Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best Music of 2013


The 13 Best Albums of 2013

(in no particular order)


Chastity Belt--No Regerts (Help Yourself Records)


Wickedly funny, raunchy songs from an all-female quartet from Walla Walla, Washington. Boasting amazing vocals and chiming, driving guitars, No Regerts is one of those albums you need to listen to at least once a day for months on end.  

Bombino--Nomad (Nonesuch)

Desert rock filtered through American trance blues with incendiary guitar work from Tuareg artist Bombino from Agadez, Niger.  

Savages—Silence Yourself (Matador Records)

A ferocious debut from London-based quartet.  It’s great to see a buzz band that lives up to its buzz—especially when the overall message of said buzz band is telling you to tune out all the hype, noise and distractions. 

Arcade Fire—Reflektor (Merge)


Arcade Fire’s most enigmatic album. During the first couple of listens, I found myself admiring its ambition, but hating its pretension; finding the songs derivative, then inventive; diffuse but too solipsistic. But every listen gave me more to admire. Reflektor is one of those albums that rewards patience and getting past preconceptions.

The National--Trouble Will Find Me (4AD Records)


Personally, I think Matt Berninger goes looking for trouble ‘cause it’s so much fun to sing about.  No new ground broken here, but the National make angst and self-doubt so musically inviting.


Low--The Invisible Way (Sub Pop)


Gorgeous songs of faith, longing and reconciliation, ably produced by Jeff Tweedy.


Superchunk--I Hate Music (Merge Records)


Somehow Superchunk manages to write a summer road song (“Me & You & Jackie Mittoo”) that also ponders time, loss and mortality.  Maybe music “can’t bring anyone back to this earth” but it’s the best we got.  And on this album, it’s fine compensation.

Mavis Staples—One True Vine (ANTI-Records)

The second album of Mavis Staples produced by Jeff Tweedy is a low-key gem. Her version of Low’s “Holy Ghost” is a spine tingler.

Neko Case--The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You (ANTI- Records)


After falling into a depression after a number of deaths in her family, Neko Case creates one of her most personal and arresting albums.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds--Push The Sky Away (Bad Seed Ltd)


Nick Cave eases up on the pedal-to-the-metal assault of the two Grinderman albums and Dig, Lazarus, Dig, but these are no lullabies.  The musical restraint creates its own tension, and the lyrics, with mermaids hung by their hair from the streetlights and a fetus on a leash, add to the unease. 


My Bloody Valentine—MBV (self-released)

22 years after Loveless, My Bloody Valentine releases an album that builds on that classic and expands the sound.


Rhye—Woman (Republic Records)

Is your Al Green CD in the car? Does your Barry White album skip?  No problem, Rhye's Woman will set the mood.


Valerie June--Pushin' Against a Stone (Sunday Best) 


With a voice that sounds like it's coming from a John Lomax field recording instead of a contemporary album, Valerie June transports the listener. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Best Music of 2012

Best of 2012

1) Frank Ocean – Channel Orange (Def Jam

All the buzz about the brilliant debut album of this New Orleans R&B singer is justified. I listened to this album as much as any album this year and had a new favorite song from it every week. 

2) Cloud Nothings--Attack on Memory

Angsty, high-energy punk pop from Cleveland’s Dylan Baldi, who has graduated from basement studio productions to fronting a band. When my days at work became beastly, screaming along to this album on the drive home was a catharsis. “Stay Useless” is my song of the year.

3) Sharon Van Etten -- Tramp  (Jagjaguwar)

Recorded with the help of The National’s Aaron Dessner, Van Etten broadens her musical palette and releases her most consistently compelling album to date.

4) The Coup -- Sorry to Bother You (Epitaph)

Boots Riley and company mix up a potent blend of hip hop, 70s funk, soul, garage rock and wickedly funny agitprop. The revolution may not be televised, but there will be dancing. The Coup also put on one of the best live shows of 2012.

5) Best Coast--The Only Place (Mexican Summer)

If you stop listening to the lyrics after the sunny title song you could easily mistake this for a breezy summer fluff album of sixties retro tunes. But the success of her first album seems to have unsettled LA native Bethany Cosentino. These are dark songs from a sunny clime, with lyrics about trying to stifle self doubt with drinking and shopping.  Cosentino continues to develop her her songcraft, and her singing is stronger than ever.

6) Japandroids -- Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl)

The title is its own review. This duo from Vancouver, British Columbia makes some happy noise.  

7) dB’s--Falling Off the Sky (Bar None)

After a gap of thirty years, all four original members of the dB’s reunite and put out an album as punchy and toothsome as their best stuff from the eighties. They floored me when I saw one of their shows at the Hideout in November.

8) Santigold – Master of My Make Believe (Atlantic)

The less she tries to sound like MIA, the better she is.

9) Walkmen--Heaven (Fat Possum)

The Walkmen grow up, mellow out, become dads and still make some terrific music.

10) Lee Fields -- Faithful Man (Truth & Soul)

Old school soul from a veteran with 40 years of experience. An amazing singer, killer band and first rate material.

Also many happy listens:

Alabama Shakes-- Boy and Girls (Ato)
First Aid Kit--The Lion’s Roar (Wichita)
Passion Pit--Gossamer (Columbia

Monophonics--In Your Brain (Ubiquity)
XX--Coexist (Young Turks)