As you can tell by now, I don’t post on this blog as much as I did when it first started. Living in the metropolitan NYC area has its advantages and disadvantages. One of the disadvantages is finding time to sit down and blog. I do miss it, even if my activity doesn’t show it, and I’m ever hopeful that the coming year will see a resurgence. That being said, this is my favorite time of the year and there’s really no way I could not make a Best Of post.
In respect to the music of 2013, I found 2013 to be exceptionally strong. While I personally felt it was missing that one “grab you by the balls – never forget me” record, I believe that the year on whole was great. Last year, I felt that it was a strong year for debuts, this year was more established acts regaining/maintaining footing.
Enough jibber-jabber, here’s my list(s):
#1 Mazzy Star – Seasons Of Your Day – I struggled with my #1 choice this year. By the time I published this past I wavered between the top 4 and felt strongly with each choice that it was the right one. However, when push comes to shove, I have to go with my favorite and that is this sublime album after a 17 year absence. Rarely do acts that decide to take such a long break come back with an album this strong, but Hope Sandoval and David Roback et al. did. This album has more in common with Hope’s work with the Warm Inventions than it does the Mazzy Star most know from the early 90s in that it’s more stripped down and laid back, but with tracks as great as “I’ve Gotta Stop” & “California”, it’s perfectly understandable.
#2 Heliotropes – A Constant Sea – Despite my opening dribble before presenting my list, this year was not short of strong debuts. Heliotropes excel in wielding their influences as weapons. This is an album dripping with strong hooks and melodies that bring back memories of greats like Ozzy-era Sabbath and Nirvana (their fantastic cover of Nirvana’s Negative Creep here), but at the same time putting their own spin on things and doing it their way. Gorgeous frontwoman, Jessica Numsuwankijkul‘s strong vocals and awesome guitar help propel this record from top to bottom and there’s not one skippable track. The first 2/3 of the record are mostly heavier tracks with the riff heavy “Psalms” and pulsating “Quatto/Joy Unfolds” being among the highlights, but the album takes it easy on the listener at the end with more laid back tunes, basically an aural come down. An absolutely strong first impression and a band to keep an eye/ear on. “One of these days I’m gonna jump riiiight out of my skinnnnnnnnnn“. Damn right, Jessica.
#3 Arctic Monkeys – A.M. – Alex Turner is the greatest songwriter of his generation. There, I got that out of the way. There is simply no other way to put it. Arctic Monkeys released their 5th album in 2013 and unlike the previous two releases (2009’s Humbug & 2011’s Suck It & See) both solid listens in their own right, this one seemed to step away from their great formula and add a bit more to the stew. This was the album I debated with most in terms of its ranking. A great listen from top to bottom, this is the band’s best effort since their sophomore release, Favourite Worst Nightmare. Tracks like “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High”, lead single, “Do I Wanna Know”, and the lovely “Fireside”, all help add to an already long list of great songs. I’m still waiting for Arctic Monkeys to release their masterwork, but at the very least the wait is bearing some great fruit.
#4 The National – Trouble Will Find Me – I find a lot in common with the #3 and #4 acts on this list. While playing different styles of music, the career arcs are similar in that both bands are regularly releasing very strong albums over the last decade plus and have not had a dud yet. The National arguably saw their largest surge of popularity this year and they released this gem of a record. What I found most pleasing about this was the way the band used their guests. “Don’t Swallow The Cap” w/ Nona Marie Invie adding a backing vocal that confounded me with “WHO WAS THAT” for about five months before I found out it was her. The great St. Vincent on “Humiliation” & Sharon van Etten who appears on multiple tracks. I loved the addition of adding female vocals to The National’s glorious melancholy. Again and similarly to #3, this is a band that has found a formula and have stuck to it for the most part, but are not afraid to add to the stew and improve what they’ve already got going.
#5 TOY – Join The Dots – This is the latest album released this year that I’ve listed and I’m ranking it so highly because I’m so damn excited by this band. Not suffering from a sophomore slump, the UK’s TOY bring forward an excellent record that evokes the best feelings about shoegaze/psychedelia and has me championing this band as their career really starts to gain traction. This is an excellent effort with an absolute blinder of a title track and most of all, understand that an album is a cohesive piece of art, rather than just a hodgepodge collection of songs. Strong musicianship and another band not afraid of their influences, if there is one band out of the UK that has emerged in the last two years that I’m excited by, it’s TOY.
#6 The Love Language – Ruby Red
#7 Camera Obscura – Desire Lines
#8 Bill Ryder-Jones – A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart
#9 Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin
#10 Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe
#11 Caveman – Caveman
#12 Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away
#13 Still Corners – Strange Pleasures
#14 Rose Elinor Dougall – Future Vanishes EP (technically an album teaser for 2014, but ranking it anyway)
#15 The Asteroid #4 – The Windmill of the Autumn Sky
#16 Anna Calvi – One Breath
#17 Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle
#18 Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Specter At The Feast
#19 Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience Part 1
#20 Veronica Falls – Waiting For Something To Happen
#1 Richard Hawley – The Troxy – London, UK – 2/23/13
#2 The National – Mercury Lounge – NYC – 5/21/2013
#3 Mazzy Star – Terminal 5 – NYC – 11/10/2013
#4 Fleetwood Mac – Prudential Center, Newark, NJ – 4/24/2013
#5 Queens of the Stone Age – Brooklyn Masonic Temple – Brooklyn, NY – 6/7/2013
#6 Clinic – Le Poisson Rouge – NYC – 4/20/2013
#7 Jessica Pratt – Union Pool – Brooklyn, NY – 6/1/2013
#8 Esben & The Witch/Heliotropes – Mercury Lounge – NYC – 3/22/2013
#9 The Love Language – Glasslands – Brooklyn, NY – 8/1/2013
#10 Mikal Cronin – Bowery Ballroom – NYC – 6/20/2013