Music: Best of 2013
End of the year lists can be hard. Anyone who pays attention to music knows the enormous amount of releases in a year. Though a large percent are mediocre or not worth the time, it still leaves a chunk of good releases worth checking out. It is difficult for one person to discover all the best output in a year on their own. Relying on music sites, friends and other people online is critical. Each year I struggle to acknowledge the best in a sea of overwhelming odds. In the end, you have to put your foot down, ignore all the possibilities you may have missed and put together a list of releases that impacted you the most.
2013 was a great year for music. Fans of every genre had plenty of excellent material to delve into. There was no excuse to walk away from the year feeling disappointed. Below is my top 20 releases of the year along with a hefty list of honorable mentions.
Metal music is getting out of control. There are so many subgenres of subgenres that the most loyal of fans will never be able to keep up. Luckily, there are several labels that consistently release great metal music. Deathwish is one of them. Oathbreaker’s latest album is a solid example of metal done right. Eros | Anteros is fast paced with shredding guitars and driving drum beats. The screeching vocals fit the atmosphere of the album and restrain themselves from becoming overbearing. At forty six minutes, the pace of the album feels right. Most songs fall below four minutes, and the few longer songs build tension as they unwind. The shifting dynamics are powerful, making for a satisfying experience worth revisiting again and again.
For those unfamiliar with Defeater, the band has released a series of concept albums focusing on a New Jersey family around the World War II era. It is impressive both in scope and execution. Letters Home adds another fantastic chapter to the bands output of genre bending hardcore. Defeater balances moments of softness with sharp blasts of guitars and drums. Derek Archambault’s strained vocals interlace with pounding rhythms to create a sound that makes the audience want to raise their fist and scream along. It translates perfectly to their live shows. Defeater is a band that knows exactly who they are, and they manage to get better at it with each new release. Letters Home is a perfect example of their continued progress.
Patrick Kindlon, the singer for Drug Church, Self Defense Family and a myriad of other made up bands from his Twitter account, is a divisive person. His confrontational style of Tweets, stage banter and staunch opinions can rub people the wrong way. Despite his dislike of Radiohead and weird, unhealthy love of Entourage, Kindlon’s passion for music is undeniable when listening to his output. Like Self Defense Family, Drug Church showcases the repetitive lyrics and sing talk vocals of Kindlon. The difference lies in the more aggressive and structured music that lays the backdrop for the singer. The album falls comfortably between punk rock and hardcore. At twenty five minutes, it is a perfect length to hook listeners and make them want more.
Punk rock had a good year in 2013. With many excellent releases to choose from, earlier releases like Broadway Calls’ Comfort/Distraction can fall off the radar. To forget about the album would be a mistake. This three piece delivers song after song filled with great hooks and catchy melodies. Ty Vaughn’s vocals border on gruff but retain a softer sensibility that invites listeners to sing along as loud as they can. The guitar work flips between dissonant sounds of bands like the Descendents and straight up pop punk. The song structures have a sense of complexity that make the album feel both fun and intelligent. With catchy-as-hell songs like “Lucky Lighter”, shout outs to Polar Bear Club and a perfect ending track, this is an album that should stay in rotation for a long time to come.
There is something undeniably appealing about Nick Diener’s vocals. If he was willing to sing me to sleep every night, I would not stop him. Diener’s voice mixes with warm guitar tones, the perfect integration of background vocals and thirty minutes of well crafted punk rock to form the latest album from Flint, Michigan’s the Swellers. The Light Under Closed Doors is an album that maintains an immense amount of energy even when the songs hold a slower tempo and sadder mood. It is a testament to the continued growth of songwriting and cohesion within the band. Songs like “Great Lakes State” will make you want to dance in your seat. And the appropriately titled track “Favorite Tune” kicks ass.
There has been a resurgence in rock music over the last several years with bands like Restorations and Balance and Composure leading the way. Though I admire both bands and their output, Citizen’s latest album, Youth, connects with me in a way that the others do not. Between the layered vocals and unrelenting energy on each song, the thirty minutes of this album meld into a perfect mix of what rock music should strive to become.
It would be hard to find a band in the last few years more universally recognized for their excellent output than Swearin’. On their sophomore release, Allison Crutchfield and Kyle Gilbride continue to infuse punk energy with raw, fuzzed out guitars and straightforward lyrics. The combination is magical and instantly appealing. The album hearkens back to indie acts of the 90s without losing its own identity. Every song on the album oozes with emotion and maturity. There is a reason that this band is loved by everyone. Surfing Strange is a testament to the skill and growth of artists who will continue to do great things as they progress.
On Say What You Mean, Allison Weiss creates a perfect mix of pop and rock music. The songs are catchy and energetic, but maintain a sense of substance and honesty that feels lacking in most pop music today. The combination of melodies, fast paced guitars and synths remind me of the stronger output from groups like Tegan and Sara. But where Tegan and Sara found their biggest success in a more polished, commercial output this year, Weiss maintains a balance of songwriting that is infinitely more satisfying. There is not a bad song on the album, and most will have you singing along before you have finished hearing it for the first time.
From the build up in the intro of the first track to the final chords on the last track, Brainless God is a testament to everything that is right about punk rock. Direct Hit! combine an irreverence for the world with dynamically crafted songs that make you want to shout along and punch someone in equal measures. There are few bands that can match the energy given off by singer Nick Woods as he seamlessly flips between singing and screaming. Backed by dynamic drumming, awesome transitions and a flair for not giving a fuck, this is an album that stands out among an oversaturated genre.
It is difficult to put into words the way listening to Reanimation makes me feel. It is like I just saved the world from the biggest, baddest adversary ever encountered, and this is the soundtrack to my victory. Lights & Motion is the brainchild of Christoffer Franzén, who began the project after experiencing insomnia. Franzén plays all the instruments and did all the production and mixing on the album. The result is a cohesive collection of post-rock filled with building crescendos and a sense of epic fulfillment. Some will undoubtedly compare the work to bands like Explosions In The Sky, but Lights & Motion have crafted an album that stands on its own. After each listen, I feel a strong sense of positive energy and hope built up inside, all driven by the arrangements and emotion poured into the album. Reanimation shows the power of post-rock when done correctly.
Crusades has a mission to produce dark yet accessible music with counter-religious themes. Their sophomore album finds the band tackling the life and death of Giordano Bruno, a man sentenced to die by the Roman Inquisition for having beliefs that were contrary to the Catholic faith. Whether your own world view falls in line with the band or not, their latest release has a lot to offer. The band creates an atmospheric punk sound that emboldens the vocals and highlights the excellent guitar work throughout. “The Transport of Intrepid Souls” is a perfect example of the guitar riffs that make this album stand out. The vocal melodies on “The Heroic Frenzies” showcase the haunting style of singing that mirrors the atmosphere of the music. Crusades manage to capture a tone and style that set them apart from their peers. Do not sleep on this album.
With one song apiece, this split EP manages to showcase two of the best bands in the post-hardcore / screamo genre by delivering some of their finest work to date. Touché Amoré offers up “Gravity, Metaphorically”, a track that runs at least twice the length of most of their previous material. The song showcases varied drum work, fluctuating dynamics and raw, heart-on-the-sleeve vocals. The build up on the bridge alone is worth the price of admission. Pianos Become The Teeth start on a softer note with their song, “Hiding.” Plucked guitar and wobbly vocals build toward a crescendo of cymbals and driving guitar, pushing the song into heights of emotion and then dropping back into moments of quiet resolve. It is a song that showcases the skills of the band through the complexity of dynamics and the energy of the singer.
With jangly, always wandering guitar parts and half talking, half screaming vocals, Tiny Moving Parts wear their emo cred proudly. Sometimes humorous, sometimes heartfelt, the lyrics spew forth over bouncing guitar tones and start-stop tempos driven by frantic drums. This album makes me feel alive when I listen to it, a perfect mix of anger and joy that excites my ears and moves my feet. It is the kind of feeling that first attracted me to music and fuels my obsession each passing year. With This Couch Is Long & Full Of Friendship, Tiny Moving Parts prove out the vibrancy of a genre continually declared dead.
As one of the earliest releases of 2013, Comadre’s self-titled album managed to hold its own against an onslaught of other releases in the coming months. The album is a spastic, chaotic blend of indie hardcore that flies in the face of trying to pigeonhole music into one form or another. Pounding bass bumps up against bending, guitar riffs, both merging into upbeat drumming and screeching vocals. Combine those components with occasional keyboards to add a layer of surf-punk like sentimentality and horns to set the mood. It is a crazy mix of influences that come together to form the perfect whirlwind of musical tomfoolery. Comadre know how to fuck with music in all the right ways, creating something that defies expectations and raises standards for the artform.
Coming from a guy who hardly takes off his Touché Amoré hoodie, it will be no surprise that their third album made it into my best of the year list. Doubling the average length of song from their last full length, the band still manages to maintain the intensely personal and emotional quality that makes them stand out in the post-hardcore genre. Jeremy Bolm pours himself into every song through insightful lyrics and strained, scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs styling of vocals. Bolm’s honest intensity is backed by Elliot Babin’s unrelenting drums. Along with the bass, the beat drives the ferocity of the band forward, but is not scared to back off in moments that make sense. The transition from “Praise / Love” to “Anyone / Anything” is a perfect example of this dynamic. The dual guitars dance around each other with dissonance and skill, climbing to swells and diving to patches of softness. The guitar riff behind the chorus of “Anyone / Anything” gives me chills every time I hear it. Is Survived By is the culmination of a band growing and maturing, struggling with where they fit in the world and what their legacy will be when they are gone. If they continue to release material at this level of excellence, that legacy will live on for a long time to come.
Taking a mixture of black metal, sludge and hardcore, Celeste plays heavy music, and they play it extremely well. The band pulls off songs filled with pounding bass drums, shimmering cymbals and technical fills alongside distorted guitars and growling vocals. They follow it up with longer songs free of vocals, building atmospheric guitar tones and suspense. ANIMALE(S) is an album filled with mood, backed by high quality musicianship. Celeste does not try to be fancy or fill some weird metal niche. They do not need to. The band has created an album that feels substantial and important. It is over twice as long as many of the albums on my best of list, yet I cannot help but continue to go back to it again and again, wanting more.
The Albatross opens with humming strings that build into a piano ballad accompanied by calm, quiet vocals that build to choral voices and blips of soft intensity in the singing. The track is immediately followed by a build of guitars and a shimmering of cymbals that smash into wavering vocals pouring out ripples of longing and frustration. Tremolo guitars flutter to match the wobbling, almost uncertain vocal patterns. The combination is breathtaking, and it highlights all the best parts of the often overlooked emo genre. But, Foxing does not stop there. The band finds the perfect moments to add in horns and other instrumentation, making the moments of intensity and tranquility shine even brighter. The Albatross is an album that immediately sucks the listener in, but then never fails to satisfy throughout the thirty two minute journey it provides.
Where most black metal albums take the listener on a journey of somber, doomed existence, Deafheaven flips the genre on its head and gives an altogether different experience on Sunbather. That is not to say that the album takes away from the intense ferocity or themes associated with other black metal bands, instead, the band manages to combine those classic elements with the elated swells of post-rock and a cleaner guitar sound. On opening track “Dream House”, building crescendos bump against harsh, screaming vocals to present something that is terrifying yet hopeful. This is the journey that Deafheaven continues to take the listener on throughout the album. The four main tracks are broken up with softer moments of rest that mimic the calms and storms of life. Sunbather is an album unlike any other, an experience worth visiting regularly. It is no wonder that the album has been talked about so much in recent times.
There was a time when I almost exclusively listened to hip-hop. The bizarre beats and crazy wordplay found in the underground world of groups like Cannibal Ox, Blacklalicious and Brother Ali were mesmerizing. Eventually, the output dried up or I lost contact with that world. I listened to the occasional album, but nothing grabbed me like those classic albums. That changed when El-P and Killer Mike joined forces to form Run The Jewels. The self-titled album, released for free digitally, takes all the greatest elements of underground hip-hop and throws them into thirty three minutes of perfection. El-P creates lively, weird beats overlaid with precise raps and cool lines performed by himself, Killer Mike and a handful of guest artists. The lyrics range from serious to funny to boastful and beyond. “Sea Legs” is a great example of the best features of the duo. It is everything that I love about hip-hop. Run The Jewels gives me a fresh infatuation with a genre that has grown stale over time.
With so many great punk rock albums released in 2013, it might seem tough to pick a favorite, but The Future Is Cancelled rises so far above its peers that there is no contest. Captain, We’re Sinking put together an album full of energy, perfect transitions, blasting guitars and kick ass lyrics. Bobby Barnett’s vocals rise and fall with the dynamics of the songs like a graceful dancer. At times, his voice sounds like the vocal chords are being shredded, but it fits perfectly with the feel of the band. Songs go from soft to loud and then back again to create these perfect moments of punk rock bliss. It will have you singing along so loudly that you may miss how the album revolves around themes of sickness, death and divorce. The Future Is Cancelled is an album not only filled with monumental songwriting, but with emotion and vulnerability. There is no other way to say it, from start to finish, this album is fucking awesome.
And for those looking for more great music from the year, here is a list of another 50 albums (in order of release) worth mentioning:
Twenty One Pilots – Vessel [Fueled By Ramen : 1/8/2013]
Masked Intruder – Masked Intruder [Red Scare / Fat Wreck : 1/15/2013]
Usnea – Usnea [Orca Wolf : 1/23/2013]
Tegan And Sara – Heartthrob [Vapor / Warner : 1/29/2013]
Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse [Canvasback : 2/5/2013]
Donovan Wolfington – Stop Breathing [Broken World Media : 2/14/2013]
Czarface – Czarface [Brick : 2/25/2013]
Off With Their Heads – Home [Epitaph : 3/12/2013]
Hundredth – Revolt [Mediaskare : 3/19/2013]
Inter Arma – Sky Burial [Relapse : 3/19/2013]
Nails – Abandon All Life [Southern Lord : 3/19/2013]
Paint It Black – Invisible [No Idea : 3/31/2013]
Restorations – LP2 [SideOneDummy : 4/1/2013]
Young Statues – Age Isn’t Ours [Run For Cover : 4/2/2013]
Ghostface Killah – Twelve Reasons To Die [Soul Temple : 4/16/2013]
Hesitation Wounds – Hesitation Wounds [Secret Voice : 4/22/2013]
Agrimonia – Rites of Separation [Southern Lord : 4/30/2013]
Retox – YPLL [Epitaph : 5/6/2013]
Have Mercy – The Earth Pushed Back [Topshelf : 5/21/2013]
The Saddest Landscape – Exit Wounded [Topshelf : 6/11/2013]
Cannibal Ox – Gotham [Ihiphop : 6/25/2013]
Stomach Earth – Stomach Earth [Black Market Activities : 7/2/2013]
Elway – Leavetaking [Red Scare : 7/2/2013]
All Pigs Must Die – Nothing Violates This Nature [Southern Lord : 7/23/2013]
American Thunder Band – Neither Here Nor Thayer [Count Your Lucky Stars : 7/30/2013]
Dads – Pretty Good [6131 : 8/6/2013]
Centuries – Taedium Vitae [Southern Lord : 8/6/2013]
Dead In The Dirt – The Blind Hole [Southern Lord : 8/6/2013]
Modern Life Is War – Fever Hunting [Deathwish : 8/6/2013]
Fishboy – IAMAVOLCANO [Lauren : 8/6/2013]
Dowsing – I Don’t Even Care Anymore [Count Your Lucky Stars : 8/13/2013]
Superchunk – I Hate Music [Merge : 8/19/2013]
The Smith Street Band – Don’t Fuck With Our Dreams [Asian Man : 8/20/2013]
Arctic Monkeys – AM [Domino : 9/9/2013]
The Flatliners – Dead Language [Fat Wreck : 9/17/2013]
Sebadoh – Defend Yourself [Joyful Noise : 9/17/2013]
The Reptilian – Low Health [Count Your Lucky Stars : 10/8/2013]
Kevin Devine & The Goddamn Band – Bubblegum [Devinyl : 10/15/2013]
Signals Midwest – Light On The Lake [Tiny Engines : 10/29/2013]
Los Campesinos! – No Blues [Wichita : 10/29/2013]
Weekend Nachos – Still [Relapse : 11/11/2013]
My Fictions / The Saddest Landscape – When You Are Close, I Am Gone [Topshelf : 11/11/2013]
State Faults – Resonate/Desperate [No Sleep : 11/11/2013]
White Wives – White Wives [A-F Records : 11/12/2013]
Polar Bear Club – Death Chorus [Rise : 11/19/2013]
ThisQuietArmy – Hex Mountains [denovali : 11/26/2013]
A Wilhelm Scream – Partycrasher [No Idea : 12/3/2013]
Hung Up – A Minds Way Away [Save Your Generation : 12/3/2013]
French Exit – Guts & Black Stuff [It’s Alive : 12/5/2013]
More Than Life – Love Let Me Go [Self-Released : 12/12/2013]