This .gif is perfect.
This .gif is perfect.
January is the month where the strongest among us are shining. Giving fully extended middle fingers to the hardships being experienced. Laura Jane Grace came out to the world in a blaze of glory on Transgender Dysphoria Blues, and earlier in the month we had Sharon Jones kicking cancer right in the balls with the soul-saving, inspirational Give the People What They Want.
The release of this album was delayed due to Jones having to undergo surgery for bile duct cancer, which was later changed to Stage Two Pancreatic Cancer. She underwent chemo throughout 2013 and has reemerged a stronger, more powerful force than she ever was before. And she was a one to be reckon with before facing a cancer diagnosis.
For more than 10 years, Jones has been THE voice of soul and R&B. Her range goes from delicate and loving, to downright tough. Now on Give the People What They Want, Jones and her band, The Dap-Kings, hit the nail on the head with each track. In the “Stranger to My Happiness” video, Jones is in her glory. Sure, she may have lost her hair to the chemo, but the way she owns everything makes her even more of a treasure than ever before. To put it simply, she’s badass.
Punk rock has long tackled topics related to gender. The New York Dolls felt perfectly comfortable dressing up as women, Jess Michaels of Operation Ivy refused to submit to stereotypical male gender roles, and there was the Riot Grrrl feminist movement in the early 90’s that focused on issues such as rape, domestic abuse, female empowerment, and patriarchy. Bands like Bikini Kill, Jack Off Jill, and L7 drove a movement that proved being a male doesn’t mean a damn thing—be it in music, politics, sports, everyday life. It was a push for equality and had more force behind it than any other punk movement.
Today, we have Against Me!—one of the more successful punk bands of the past 15 years that relies heavily on ferocious vocals and biting political lyrics—who have now turned their attention to transgender issues. Transgender Dysphoria Blues is the first album the band has released since lead singer Tom Gabel came out as a woman. Laura Jane Grace leads the band now, and the biggest difference on this new album is that political fury has been replaced with introspection from Grace as she lives her new life.
With all that is happening today regarding LGBT rights around the world in the U.S., Russia, and Africa, for example, and the recent controversy surrounding Grantland’s article about Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt, all I can feel is that an album like this has never been more important—in 2014 and in many years to come.
Every song is a keeper. Each filled with lyrics that are a flood of thoughts that have been bottled up in Grace’s head until 2012 when she first told Rolling Stone that she would go through the transition. This is Grace’s life, these are the emotions she’s experiencing, and it’s being sung to us with the refreshing honesty that has always been a key characteristic of Against Me!’s music. For even more honesty, read Grace’s interview with NPR. Grace feels free and liberated, and touches on topics ranging from her music, growing up with gender dysphoria, her wife and daughter, and meeting fans going through the same transition she did.
Here’s a sample of Grace’s lyrics from the opening title track that explain exactly what she is going through:
Your tells are so obvious
Shoulders too broad for a girl
Keeps you reminded
Helps you to remember where
You come from
You want them to notice
The ragged ends of your summer dress
You want them to see you
Like they see any other girl
They just see a faggot
They hold their breath not to catch the sick
Rough surf on the coast,
Wish I could have spent the
Whole day alone with you
LGBT rights are a prominent component of the civil rights movement taking place today. As Bill Simmons admitted in in his apology about the Grantland article, there is a lot of ignorance out there regarding transgender issues. It wasn’t until the damage was done that Simmons and his staff learned that transgender people have some of the highest suicide rates. He and his staff missed a vitally important educational opportunity. Receiving it after the fact is too late.
An album like Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues means so much to our society. It’s a chance for understanding, education, and for those like Grace, a beacon that there are others—many others—out there just like them who are going through or have went through similar experiences. This album is a necessity for our world today.
If you haven’t heard Mikaela Davis before then you are in luck. She’s a harpist who has been playing since the age of eight and hails from Rochester, NY. She uses her peaceful vocals and classically trained playing talents to create a unique world of dream-pop and folk sounds that eases the listener’s pallet.
A self-proclaimed fan of Sufjan Stevens (Her cover of “Casimir Pulaski Day” is better than the original. Swear to God.), she implements similar mystical elements into her brand of pop. From the album artwork, to her videos, to songwriting—her pieces serve as the perfect bridge between the classical sound of the harp and many of the art-pop intricacies that are becoming more of a rarity in today’s indie scene.
The first song on Fortune Teller that comes to mind and meets that description is “Lady Lavender”—a perfect blend of the modern rock band and the orchestral melodies of the harp. Davis now has this EP and a full-length from 2012 under her belt, with an distinct evolution from one release to the next. One of the most refreshing characteristics of her work is that the songs are not cumbersome. Many art-pop bands try to do too much at once, but Fortune Teller further proves Davis’s knack for writing straight-forward, intriguing pop songs with a unique orchestral/chamber-pop twist.
As she has now embarked on an East Coast tour, it will be no surprise as more roads open up for this young talent, such as the famed indie music festival SXSW, which Davis has been confirmed to be playing in March.
Discovering Eric & Magill was a happy accident that happened in the first days of 2011, shortly after the duo released their debut album, All Those I Know. I forgot what album I downloaded from Bandcamp, but Eric & Magill popped up as a recommendation, so I gave them a listen and fell hard for their ethereal, ambient, wonderful acoustic songs. I’m a huge fan of Mike Kinsella and enjoy Eric & Magill’s sound because there are similarities, and funny enough, Kinsella made a guest appearance on that first album.
Fast forward to 2013 and the duo have released their sophomore effort, Night Singers. Eric & Magill function as a long-distance outfit, and have now expanded that distance, with one half (Ryan Weber) joining the Peace Corps in Kenya, and the other half (Eric Osterman) setting up shop in Brooklyn.
The duo, still staying true to their dream pop sound, has become a little more aggressive. The acoustic guitars, while still present on some tracks, have for the most part been replaced with heavily reverberated vocals, electric guitars, and thunderous drums—to the point where some songs have an electronic dance beat (“Love Found”). The aggression comes out in songs like “Psycho” that live up to its name that has an uncharacteristic punk sound to it. No worries, because every flows together nicely from track to track.
I find it odd that these guys haven’t been promoted more considering they pal around with Owen, The Dirty Projectors, Martime, and have contributed to work from The Promise Ring. The issue has to be the lack of shows they’ve played. Here’s hoping that Eric & Magill can take their music on the road someday and bring it to the masses. Because right now, their music, as fantastic as it is, serves as proof that to build an audience in today’s music world, touring is a must.
My griping aside, listen to Night Singers. It’s deserves as much attention as possible.
I did a brief series in the beginning of 2013 about albums from 2012 that I missed completely, or never had enough time to listen to. I’m hoping to do a more extensive list of 2013 Missed Connections, because there is always so much good music that is worthy of praise.
Kicking off the 2013 Missed Connections series is The Wood Brothers with their fourth full-length album, The Muse. The band, consisting of well-known jazz bassist Chris Wood of Medeski Martin & Wood, blend folk, country, bluegrass, blues, and even some jazz together to produce a sound that is as engaging as it is relaxing.
Oliver Wood’s guitar work is what sets the mood for each song. Switching back and forth between acoustic and electric, the frontman’s strumming and singing voice beckons to the backwoods—keeping the song structures relatively simple. It’s when Chris Wood breaks loose on the bass where the jazz influences creep in.
In its entirety, The Muse, is an album that would’ve made my top 10 list of 2013 if I had heard it earlier. But better late than never though. This album is the definition of fulfilling. It’s a rarity when a band can blend genres and create one complete sound that is detected throughout every one of its songs. The Wood Brothers can make that claim, and The Muse is a shining example of their skill at doing so.
10. Beach Fossils - Clash the Truth
Good riddance to Zachary Cole Smith. He can have his heroin, and fashion show runways, and Sky Ferreira, and his band (DIIV, who are actually really good), because Beach Fossils are doing just fine without him. Gone is the ego, and what remains is a more well-rounded, exploratory version of the dream-pop band from Brooklyn. Songs like “Careless” and “Shallow” are reminders of Beach Fossils’ earlier style, but songs like “Sleep Apnea” and “Caustic Cross” show the band stretching their wings a bit. Holding true to what has worked in the past, but also opening up to different rhythms and aggressions that seemed to be missing from past albums. The band used to sound like they were stuck in a rut, but Clash the Truth shows that the Brooklyn-ites still have what it takes to make catchy, lo-fi pop music.
9. Tegan and Sara - Heartthrob
Twin sisters from Canada who traditionally made folk music caught many by surprise in 2013 with Heartthrob—a dance/pop album full of songs destined for Top 40 radio. Tegan and Sara became frustrated that entertainers like Ke$ha and Miley were getting all the attention, and set out to show people how easy it to write a dance/pop album. Not only did they write the best one of the year, but they finally got the national attention they deserved by playing big festivals and touring with fun.
8. Houndmouth - From the Hills Below the City
Old-timey music has been all the rage the last few years, but it always seems to lack authenticity *cough* Hipsters *cough*. It’s about time that backwoods music was played by backwoods artists, and Houndmouth is just the band to fill that position. The band, which hails from the Indiana/Kentucky border plays music that pays homage to true Americana. Music that makes Levon Helm smile down on us from Heaven. It’s so simple, but so rich with passion. Brevity is tough to convey in art, and Houndmouth excel at it by stripping down rock, blues, soul, and folk with the ease of drums, piano, guitar, and bass. Just the necessities when hitting the road with this band.
7. Body Language - Grammar
Many bands fall victim to the sophomore slump, and it was a wonderful breath of fresh air to see a band who released a great debut album, exceed expectations by creating a superior follow-up. Body Language is a band that mixes synth-pop with soul, funk, R&B, and disco. Their first album, Social Studies, seemed to be begging for that catchy song for the dance floor, but it never showed up. Well, Grammar changed all that. Right off the bat, “The Chasing” is more upbeat than anything on Social Studies. Then there’s “Just Because,” “Well Absolutely,” “Lose My Head” and “The First.” Body Language more than made up for the lack of upbeat songs, and still kept the smooth funk and soul going on tracks such as “I’m a Mess” and “What’s the Point.” This is another one of those albums where you never want to skip a track because each one has something different to offer. As good as Social Studies was, it didn’t have that, so it’s great to see Body Language’s songwriting getting exponentially better so quickly.
6. St. Lucia - When the Night
Sure, half of the songs on this album were released in 2012, but there is no denying When the Night as being one of the most complete albums released in 2013. The album never lets up from the 80’s-inspired, synth and dance-heavy sounds that contain a prominent Caribbean vibe. Not one hiccup to be found on this album. The only area where some complaints may exist is in the similarity of a few songs, but those are easily forgettable because every song is just so damn catchy. Be it the single, “Elevate,” the 2012 stomper “September,” or the title track closer that could inspire the most stiff bore to do The Carlton, St Lucia’s music is instant happiness. And this is the debut full-length. Here’s hoping for a long, illustrious career.
5. Okkervil River - The Silver Gymnasium
I’ve never given this band a fair chance, but The Silver Gymnasium changed all that. Okkervil River have long been one of the most respected, critically admired bands in the indie folk-rock scene. Their albums are routinely reveled, loved, admired, and for some reason I was dumb enough to not pay attention. As Bruce Springsteen is to New Jersey, so will be Okkervil River to New Hampshire. Now based in Texas, the Silver Gymnasium serves as an ode to the town of Meriden, NH, the hometown of front-man/vocalist Will Sheff and drummer Seth Warren. The songs on the album are story after story about Sheff’s childhood and adolescence, which is even further enhanced by an app developed by NPR for the band which walks listeners through the various hot spots in Meriden that are referenced in the songs. It’s an interactive experience unlike any other released this year, and Sheff and co. have done an outstanding job of opening themselves up for the listeners to learn about their history.
4. CHVRCHES - The Bones of What You Believe
Boy, did the critics love CHVRCHES this year, and for good reason. The Scottish synth-pop outfit exploded onto the scene last year with their EP, and finally released their debut full length in September after a slew of fantastic singles. Fortunately for us, the album went far beyond the singles. Tracks like “Tether,” “Lies” and “By the Throat” demonstrate CHVRCHES consistency, not in style so much as the quality of the tracks. Each track is catchy and contains those sharp, piercing synths that made us fall for them on “Recover.” And on the track “Gun,” well that is just the most perfect pop song of the year. It’s viciously infectious, and also conveys the toughness of Lauren Mayberry. Such fierceness behind such a delicate voice is the kind of juxtaposition that makes this band so damn exciting.
3. White Denim - Corsicana Lemonade
White Denim working with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco doesn’t even seem fair to the rest of the music world. Take one of today’s most talented bands and put one of the most prolific songwriters of the past 20 years at the helm, and you’re all but guaranteed gold. And gold is what we got, and then some. The blues, the improvisational freedom, the eclectic time signatures, pure unadulterated rock—it all mixes together so perfectly on Corsicana Lemonade. Many out there think this album is too polished for a band that used to have a more fuzzy, DIY, garage-rock sound, and in a way they’re right, but if anything, Corsicana Lemonade shows the band at its most diverse. The ability to stretch genres as easily as they stretch their guitar strings. And that is what continues to be the craziest thing about this band—they make it seem all too easy. As if the playing is effortless, but when watching the band live, you can sense the passion, energy, and pure enjoyment. The band’s been going strong for about eight years now, and are only getting better at what they do.
2. Cut Copy - Free Your Mind
A lot of bias went into this ranking considering Cut Copy is probably my favorite band today. But in all fairness, Free Your Mind is an outstanding album. The logical next step in the band’s ever-evolving career. Perfection was attained on In Ghost Colours, so the follow-up, Zonoscope, lagged a bit in excitement department, but still contained a number of well-crafted, adventurous pop numbers. On Free Your Mind, the band said that they were heavily influenced by the Second Summer of Love—the 1988-89 period when acid house and raves began taking form in the UK. Songs like “Footsteps” and “Meet Me in a House of Love” have the heavy rave vibe, while “Let Me Show You Love” and the title track draw from the psychedelic influence that were prominent in acid house. The most impressive among all of these songs is that Cut Copy is able to pull these influences in while remaining true to the sound that people fell in love with on In Ghost Colours. There are songs that will pack any dance floor, and other tracks like “In Memory Capsule” and “Dark Corners & Mountain Tops” that prove, above all else, that the band is excellent at writing basic, catchy pop songs. While In Ghost Colours will always be the band’s classic release, Free Your Mind shows that they are far from ever running out of ideas.
1. Local Natives - Hummingbird
This album was released in January and set the bar pretty damn high for other bands the remaining 11 months. As soon as the first lyric is sung on “You & I,” it’s game over. The band, which is often called a “West Coast version of Grizzly Bear,” went to new depths on Hummingbird by invoking a folkier sound through richly layered instrumentation and enchanting three-part vocal harmonies. “Heavy Feet” showed the band’s capability to write ambitious pop songs meant for wider audiences, but it’s the deeper cuts on Hummingbird that show the bands eclectic style that can never pinned down. Delicate numbers like “Ceilings,” “Black Spot,” and “Colombia” show a more introspective side of the band, and then songs like “Breakers” and “Wooly Mammoth” let out of all the pent-up emotion. It’s when the vocal harmonies come in that the listener is then submerged within the band’s truest form. Gorilla Manor introduced us to a unique band—one undeserving of a label because just as you think they’re going in one direction with one song, the one that follows it turns you around in an entirely new direction. It’s this element of surprise and originality that keep Local Natives such an exciting, enjoyable band. No other album came close this year, and with a January release, the band gave others plenty of time to try.
20. Washed Out - Paracosm
I was a big fan of Washed Out’s first album when it first came out, but it quickly became tiresome because the songs sounded so similar. Ernest Greene has fixed all that on Paracosm. The instrumentation is lush and lives up to the dream-pop label that is often associated with Washed Out. The album contains about 50 different instruments and you can sense the amount care and dedication Greene put into each track. “It All Feels Right” and “All I Know” are the soundtracks to dreams you never want to wake up from. When you do wake up, you push play on Paracosm again to relive the wonderment.
19. Jagwar Ma - Howlin
Had no clue who these guys were at the beginning of 2013, and the musical world is a better place thanks to their debut album, Howlin. The Australian duo weaves in and out between dream-pop, lounge/soft-house style electronica, 60’s inspired psychedelia, and 80’s shoegaze. This album has something for everyone, but the group hits its stride on tracks like “The Throw” and “Four” where the psychedelia and lounge music combine to create a unique sound with a tribal vibe.
18. Booka Shade - Eve
Had never heard of this German house duo until this year. But I like them, and I like their seventh album, Eve, a lot. It’s simple, yet engaging. The rhythmic pulse throughout the album keeps the songs catchy while integrating synths, horns, and sampled vocals here and there to provide the texture. Songs such as “Love Inc.” and “Perfect Time” are excellent lounge tracks. A perfect mixture of delicate synths, vocal hooks, and beats that set the perfect relaxing mood.
17. Blood Orange - Cupid Delux
Devonte Hynes captured the attention of many music critics this year with his sophomore effort as Blood Orange, Cupid Delux. The fusion of electronica and R&B allows Hynes to easily slide back and forth between songs that are of more a romantic mood, and poppy dance numbers. The guitars and thick bass lines even bring a bit 70’s funk into the party, riding the wave of disco that is sweeping over electronica artists these days.
16. Classixx - Hanging Gardens
Speaking of electronica and disco, this time it comes in the form of the L.A.-based producers, Classixx. These guys lean heavier on the electronic side, but there is no mistaking the disco and funk influence throughout Hanging Gardens. The two vocal tracks, “All You’re Waiting For” and “Holding On,” are dance songs at heart. It’s amazing how quickly they implant that earworm in your brain upon the first listen. As the album moves along, the duo does an excellent job of trading tracks between songs meant for the dance floor and those that are downtempo. It’s this flow of the album that allows Hanging Gardens to be easily absorbed in its entirety in one sitting. Something that continues to be a rarity in today’s age of singles from artists.
15. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
You can’t mention disco in 2013 without talking about the return of Daft Punk and the excellent Random Access Memories. “Give Life Back to Music,” “Lose Yourself to Dance,” and “Get Lucky” all exemplify the glory days of disco, but it’s songs such as “Instant Crush” and “Fragments of Time” where the album really stands out. This is how you perform brevity in pop music. Yet, in the simple style, interviews with Daft Punk always state how many tracks went into the album and how excessively expensive the recording equipment was that they used. The album does an excellent job of conveying the human element of dance music, while staying true to the glitz and glamour of disco.
14. Mountains - Centralia
If you’re at a party, and someone busts out a Mountains album, you should probably kick them out. Or, if they’re the host, you should just leave. This is not music meant for a public setting. The ambience throughout Centralia is peaceful and thought-provoking. It’s meant to be listened to in times of contemplation, because its drawn out melodies bring about feelings that inspire personal thought. The Brooklyn duo of Brendon Anderegg and Koen Holtkamp are composers who use simple yet powerful crescendos and decrescendos throughout their work that reach into the deepest regions of your mind. The best part is, the more you listen, the more frequently you want to return to these places.
13. Disclosure - Settle
Disclosure, the British duo made of up brothers Guy and Howard Lawrence, led the resurgence of lounge/soft-house music and brought it to the masses by fusing it with digestible pop music. Settle has been praised by music critics across the board and deservingly so. This was one of those rare occurrences where the album (their debut, and being 18, are in store for a long career) matched the high level of hype. With guests such as Sam Smith, Jessie Ware, and London Grammar contributing vocals, it’s no surprise how fantastic these songs are, but it’s the production by the Lawrence brothers that is the most impressive. At a young age, these guys have already produce a quality album that is rarely, if ever, matched by their peers, while paying tribute to the house forefathers from the 80’s and 90’s that influenced their sound. It will be exciting to see where they go from here.
12. Into It. Over It. - Intersections
The emo trend continues, and nobody did it better in 2013 than Evan Weiss, a.k.a. Into It. Over It. From the first plucked strings of “New North-Side Air,” I knew that Intersections would be a memory capsule of sorts, taking me back to my high school days of listening to Vagrant, Equal Vision, Sub Pop and Jade Tree Record bands. Being from Chicago is too fitting for Weiss, because his sound is reminiscent of the Midwest emo style played by bands such as The Promise Ring, American Football, and The Appleseed Cast. Yet, the aggression, the finger picking, the off-tune vocals, and sad, somber sound set Weiss apart from the others playing “emo” today. Weiss’s style is more intimate and personal. With an album title like Intersections, you know he has a few life stories to share and doesn’t let screams or guitar feedback tune out his lyrics. Those are as important as the music and as enjoyable too.
11. Superchunk- I Hate Music
In a year full of reunions and comebacks, Superchunk didn’t have to feel to pressure felt by other artists who were revisiting the process of making music. Superchunk’s comeback was in 2010 with the excellent Majesty Shredding. So, with I Hate Music in 2013, the band was releasing what could be interpreted as a second sophomore album of sorts. The kind of album that makes or breaks the longevity of bands, and I Hate Music proved that Superchunk is as good as they’ve ever been. The hooks are plentiful and the energy is packed to the rafters. Songs like “FOH,” “Me, You, & Jackie Mittoo,” and “Trees of Barcelona” prove that the band is as comfortable now as they were when playing house shows in Chapel Hill. Something that is very refreshing to hear from bands who have been doing this for as long as Superchunk has.
30. Small Black - Limits of Desire
Synth-pop is all the rage these days, and this list is teeming with it. Kicking off the list and the synth-pop extravaganza is Portland, Oregon’s Small Black. The band provides an excellent mix of dance-floor numbers and slow burners that creates an impressive flow throughout the album’s 10 tracks. The band made a name for itself with 2010’s New Chain, but Limits of Desire cleans up the band’s sound. The result is a smooth, relaxing vibe that’s fitting for a party or a relaxing night in.
29. Mutual Benefit - Love’s Crushing Diamond
Jordan Lee’s Mutual Benefit project is one that bends the traditional genre definitions. Using influences from folk and psych-pop, Lee has created a brief seven-track album that expands the experimental dreamscapes created by his textured songs. This is one of those albums that is meant for being absorbed through quality headphones while lounging. Lounging is a must.
28. Boards of Canada - Tomorrow’s Harvest
Talk about moody. The Scottish electronica heroes gave us an excellent return in 2013, thanks to a unique marketing campaign launched on Record Store Day and music that lived up to the hype while staying true to the Boards of Canada style. The duo’s first album is seven years, Tomorrow’s Harvest continues the tradition of giving us a soundtrack to what sounds like a dark, post-apocalyptic world. The thing about Tomorrow’s Harvest is that sound is even darker than before. The album cover alone reminds me of L.A. in Terminator 2 when the bomb detonates in Sarah Connor’s dreams (the cover is actually San Francisco). This is a darker side for Boards of Canada, but the duo has not lost their ability to pull the listener into its realm so that the atmosphere can be entirely absorbed.
27. Volcano Choir - Repave
Oh, Justin Vernon. As long as your’re making music, we’ll listen. An album that first sounded like B-sides to 2011’s fantastic Bon Iver album, Volcano Choir’s Repave took a life of its own with each additional listen. With more of a rock influence, Repave weaves between Vernon’s tranquil falsetto and more aggressive rhythms. Songs like “Tiderays” and ”Comrade” are Vernon at his finest, while “Byegone” and “Dancepack” see a harder, more intense side of the songwriter. Both of these styles work well together, and meld nicely when alternated throughout the album’s tracks.
26. Foals - Holy Fire
Foals made a name for themselves with “My Number” off of Holy Fire, but the remainder of the album continued to be an example of what quality rock music can be when compared to the what passes for it on the radio. “Prelude” and “Inhaler” kick off the album with more aggression, while the remainder albums integrates more pop tendencies. The combination of the two sounds leads to an album that is consistently consumable and enjoyable.
25. M.I.A. - Matangi
This is M.I.A. at her best. Fierce, fast rhythms, excellent flow, catchy hooks, strong political and social themes behind her music—it all combines to make her best album since 2007’s Kala, which included the smash-hit “Paper Planes.” Matangi almost never came into existence because M.I.A.’s record label thought it sounded too cheerful. After threatening to release it herself, M.I.A. finally got to label execs to succumb to her demands, and was able to release the music on her own terms. And we’re all the better for it.
24. Toro Y Moi - Anything In Return
Chaz Budwick has been labeled as one of the forefathers of chillwave, but that label doesn’t do his work justice. Combining soul, R&B, electro-pop, and lounge beats, Toro Y Moi’s music certainly fits the “chill” label, but moves across enough genres to not be pigeonholed with a single label. That’s actually how “chillwave” came into existence. People love labels and didn’t know what to call this type of music, so “chillwave” was born, and Toro Y Moi continues to be a go-to example for this style. Ta-da!
23. The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am Not Afraid to Die – Whenever, If Ever
Yes, the name of this band is a mouthful, but fortunately the band’s music and live performance are as over-indulgent as the band name. With the number of stage performers almost reaching the dozen mark, these guys (even the band’s acronym is too much to type out) are putting themselves out there as the leaders of the emo resurgence. Even though 1) emo never went away, and 2) there are plenty of other popular bands deserving of that title, this band is always included in the conversation thanks to having it hard to forget about a band with such a long name and eventful live show. The intense live performance, the string instruments, the off-key singing mixed with full-throttle screams, the eclectic rhythms, and grandiose song movements—they’re all there on Whenever, If Ever and ready to be screamed along to with one fist thumping on the heart and the other in the air. At least, that’s what I do while listening.
22. The Field - Cupid’s Head
Sweden’s Axel Willner, a.k.a. The Field, creates some of the most transcendent, ethereal electronic music out there. Repetition is the name of his game, but as the tracks slide along, Willner continues to add sample on top of sample, until the culmination at which point the track is at full tilt and can’t handle any more layers, lest the track become unlistenable. He always hits that perfect balance and it’s an impressive feat to absorb. On Cupid’s Head, Willner has crossed over to the dark side. The obvious sign being the black album cover, which is a contrast to the previous beige covers, but the tones and rhythms on the album all hold something a little sadder. The beats continue to drive along, but Willner has moved into new territory, which is an excellent change of pace to avoid having all of his albums run together.
21. Owen - L’Ami du Peuple
For the first time in his 13-year span as Owen, Mike Kinsella has ditched the recording life of a homebody and moved into the studio. The sound produced on his seventh album, L’Ami du Peuple (French for “The Friend of the People”), is richer, more polished, and also a little heavier when compared to previous releases. There’s more electric guitar, bass and drums, moving Kinsella away from the singer-songwriter genre and into full-on band-mode. This makes sense considering that Kinsella also launched the new emo, post-punk outfit Their/They’re/There with Into It. Over It.’s Even Weiss and Loose Lips Sink Ships’ Matthew Frank. With such a busy year, Kinsella has proved that emo music never went away. He’s been plugging along since the 90’s, and as expected, his music continues to mature with his age—the perfect example of musical and lyrical evolution.
20) Say That - Toro Y Moi
Chillwave is alive and well thanks to Chaz Bundick and his band, Toro Y Moi. With “Say That,” he keeps the R&B influences thriving on what is the most upbeat number on the 2013 album, Anything in Return.
19) Comrade - Volcano Choir
Damn Justin Vernon and his endless talent to write tranquil music. His falsetto is in full force on “Comrade,” channeling some of the vibes that were left over from his fantastic Bon Iver album in 2011, which earned a Grammy for doppelgänger, Bonny Bear. Volcano Choir is much more rock than Bon Iver, but, no matter the project, Vernon is an expert in the crescendo and decrescendo, and can execute them flawlessly, be it with acoustic, soft rock, or more forceful emotive rock.
18) Bring the Noize - M.I.A.
M.I.A. is back with authority. Mantangi is an album as focused and socially charged as her masterpiece, Kala, and that is not more noticeable than on the rapid fire of “Bring the Noize.” Her flow is furious, and her rhymes are intelligent, whether she’s focused on political upheaval in Sri Lanka, or dealing with record label dinosaur bosses that tried to prevent this album from seeing the light of day.
17) Holding On - Classixx
L.A. producers Classixx released their excellent Hanging Gardens album at a tough time. It was right around the same time that Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories and Disclosure’s Settle came out, causing them to unfortunately get lost in the shuffle. It’s a shame because these guys fused the electronica, R&B and disco styles that are so prominent on Daft Punk’s albums. But Classixx has created the best of both worlds by combining the disco/R&B with the soft house/loung genres, creating a sound unique to their name. “Holding On” provides the best example of that fusion.
16) Down Down the Deep River - Okkervil River
As passionately as Bruce Springsteen sings about New Jersey is how Will Sheff sings about his home state of New Hampshire. Okkervil River’s The Silver Gymnasium is an ode to Sheff’s childhood growing up in the colonial region of New England and it makes for excellent story telling. Down Down the Deep River is my favorite example, but you can’t go wrong with any song on the album.
15) It All Feels Right - Washed Out
Gone are Ernest Greene’s bedroom writing sessions for Washed Out. In their place is a stockpile of detailed instrumentation, carefully layered to create the dream-like landscapes that he’s been known to craft since 2010’s “Feel It All Around.” Greene said he used over 50 different instruments when recording Paracosm, and “It All Feels Right” allows you to hear what that sound like. It certainly lives up to what Greene describes as, “daytime psychedelia.”
14) Four - Jagwar Ma
Good luck trying to pigeon-hole these Aussies. One minute they’re playing 60’s-inspired psych-rock, the next they’re bumping a catchy house track and then they’re throwing you completely for a loop with an 80’s style dream-pop sound. “Four” falls under the dance/house style, but give their album a Howlin a listen to see which song will be your favorite. It’s truly an album that has something for everyone.
13) Blues to Black - Owen
Mike Kinsella was a busy man in 2013. A new album as his pseudonym Owen, a collaboration with Into It. Over It. to create the project Their/They’re/There and dealing with what the indie music press is dubbing as the resurrection of the emo genre. But Owen didn’t need a resurrection or salvation. Kinsella has been plugging away since the 90’s, building a steady and loyal following thanks to his work with Owen, American Football, Cap N’ Jazz and Owls. “Blues to Black” is Kinsella song writing at it’s best—refreshingly honest and relieving, while bringing it a little more electric guitar than usual. He’s a seasoned professional, so it’s best to let him do his thing and enjoy the results.
12) Instant Crush - Daft Punk feat. Julian Casablancas
Sure, “Get Lucky” was pretty much the Song of the Year, and “Lose Yourself to Dance” allowed you to do just that, but Daft Punk pulled off the impossible with this track—allowed me to enjoy a song with Julian Casablancas on it. Leave it to Daft Punk to pull off the impossible.
11) Drove Me Wild - Tegan And Sara
Two Canadian sisters were sick of their folk albums not being heard due to rise in popularity of dance music, so decided, “Hey, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Not only did Tegan And Sara join the crowd, but crushed them all in the process. Heartthrob is a blast of an album and “Drove Me Wild” could easily be replaced by a few other outstanding tracks. “Closer,” “Goodbye, Goodbye,” “I Couldn’t Be Your Friend,”—, but I went with this one.
10) Well Absolutely - Body Language
I was thrilled when Body Language released their new album Grammar back in September. Their first album was very good, but felt to be lacking in the hook department. Grammar fixed all that and then some. The band kicked up the tempo, thumped on the bass and cranked the synths to levels not seen on their previous work. “Well Absolutely” is the example that shows the band at their best.
9) The Shaking of Leaves - Into It. Over It.
Emo is alive and well in America and we have acts like Into It. Over It. to thank. I’m extremely thankful, because listening to “The Shaking of Leaves” makes me feel like I’m back in high school, listening to my American Football and Owen albums while walking to and from school. It’s technical, it’s emotional (duh.), it’s infectious and most important, it’s enjoyable.
8) When a Fire Starts to Burn - Disclosure
If bands like Into It. Over It. summoned an emo revival, Disclosure would be the band leading the one for soft house/lounge music. In an age where electronic dance music (EDM) is sickeningly redundant and unimaginative, Disclosure harken back to the influences of scenes from Chicago and Detroit in the late 80’s/early-90’s. “When a Fire Starts to Burn” is the anthem proving that minimalism in electronic music can be more effective and catchy than listening to the same over-mixed synth hook over and over and over and over and over and over…
7) Wait for Love - St. Lucia
There’s many songs to choose from on St. Lucia’s excellent When the Night album, but half the songs were actually released in 2013. “Wait for Love,” is a catchy track that as directly from the album—not part of a 2012 EP, and not released as a single months before When the Night was finally released. It has they tropics vibe that resonates throughout the entire album, and a hook that will stay in your head for days.
6) Pretty Green - White Denim
I was so happy when I first heard this song because it meant that White Denim was releasing new music. And boy, did they create some new music. Blues, psych-rock, improvisational tendencies, this Austin outfit is without a doubt one of the most talented acts around today, and Pretty Green was their entry into dominating 2013.
5) Footsteps - Cut Copy
I limited myself to picking only one song off of Cut Copy’s Free Your Mind album. I could’ve easily picked four or five, but I didn’t want to clog the list. “Footsteps” is the song that most accurately portrays the vibes and sound of the second Summer of Love sound the band was going for on the album. The hooks and synths are plentiful, and as usual, it’s impossible to not nod your head and tap your foot to a Cut Copy song.
4) FOH - Superchunk
"Go with what works" is Superchunk’s motto. The band has been using the same song-writing formula since the mid-90s and have continued that pattern on 2013’s I Hate Music. "FOH"is a rocker in the truest sense of the word—nothing but driving rhythms, power chords and a catchy sing-along chorus. Superchunk doing what Superchunk does best.
3) My Number - Foals
A bit more technical than Superchunk, but Foals wins in the catchiness category. From the staccato plinko sounds in the intro to the rousing chorus, “My Number” proves that a band that can go from hypnotically chill to full-blown rock ‘n’ roll can also write the radio-friendly pop song. You listen to “My Number” once, and before you know it, you’re on a private Spotify session because you’re just listening to the song on repeat 20 times in a row like I did multiple times this year.
2) Heavy Feet - Local Natives
Hummingbird is, from start to finish, one of 2013’s greatest pieces of work. Nowhere is that more evident than on “Heavy Feet.” The emotional chorus, the hand claps, the eclectic snare beats and minimal guitar work all combine to create a song that demands your attention.
1) Gun - CHVRCHES
Easily one of 2013’s most popular acts, Scotland’s CHVRCHES received praise from music critics across the board. Indie sites like Pitchfork and Consequence of Sound, mainstream music outlets like Rolling Stone and Spin, and national news outlets such as NPR, all praised the band, and a for good reason. “Recover” and “The Mother We Share” were the big singles that received the most attention, but “Gun” found the band at its most energetic. The biting, razor-sharp synths, the thunderous drums and the powerful vocals from Lauren Mayberry are what kept me coming back throughout the year. The first time I heard “Gun,” I knew this song was going to get a lot of playing time, and it certainly did. The album, The Bones of What You Believe, is fantastic, but “Gun” was the song that kept me coming back for more each time.