Opinions

My Top Albums For 2013

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Hello! What follows are my favourite Albums of the Year for 2013. These artists shaped, and had the most influence over my musical landscape for the year. I am not a critic, just a big fan of music. From the surprise of discovering the heavy sludge of Wildildlife, to the joy of hearing Typhoon create a gorgeous personal masterpiece, to the numbing throb of Suuns, it was a great year of listening.

Same as last year, I have avoided all year end lists up to this point. This is my list. Once committed to this, I will eagerly await the tidal wave of year end lists we all know and love and hate. A few of these bands appeared on In It To Spin It this year, and I am very lucky to have had them share their thoughts and music with us.

If you read anything that sounds enticing, I’ve put together a 14 song Youtube Playlist to accompany this list. It corresponds to the order here and is a choice selection from the album in question. It is linked at the end.

Thanks for reading, enjoy!!!

11. Kurt Vile and The Violators – Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze

This record establishes Kurt Vile as one of the most important American singer/songwriters of our time. Kurt leads the pack of burgeoning talent in Philadelphia. Vile, The War On Drugs and Purling Hiss are all related musically, all hailing from Philly. Personally, the last two years of have been spent trying to find something as good as The War On Drugs’ 2011 release Slave Ambient. Kurt Vile was in that group when they recorded their first record, so It makes sense he would be involved in something that hits that high watermark once again.
Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze covers a lot of ground, keeping your ears engaged throughout the double LP. Having a 9 minute title track open your record is gutsy. It works. This lazy guitar driven ode to waking up meanders peacefully, revolving around simple chord changes and guitar solos with great tone. Next up is KV Crimes, another standout.
This album continues through track after track of amazing writing and playing. Personal lyrics about his daughter, him trying to be a better man and struggling at it, an 8 minute acoustic song, it’s all part of the journey. Vile paints pictures with his lyrics. “Snowflakes are dancing, discman is pumping. Headphones are loud, chilling on a pillowy cloud. Comfort of codeine and Springsteen pristine.“ My favourite on the album is Air Bud. The vibe of this song is so uplifting, it instantly makes me happy. The wordless vocalizations from the middle to the end are sublime. Such a great tune. The longest song on the album is the closer. The beautiful Goldtone. A perfect bookend to the first track, this one crawls by, soothingly, repetitively.
This is an epic record for the long haul. This will be played for the rest of my life. I want to stay positive in this moment, but I must mention that I gave Kurt Vile two chances this year to wow me in the live setting. He was uninspiring both times. He is very stoic, not talkative, and while these songs sound crystal clear in your living room, the energy and sound live is just not there. Thankfully studio recordings don’t change; sonic youth indeed.

22. Typhoon – White Lighter

This Portland ensemble have been releasing powerful music with flashes of brilliance in the last few years. They were building momentum and confidence, headed towards something. It was inevitable they would make something as good as this album.
Intensely personal, masterfully lush orchestrated songs are found throughout this incredible introspective look at life and death and the journey between. Their leader, Kyle Morton is pouring his soul into these songs. And you can hear it. Morton’s Fork gives us lyrics “I won’t lie to you, it’ll be painful/ it’s in your nature to fear what is natural/ and the sun, will explode, but not before you and everyone you’ll ever know, will be gone long ago, we are alone in this together”. This is an important album, a cohesive listen, an instant classic. Goosebumps await. Seeing this band give you everything in their live show is a must. Listen to Young Fathers, or try The Honest Truth from their EP last year.

33. War Baby – Jesus Horse

Vancouver rockers debut with this all out onslaught of heavy choruses, pummeling drums and guitars. It harkens back to at time when Seattle was the center of the universe. Mumbled lyrics, frenetic raw energy make this one an easy listen over and over. Dance Song is a great taste of what War Baby is all about. I saw this band maybe 5 times over the course of the year and the shows just got better and better. Each player will draw your attention, but be prepared to be staring at Kirby KILL the drums. Combine all the above with the fact that they have some of the coolest band shirts going, and you’ve got a Vancouver favorite being born. They are currently in the studio finishing tracks for their second effort. Listen to Dentada and crank this stuff. Best 5 or 10 bucks you can spend in this city right now.

44. Wildildlife – Details

This Seattle band makes great noise on this record. It came into my possession through the Volcom Singles club for 2013. The slow murky haze on Forever Sugar is intoxicating. The distortion and fuzz really pick up midway through the album, and Wildildlife are at their psychedelic best cranked to 11. Barely audible distorted vocals under crushing, swirling guitars. Listen to Love Hums and see for yourself, it’s a great dose of heavy with amazing sonic textures.
The band is somewhat of an enigma. Their twitter, website and facebook have not been updated since June 2011. Extremely strange in this day and age for a band with a new album out, but refreshing. There is barely ANY info on the new album available. I am lucky it made its way into my life.

55. Johnny de Courcy and the Death Rangers – S/T

This album by local boy JDC and his band, the Death Rangers is expansive. There are blues, rock, folk and excellent inspired guitar playing. For certain, it gets better ever listen. The vocals are front and center, being right up in the mix. It has absolutely one of the best songs released in Vancouver this year, Cherry Lane. The song itself is sung with conviction, but when combined with the images of the video, it is taken to a whole new level. You must see the video.
The highlight of the album, without doubt, is Erma. It starts off as a narrative about two young people growing up looking towards the future optimistically. A simple, yet beautifully repetitive riff plays while thoughts of the past are recounted. “Life is never what it seems, what you want or what you need, take your time, you’re in no hurry to get it right” is sung with a touch of nostalgic sadness. The song then builds into an emotional guitar release, and Johnny excels, playing with feeling and soul. Such an amazing track to experience live. Old Glass is standout with soaring guitar parts.
There are lots of themes explored on this album, aging, loss even a touching song to dear old Dad and some sage advice, “It’s not the toys you die with, but the people that you know”. Stories with emotion are the heart of this LP.
Johnny de Courcy contains the spark of a truly talented songwriter and performer. I am hoping the future is kind to this gifted artist in our city and we all get to experience the full potential he surely holds within himself. We’re rooting for this guy, big time.

66. Houndmouth – From the Hills Below the City

This young band form Indiana shines on their debut LP. Houndmouth is a band packed with talent. The last time I saw them live, every member sang lead and played every instrument throughout the set. From the Hills Below the City is the perfect introduction to what the band can do. There are 3 and 4 part harmonies, competent lead guitar playing and there’s Katie’s voice. Houston Train can give you chills. The songs contain great sleazy stories dealing with drugs, train rides, gambling and redemption. They conjure images of dusty saloons. Penitentiary and Come On, Illinois contain a few of these elements and are very well written. The album closer Palmyra is as good as you can get to close out a record, with a great build and guitar. Houndmouth is a band I will enjoy watching grow as artists. I think their future is a bright one. I see the light. Listen to Krampus and you will too.

77. Queens of the Stone Age – ….Like Clockwork

Almost 6 years to the day between QOTSA albums. The wait was worth it, however. Dave Grohl is back in the mix. Elton John, Trent Reznor and Mark Lanegan were all involved. From the moment you hear the first track, Keep Your Eyes Peeled, and its dark, bass ridden crawl seeps through you speakers, you know you are in good territory.
If you are looking for blistering guitar solos like the one in Little Sister from 2005’s Lullabies to Paralyze, there aren’t many. Fairweather Friends has one that is layered nicely over Elton’s piano. ….Like Clockwork has everything you want from QOTSA. I think it’s right up there with the best stuff they’ve ever recorded. There are lots of gloomy tones throughout, but it doesn’t come off as depressing. See If I Had a Tail. Smooth Sailing is classic Queens, with a build near the end that will get your blood pumping.
When it comes down to it, it’s riff driven hard rock and Homme can create great textures and each song has a distinct voice and identity. It’s a united listen. Possibly my favourite quote in rock is Homme’s “…rock should be hard enough for the boys, but soft enough for the girls”. Or something to that effect. This album follows that idea perfectly. Welcome back.

88. Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt

It’s no secret I’ve seen these veteran rockers a few times. Over 4 years had gone by between Pearl Jam albums, I was very curious as to where they would take this one. I was pleasantly surprised. I think Eddie Vedder has developed his craft to a point closing in on perfection. Like him and the band or not, his song writing skills are really damn good on this album. The band itself sounds fresh and refocused.
The punk flavoured Mind Your Manners got a good buzz going, but it’s songs like Sirens and Swallowed Whole that will endure. “Have to take your hand/ and feel your breath/ for fear this someday will be over.” This lyric hit very close to home. I get in these moments, and it’s like time is a rope whipping by and I just want to grab it and stop it, hold the moment forever. There are some great guitar tracks on this record too. Let the Records Play is an unexpected blues influenced number by Stone Gossard that Ed wrote some lyrics to, dealing with music and substance as escapism. Very cool sounding track for Pearl Jam. Pendulum is an eerie, haunting track and is a direction I would love to see the band explore more. All in all, a very listenable effort. I think Sirens is quintessential Pearl Jam and will go down as one of their greatest songs. The London, Ontario show in July was one of the best I have ever seen Pearl Jam play. There is nothing like the live Pearl Jam experience. Nothing. Bring on two more in December.

99. Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks

You knew it wouldn’t be forever. The hiatus ended this year. Admittedly, I was taken by surprise a little during my first listen of Hesitation Marks. The last couple of NIN records were definite full band experiences to me. For his first album in 5 years, Trent Reznor takes it back to the start. These songs sound more minimal to my ears at times. Three tracks are credited solely to him, playing every element you hear. Lindsey Buckingham comes out of nowhere and appears on three tracks! There is a lot to digest on this record, lots of nuances, lyric deciphering and a lot of electronic noise. Came Back Haunted is a great single, while Satellite is my favourite track on this thing. This album fits perfectly into the already extensive and impressive Nine Inch Nails catalogue. Trent proves he his is still vital and inspired.

1010. Purling Hiss – Water on Mars

Mike Polizze can play guitar. Incredibly. He can write kick ass songs too. Water on Mars is a weighty album that showcases all of this. Adam Granduciel, fellow Philadelphia musician (The War On Drugs), has production credits on this LP, and he does a great job of retaining the messy basement sounds Purling Hiss are known for. Album opener Lolita is these guys at their best. This song is straight out of the early 90’s. Polizze’s guitar tones and solos are only out done by his vocals. This is the track to hear. She Calms Me Down is a stark contrast to Lolita, which may pique your interest in their diversity enough to make you want to check the rest of the record out.
To hear some quintessential Hiss not on this record listen to the 14 minute freak out track Purple Hiss. It won’t be for everyone, but you’ll understand what these guys go for. Loud, sloppy Lo-fi basement rock. So good. They have released a 2013 compilation capturing such recordings from 2007 through 2011, Paisley Montage. For Twisted Ears Only.

1111. Suuns – Images du Futur

Suuns really hit their mark for their second LP. This is a dark record. The band plays a style of music that is hard to put into a single genre, but at times it is electro, pop, rock, synth heavy and hypnotic. These shadowy soundscapes always throb with bass. As did their show at the Media Club this year, a great display of trippy experimentation. The tracks are at the same time soothing and frightening, conjuring images of fog and darkness, with the lyrical ramblings of Ben Shemie swirling in the ether. Give Bambi or 2020 a listen and you might get taken.

1212. Babysitter – S/T

These Victoria, BC road warriors release a great debut LP of grungy sounding guitar driven rock. Screechy, gravely vocals over crusty riffs are the highlight here. Prime of My Life is a super fun tune, that apparently doesn’t get played live much due to the tough changes throughout the song. Celebrating the simple fact that you “don’t gotta work, but you get paid” on stat holidays, Holiday is a fantastic example of Babysitter’s all out attack. The thrashy guitar playing in the outro will have you smiling, while the verses are a slacker’s anthem. Could be the best song on the album. This 33 minute album packs a hell of a punch, as does this band live. They are not to be missed. One of my favourite live acts this year.

1313. Moonface – Julia with Blue Jeans On

For the third straight year, Spencer Krug’s solo incarnation Moonface, makes my year end list. During these three years, he has released three drastically different records under the same moniker. The only thing in common is their brilliance, and that voice. Oh, and his fingers dancing superbly on a keyboard.
Julia with Blue Jeans On finds us listening to an entire album of Spencer Krug’s voice and masterful piano playing. When I read the press release stating this, I was skeptical, but hopeful. The only song I had heard off Julia, was the lead single Everyone is Noah, Everyone is the Ark. I was impressed. It has an emotional refrain that will tug at your core: “I don’t know if I can call this home”.
I had tickets to the sold out Moonface show here in Vancouver last week. It was an absolute pleasure to hear the songs for the first time live, played right in front of me. To say he sings with passion from his soul is an understatement. I don’t listen to much piano, but I’ve never heard it played like this and I may start seeking more out. He creates an otherworldly environment on Dreamy Summer. The 8 minute track is a must hear, so incredible. Barbarian, the album opener is a highlight and was one of the single greatest live performances I’ve seen this year. The title track declares “the only word worth singing is a name. And it’s not God. It’s you. Julia”.
I’ve owned this album for less than a week and it makes the list. I am surprised, and interested by how much I like this record considering some of the other harder selections I have been listening to this year. This LP is best enjoyed sitting down giving your full attention to every note. Now living in Helsinki, the Penticton born Krug is one person I will pay to see every time he comes to town.

Print14. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

I will start by saying I haven’t liked a record by The National since 2005’s Alligator. The two after that just never hit me, or the timing wasn’t right, I just don’t know. But Trouble Will Find Me resonated with me. It’s a dark, moody record. That being said, the songs are quite catchy and get stuck in my head. Don’t Swallow the Cap is an obvious standout. This is the only album on this list I don’t own a physical copy of. Listen to Sea Of Love here and see if the “Hey Joe, love is a virtue….” lines don’t get stuck in your head. This is the Last Time finds singer Matt Berninger promising someone “I won’t be vacant anymore….” but the tone in his voice sounds like he’s struggling to convince himself of the statement. It’s these small moments on this record, the way the lyrics are sung with wavering, troubled emotion, that makes this one stick with me. Great record.

 

 

 

 

 

So there you have it. What were yours? I’d love to hear them. Leave a comment on Episode 36 of In It To Spin It or here. You can check out new episodes of In It To Spin It every Friday on Youtube channel Calixa. It is a show dedicated to music, vinyl and band interviews, especially Vancouver bands. You may find some great music in your own city you weren’t aware of and get to a show.
Some of the guests on the show have been: Metz, The Melvins, The Pack AD, King Tuff, Typhoon, Guitar Wolf, War Baby, Johnny de Courcy, The Courtneys, Suuns, Generationals, The Paper Kites, Houndmouth, Dirty Beaches, The Ketamines, Tough Age and many more! I tend to give away free music on the show and hold contests for vinyl. Come check it out.

 

Here is the playlist companion to the list:

Can’t wait for the crop of 2014,

Brandon

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