Saturday, January 4, 2014

Top 10: Albums of 2013

There are a lot of "opinions" present in and surrounding the music of 2013. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis had a hit with the progressive "Same Love," Miley Cyrus was the center of controversies (but what else is new?) and Robin Thicke ensured that he would never have a feminist fanbase. Pharrel Williams became pretty much the crowned king of the radio, P!nk's album about different parts of love (which came out last year) became a must-play. Lady Gaga slipped quietly to the peripheries, despite her new album release, almost as though she really doesn't care about being the center of attention anymore. Ah yes, and lest I forget to mention it, Snoop Dog became Snoop Lion. From across bodies of water, Lily Allen made a comeback, and a sixteen-year-old from New Zealand who calls herself Lorde became a somewhat unlikely pop sensation with her song that denounces the displays of wealth that seem to prevail in rap.

I was quite impressed with the way the year turned out musically. Cyrus's "Wrecking Ball" was a pleasure, even if I couldn't quite get into the groove of Gaga's "Applause." Below are ten of my favorite albums from 2013.

10. Un Album by DALI
In today's computer age, anyone can make an album. Anyone with talent, that is, and luckily, DALI has that talent. Released on Bandcamp, Un Album is a gorgeous mix of low-fi, folk, and mid-sixties girl groups, wrapped into a burrito of modern music marketing and twee lyrics. And not only is she talented enough for a promising career if she sticks with it, but she has the good sense to surround herself with talented people, like the director/cinematographer of the video for "Wildflowers."

Key Tracks:
"The News"
"Woody Allen Song"

9. Heartbeats by Alex Sheridan
I interviewed Alex Sheridan earlier this year about Heartbeats, which was produced in my hometown. Heartbeats was a fairly commercially successful album considering it was independently released. Despite the fact that hip-hop isn't usually my cup of tea, I truly enjoyed it. Sheridan winds his way through a series of mild hip-hop tunes, coloured by complementary genres, with cameos by an array of singers and rappers.

Key Tracks:
"Say You Gotta Man"
"Muddy Shoes"

8. Comedown Machine by The Strokes
The Strokes were up to their usual tricks, with a decent album that just doesn't quite have the staying power to make it into anyone's top five. Comedown Machine picks up where Angles left off, but with more grit from the earlier albums, and slightly fewer electronic noises.

Key Tracks:
"Tap Out"
"One Way Trigger"
"Partners in Crime"

7. Fly By Wire by Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
I reviewed Fly By Wire when it first came out. While I'm still waiting for anything to match Pershing in terms of quality, Fly By Wire was a great piece of work, with calm, catchy tunes and jangle-ey guitar. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin might have a name that stands out from the crowd, but they don't seem to rely on anything over-the-top to make themselves more sell-able, they just let the music speak for itself.

Key Tracks:
"Harrison Ford"
"Lucky Young"
"Nightwater Girlfriend"

6. Modern Vampires of the City by Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend finally found a central sound for their music this year. Modern Vampires of the City has a complex religious level to it, but it also has a level that isn't complex: earworm songs with enough energy to keep you hooked.
Key Tracks:
"Diane Young"
"Ya Hey"

5. Lousy With Sylvianbriar by of Montreal
As I stated in my review, of Montreal channelled 60s country and folk for Lousy with Sylvianbriar, reminiscent of the band's early albums, but completely new. There's a standout lyric from the album that really stuck with me: "all the evil in the universe//there are no victims only participants." Definitely the band's finest work in a while.

Key Tracks:
"Belle Glade Missionaries"
"Triumph of Disintegration"
"Raindrop in My Skull"

4. Electric by Pet Shop Boys
While I'm by no means an expert in the discography of Pet Shop Boys, I didn't think they would be able to remain relevant in the modern music scene. But I was grossly mistaken, because Electric is everything you could want from an electronic pop album. It's still very much a Pet Shop Boys album, but every bit as relevant to the present as any band formed in the past ten years is, and sometimes more. No other recent album does such a great job of reminding us that dance and catchy pop are finally wed and building a house together [my full review here].

Key Tracks:
"Love is a Bourgeois Construct"

3. Nanobots by They Might Be Giants
Much like Electric, Nanobots proved that an experienced band can still put out quality material. Like most great They Might Be Giants albums, Nanobots is scattered with superb pieces of musicality and lyrics, right alongside equally superb tracks less than a minute in length ("Hive Mind" is six seconds). I might be mistaken, but I'm pretty sure that there are no rules to a They Might Be Giants album, apart from the fact that it has to be quality.

Key Tracks:
"Circular Karate Chop"
"Call You Mom"

2. Volume 3 by She & Him
If there is a precedent for clean-sounding retro-pop, I'm pretty sure She & Him set it, and Volume 3 is their finest work so far. Along with almost a dozen original compositions, Mark Ward and Zooey Deschanel improve upon and take ownership of a Blondie song and Ellie Greenwich's "Baby," and even take a stab at "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me." Volume 3 is crisp, clean, and artfully crafted: a must-hear.

Key Tracks:
"I've Got Your Number, Son"
"I Could've Been Your Girl"

1. Heartthrob by Tegan and Sara
Many Tegan and Sara fans were disappointed with this album, but I think Heartthrob is every bit as good as their earlier albums. I reviewed it back when it came out, and I think it's grown on me since. Heartthrob doesn't just touch on aspects of relationship emotions like some of Tegan and Sara's earlier albums did, it wallows in them. It highlights the highs in a relationship, like "Closer," the assuredness ("Love They Say"), the sadness ("How Come You Don't Want Me?"), the regret as in "I Was a Fool" and "Now I'm All Messed Up," and the memories ("Drove Me Wild). Every song on the album is dripping with feelings, not rivaled since "Take Me Anywhere." Though I think their live shows have suffered from this new sound, I think Heartthrob is as good as anything they've otherwise created, and definitely one of the best albums of the year.

Key Tracks:
"I Was a Fool"
"Drove Me Wild"
"Love They Say"