Albums of 2013

Every year a few friends and I on Facebook share our picks of the best albums and songs of the year, so now that I have this blog, I thought I might use it to share my lists. I hope you enjoy!

I've been single for about four years, and I've been sharing my dating stories with a handful of close friends. One friend in particular helped me clarify what I need when he suggested that I should look for someone who is..."interesting." I can't define that, but I know it has something to do with a rare combination of humor, wit, intelligence, and something that distinguishes one woman from all the others.

It's a similar quest for the "interesting" that drives my enjoyment of music. There are hundreds of good songs and albums released every year that move me to tap my feet, dance (privately), or sing (privately), but only a handful are truly interesting. Only a few go beyond the typical catchy tune and find a spot in the haphazard musical library in my mind. It's these songs and albums that I celebrate at the end of the year. You're unlikely to hear most of these albums on any terrestrial Top 40 radio station. You'll have to listen to SiriusXM Alt Nation or Sirius XMU to find them, or maybe Pandora. I know you may not like all of them, but maybe there's something here that you will find "interesting" and pursue via your preferred music provider.

Without further ado, here are my Top 10 albums of 2013 in reverse order.

Note: I originally had links to videos of each of these songs, but videos tend to come and go on the interwebz, so I've removed them. I hope you'll seek out the songs nonetheless. 

10. Pure Heroine, by Lorde.

Lorde, whose name is Ella Yelich-O'Connor, is a 17 year-old singer from New Zealand. Her music is influenced by electropop and synthpop. If you haven't heard of her you will soon. She's signed a recording contract with powerhouse Sony Music. Speaking about her music she said, "I feel like mystery is more interesting." See, there's that "interesting" theme!

9. Annie Up, by the Pistol Annies

These three women can do no wrong in my book. If you're a country fan you already know them, informally fronted by Miranda Lambert. The Annies are largely responsible for the popularity of the many alt-country female artists who've taken the industry by storm this year, some whom you’ll find later in this list. Annie Up is as strong as the Annie's prior album, Hell On Heels. It features strong writing and music that perfectly suits each song. "Dear Sobriety" is as good a country tune as you might have heard back in the 50s or 60s.

8. Information Retrieved, by Pinback

"Who the hell is Pinback?" you ask. They're an indie band out of San Diego who’ve been around some ten years but are only now getting significant airplay, mostly on alternative stations like those on SiriusXM. Their sound is all about syncopated guitar and clear percussion. Their vocals are smooth and restrained, but you have the sense they're capable of something stronger. Pinback has been described as "the quietest rock band working." "Diminished" has a cool, jazzy vibe that might be your gateway drug to a Pinback addiction.

7. The Highway, by Holly Williams

If Lorde was never a royale, Holly Williams most certainly is. She's the granddaughter of Hank Williams, Sr. and the daughter of Hank Williams, Jr., so you can assume she knows a thing or two about songwriting and country music. The Highway doesn't feature a single standout to my ear, but it's a solid album that takes country music back to its roots.

6. Like A Rose, by Ashley Monroe

Ashley is the second member of The Pistol Annies, so it's no surprise that her talent has found its way onto a solo album. Possibly the most flip song to come out of the country genre this year is Ashley's duet with Black Shelton, "You Ain't Dolly." Like A Rose harkens back to traditional country, and "Two Weeks Late" is proof positive that Ashley knows how to write a song and put it to music.

5. AM, by Arctic Monkeys

Arctic Monkeys weren't on my musical radar until their release of AM this year, so I was surprised to learn they're one of the most versatile bands in the industry, changing-up their style with each record they release. AM has a definite hip hop influence, and you’ll hear some Black Keys sound as well. There’s some damn heavy guitar throughout the 12 tracks, particularly on "R U Mine" and "I Want It All." I'm going to be spending some time going back and acquainting myself with the Monkeys' earlier albums.

4. Same Trailer, Different Park, by Kacey Musgraves

Yep, another female country artist. It really has been a big year for them, and none more so than Kacey. She’s been nominated for nearly a dozen awards this year, including ACM's top female artist; the CMA single of the year, album of the year, and female vocalist of the year; and she's been nominated for four categories in the 2014 Grammy Awards. Yes, she's that good. Every song on Same Trailer is a winner.

3. Static, by Cults

Okay, enough country. In October Cults quickly became one of my favorite bands with the release of Static. OMG, what a great sound! Madeline Follin's voice is a beautiful counterpoint to the driving rhythm and haphazard collection of dissonant sounds of every song on Static. The album is strong and compelling, as indie rock should be. One review online made reference to its “60s and 70s film-score bombast,” which is an era that will echo through my number 2 and number 1 picks for best albums of the year.

2. Antiphon, by Midlake

This album immediately struck a chord in me from the first listen, but I couldn’t figure out why. It was only after reading a few reviews of Antiphon that I realized they use overdubbing, which is a recording studio technique where a singer records the various harmony parts, which are later recorded and played on top of one another. I realized that the reason the album's sound resonated with me is that my favorite group of all time, The Carpenters, used the same technique years ago. Furthermore, Midlake’s lead singer, Eric Pulido, sounds a lot like Richard Carpenter. Despite all this, every song on Antiphon is ethereal and powerful. The lyrics are poetic and obscure. There’s a lot to sink your teeth into here, and this music is sure to take you to another place if you're in the right frame of mind. "It’s Going Down" best showcases this distinctive overdubbing sound that makes Midlake interesting.

1. We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace, by Foxygen

Choosing my favorite album of the year was supposed to be easy, because as soon as I listened to  Ambassadors' way back in February I knew it was not only going to be among my top 10, but I couldn’t imagine another album being more interesting than this one. But then last month Midlake released Antiphon and it threw my entire world into chaos and confusion. Choosing between the two albums was the most difficult thing I’ve done all year, and frankly I could probably change my mind tomorrow. But as of right now, Foxygen’s album contains some of the most interesting songs I’ve ever heard. Their music clearly echoes back to the psychedelic sounds of the 60s and early 70s, which for some reason has resonated with me throughout the year.  Every song on this album is awkwardly perfect and playful, from the lyrics to the notes to the unexpected key changes to the off-pitch tone in which most are sung. Winner!

Runners Up

If When I Get My Pay, by The Grascals (bluegrass)
Muchacho de Lujo, by Phosphorescent (dream pop)
Build Me Up From Bones, by Sara Jarosz (alt country)
Tin Star, by Lindi Ortega (alt country)
The Only, by Heidi Feek  (alt country)
Silence Yourself, by The Savages (alt rock)
Sunbather, by Deafheaven (black metal)
Hobo Rocket, Pond (alt rock)
Bankrupt!, by Phoenix (dance)
Moon Tides, by Pure Bathing Culture (synth-pop)
American Kid, by Patty Griffin (folk)
Holy Fire, by Foals (alt rock)
Random Access Memories, by Daft Punk (dance)

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