I'm always hesitant to be the first to publish my "Best Albums" list each year. I awake in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, wondering if I've forgotten some gem that will haunt me for the rest of the following year. It's nice to take a beat and peruse someone else's picks to gauge the pulse of the music critic planet. This year I'm stumped and by no means pleased to report that my list shares little in common with those that I've viewed elsewhere. I'm not looking for hipster points just because I only share four albums with the top 100 of the likes of Quietus, Paste and Spin. In my perfect world, every one of my top 50 would be in heavy rotation on every radio station in the planet. These bands would be filling massive stadiums and spreading the gospel of their brilliance. But alas, that isn't the case.
This is my list of the ten albums that I enjoyed the most in 2013. Frankly, I found much of what appears on the lists of others to be a retread of the 80's synth-pop era. Daft Punk, Arcade Fire, CHVRCHES and Haim are all bands that would have fit nicely into the rotation on MTV, when style triumphed over substance. I can only assume that they conjure up hazy memories of dancing at the club, the beat triumphing over clever chord progression or meaningful lyrics. For me this was the year of BandCamp, Burger Records and small bands making music on their own terms. Certainly there are references to previous eras in the music listed below, but the ability of these bands to take their influences and create albums that sounded fresh and progressive made this one of the best years in recent memory.
In previous years, it was easy to use one media format (Rdio, Bandcamp, SoundCloud, etc.) to give examples of each albums music. Because this years list encompasses bands that used a multitude of platforms to release their music, making this easy for you to listen to was a little more challenging. However, I think you'll find a lot of gems that you'll want to spend some time with. Cheers!
10 Cock & Swan- Secret Angles
The decade long musical partnership of Johnny Goss and Ola Hungerford has been producing electronic-based music for long enough that we should all know them by now. But with their latest effort, the band has entered the heavyweight division. The album reminds me of Too Pure stalwarts, Laika and even the dark genius of Massive Attack. Analog synths, breathy vocals, mesmerizing loops of sound combine to create one of the most enchanting records of 2013. Albums with this many layers of brilliant musicianship must be listened to on repeat to fully capture every nuance of what's going on here. Like me, I think you'll find yourself digging through the groups back-catalog once you listen to this album.
9 Fear of Men- Early Fragments
I hesitated to add this album to the list, because it is comprised of songs that the band released prior to 2013. However, it harkens back to a time when bands' first album was just that, a compilation of early singles. Filled with Sartre references and harkening back to a C86 sound that means shimmering guitars, the album isn't out of place being compared to Hatful of Hollow, which also compiled the singles of a rather important band... I previously interviewed the band here.
8 Cheatahs- Extended Plays
Mix equal parts Dinosaur Jr, The Catherine Wheel and Swervedriver and you end up with Cheatahs. Great production sends guitars bursting from the speakers with a driving rhythm underneath. Anthemic without being overbearing, this album is filled with songs that you'll be singing to yourself for weeks on end. I interviewed the band here. The album is not available to stream in the UK, but this EP contains songs featured on the record.
7 Parquet Courts- Light Up Gold
The band most likely to be placed on the same throne previously occupied by Pavement. Slacker rock at it's finest, with pithy lyrics, great melodies.
6 Savages- Silence Yourself
In the end, Savages may be their own worst enemy. Listen to this album in a media vacuum and this is one of the greatest records on this decade. The Joy Division comparisons are lazy and incorrect. While the band is certainly a pastiche of the great post-punk bands of the early 80's, it's the sum of their influences that have captured everyone's heart. I'd also argue that Siouxsie and the Banshees and Gang of Four are a more immediate touchstone for the band than any of the comparisons that have been cast upon them. The only thing that keeps this album from being number one on my list is the attitude of the band itself. Shrouding themselves with a manifesto that's included everything from berating fans for using cellphones during shows, to the "mission statement" they've posted on their Facebook page. Once you are aware of their better than thou attitude, you realize that it permeates their lyrics, slightly undercutting my love of the album. Nonetheless, the album as a whole more than makes up for those shortcomings. Let's hope this is a band that will haunt us for years and not drown in their own selfishness.
5 Foxing- The Albatross
If you don't listen to any other album on this list, please listen to this one. When you do, you will have the same reaction that I did. How did this band exist without me knowing about it? I'm not going to assign it to any genre because I don't want any of you to pass it by because I assigned it to a genre that you deem unworthy of your time. I also have no idea what genre to place it in, which might be the greatest compliment that I can give. Heartbreakingly beautiful one moment, fiercely intense the next. There isn't a bad song on this record. It is hard for me to imagine this band failing to become a critic favorite in the years to come. A stunning record.
4 Waxahatchee- Cerulean Salt
Whenever I used to listen to Surfer Rosa by The Pixies I always wished I could get a full album of Kim Deal singing with the rest of the band backing her. The Breeders were never the band that I dreamed of when I thought about a Kim Deal fronted record. With Cerulean Salt, Katie Crutchfield has created the record that I fantasized about. As with her past work (which you really need to invest some time in, y'all.) her voice, her lyric, her guitar...swoon. Katie has the ability to be one of the great American songwriters of our generation, assuming she has the time and inclination to keep entertaining us. Please.
3 My Bloody Valentine- MBV
The inclusion of the most anticipated album of the past two decades is an obvious choice for any list. By all accounts, Kevin Shields didn't go the way of Axel Rose. MBV was a record that somehow exceeded expectations. I think all of us remember that first night, when we all collectively listened to the album simultaneously when it was released via download. We were cautiously pleased that the record bore a resemblance to Loveless. But then we all got to "Nothing Is" and everything changed. Our collective brains exploded over the final two tracks on the record, as Shields had once again warped our perception of what music could sound like. MBV surpassed expectations and has clearly left us as the final marker from a band that changed music. And they left us knowing that music can continually evolve if it's manipulated by the perfect genius. No streaming option for you to listen to. Kevin Shields wants all of the monies...
2 The Growlers- Hung At Heart
It wasn't until I saw The Growlers live that I truly understood their genius. There is a devil may care casualness that permeates the band on stage and separates them from the psych rock genre that they're generally assigned to. Dylan-esque is a phrase that is tossed around carelessly and inaccurately far too often, but on this record, The Growlers come as close as any band in my lifetime. Lyrically, Brooks Nielsen
1 Fidlar- Fidlar
As discussed in the interview I did earlier in the year, this is punk rock with a brain. A sloppy, highly inebriated brain, but this isn't the slick product that punk became in the 90's. The album mimics their live shows, filled with sweat, passion and a sense of humor. This is the best punk record of the decade. Period.
Before you get too upset at the exclusion of your favorite album, check out the full list of fifty albums that I published here.