Our trip down memory lane in 2013 started early in the year with an unexpected bang from My Bloody Valentine, and then an equally unexpected release from Beyonce’. While Rolling Stone magazine puts Tegan & Sara and Atoms For Peace on their list we prefer standouts such as Sigur Rós and Jim James. Thus, here’s our best of the best in 2013. As always, we love constructive comments with minimal cussing.
Joe Stadele’s list
The return of Trent Reznor as Nine Inch Nails was a welcome return. It’s difficult to measure what fans, including myself, were expecting but Hesitation Marks felt to be a mixed affair. Despite the strength”Came Back Haunted”, it felt a little too cliche of a comeback single, though “Satellite”, “Copy of A”, “In Two” and the Bowie-ish saxophone on “While I’m Still Here” make this album worth it.
Bowie surprised fans on his 66th birthday with the announcement of a new album and the hauntingly sad video for “Where Are We Now?”. The album was filled excellent tracks “Valentine’s Day”, “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” and “(You Will) Set the World on Fire”. If The Next Day wasn’t enough, Bowie released an expanded version of the album, The Next Day Extra, with 10 additional tracks.
THATH are hard working musicians. Let’s Be Still shares the sentiment of a band on the road working to remain centered, appreciating their collective accomplishments and to simply enjoy the moment. The sophomore album feels like more of a collaboration with each member bringing their ideas to the table; though Charity Thelan’s expanded presence (and unique vocals) is the most obvious.
John Grant had one of the most endearing albums of 2013. His baritone voice carries deeply confessional songs that are open, saddening and at times, deeply hilarious. Who hasn’t felt the sentiment “I hate this fucking town” at least…many times! GMF (Greatest Living Creature) is easily one of the most catchy songs of the year; while “I Hate This Town”. Closing track “Glacier” is as essential as it is heartbreaking.
Thank you Janelle Monae. You could be single-handedly responsible for bringing out the funkiest in Prince with the “Givin’ Em What They Love” collaboration, the funkiest and best track the Purple Wonder has released in nearly 20 years. Monae is exciting and she is paving the way for some rocking R&B, with the Erykah Badu collaboration “Q.U.E.E.N.”, the slinky “Primetime” and fun “Dance Apocalyptic”.
Following the tremendous success of the excellent The Suburbs, Win Butler and company made the decision to shoot big; a double album, a decidedly Hatian dance-rock feel with production from LCD SoundSystem’s James Murphy and even bringing David Bowie on board to contribute vocals. Though Reflektor doesn’t reach the euphoria of The Suburbs, ck “Reflektor”, “Afterlife” and It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus).
Justin Vernon diverted the pressure of following up another Bon Iver album with a second Volcano Choir album. Repave blows past it’s leftover pastiche predecessor, Unmap, with songs that have an undeniable fresh Bon Iver feel and blissed out instrumentation, Volcano Choir takes us on a trip with an album that travels through hills and valleys with euphoric and celebratory shapes.
Strip away your opinions of West’s character and Yeezus stands as the best of hip-hop in 2013. His collaborators, Daft Punk, Justin Vernon and Rick Rubin, play a large part in the sound of the album.“On Sight”, “Black Skinhead”, “I Am A god” and “New Slaves” are of the rawest and fierce tracks of 2013. Yeezus matches 2010’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in nihilism but feels like a closer companion to 2008’s 808’s & Heartbreaks. No matter of what you think of Kanye’s character, his albums are a testament of ambition as one of the strongest albums of the year.
Remember being a teenager and not having a care in the world? Pure Heroine captures the spirit of being a lower-to-middle class teenager; rolling eyes at the “popular” people, enjoying friends, finding fun on a strict budget (or “what’s a budget?”). She may not be the “Nirvana of Pop” she’s being hyped to be, but the comparisons in attitude are plausible. With any ounce of luck, she has a brighter future! Either way, Pure Heroine is one of the smoothes albums in a year that belonged to Lorde.
After years of insanely good albums, QOTSA finally received some recognition. Thank you world. The haunting …Like Clockwork rocks and retains all of Homme’s humorous wit; yet feels a bit of a mellow departure from the past. “I Sat By The Ocean”, “If I Had A Tail”, “My God Is The Sung”, “Fairweather Friends”, “Smooth Sailing” shine brightest on this dark album.
Indie purists may be disgruntled by this, but Beyoncé pulled off the most indie move of 2013. She tapped into her inner Madonna and released the best album of her career, Netflix-style, with a 14-track and 17-video album which could only be purchased in full. No media blitz. No singles. No cherry picking. A cohesive album with little filler. Impressive.
Daft Punk turned left and suddenly…everyone pays attention. The forefathers of electronic dance music (EDM) decided to pick up real instruments and turn to their forefathers for inspiration. The result is one of the funkiest and authentic albums of 2013. Random Access Memories recalls the storytelling and sound textures of The Art of Noise (see The Seduction of Claude Debussy), the funk disco of Chic, and serves as a history lesson for the computer-generated and sampling EDM generation.
To plagiarize myself, “If this any indication of the newly downsized three-piece’s new direction, Sigur Rós fans are in for a treat and true return to form.” Kviekur speaks to the strength of Sigur Ros’ core. The album is brutal, gorgeous and stands alongside the bands best (see Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust, Hvarf/Heim, Takk) Sigur Ros has to offer.
2. Jim James – Regions of Light and Sound of God
Jim James may be one of the coolest guys in rock. While splitting time with his main band, My Morning Jacket, James’ explored his studio space to create, Regions of Light and Sound of God, an effortless vintage album with infectious songs that question our perception of life, love, God and our existence. The album translated seamlessly live with a show that will send shivers down your spine and put a smile across your face.
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” ~Rumi
Seeking to move past his personal hardships, Craig Minowa dug even deeper with the of his friends to create LOVE, Cloud Cult’s best album to date. The album is drenched in hope, sorrow, joyfulness, complication and determination. Personally, no other album in 2013 stood so strongly through the seasons of Cloud Cult’s LOVE.
Jeff Becker’s list
If it’s regarded as the most bodacious and utrageous album of the year, it’s certainly not unexpected. How outrageous can it be when it’s hyped as being so? As Kanye moves on one of end of the polar equator, juggernauts such as Drake and Janelle Monae fill the other side. Still, there is no one more compelling.
I’m old enough to recognize his greatness yet probably not wise enough to shove this into the top 10 where it belongs. That being said it’s a great refresher course on the most influential men of the past 40 years and this album displays his ability to still create new work that is outstanding.
Jim James – Regions of Light and Sound of God
The best performer on the planet right now? Just maybe! With an album that is both eclectic and magnetic, James makes us remember why My Morning Jacket is one of the greatest bands of the past decade. ‘A New Life’ on both record and onstage is a stunner.
See my words on David Bowie above and you’ll have my thoughts on Nick Cave. It’s been beat into my skull how wonderfully talented this man is and still remarkably relevant after several decades. While this album and its style takes time to warm up to, it’s clearly another chapter from a master’s catalog.
One of the many great releases by SubPop in 2013 but this one really sticks out. Dreamy smooth synth-pop with Tessa Murray’s breathy vocals working wonders. Try on the amazing ‘Midnight Drive’ for size and if the bass line and groove doesn’t win you over, then nothing on this album will. Outstanding sophomore effort!
A perfect dose of light 60’s-era Motown girl band pop. And well, they conveniently hail from Ann Arbor – near to Motown’s home base of Detroit. With 2 and 3 minute pop songs it makes for a quick listen. Check out standouts such as ‘Invisible Friend’ and ‘Polar Bear’ and you’ll hear the whimsical pop songs that Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward have been trying to perfect the past five years.
Now that we’ve long passed the stage where Iron and Wine old-school diehards yearned for the desperately thin, acoustic production of Beam’s early work, we can embrace a man in his prime – belting out beautiful classics such as ‘Baby Center Stage’ and the ‘Desert Babbler’.
Tracyanne Campbell delivers perhaps the strongest album of the sublime Camera Obscura catalog, merely a few months before delivering birth nonetheless. Tracks such as ‘William’s Heart’ and ‘New Years Resolution’ are as perfect as anything in their past. Beautiful album.
Where groups like Passion Pit and Cut Copy deliver a more frenetic style of synth-pop, Starfucker dominates with synth-based grooves – and amazing ones at that. The bass line to ‘Golden Light’ is the capper off a tremendous album and the followup to its stellar predecessor, Reptilians.
An album that makes you feel like they never said good-bye. Beautiful tunes beginning with the standout opener ‘In the Kingdom’ which showcases Roback’s brilliant guitar work and Sandoval at her stargazing best.
Just like Mazzy Star above, an album that made you forget that 20+ years ago they said good-bye. Well, they never really said that but we all believed that as the second decade of silence diluted our final hopes. And then 2013 brought this remarkable comeback. Beautiful razor-edge pop (‘New You’) fills the air before the dramatically classic MBV sound of the final half of the album takes over.
More bedroom-based, eclectic, dream pop delights from Ernest Greene. A drop-dead perfect followup to 2011’s wonderful Within and Without. The final three minutes of the title track are three of the best minutes of music in 2013.
This is perhaps the best R&B album since something Outkast released, which was the best R&B album since something Prince released – which was the best R&B album since something Michael Jackson released – which was the best R&B album since something Stevie Wonder released, and so forth. Sublime!
Everytime you listen to it you hear something new, and nobody sounds like them. The greatest unknown band for U.S. music fans, yet they continue to sell out large theaters to those willing to share in their brilliance. One of the most compelling bands alive, both on record and on stage.
Yes, four of the top five albums on my list are dance-oriented albums, and none better than this jam session. They had the album of the year until Arcade Fire decided to spoil the party. ‘Get Lucky’ and ‘Instant Crush’ are all you need to hear to be instantly hooked. Absolute gem.
They’re becoming the closest thing to the Beatles for our next generation. Even when they release an album, such as Reflektor, at only 80% of their ability, it’s still better than 100% of the competition. Their predecessor, The Suburbs, will always be a superior measuring stick, but albums like Reflektor throw them into another genre that makes their next few records completely unpredictable. Tons of bands are trying to sound like them, but no one can right now.