Saturday, December 21, 2013

Favorite Albums of 2013

Have you ever noticed how much all of the "best of the year" lists resemble one another? This year, any critic worth his or her salt picked either Kanye West's Yeesus or Vampire Weekend's Modern Vampires in the City as the #1 album of the year. (Click here if you don't believe me.) Last year, Frank Ocean's Planet Orange was the only acceptable choice. In 2011, the taste makers were split between PJ Harvey and Adele. And, in 2010, it was...Kanye West once more.

I'm not knocking these artists but it seems to me, given the incredible variety of music created each year, you might expect the year-end lists to be more varied as well.

And, with that, here is my top 10, featuring some fantastic--if less highly touted--albums from the past year.

("Miki, I'm really happy for you. I'ma let you finish. But Kanye had one of the best albums of all time!") 

It's in alphabetical order because I hate picking favorite favorites.

Boogarins: As Plantas Que Curam

This Brazilian four-piece revisits Tropicalismo, the psychedelic pop played by the likes of Os Mutantes, Caetano Veloso, and Gal Costa back in the '60s. And, the sound is as invigorating now as it was four decades ago.  

Valerie June: Pushin' Against a Stone

June's debut covers a lot of bases, everything from girl group pop to twangy folk. Is she the second coming of Amy Winehouse? Or the next Dolly Parton? No. In embracing the old, she's found something new--something she calls "organic moonshine roots music."

King Krule: 6 Feet Beneath the Moon

Archie Marshall is 19, looks about 12, and has weathered vocals that might convince you that he was 30 if you kept your eyes closed. But, whatever you do, keep your ears open. "Easy Easy" rough cut troubadour vibe makes me think of those first Billy Bragg EPs, at least until the last 30 seconds when he lets his jazz flag fly.

Mikal Cronin: MCII
Do you believe in a love at first sight? How about at first listen? The first time Mikal Cronin's MCII, I was hooked. Big verses, bigger choruses, great harmonies and bridges, laid back production--this stuff was made for me. And, maybe you to.

Juana Molina: Wed 21

Molina started out as a TV comedienne in Argentina before making a sharp right turn into the realm of experimental pop. She mixes the beautiful with the jarring as on "Lo decidi yo," where her airy, melodic vocals compete against buzzing electronics. Beauty wins out in the end.

of Montreal: Lousy With Sylvianbriar

Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes returns to '70s inflected guitar pop on Lousy with Sylvianbriar, after a couple of albums worth of oddball funk that left me a bit cold. Listen to "Belle Glade Missionaries," and see how he prances from Bowie to Bolan to Dylan without ever losing the plot.

Parquet Courts: Light Up Gold

On Jan. 18th of the year, I posted: "2013's music scene gets off to a fantastic start by aping (or, perhaps, offering tribute to) 1992's music scene. Short, sharp, irony-inflected tunes that pack a punch. Is it too soon to start my best-of-the-year list?" This very Pavementesque album still ranks in my Top Ten eleven months later.

Saturday Looks Good To Me: One Kiss Ends It All

The term "twee" is often considered an insult, but Saturday Looks Good To Me is twee in the best sense of the word. Yes they're cute-verging-on-adorable, but not saccharine. Think of them as Stephin Merritt's less arch younger sister.

Sonny and the Sunsets: Antenna To The Afterworld
The '60s are still alive and well in Sonny Smith's garage. Drive on in.

Yo La Tengo: Fade

There is a reserved spot on all of my top ten lists for Yo La Tengo, the beloved Hoboken trio, who've been making great consistently great music for 27 years now. Even by their high standards, Fade is a barnburner--the best album they've recorded since 1997's I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One.

Some other albums that almost made the list: Deerhunter's Monomania; Foxygen's We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic; The Men's New Moon; Speedy Ortiz's Major Arcana; Thee Oh Sees' Floating Coffin; and Ty Segall's Sleeper

What made your list this year?

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