Wars, which will apparently be their last. It's kind of interesting that this is a very personal break-up album even though the two singers are (were?) married to other people. - MD

42. Alice in Chains - The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here

It's an Alice In Chains record, which means you know exactly what it sounds like. It's a little long, but their sound is so distinctive and memorable, that you find yourself an hour into the record without realizing it. - CD

Sorry. No INXS without Michael Hutchence, no Alice in Chains without Layne Staley. That is all. - TN

Well, yes, BUT... if you listen to Jerry Cantrell's solo stuff, you realize how much of Layne's "voice" is in Jerry's harmonies. The new guy sounds a lot like Layne, but in a good way because Jerry makes it come together. - CD again

41. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels

This self-titled debut is a non-stop assault with absolutely no filler. 10 tracks that go and go hard. As you’d expect, El-P’s production is anything but typical and the chemistry he and Killer Mike show is just insane. Their live show communicated the essence of this record perfectly. Intense and to the point with zero fucks given. Download the album for free here. Essential tracks: Sea Legs; Job Well Done; A Christmas Fucking Miracle - SB

40. The Winery Dogs - The Winery Dogs

Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater) on Drums, Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big) on bass, and Richie Kotzen on guitar. Three virtuoso musicians, each given just enough space in the studio to shine individually, while making a really coherent, listenable hard rock record. - CD

Some blistering guitarcraft here. Again, not a top 50 pick for me. But definitely top 100. The ballad "You Saved Me" is the best track on a bombastic offering. Occurring as it does in the middle of this record, gives you a chance to catch your breath before you dive back in to the noise.- AC

39. City and Colour - The Hurry and The Harm

Listen to City and Colour's back catalogue, and you sense they'll put together a great album. "The Hurry and The Harm," while a nice effort, isn't it. Dallas Green's soft distinctive vocals and hypnotic musical swells often hit the mark from time to time, but this album feels like too much filler to meet the greater potential. - TN

This was my first introduction to City and Colour and I think it came at the right time of the year. Green's falsetto is beautiful and the instrumentation is lilting and forward-pushing. The lyrical content may not be deep, but there are great gems of societal and relational commentary that serve of great reminders. Best of all, I love putting this record on while working and just driving through a pile of projects. The Hurry and the Harm has that rare ... ethos? ...  that makes me want to be creative, write songs again. - JG

38. Waxahatchee - Cerulean Salt

Katie Crutchfield, dba Waxahatchee, is the latest in a line of fine female singer-songwriters who excel at keeping it simple. (Think Liz Phair, PJ Harvey and Cat Power.) Raw-throated vocal delivery of prose-poems over lo-fi guitar riffs. Rinse and repeat. A few of the songs drag a bit, but all in all this is a worthwhile listen. - AC

Introspective singer-songwriter indie that lies somewhere between Mirah and Scout Niblett. Not as acerbic or pop as Jenny Owen Youngs, but nothing mainstream about it at all. It's perfect breakup music. Enjoy with a pint of Ben & Jerry's. - RB

I think the Liz Phair comparison is apt. You can hear the same sort of rawness, the same lo-fi post-folk Phair brought with Exile In Guyville. Crutchfield is of a different generation, of course, and she makes it her own. - dw

37. Phoenix - Bankrupt!

I doubt Phoenix will ever top their breakout album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, and so it's probably unfair of me to compare this effort to that masterpiece. While Bankrupt! contained a few solid tracks, too much of it reminded me of a cross between Neon Indian and Passion Pit. This band had a more distinctive sound a few years ago. I'd love it if they rediscovered that sound. - AC

This is the release I was looking forward to the most this year. It didn’t live up to the brilliance of their last record, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t listen to it 100 times. Kind of like how the worst Woody Allen movie is still better than 90% of all other movies. Plus, “Entertainment” is a great single. -EO

I enjoyed Bankrupt! We added it to the car iPod and listened all summer while driving around Austin. Favourite tracks include "Drakkar Noir" and "Bourgeois". I absolutely loved the La Blogothéque  Takeaway show they did for "Entertainment". - JG

36. Portugal. The Man - Evil Friends

A creative pastiche of modern indie sounds collide with more classic echos in Evil Friends. Aided by the masterful Dangermouse, whose production casts a nice pallor of darkness over everything, Portugal. The Man evoke the best of Foster the People, MGMT and the like while also drawing on a deep well of musical influences. The title track segues into a surf-garage guitar riff a la the Black Lips. “Hip Hop Kids” channels NIrvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” And that horn section that comes crashing through the acoustic strumming of “Sea of Air” is pulled straight out of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Even with all these allusions and homages, Portugal. The Man has crafted a thoroughly enjoyable album that stands on its own. - AC

35. Billie Joe and Norah - Foreverly

I was late to the party for this one, but I love the concept of a cover album in recognition of one of the more underrated pioneers of rock and roll. The Everly Brothers deserve this kind of tribute, and the unlikely due of Billie Joe and Norah deliver. - AC

The guy from Green Day and Norah Jones covering an Everly Brothers record. And somehow it works, even if it's a little repetitive. (And I don't know the original record at all.) - CD

I didn't care about the novelty of the concept. I did care that Norah Jones was doing yet another project with someone seemingly so far away from her in musical style. And, to be honest, the stripped-down country/bluegrass arrangements worked really well for Billy Joe's vocals (a little surprising to me), and of course was a perfect line for Norah Jones to play. - JG

Was really pleasantly surprised with this one. The bonus tracks on Spotify where they explain the creative process behind their interpretations are also worth a listen. - MD

34. Telekinesis - Dormarion

Happy, crunchy indie rock. “Ghosts and Creatures” is a fabulous song. -EO

33. Disclosure - Settle

File this one under "judging an album by its creepy cover." I couldn't make myself listen. I probably missed out. - AC

One of my daughter's favorite albums. She's not quite two yet. - SB

It's an acquired taste. You spend time with it and it begins to grow on you. - RB

The problem is that "When A Fire Starts To Burn" is so annoying you don't feel compelled to continue on in the album, so you don't feel compelled to continue on to some of the best British dance songs in years. - dw

32. Okkervil River - The Silver Gymnasium

Fun fact: I met the lead singer's father at last summer's CASE Summit in San Francisco. He (the dad) was impressed that I'd heard about his son's band. P.S. - It's a good album. - AC

I've been drawn to Okkervil River's literary, storytelling style since I discovered The Stage Names. Lead singer Will Sheff takes that even further with this concept album set in his small New Hampshire hometown in the mid-1980s. Like Andy says, it's a good album. - MD

31. John Fogerty - Wrote A Song for Everyone

Another geezer rocker returns to revisit his catalog of mostly hit singles. But with a twist. On Wrote A Song for Everyone, John Fogerty, who led Creedence Clearwater Revival to the summits of rock and roll in the late '60s and early '70s, pairs with a dozen or so other celebrated musicians to re-record and re-imagine some classics. Teaming up with Foo Fighters on "Fortunate Son," Fogerty and Dave Grohl exchange lyrics with a passion and urgency that makes you want to burn a draft card. Some of the greatest moments on this album come from unlikely pairings. Fogerty teaming with Kid Rock of "Born on the Bayou" is spectacular and swampy, and Kenny Chesney's guitar work on "Hot Rod Heart" takes chicken pickin' to a new level. Wrote A Song For Everyone is a stellar tribute to one of the giants of '60s rock. - AC

Surprised to see this make the list, even though it's high on my personal list. This is a fun record, top to bottom. Made a bunch of old songs you already knew sound fresh and exciting. - CD

30. The Avett Brothers - The Magpie and the Dandelion

Didn't make my top 50, but it's a solid, if predictable, Avett Brothers offering. A few good tunes, a few that tend to drag. - AC

Love the Avetts. I think this will take some time to grow on me and find the two or three super-memorable tunes. - CD

The Avett Brothers' main blessing -- their jaw-dropping 2009 masterpiece "I and Love and You" -- is in a way its biggest curse, because what could they do for an encore? Curiously, these tracks came from the same recording sessions as 2012's rather disappointing "The Carpenter," but the new collection somehow outshines it. Perhaps being a bit less ambitious, but a bit more personal, makes it feel at least a rung better than "The Carpenter." - TN

I'm a big fan of the Avetts -- especially live -- and I played this quite a bit when it came out so I had to include it. It's not my favorite of their albums, but it does have a few really good tracks. -- MD

29. Local Natives - Hummingbird

I didn't ever like Local Natives before this album. But on Hummingbird, they've put together one of the most listenable albums of this year and one that I know I'll revisit after I stop overplaying it. I didn't rank it #1, but it's surely the album I listened to the most consistently this year from top to bottom. Melancholy, thoughtful and bordering on brooding, the songwriting is tight and the lyrics will penetrate the recesses of your memories. I can't say enough good things about it.  It's most certainly "mood music" but it's done extremely well. - RB

28. Laura Veirs - Warp and Weft

It's taken me a while to warm up to singer/songwriter Laura Viers, but Warp and Weft has sealed the deal for me. The entire album evokes an ambient sense of the expansive American West. It begins with "Sun House" and weaves through every track, from the political commentary of "America" (about gun violence) to my favorite track, "Dorothy of the Islands," which echoes the theme, and a snippet of lyrics, of the ancient folk tune "Motherless Children." Warp and Weft has woven a place in my soul as one of the most evocative albums of 2013. - AC

I'm a longtime Laura Veirs fan, even seeing her live while she was something like 8 months pregnant. (She was great, btw.) This album is not her best album by any stretch, but her post-baby music has been a bit different than her earlier stuff. Her mom music is still very nice and sounds great as coffee shop music, but if you like this at all, then check out Year of Meteors or even the more recent July Flame. - RB

27. Pearl Jam - Lightning Bolt

This is a helluva record. Sounds like it could fit in between Vs. and Vitalogy for me. - CD

I haven't spent any real time with this. I suppose I'm going to have to sometime, but the first few listens I gave it didn't do anything for me. That's probably more reflective of me, than the album. - RB

26. Jason Isbell - Southeastern

One of these days, perhaps Jason Isbell will shed the modifier "former Drive-By Trucker" before his name. With the release of Southeastern, he's made a huge step forward. After fits and starts and glimpses of brilliance as a non-DBT, Isbell fought alcoholism, sobered up and created one of the most personal, raw albums I've heard in a while. With one exception (the song "Super 8"), every track on Southeastern showcases Isbell’s at his most elegant and melancholy. Track after track weaves together stories of heartbreak, loneliness and love lost. “Elephant,” about a couple’s struggle with cancer, is the masterpiece. I choke up every time I hear it. If you don't also, then I question whether you have a soul. - AC

There's nothing I'm going to say about this album that Andy hasn't already said. I was always a fan of the Drive-By Truckers and I know a lot of Jason Isbell's struggles prior to making this album. I think it's a yeoman's effort putting an album like this together and the end result is really really good. Surely one of the best Americana/County/alt.country releases of the year. If you like that genre, you need to get familiar with this record. - RB

This is what I get for waiting until the absolute last minute to write my comments. Andy and Ron have already said better than I could have everything I wanted to say about this album (including the part about tearing up to "Elephant" -- every time). I didn't listen to it seriously until the week I was putting my list together and it still landed in my number three spot on my list. Just a great album. - MD

25. Danny Brown - Old

I love this guy. He’s hilarious, he laughs funny, and he’s redefining the genre. Essential tracks: Smokin & Drinkin; Side A; Break It (Go) - SB

Danny Brown is one of my favorite rappers because like Stephen said, he's really different than mainstream rap. But say, unlike a TechN9ne or someone terrible like that, he actually raps really well and he doesn't need a bunch of features to make an album sound hot. The dude can carry a track on his own. It's as if you took a hipster version of Busta Rhymes on Whoo-Ha

24. Frank Turner - Tape Deck Heart

A damn good, damn passionate songwriter who swears a lot. Also, he has a lot of tattoos. - AC

What Andrew said. "The Way I Tend To Be" is one of my favorite songs of the year. - CD

Turner's power pop/rock/post-punk songs don't necessarily reinvent any genres, but they just plain work. Head-bopping rockers like "Recovery" and "Plain Sailing Weather" sit happily next to meditative ballads like "Polaroid Picture" and "Broken Piano." The extended 17-track version provides icing on an already delicious cake. In my opinion, it's the most bitter, sweet, bittersweet and best album of 2013. - TN

23. Phosphorescent - Muchacho

“Song for Zula” is probably the single song I listened to the most this year. Really beautiful record. -EO

I encountered Phosphorescent opening up for Foxygen at SXSW this year. While I enjoyed their sound, I hated the band members and I think that tarnished any joy I might have had for Muchacho. When it released and I listened to it, I was not impressed. - JG

22. Bastille - Bad Blood/Remixed

A colleague put this disc in his car when he left his campus in Western New York, and listened to it non-stop the entire way to Albany for a meeting this summer. "It was just so good. I couldn't turn it off." - CD

Bastille is sort of this year's Imagine Dragons, just missing a breakout hit or two appearing in every other ad or sporting-event bumper. Their earnest rock is worthy of such royal treatment. Bastille's blend of heady lyrics (referencing everything from ancient Rome to the Bible to "Twin Peaks"), ample vocal hooks, diverse influences and smooth arrangements make for a winning debut album. - TN

21. Dream Theater - Dream Theater

Holy moley, Dream Theater made the Top 50. I am agog. I've "known" these guys for twenty years, and even with a new drummer, they can do no wrong for me. - CD

Dream Theater reminds me of every prog rock/hair metal band of my high school years, from Styx to the Scorpions. And that's why God gave us punk rock, to rescue us. - AC

20. Laura Marling - Once I Was An Eagle

How is this woman only 23 years old? She has an amazing, world-weary voice, evocative of Joni Mitchell at her prime. - AC

Every new album I ask the same question: When is she going to finally realize she's a Joni Mitchell level talent, and that's what she should be aiming for? Until this album. I think she's making the leap. - dw

Saw Laura play live for the 3rd time this year in Austin and she's still as spot-on as ever. Once I Was An Eagle is the first album in a run of three that hasn't hit my top 10, but that's not to say it's not great. Melodically I didn't feel it as compelling as I Speak Because I Can and I found myself jumping to her older records through the year. However, as DW said above, she's made the full-leap connection to her Joni Mitchell influence. I have no problem with that, but hope to see her move back to her own distinct melodic stylings -- this record drips with Mitchell and at times, to me, felt too homage-y to be considered all that original. Her next album has her moving toward electrified instruments and in moving her acoustic guitar styling to a Thinline Telecaster, she's creating something even more interesting. - JG

19. Steve Martin and Edie Brickell - Love Has Come for You

One of the oddest pairings since Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. But it works. Brickell's quirky songwriting, coupled with Martin's spare banjo picking (and little else), made for an enjoyable collection of old-timeyish tunes. - AC

I really enjoyed Martin's banjo picking with Brickell's singy-song tunes from the olden times. It's not anything that'll change your life, but it's quite nice. The title track Love Has Come For You is probably the best song on the album. - RB

I really thought I would dig this, but it's a little boring. - CD

This was my number one album. It played on repeat at my house throughout the summer, to the point that my 6-year-old knows all the lyrics. Brickell has a gorgeous voice that works really well with Martin's banjo picking. I'm a sucker for the casual but powerful way her lyrics play within traditional bluegrass structures to tell the stories of imagined lives both present and past. - MD

18. David Bowie - The Next Day

I really didn't think I would like this -- I'm not a big Bowie fan -- but there's a lot to like here. It's like the complete opposite of the Martin/Brickell CD right above this one, on lots of levels. - CD

Maybe the Thin White Duke’s best days are behind him. Or maybe Mr. Space Oddity/Ziggy Stardust/Star Man/Aladdin Sane is reinventing himself once again. The album cover, a retake on Heroes, would seem to suggest that. But with Bowie, you never know. No matter. The Next Day is a terrific album, his best since Scary Monsters. Bowie’s voice is more unsteady nowadays (at age 66 now), but he’s still capable of creating songs that remind us of the oneness and hugeness of everything (“The Stars Are Out Tonight” is a perfect example). Bowie still comes across as some alien creature observing our world but not really of it. That's part of what makes Bowie Bowie. - AC

17. Foxygen - We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace

If you've ever wondered what ennui sounds like, you need go no further than the opening words of this album's first track, "In the Darkness," and keep going. But the languid tenor of Foxygen lead singer Sam France doesn't equate to boring. This L.A. duo produced a terrific, west coast hippiefied indie-pop record with a distinctive, raw but modern sound. - AC

This album pairs well with the aforementioned Unknown Mortal Orchestra release, in that, it's more west-coast retrofied homage rock to a bygone era. It's a bit more sonically diverse and very polished. Enjoyed it mightily. - RB

When SXSW came to town the one band my wife and I wanted to see was Foxygen. Their stage presence is manic and the sound is just... amazing. They're not tight live, but they put on a crazy show. Like... if the Stones had the neurosis of The Velvet Underground. The record is a fantastic trip across that era of rock music and feels exciting and fresh while staying familiar. - JG

16. James Blake - Overgrown

This guy’s from the future, and whenever I don’t “get” his stuff, I give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s just a whole bunch of steps ahead of me. While there’s no “The Wilhelm Scream” equivalent single on this record to make you question everything you thought you knew about music, “Retrograde” is undeniably gorgeous. With that voice, it’s hard to believe he’s even better live. But, he is. -EO

Take The Fall For Me (feat. RZA) and Retrograde are two of the songs released in 2013. The album didn't do a lot for me, but those two songs stopped me in my tracks. I Am Sold was good too. Back in the era of "three songs and I buy the album" this would've been a buy. - RB

15. Kanye West - Yeezus

I'm not sure what to say about this album. I wanted to like it, as much as I liked his 2010 effort, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which was masterful. It's not the heavy reliance on electronica in Yeezus that wears me down so much the seemingly random sampling combined with yet another Kanye ego trip. This didn't make my list. - AC

I thought there were three or four good tracks on this album, but it's just not as enjoyable as his previous efforts. It has prompted an increase in public proclamations of Kanye on Kanye, which I always find entertaining (see: The 31 Best Kanye West Quotes of 2013).

14. Tegan and Sara - Heartthrob

At the start of the year, their decision to embrace pop music seemed really brave. Looking back through a year when everyone embraced pop music, it seems a little too calculated. No matter. The songwriting's still taut, and they're still wearing the gawky folkiness even as the kids are pogoing to their new sound. - dw

Has it really been four years since they released their last album? The Canadian twins' catalogue and signature sound are staples by now to the point they seem to be everywhere. "Heartthrob" finds them in fine form, throwing a bit more electronica into their well-established and always-welcome hook-filled, clever-worded, heart-wrenching recipe. - TN

13. Kasey Musgraves - Same Trailer Different Park

She's compared to Taylor Swift for some reason, and I don't get it, because there's real substance here. (And I like TS.) "Follow Your Arrow" is one of my top five songs of the year. - CD

On a lark last spring, while standing at a Starbucks counter, I picked up a free download card for Kasey Musgraves' single "Blowin' Smoke." And I was hooked. Musgraves is a talented singer-songwriter who is making a great mark on Nashville. As someone who doesn't necessarily like a lot of country-pop, I can appreciate the strong threads of storytelling and 3-minute morality tales Musgraves weaves throughout this record. - AC

"Merry Go Round" was one of my favorite songs of 2012. Her album did not disappoint. - dw

I explained this album to a friend as "what would've happened if Natalie Maines was a really good songwriter and had a solo career." I heard this album really late, pretty much when I saw the final list thus far and realized I hadn't heard it. I heard it and couldn't forget I heard it. It's the best pop country album I've heard in years and it'll remain in my memory long after 2013 passes, which for country is a much harder threshold for me than any other genre -- ESPECIALLY mainstream country. Her songwriting skills and deft mastery of providing an imagery of what life in the country is really like for ordinary people is no small feat. I loved this album and look forward to what she does next. Next to Jason Aldean, she might just be one of my new favorite mainstream country artists. - RB

I checked this out after hearing a review on NPR earlier in the year, but didn't really come back to it until I sat down to make my list. I'm glad I did. This is a really good album that Ron sums up well. - MD

12. Arcade Fire - Reflektor

The pretentiousness hit a level that I couldn't listen to it more than once. If they are the Millenials' U2, this is their Zooropa. Or, if we're generous, perhaps their Unforgettable Fire. They're believing their own BS. - dw

This band continues to reinvent themselves with each album. Reflektor is a stark departure from The Suburbs, which was their magnum opus. The idea behind Reflektor seems to be a combination of introspection and narcissism, a gaze into the hall of mirrors that has become our hyper-connected yet divided world. Maybe they're not believing their own BS so much as they are playing off of it. - AC

Even us amateur music critics apparently are expected to cheer every time Arcade Fire sneezes, and erupt into gushing praise when they release an album. "Reflektor" comes with the added artifice of being a "two-record set" that only tallies 13 tracks. Don't get me wrong: I like this band's music. This is a reasonably talented band putting out a decent fourth album (its fourth-best release, at that), no more, no less. - TN

Meh. Love DW's review above. - JG

/falls asleep - CD

11. Nine Inch Nails - Hesitation Marks

I think the glee of a new NIN album was marked by the fact that this release was actually a return to form for Reznor and company. If you're a fan of the band, this album won't disappoint. - RB

And this did nothing for me. I feel like there weren't enough hooks. To each his or her own, I suppose. - CD

I think so highly of this record (first on my personal list) because it feels like the ultimate culmination of Nine Inch Nails. Music and vocal elements of essentially every single previous release make an appearance in one way or another. Watching Trent Reznor’s evolution to this specific point — particularly from a sonic point of view — has been incredibly fulfilling as a serious fan. From that perspective, listening to Hesitation Marks is a special, enjoyable, and consistently rewarding experience each and every time. I wrote much more about this album here. - SB

10. The Head and The Heart - Let's Be Still

It’s really a great band name, because great music affects both. For example, Katy Perry’s producers have absolutely figured out pop music. You can’t “not” dance. But you can absolutely not think. With alternating male/female vocal leads, this is happy thoughtful indie-folk at its finest. And “Another Story” is one of the best songs of the year. -EO

I was so impressed with this record. It immediately drew me in. It is fun, energetic, has great vocals and is so enjoyable to listen to, you can't help but crank it up in the car and drive around. Totally agree with EO's opinion above; "Another Story" is one of the best songs written and recorded in 2013 - JG

I had a hard time getting into this. So much of it reminded me of Ryan Adams, and a big part of me wondered why this got so much attention while albums like Ha Ha Tonka's Lessons, which is a much stronger album of the same ilk, was essentially ignored by almost everyone. - AC

9. Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady

Picking up where she left off with The ArchAndroid, Janelle Monae extends the dystopian vision inspired by Fritz Lang's Metropolis into a world of dancing droids. "Dance Apocalyptic" is a high point of a very catchy album. - AC

I wanted to like this more than I did. I think I ranked it where I did as an appreciation for the single QUEENS (feat. Erykah Badu) and for the sheer fact that there's a music landscape where an artist like Janelle Monae can exist and flourish. I love being in the modern era. In the 90s, genre-bending wasn't really allowed outside of the occasional underground hit or painstakingly orchestrated mashup by the label. So artists like Janelle Monae, the Odd Future crew, Childish Gambino, Jennah Bell and many others are part of making me enjoy where we are musically. - RB

8. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City

Every Vampire Weekend album takes a while to grow on me. But this one has taken longer. There are a few solid tracks here -- "Ya Hey" and "Unbelievers" come to mind -- and this seems to be a more spiritual album than the past two efforts. Yet it seems to be all over the place, unfocused, and somewhat unfinished. - AC

As a Vampire Weekend hater, this album was one I never expected to enjoy and yet, I did throughout. Seems they've come into their own. - RB

I didn't get the praise until I realized I'd only heard the album on "shuffle." Listen to it in order, and it's a fantastic album. Very odd. - dw

Good, solid offering. Vampire Weekend continues to put out records that are increasingly more mature and refined. I respect their artistry a ton. While this record didn't "force" me to listen to it over and over again, I was always happy when tracks came on, and I bought the vinyl. - JG

7. Chvrches - The Bones of What You Believe

Just an infectious album. Every track is terrific. - AC

Gorgeous pop tracks. Third wave feminist lyrics. My favorite album of the year. - dw

I don't think I ranked this, but I was surprised by how good it was. Lots of upbeat tunes for driving. - RB

6. Avicii - True

I discovered this late (I believe it was Tim Nekritz who pointed it out) but I'm glad I was able to give it a few spins before the end of the year. The first track, "Wake Me Up," begins with the folkish strum of an acoustic guitar, then dissolves into an electronic disco beat. "Hey Brother" pulls the same trick. Rarely does a country style mesh so seamlessly with electronica. On True, it works. - AC

Instead of trying to list every genre this Swedish DJ taps, it would be easier to say what it isn't: Like any other record released this year. Name a style of music and it's probably on this record, and that's what makes "True" so admirable and listenable. When the breathtaking musical trip is over, you're left wanting more -- the ultimate measure of a great record. - TN

5. Neko Case - The Worse Things Get The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight the More I Love You

The longest album title since Fiona Apple's 2012 offering (The Idler Wheel... etc.). Neko Case's The Worse Things Get... is chock full of the usual tunes about family dysfunction (a mother yelling at her child to "get the fuck away from me" in a supermarket) and stories told by one of the best roots rockers around. - AC

I'm the resident Neko Case stan. At first, I didn't like this album. When you have SO MANY memorable songs, it can be very difficult for an old fan to get into a new record especially this one. It sounds very different than her past work and at first, it can appear worse. But spending a bit more time with -- here comes the term mood music again -- the record it appeared to me how beautiful this thing is. I'm From Nowhere is Neko at her best. Other standouts include City Swan and Calling Cards. Neko Case is the artist you introduce to someone who thinks they don't like country, but listen to all sorts of other introspective types of music. You pick the right time and place, put her on and if they're old enough, they'll appreciate what she does. It's a very accessible album for "Intro To Neko" in my mind, because if someone likes this album they'll love her older stuff. - RB

I do like her voice, but I can only stomach so much death and dismemberment on any one record. - TN

Ron nails the review again. I love Neko Case, and this album is no exception. - MD

4. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories

Random Access Memories marks Daft Punk's return to relevance after a long absence. The disco-influenced synth-heavy album sounds like music made for androids, but it’s extremely likeable. The album is bit self-indulgent at times (track 3, “Giorgio by Moroder,” begins as a monologue before the groove finally -- finally! -- breaks through). But overall it’s an enjoyable bit of space-age disco. And "Get Lucky" was the most enjoyable earworm of the first half of 2013. - AC

This album is dazzling and dizzying, mesmerizing and mystifying. With an act as talented, imaginative and genre-spanning as Daft Punk, you'll get quite the auditory party … which means hits as well as misses. But oh, when the band hits, the result is towering, fireworks-inducing home runs. The incredibly fun and funky "Get Lucky" gets my vote for single of the year. - TN

For good or for ill, this will be the album a generation of artists will point to as a major influence. Does it mean disco is back? I really hope not. But they did manage to distill the luster of disco's party without the mountains of cocaine.  - dw

Meh, again. As someone who has been listening to Daft Punk for more than a decade, this record didn't do it for me at all. I listened through a few times trying to find something to pull me in, and there wasn't anything. - JG

3. The National - Trouble Will Find Me

I didn’t listen to The National at all before this year. Hell, I barely knew who they were. I can’t believe they made it to FOURTH in my personal list. It doesn’t make sense until I consider how much I love every single track. These guys know how to write captivating songs that touch a nerve, and you can’t help but to be emotionally invested. The lyrical themes strike me as deeply personal but it’s not difficult to frame them in a broader light, too. In fact, much of the accomplishment here comes from that judgement completely being in the ears of the beholder. This is how music is supposed to feel.
Essential tracks: Don’t Swallow the Cap; Fireproof; Humiliation - SB

I'm probably also artist-in-residence for The National fandom in these parts, too. Dating back to The Boxer LP, I've been fascinated by how gripping this otherwise seemingly boring band can take over your senses with stories of lost love, passion and dream-inducing memories of what was. Trouble Will Find Me is not their best album in the past few years. Graceless is the most memorable song on the album for me. This is not the best album to begin with if you're not a fan of this band, though. It will probably bore you. - RB

/falls asleep again - CD

Also a fanboy of The National. They take sometimes banal lyrics and a droning vocal style to capture the existential angst of modern life. I believe someone in this group nailed it when they said on Twitter something to the effect of: "It's dad music. You'll understand The National once you have kids." - MD

2. HAIM - Days Are Gone

The three sisters Haim came out of nowhere -- well, L.A. actually -- to produce one of the best pop albums I've heard in a long time. A smooth mix of rock and R&B, all built around a solid foundation of percussion and the vocal harmonies. "Down to the Wire" and "Forever" and essential tracks, and the opening tune, the trance-like "Falling," is also worthy of multiple listens. - AC

This album is not something I'd ever listen to normally. But I stumbled onto it one day and when I heard If I Could Change Your Mind, it was as if they were trying to change my mind into liking them and it worked. This album echos teen pop of the late 80s when Debbie Gibson, Tiffany, Tracie Spencer and Belinda Carlisle were writing their own pop songs and having acclaim. It's not a throwback album by any means, though. It's the sort of breakup album that feels contemporary without feeling inaccessible. When I hear good pop music, I am fond of remarking "that's just a good pop song. It's just a well-written song." I said that a lot listening to Days Are Gone. It's absolutely worth adding to your record collection. -RB

Not my cup of tea, but their waterfall harmonics and affectionate '80s influences are admirable. - TN

I really wanted to hate this record. Being the pretentious jerk I am, so many people were telling me how great this record is. I didn't believe it. Then I listened to it. And it is SO good. Astounding production (those drum sounds!) and mesmerizing vocals moving in and out of infectious melodies. It sucked me in. - JG

Days Are Gone didn't make my top albums but in retrospect it probably should have. Definitely enjoyed it. - SB

1. Lorde - Pure Heroine

I resisted this album for a long time. But the gravitational pull of this young New Zealander is too powerful. The trancetastic single "Royals" is only the beginning of a fine album. Sixteen-year-old Ella Yelich-O'Connor has a promising future ahead of her as a singer-songwriter without peer. But, this really shouldn't have been the top album of the year. Not one of us put this at No. 1 on our individual list, but two members of our collective listed Pure Heroine as a No. 2 pick, and the album got enough votes to pull it off! - AC

She wrote the album at 15. I just don’t know what to do with that. And Tennis Court is arguably the most brilliant and jarring music video of the year. This little girl might be the future of music. Although, there were a couple weeks a few years back when I thought the same about Gaga. Maybe Lorde just got lucky. But even if this is all we ever get from her, it’s something special. - EO

Royals is a good song, but the rest of it did nothing for me really. I mean, I didn't hate it at all. It just didn't stick to my ribs. - RB

One facile (and not inaccurate) comparison for Lorde would be this year's Adele, a teen whose propulsive and preternatural voice and smart lyrics demand attention. Or Tegan and Sara, to whom critics often compare her sound. Beyond the hype machine, this is a nice 10-track record that isn't up the level of either of the above artists … although she clearly has the time and ability to grow into her acclaim. - TN

A massive year for pop music, but who's at the top? A teenager singing about the empty excess of pop music (and teenage life) over a spare drum machine beat. A marvelous, and out of nowhere, debut album. - dw

Another album my arrogance wouldn't let me listen to for months. Actually, this one had me curious. My wife had heard one song from a live set that Lorde did and was not impressed... until I started listening to this record non-stop while working. A crazy, exciting, catchy, moving, deep piece of musical artistry from a baby.  Just. Incredible. I think it really does deserve to be in the top slot this year. Pop music (as a stylistic genre) ruled 2013, and I've got no problem with that. - JG

I bought into the hype and actually purchased this (on CD even) the day it was released. I wasn't disappointed. I'll admit that at first I was a little embarrassed by how much I loved a teenager's pop album, but I soon came to terms and owned that fact. Top to bottom a great listen and my overall number two this year. Team is the standout track for me, which somehow simultaneously works for both disaffected teens and the grown ups in the room: "I'm kinda tired of getting told to throw my hands up in the air./So there./I'm kinda older than I was when I revelled without a care./So there." - MD