Friday, December 27, 2013

Favorite Albums of 2013

It's once again that time of year where I listen solely to records that I have bought or downloaded that were released in 2013. This year, it was going to be different. I already had been working on a list several months ago, and I had planned to have most of my post written a couple months before the year-end lists from magazines and music blogs were posted on the internet. By doing this, I could look through the other year-end lists to see if there were any records that slipped below my radar, and that warranted a spot on my list.

Sadly, the universe had other plans for me. Starting in late September, I started to experience neck and back pain which didn't get better for 2-3 weeks. Then, I got a terrible cold that lasted over a month, leading into a period of fatigue that left me with no energy to do much of anything. Needless to say, my brain could barely function at the level necessary to do my job,  let alone to write reviews of my favorite albums of 2013. After late October, I thought to myself that maybe I could begin to work on this post, but then I was diagnosed with an acute infection that lasted through the entire month of November. Thankfully, the symptoms of my infection have recently subsided, and during the last week I found some time to review the albums that I had set aside for further listening.

Since my list is longer than last year, I will only be featuring abbreviated descriptions of the record. Also, there will not be any mp3's to accompany the list. If any of you are interested in hearing the artists featured on my list, please drop me a line in the comments. I would be happy to upload songs to a file-sharing service like Dropbox or Zippyshare per request.

In the interest of time, I will sum up my assessment of the the year in music in 2013 in a couple sentences. It was a bountiful year for new music, with so much music released that I couldn't keep up with listening to it all. In my opinion, it was the year that females dominated the music world, releasing more fantastic music than any other year in the past decade. Every genre from folk to shoegaze, from country to noise rock featured a female in a prominent role in the band. In closing, for those of you who say there was no good music released in 2013, I say that you simply weren't listening hard enough.

This list is in no way meant to be the representation of the mainstream lists that you would find on sites like Spin or Pitchfork. The selections are not ranked in any specific order, and they are not grouped together by genre. I hope that you are able to discover some new music in this list that brings a smile to your face this holiday season.

Favorite Albums of 2013

1)Unknown Mortal Orchestra- II- While II doesn't showcase the virtuosic guitar solos of Ruban Nielsen, it is clearly a bold step forward from their self-titled debut. It's chock-full of reverb-heavy psychedelic ear worms that will soundtrack your dreams, and run through your mind on repeat. Highly recommended!

2) Bombino- Nomad-When I heard that Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys produced this record, I expected it to be watered-down and overproduced like the last two Black Keys records. I was happily surprised to discover that Auerbach eased up on the controls, and simply let Bombino's stellar guitar playing shine through.

3) Thee Oh Sees- Floating Coffin- After finding out this past Friday that Thee Oh Sees is going on an "indefinite hiatus, Floating Coffin could prove to be their swan song. The pummel and throb from previous records is here in spades, but there is a more pervasive darkness present in the lyrics and melodies that might have been a clue as to the underlying tension going on between the band members. I hope this isn't the end of the band's output, but if it is, they certainly went out on a high note.

4) Deerhunter- Monomania- After the supple, overproduced Halcyon Digest, Monomania is a welcome return to the sound of their earlier output.  Amongst the guitars and distortion pedals cranked to eleven are true leaps in songwriting like "Pensacola" and "T.H.M.", as well as the classic Deerhunter sound of "Punk". On Monomania, the band have shed their inhibitions, and decided to do an album they wanted to do despite everyone else's expectations.

5) Alela Diane- About Forever- Lamenting lost love has been a common theme in the pantheon of popular music, but never has it been painted with such a vivid brush stroke as on this heartbreaking collection of folk songs.

6) Plankton Wat- Drifter's Temple- When Dewey told me that he was no longer a member of Eternal Tapestry, I experienced deep feelings of regret that I passed up the chance to see them the last time they played in Portland. Rest assured, Dewey is still playing music, and he has definitely not pulled any punches on Drifters Temple. This is the perfect record to put on at the end of the evening when you are reflecting about the day's rewards, holding on to the vision of a brighter day.

7) My Bloody Valentine- MBV- After the longest wait for a follow-up record in the history of music, Kevin Shields dropped an unmitigated bomb on his legion of fans. With little notice that a new album would be coming out, he posted a message about the new album release on the bands Facebook page and homepage that systematically brought the band's webpage to a grinding halt. Frenzied MBV fans everywhere were frantically scrambling to listen, download and purchase the record, only to be sent home with their tail between their legs. Enough about the hype surrounding the record, the resulting album is an astonishing representation of the classic MBV sound without simply being a retread of old ideas.

8) Ruby Pins-S-T- Ominous, creepy post-punk from Grass Widow's drummer Lilian Maring that will literally get under your skin.

9) Bonnie Prince Billy- S-T-  The latest long player from Bonnie Prince Billy is probably the closest Will Oldham has ever gotten to the intimacy and heart-wrenching sadness of Master and Servant, and this is definitely a good thing.

10) Ty Segall- Sleeper- While the songs on Segall's latest are mostly acoustic based, I assure you that these songs will not put you to sleep. Segall has managed to craft a superb collection of songs that encapsulate his feelings about his stepfather's recent passing as well as his estranged relationship with his mother. You might say that this is an unprecedented move for a garage rock icon like Segall, but he has always forged his own path.

11) Ghost Ease- S-T- Sludgy female power trio from Portland, OR that channels the sound of Cat Power circa "What Would the Community Think" back when Chan was creating vital music that had a palpable sense of desperation and longing.

12) Beaches- She Beats- With a band named Beaches, you would probably expect to hear sun-dappled vocals that are primed and ready for your latest summer sojourn. With the addition of guest guitarist Michael Rother of Neu, the band have managed to juxtapose sunny vocal harmonies with hypnotic, metronomic kraut-rock grooves.

13) Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba- Jama Ko- The Ngoni is a West African lute, but no one has played this instrument with as much intensity as Kouyate. Throughout multiple songs on Jama Ko, he runs his Ngoni through an amplified wah-wah pedal for an effect that is nothing short of exhilerating. If you have been looking for the Malian Jimi Hendrix, your search is over.

14) Maston- Shadows- If I hadn't known any better, I would have thought this was a lost soundtrack by Ennio Morricone. Layered, psychedelic pop with a veritable assortment of instruments all played by Frank Maston- brass, woodwinds, organs, piano and guitar.

15) Sun Angle- Diamond Junk- This is the debut record from Portland supergroup consisting of Charlie Salas Humara (Grapefruit, Panther, The Planet The), Papi Fimbres (Orquestra Pacifico Tropicale, O Bruxo) and Marius Libman (Copy). On Diamond Junk, the band was able to emulate the creative energy from their live show, adding on layers of guitars and drums that culminate in an unholy marriage of melody and dissonance.

16) The Mallard- Finding Meaning in Deference-  Greer McGettrick, the frontwoman and chief songwriter of San Francisco's the Mallard decided to pull the plug on the band a couple months before the release of Finding Meaning in Deference in July. Post-punk that goes for the jugular never sounded so enticing, and it gets better with each successive listen.

17) Cheap Time- Exit Smiles- Cheap Time was on my list last year as well, and it's quite telling that it earned its spot despite the record just getting released a month ago. If you like snotty, garage punk rock that's creatively off the chain, you will find plenty to dig into here.

18) Coke Weed- Back to Soft- There is enough here to remind you of slacker rock from the 90's, the sort that Pavement cranked out like they were on a conveyor built in a factory. But, there are also solid melodies from both vocalists that will remain etched on your memory for quite some time, along with a few killer guitar solos that remind you of the band's fondness for classic rock.

19)Fuzz- S-T- Segall's latest release doesn't even feature him on lead guitar, and it still holds up as one of the most essential albums of the year. On Fuzz's self-titled debut, Segall ferociously pounds the skins while Charlie Moonheart plays the sludgy guitar riffs that recall the intensity of Segall's Slaughterhouse. The main difference is that many of the songs on Fuzz feature slow-burn tempos and extended guitar solos where most of the tracks on Slaughterhouse were under 4 minutes. In any event, this is a powerful, skull-crushing record.

20) Juana Molina- Wed 21- Ever since hearing Molina's last record Un Dia, I have been waiting with baited breath for her latest release Wed 21. Her albums are generally categorized as electronic, but to me this is very intelligent, complex avant garde music. Undulating rhythms and psychedelic sound effects provide the backdrop to Molina's hypnotic vocals.

21) Blouse- Imperium- Since adding Jake Portrait (bassist from Unknown Mortal Orchestra) to its lineup, this Portland quartet has decided to dial back the synths that pervaded the first album in favor of a more traditional post-punk sound. What results is an album that flows perfectly from beginning to end.

22) Useless Eaters- Hypertension- On Useless Eaters' latest long player they have mostly traded in the lo-fi gritty sound for a considerably cleaned-up post-punk feel. Guitar solos are allowed to stretch much further than previous records, making this an epic post-punk record for the ages.

23) La Luz- It's Alive- If David Lynch owned a bar in a seedy neighborhood in Hollywood, it would likely have red curtains, black walls and La Luz would be the house band.

24)  Charles Bradley- Victim of Love- While this record isn't perfect from beginning to end like No Time For Dreaming, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone else playing timeless, old-school soul of this caliber.

25) Desert Heat- Cat Mask at Huggie Temple- Even though I was late to the party, this fantastic collaboration between Steve Gunn, John Truscinski and Cian Nugent is one of my favorite discoveries of the year. The first time I heard this record, I closed my eyes and rode the hypnotic groove to the end.

26) Benoit Pioulard- Hymnal- I featured Pioulard's Lasted on one of my previous year-end lists, so it probably comes as no surprise that this record would be on here. At times both beautiful and haunting, this record is mainly mellow atmospheric rock with elements of noise and drone creeping in when you least expect it.

27) Cate Le Bon- Mug Museum- Once you get past the idea that this is not an exact replica of her last album Cyrk, the intricate guitar lines and melodies will slowly but surely become embedded on your cerebral cortex. Part of it sounds like Television's debut record minus the epic guitar solos, and the other half sounds like Nico playing with a theatrical avant garde troupe.

28) Marisa Anderson- Mercury- This time around Marisa has shed a lot of the reverb and echo that permeated The Golden Hour, and focused on the intricate finger-picking style of classic American Primitive like John Fahey or Robbie Basho. What results is a beautiful, mellow record that is perfect for early morning reflection.

29)White Fence- Cyclops Reap-  Tim Presley's latest is more of a focused effort than last year's Family Perfume Vol.1 and Vol.2. It employs all of the recording tricks of 60's psychedelia like panning from left to right, drop-outs, reverb and tremelo, all while crafting  splendid songs that conjure the present as well as the past. This is yet another amazing release from Castleface records this year, proving that these guys can do no wrong.

30) Ka- The Night's Gambit- In a year where the hip-hop landscape was largely dominated by egomaniacs like Kanye and Drake, discovering this album was a cleansing breath of fresh air. Ka's gritty, low-key flow on The Night's Gambit is simply stunning, and once you start analyzing the lyrics, it's clear that Ka is light years beyond the average rapper. 

31) Mostly Other People Do the Killing- Slippery Rock- On Moppa's latest release, he plants his tongue firmly in cheek while exploring the sound of the sterile 80's jazz scene. What's astonishing is that he is able to reference the 80's jazz sound while injecting full-tilt free jazz improvisations. As usual, the musicianship is top-notch, and the band is clearly enjoying every minute of it.

32) Houndstooth- Ride out the Dark- I think I have more Portland bands on this list than any previous years which speaks volumes about the breadth of talent that permeates the basements, coffeehouses, dives and clubs throughout the city.  What Houndstooth manages to do on Ride Out the Dark is to distill the essence of Crazy Horse-style jams into bite-size chunks, whilst evoking a desert-scorched Americana vibe.

33) Josephine Foster- I'm a Dreamer- Foster's latest record finds her tackling the sound of Tin Pan Alley jazz, country and folk, ably backed by a team of stellar Nashville session musicians.

34)  Fire- Without Noticing- I'll be the first to admit that most contemporary jazz hasn't been grabbing me lately, but the latest project from The Thing's Mats Gustafson is an experimentally adventurous record that touches on the cornerstones of free jazz, rock and noise without assaulting your ears, all the while leaving plenty of space for the music to breathe.

35) Chris Forsyth- Solar Motel- I first discovered this record while reading the review for it on Aquarium Drunkard's year-end list, and my curiosity was instantly peaked. Upon first listen, I was so floored by the opening track that I found myself frantically fidgeting in my chair. This is epic psychedelia that incrementally builds until it seems like everything is going to fall apart, yet somehow it manages to hold it all together.

36) The Heliocentrics- 13 Degrees of Reality- The latest recording from the band who collaborated with Mulatu Astatke is clearly a more unhinged affair. Psychedelic instrumentation is juxtaposed with krautrock, free jazz, electronic and esoteric spoken-word samples, all forming a truly mind expanding stereophonic experience.

37) Night Beats- Sonic Bloom- On Night Beats' latest platter, they have created a trance-inducing garage record stacked with so much reverb and echo it would make Link Wray blush.

38) Bishop Nehru- Nehruvia- Even though I don't think the production on this record is varied enough to hold the attention of most listeners, the rhymes on Bishop's debut record are incredibly complex for someone who is barely old enough to drive. Think of a less polished Joey Bada$$ channeling the creative energy of the golden-era hip-hop from the early 90's.

39) Yuppies- S-T- With a band name like Yuppies, I didn't really know what to expect. What transpired was a short, sharp and ferocious record with the primal energy of punk rock mixed with free jazz. Each song starts off at one point, only to end up at a completely different musical destination than the listener is expecting.

40) The Sign of Four- Hammer Anvil, Stirrup- Fittingly, this is a new signing to the predominantly reissue label Jazzman records that fits right into the same creative melting pot as a lot of the funky instrumental jazz-funk of the 70's. If I listened to this record without knowing the date it was recorded, I would have thought that it was an undiscovered private press record that had flown below the radar of everyone except DJ's with the most esoteric taste in samples.

41) Cian Nugent and the Cosmos- Born with the Caul-  With two of the three tracks clocking in at 39 minutes, it's probably pretty obvious that these are slow-building songs that escalate into full-on guitar jams. What is astounding is that Nugent and his band manage to keep you in a trance for several minutes before each song eventually erupts into a frenzy of crashing drums and six-string majesty.

42) Black Milk- No Poison No Paradise- After multiple listens, I was finally able to fully appreciate Black Milk's follow-up to Album of the Year.  While he doesn't have the best lyrical flow, the production on this record is unparalleled. It features a stellar combination of electro boom-bap drums, jazzy horns and spooky synthesizers, serving as a perfect backdrop to Black Milk's dark lyrics.

43)  Cave- Threace- Listening to this record is rewarding once you realize that the band meant for it to be listened to from beginning to end. If you don't stick with it for the duration, you will likely write it off as an exercise in futility. Cave have largely eschewed the heavy kraut-rock vibe of the last album, and practically reinvented themselves as a jazz-rock band completed with brass, flutes and wah-wah guitar.

44) Lorelle Meets the Obsolete- Corruptible Faces- On Lorelle Meets the Obsolete's latest record, sultry vocals combine with metronomic rhythms, and noisy guitars, resulting in a mesmerizing sonic experience.

45) Arrington de Dionyso's Malaikat dan Singa- Open the Crown- On Dionyso's latest effort, the rough edges have been slightly smoothed out with little accents like the organ playing on "I Feel the Quickening" and the playful drum beat on "I Create in the Broken System".  There are still plenty of times where the music reaches a level of intensity that will interest listeners with a penchant for experimental music.

46) Georgina Starlington- Paper Moon- This reminds me of music that you would listen to when driving through the desert in Arizona with nothing but the lonesome highway and these songs to keep you company.

47) Tamikrest- Chatma- Tamikrest has finally managed to come out of Tinariwen's shadow by exploring a more diverse sound palette while still featuring plenty of stunning Tuareg guitar to keep the fans satiated.

48) Bardo Pond- Peace on Venus- The latest slab of wax from Bardo Pond features mostly sprawling psychedelic jams with lead singer Isobel Sollenberger's vocals shining through the sludge just enough to see the light of day.

49) Jacco Gardner- Cabinet of Curiosities- Wistful psychedelic pop confections with the perfect balance of dark and light textures.

50) The Thing- Boot- More experimental free jazz from the demented mind of Mats Gustafson that features the perfect blend of slow grooves and skronky sax playing.

I will be featuring a further post in the next few days with my list of honorable mentions, ep's, compilations and reissues for the year.

Until then, here is a list of some other sites that I have turned to in the past for music recommendations

Raven Sings the Blues
Pitchfork- Best of 2013: A Very Shake Appeal Guest List
An Aquarium Drunkard- 2013 Year in Review
Rough Trade Staff- Best Albums of 2013
Pop Matters- Overlooked Records of 2013
Dusted- End of Year Review  
Doom and Gloom from the Tomb
Tiny Mix Tapes
Impose- Best Albums of 2013
Kansas City Star- Top albums for 2013
Fact Mag- 20 Best Bandcamp Releases of 2013
Fact Mag- 50 Best Reissues of 2013
 
Happy New Year!

8 comments:

No-head said...

Hi Kevin. It's easy to forget that blogs such as yours don't just happen as if by magic. It obviously takes a lot of work especially when life has other plans. Thanks for another great list. I have only listened to half a dozen of these at most so a few discoveries to be made. May the universe spring some happy surprises for you in the year to come.

Kevin said...

Hi No-head. Thanks for the kind words. I hope that you find some gems on this list that you haven't heard yet. If there is anything on here that you would like me to upload to a file sharing service, please let me know. Also, I would love to hear what things made your list for 2013.

Hope that you are having a fantastic holiday season!

Best,

Kevin

e6gMan said...

Hi Kevin, nice list!
Keep up the great work spreading the word on great music. You've stumped me on some so I will have to spend more time searching...
Here's my list:
e6gMan’s top ten 2013
1) London Grammar/If You Wait
2) Shine 2009/Our Nation
3) Twinstar/The Sound of Leaving
4) The Still Corners/Strange Pleasures
5) Coach Station Reunion/Lost Album
6) Postiljonen/Skyer
7) Dream Boys/debut
8) Midlake/Antiphon
9) Son Lux/Lanterns
10) Volcano Choir/Repave
Songs I played to death…
HAERTS “All the Days”
Pure Bathing Culture “Pendulum”
The Bilinda Butchers “The Lovers’ Suicide”
Dick Diver “Water Damage”
Beaches “Distance”
Gingerlys “Jumprope”
Kishi Bashi “Song for the Sold”
Keep Shelly in Athens “Recollection”
Bright Light Bright Light “This is Me Without You”
San Fermin “Sonsick”

Kevin said...

Hi e6gman.

Thanks for stopping by and posting your list. I have to admit that I have some searching to do as well, as the only ones I recognize from your albums are Volcano Choir and Midlake.

If there are any of the albums from my list that you would like to hear, just let me know. I would be happy to post some songs on dropbox or some other file sharing service.

Happy new year!

Kevin

said...

Kevin,

Sorry it took a few days to get back to you. Your favorite album list is deep. Took a bit to get through it all. Already had Bombino & Tamikrest on heavy rotation. I always grab Bardo Pond or the latest Ty Segall. Scored Chris Forsyth as guitar god, but I guess I have too short an attention span for Cian Nugent. Borrowed his latest from a friend but fell asleep (figuratively). Sign of Four is my favorite era musick, no matter when it’s from).

Would add London Grammar, The Latenight Callers, & Pow Wow’s Shock Corridor 7” from my list, I guess. White Fence is already on it. You’ll probably think I'm weirder than you already do, but I also have been liking Yoko Ono & the Plastic Ono Band – Take Me to the Land of Hell.

Didn’t have Lorelle Meets the Obsolete – Corruptible Forces (already have On Welfare & Ghost Archives) so grabbed it as soon as I read about it here.

Would add Leven Signs – Hemp is Here (originally 1985) to the re-issues of 2013.

I guess the offerings I'm most thankful for are Plankton Wat & Arrington de Dionyso’s. Wasn’t familiar with either one of these & am enjoying them both very much, thanks to you.

Really appreciate the work you do in making your list every year. It always fills my library with new tastes, & this year more than usual as I have been too busy this year with music from other places & times to keep on top of the latest goings on.

Keep the music flowing, brother.

Kevin said...

Nathan,

Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts about the list. As far as Cian Nugent, you definitely have to give it time to sink in. I wasn't sure that I had the attention span for it, and then halfway through the second track, I became completely mesmerized by the interplay between the various instruments.

I hadn't listened to Yoko Ono's latest, but I heard that it's a mix between straight-ahead songs and avant garde experimentation. I am interested to check out Leven Signs, so I will try to find it soon. I'm glad that you are digging Plankton Wat and Arrington. Both of these guys are from Portland, OR so I've had the opportunity to see them in their different incarnations.

Dewey used to be in Eternal Tapestry and Scuffle and Dustcough while Arrington's first group was called Old Time Relijun. If you like Arrington, you would definitely be into Old Time Relijun.

Thanks again for stopping by, and I hope that you continue to swing by and drop me a line from time to time.

Happy New Year!

Kevin

said...

Kevin,

Thanks for the information about Old Time Relijun. I snagged Lost Light, Uterus, & Witchcraft Rebellion. Didn't know where to begin. I'll be checking these out tonight.

If you need to get Leven Signs, leave a comment over at NSS. i have comment moderation set so you can safely leave private information.

Thanks again,

Kevin said...

Nathan: Witchcraft Rebellion is the most unhinged record of theirs, and it's also the first one that I heard. Next, I would recommend Lost Light, as it features the epic track Cold Water. Even though the recorded version of this song is pretty awesome, it can't even hold a candle to the explosive live version that I experienced at multiple Portland venues during the Lost Light Tour. Also, Old Time Relijun's last album called Catharsis in Crisis is pretty damn good as well. Every one of their records feature jerky repetitive rhythms, skronky saxophones and Arrington's "preacher walking on hot coals" vocal style.