Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Year in Music, 2013: Top 20 Albums

20. Blue Sky, Black Death - Glaciers

RIYL: Really cool sounding background music

The knock on Blue Sky, Black Death's stuff is that it works best as background music, and Glaciers is going to do absolutely nothing to dispel that theory. I really enjoyed the more suite-based approach they went for this time around, though.

19. My Bloody Valentine - m b v

RIYL: Loveless, Gazing at shoes

I can't say that I waited 20 years for this album (Loveless came out when I was 8, and I didn't really gain an appreciation for it until 2007 or so), but damned if m b v wasn't worth any duration wait.

18. Aye Nako - Unleash Yourself

RIYL: DIY pop-punk

"Molasses" would've sneaked on my song countdown if I had remembered that I did a top 30 last year, the rest of the album is just good low-fi hook-filled punkish goodness. Bonus points for giving the album away, but this one's worth buying.

17. Jon Hopkins - Immunity

RIYL: Being enveloped in IDM bliss.

This was my chillout album for a good chunk of the summer. It was the perfect album to throw on after a couple of beers to watch the sunset to.

16. Cults - Static

RIYL: Their self-titled debut

I know what will probably happen here. Cults' first album ended up being a sort of mayfly of an album. This one is probably set for the same fate, and who knows where it would've placed on this list (if at all) if it had been released in, say, February. All I know is that I'm still listening, and it still sounds great.
15. Phosphorescent - Muchacho

RIYL: Folksy Anti-Love Songs

Originally, I dismissed Muchacho as "Song For Zula plus nine other songs". That's a mistake. While none of the rest of the album quite catches up to that song's heartbreaking brilliance, it's still packed with great songs.

14. The Field - Cupid's Head

RIYL: The Field, only a little darker

This album had the benefit of coming out in a year where I finally began to really enjoy The Field's music. It also had the benefit of sounding a little darker. Weirdly enough, it made for good listening at work.

13. Foals - Holy Fire

RIYL: Sunset beaches on horseback, apparently

This album initially suffered in my eyes a bit because there aren't very many clear cut, attention grabbing hooks to it. I love Yannis Philippakis' voice, though, so I kept with it. It turns out that was a good move.

12. Fuck Buttons - Slow Focus

RIYL: Towering, slightly imposing walls of electronic music

Over the last few years, Tarot Sport has wormed its way into being one of my favorite albums, so Slow Focus had a lot to live up to. Initially, it didn't seem to make the cut, but songs like "Brainfreeze" and "Sentients" proved irresistible. I like this album more with each passing listen.

11. Frightened Rabbit - Pedestrian Verse

RIYL: Scottish dudes singing about sadness and death

This one is both more depressing and less immediate than The Winter of Mixed Drinks. Even so, it's a step forward in depth of songwriting. The songs on Pedestrian Verse grow and mature more than they have on previous albums.

10. Tegan and Sara - Heartthrob

RIYL: Really hook-filled pop music

2013 was the year that Tegan and Sara decided to imitate The Veronicas, of all people, and the results were super hooks and pop music delight.

9. The Joy Formidable - Wolf's Law

RIYL: Female-fronted Stadium-Sized Rock

Of all the albums I listened to toward the beginning of the year, this is the one that really stuck around. It's got flaws, but the big songs are HUGE and whenever I needed something to sound BIG, this was my go to.
8. Deafheaven - Sunbather

RIYL: Explosive post-rock-inspired blackgaze

I would not have expected a black metal-inspired album to break into my top 30, much less my top 10, yet here we are. It helps that Deafheaven clearly understands that crescendos are only half of the game with post-rock, the atosphere leading up to those crescendos is just as important. Deafheaven has explosive action in spades, but it knows when to dial it back. Sunbather is the type of album that makes a person search for its brother. I sort of doubt I'll find it.

7. The Haxan Cloak - Excavation

RIYL: Darkness.

No album brought about as stark a reaction as Excavation. Each listen felt like an hour-long odyssey through some long-forgotten crypt, the light having been forcibly sucked out of the room. The door slams shut on the listener in "Consumed". The next 40 minutes is just wandering the halls, waiting for the inevitable.

6. Arcade Fire - Reflektor

RIYL: Sprawling, dancey, overlong, indie rock epics.

There's too much going on here. Does the beautiful, but stuffed "Supersymetry" need to be three hours long? No. Does "You Already Know" need that bit in the beginning and ending with the faux-variety show announcer? No. The whole thing is, in equal parts, maddening and brilliant. The more I listened, the more I realized that the brilliant parts shone through, and the maddening parts just sort of faded into the background.

5. Mikal Cronin - MCII

RIYL: Jangly guitar rock

I've never really gotten into the Ty Segal collective thing. Luckily, that's in no way a prerequisite to enjoying MCII. All you really need to an appreciation for excellent, guitar rock. There's plenty of that to go around.

4. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels

RIYL: Killer Mike, El-P, or any combination therein

What a pleasant little gift this was. Dropped for free on that wonderful July afternoon, I instantly knew that this was going to be top 5. Every song just feels so BADASS.
3. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City

RIYL: Like marsbars said over on rateyourmusic: Like Vampire Weekend, but better

I've always enjoyed Vampire Weekend a fair bit - they make fun music, after all - but this album surprised me. They've always been verbose (one of their breakout songs was about Oxford Commas and Lil Jon, for crying out loud), but on Modern Vampires, they really go for broke. The emotional moments pack a little bigger wallop; the stakes are a little higher (or, as in "Ya Hey", a LOT higher). I wouldn't have guessed that they had an album like this in them, but I'm glad they did.

2. The National - Trouble Will Find Me

RIYL: Sad, bearded indie rock

High Violet was, and remains my pick for best album to come out in the 2010's (have we settled on what the last couple of decades are supposed to be called?). This one was bound to suffer in comparison, as they were never going to be able to top the somber rush of "Bloodbuzz Ohio", or the semi-serene panic of "Conversation 16". Once I was able to move beyond that, I was able to view Trouble Will Find Me as an excellent album made by one of my favorite bands.

1. Sigur Rós - Kveikur


Valtari felt like a return of sorts for Sigur Rós after the "poppier" Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust (not to mention Jónsi's solo album). That said, repeated listens made it feel like something was missing. Whether it was the squall of Ágætis Byrjun or the steady propulsion of ( ), it felt... lacking.

Kveikur is not lacking.

There's a lot of talk of this being a darker album, or that it's more influenced by industrial music. That only seems true when compared to Valtari or Með Suð Í Eyrum Við Spilum Endalaust. Sigur Rós' earlier stuff could certainly seem pretty like a sunrise, but there was always a tumultuous undercurrent. With large parts of Kveikur it feels like they simply brought it to the foreground. However, deeper listens reveal lots of break sin the clouds. "Ísjaki" is one of the most beautiful songs they've ever written, and that's by no means an outlier.

I had hailed Valtari as a "return to form". Kveikur proves that while that may have been true, it's far more exciting to watch this band head off in interesting new directions.


  1. For some odd reason, I didn't pick up the mbv album yet. Hmm.

  2. I really love The National, and this album was no exception. If you asked me to put into words what it was about them that made me love them, I couldn't. I just feel some sort of connection that is more than superficial, their music just really hits me down deep.