So I may have missed the New Year’s excitement by a couple of weeks with this post, but figured it’s better to have a bit of time to reflect on something so groundbreakingly significant as a list of the best music released over 12 months…
2012’s list had some amazing albums, some still getting such regular plays I thought they’d come out this year (ahem, looking at you Solos, Woods, Menomena, Deerhoof, Dirty Projectors, Mt Eerie, Grizzly Bear, Goat).
Anyway. Enough babble. Let there be music in list format!
(In no particular order)
1. Califone – Stitches
Califone (Chicago) have been pushing boundaries for a few years now (16 years in fact!) but this year they created one of the most listenable and quaintly beautiful albums I’ve heard for a long time. After a few listens, I much preferred it to their previous work, but it also provides an excellent introduction to their previous albums, particularly worth a listen are Quicksand/Cradlesnakes and All My Friends Are Funeral Singers.
I was lucky enough to catch them at the Lexington (London) this year, and it blew my mind. Some bands are great when they recreate their records live, some better when they let rip and make something new and vibrant.
Tim Rutili’s vocals were perfect live. Somehow even more honeyed and deep. I nearly looked over my shoulder when Magdalene proclaimed, “Jesus don’t take me down the rabbit hole”. The rest of the band create such an atmosphere that the whole gig transported the audience down a psychedelic rabbit hole…
This is Frosted Tips:
2. The Men – New Moon
Since 2008 The Men (New York) have been loosely pulling together scuzzy post-punk nuggets, with 2012’s Open Your Heart also excellent. However in 2013, New Moon sprawled out of them and lurched from traditional garage and punk, through to noise rock and more melodic tracks.
This is a seriously ambitious and versatile band, and this album reflects a complete rejection of pigeon-holing via genre. The generic term indie rock is probably the least restrictive that would loosely fit them.
Regardless, have a listen to Half Angel, Half Light:
3. Mikal Cronin – MCII
As a regular collaborator and band member for Ty Segall, Mikal Cronin (California) seems to be stepping out into the spotlight with this album. He released this album while still playing regularly with Segall, but this comes with a far more accessible and chirpy nature than their collaborations.
Clearly influenced by 80s and 90s college rock and an assortment of indie from that era, the album is a fun and bouncy listen from start to finish.
This one’s called The Weight:
4. Kurt Vile – Wakin On A Pretty Daze
Similar to The Men, Kurt Vile’s (Philadelphia) last album hinted at what was to come (2011’s Smoke Ring For My Halo). Easily comparable to Neil Young or Lou Reed, Kurt Vile has also learned well from the noise rockers and grungers that have gone before, but brings a soulful melodiousness that lets vocal and guitar riffs sail over the listener a la Tim Buckley.
This is an album that will last and keep getting better with time.
Here’s KV Crimes:
5. Low – The Invisible Way
Low (Minnesota) consistently put out excellent albums, but seem to get treated like a second rate Yo La Tengo. They may not experiment as much, but with The Invisible Way in 2013 they proved the darkness of their music, doesn’t require dark and heavy guitars to scare the bejeebers out of the listener.
Lots has been said about Low before, so here are some apposite adjectives; haunting, slowcore, minimalist, dark, delicate, hypnotic.
This album was produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. Just Make It Stop is a great song, but I still prefer this, Plastic Cup:
6. Foxygen – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
These next two tracks are unashamedly pop. Listening to Foxygen (very California), you can hear them stealing riffs and melodies from Elvis, Bowie, and basically every other classic rock icon you can think of. To start with it grates, but they aren’t just “Oasis’ing” the Beatles, Foxygen are bringing their own angles and flavours to it all (as well as lyrics of course).
The album is extremely easy to listen to (once you’re past the above) and there are many catchy tracks it would make sense to highlight. This was the first I heard, and sticks with me as a favourite from the album; No Destruction:
7. Son Lux – Lanterns
Son Lux (Colorado) aka Ryan Lott, debuted in 2008 and has been touring and working hard ever since. I probably wouldn’t have come across this album, but for my ongoing obsession with Joyful Noise Recordings who released it. Listening to it you can hear how much work has gone into the careful crafting of each second.
Reminiscent of the rampant laptop production scene that was all the rage a few years ago, this rises above most other releases because of its grace and sincerity. I’m sure there are many more suitable comparisons, but Lamb and Portishead spring to mind listening to this, if only for the feeling that someone has put an awful lot of effort into producing something beautiful for you, and you should jolly well sit down and listen to it.
This one’s superb, called Lost It To Trying:
8. Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety
So this is probably the album I’m currently least familiar with. It’s had rave reviews across the board, and there’s no doubting Arthur Ashin has impressive vocal skills, but I will still be interested to see if this album lasts the test of time.
It’s definitely worth a listen and there’s a lot of interesting stuff happening here, so be prepared to be hit with multiple ideas a minute.
9. John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts
Another album that’s had widespread critical acclaim, and to my tastes a clearer choice as a quality piece of work that’ll last.
I hadn’t come across John Grant before this year, but will certainly be investigating his older material on the strength of this. He’s combined electronic sound sensibilities with a keen folk know-how to produce something other that is both interesting and immediately engaging.
This one is called Glacier:
10. Bill Callahan – Dream River
On to more familiar territory here, as a long time Bill Callahan fan, both when he recorded as Smog and more recently, he’s had the EMIdas (apologies) touch for a while. This isn’t the greatest album he’s ever done, but it’s top 5 and from him that makes it an excellent record.
11. Phosphorescent – Song For Zula
Matthew Houck put out his first recording as Phosphorescent (Georgia) in 2003, and a decade on, this album finds him totally comparable to the likes of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Bill Callahan and Iron And Wine.
There’s an element of the psychedelic and an effervescent, all-pervasive Californian feel to the album that makes it feel sunshine drenched, and perfect summer music. If you’re currently in the Northern hemisphere suffering the depths of winter, put this on for a glimmer of sunshine pouring from your speakers.
12. Grouper – The Man Who Died In His Boat
I got into Grouper (Portland) with 2008’s Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill. They will never smack you in the face with outrageous guitar riffs or fiery lyrics, but given time, these albums will become like an inner voice that accompanies you everywhere. Singer Liz Harris is phenomenal, both in her lyricism and delivery.
This one is a good sampler of the album called Living Room:
13. Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe
This is ethereal, beautiful, escapist, ingenious, understated. It’s pointless writing anything more about this album. It will transport you and enrich your life immediately. Julianna Barwick (New York) is one of the most welcome additions to my handful of favourite artists for a long time.
This is One Half: