Last year was the first time I actually decided to make a list of my top albums, EPs, music videos, concerts, and so on. The process was oddly stressful, but rewarding. As expected, this year was equally difficult, but for a different reason: big names weren’t dropping their records in the last three months as usual, and almost all of the “big comebacks” weren’t as “big” as we’d hoped. Basically 2013 was a year of “big,” or so we were promised.
If it weren’t for the following artists working diligently to write, record, and organize these albums, who knows what colors this year would have lost without the shades they brought to the table. In January I had my fingers crossed for some decent grunge garage, lengthy ballads, and songs too experimental to explain with ease. Somehow they appeared, and most times it took a while to see it. It’s only now that I’ve realized just how “big” 2013 was – and how sneakily it went about revealing itself over the course of the year.
Top Ten Albums
10. Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin
Some days you want your headphones to be filled with nothing but grit and dirt – that’s when you put on Thee Oh Sees. While their music is meant to be experienced live, the trio makes sure little is lost in the studio versions, where oil is splattered on the walls and they laugh as you’re swallowed by a pit of tar. Don’t worry; it’s fun, I promise.
Best tracks: “Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster,” “Floating Coffin,” “Tunnel Time”
9. Buke and Gase – General Dome
Make an instrument and then play several simultaneously if you want to win my heart. Brooklyn duo Buke and Gase—named after their homemade creations: bass + ukulele and guitar + bass—have returned with their second LP, and it’s full of innovative, experimental folk twists that catch you off guard with a wink. It’s no Riposte, but it’s still damn good.
Best tracks: “Houdini Crush,” “Hiccup,” “Cyclopean”
8. Earl Sweatshirt – Doris
Don’t tell anyone, but I used to only listen to Odd Future for Earl. There’s something about that deep voice, spitting out words I don’t even think I knew when I was 16, that’s calming as hell. A solo album does him well, and he’s big enough now to know that his army of Odd Future figurines are there to embellish, not polish off, tracks he’s already perfected by himself.
Best tracks: “Chum,” “Sunday,” “Hive”
7. Deerhunter – Monomania
Monomania starts with a lazy, burp-like drawl, the sound of frontman Bradford Cox getting out of bed, but it isn’t clear if he’s left his dream on the pillowcase. The album as a whole dips into shoegaze, noise rock, and psychedelic alleyways, but Cox’s distant vocals guide the listener through it all before revealing that we’ve been asleep the whole time.
Best tracks: “T.H.M.,” “Sleepwalking,” “Monomania”
6. The Knife – Shaking the Habitual
A bonfire burns at the center of Shaking the Habitual, and duo Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer circle around telling an hour and a half long story to those gathered with open ears. Inevitable tribal beats and eerie electronic industrial sounds permeate most of it, but the nonstop pulse present throughout explains why it’s been seven years since their last album — and why this was worth the wait.
Best tracks: “A Tooth for an Eye,” “Raging Lung,” “A Cherry on Top”
5. Atoms For Peace – AMOK
Picturing Flea next to Thom Yorke originally threw me into childish giggles, but finally hearing the supergroup’s album shut me up. AMOK is like Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief combined with “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” – all stuttering electronics and driven bass, bound by Yorke’s mother-like, soothing voice, trying to ease your hidden pain without stopping you from stepping forward.
Best tracks: “Dropped,” “Ingenue,” “Reverse Running”
4. Juana Molina – Wed21
The day someone listens to this album and correctly guesses Molina’s age, I’ll tip my hat. The Argentinian singer-songwriter put out her first album in 1996, and she’s only getting fiercer with each year that passes. Wed21 shows the Alice in Wonderland side of folktronica – a drugged-up, imaginative travel that crawls through forgotten villages with names too mysterious to pronounce (unless you’re 51-years-old like she is).
Best tracks: “Eras,” “Ferocísimo,” “La Rata”
3. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II
Maybe I’m just mistaking my blushing cheeks for a warm tonality, but these dudes know how to charm their listeners. From calm annunciation to a Beatles bounce, their songs win my heart (and ears) over each time they play. The best part? Squiggly, psychedelic riffs practically mandate certain dance moves, specifically the nose-plugged, arm up, sink to the ground wiggle that’s only allowed at age six… or inside Jack Rabbit Slim’s.
Best tracks: “Swim And Sleep (Like A Shark),” “One at a Time,” “So Good At Being In Trouble”
2. Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold
Once or twice a year, a punk rock band figures out how to leave the garage location without losing the garage delivery. Brooklyn’s Parquet Courts studied up, and their debut album wastes no time explaining the lesson plan. They’ve got gripes, they’ve got synched up guitar parts, and they’ve got every second of CD space to fill. Forget fade outs: that’s a minute’s worth of sweaty solos they’re going to take.
Best tracks: “Borrowed Time,” “Stoned and Starving,” “Master of My Craft”
1. Lady Lamb the Beekeeper – Ripely Pine
Hearing Aly Spaltro transform Lady Lamb the Beekeeper from a solo act to a full band ordeal took some adjusting. Electric guitar and vocals are now backed by gorgeous sweeping strings and, oh my, drums, but the Maine native didn’t let that change the structure or snarl of her songs. Instead, she’s put out a debut studio album that has the posture and wisdom of someone who’s been on the scene for ten years. If you skip this album, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Seriously.
Best tracks: “Bird Balloons,” “You Are the Apple,” “Aubergine”
Top Five EPs
5. The Moth & The Flame – &
Rock music gets heady thanks to clean vocals and Mute Math-esque patterns.
4. Mélissa Laveaux – Memory is a Strange Bell
She’s got one hell of a voice and electronic production that reminds me of Lykke Li — keep your eyes on her.
3. Andrew Bird – I Want to See Pulaski at Night
The whistler returns with violin work for exploring marshes from the comfort of your living room.
2. Erol Alkan – Illumination EP [PH32]
London’s DJ/producer finally released solo dance material – and it’s too good to be three songs long.
1. Skinny Bones – Skinni Dip
Organic folk music made in inorganic ways illustrates those dreams that are too ethereal to describe.
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*Main photo courtesy of Laura Knapp Photography