TOP 25 ALBUMS OF 2013

So we’ve reached the end of another year, and it’s time to countdown the top albums from 2013. It’s been a great year for music, and we’ll be paying homage to one album per day until all twenty-five have gotten their say. Enjoy!

7. We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic - Foxygen

It’s hard to listen to Foxygen’s most recent album, We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, are not find yourself laughing a little bit. For every amazing guitar riff and excellent melody, there’s also a crass lyric or bizarre thought or imitation of past rock giants like Mick Jagger or Bob Dylan, who find themselves tethered to this album almost unwillingly. You can listen to songs like “Into The Darkness,” one of the best album openers of the year, and find yourself amazed and hypnotized, but then in the next track “No Destruction” you’re hearing lead singer Sam France declare, “There’s no need to be an asshole/You’re not in Brooklyn anymore.” The album’s forty minutes are chalk-full of moments like this, complete with bar-esque piano flourishes and bizarre break downs, like the final few seconds of “Oh Yeah,” which only begins after France lets out a harrowing “Freak out!” and the whole song goes off in another direction.

In that regard, the album is very, very fun, and it has nearly everything you’d want from a rock record right now. For everyone trying to copy sounds of the past, Foxygen outranks them by simply pushing their music one step further - in fact, the most straightforward song on the album is “No Destruction,” and that’s the one with that Brooklyn Asshole lyrics. Songs like “Shuggie” remind us of daughters with rhino-shaped earrings and songs like “On Blue Mountain” talk about the Bible, but don’t really talk about the Bible. It’s a confusing album, and through and through a fascinating one. I mean, the title track features at least a minute of France screaming the title of the album and it’s maybe the greatest thing on there. And the closer, “Oh No 2,” features some sort of spoken word bit before the whole thing breaks down before two minutes, only to end with France declaring, “If you believe in love, everything you see is love/So try to be the one God wants to be/And say that you’ll love me again!” Why he wants us to end with that idea is beyond me, but Foxygen seem just as much about having fun as they are about pushing musical boundaries and ideas. “Oh No 2” might be my favorite song on the album, and even though it still feels kind of like a joke, it also moves me inside for all of its Tom Foolery - I mean, you can kind of picture your life ending to this song. That’s quite a feat for a band that’s so new and so fragile - I mean, they nearly broke up this past year and France fell off-stage during the first song at their Minneapolis show. But what seems to make this band work is the pairing of France - a crazy, genius lyricist with a voice to match - and Jonathan Rado, who serves and guitarist and levelheaded counterpart to France’s fury. 

We Are The 21st is an album that whirls its way around, and before you know it it’s over - however that makes it only a more interesting listen, and one of the most pleasurable ones of the year. It harkens back to years of music past and yet moves in its own radical direction, not overcompensating but never compromising. As far as debut albums (excluding their self-released Take The Kids Off Broadway) this is what you want. What comes next from this band, if anything does, is anybody’s guest. But I’ll be first in line.

My dad, year unknown.

My dad, year unknown.

  

TOP 25 ALBUMS OF 2013

So we’ve reached the end of another year, and it’s time to countdown the top albums from 2013. It’s been a great year for music, and we’ll be paying homage to one album per day until all twenty-five have gotten their say. Enjoy!

8. Muchacho - Phosphorescent

Matthew Houck is quite a character, it seems, and Phosphorescent’s music has always reflected that in one way or another - however it wasn’t until Muchacho that his musical chops and drunken, battered, country soul seemed to sync up, and it makes for one of the best releases of 2013, if only because it’s so unexpected. I was a fan of Pride, to a certain degree, but had kind of written off Phosphorescent after his Willie Nelson tribute album - I mean, what are we supposed to do with that? - and yet there was something immediately intriguing about Muchacho: the opening flourish of electronic under-the-sea-esque scales, and the building voices - quite literally, an invocation and an introduction. That’s one of the first joys of this album: being told that this will, in effect, be different. And if anyone needed further proof of that different, in comes “Song For Zula,” the real masterpiece of Muchacho and that centerpiece for Houck’s fractured storytelling - “Song For Zula,” and in turn all of Muchacho, is, in that sense, a revelation, not because it showcases something new about Houck, but because it showcases what we already knew in a new light. 

Frankly speaking, Muchacho is a dumb name for such an earth-shattering album, but it can be forgiven when you hear Houck’s cracking voice on “Muchacho’s Tune”: “I’ve been fucked up, and I’ve been a fool,” he sings, “but I fix myself up and come and be with you.” A lot of Muchacho follows this sentiment: a broken man, trying to find God, love, life, and maybe more. For someone whose previous album was called Here’s To Taking It Easy, there’s nothing particularly easy about Muchacho. Even in the album’s quieter moments, like “Song For Zula” and “Muchacho’s Tune,” there’s something bubbling under the surface, flourishing in different moments, like the horns that find themselves bursting out at the end of the latter song. The whole album feels a bit like a fight, but you’re not quite sure who the fight is with: an unknown lover, an unknown wilderness, or an unknown within. And it’s on songs like “The Quotidian Beasts” where Houck lets himself break free of all previous inhibitions and really let the songs explode, and it’s such a pleasure when he does so that makes the moments where he’s not just as precious. 

There’s a lot to unpack in Muchacho, but what makes it so effective is its centerpiece, and that’s Houck himself: beneath the country-tinged ballads and gasping pianos and variety of instruments, it’s really about a man trying to find himself. It’s by far the best thing he’s ever done, and it’s an album that opens itself up the more you listen to it, unfolding like Houck himself as the songs begin to unravel. 

  

TOP 25 ALBUMS OF 2013

So we’ve reached the end of another year, and it’s time to countdown the top albums from 2013. It’s been a great year for music, and we’ll be paying homage to one album per day until all twenty-five have gotten their say. Enjoy!

9. 6 Feet Beneath The Moon - King Krule

When King Krule released his self-titled EP back in 2011, it was apparent that there was something special about the red-headed cockney kid and his incredible guitar riffs. That EP, for all its shortcomings, was one of my top played of that year, and yet it wasn’t until his debut album this year that the full dream seemed realized. Sure, 6 Feet Beneath The Moon is a little scatterbrained and a little all over the place, but that only adds to its charm. At 19, King Krule’s Archy Marshall joins the ranks of people like Earl Sweatshirt, with crazy amounts of talent, crazy amounts of fans, and a crossroads before him. If 6 Feet Beneath The Moon is that crossroads, then he’s looking to head in a hell of a good direction. 

Lyrically speaking, 6 Feet poises itself as perhaps more than that EP, but not necessarily much more. Thirty years from now, it might be seen as some equivalent to Lesley Gore Sings of Mixed-Up Hearts in that the songs seem to revolve around a heartbroken Marshall, or perhaps an Archy that somewhere between love and hate. 6 Feet is full of those contradictions: in one moment he’ll be saying “Lay me down” to an unknown lover, and then in the next he’ll be saying “Where the fucking fat bitches.” Sure, those two lines come from tracks previously released, but his choice to involve them here paints a bigger picture of perhaps someone who doesn’t know what he wants in the best possible way. Only on a record like this could you have both sentiments existing, and not have it be contradictory. Because in the end, Marshall doesn’t know what he wants, like any teenager doesn’t: in one moment he wants love and in the next he wants to throw it away.  

Either way, however, 6 Feet is a lusciously recorded album, so meticulously put together that it’s not a stretch to use “King Krule” and “genius” in the same sentence. Even in the album’s quieter moments, there’s something brewing under the surface, and Marshall leaves those notes without bringing them to the forefront because he knows he doesn’t have to. It gives 6 Feet a sort of waking-dream quality that makes it so listenable, especially when paired with some of the greatest guitar work around these days. In the end, you can talk about instrumentation as much as you want, but the core of King Krule has always been Marshall’s voice and Marshall’s guitar. And it’s great to see those two powerhouses get a full album where they can work out the details, even if they don’t necessarily find a conclusion. And anyway, we probably wouldn’t want a conclusion even if he found one.

  

TOP 25 ALBUMS OF 2013

So we’ve reached the end of another year, and it’s time to countdown the top albums from 2013. It’s been a great year for music, and we’ll be paying homage to one album per day until all twenty-five have gotten their say. Enjoy!

10. Modern Vampires of the City - Vampire Weekend

The career of Vampire Weekend could have gone a lot of ways other than the way it’s going, but the way things have turned out for the band have a lot to do with their most recent album, which proved that they were more than one-hit wonder Oxford kids with an affinity for African Mozart Pop (I guess that’s how I could describe their debut album). For all of the hype surrounding the band upon their descent into pop music, their second album Contra proved to be the antithesis to great sophomore records that have separated the good bands from the great bands. I think of Surfer Blood’s newest record Pythons, which leads one to believe that their excellent debut, Astro Coast, might have been a fluke; yes, Contra wasn’t exactly Pythons, but it wasn’t exactly Bon Iver’s self-titled album either. It was good, but it wasn’t great. Enter Modern Vampires of the City, an album that shows that Vampire Weekend deserve our attention, and can send the misconceptions about them: rich, east coast boys with a silly streak and talent for fast tunes.

In a way, Modern Vampires is a deeply scary and passionately intense album, and yet you wouldn’t get that from a first listen. If you can actually wade through the light pop of tracks like “Diane Young” and “Unbelievers,” and hear what lead singer Ezra Koenig is saying, it’s not particularly happy stuff: he’s afraid of dying, he’s afraid of being alone, and he’s certainly afraid of the years ahead of him. “I wanna know, does it bother you,” he sings on standout track “Don’t Lie,” “the low click of the ticking clock.” This is precisely what this album is about: the band’s own mortality. It feels similar to Trevor Powers of Youth Lagoon’s comments about his most recent record: he’s stated in interviews that he was afraid that he might drop dead while recording the album at any moment. That sentiment doesn’t feel too far off from Modern Vampires: every song seems like it might be Koenig’s last, and that’s frightening for people who turned on this record for another “A-Punk.” Sure, the sounds are the same, and the voice is the same, but if it weren’t for that, this would be a different band. It frames Contra is more of a transitional light than before, and provides it as a necessary step to Modern Vampires, which is truly their crowning achievement. 

There are a lot of amazing tracks on Modern Vampires, and that’s obviously, but it’s the monumental feel from start to finish that makes the album more than just a fun listen, like the self-titled debut or even Contra. You can jam out to “Diane Young” and “Step” and definitely “Ya Hey,” but you never lose the sense that it’s part of a bigger picture. For me, that comes into play with the final track “Young Lion,” which feels like the denouement that Vampire Weekend is purposefully leaving us with: it’s simple, it’s not much, but it leaves you feeling like maybe you missed something on the previous tracks. And if you go back and listen, you’ll see that you did. Modern Vampires of the City isn’t full of the immediate emotion that one might expect from such a deeply emotional album, but it’s certainly there. And yeah, maybe you have to trust Vampire Weekend a little bit to get it, but if you do, it pays off. Sonically, it’s a huge step forward. But from an idealogical standpoint, it’s not even on the same map.

  

TOP 25 ALBUMS OF 2013

So we’ve reached the end of another year, and it’s time to countdown the top albums from 2013. It’s been a great year for music, and we’ll be paying homage to one album per day until all twenty-five have gotten their say. Enjoy!

11. Mala - Devendra Banhart

There’s been a lot of talk about how Devendra Banhart has lost his edge ever since he got famous - and maybe the talk isn’t that crude, and maybe he’s not that famous - but it’s got to be pretty annoying for someone as creative as Banhart. His career started with the kind of lo-fi folk music that now seems to be the norm for struggling artists who lo-fi sound as an imitation of the bigger scene, when Banhart was using it because that’s all he had. There’s something heartwarming about listening to those early recordings - anything off of Oh Me Oh My… - and how simplistic, honest, and yet impossibly weird they are; I mean, listen to songs like “Lend Me Your Teeth,” and it makes his songs like “The Other Woman” seem pretty normal. With that being said, it’s easy to categorize someone like Banhart as a musician who’s passed his prime; after all, artists like him have become a dime a dozen, and you can only go on doing the same thing for so long. And maybe that’s what so frustrating about his career: he’s never really done the same thing twice. You listen to Oh Me Oh My… and then Rejoicing In The Hands, and they sound like different artists - if only connected by Banhart’s heavenly voice. The same thing goes for Cripple Crow and Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon and What Will We Be and now, Mala - they all stand apart as odes to different interests, different prospects, and different masterpieces.

For my money, Smokey Rolls is his best album, and I might be alone in thinking that. People say it’s too long and too aimless, but to me the aim is clear: it’s stories - diversions - twists and turns, before we find our ending in “My Dearest Friend”: “I’m going to lie of loneliness,” Devendra sings, and that’s basically what it’s always been about for me. He’s certainly a weird dude, but at the core of that weirdness is a fear of loneliness, and if he only lets that come out once and a while, it makes those moments even better. Ever since I heard “My Dearest Friend,” I knew Banhart was a musician to watch. And even if songs like “Chin Chin & Muck Muck” and “Little Boys” might tell you he’s feeling the opposite, there’ a singular human buried in there, and his music has always been about finding that.

Mala, if speaking frankly, is his most straightforward album of all time, and yet it still would be the weirdest by anyone else’s discography. In a way, that’s what makes it so listenable over and over again - Mala doesn’t throw the punches that Smokey Rolls did, or even that What Will We Be did, and, yeah, in some respects, that’s kind of a disappointment. Ever since Smokey Rolls, his albums have felt a bit like a reduction of sorts, where it’s better when his ideas flow. But either way, Mala might be some of the best songs he’s ever written, as if instead of trying to figure out what’s going on inside of him, he just focused on what he does best, and that’s writing great music. Maybe it came out of his recent engagement, which seems to have added a level of singularity to his music, or maybe it’s simply that he’s finding his sound even more so, but Mala feels like the album that defines Devendra in modern times - if the other albums were unwieldy and impossible, this one is certainly accessible. Songs like “Daniel” and “Fur Hildegard von Bingen” are some of the most pop-based ones he’s ever written, and “You Fine Petting Duck,” although slipping into electronic disco is a way that maybe he hasn’t in the past, is one of his most fun. For a dude who wrote a song called “Shabop Shalom,” this album is really devoid of those crazy ideas - except for maybe the track where he says that his mom is going to buy him some DVDs.

Honestly, I don’t really know what to make of Mala, other than that it’s less pretentious and more music-orientented album than anything he’s made in recent years. It’s not necessarily the album that you might have seen coming from Banhart, but it’s certainly the album he wanted us to have. Songs like “Won’t You Come Home” find him in true form, whispering to an unknown love (or perhaps now a known love), and finding his beautiful voice howling the heavens as it always has, and hopefully always will. 

  

TOP 25 ALBUMS OF 2013

So we’ve reached the end of another year, and it’s time to countdown the top albums from 2013. It’s been a great year for music, and we’ll be paying homage to one album per day until all twenty-five have gotten their say. Enjoy!

12. The Flower Lane - Ducktails

The Flower Lane feels like Ducktails’ proper debut, even if they already had three albums and some EPs under their belt before its release - in fact, one of those albums, and still probably the best, Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics, is really the album to go to if you want to get a real sense of what Ducktails was about before the glitz and the glamour. I say glitz and glamour because, in a way, The Flower Lane feels like the product of a promotion, both in frontman Matthew Mondanile’s other group Real Estate, and in terms of Ducktails - it’s a more evenly produced, instrumentally heavy, collective album than anything he’s put together before, and maybe anything that Real Estate has put together either: it still holds that quirky, nerdy feeling that Real Estate’s got, but it seems to be more self-aware, and delving deeper into experimental style than any of Mondanile’s other music would allow. That comes with the help of vocalists from Cults and Ford & Lopatin (allow with some electronics from them), and backing from other New Jersey band Big Troubles, which rounds out The Flower Lane's feel. You can tell this isn't what Arcade Dynamics was, if only because it doesn’t have a ten minute ambient jam session at its end.

The one argument you can make against The Flower Lane is that it isn’t exactly the heartwarming ride that Arcade Dynamics was: sure, it’ s a more intensely recorded and more progressive album, but something gets lost in the translation that’s a bit disappointing. It’s better to think about The Flower Lane as its own thing to actually enjoy it. It’s a funky album that gets funkier as it goes on: the opener “Ivy Covered House” feels like a flowery (pun intended, I guess) Real Estate track, before startling us with the title track, which features a very effective piano progression that shifts and changes at just the right moments, stopping and starting and becoming much more of a dance track that it intended upon being. “Under Cover” has a similar effect, as does “Timothy Shy” - they’re not necessarily standout tracks, but they certainly have a shimmer to them that plays beautifully against the cold winter that the album came out during, and featuring their own originality, like the horns on “Under Cover” or the off-putting strings of “Timothy Shy” - we never would’ve expected that from Ducktails.

Because of its lack of emotion, maybe The Flower Lane is meant to be more of a jam album, and it is, chalk-full of awesome solos and different warbling instruments, and that comes into full effect in the latter half of the album, with tracks like “Sedan Magic” and “Letter of Intent,” which is a brilliant example of what happens when great artists work together: they make great music. “Letter of Intent” might be Ducktails’ foray into pop music, but it certainly strays from anything popular: the play between female and male vocals here is both creepy and yet attractive, and it makes for The Flower Lane to be more than a one-time play - in fact, it’s probably one of my most listened to albums of the year.And then, of course, we end with “Academy Avenue,” an acoustic, fractured track, and a reminder that Mondanile is who we remember him to be, and always will be, no matter what gets in the way.

  

TOP 25 ALBUMS OF 2013

So we’ve reached the end of another year, and it’s time to countdown the top albums from 2013. It’s been a great year for music, and we’ll be paying homage to one album per day until all twenty-five have gotten their say. Enjoy!

13. Love’s Crushing Diamond - Mutual Benefit

Mutual Benefit seemingly comes from the school of soft-spoken folk singers, which immediately makes him a bit of a target for guffaws, the likes of which Mumford & Sons and whoever else kids are listening to probably get all the time. But what sets Mutual Benefit apart is it’s honesty, which seeps through each track on his debut Love’s Crushing Diamond to the point of no return: perhaps it’s the strings added retroactively, perhaps the obviously constructed  haphazard production value, or maybe it’s just lead singer Jordan Lee’s crippled voice, which carries its way through the album like the rivers he’s constantly singing about. The album does, in a lot of ways, feel a bit like water, slowly rushing towards “Strong Swimmer” conclusions, and drifting in and out of tracks: the first three fit together so well that it almost feels like one song. That’s one of Love’s strengths: although each song is a wonder in its own right, it also fits together perfectly as a full piece: short, sweet, and yet startling true. Lyrics, of course, help: “Sometimes my brain and heart conspire/to set everything on fire,” Lee sings on “Golden Wake,” and that’s only after he tells us he’s been for a walk and he’s quit his job - the album feels like the winters so many modern folk artists are trying to create, and it is doing it with no effort at all.

Maybe it’s a misnomer to label this folk, for it feels a bit like its own genre than anything likened to modern acoustics: Mutual Benefit expertly crafts an album here that seems to stand outside of the modern music discussion, as if it’s above it and away from it, and yet it feels intimately close with each new listen. It’s those feelings of isolation and loneliness and yet connection that we all feel and yet can’t describe the way Mutual Benefit does. Granted, this album barely made it on my list at all - I didn’t listen to it until a few weeks from the end of the year, but it instantly hooked me with its intensity and sheer beauty. I can’t wait to see what it does in the coming weeks.

jessethorn:

The most fun thing I did this year was buy a thousand strangers an ice cream cone.

Some things:

  1. This is awesome.
  2. Jesse doesn’t wear suits all the time
  3. Jordan is an adult.
  4. This is awesome.
Most people just like, you know, bow down to TV or whatever - bow down to these cameras; like, I could care less about any of these cameras in all honestly. All I care about is my family; I care about protecting my girl, protecting my baby, and protecting my ideas and my dreams.
  

TOP 25 ALBUMS OF 2013

So we’ve reached the end of another year, and it’s time to countdown the top albums from 2013. It’s been a great year for music, and we’ll be paying homage to one album per day until all twenty-five have gotten their say. Enjoy!


14. Days Are Gone - Haim

It’s kind of a wonder that nearly every song on Haim’s debut album Days Are Gone is an instant hit, and it’s probably a testament to their amazing songwriting and generally stage presence that the album is one of the most listenable ones of the year. Sure, Days Are Gone isn’t exactly the deep emotional work of art that some other albums this year were, but it sure as hell is a lot of fun, and Haim probably know that, between the constant Bassfaces, goofing off with David Letterman, and covering Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball.” Most of the songs on the album are about some form of heartbreak, which leads to even more comparisons with Fleetwood Mac, however I see comparisons to many other high profile acts, from The Rolling Stones to Michael Jackson (see: the little gasps that lead singer Danielle lets out at different moments). There’s one thing that’s undeniable about Haim, however much you want to credit them at artists - this music is damn sexy.

Days Are Gone is an album full of gems, from the string-heavy “The Wire” to the soft-spoken “Honey & I” - and generally speaking, it’s one of the most pleasing albums of the year to listen to: I found myself getting confused while listening to it, as each song seemed to have something to offer, whereas I usually find a few that I like that lead into liking other ones. Right now, I’m digging “Let Me Go,” which features an amazing drum section by solo male member Dash Hutton, and the general awesomeness of Danielle’s vocals. I guess there isn’t much more say about this album, other than that it’s a fun time full of awesome rock action, in a way that seemed to be lost in recent years of deep concept music. In terms of most pleasurable album of the year, that’d probably have to go to Days Are Gone. Here’s hoping whatever comes next for Haim will follow suit.

  

TOP 25 ALBUMS OF 2013

So we’ve reached the end of another year, and it’s time to countdown the top albums from 2013. It’s been a great year for music, and we’ll be paying homage to one album per day until all twenty-five have gotten their say. Enjoy!

15. Doris - Earl Sweatshirt

Chances are if you listened to Earl Sweatshirt’s first mixtape EARL before he disappeared to Samoa, it’s kind of hard to listen to now, like looking at pictures of your friend’s when they were little kids. EARL, in its own way, was a defining mixtape in its day, and the real force the put Odd Future into the limelight - even though that was partially do to the “Free Earl” campaign that was about as confusing as the album itself. Listening to it now, there isn’t a lot of connection between that album and Doris: the rap isn’t as thoughtful, it’s way more sexual - i.e. rape-based - Earl’s voice is at a much higher octave, and the beats were all generally the same, forums for the one connecting feature: Earl’s amazing rap skills. That’s the one thing that makes Doris sound like the generally progression from that mixtape, if only that it showcases Earl once again as perhaps the greatest rapper of this day and age, and is just as thoughtful and deep as you would expect it to be.

In a way, listening to Earl Sweatshirt rap kind of makes me believe in the idea of god-given talent, as opposed to a skill that’s trained and practiced over many years of experience - as that was evident back in 2010, and it’s evident now. Earl falls into the category of musicians - much like other enigmas like Jai Paul and Kanye West - who seem to view their talent as more of a burden than a gift: the need to produce art, as opposed to simply sitting back and living like the rest of us. It’s a compulsion that leads to both amazing albums and generally mystifying careers, and what makes Earl’s career so mesmerizing is simply how young he is. At 19, the fact that he’s produced, recorded, and completed an album as masterful and insightful as Doris is majestic in its own right, and Earl probably knows this. He knows he’s gifted, he knows he’s talented, and he knows he’s wanted. In the end, though, Doris comes off as a message of an introvert just wanting it all to go away, and it makes it even more interesting. In an age when rappers seem to be constantly seeking attention - see: Jay-Z - Earl doesn’t seem to want it, and yet gets it even more because of it.

If we’re talking about Doris in strictly musical way, it’s a little ramshackled, but that’s not to be unexpected from a 19 year old still finding his sound and finding what he wants, particularly after receiving as much attention as he’s getting. There are songs that certainly stand out, and that’s “Sunday,” whose drum-based beat and Frank Ocean feature are highlights on the album, as “Molasses,” featuring RZA - and even “Guild” featuring Mac Miller is pretty solid, especially Miller’s line about The Adjustment Bureau (“It’s a good movie”) - but the real gem here is Earl himself, and he’s at his best when he’s alone, speaking from the heart, and the best example of this is “Chum,” which we obviously heard before, but makes a lot more sense in a forum like this. “Get up off the pavement/brush the dirt up off my psyche,” Earl raps in the chorus, and that basically sums up what he seems to be going through, and what the album means. He’s falling and getting up and trying and failing and feeling and it’s hard to do that when people expect something from you.

Doris might not be what fans of EARL wanted, and Earl said that beforehand, and stated that he didn’t give a fuck. But for my money, it’s a massive improvement, and a movement in the career of my favorite rapper and favorite artists. His flow is impeccable and so is his vision. “Young, black, and jaded, vision hazy strolling through the night,” he ends the album with on “Guild,” and that kind of sums up where he’s at right now. Can’t wait to see where he’s at next.

  

TOP 25 ALBUMS OF 2013

So we’ve reached the end of another year, and it’s time to countdown the top albums from 2013. It’s been a great year for music, and we’ll be paying homage to one album per day until all twenty-five have gotten their say. Enjoy!

16. The Bardo Story - Salvia Plath

Salvia Plath falls into the realm of music that maybe would best be described as electronic stoner rock, though these people probably have a better, pun-related name for what their doing. It’s a movement that comprises the likes of Jeans Wilder, Elvis Depressedly, Ringo Deathstarr, and more, and although it’s a movement that seems rooted in simplistic, most likely Garageband crafted songs, they have a certain charm to them, and that’s something that Salvia Plath’s Michael Collins has capitalized on. Salvia Plath wasn’t always known under this literary drug-infused name, but instead used to go by Run DMT, and unfortunately had to change it due to another, shitty beats-making group - Run DMT was one of my favorite bands for a while, particularly because of how effortless the music felt, on released like Bong Voyage and Get Ripped Or Die Trying - however it wasn’t until Dreams that Collins seemed to hone in on what exactly he was trying to do: sure, he still kept the formula the same, with short tracks that sounded more like bits of songs than actual songs, but the piece as a whole seemed to encapsulate some sort of waking/sleeping fantasy world that culminated in the amazing “Dreaming,” which also ranks among my favorite songs ever. Dreams felt like his natural resting place, where the psychedelic-rock movement wanted to go if it could get off the couch.

Enter The Bardo Story, which finds Collins changing the formula, perhaps for the best or perhaps not - it isn’t really clear yet. On first listen, The Bardo Story is remarkably more melody-based, with actual tracks and actual choruses and actual vocals - I mean, have of Dreams was simply one-minute long tracks of scratchy computers. Instead, Salvia Plath chooses to make use of instruments and a sort of 70s throwback that sounds a lot more like the music its trying to imitate than the previous incarnation of Collins did. There’s still a sense of unease, and generally laziness, within Collins’ music, but it seems to take a better form here, as if his songwriting capabilities have grown, as have his musicianship.

What, though, The Bardo Story is supposed to be, I don’t know. Perhaps an entrance into the ring of more substantial bands that the pun-heavy counterparts he’s been associated with, and in that case The Bardo Story is more of an introduction than anything else. However that doesn’t mean it’s not an album filled with fascinating moments, particularly tracks like “House of Leaves” and “Bardo States,” which seem to be filled with more instrumentation than Collins has ever dabbled with. It’s not the simplistic sampling that made Dreams so listenable, but it’s certainly more involved, as if Collins has become more comfortably musically - even so much to let his vocals burst through: “When you’re living/there’s no forgiving/those things you do,” he screams on “Bardo States,” and it’s the most forceful track on the album, and maybe the best. For my money, though, it’s “Hidden Track,” which seems to seep back into the realm that “Dreaming” set up, only making that track feel like less of an oddity amongst foreigners.

Regardless of The Bardo Story's haphazardly ways, it offers more than it asks, and finds itself being endlessly listenable, like an old 70s record that just keeps spinning until you don't know when it started or when it stopped. And that, it seems, is what Collins is trying to do: imitate the past, find the source, and just groove. If Salvia Plath is a movement towards a more substantialized musical effort, then it's welcome, even if it's at the cost of those gems like “Dreaming” - if you can let go of the dreams and the drugs, then The Bardo Story is actually a great listen, full of interesting twists and turns, and generally feel-good vibes. 

  

TOP 25 ALBUMS OF 2013

So we’ve reached the end of another year, and it’s time to countdown the top albums from 2013. It’s been a great year for music, and we’ll be paying homage to one album per day until all twenty-five have gotten their say. Enjoy!

17. Monomania - Deerhunter

If you watched Deerhunter’s performance of “Monomania” on Jimmy Fallon, which took place the same day they released the single (probably a tactical move), it was pretty evident that whatever incarnation of Deerhunter that we’ve all grown accustomed to was gone, perhaps forever. A lot of that was owed to Bradford Cox, the band’s eccentric frontman who screamed into the microphone for all of two and a half minutes before walking out of the studio, taking a paper cup from someone, drinking from it, casting it aside, and then getting into an elevator. How much of this was planned - well, I don’t know - but it was clear that Monomania was going to be different from Halcyon Digest and Microcastle, if only in that something had changed in Cox, a person who seems to be constantly changing - I mean, each of his solo albums as Atlas Sound seem to be parodies of the previous album, the last of which, Parallax, featured him as some sort of Americana rock star; and Monomania seems to cast him the light of punk star, however you want to define that. With that in mind, Monomania has a lot of ideals and concepts and theologies that don’t necessarily add up in the end: I think the album can be likened to Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, not in sound (obviously), but in the fact that the songs are supposed to say something about music more than their supposed to actually be music. But that’s what frustrating about Cox: what exactly is he trying to say? Is punk dead? Is it alive? Do we need to revive it? Do we need to kill it? I honestly don’t know.

Microcastle is one of my favorite albums of all time, and “He Would Have Laughed” might be my favorite song of all time, and so Monomania is a difficult album, obviously. Gone are the elongated electronic segments (see: “Calvary Scars” to “Activa”) and timid acoustics (see: “Little Kids”), but instead it’s kind of like the end of “Twilight at Carbon Lake” and “Don’t Cry” had a baby, and then that baby last forty minutes. Personally, I think you can listen to the title track and get the message pretty easily. And only devoted fans to Deerhunter, I think, would be willing to break down this album, because it is almost laughable in some areas. I mean, what are “Pensacola” and “Dream Captain” supposed to be? Jokes?

But then again, Monomania has some of the most rewarding tracks of Deerhunter’s career, and that’s a testament to Cox’s songwriting abilities. One you can make it through the first five tracks (save “The Missing”), the album is near perfect: songs like “T.H.M.” “Sleepwalking,” and “Back to the Middle” lead into “Monomania” so astutely, and “Nitebike” is a hobbled, lo-fi acoustic track that seems to shed all of the ideology for a second and let you see the fragile Cox within, and because that’s the only moment we get where he doesn’t sound angry, it’s a revelation. And with that in mind, “Punk” feels like a rebirth and a promise: a promise to continue down this path that maybe doesn’t have a discernible end, but certainly will be interesting. It’s not an album that’s as immediately rewarding as its predecessors, and it’s a little heavy on the politics, but then again, we’re talking about a guy who’s had multiple onstage meltdowns, and performed “My Sharona” for forty-five minutes to an angry audience. Deerhunter wouldn’t be interesting if they were trying to say something. And if you’re willing to take the time to figure it out, chances are you’ll be impressed with the result. 

  

TOP 25 ALBUMS OF 2013

So we’ve reached the end of another year, and it’s time to countdown the top albums from 2013. It’s been a great year for music, and we’ll be paying homage to one album per day until all twenty-five have gotten their say. Enjoy!

18. Crawling Up The Stairs - Pure X

In a lot of ways, Pure X’s sophomore album was the most surprising of 2013, throwing us in a completely different direction than their 2011 debut would have led us to believe Crawling Up The Stairs would have gone. I loved Pleasure, both then and now, and not because of the reasons why I usually like albums: I liked that you could listen to it from start to finish, endlessly, without ever really having to pick out a track that you like (other than maybe “Easy,” which remains their best song). Pleasure wasn’t an album that asked for much, with it’s reverb heavy good-vibes and lo-fi values instilled from start to finish - in fact, you couldn’t really understand the words or the emotions they were trying to convey, other than maybe the few audible lines on “Easy” that sounded something like, “No, I don’t feel nothing…”

If that was the case, then Crawling Up The Stairs is about feeling everything, and it makes for a hard listen, especially when taken into context with the band’s first album. Whatever happened to these dudes between then and now changed everything, and their music reflects that - in a way that’s extremely laughable at first. I remember literally sniggering the first time I heard “Someone Else,” if only because it sounded more like a joke than a song: you could practically picture the lead singer clawing at the microphone in some dive bar, while everyone paid him no attention. The high falsettos of Pleasure were replaced by some broken voice, that seemed like karaoke gone wrong - and that’s not even talking about the lyrics: “Come on burn me/until this body’s dust/Oh come on, make me feel something, baby/I don’t give a fuck…” And then after that he basically just starts screaming, before moving back into his fractured high pitched cry.

That’s basically where most people would jump off board, I’d say. But if you keep listening, you realize in a lot of ways that Crawling Up The Stairs is Pure X’s transformation from a great band into an actual band: maybe Pleasure was so listenable because it didn’t convey much more emotion than a spaced-out fever dream, whereas Crawling Up The Stairs is packed so tight with emotion that it’s hard to think of anything else while listening to it. The vocoder of “Written in the Slime,” a track that feels like something out of Blade Runner; the Wall-esque sound effects on “Shadows and Lies,” the screaming and wailing on “How Did You Find Me” - it all adds up to album of fractured love, fractured reality, and fractured perception, and it’s amazing attractive and repulsive every time you listen to it. The guitar licks are still there, and so’s the reverb, but it’s put to use conceptually more than sonically. If you want to listen to some awesome music, listen to Pleasure. But if you want to listen to awesome emotion, listen to Crawling Up The Stairs.

There’s one other dimension to this album, though, and that’s present on the two standout tracks: “Things In My Head” and “Thousand Year Old Child,” which serve as a third paradigm to dichotomy created by Pleasure and Crawling Up The Stairs - a soft-spoken vocal, provided undoubtedly by someone other than that wailing on “Someone Else,” who’s voice is just as close to breaking, but fragile like a child’s, as if it could break at any moment, but something is holding it up. “Things In My Head” is the best example of this, and is the best track by this third version of Pure X: with it’s acoustics, hushed vocals, and chord shifts that feel like their moving the earth - well, it’s one of the best songs of the year. “There are things I can never explain to you,” we hear, “and things in my head that are never said…” It’s really beautiful, more so than anything else on the confusing and intense Crawling Up The Stairs, but it also is necessary to those confusing and intense moments, and makes them all the better. We might not know exactly what’s going on with Pure X, and they might not be able to explain it, but I sure do want to listen and try to figure it out.