CK’s top ten albums of 2013
You’ve heard from Tk, now it’s time for my top ten albums of 2013. Over the past few years, our tastes have diverged in a yellow wood, and that has made all the difference. This year, our lists share a stunning zero albums – and not on purpose! I suppose you’ll have to head to Spotify to listen to all 21 albums and rank them together in one mega-list. If you do, please let us know what you came up with! We’d love to see your opinions (including your own favorites from the year) in the comments.
Before I start my list, a note about one of my all-time favorite bands:
Five Iron Frenzy – Engine of a Million Plots
Whenever I think about reviewing anything, one rule I live by is this: I don’t review nostalgia. There’s no way to pretend to be objective about it. And yes, I suppose the point of a review is to hear someone’s subjective opinion, but I feel as if I’m reviewing it from a different place when it’s something that was especially important to me as a child or adolescent. I was devastated when FIF hung it up ten years ago, elated when they reunited and started recording again in 2011, and bought tickets to their show in Seattle within the hour they went on sale. Five Iron Frenzy occupies a completely different space in my mind than any other band.
I do love this album. In fact, I probably enjoyed it enough to put it in the top five this year. But because Five Iron is such an important band to me personally for a lot of reasons, it doesn’t work in my mind to try to put it alongside the rest of the year’s new releases. So I’ll just say this: Engine of a Million Plots stands strong alongside the rest of their discography. If you haven’t heard Five Iron before, this isn’t a bad place to start. And if you haven’t heard them since 2003, this isn’t a bad place to re-start.
MUST HEAR: “So Far,” “The Zen and Art of Xenophobia,” “I’ve Seen the Sun”
…on to the top 10!
10) Sigur Ros – Kveikur
If 2008’s með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust was their “pop” record, Kveikur is Sigur Ros’ “rock” album. I realize this is a relative term when talking about the Icelandic crew’s output, but Kveikur is aggressive. At the same time, the record doesn’t leave behind the beauty that Sigur Ros is known for – tracks like “Stormur” and “Var” shine. If this is what they’re capable of as a three-piece, then I’m very much looking forward to hearing more from the trio.
MUST HEAR: “Isjaki,” “Brennisteinn,” “Kveikur”
9) Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob
With each album, Tegan and Sara just get better and better. They tweak their sound bit by bit, experimenting just enough without making the kind of 180-degree turn that would give their fans whiplash. The twins still weave their vocal harmonies into Heartthrob, one of the best, catchiest records to sing along to this year; it was stuck in my car stereo for at least a good month after its release. This synthpop-infused record is a great little niche-filler; there has to be a place in everyone’s record collection for this one.
MUST HEAR: “I Was a Fool,” “Goodbye, Goodbye,” “Closer”
8) Fall Out Boy – Save Rock and Roll
After a five-year hiatus, Fall Out Boy blasted back in 2013 with the most Fall Out Boy record imaginable. Everything you’ve loved on their previous pop-emo-punk records is back with a vengeance: Patrick Stump’s vocals, catchier-than-hell hooks, semi-discernible lyrics, and their unique, bombastic, fist-pumping hipster-doofus attitude. I’m a sucker for bands finding their niche and knocking it further out of the park than previously thought imaginable, and FOB is the best there is at what they do.
MUST HEAR: “The Phoenix,” “Alone Together,” “Young Volcanoes”
7) Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
Like it or not, Daft Punk was everywhere this summer. Their promotional blasts for Random Access Memories raised hype to an almost-unattainable level, and “Get Lucky” stood alongside Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” as the songs of the season. When the leaves started turning colors, though, the album as a whole took on new meaning. Daft Punk has a reputation for making robotic dance music with a soul, and this sounds more like Earth Wind and Fire than Kraftwerk. It opens up on repeated listens, which is not something people say about Pitbull’s Global Warming or other brainless dance records (not that I don’t love a good brainless dance record, but you get the point). Some of the less-danceable tracks (“Game of Love,” “Touch”) serve as centerpieces of the album, and they stick in your mindgrapes just as well as Daft Punk’s classics like “Digital Love” or “Robot Rock”.
MUST HEAR: “Get Lucky,” “Doin’ It Right,” “Give Life Back to Music”
6) Sleigh Bells – Bitter Rivals
If you wanted to ROCK in 2013, there was no better way to do it than jamming out to a band who regularly performs with an entire wall of amps behind them. Besides just being loud, though, Sleigh Bells brought their unique brand of melodic, crunchy guitar rock to a new level this year. They’re steadily improving with each album, and this time, they’re mixing in some acoustics and synths with their punishing brand of volume-based rock and roll. This took the title of “best driving music” for me this year; there’s nothing like blasting Bitter Rivals and yelling along with Alexis Krauss as strangers look on with jealousy at each red light.
MUST HEAR: “Bitter Rivals,” “Young Legends,” “Sing Like a Wire”
5) The National – Trouble Will Find Me
I fell in love with The National when their 2007 record Boxer came into my radio station. High Violet was very good, but it was a totally different record. Did I like what The National was becoming in 2010? I wasn’t sure. Sure, I liked that record, but at times, it seemed too “big” for what I thought The National should be. Imagine my joy, then, when listening to Trouble Will Find Me the first time. Perhaps The National’s most intimate album, many of these songs almost sound like companions to Boxer’s “Green Gloves” or “Start a War”. As usual, Matt Berninger’s voice drives the band (and rightfully so), and he sounds smoother than ever as he croons his way through an album that feels like it’s always been part of the collective unconscious.
MUST HEAR: “Pink Rabbits,” “I Should Live in Salt,” “Don’t Swallow The Cap”
4) Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady
Through her career thus far, Janelle Monae has weaved a world full of beauty, androids, and Armageddon. From the opening overture through the last seconds of stellar album-closer “What An Experience,” it’s clear that “The Electric Lady” is the most full realization of her vision for what music should be. The music here is great, but I confess that it doesn’t rank higher for one reason: I hate skits, and “The Electric Lady” drags us back out of its sonic bliss with three awful skip tracks that break our suspension of disbelief for no apparent reason except to advance her sci-fi narrative. Between those, though, Monae effortlessly voyages through R&B, rap, and pop, with a little help from her famous friends (Prince, Erykah Badu, Miguel, etc).
MUST HEAR: “Electric Lady,” “Dance Apocalyptic,” “What An Experience”
3) Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
Back in 2010, I wrote: “An improvement over their self-titled debut in almost every way, Contra is that rare sophomore record that makes you excited for album #3 after just one listen.” Well, now we have album #3, and what an album it is. I’m not sure that it’s better than Contra, but it’s one of those that begs to be heard all the way through when the opening chords of “Obvious Bicycle” kick in. The energy is still there, but it’s more muted than either of their previous records. Part of that might be “maturity” (usually code for “a boring record,” but not here), and part of that might be Ezra Koenig coming into his own as a frontman and singer. Song of the year candidate “Step” is perhaps the purest distillation of Vampire Weekend’s ethos thus far, musically and lyrically, and several other tracks aren’t far behind.
MUST HEAR: “Step,” “Diane Young,” “Ya Hey”
2) Grouplove – Spreading Rumours
I’ve said it before, but it’s still true: Grouplove just seems to be having more fun than almost any other band out there. It shines through on almost every track of their stellar new record, Spreading Rumours. There are a couple spots that drag in the middle of the album (especially the chorus of “Hippy Hill,”) but so many of the songs are so good, I can imagine Grouplove carving their way onto rock and alternative radio through all of 2014. There are at least seven songs here that would be great singles. Indeed, this is the best song-based record of the year.
MUST HEAR: “Ways to Go,” “Shark Attack,” “Borderlines and Aliens”
1) Typhoon – White Lighter
While most of my list is full of known quantities, this year was the first time I had heard Portland’s Typhoon, and I’m glad I did. I’m always excited when I see more than three or four musicians on a stage, and the 11 (!) members of Typhoon do not disappoint. This is definitely the band I’m most excited about heading into 2014. Ultimately, no matter how many great individual songs are out there (and I contribute to the single-based economy as much as anyone), my top album spot usually goes to a record that stands as a full album, and White Lighter fits the bill better than any other this year.
From their literary lyrics to the sheer number of instruments used on the record, Typhoon has made an album worth sinking your teeth into. It stands strong on the first listen, and gets better and better on repeat. At times both anthemic and intimate, the songs on White Lighter ride rollercoaster waves of emotion through questions of the universe, life, love, families, home, and starting over. Turn on this record, and let it carry you away through the new year.
MUST HEAR: “Dreams of Cannibalism,” “Young Fathers,” “Hunger and Thirst”
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Tags: 2013, daft punk, earth wind and fire, erykah badu, ezra koenig, fall out boy, five iron frenzy, grouplove, janelle monae, kraftwerk, matt berninger, miguel, national, patrick stump, pitbull, prince, robin thicke, sigur ros, sleigh bells, tegan and sara, typhoon, vampire weekend