best of 2013: albums

good things come to those that wait, right?  does this phrase even really apply to this situation?  probably not.  it may be a bit delayed, but my albums of the year list is finally done.  i’ve written long-form essays on my favorite fifteen records of 2013 over at playground misnomer; you should definitely head over there and check it out, along with lists from the other contributors to that site.  if you don’t feel like reading, below are some quick and simple pictures of my top five albums of 2013.  enjoy.

5. milo – cavalcade

chvrches4. chvrches – the bones of what you believe

daughter if you leave3. daughter – if you leave

2. caroline smith – half about being a woman

majical cloudz impersonator.jpg1. majical cloudz – impersonator


best of 2013: honorable mentions

in this segment, i present my annual list of albums that were pretty great, but that i couldn’t be bothered to rank.  2013 was an enormously great year for music, and i’m still reveling in that fact during the early hours of 2014.  the following handful of albums are presented in alphabetical order to save any clamoring; check them out.

keep shelly in athens – at homethe most striking aspect of at home was how dark and desolate the album was able to be.  front-loaded with infectious grooves like “oostende” and “flyway,” at home slows down with tracks like “madmen love” and “sails,” creating a truly polarizing album.  keep shelly in athens brought their a-game in 2013, and will continue to do so over the next year.

london grammar – if you waita super-arresting body of work from a trio of brits, if you wait is a sleeper album that has london grammar poised to break out in 2014.  hannah reid’s voice is nothing short of lush, and the instrumentation behind tracks like “stay awake” and “strong” recalls the winning downtempo formulas of the xx.  seriously, a band to watch.

radiator hospital – something wildsam cook-parrott writes music befitting for fans of waxahatchee and swearin’, understandable since he hangs out with the crutchfield sisters on the regular.  radiator hospital’s newest album is chock-full of lo-fi garage pop songs that are often insanely catchy and always incredibly well-written; “our song” will make you dance the first time you hear it and listen intently on subsequent spins.

washed out – paracosmernest greene’s second album as washed out is a lush exploration of organic sound.  after largely using electronic elements to create his 2011 debut within & without, greene stuck with a bevy of vintage keyboards and synthesizers on paracosm, resulting in a much more psychedelic texture.

best of 2013: eps

i’ve always been a huge fan of the ep format.  it’s a great way for new artists to produce substantial content to tide fans over until their debut full-length, and it’s also a practical medium for established bands to preview a new sound or musical direction.  2013 saw no shortage from either of those two categories, and i’ve whittled down the contenders to a short list of five eps that made quite the lasting impression on my musical palate.

5. dark furs – dark furs: this ep came to me by way of my own personal inbox, and it’s easily one of my favorite pieces of email that i’ve received this year.  dark furs’ self-titled ep is a whirlwind of slightly morose indie pop, from the crushing, rhythmical opener “concrete corners” all the way through to the self-deprecating finale, “better than me.”  suzanne may’s vocals take center stage throughout the ep, but i’d be remiss to ignore the instrumental works of chad philipps and garrett henritz, whose respective guitar playing and drumming fleshes out the timbral palate defined by may’s voice.  aesthetically, dark furs is an incredibly well-defined outfit in a sea of bands who take a similar approach to crafting music.

listen to and download dark furs here.

4. milo – things that happen at day: where do i even begin with milo?  if you’ve been reading this blog since its inception, or my work over at playground misnomer, you know that i’ve been smitten by his musical trajectory this year.  it’s hard to believe it, but things that happen at day and things that happen at night are almost a year old now, first seeing light on new year’s day of 2013.  the first in the pair of eps is a collaboration between milo and producer riley lake, foreshadowing the more in-depth relationship that would be crafted on cavalcade.  the opening track, “sweet chin music,” opens with a gorgeous bon iver sample and from there it’s milo at his best, rapping about non-sequiturs, philosophy, and his endless quest of self-betterment.  what’s so important about things that happen at day is the frank and stripped-down look inside a young, complex mind.  within that context, “almond milk paradise” makes so much sense.  everyone’s probably levar burton to some extent.

listen to and download things that happen at day here.

3. milo – things that happen at night: honestly, i can’t really rank things that happen at night higher than things that happen at day; their sequential representation here mirrors the sequential nature of the moods of these two fantastic eps.  while day features production from riley lake, night is handled by analog(ue) tape dispenser, who adds an eerie nocturnal quality to supplement milo’s raps.  there’s multiple references to schopenhauer and zarathustra, and milo is still paying homage to smaller characters on the wire.  busdriver’s guest verse is certainly an early highlight of the ep, but milo’s true artistry sinks in during “monologion,” a dark, brooding track with a positively hypnotic hook.  there’s so much happening on night that, although milo intended the two eps to serve as companion pieces, he deserves distinct recognition for his work on each.

listen to and download things that happen at night here.

2. tennis – small sound: after two rapid-fire albums, tennis laid dormant for nearly two years.  i expected them to release their third album in early 2014, but was presently surprised when they tacked on an ep of fresh tunes to tide fans over.  while small sound may have been intended as filler, it’s a fine release that can stand by itself in tennis’ discography.  tennis demonstrated their collective love for 1960s pop on their first two efforts, but that influence is delicately fine-tuned across five tracks; “timothy” is as sunny as anything else in the band’s repertoire, but “cured of youth” and “100 lovers” highlight a solid understanding of r&b instrumentation (haha at pitchfork for thinking that baritone sax was a bassoon) and form.  alaina moore’s voice is still borderline perfection, and i constantly found myself drooling over patrick riley’s guitar lines.  if this is the path tennis is traveling down for their next record, they might just find themselves in one of these articles come next year.

listen to small sound here.

1. dads – pretty good: there’s a lot more to dads than initially meets the eye.  i discovered this fact towards the end of the summer, when pretty good began playing in my headphones multiple times a day.  the new jersey duo gets lumped into the emo revival movement along with other bands like pity sex and the world is a beautiful place and i am no longer afraid to die, but they’re a bit more complex than just a couple of sad bastards.  the emo influence certainly is there; i hear a splash of fellow new jerseyans brand new in both the vocals and the lyrical writing, but dads are as likely to embrace metric shifts as they are angst.  take “my crass patch,” the opening track that slowly grows into an epic explosion of triplet-figure drums over a guitar line still in common time.  the seemingly erratic nature of the instrumental line coming out of that eruption is indicative of dads’ musical tendencies; both “i can be yr deadbeat boyfriend” and “boat rich” are pop-punk gems, but they retain that accessibility while subjecting listeners to metric shifts and sudden tempo changes.  the closer “no we’re not actually” is a slow-burner that eventually melts into something akin to brand new’s the devil and god are raging inside me era, but this just shows that dads can do it all, from epic to poppy and smart to downright tender.

listen to and download pretty good here.

best of 2013: songs

i’m upping the ante and treating you to my ten favorite songs of 2013, as opposed to last year’s five.  my choices don’t necessarily reflect contenders for album of the year, but don’t be surprised if some of the same names show up over the next couple of weeks.

10. oostende – keep shelly in athens: “oostende” was my first true glimpse at sarah p.’s vocal personality, which stretches from hesitant to confident within the duration of a verse and a chorus.  the synth pads are brooding throughout, but the lead line that kicks in three quarters of the way through the song routinely gets stuck in my head.  easily the best track off of the duo’s debut album at home, the power of “oostende” is only bolstered by an incredibly heart-wrenching music video.


9. collapse – vancouver sleep clinic: the second of just two tracks released by vancouver sleep clinic this year, “collapse” easily proves what tim bettinson is capable of doing with his voice.  retaining an incomprehensible aesthetic akin to bon iver, “collapse” evokes a frigid winter landscape that has already become relatable.  the production behind the vocals is also impressive, molding some james blake drum pads with soft-rock, folky guitars.  both vancouver sleep clinic songs have been firmly distinguishable so far, but “collapse” flexes the ensemble’s potential the most.


8. graceless – the national: trouble will find me still hasn’t fully settled in yet.  while the cohesive aspect of the album may be lacking, i know that “graceless” is probably one of the best songs the national have ever written.  there’s that underlying post-punk tone that harkens earlier tracks off of alligator and boxer, along with a truly anthemic final chorus.  the national is a band that ages well, and a sustained break from their earlier influences helped to add depth to that sound.


7. diamond mine – pillar point: i love a good mystery.  when i found pillar point through polyvinyl’s twitter page, the sheer absence of a biography or any sort of personal identity attached to the project made me appreciate the music that much more.  “diamond mine” is a chillwave standout that mixes a multitude of pulses, but that lead synth line is always an earworm, whether syncopated or straight in time.  the lyrics are a bit melancholy, juxtaposing the sunny, up-beat accompaniment, but that only adds to the overall sophistication of the songwriting here.


6. tennis court – lorde: i could talk about “royals,” but everyone talks about “royals.”  lorde stands for something that goes against the mainstream materialistic values and idolization of glamorous pop stars, but she’s also still a kid, barely out of high school and three years away from turning twenty.  that doesn’t detract from the fact that she’s very self-aware and intelligent; i think “tennis court” showcases this the best.  its lyrics are less about dissociating from material goods and more about defying social trends and chasing perfection.  “tennis court” is fairly autobiographical, highlighting lorde’s naivete in the music industry, but her skeptic tone suggests that she won’t buy into its extravagancies.  i guess we’ll just have to wait and see.


5. savage – majical cloudz: there’s a lot to be said about majical cloudz and their fantastic, under-the-radar year.  devon welsh’s voice is routinely haunting, pairing well with the minimalist compositions that define the aesthetic of the duo.  impersonator was an admirable record, but i was drawn to “savage,” a bonus track released just last month, more quickly than any song found on the album.  the ostinato keyboard part sets the tone for welsh’s lyrics, a fairly direct romantic narrative.  the first time i heard him break from his declamatory phrasing to croon “high on lsd with you,” i was sold, and i’ve felt the same tingling sensation every listen since.


4. summer skin – teen girl scientist monthly: someone likened teen girl scientist monthly to the pains of being pure at heart on steroids, a comparison that works especially well for “summer skin,” the opening track on their newest album modern dances.  the opening guitar line sells the song as an instant earworm of powerpop, but the gradual additions of keyboard textures and gang vocals find the brooklyn ensemble as an amalgamation of the answering machine and arcade fire.  “summer skin” is the kind of song you would wait around for hours to hear on the radio, but thankfully, you don’t have to do that.


3. comrade – volcano choir: “byegone” garnered understandable praise for volcano choir, with its anthemic folk rock feel reminiscent of bon iver’s sophomore album.  but “comrade” is the essence of what volcano choir has become: the marriage of collections of colonies of bees’ post-rock leanings and justin vernon’s vocal tendencies.  responsible solely for the lyrics and vocals on repave, vernon was in his element, generously modifying his voice to embellish the experimental aesthetic of the band.  the autotuned coda at the end of “comrade” makes the song and is gloriously powerful live; watch the video below for a frame of reference.


2. lungs – chvrches: any song off of the bones of what you believe could contend for a spot on this list.  chvrches was one of the most impressionable bands of 2013, seamlessly blending pop hooks with indie sensibility and dance floor beats.  “lungs” is buried deep within the album and is a syncopated gem; lauren mayberry’s voice is subtly doubled with a vocoder, adding a harsh undertone to an otherwise crystal clear timbre, but it’s the quarter note-triplet pattern fed through a filthy bass synthesizer that defines this song.  friends of mine who almost exclusively listen to electronic dance music appreciate chvrches due to this song, further showcasing the band’s accessibility across a wide variety of genres.  “lungs” is on par with every single released off of the bones of what you believe, and is probably better than some of them.


1. boat rich – dads: it didn’t take long before “boat rich” was my most-played song of 2013.  clocking in at under three minutes helps, but the fact is that the guitar work is too catchy to not listen to on repeat.  dads started to receive some national attention this year with the resurgence of emo, but the new jersey duo are just as likely to throw a quick meter change into a song as they are to wear their hearts on their sleeves.  the chorus of “boat rich” is anthemic in nature and each repetition builds, culminating in a climax following a triplet-based interlude.  check out dads’ pretty good ep if you haven’t already, and keep your eye out for more material in 2014.  i know i will.


best of 2013: new artist

the title of “best new artist” sometimes confuses and is misleading to me.  i frequently see bands that have two or three albums already under their belt pop up on various round-up lists, and sometimes a band releasing their debut full-length constitutes as a “new artist,” even if they’ve been together for a few years and have released a string of singles and eps.  the big to-do events like the grammy awards are always the best; i’ll never forget how amused i was to see bon iver take home the award for “best new artist” at the 2012 ceremony, despite for emma, forever ago being released to critical and commercial acclaim four years prior.

for my “best new artist” category for 2013, i decided to look at bands that didn’t exist in 2012.  at all.  that meant painful axings for savages and chvrches, fantastic groups that put out really important debut albums this year.  that meant pity sex and daughter didn’t qualify either, as prior years of demos and eps established each band quite well in their respective circles.  while i’m just one guy who inevitably misses out on a lot of what goes on in the music world, there was one brand new band this year that really caught my attention and got me really excited for their subsequent output in 2014.

now, without further ado, let the accolades of 2013 in music begin.

– best new artist: vancouver sleep clinic –

it’s been hard to ignore tim bettinson’s rise from obscurity and his subsequent impact on the indie blogosphere over the past six months.  since the release of his debut single as vancouver sleep clinic, “vapour,” at the end of june, the seventeen year-old from australia has garnered a significant amount of buzz.  early comparisons were made to bon iver and james blake, similarities further condoned by bettinson’s self-admitted adoration of those two artists, but there’s a level of maturity and coherence in both his lyricism and compositions that is beyond rare for someone who graduated high school last month.


i waited in the edge of my seat for months before the next vancouver sleep clinic song dropped, but the artistry attached to “collapse” was worth it.  it’s the lead single off of the band’s upcoming debut ep, already one of my most-anticipated releases of 2014.  the winter landscape “collapse” evokes struck at the perfect moment half a hemisphere away, and this was reflected by vancouver sleep clinic reaching the top of the hype machine charts within days of the song dropping.


the success of both “vapour” and “collapse” foreshadows vancouver sleep clinic’s potential to be a heavy hitter in the ambient, atmospheric realm, as well as the band’s capacity to cross over into elements of folk and post-dub with relative ease.  london grammar just picked up bettinson and company as the support act for a string of tour dates in australia next january.  at the rate this band is snowballing, i wouldn’t be surprised to see vancouver sleep clinic dominating heavy-hitting sites like pitchfork and stereogum within the next few months.  they’re certainly worthy of the buzz.