What is it about the end that makes you want to go back to the beginning?
Maybe it’s just me, but the end of 2013 seemed to bring more than usual flurry of lists. Too many rankings. Too much specificity – the top 10 albums commercially released, the top 10 albums you probably didn’t hear, the top 10 songs, top 10 tours…music criticism has evolved(devolved) into a competition for all-encompassing coolness, or maybe it always was. As someone who truly believes the best music is whatever you find you’re looking for it, I tend to have a difficult time sitting down and compiling these lists.
And yet, I have, time and time again. I try to go by what I loved the most, what spoke to me, rather than what is the most acclaimed or groundbreaking. This list comes with all the usual prefaces, that I probably could sit here for days rearranging the order of the pack, that I am probably forgetting some, that some are way stronger than others, that staying power will really prove me right or wrong….but honestly, this was a great year for music, and I loved how inspired I was by so many new songs, sounds and artists.
10) RVIVR- The Beauty Between
This album was a late year discovery for me, and it came in just in time. I caught their song, “Paper Thin” on NPR’s best of the year list, and stopped everything I was doing to find out who it was. I could see how some might be misled by band name – not another one of those all-caps, weird-spelling things I don’t know how to pronounce! No! But oh, how little I cared when I heard how kick-ass their record was. A rather lengthy LP of short little punches of punk rock to the throat topped up with a multi-song themed suite, all with just-right, good-enough screamed/shouted/sung harmonies, and clean, fast and furious guitar solos fueling my jealousy and drive to pick it up and plug in and yell my head off, Completely hooked on everything about it, this album is the one of the few my ears heard this year deserving of the phrase punk as fuck.
“Okay, I touch the ground/Send my roots deep down
When it gets too loud
It’s like a wrong way on a one way street
Promise to myself that I just don’t keep
You can hate me now/But I’ll stick around
Don’t fit, full of shit, struggle with identity
Try to find me.”
~Wrong Way/One Way9) Mansions – Doom Loop
If you haven’t called Mansions a breakout band from their debut LP, “Doom Loop” should’ve done it for you. Anyone looking for proof that great rock musicians still exist need to look no further than this record, which was fairly cemented in my morning rotation. Sounds so good on speakers, loud and clear and content. I love how guitar-driven these songs are, I love the classic setup, I love how verbose the lyrics are and how unafraid of the dark the themes are, no matter how coherent the chords. A heavy, hearty sophomore effort from a band that, in 2013, found a solid place in my stereo.
“you’re out for blood in the older south
picture yourself in your dad’s old house, alright
the doors are locked and you can’t see straight
you’re lost for good in that pitch black state, alright
go on and hunt me down
it’s way too late to turn back now.
i don’t hear it when you whisper in your sleep
but every morning it’s just waiting there for me
i got this feeling i can’t shake
i got this broken heart that i just can’t set straight
no I can’t get away.”
~Out for Blood
8) letlive. -The Blackest Beautiful
I still haven’t let go of this record. It’s as fierce and fresh as the first time I played it, on a night’s drive back home from a friend’s when I felt alone and pissed off at the world. It became a car record, then a working out playlist, and now it’s just my entry into letlive., one of those bands that proves modern hardcore isn’t just a bunch of skinny kids with skinny pants and skinny hair, that it’s founded in the roots of metal: angry riffs and blood-curdling screams and being pissed off at the world. And yet, they find hooks, groovy moments reminiscent of metal bands before they were unintelligible, and the blend is as delightful of one as a listener as fickle and frustrated as me could hope to find. Plus they toured with Every Time I Die. Long live letlive.
“Taxi drive me to the endLet the meter run into the digits I can’t spend
The you’ll drive me to the edge
I’ll stand upon the precipice and jump to pay my debt…goodbye”
7) Touche Amore – Is Survived By…
Someone said to me this year, “You like 16-year-old girl metal.” That may be true, and I’m taking it as a compliment. I spent more time going to metal shows this year than any other genre, fueled in part by a 10-day jaunt in a van on a DYI tour, but it opened by eyes to what scenes today look like, sound like, feel like, and I liked it. I don’t blog about metal a lot, because I like to blog abotu songs with lyrics I really relate to and I don’t really listen to metal for the lyrics….but that is not the case with Touche Amore. They’re all about the poetry, they’re all about pushing the words out there and then raining down on them with layers upon layers of heavy, astmospheric sound. This record hooked me as soon as I streamed it, so full of questioning and legacy and daring in the face doubt. This song in particular fueled me on many a cold, confused day’s drive.
“Does this mean that the words won’t come?
Does this mean that I’m at my end? If my joy
comes with the price of my love, I won’t pay if
I have to pretend. There’s always a chance to
relapse and fall back to the person I still fear
is there. So if this ink will suddenly run out,
I’ll refill if I feel the need to share.”
~To Write Content
6) Daft Punk- Random Access Memories
I loved this album. I still love it. I play it when I happy, I play it when I am sad, I play it when my iPod has died and I forgot my charger and it happens to be in the disc changer, so I may as well listen to the whole thing through. Music is supposed to make you feel things, and Daft Punk knows how to do this without the listener any the wiser. This is not an album you simply take in, this is an album you have a conversation with, it speaks to you, provokes you. I’m not even sure what you call Daft Punk nowadays are far as genre goes, but I would not hesitate one moment to call them artists, especially when you hear about how much time, effort, and attention to detail went into this record. Complete pros. Kudos for showing them all how it’s done.
“And we will never be alone again/’Cause it doesn’t happen every day
Kinda counted on you being a friend/Can I give it up or give it away
Now I thought about what I wanna say/But I never really know where to go
So I chained myself to a friend/’Cause I know it unlocks like a door.”
5) The 1975 – The 1975
Fun, sexy, smart, bold – what to say about The 1975 that someone more well-versed than me hasn’t said? This album soundtracked my summer, poolside with friends, curling my hair before heading out, hitting the gym hard, cleaning my apartment and letting the sun stream in the ceiling-high windows. From “Money” to “Robbers” the spitfire attitude of this album is rebellious, and yet contemplative enough to be hip, instrumentally, it’s so *now* it’s maybe a little ahead of its time, it just might be the pop of the future. I love how well they use simple parts on real instrumentals, occasionally dressing it up with some synth tones and interludes. It’s hard to see why this record was passed up on so many other album of the year lists (leaving me to believe a lot of people paid to write about music have no idea what the hell they’re talking about and let the accepted trends speak for them). I’ll always associate this band with 2013, where life outside of work was spent adventuring and experiencing, curious and excited about the new ways to play in my new-found adult life while still ever-so-slightly keeping a finger on the pulse of the youthful past I’m not quite ready to surrender.
“And don’t call it a spade if it isn’t a spade.
And go lie on the floor if you want.
The first bit of advice that you gave me that I liked was they’re too strong, too strong.
Get in the shower if it all goes wrong.
Yeah, If you wanna find love then you know where the city is.”
4) Jimmy Eat World – Damage
Can Jimmy Eat World release an album that doesn’t make it into my top 10? “Damage” is proof that, no, no they cannot. Nearly every review of this album makes a whole bit about how they’re older and have lived more life than they did when they wrote “Bleed American” – well, no shit, it’s called aging. And nearly every discussion of this band seems to include the brilliant observation that they can’t make “Clarity” again – here I thought releasing the same album was what artists were all about! While “Damage” doesn’t reinvent any wheels, it is cohesive, it is smart, it is melodic, it is all the things that make JEW a great band that’s withstood the test of time. I’ve played “Please Say No” and “How’d You Have Me” enough times this year to place this album on a most-listened lists. As always with this band, timing is everything, and “Damage” gave me a lot to chew on for some time.
“You know I don’t ever sleep, just starting at the ceiling
I’m laid there beneath myself
You should have to be somewhere else
With someone just like me, nothing complicated
All the feelings and fantasy
Can you trust, can you trust
That there’s some things, you should never have, never known about”
3)The National – Trouble Will Find Me
You can’t rank National albums, really, it’s just not something you should do. It’s like picking a favorite chocolate or something, they all are good in different, subtle ways while fulfilling the same underlying temptation. Devastation, acceptance, regret and sorrow all make appearances on “Trouble Will Find Me” and they’re all addressed with the same curiosity and nervousness, the same awkward intimacy. The National is becoming ubiquitous as far as bands of this decade goes, and while their sound has quieted in a lot of ways it’s gotten no less complex; in fact, it’s only moreso, with shakers and auxiliary aplenty and experimental tones and timings. On this album, the band proves their mastery of space, balance and the ability to create moments that steal the heart and suspend it for as long as possible before letting it drop and shatter, and I love them deeply for it.
“Don’t make me read your mind/You should know me better than that
It takes me too much time/You should know me better than that
You’re not that much like me/You should know me better than that
We have different enemies/You should know me better than that
I should leave it alone but you’re not right
I should leave it alone but you’re not right”
~I Should Live In Salt
2) Jason Isbell – Southeastern
Every now and then you hear an album that transcends so many boundaries, and Southeastern was one of those records. I first recall hearing about Jason Isbell through a New York Times profile, as trendy as that sounds, though I’d recalled the Drive By Truckers from occasional dabbling in the country songwriter genre. Nothing was like this record, though, where the storytelling is so pure and the chords so classic, even staunch no-country listeners instantly recognized its quality and capacity to be moving. Try listening to “Elephant” and not thinking back to your loved ones you lost too soon, who you saw in the throes of mortality and still manage to crack a smile. Isbell is the kind of guy who, when in front of a mic, moves everyone to listen, and something about the simplicity and purity of his songwriting makes me remember that the only way write well is to write honest, straight from the heart. It’s unmatched, unpretentious, timeless, and just like it’s supposed to sound.
“Once a wise man to the ways of the world
now I’ve traded those lessons for faith in a girl
Crossed the ocean, thousand years from my home
in this frozen old city of silver and stone
Ships in the harbor and birds on the bluff
don’t move an inch when their anchor goes up
And the difference with me is I’ve fallen in love
Stockholm let me go home.”
1) The Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation
Can I say anything about this record I haven’t said already? Maybe this: that it’s a shame I haven’t seen them yet. The Wonder Years are leaders of the pack as far as the pop punk genre goes, but my love for them comes from a place much more personal and private than any trend, ranking or pack mentality goes. This is a band that, over the last few years, has soundtracked my life and transitions in near-perfect fashion, channeling the same fears and doubts in an aggressive yet meditating sound. So many good moments on this album, solid chord progressions and tense bridges keep an ever present suspension that just pulls me in and doesn’t let go. I start listening to this album and I can’t put on anything else until I’ve heard the whole thing. Never once do The Wonder Years completely lose it, as much as Dan Campbell tells you he’s going to, there’s so much thought and restraint. “The Greatest Generation” is literary in concept, in craftsmanship and contains the best closer they’ve done yet. I’m glad this album came around at a point in the year when I needed something to scream to, when I needed something loud and fresh and familiar to escape to, and I have a feeling it’ll be that way for years to come.
“Jesus Christ. I’m 26.
All the people I’ve graduated with,
All have kids, all have wives,
All have people who care if they come home at night.
Well, Jesus Christ, did I fuck up?
I’ve been looking for/Tears in the screen door.
I’ve been waiting for/Another disaster.
And I was kinda hoping you’d stay.
I was kinda hoping you’d stay.
I was kinda hoping you’d stay.”
~Passing Through A Screen Door
Into It, Over It. – Intersections (Much as I love “Proper” I haven’t given this a fair shake yet. But I will so here it is).
Deafeater – Sunbather (At least three people have told me to listen to this record. I haven’t yet. Putting it here to give myself a reminder.)
Haim – Days Are Gone (Pop. Tastic. Love.)
Arctic Monkeys – AM (I only heard one song off this but I really liked it. so I guess I will check out the whole thing eventually).
Atoms for Peace – Amok (Thom Yorke is better than you, always.)
Cecile McLorin Salvant – WomanChild (Amazing artist. Amazing voice. She knows how to sing right from the soul and I love her for that. I need her on vinyl ASAP.)
Sainthood Reps – Headswell (Nu metal for life. I still like the first one better, but this guys have a great thing going.)
Scholar – Chose Adventure (So this friend of mine writes such great songs and his record is way cool.)
Paramore – Paramore (I really liked this record, it was so close to making it in my top 10! But there were enough songs I skipped compared to those I didn’t, however, “Ain’t It Fun” is definitely in my top 10 sing-a-long songs of the year).
A Day To Remember – Common Courtesy (I liked this album way more than I thought I would. Something very Four Year Strong about it that resonated with me. Also, the story associated with is one for the textbooks are far modern music industry is concerned, many lawsuits and label fights.)
And hey, for kicks, let’s look backwards even more:
Best of 2012
Best of 2011