Brian's Top Ten Albums of the Year

It's that time again.  I know you're all looking forward to it. 

It's the time that every site on the interwebz posts their "Top [insert #] [insert category] of 2013."  I figured while you're all in the list reading mood I'd add mine to the pile.  So here goes!

Top 10 Albums of the Year:

1.    The National - Trouble Will Find Me


Over the years The National has evolved and matured.  The evolution from their angsty earlier music, with screaming lyrics to the current, somewhat languid and more introspective music has been gradual and relentless.  This album exudes a quiet confidence of a band who know who they are and has hit their stride.  There’s no pomp and circumstance.  No attempts at pandering to radio sensibilities.  Simply a wonderful mixture of fluid guitar tracks weaving over a restrained but always moving rhythm section punctuated by the deep baritone of crooner Matt Berninger.  There are those who “get” The National and those who do not.  If you’re one of the latter, you’re missing out.

Favorite Track - Graceless

2.    Jagwar Ma – Howlin


I must admit… I have no Idea how I came across these guys, but I haven’t stopped listening to their album in months.  Howlin’ is such a unique album.  There are influences of electronica, disco, psychadelica, 80’s pop and more. 

Just try to listen to this album without moving.  Seriously. Just try it.

Did you try it?  Couldn’t do it, could you?

Favorite Track - That Loneliness 

 3.    Arcade Fire – Reflektor


2013 was a good year for new albums from old favorites (see #1).  One of my favorite characteristics of Arcare Fire has always been the intensity of their songs.  There’s an immediacy to this album that almost feels as though if they hadn’t recorded it, it would have burst out of their chest cavity like the little guy in the Alien movies.  As a counterpoint to the intensity, there are moments of whimsy in songs like Here Comes The Night Time.  I’d almost call it “chamberpop-industrial-disco-indierock*”

* keep your eye out for that section of your local record store, coming soon ;)

Favorite Track - You Already Know

4. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City


I was a bit late to the party on Vampire Weekend.  I know, embarrassing, right?  For whatever reason, I wrote them off as puddle-deep, cheesy-pop for college kids wearing designer jeans while doing lines of blow off the dashboard of a Benz.  How I formulated that opinion I cannot even imagine.  What I do know is that I was very, very wrong.  Modern Vampires Of The Ciry is a very mature album that wrestles with some deep issues, while maintaining an upbeat feel throughout most of it.  This one that rarely leaves my turntable for longer than a few days.

Favorite Track - Obvious Bicycle

5.    Dawes – Stories Don’t End:


“Honesty” is the first word this album brings to mind.  It’s sad and self-deprecating at times and full of hope at others.  It’s full of real life emotion and reflection.  There’s no hyperbole or vague imagery for the listener to interpret.  It’s honest music about real life (love, loss, happiness, wanderlust, etc.)... It’s kind like Seinfeld, an album about nothing that manages to be about everything.  There’s no overarching theme to the album, just a window into the cleverly worded musings of Taylor Goldsmith.  I’d make a comparison to Jackson Brown, but it seems every review this year compared Dawes to the classic rock singer/songwriter.  But it sounds a lot like the guy who sang “The Load Out/Stay.” ;)

Favorite Track - Someone Will

6. Palma Violets – 180


There are bands who think out of the box, do something different, innovate in some way or another. Palma Violets are not one of those bands. Hold on a second though… I didn’t say that was a bad thing. Allow me to illustrate…

My Grandpa John was a guy who loved food… really loooved food. So much so that he would wear specific shirts when he knew that there was a good chance that part of his meal might find his way onto it. At a family feast such as Thanksgiving or Christmas, Grandpa would don his “eatin’ shirt” and belly up to a plate full of food. There was turkey, ham, stuffing, beets, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, bread, and more on his plate. A feast of epic proportions. As the rest of the family would delicately cut their food while carefully keeping the foodstuffs in their respective areas, Grandpa would do quite the opposite. He would “mash” it all together into a concoction in which the individual dishes would intermingle to create something altogether different and glorious.

Palma Violets are the Grandpa John of rock.  They have donned their “eatin’ shirts” and made an infectiously catchy concoction of their influences that even Grandpa would be proud of.

Favorite Song - Chicken Dippers

7. J Roddy Walston and The Business - Essential Tremors


Their first album (self-titled) was one of my favorite albums of 2010, so I'm not surprised at the strength of their follow-up.  Essential Tremors is a bit more varied in style than the previous effort.  Songs like Marigold sound like they could easily come out of the same sessions as their debut album, while Black Light starts with a heavy distorted bass and guitar lifted by a Prince-ish falsetto.  There's also some classic Zeppelin-esque riff rock on Sweat Shock and some honky tonk style piano on Tear Jerk that would appease the discerning Jerry Lee Lewis fan.  There really is something on this album for everyone.

Sorry, no food-based illustration on this album.  Just shut up and listen to it.

Favorite Song - Sweat Shock

8. Kurt Vile – Waking On A Pretty Daze


Have you seen the movie Shawshank Redemption?  If not, stop reading now and go watch it... what's the matter with you?

Ok, so now you've seen it.  There's a scene toward the beginning of the movie where Red (Morgan Freeman) is reflecting on the carefree way that Andy (Tim Robbins) carries himself.  He says:

"He had a quiet way about him, a walk and a talk that just wasn't normal around here. He strolled, like a man in a park without a care or a worry in the world, like he had on an invisible coat that would shield him from this place. Yeah, I think it would be fair to say...I liked Andy from the start." 

Kurt Vile's Walking On A Pretty Daze is the "stroll" of 2013 releases.  When I listen to this album all my cares melt away.  It's the kind of album that transports you to a worry-less state of euphoria with its lazy pace, stretched out musical phrases and spacey sounds.  I feel like a man strolling in a park without a care or worry.  I think it'd be fair to say I liked this album from the start.

Favorite Song - KV Crimes

9. Holy Ghost – Dynamics


There's a definite influence of Holy Ghost's now defunct DFA label-mates LCD Soundsystem, but don't let that worry you that Holy Ghost doesn't have a voice of their own.  Their lyrics don't carry the weight of neo-disco poet laureate James Murphy, but Murphy is a bit of an anomaly.  More often than not, when I'm listening to some dance-tronica I'm more concerned with moving my ass than dissecting lyrical content.  There's no shortage of infectious beats on this album, particularly Bridge And Tunnel and Dumb Disco Ideas.  One of my favorite things about Holy Ghost was seeing them live at Treasure Island Music Festival in San Francisco (along with #6, Palma Violets) and seeing a full band playing real instruments.  I love hearing dance music come out of humans rather than machines.  I think you can even hear the human-ness on this album. 

Favorite Song - Dumb Disco Ideas

10. Caveman – Caveman


As a concert photographer I have the opportunity to see and shoot many bands that are new to me.  One such band this year was Caveman.  I photographed their set at Midpoint Music Festival in Cincinnati, OH and was immediately hooked.  It is so incredibly lush and layered you can help but feel like you are floating at times while listening.  I hear a bit of Sting and Phil Collins in the vocals on the soaring In The City (in case you were wondering, that's a good thing).   This is the kind of music that would be at home on a soundtrack to a John Hughes movie or in a smokey club.

Favorite Song - Shut You Down