2013 was a pretty phenomenal year for music. So good, in fact, that when making this list I had to ask some hard questions about some of my favorite artists. Take The National, for instance, is #8 Trouble Will Find Me an example of mature, remarkably consistent song craft or is it more of the same from a band some of my friends insist is boring midtempo rock for white people?
Phoenix, another reliable list standby, fell out of the list completely when I realized that beyond the buoyant “Entertainment” and the even brighter, better second single “Trying To Be Cool” (sans R. Kelly version), I couldn’t really remember any of the songs from Bankrupt!. I probably ranked Volcano Choir too high at #6, but only because Repave only has 8 tracks and is way better than any side project has any right to be.
Arcade Fire, despite inspired production and subverting expectations, slid out of the top 10 and into honorable mention where the band sits alongside CHVRCHES who put out an excellent debut album but couldn’t edge out wordless brilliance from #10 Explosions In The Sky and #9 Gold Panda. Even Hammock, an automatic qualifier in my Top Ten, slid into honorable mention status. Not because Oblivion Hymns isn’t a great record but because it isn’t quite on the level of last year’s decade-defining Departure Songs.
10. Explosions In The Sky with David Wingo Prince Avalanche (Temporary Residence)
For many people, movies are as sacred as a church experience. So with that in mind this album is a widescreen, spiritually inclined and expertly composed dose of inspiration for the agnostic cinemaphile in all of us.
9. Gold Panda Half of Where You Are (Ghostly International)
If I had known that a laptop would be the key to discovering the secrets of the universe, I probably would’ve paid more attention in Basic Computer Skills.
8. The National Trouble Will Find Me (4AD)
I know getting older means being target-marketed by retailers and insurance PR firms, but when a band sings about my inner turmoil, I don’t mind one bit. We are all hurtling towards the end, might as well be in the boat together.
7. Neko Case The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You (Anti-)
I can’t play this record with the kids in the car, but it is likely the best and boldest statement album you’ll hear this year. I’ve been a fan ever since I watched Case outshine Mellencamp, Tweedy and T-Bone Burnett in Golden Gate Park at dusk.
6. Volcano Choir Repave (Jagjaguwar)
“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?”
― Ernest Hemingway
5. Waxahatchee Cerulean Salt (Don Giovanni)
Re-purposing grunge tricks like verses-chorus-verse and bass-drums-vocals, Katie Crutchfield’s solo project sounds like the work of a bonafide ROCK band in a year of anthemic EDM and indie-folk-minimalism.
4. Jars of Clay Inland (Gray Matters)
It’s hard to believe that this is the same band who put out the Frail demo that some Wheaton college kids passed on to my friends and I at our Christian high school in Moscow, Russia. Jars of Clay have put out back to back indie pop classics and all signs point forward. Free of the CCM machine, the band fronted by Dan Haseltine, activist-vegan-author, seems to have struck a new vein of deep, courageous gold.
3. Wild Cub Youth (Big Light/Mom+Pop)
If we’re going to get technical about things, this record was first released in 2012 and then will be re-released in 2014. But let’s not get hung up on silly details, Youth is a smashing debut album (recorded on a four track tape recorder) that announces itself with crisp, immediately singable songs that will haunt the listener all winter and spring. Maybe summer too.
2. Shout Out Louds Optica (Merge)
“Losing sucks, and especially to the Jets.” -Tom Brady. “I don’t care what anyone says, every Shout Out Louds album is stupid good.” – Ryan Townsend.
1. Local Natives Hummingbird (FrenchKiss)
Look for a full length post on this album tomorrow!