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Favorite Albums of 2013


Andy Whitman
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Here are my favorite 10, in no particular order other than alphabetical, because the idea of ranking the big band music of Darcy James Argue ahead of or behind the honky tonk stomp of Vince Gill and Paul Franklin is frankly ludicrous. And my favorite album of 2013 is not listed alphabetically because it’s the best. So there. What are your favorites?

Every album here has a couple flaws. I heard no 5-star efforts this year, which is a little unusual. But, as is the case every year, there were many albums that thrilled me, moved me, made me sad, made me want to jump on the couch cushions and play air guitar (not recommended; just ask my wife), and made me very, very thankful. Here are the albums that I loved the most.

Aoife O’Donovan – Fossils

O’Donovan is the lead singer/songwriter for Crooked Still, an alt-country band that has impressed me up to this point only with their wild inconsistency. But on her first solo album, she blurs the lines between Americana and Celtic music, the accordions nestled up against the pedal steel, and delivers ten finely observed and beautifully sung ruminations on love and loss.

Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society – Brooklyn Babylon

Working with an 18-piece big band, Argue delivers another slab of steampunk jazz. Or something. Good luck finding a label. There’s an electric guitarist here who thinks he’s Jimi Hendrix. There are tight horn arrangements here that yield to avant-garde squonking and squealing;. There are snatches of old Croatian folk songs, The Art Ensemble of Chicago, Count Basie on Saturn. Whatever this is, it’s bracing, startling, and often lovely. 

Jonathan Wilson – Fanfare

Take every early ‘70s album you’ve ever heard and put it in the musical blender. Wilson’s lyrical approach is primarily drawn from the introspective, stoned navel gazing of 1971 Laurel Canyon. Think Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash. But sonically, this album features Pink Floyd spacerock, winding, jagged Neil Young/Crazy Horse guitar workouts, epic ELO pop orchestration, sophisticated Steely Dan jazz rock. It’s a sprawling mess; nearly 80 minutes of “Look ma, I can compress the ‘70s into one album.” The astonishing fact is that he does it.

Mikal Cronin – MCII

The garage rocker cleans up the scuzz, discovers production, melody, hooks, and choruses, and delivers the best power pop album of 2013. There’s still a delightful garage rock rawness about the proceedings, but Cronin makes the most of his three chords and ends up with that rarest of albums; 38 minutes of infectious rock ‘n roll without a second wasted.

North Mississippi Allstars – World Boogie is Coming

Delta blues and southern rock ‘n roll. That’s it. There will be the inevitable comparisons to the White Stripes and the Black Keys because of the minimalist lineup, and because Luther Dickinson is a genuine guitar hero, but in truth these tunes owe more to R.L. Burnside and Muddy Waters than the Rust Belt boys. This stuff just roars and stomps. If you’re looking for subtlety, go elsewhere. But, as Sam Phillips (the producer, not the female singer/songwriter) once said, this is where the soul of man never dies. It’s alive and well in North Mississippi. 

Over the Rhine – Meet Me at the Edge of the World

Place gets short shrift in most contemporary music. The usual pop hit could emanate from anywhere. But imagine the music of The Beach Boys without southern California, or the music of Bruce Springsteen without the Jersey Shore. Place, for husband-and-wife team Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist, is a farm in southwest Ohio, and these lovely songs have dirt under their fingernails. This is incarnational music in the best sense. It’s rooted in time and place. It’s about real people with bodies. The love songs, which are here in force, are earthbound. Nevertheless, they soar. 

Son Lux – Lanterns

Ryan Lott, the restlessly creative spirit behind Son Lux, has always been a musical alchemist, mixing the most seemingly disparate materials together; hip-hop beats and samples from Maria Callas, industrial clanging and what sounds like Rachmaninoff piano sturm und drang. The creative alchemy is still very much in evidence, but “Lanterns,” Lott’s third album, is more rooted in traditional song structures, and “Lost it to Trying” actually sounds like it could be a massive club hit. It’s an impressive pop move for a mad scientist.

Superchunk – I Hate Music

North Carolina’s bratty punks have now been dragged kicking and screaming into middle age, and they’re facing middle-age problems, including the brutal reminder of the death of friends who are too young to die. They’re still bratty, and their strident but infectious rock ‘n roll is no less raucous, but they’re howling in grief and disbelief. And they’re alarmed that life, impossibly, goes on. The “don’t let go/let go” tug-of-war that dominates opener “Overflows” will resonate deeply with anyone who has ever experienced the sting of death, and the incalculable loss of memories that cannot be fully retained.

Vince Gill and Paul Franklin – Bakersfield

Ten songs from Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, done straight up Bakersfield honky tonk style. No frills, just miles-deep soulfulness and superb pedal steel.

And yes, my favorite album of 2013:

Jason Isbell – Southeastern

The biographical details surrounding this album – alcoholism, rehab, the implosion of a marriage, cautious hope, new love – are well chronicled. Jason Isbell is too savvy of a writer to dwell in straight-up autobiography, and it’s worth noting that on this album the first-person narrative can’t always be assumed to be about the songwriter. That said, some of these details are too harrowing to come from anyplace other than the deepest, darkest personal experience. This is confessional songwriting at its best, sung by a soulful choirboy, and there isn’t a maudlin note, or a note of self-justification. This is a Portrait of the Asshole as a Young Man. And an artist. That, too.

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Andy, will you be posting this on your blog? I'd like to link to it from mine... and I miss your blog.

 

Oh, and thanks for complicating things! I was just settling in to revisit my favorites and rough-draft my list, and now I have several more I have to hear for the first time.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

Jonathan Wilson – Fanfare

Take every early ‘70s album you’ve ever heard and put it in the musical blender. Wilson’s lyrical approach is primarily drawn from the introspective, stoned navel gazing of 1971 Laurel Canyon. Think Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash. But sonically, this album features Pink Floyd spacerock, winding, jagged Neil Young/Crazy Horse guitar workouts, epic ELO pop orchestration, sophisticated Steely Dan jazz rock. It’s a sprawling mess; nearly 80 minutes of “Look ma, I can compress the ‘70s into one album.” The astonishing fact is that he does it.

One of my faves of the year and glaringly absent from all year-end lists-- until you posted this on your blog and FB. I hope more will check it out... It's full of really good tunes that bear repeated listens and so wonderfully performed, arranged and produced. Wilson is not only a production wiz, he's also a kickass guitarist.

Edited by Greg P

"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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  • 2 weeks later...

Because I know that one reason we so enjoy making lists is because we hope someone will read them, take a risk, and make a new discovery . . .

 

Andy, thanks for mentioning Aoife O'Donovan because . . . wow.

 

Darren, Aiofe was the musical guest on the Christmas episode of Prairie Home Companion last week. Worth checking out.

 

By the way, I'm counting down my 25 favorite records at my blog. I just posted #25-#11 with YouTube songs for each.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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My top ten, plus three favorite re-issues.

 

For those who just want the highlights...

 

1. Over the Rhine, Meet Me at the Edge of the World

2. Robert Glasper Experiment, Black Radio 2

3. Brandy Clark, 12 Stories

4. North Mississippi All-Stars, World Boogie is Coming

5. Trombone Shorty, Say That to Say This

6. Elvis Costello and the Roots, Wise Up Ghost

7. Nick Lowe, Quality Street

8. Paul McCartney, New

9. John Smith, Great Lakes

10. Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience

 

**

 

1. Bob Dylan, Another Self-Portrait

2. Duane Allman, Skydog

3. The Band, Live at the Academy of Music 1971

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Amazon offered Kim Richey's Thorn in My Heart as a $5 mp3. I hadn't realized Kim had a new album out, so I gave it a listen on Spotify. As stated numerous times over the years here at A&F, I'm a big Kim Richey fan, but that flame has died down significantly in recent years, due either to overfamiliarity with Kim's sound, lesser songs/songwriting, or a combination. 

 

Thorn in My Heart sounds to my ears like the best thing Kim's put out in a while. Thom Jurek obviously thinks highly of the album, although he's higher on Kim's more recent output ("yet another in a string of excellent releases"than I've been. Thorns has that Jason Isbell fella singing with Kim on Breakaway Speed, and includes Come On, a track that stands up to the best songs on Bitter Sweet, still my favorite of Kim's albums.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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My top 10 in alphabetical order:

Arcade Fire – Reflektor
Over-hyped? A let down? Songs too long? Yes, yes and yes. But listening to it set to Black Orpheus totally sold me. Way better than watching The Wizard of Oz while listening to Pink Floyd.

Basia Bulat - Tall Tall Shadow
A late discovery, this one from Justin. Listen to It Can't Be You and if that song doesn't do it for you, you probably shouldn't give a damn about my taste in music.

Darkside – Psychic
Indie psychedelic rock with electronic flourishes isn't usually my cup of tea. But this album nails whatever that is and it's damn near perfect.

Daughn Gibson – Me Moan
Dark, brooding Americana-with-an-edge. This is right up my alley and I love it.

Jason Isbell – Southeastern
If hard pressed (you don't have to press that hard), I'll name this my favorite album of the year. THIS is country music. Not that crap you hear on country radio.

The National - Trouble Will Find Me
I've never given The National a second listen. But whatever they did different with this album struck all the right chords to my ears.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away
Anytime Nick Cave releases an album, he's got at least a 75% chance of it making my year end best of list.

Over the Rhine - Meet Me at the Edge of the World
Like Nick Cave, but Over the Rhine is batting 1,000.

Veronica Falls – Waiting for Something to Happen
I don't know who Veronica Falls is, but they made the best pop album of 2013.

Wooden Wand – Blood Oaths of the New Blues
This was another late discovery from Aquarium Drunkard's best of list that now has me scrambling to go back and listen to everything else this artist has done.

"It's a dangerous business going out your front door." -- J.R.R. Tolkien
"I want to believe in art-induced epiphanies." -- Josie
"I would never be dismissive of pop entertainment; it's much too serious a matter for that." -- NBooth

"If apologetics could prove God, I would lose all faith in Him." -- Josie

"What if--just what if--the very act of storytelling is itself redemptive? What if gathering up the scraps and fragments of a disordered life and binding them between the pages of a book in all of their fragmentary disorder is itself a gambit against that disorder?" -- NBooth

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Figured I could dispense with a ranked count of my top ten, but I'm intentionally starting with this one:

 

American Twilight, by Crime and the City Solution

 

I really had no expectations for the first album in 23 years for Simon Bonney's Crime + the City Solution. To be perfectly honest I knew this band, and liked them pretty well, knowing them as "that band' from Wings of Desire and as contemporaries of Nick Cave/The Birthday Party; but my interest was piqued mostly by the fact the one David Eugene Edwards had been invited to join this re-formed unit. That's one way to get me on board. 

But what. a. record. That's two decades to build up a good head of steam and bile. Then convene in Detroit of all places (American twilight, see?) and create a soundtrack to fading greatness and holding on to a glimmer of hope. Here comes the rain, folks.

 

 

 

[And, yes, it is lovely to hear David Edward's Gretsch draped all over this record]

 

and for the rest of the best:

 

Avery County I'm Bound To You, by Barton Carroll

 

I ask only that you consider listening to this song to hear one of the better lines delivered last year (last verse).

 

Rabbit Runs A Destiny, by Duquette Johnston

 

Day of the Dog, by Ezra Furman

 

Could have had his other 2013 album here, too. What a busy young man.

 

Push Any Button, by Sam Phillips

 

Ruby Red, by The Love Language

 

Anger, Hunger, Love, and the Fear of Death, by Dorado 

 

The Messenger, by Johnny Marr

 

Push The Sky Away, by Nick Cave & Bad Seeds

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I really had no expectations for the first album in 23 years for Simon Bonney's Crime + the City Solution. To be perfectly honest I knew this band, and liked them pretty well, knowing them as "that band' from Wings of Desire and as contemporaries of Nick Cave/The Birthday Party; but my interest was piqued mostly by the fact the one David Eugene Edwards had been invited to join this re-formed unit.  

 

[blink]

 

[blink]

 

Wait, WHAT?

 

How in the world did I miss this development?

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I listened to a fair bit of music this year, and a lot of my favourites released good albums (Daft Punk, The National, Arcade Fire, JT, Kanye). But my most listened to album of the year ended up being by Montreal shoegaze band No Joy. Entitled WAIT TO PLEASURE, you can check out the song "Wrack Attack" here.

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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I finally caught up with Of Montreal's Lousy with Sylvianbriar, and it's immediately my favorite of their albums. Surprisingly live-sounding, a giant leap out of the sensory-overload style, and full of interesting, often funny, sometimes insightful (if often bitter) lyrics. 

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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A little late, but here is the best top 10 list I can decide on:

 

1. Daniel Amos - Dig Here Said the Angel

2. Over the Rhine - Meet Me at the Edge of the World

3. Neko Case - The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You

4. Darcy James Argue's Secret Society - Brooklyn Babylon

5. Caveman - Caveman

6. Local Natives - Hummingbird

7. Jason Isbell - Southeastern

8. Arcade Fire - Reflektor

9. Richard Thompson - Electric

10. Gogol Bordello - Pura Vida Conspiracy

 

Some honorable mentions

Chris Taylor - Traveller's Hotel

Rogue Wave - Nightingale Floors

John Vanderslice - Dagger Beach

Seabird - Troubled Days

Laura Marie - The Season

Pinnick Gales Pridgen - Pinnick Gales Pridgen

Typhoon - White Lighter

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  • 1 month later...

There are some really great finds here, but only a couple of albums that were on my radar have been mentioned. I've begun to realize that I listen to an odd mix of independent "Christian artists" and those whose faith comes out in their writing, but don't advertise it.

 

That being said, this is not an exhaustive list, just a few I think should get some attention around here

 

 

Beautiful Eulogy - Instruments of Mercy

Penny and Sparrow - Tenboom

Bradley Hathaway - How Long

La Liberte - The Tide

My Epic - Behold

 

 

And two fantastic albums from my home province, B.C.

 

We Are The City - Violent

Jordan Klassen - Repentance

"What's prayer? It's shooting shafts in the dark." -- Frederick Buechner, Godric

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  • 3 weeks later...

Can find my list here

But for those too lazy to click on the link

1. Basia Bulat - Tall Tall Shadow

2. Alela Diane - About Farewell

3. Tony Dekker - Prayer of the Woods

4. Jacco Gardner - Cabinet of Curiosities

5. Youth Lagoon - Wondrous Bughouse

6. Porcelain Raft - Permanent Signal

7. The National - Trouble Will Find Me

8. Moonface - Julia With Blue Jeans On

9. The Polyphonic Spree - Yes, It's True

10. Five Iron Frenzy - Engine of a Million Plots

 

Some honorable mentions.


Hospital Ships - Destruction in Yr Soul
The Mantles - Long Enough To Leave
Mother Falcon - You Knew
Rogue Wave - Nightingale Floors
Wampire - Curiosity
Sad Baby Wolf - Electric Sounds
Telekinesis - Dormarion
Low - The Invisible Way
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Specter At The Feast
Ducktails - The Flower Lane
Steve Martin/Edie Brickell - Love Has Come For You
Deerhunter - Monomania
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros - Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
Mikal Cronin - MCII
Washed Out - Paracosm
Islands - Ski Mask
The Head and the Heart - Let's Be Still
Arcade Fire - Reflektor
Public Service Broadcasting - Inform-Educate-Entertain
Shearwater - Fellow Travelers
Smith Westerns - Soft Will

"The truth is you're the weak, and I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin Ringo, I'm tryin real hard to be the shepherd." Pulp Fiction

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