It’s the end of the year and that means people are making stupid promises to themselves they can’t keep and making lists. I am going to engage in the latter with this list of the best albums of 2013. Last year I chose the top 25, but this year there was so much good music, I decided to extend it to my top 40 albums of the year. Before I get started, there are a few things you need to know about my list.
1. I could only include albums I listened to. Now, I tried super hard to listen to as much music as possible throughout the year (especially this last month, where I spent lots of time checking out music from other people’s lists) but I can only talk about music I actually heard, you know?
2. My opinion does play a large role in this. I can pretend like this is all about objectivity, but in reality, if you released some bullshit artistic expression that I will never listen to again, you are not going on my list, no matter how significant other reviewers think you are. I will leave comments as to why I believe this album deserves its spot on the list. I try to look at the music from as many angles as possible, holding artistic integrity in very high regards.
3. I do not include EP’s, live albums, or any other weird releases in my list. To be on this list, you gotta be a full length. There is one slight exception to that on my list (which actually happens four times), which is the idea of multiple EP’s being combined to make one album. Each of these works as a cohesive album, and therefore I allowed it on the list.
4. There were many other albums I loved this year that just didn’t quite make the list. I will release an honorary mentions list afterwards where I will go through why those albums didn’t quite make it.
5. Even though the order does matter in my list, just being on this list means that I considered the album to be over the highest quality. I say this because an album being #40 is still an amazing album. I just believe that album #39 did something to captivate me more.
6. I spent a long time thinking and listening before making this list. Probably more time than I should have. I had a list of almost 200 albums that I listened all the way through before putting it together. I really wanted to make sure I covered as much music as I could before putting the list together.
7. I’m gonna be up front, Kanye West’s new album is nowhere on this list. It was absolute shit, and could be my least favorite album of the year. It will be on a different list, that will be coming soon.
Okay, so now that we got all of that out of the way, lets begin.
40. Sin Fang – Flowers
Sin Fang was always one of those artists who I was told I would like, and I would download, but I would never get super into. I am not 100% sure the reason why, but this solo project from Sindri Már Sigfússon of Seabear, never caught my attention. So, when it came to putting my list together this year, I decided to give Sin Fang’s “Flowers” my full attention, and I am very happy that I did. It does a good job of combining more orchestrated indie folk with some really unique electronic tinges. All in all, I am very happy I gave Sin Fang my attention, because this album is worth it. It starts off my list because its fun, interesting, and does a great job of combining some really cool sounds to make an overall enjoyable album.
39. Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
Boards of Canada returns with a really tight collection of haunting, minimal, hazy ambient electronic tracks that flow in and out of each other to make an amazing, cohesive album. I love their slightly out of tune oscillators and barely wobbling pitch LFO’s. I love how everything has just a touch of noise to it, not to the point where it is abrasive, but just enough to add a wonderful layer of haze. Some might find this album a bit to repetitive and slow-moving, but the slow-moving minimal tracks have always been my favorite from this band, so I adore this album. Not to say the more built up tracks are bad, because they are not. Boards of Canada does a great job of doing little things to keep their simple but beautiful tracks going. Its to pull of musical minimalism well, and they do it.
38. Streetlight Manifesto – The Hands That Thieve
I feel like when it comes to bands like Streetlight Manifesto, you either get really into an album or you don’t care at all. I absolutely loved their first album, “Everything Goes Numb” but for some reason I could not get into their follow-up, “Somewhere In Between”. So, when I heard they were releasing a new album, I was actually not very excited. But then I heard “The Three of Us” and I was sold. The song, like the album shows a level of complexity that you normally don’t see in ska music that I just love. The song structures are really interesting and keep you guessing. The horns are absolutely on fire. I just can’t get enough of this song. I think the problem with “Somewhere in Between” at least for me, was it was just not unique enough. Maybe if I listened to it more, I would see the things that make it good, but this album really caught my attention right from the start, and kept going strong. Also, with all the bullshit that this band has had to deal with their label, they deserve to know that fans still stand behind them, and this fan absolutely does. The title track may be one of my favorites of the year, because it is just so much dang fun. And their IV-I-vi-V outro is just so freaking epic. Love it.
37. How To Destroy Angels – Welcome Oblivion
This album is the first in an ongoing theme that you will see on this list. Essentially, I noticed time and time again bands releasing albums that I had really high hopes for, and those albums disappointing me. Then, smaller bands I really didn’t know what to think of, doing exactly what I wanted out of the bands that disappointed me. Sorry if that sounds confusing, it goes like this: How to Destroy Angels made the Nine Inch Nails album I was hoping for. You will see that line over and over again in this list. “BAND A made the BAND B album I was hoping for.” Now, I know with this band its kind of unfair, because How to Destroy Angels very well could be labeled NIN and no one would really care, but whatever. This album is fantastic. I really didn’t think I would get this into it, but man is it good. It manages to keep things going without dragging (like the NIN album does) but also doesn’t go too far out there that it breaks flow (again, like the NIN album does). It flows well, the choice of sounds is amazing, and it just feels so right. This album was definitely Trent’s best effort in a while (I would say since Ghosts). Not to discount Mariqueen Maandig’s part, because her beautiful voice really pulls the whole project together.
36. Dawn of Midi – Dysnomia
When I first heard this band, I genuinely thought everything they were doing was generated by a computer. It sounded like a pretty standard rhythmic focused minimal project. Then I saw them perform live. I found out that they are a three piece jazz group that creates all their sounds organically. Man, did I fall in love with watching these guys play. Not only do I love their rhythmic and hypnotizing sound, but watching the way the play with subtle changes and dampening their instruments to create every sound that comes out was just too cool. Love this band. Love the way they are connecting the genre dots and putting their unique spin on both jazz and electronic minimalism. This is one of those more experimental ideas that I totally connected with and fell in love with.
35. Grouplove – Spreading Rumors
This album is fast, energetic and fun. Holy shit is this album fun. I could never not be into this album purely because it is just so much fun. I just love their high energy, nonstop fun style. It reminds me of all the things I used to like about Cage the Elephant. Grouplove made the Cage the Elephant album I was hoping for. Yeah, they are not as chaotic as “Thank you, Happy Birthday” but its got all the energy and chaos that I expected Cage the Elephant to bring to their latest album (and sadly they did not.) I love their expressive vocals and unique and high energy instrumentation. They are another band that was touched by the electro-tinge of 2013, but they did it so well, that I don’t even mind. It just fit into their rocky jam sound. This album, more than anything else, makes me feel really good when I listen to it, and I need more of that.
34. Hammock – Oblivion Hymns
“My mind was a fog… My heart became a bomb, Then the quiet explosion. Turning into tiny particles…Floating through empty space, live a valley with no echo holding your absence. Shored against the ruins, drowning in ten directions. I ould hear the water at the edge of all things. In the middle of this nowhere, hope becomes a loss. Tres Domine.” That quote is the titles of the songs, but together. And I feel like it really does a good job of capturing how this album sounds. I sometimes get frustrated with Post Rock/Ambient bands being too casual with their song titles, but man reading through the names of the songs just now really hit me in a profound way. Anyways, Hammock does minimal post-rock ambience and man do they do it well. A lot of people thought that this band could not possibly follow-up their last epic album, “Departure Songs” (which was on my list last year) but I believe this album is stronger than “Departure Songs” if for no other reason than it’s length. Now, I love long albums. I love double album concepts and long songs. I have a playlist of the best songs that break 20 minutes. But, I felt that Departure Songs had just a little bit of padding that could have not been there and it wouldn’t have affected the album. On Oblivion Hymns, every song feels necessary on this journey through sound. This album is Hammock, continuing to improve their craft. Put it on and fall through space and time.
33. Polica – Shulamith
Not gonna lie, I was originally not planning on putting this album on my list. I am kind of sick of this Midwest, auto-tuned 80’s pop movement. I didn’t really get into Polica’s first album, so I wasn’t expecting this album to wow me. But, as I kept hearing a friend of mine raving about how great this album was, I decided to give it a second shot, and you know what, I liked it. I love the use of two drum sets to create some wonderfully groovy songs. I love how much more you get to hear Channy Leaneagh’s vocals without tons of processing on them, because man does she have an incredible voice. Of all the electro-pop-R&B 80’s inspired bands to release albums this year, this one was the only one to make my list, just because its more interesting than the others. I really think the two drummers play a part in that. And the bassist. The rhythm section of this band is so freaking tight, it really adds to the beeps and boops and even makes the occasional auto-tuned moans more enjoyable. This was a really good year for Ryan Olson, as this is one of three albums from him on this list.
32. Protest the Hero – Volition
This album rocks. So fucking hard. It’s so metal. It’s over the top, power metal, and I love it. I can’t really say much else about this band. Their licks are tight and complex without being too “wanky”. Their double bass is blasting a lot. The vocalist is a bad-ass who manages to make the power singer sound awesome. If you ever listen to this band with me, be prepared for me to yell about how tight the breakdowns are, because they are fucking tight. This album rocked harder than any other album this year, ’nuff said.
31. Rue Royale – Remedies Ahead
I originally found Rue Royale when I was looking for deeper songs to sing during my house church meetings. I was sick of the shallow lyricism of most modern “worship” music, and I was looking for lyrics that had depth. Lyrics that made you think. Somehow, in my searches, I stumbled upon Rue Royale, and I just fell in love with this band. They were a small band with obviously lower production than bigger groups, but I loved their songwriting. With their latest album they definitely stepped up the production, but they did an amazing job of leaving space in their mixes, something that I struggle with. This album is so well produced. Just their choice of sounds and loops and organic and synthesized are all fantastic. And they still have that deep and meaningful songwriting that originally drew me to them. This is another band that handled the electro-tinge of 2013 with style and grace. Just a wonderful progression of an already amazing and under-appreciated band.
30-21 coming soon!