#20. Haken – The Mountain
I am starting to get bored with a lot of progressive music these days. It takes a lot for a progressive band to stand out to me, especially if I have never listened to them before. I passed over the new Haken album a few times when it was presented to me by my various “you may like this!” applications and processes I use to discover new music. Every time I saw it, with that tag of progressive on it, I just thought…ugh, does the world really need another prog band. Then, one day I was having a conversation with my friend Pete about how disappointing the new Dream Theater album was. We were talking about our waning interest in the genre in general, when Pete brought up the band Haken. He told me I had to check them out. So, I went back and found their album and gave it a listen. I instantly loved it. Yeah, it had that metal tinged prog style that bands like Dream Theater have been riding for ages, but there was something unique about this album. It was refreshing, unique, and really enjoyable to listen to. I think the most important thing for me, when it comes to progressive music in general is necessity. Prog Rock is a genre of excess. It’s all about insane guitar solos and intricate time changes. But, if those things come off as arbitrary (like the new Dream Theater album) it makes the music seem masturbatory. Yeah, we get it, you can play really intricate and complex parts, but why? Why are they here? Now, I know this concept is extremely subjective, but on The Mountain, everything has its place. The leads seem like the need to be where they are, rather than just being done for the sake of being done. I also love the art-prog, Gentile Giant influence as well as the really cool electronic glitch part on “Because It’s There”. Overall, this album gave me hope for a genre that was losing my interest, quickly.
19. Milo – Things That Happen At Day // Things That Happen At Night
Hey, look! It’s a hip-hop album on my list. There are actually two that made my list this year (if I had heard Oddisee before finalizing my list there probably would have been three). Milo is a geeky, wrestling obsessed, vegetarian who raps about Schopenhauer, veggie bacon, and Rowdy Roddy Piper. His lines switch back and forth from nerdy geek culture references to philosophically deep ramblings and I love it. I love that he references Hegel and Teamspeak and Legends of the Hidden Temple. He takes the concept of nerdcore hip-hop and legitimizes it to something that is more than novelty. That being said, I wish I could have put this album higher on my list. It’s unique and different and deserves to be listened to. It’s lyrics are compelling and interesting and extremely deep, which is why it is my #19 album. That being said, the album lacks direction. I know this is technically two EP’s combined into an album, but it seems to meander rather than flow. Even the separate EP’s lack something that would make them conceptually whole. The beats are minimal, which allows the lyrics to stand out, but they are also boring at times. I want to see where Milo goes, because hip-hop needs more minds like his, I just wish this album had a little bit more to it in terms of production.
18. Marijuana Deathsquads – Oh My Sexy Lord
This band may well be my favorite discovery of 2013. They are an experimental, noise rock super-group from Minneapolis. There music is largely improvised, chaotic, and infectious. It has a groove to it that just takes you over. I think the best way to describe them is this: Take Mars Volta, remove the guitars and replace them with electronic instruments. They have this tribal groove that caught my attention from the first listen, and I just can’t get enough of this strange band. I’d like to think they are making the music I would make if I had more confidence to do stranger things. The two drummers adds to the groove of the album, and even though I tend to be adamantly against vocal effects, they work well with this band. This is a studio album, and I think the only negative thing I can say is that it loses some of the intensity that their live performances have. That being said, the album flows extremely well, and I am always caught off guard when it’s over. I hope these guys keep making music together, because I seriously can not get enough of their strange, hypnotic noise jams.
17. Message to Bears – Maps
My wife originally sent me a song from this band, a couple of years ago. They had this chill, folky charm to them that made me keep my eye out for more. When I downloaded their latest album, I was surprised to hear the overwhelming electronic presence on this album. It seems Message to Bears was also hit by the electro-tinge of 2013, and boy they do it right. This album takes the ambient, relaxed folksy sound of previous Message To Bears albums and incorporates the electronic parts in such a fantastic way. They really meld well together, to make a unique ambient experience that reminds me of all the things I used to love about The Album Leaf. I love the way the natural instruments work so well with the electronic production, and the repeated use of what I can only assume is a theremin is expertly done. The hushed vocals add depth without being overbearing, and the use of auto-tune is artful and not overdone. I can’t stress this enough. I love auto-tune when it is used in an artistic fashion, rather than a clutch, but this year especially, too many artists have overdone it. This album uses the tool in a unique way that I can only compare to James Blake, except it doesn’t annoy the hell out of me. It’s a quiet, atmospheric experience, and I highly recommend it.
16. Jon Hopkins – Immunity
I am very picky about electronic music. I am picky about how it is used when it is incorporated into other music, and I am even more picky about pure electronic music. This album was a late comer to the mix, and was added because I realized that one album on my list was not nearly as good as I had originally thought, and I had an open spot. I had a few albums that I thought deserved to be on my list after I made it, and this one was the one that got on. Normally, the mind numbing repetition of traditional techno and house music turns me off to it, but there was something in this album that helped me to see past the droning nature of some of the songs and see the details that were occurring underneath. I was originally drawn to the album for its more ambient moments, but surprisingly, the acid-house influence actually grew on me as I continued to listen. I love the glitchy rhythmic parts, over the chill ambient music. I particularly enjoy the sparse piano and guitar lines that lead the songs from ambient haze into a quiet, pulsating techno beat. Even though I tend to avoid favorite tracks when dealing with a list of best albums, I have to point out that Form by Firelight was one of my favorites and inspirational in the way it melded ambient music with almost Adventure Time-y glitchiness. This album is an ambient album that helped me to appreciate another style of music more, and that makes it very special to me.
15. The Head and the Heart – Let’s Be Still
I remember when all the cool bands were indie-folk. It was a cool time. Back before EDM made its way into everything. Bands like The Head and the Heart could make it on their beautiful harmonies. Well, now its 2013 and The Head and the Heart have released their sophomore effort, and it is extremely strong. It’s more indie than folk, but that is not a bad thing. It has the occasional synth (because no album released in 2013 was allowed to be released without at least one synth track). But the most important parts from the indie-folk scene are there. Gang oohs and ahhs in wonderful three-part harmony. Deep lyrics that really speak to the deepest part of you. This album actually reminded me of classic The Wallflowers. The Head and The Heart really did a great job of solidifying their sound in one of the strongest albums overall of the year.
14. Hey Marseilles – Lines We Trace
Speaking of indie folk, lets talk about Hey Marseilles. I loved their first album. They were an indie-folk group in the same vein with The Decemberists and I just loved their charming sound. On their second album, they stepped it up, especially on the orchestral side. The use of trumpets, bass clarinets, strings and more make this album a truly magical experience. The songwriting is incredible, from the lush arrangements to the lyrics. Especially with The Decemberists choosing to pursue REM style boring rock, it’s nice to see a band that is not afraid to keep up with the orchestral arrangements in indie rock. This is another album of what I would consider walking music. It is music that gives your steps purpose. It makes you look around and notice the magic that surrounds you. It’s the kind of music that helps put you in a better mood, and see the beauty of life.
13. Sigur Ros – Kveikur
Sigur Ros is one of my favorite bands. So, when they release a new album, there is a good chance that its going to be on my list. Sigur Ros returned, less than a year from releasing one of my favorites from 2013 “Valtari” and this time it was more structured and decidedly more dark than both Valtari and most of their work. This album is by far Sigur Ros’ most concise album, with only one song breaking seven minutes, and normally that would scare me. I like My Sigur Ros atmospheric and rambling. But for this album, it actually fits quite well. I love the way that Sigur Ros created a darker album in their own terms. It’s distorted, but angelic. It’s harsh, but beautiful. It’s loud, yet subtle. It’s an album that only Sigur Ros could do, and they did it wonderfully. It definitely stands out for me in their collection of incredible music. You can read my full review of it here: http://doesitsuckreviews.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/sigur-ros-kveikur/
12. Marijuana Deathsquads – Music Rocks I & II
Hey look, it’s this band again. This album was released for free from their website (Link HERE) and it is actually two EP’s combined into one album. The reason this album beat out their full length studio release is because the second half of the album (the second EP) was recorded live and really captures the intensity and energy of this band. The thing I love most about this band is watching and listening to them perform. My favorite thing they have done is a youtube video of one of their residences where they just go for almost a half hour straight. The themes weave in and out, repeating grooves and absolutely stunning percussion from the bands two drummers. This album captures that so well. It’s less structured than their full length, but its in that chaos that I really fall in love with this band. It’s improvised, frantic, spastic noise jams that I am addicted to, and this album was exactly that.
11. The Dear Hunter – Migrant
The Dear Hunter is another of my all time favorite bands. Casey Crecsenzo is one of my favorite song-writers out there. I love his grand scheme concepts (The six act story he is currently three acts through, or The Color Spectrum). This album actually surprised me because it was a departure from his crazy concepts. I am really happy he decided to just make an album with no preconception, just write songs as they seem fit, because it is some of his strongest writing to date. This album is full of energy. Songs like “Whisper”, “Let Go” and “An Escape” are wonderful, anthemic rock songs. The album is more straightforward than previous works, and reminds me most of the orange and red EP’s from The Color Spectrum. It’s rock, but it has these moments of orchestration and writing that really make it stand out. I think it is this more subtle genius that makes the album one of the strongest things The Dear Hunter has done. One thing I have to point out, “Shame” will always remind me of “Lover I don’t Have to Love” by Bright Eyes. Yeah, the chorus is different and really makes it its own unique song, but man…especially at the beginning. I thought he was covering Bright Eyes the first time I heard this song. But, other than that one little “issue” this album is full of incredible moments and on a whole is an incredible journey of music, from start to finish.