Friday, January 31, 2014

My Favorite Records of 2013

Welcome dear readers to the annual “favorite records of insert year here”. Been doing this for a number of years and its always fun to go back and re-listen and place those records in a semi order of what you enjoyed the most. As always a few “rules”. This is my favorite records of the year. Some might be technically “better” than others, but these are the ones that got the most attention from me this year. Also, no live albums, re-issues or ep's are on the list.

Hope you'll poke around, sip a drink and comment with agreements or "you are a complete fool" decide.

20. Kinski - "Cosy Moments"

It always seems like ages between this bands records and tours. This year the album came out, I bought a ticket for a local show (which just so happened to be the end of the Boston Marathon bombing search..their shoot out with police started on the same evening a stone throw for the venue). Enough of that. The band is comfortable with doing things on their own terms. Opening with a 7+ minute slow building track you get...vocals? Something the band has never really done before. They suit the sound and even have some fairly decent harmonies. If you are looking for fuzzed out guitars and some “boom-bash” drum lines rumbling over wah-wah pedals this is for you.

Previous List Appearances - Airs Above Your Station # 10 2003.
Stand out track(s) - "Last Day on Earth",  “Riff Dad”

19.  Boards of Canada - Tomorrows Harvest

This was the year of bands releasing new material that hadn't released new material in many years. For the Scottish electronic duo it was eight years. Its ambient, down tempo type stuff. If you are looking for a “rave” record this is not it. Listeners will likely find this record appealing on snowy mornings, or early morning foggy days. It just has that feel to it. Many of the songs you keep waiting for them to really take off, but after a few tracks you settle in and realize this what IDM is and you just need to be a sponge and soak it all up.

Previous List Appearances – first time
Stand out track(s) - "White Cyclosa" “Transmissions Ferox”

18. Pearl Jam - "Lightning Bolt

They have been doing this for a while and I still seem to have a soft spot for their output. You pretty much get what you get, and you don't get upset with their releases. They've gone back to being okay with rocking out and its a welcome return. They put out a steady, listenable bunch of records. Nothing groundbreaking, noting that should prevent you from check it out, or checking the band out again.

Previous List Appearances - Yield #6 1998. Binural #19 2000. Backspacer #15 2009.
Stand Out Tracks - “Lighting Bolt”, "Getaway"

17. My Bloody Valentine - MBV

It had long been rumored, or speculated that My Blood Valentine was broken up. Or, they were really taking their time making a new record. Their last was in 91 and they broken up in 97. The album was recorded before the break up, and after the reformation in 2007. Rumors of the record swirled then suddenly one day the internet was abuzz, a new My Bloody Valentine was “out”. It was out on the bands new web page the same day. The long wait had critics and fans expecting something really special, and they go it. 9 songs spread out over 45 minutes blending the swirling and brutal guitars with the at times angelic vocal delivery. A record for late night chill outs and freak outs.

Previous list appearance(s) – their first
Stand out Track(s) -   “If I Am”, "In Another Way"

16. David Bowie - "The Next Day"

This is the first David Bowie record in 10 years, and his 30th release. The early reviews of this were strong, and sort of the stealth like release of this record grabbed me. I don't have a ton to personally gauge off but it sounds like a Bowie record should. His unique vocals surrounded by tight musicians make for an enjoyable listen. Bowie mixes tempos pretty well and he pushes himself vocally at times which is rewarding. Dip your toes back in to the waters of Bowie, or try it for the first time.

Previous List Appearances – his first appearance.
Stand out Track(s) - “Valentines Day”, "If You Can See Me" , “I'd Rather Be High”

15 - Pelican - "Forever Becoming"

Chicago based Pelican have quietly released some of the heavier instrumental albums the last few years. The riffs are big, the bass and drums are like an earthquake, yet mainstream success seems to elude them. It is also a nice clean big sound. Who needs lyrics when you pretty much sing every monstrous riff tossed your way.

Previous List Appearances – The Fire in Our Throats Will Becon the Thaw #18 2005
Stand out tracks - “Deny the Absolute”, "Vestigies"

14 - Arcade Fire - Reflektor

Lets get this out of the way. Double albums are usually not the best idea. It always seems that a double album is self indulgent and that if they culled the best from the two they'd have a killer record. At least they didn't charge me for a double album. Anyhow, lets focus. They are quirky, and seemingly arrogant at times, but they can write some damn fine tunes. One thing with Arcade Fire has always been a full sound. You'll see these list of players on a record and never really hear anything beyond the guitar/bass/drum, but with Arcade Fire it always feels like a rock symphony. I am probably over doing it with that, but it just always sounds clean and full. When I bought the record I felt “okay lets see what we have here” and at the end I was pleased with the overall output. A solid and enjoyable collection

Previous List Appearances – Funeral #2, 2004. Neon Bible #9 2007 Suburbs #12 2010
Stand Out Track(s) - “Here Comes the Night Time” “Joan of Arc” "It's Never Over" , “Afterlife”

13. Mazzy Star - "Seasons of Your Day"

Has it really been 17 years between records? Guns and Roses were not even this bold! Hope Sandoval sounds just as wonderful as you remember and David Roback plays what feels like every instrument under the sun. The duo (of course with studio players) have that late night, party has ended, clean up with 2 or three people hanging around still. You can smell the stale beer, and the lingering smoke. They just paint this image, but they could also paint the image of a formal evening out. Fans can only hope the gap won't be this long, but when the final output is as fine as this you won't mind...well maybe a little.

Previous List Appearances – first time
Stand out track(s) -  "In the Kingdom"

12. And So I Watch You From Afar - “All Hail Bright Futures”

This is the Irish bands third full length release. The post rock noisemakers offer up far more vocals on this record than before and honestly for me that is the only downside to this. I understand that bands need to grow and challenge themselves and their listeners. Don't get me wrong, its not bad, but the sheer sound and feel of “Big Thinks Do Remarkable” you almost feel like the vocal chant(s) are not needed. When it all blows up at 3:22 to the end all is forgiven. The album continues to follow similar patterns and everything, I mean EVERYTHING gets a workout from bass to drums to guitars. Its a noisy and fun ride.

Previous list appearances – Self titled #9 2009.
Stand out track(s) –  "Big things Do Remarkable" , "Like a Mouse"

11. The National - "Trouble Will Find Me”

Every time I listen to a record from the band I need to remind myself they are from Brooklyn New York. I am not sure why that is, or why I even think they are from somewhere else. The National have released consistent records. They are rich, full records with layer upon layer of instruments. Everything is balanced well, and you don't ever find yourself thinking “what a great guitar solo” because this is a cohesive unit, no one person takes the spotlight. Singer Matt Berninger is steadily climbing the ladder of “favorite lead vocalists” though.

Previous List Appearances - High Violet #14 2010
Stand out track(s) - 
"Don't Swallow the Cap", ” “Sea of Love”

10. Russian Circles - "Memorial"

The band continues to make records that sound so massive. I mean these just sound “huge”and it is made by three musicians. At times it feels like the soundtrack for a scary movie (but a cool part like a chase scene). Each track seems to be more gigantic than the last. It may lull you at one point, then all of a sudden overdrive pedals are stomped on and the rocket takes off. Its a heck of a ride.

Previous List Appearances - Station #4 2008. Geneva #14 2009. Empros #20 2011.
Stand Out Track(s) - “Deficit”, "1777"

09. Arctic Monkeys - "AM"

This bands is slowly building steam here in the US. Its been a long slow burn, but people are coming around. The four piece has had 5 consecutive #1 albums in the UK and very little turn over in their 10 years of playing as a band. Put under the “garage rock” genre, they just hammer out catchy, semi punk tunes with big hooks. The guitar work on this record is great, and singer Alex Turner sings with that scowl, that somehow still sounds as young as the band is.
Previous List Appearance(s) - Whatever People Say I am, That’s What I Am Not #17 2006
Stand out Track(s) - “R U Mine”, "Arabella"

08. Foals "Holy Fire"

This Oxford England band came out of nowhere to me this year. This is their third full length and it was a great launching point for me as a new fan. Lead vocalist Yannis Philippakis runs the gamut of range and emotion from the punishing “Inhaler” to the dancy pop song “My Number” he takes charge throughout. The foursome shows off some great pop sensibilities, and wearing emotions oh their sleeves (see “Bad Habit”) and explosive tracks like “Providence” As a final aside, I was able to see them live in a small club in Rhode Island, and it was one of my favorite shows of the year, or any year. They were fantastic.

Previous List Appearances – Their first
Stand Out Track(s) - "My Number" (i love this video too), “Inhaler” “Bad Habit” “Providence”

07 - Vampire Weekend - “Modern Vampires of the City”

This is a record that found its way to many a year end list. The band has a hard time doing anything wrong to both new and old fans. The long time fans come back getting what they expect with the catchy guitar lines buzzing at times over keyboard lines and deep bass grooves.
The band really has us where they want us, the question is can they continue to hold us. So far so good.

Previous List Appearances - Self titled #8 2008. Contra #13 2010.
Stand out track(s) - “Unbelievers”, “Diane Young”, "Worship You"

06. Hands - “Synesthesia”

This quietly found its way in to the cd player a fair bit this year. Just an indie pop band that seems to find really fun grooves, with layers of keyboards. This one flew under far too many radars, you'll hear more of them in 2014. Its synth pop, but not overly dance synth pop, or at least the tracks vary enough you don't feel like you are at some dance club.

Previous List Appearances – First time
Stand out Track(s) -  "Lonesome Body" (live version), “Videolove”, “The Game is Changing Us”

05. Deafheaven - "Sunbather"

Over my time buying records I've been pretty good with taking chances. Sometimes throwing caution to the wind and just giving in to reviews and general buzz. I did on this. Lets get this out of the way. Its metal. Its more than metal its black metal. It also has shoegaze and post rock elements. Easily the most challenging listen in a few years for me, and utterly astonishing at the same time. This is a hard listen. I am not even sure I can recommend this record to friends without a word of caution, but I always say, and continue to say “if you get'll be amazed” otherwise you will be livid you even get it time. There is no happy medium on this one. Its either going to hit you, or annoy you. If it hits you I could go on for days as to what is right and what makes this record so massive and awesome. The band has interlude tracks, almost to give you time to catch your breath (3 of them). If you don't get it, I'd be okay with saying “I get it”. From the walls of guitar and machine gun drums to start “Dream House” through to the as I listen damn....

Previous list appearances – first time
Stand out track(s) –  "Dream House"

04. – Queens of the Stone Age - “...Like Clockwork”

It's sort of a given with me when certain bands release records they are going to make my list. Remember this is my favorite records of the year, perhaps not the best...but in this case QOTSA got back at it in 2013. After the time off, a health scare for Josh Homme and yet another re-shuffle of the band they came back with their strongest in years. Always “decent” stuff, this album seemed to be more focused on what long time fans wanted. Heavy, long drone infused tracks, but then speedier “My God Is the Sun”. A welcome back, with rumors of a quick turn around for new material...I'll be waiting.

Previous list appearances – Self Titled #17 1998. Rated R #1 2000. Songs for the Deaf #1 2002. Lullabies to Paralyze # 3 2005. Era Vulgaris #12 2007
Stand out track(s) - “I Sat By The Ocean", "If I Had a Tail"

03. Kurt Vile - Wakin On A Pretty Daze"

I will admit I am new to Kurt Vile. One of the great things is I have 4-5 records I get to go back to.
The album is virtually a double album where songs stretch 6+ minutes long, but the best part is they don't feel long enough. Coming the web for reviews at the time of its release there was one writer (Jayson Greene via Pitchfork) that said “ When you go to listen to a Kurt vile record, it is like reaching for a glass of water. It isn’t going to blow you away with anything overly sweet, but it is going to be satisfying.” That is a prefect way to reflect on this record. The guitar work is excellent, the songwriting terrific. A year ago I was clueless as to who he was, but now I can't get enough.

Previous list appearances – first time
Stand out track(s) -  "KV Crimes",  “Never Run Away”, “Pure Pain”

02. Sigur Ros – Kveikur

Much like Queens of the Stone Age, a band like this comes out with a record chances are very high they'll make the list. Now in their 20th year Icelandic band Sigur Ros, who are now a trio, continue to inspire me as a music fan. Pronounced “Quaker” the trio (of course a slew of backing players) got “heavier” than ever on this sprawling record. They are very polarizing. Either you get them and love them, or you just sorta scratch your head and wonder what the appeal is. Primarily due to Jonsi and his vocal style, but as always that is one of the great things about this band. I always will push people to check out this band, more often than not they “get it”.

Previous list appearances - Agaetis Byrjun #1 2001. ( ) #3 2002. Takk #1 2005. Hvart/Heim #2 2007. Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust #1 2008. Viltari #5 2012.
Stand out Track(s) - “Brennisteinn”, " Isjaki,", “Kveikur”

01. Lights and Motion - "Reanimation"

The power of the internet I guess. Earlier this year I stumbled upon a few rave reviews for this debut, calling it one of the best post rock albums ever made. Since that is in my wheelhouse I took a chance and one could hardly call it a chance. Its stunning. I mean stunning. This is all the work of Christoffer Franzen, who taught himself how to play the instruments and spent a lot of time in the studio, hence the two full albums this year. He has been gaining more attention with songs being used in film trailers and each song is a mini symphony. It will take you to the highest of highs. Easily my favorite record of the year.

Previous list appearances – first time
Stand out tracks - The whole thing is awesome but start with: "Home" (from about 2:20'll be moved....and about 2:50...whoa..),  and "Aerials" 
To add to all this Franzen was so prolific he released as second L+M record in November. Its spectacular as well.

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