01 January 2014

2013: Favorite Albums of the Year

Year in, year out, more great music to digest than there are minutes to listen to it. Just ran out of time, so maybe some stuff in the queue that wouldn't made the list, but in the end I listened to (and rated) over 500 albums. So much of it worthy of your attention. I did my best to plug the best of it over the course of 2013 and hopefully you made some great new discoveries like I did.

Here are my favorites, I don't believe there's any such thing as a "best album" any more than there's a best color, so your mileage may vary.

As in past years, I'm clumping these together and cheating a bit. I'll try to drum up a playlist of these albums shortly.

My top 10 albums (in alphabetical order):

Causa Sui -- Europie Tide
From Denmark, Causa Sui were one of my favorite discoveries of 2013. This is triple-A instrumental music. As I said in my JamBase column: glorious, intelligent, intense, beautiful, rocking… this is, indeed, the good shit.

Dawn of Midi -- Dysnomia
My tag on this one was "the year's most intriguing album." It takes something special to take the "generic" piano-bass-drum jazz trio and totally reinvent it. That's why I love The Bad Plus so much. These guys do that. This is what's next.

Follakzoid -- II/The Holydrug Couple -- Noctuary
Maybe it's unfair for me to lump these two awesome psych-rock albums together, but they'll always be paired together as the "Chilean Invasion" in my mind, especially after checking them out on a double bill. In fact, the music is quite divergent, but both worth the brain cells you'll burn listening to them. 

Eleanor Friedberger -- Personal Record
As a big Fiery Furnaces fan to the end, it's been interesting to watch how the Friedberger siblings diverge as time goes on. The brother half seemed to take 95% of the weirdness with him, while the sister took 95% of the brilliant songwriting and unique grooves. Still, it's the 5% of the weird she kept in her pocket that makes this album so thrilling. This is Eleanor at her very finest, excellently penned songs, just enough of that rambling humor and great energy. 

Junip -- Junip
Junip has become one of those bands who will win me over unconditionally. The sound is so incredibly singular and addictive. It just hums and resonates with something inside you. Repeated listens are a must here. 

Portugal. The Man -- Evil Friends
Speaking of unconditional love, another year, another superlative Portugal. The Man album. I was very surprised to see not a single year-end list with this album on it, because I found it to be one of the year's most exciting. Of course, I'm biased beyond belief, as all regular followers know. The addition of Danger Mouse on production brings a modern gloss to PtM's sound which continues to evolve unabated. 

Unknown Mortal Orchestra -- II
UMO went from "yeah, I like those guys" status to one of my favorites in 2013. Their live show has been elevated to do-not-miss and their sophomore album is outstanding. Their mix of psych, prog and flat-out rocking combined with one great song after another has me thinking these guys are on their way to something big. The bonus disc on the deluxe edition with acoustic versions and covers is a must-hear companion to the album proper.

Kurt Vile -- Walkin On A Pretty Daze
Probably no album summed up my listening circa 2013 quite like Kurt Vile's epic Pretty Daze album. Long, hypnotic, psychedelic guitar jams that don't feel long or psychedelic; Vile's quiet vocal presence drawing you in; and top-to-bottom monster songwriting. My favorite album of 2013.

Dustin Wong -- Mediation of Ecstatic Energy
This is a serious golden age of instrumental guitar music and I, personally, welcome our loop-happy overlords. At the top of the heap, for me, is Dustin Wong. This album is just one gorgeous, layered postmodern work of art after another. I just want to plug my brain into this album and download it straight to the center.

Yo La Tengo -- Fade
Almost 30 years into their career, YLT comes out with an album of such stunning and engaging beauty. How lucky can we get? This album is a masterpiece of subtle, patented indie rock, not a track to be skipped or overlooked. Don't miss the deluxe version which has everything you could ever want in bonus material: live versions, instrumental versions, weird covers and studio outtakes.

Honorable mention (rest of my top 50 -- in alphabetical order)

Sam Amidon -- Bright Sunny South
Beaches -- She Beats
Devendra Banhart -- Mala
Besnard Lakes -- Until In Excess...
The Blank Tapes -- Vacation
Blitzen Trapper -- VII
Bombino -- Nomad
Matt Costa -- Matt Costa
Sallie Ford & the Sound Outside -- Untamed Beast
Foxygen -- We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
Frontier Ruckus -- Eternity Of Dimming
The Growlers -- Hung At Heart
Iron & Wine -- Ghost On Ghost
Jacco Gardner -- Cabinet of Curiosities
Jim James -- Regions of Light and Sounds of God
Glenn Jones -- My Garden State
Kiki Pau -- Pines
Lady Lamb the Beekeeper -- Ripely Pine
Lumerians -- The High Frontier
The Milk Carton Kids -- The Ash & Clay
Juana Molina -- Wed 21
Neils Children -- Dimly Lit
Parquet Courts -- Light Up Gold
Phosphorescent -- Muchacho
Pond -- Hobo Rocket
Rose Windows -- The Sun Dogs
Schnauser -- Where Business Meets Pleasure
Superhuman Happiness -- Hands
Otis Taylor -- My Time is Gone
Thao & the Get Down Stay Down -- We the Common
Chris Thile -- Bach: Sonatas & Partitas Vol 1.
William Tyler -- Impossible Truth
J. Roddy Walston & the Business -- Essential Tremors
White Denim -- Corsicana Lemonade
Widowspeak -- Almanac

...and rounding out my top 100 or so (in alphabetical order):
1939 Ensemble -- Howl & Bite
Akron/Family -- Sub Verses
Courtney Barnett -- The Double EP
Beaulieu Porch -- We Are Beautiful
Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers -- s/t
Brass Bed -- The Secret Will Keep You
Brendan Canning -- You Gots 2 Chill
Barton Carroll -- Avery County, I’m Bound For You
Neko Case -- The Worse Things Get…
Mikal Cronin -- MCII
Date Palms -- The Dusted Sessions
Daft Punk -- Random Access Memories
Dr Dog -- B-Room
Ducktails -- The Flower Lane
Dylan Ryan Sand -- Sky Bleached
Eels -- Wonderful, Glorious
Elephant Stone -- Elephant Stone
Endless Boogie -- Long Island
The Entrance Band -- Face the Sun
Steve Gunn -- Time Off
Brian Haas/Matt Chamberlain -- Frames
Hookworms -- Pearly Mystic
Hurray For the Riff Raff -- My Dearest Darkest Neighbor
Jagwar Ma -- Howlin
Sarah Jarosz -- Build Me Up From Bones
Jenny O -- Automechanic
Valerie June -- Pushin’ Against A Stone
Kingsley Flood -- Battles 
Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle -- Perils From The Sea
Black Joe Lewis -- Electric Slave
Steve Martin & Edie Brickell -- Love Has Come For You
Mazzy Star -- Seasons Of Your Day
Cass McCombs -- Big Wheel and Others
The Men -- New Moon
Midlake -- Antiphon
Anais Mitchell/Jefferson Hamer -- Child Ballads
Janelle Monae -- The Electric Lady
Mountains -- Centralia
Kacey Musgraves -- Same Trailer Different Park
Bassekou Kouyate/Ngoni Ba -- Jama Ko
Of Montreal -- Lousy With Sylvianbriar
Oh Land -- Wish Bone
Plankton Wat -- Drifter’s Temple
Josh Rouse -- The Happiness Waltz
Marnie Stern -- The Chronicles of Marnia
Christopher Paul Stelling -- False Cities
Andrew Stockdale -- Keep Moving
Suuns -- Images Du Futur
Craig Taborn Trio -- Chants
Joseph Tawadros -- Chameleons of the White Shadow
Thee Oh Sees -- Floating Coffin
John Vanderslice -- Dagger Beach
Washed Out -- Paracosm
Jonathan Wilson -- Fanfare
Yellowbirds -- Songs from the Vanished Frontier
Youth Lagoon -- Wondrous Bughouse


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