Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My Favorite Music Of 2013

2013 hasn't been the best year for music. There hasn't been much at all that has completely grabbed my attention or wowed me from the get-go - and there hasn't been much of any that have grown on me over time. Albums that I loved at the beginning of the year haven't really held up over the months.

I had a hard time picking up albums this year, too. There are several that I would still like to get that I was unable to get yet this year. Those maybe would have altered this list. But I guess we'll never know...

All that said, these are the albums I have consistently enjoyed over 2013, with a clear cut #1. The rest could move up and down depending on my mood.

My Favorite Music of 2013

1. Scout Niblett: It's Up to Emma
Scout has definitely created a sound all her own and on It's Up to Emma, she perfects it. This might be one of the greatest break-up albums of all time. Full of anger, sadness, bitterness. The album opener, "Gun", speaks to buying a gun and well...the ex and the new girl are not going to see it coming.

From the moment the first strum hits and then those pounding drums kick in, I knew I was going to love this album. It's dark. It takes me back to those grunge days that I grew up with, yet it feels totally modern. It's simple. She sticks to many of the same chord progressions and vibe throughout the album, but it never gets boring. It's thematic. It's honest. It's raw. It's beautiful.

Oh, and there's also an awesome and not at all cheesy cover of TLC's "No Scrubs".

Top Four Tracks Because I Can't Narrow It Down To Three: "Gun", "My Man", "Second Chance Dreams", "What Can I Do?"

2. Veronica Falls: Waiting for Something to Happen
Blissful indie-pop/rock. Catchy hooks. Lovely harmonies. Put it on and drive kind of music. This is just an overall fun record. It's easy to listen to - and I don't mean that in a bad way. I put it on knowing nothing about them and it immediately hooked me. In fact, just thinking about how much I enjoy this album as I type this bumped it from #3 to #2 (sorry, Cloud Cult).

Top Three Tracks: "Tell Me", "Teenage", "Fall Out"

3. Cloud Cult: Love
A new Cloud Cult album always brings happiness. This one came at just the right time for me. It pretty much embodied exactly what was going on in my life at the time. It summed up how I was feeling. It helped me make sense of things. It gave me advice on how to get through it.

Love takes me back to their early days. It feels like the Cloud Cult that I originally fell in love with. A good mixture of folk and rock and singalongs and big soaring Cloud Cult moments. Craig Minowa always seems to know exactly what to say. He can perfectly sum up a thought and with the music, Cloud Cult can pin point a feeling and bring you exactly where you need to go.

Top Three Tracks: "You're the Only Thing in Your Way", "Good Friend", "Meet Me Where You're Going"

4. Tristen: CAVES
I stumbled onto Tristen a couple of years ago when she opened for The Elected at Triple Rock Social Club. I picked up her album from her at the show because I kind of liked what I heard and then ended up listening to that album, Charlatans at the Garden Gate, non-stop. When I heard she was doing a Kickstarter for her new album, I didn't hesitate to back it. CAVES is the result of that Kickstarter.

CAVES is a bit of a departure from Charlatans. She's left behind the folksy/roots rockier side of things and turned on the dance machine and it serves her well. There is a very big 80s synth influence throughout the album - particularly a strong Eurythmics vibe.

There's just something I really enjoy about her voice. She has a way of pronouncing certain words when she sings that is somewhat jarring at first (but not in a Tori Amos WTF are you doing way)  but then totally grows on you. It's super sweet, yet she has this snarl/growl that comes out when she really belts out the big notes that I just love. And she can belt them out. Car singalongs leave my throat in major pain.

Lesson: Don't skip the opener. You could really miss out.

Top Three Tracks: "No One's Gonna Know", "Catalyst", "Forgiveness"

5. The White Whales: Lakestate
The White Whales were a fast favorite for me. Since I first saw them playing a show with a friend's band, to playing a couple of shows with me, I was super excited for them to release this album.When I first heard the teaser snippet of the title track, I knew this would be an Album of the Year contender for me. Lead singer Matthew Schufman has one of those voices that immediately draws you in - just enough quirk to prick up your ears, yet so smooth that it keeps you listening. The music is just good indie rock, right in the mix with The National as far as style goes. The album is dynamic lyrically and once again the title track's line "don't dream about the ocean in a lake state" got me right in the heart. I think any landlocked state inhabitant can get what that means.

Top Three Tracks: "Lakestate", "Summer Ghost", "Skeletons"

6. Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs: Mosquito
I've been surprised to hear that most people didn't care for this album. I can see how it's not for everybody, but I still think there's a lot of good here. I was never one for their early early noisy stuff so this album doesn't seem that weird to me - and considering they've long departed from that sound, Mosquito seems like a suitable next step.

The album opens with "Sacrilege" and Karen O's always stellar vocals veering from super sweet to her signature snarl line by line and then follows that up with a gospel choir. It's a very genre-inclusive album, mixing odd rock tunes like "Area 52", rap cameos from Dr. Octagon in "Buried Alive", and utter beauty with "Despair" and "Wedding Song" closing out the album. To some it might seem scattered and unfocused. To me, it means it has something to fit whatever mood I'm in.

But, I will say, this might be my least favorite album cover ever.

Top Three Tracks: "Despair", "Subway", "Sacrilege"

7. Strange Relations: Ghost World
Lead singer and drummer Casey Sowa's voice has quickly become one of my favorites on the scene and with it, Strange Relations pack a lot of emotion into this EP. Not quite in the shoegazer rock category - though that's about as close as I can describe them - they've really put together their own sound in such a short time frame. It's also another one of those albums that upon first listen, you might just think this sounds cool. But then you listen again and again and you catch more and more of the lyrics and you realize the words are really cool, too. As a lyrics person, that's important to me.

Top Three Tracks: "Or Telepathy", "Endurance", "Ghost World"

8. Caroline Smith: Half About Being a Woman
Where did the folksinger go?  She's turned herself into an R&B queen. Gone are the acoustic guitars and in are the heavy beats and soulful vocals. I was really unsure if this was something I would go for. Not that I don't enjoy this style of music, just that I really loved Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps and all that they did. But this album surprised me. She really pulled it off. Kudos to her for knowing what she wants to do and just going for it full force.

This album is full on R&B and verging on old soul. Unlike the live performances I've seen of these songs, Caroline handles all of the vocals herself while her band, still there just changing up the sound, handles the new direction like they've been doing it all along.

Top Three Tracks: "Half About Being a Woman", "Magazine", "Child of Moving On"

9. Phosphorescent: Muchacho
Honestly not quite sure what to say about this album except that I just like it. It's folksy yet somewhat experimental. The songs are packed with emotion. "Song for Zula" is truly an amazing piece of work. And though there are definitely some songs on here that I'll continuously skip, the ones that I don't are stellar and I believe I'll enjoy them just as much in the future if not more.

Top Three Tracks: "Song for Zula", "Muchaho's Tune", "Terror in the Canyons"

 10. Lucy Michelle: Attack of the Heart
Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles (who have recently renamed themselves Field Trip) have been a favorite of mine for a few years now. I wasn't sure what to expect from Lucy for a solo album. Though the overall Lucy Michelle sound still peaks through on Attack of the Heart, she really did manage to create a new sound for herself. The songs veer toward piano driven jazzy pop. Saxophones and upright bass dance along with beats that make it hard to not snap your fingers along. It's still very throwback, which suits her voice, but it just throws back to a different time. She's left the mountains and gypsies behind here to meet up with the smokey jazz clubs of the 20s. And it works.

Top Three Tracks: "Heart Race", "Can I Confide", "Beat Like Mine"

Bonus: Rilo Kiley: RKives 
This really would be in my Top 5 releases of 2013, but I felt weird having a compilation album amongst the albums filled with new material - even though this material is new to most people, half of it features songs from hard to find singles and soundtracks. I've had some of these songs from various sources in my music library for some time now. But it's nice to have them all in one place.

The songs on here that I've hadn't heard are phenomenal and a reminder of how excellent this band is/was. I mean, these are the songs that they left off of albums for whatever reason and they are still some of the best I've heard by this band or from other bands this year. RKives is a great starting point for anyone looking to check out Rilo Kiley.

Top Three Tracks: "Draggin' Around", "I Remember You", "It'll Get You There"

Honorable Mentions: 

Gospel Gossip: Gospel Gossip
Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City
Volcano Choir: Repave
Beyond these albums that I love, like I said above, there are always a stack of albums come the end of the year that I wanted to get but was unable to for whatever reason. Usually money. Then either for Christmas or shortly after the new year, I end up getting them and falling in love with them and thinking, man, this would definitely be in my Top 10 for last year. Those albums I'm hoping to get soon because I know they are probably awesome and I will love them:

Agnes Obel: Aventine
Camera Obscura: Desire Lines
Janelle Monae: The Electric Lady
Joey Verskotzi: Lemon Heart

And, of course, I can't not mention that I also released an EP this year. Stream it, yo.

My Favorite Songs of 2013 
(in no particular order)

Yeah Yeah Yeahs: "Despair"

Phosphorescent: "Song for Zula"

Lorde: "Royals"

Jeremy Messersmith: "Tourniquet"

Miley Cyrus: "We Can't Stop" 
Don't judge me. This song is awesome.

Janelle Monae: "Q.U.E.E.N."

The Cloak Ox: "Pigeon Lung"


Rilo Kiley: "Draggin' Around"

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