It’s been an interesting exercise to go back and put together my best-of lists several years removed. Clearly it’s a failure on my part that this collection arrives nearly three years late, but I do have the benefit of knowing which albums from 2013 had real staying power for me, and thus the list perhaps slightly more reliable than it otherwise may have been if composed exclusively in the waning months of the year that gave us Sharknado, another government shutdown, and Gravity. Thus, with more than a dash of hindsight, I present my favorite records from 2013:
-Little Green Cars
Couldn’t let this one sneak into the top 10 because I didn’t really spend any time with it until this past year (2016), but it certainly deserves a mention for truly excellent tracks like ‘Harper Lee’ and the jarring/soulful ‘My Love Took Me Down to the River to Silence Me’.
If You Leave
This was no. 10 in an old draft best-of for 2013 I found lying around. I actually really enjoyed this record, but its somewhat spartan soundscapes can make for a lonely listen. Standout songs like ‘Winter’ draw you in to the sometimes-bleak world meticulously crafted by Elena Tonra and co.; tracks like the LP’s high watermark ‘Youth’ and the restrained-yet-anthemic ‘Human’ make you want to stay.
The Top 10 Albums of 2013
-Tegan & Sara
[full review] It was easy to heap praise on this early standout of 2013 due to the exquisite songcraft oozing from every track from the Canadian sisters Quinn. It proved to have the makings of a pop mega-hit, and lead single ‘Closer’ followed us all around for the rest of the year on TV shows, commercials, etc. While still an absolute pleasure to listen to, I personally find myself spinning up the darker, meatier Sainthood a little more often. I still maintain that closer ‘Shock To Your System’ is the hidden, brooding gem on an otherwise effusive pop masterpiece.
09:Days Are Gone
The studio debut from this LA-based sister act lived up to the hype preceding it. Retro, crunchy basslines belie a genre-spanning collection of guitar-driven songs with almost no filler- from the Jackson-esque vocals on ‘Falling’ all the way to BNL-inspired synths on the title track. Can’t miss high-brow retro-future-pop, which I guess is now a thing.
-Shout Out Louds
[full review] A surprisingly strong fourth album from the once-and-perhaps-yet-still-future-kings-of-my-heart Swedish five-piece was just what the doctor ordered. There are still the lazy moments (‘Circles’, ‘Burn’), the ilk of which dragged 2010’s Work into the morass, but they’re kept to a minimum in favor of high points like ’14th of July’ and ‘Glasgow’. As I stated in the review, the more shadowy moments of ‘Destroy’ and ‘Hermila’ let the band stretch some muscles I didn’t know they had, and show real promise for forthcoming work.
This record I just listened to a ton- one of those rare gems that ends and you just start right back at the start without even thinking. Katie Stelmanis straight up had my number with this record and for that I’m thankful. From the first few fuzzy pulses of opener ‘What Have We Done’ to the urgency of ‘Fire’, the first half of the album is filled with expertly adorned synthscapes, all taught compositions and none wanting of pure drive. The latter half is a well-constructed denouement of more non-obvious compositions- my favorite is the soaring, ever-evolving cacophony that is ‘You Changed My Life’.
06: Pure Heroine
Here’s a good example where I had the benefit of hindsight- I didn’t actually first spin up Pure Heroine until Feb. 2014, but being late to the party didn’t do much to limit my enjoyment of Lorde’s debut. Extra fun for me was bit of trivia was that the breakout single ‘Royals’ was inspired by a photograph of Baseball Hall of Famer George Brett in his Kansas City Royals jersey (the Royals are my hometown/childhood team!). The instrumentation can be a little sparse in places but it makes for a uniform sonic pallet without a bad track to be found.
05: Trouble Will Find Me
Certainly after my love affair with High Violet I was setting myself up for disappointment with Trouble; in this case I just felt that Berninger/bros. Dessner/bros. Devendorf were holding out a little. On a National record I need those soaring highs to bolster me though the more forlorn moments of the album. Standouts like ‘Don’t Swallow the Cap’ and ‘Graceless’ were great, but didn’t feel like quite enough to catapult this effort to the top. Still, The National on an off day is still pretty damn good.
Another band coming off an excellent 2010 outing, Cloud Cult has focused down a little from the sprawling and expansive Light Chasers. The heart-on-sleeve emotive lyricism of Craig Minowa provides the perfect counterpoise to the unbridled raucous-rock of the melodies its coupled to. As is typical now, Cloud Cult has once again produced one of the most beautiful pieces of music that not enough people will hear. Extra credit for an amazing closer in ‘The Show Starts Now.’
Authors of my favorite 2010 album The Suburbs, Arcade Fire return with an impressive double album where they allow themselves to indulge in some eclectic nuance as well as dance-hall foot-stompers. That it’s also an intricate concept album structured around the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice just makes it that much more special. The first disk is anchored by the strong opening title track, the plea-for-tolerance ‘We Exist’, and the obligatory Regine-speaks-French-on-one-track ‘Joan of Arc’. The latter half only gets better with our staring characters appearing in the excellent pairing ‘Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)’/’It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)’. That the penultimate ‘Afterlife’ blows it all way though is a real boon: it forces you to listen to a bunch of good songs to get to the completely excellent one.
02: Bones of What You Believe
Newcomers CHVRCHES debuted with a nearly flawless first record, and this is reflected in how the stack up against the best 2013 had to offer. The beeps-and-beats backing to lead singer (on most tracks) Lauren Mayberry’s unique voice is infectious on stand-out tracks like (my personal favorite) ‘Recover’ and ‘Lies’. Even the more experimental tracks often word like ‘Science/Visions’ (though not always- the closer’s a total dud unlike the 11 tracks preceding it). I was so smitten with this album that I managed to get down to NYC to see them on the opening night of their first North American tour; in concert the whole group seems to be genuinely wonderful human beings (and Star Wars fans, to boot!).
01: Pedestrian Verse
[full review] I can still smell Boston’s crisp fall air every time I hear the opening piano line on Pedestrian Verse‘s first track, ‘Acts of Man’. I listened to this album a lot while walking around my neighborhood when I lived there. Contrary to the title, the lyrical stylings of Frightened Rabbit are anything but pedestrian. The architecture of the record still impresses me to this day, with the delicate ‘Housing’ tracks buttressing the towering ‘State Hospital’, and subtle, masterful analogy employed in one of my absolute favorites, ‘Late March, Death March’. It’s such a solid effort that nothing else this year could topple it.
Back to Year End Lists.