J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

J's Indie/Rock Mayhem - 18th December 2013
Top 25 Albums of 2013


[Welcome to the 12th annual J's Indie/Rock Mayhem Top 25 Albums of the Year. 2013, to put it frankly, was a great year for music, and I had more trouble sorting out this year's list than I've had in quite some time. The now traditional 25th place tie expanded to a three-way this year and there were some really painful choices left out. Still, the list is solid, I have to say.

I'll be taking next week off - the show would be on Christmas Day otherwise, so I'll pass on that. But I'll be back on New Year's Day for the next show. Now, for the last time in 2013, onward.]

J's Indie/Rock Podcast: Top 25 Albums of 2013 show

25. (tie) The Dead Tongues - Desert / Foxygen - We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic / Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady : Like last year's tie, these records couldn't be more dissimilar, but they each were a blast of something fresh and wonderful. The first North Carolina band on the list, the Dead Tongues created a thrillingly sharp bit of songwriting and classic rock tropes. Foxygen is a young band with some amazing potential to continue channeling some really classic 60s rock. Janelle Monae is creating music that is as unique as it is engaging, taking her sci-fi r&b concept toward its eventual conclusion. All three are amazing and worth exploring. Played - "Depression" (Dead Tongues), "No Destruction" (Foxygen) and "It's Code" (Janelle Monae)

24. Josh Ritter - The Beast In Its Tracks : Ritter's divorce record diverges from the normal exploration of that moment and instead fast forwards to his first serious relationship following it. We're past all of the possible anger and disappointment or self-loathing that might hang around, and instead were into the satisfied moments that come later but not without their reflective sheen. It's a gorgeous album that could speak to anyone who has ever had a long-term relationship - marriage or not - fall apart and then found themselves helpless to compare and contrast their new romances. Played - "A Certain Light"

23. Veronica Falls - Waiting For Something to Happen : Batting 1.000 for their albums ending up on my year end list (their self-titled debut was #25 in 2011), this band has improved. In any other year, this record would be higher - but this was a daunting year for music. "Teenage" was one of this year's finest songs and the rest of the record gave it a run for its money. It's catchy, gorgeously sung and finding a path from C86 into modern indie. Played - "Buried Alive"

22. Torres - Torres : From my Aquarium Drunkard write-up: "Mackenzie Scott’s first album as Torres is a remarkably assured debut for a 22 year-old songwriter. The Georgia native spent her college years in Nashville, but neither geographical locale would prepare you for the stark sound of the record – think PJ Harvey, not D.R. Parton. But Torres also makes room for hushed introspection, as evidenced on the transcendent 'Come to Terms.' It’s an album of varied tones that finds success on all fronts." Played - "Mother Earth, Father God"

21. Eros and the Eschaton - Home Address For Civil War : The second North Carolina band on the list only became one by accident, but their debut album is a gorgeous treatment of shoegaze, 4AD and myriad other sounds that pull together an ethereal web of explorations. Worth endless revisits, Home Address For Civil War is an amazing statement of purpose and one well suited for future releases. Played - "Carry the Water"

20. Ka - The Night's Gambit : Coming out of what felt like nowhere, Ka's album is a minimalist landscape with endless alleys and crevices. Filtering a stripped down version of the haunted soundscapes of early Wu-Tang, Ka's album is a claustrophobic and exhilaratingly insular record. His stories are as inward looking as they are engaging and I dare say that if you don't like this record, I question what it is you like about hip-hop. Played - "Our Father"

19. David Bowie - The Next Day : From my Aquarium Drunkard write-up: "When an elder statesman goes quiet for a decade, you’re not expecting anything like The Next Day. Reuniting with producer Tony Visconti, Bowie fashioned the type of record that didn’t need the soft bigotry of lowered expectations to succeed. It’s a reflective and dark lyrical album, yet an exultant and gorgeous musical one. And in spots, it down right rocks. All hail Major Tom’s return from the stars." Played - "The Next Day"

18. Mazes - Ores & Minerals : Hypnotic guitar music comes in many modes (look at this year's Kurt Vile album for another variation), but Mazes put down some of the most ingratiating guitar work this year. It's a beautiful and invigorating album that reveals itself slowly, though repeat listens, and draws us in one note at a time. Played - "Jaki"

17. Speedy Ortiz - Major Arcana : As the 90s indie-rock world gets churned up in new, younger bands, it's great to hear the fantastic Helium get their due. Speedy Ortiz is a steamroller of a band - live, even more so. But this record is just blisteringly sharp and loud, channeling Mary Timony's vocals and fractured melody lines and thudding crunch. This is unquestionably one of this year's greatest rock records. Played - "Tiger Tank"

16. Polvo - Siberia : From my Aquarium Drunkard write-up: "Striking against the trend of bands reforming after a breakup to generally diminished returns, Polvo released the second album of their reunion career. And as awesome as 2009′s In Prism was, Siberia tops it – showing the continuing evolution of the band in its gnarled time signatures and melodies, alternating between lengthy movements of intricate noise and shorter guitar bursts. No one sounds like Polvo and Polvo sounds like no one else." Played - "Light, Raking"

15. Queens of the Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork : The first Queens record in six years is their best to date. Period. It's a deeply groovy record that explores some softer territories than prior records, but still has some of the most atmospheric and powerful songs of their career. It's a record that appeals immediately, but continues to grow in stature. Josh Homme is becoming more and more a rock and roll writer to be reckoned with. Played - "My God Is the Sun"

14. Jason Isbell - Southeastern : From my Aquarium Drunkard write-up: "Sobriety is a double-edged sword in art. It’s a life saver, no doubt, but sometimes the wrong artistic lessons seem to come out of the experience. Not so Jason Isbell. Southeastern is the most clear-eyed and focused Isbell songwriting since the Drive-by Truckers, and “Elephant” is, almost without question, the best song he has ever written. It’s a largely quiet and reflective record, but it’s one that stands over the past as it is, not in judgment of it. The songs are far better for it." Played - "Stockholm"

13. Suede - Bloodsports : We've not had a band like Suede in America for a long time and we might not again. That said, when it was announced that the venerable Britpop band would be reuniting for their first new album since 2002, I didn't hold my breath for a home run. Bloodsports is every bit the equal of the post-Bernard Butler albums like Coming Up though. It's not as sleazy - if anything, it's more thoughtful in its decadence - but when Brett Anderson unleashes that voice, it's not like anyone else on Earth. Played - "Barriers"

12. Ex Cops - True Hallucinations : There's a litany of things going on here with Ex Cops - garage rock, girl-group, punk and post-punk. It's to their credit that the album sounds like a piece - from the power-pop crunch of "James" to the gorgeous harmonies of "Spring Break (Birthday Song)." There's a lot of promise in this record - and a lot to behold. Played - "Jazz & Information"

11. Summer Cannibals - No Make Up : One of about ten debut records on the list this year, this one won me over in a similar way to Speedy Ortiz - by channeling sounds that were familiar, but less traveled. Cruising down highways through riot grrl and the thunderous sound of early-to-mid 90s rock, Summer Cannibals even managed to fit in a bit of their namesake (a Patti Smith track). It's a blustering, cool record that marks good things to come. Played - "The Hand"

10. Lady Lamb the Beekeeper - Ripley Pine : There's an outstanding presence that runs throughout this album - whether it's the upbeat horns and strut of "Aubergine," or the almost gothic lyrical feel of "Hair to the Ferris Wheel," Ripley Pine is a record that deserves its place among great songwriters of this year. The lyrics of Aly Spaltro are reminiscent of those of others from somewhat far-flung places (Spaltro is from Maine) in that they channel a perspective outside of endless Brooklyn/L.A. bands. Played - "Hair to the Ferris Wheel"

9. Bleached - Ride Your Heart : Not only are the songs on this record just power-pop perfection, the lyrics - while treading some usual byways - find their way into some depths not immediately apparent. The note-perfect "Dreaming Without You" is one of the best examples, but the album just damn rocks to boot. Played - "Dead In Your Head"

8. Savages - Silence Yourself : Post-punk distilled to its finest essences and then turned up a few notches. That's this record in a nutshell. Do you like late-70s/early 80s post-punk? Do you like records that knock your skull around a bit? Then I hope you already own this record. Played - "She Will"

7. Wooden Wand - Blood Oaths of the New Blues : From my Aquarium Drunkard write-up: "Blood Oaths.. bathes in a sound that reflects the twin connected visions of Giant Sand and Calexico. James Jackson Toth’s creation is a universe in and of itself, though grounded in lyrical locales that channel Americana, Beat wanderlust and just plain humanity. By the time the album strolls to its close with 'No Debts,' it feels like a long day’s journey recalled over the haze of hindsight. And like those stories, it’s worth revisiting again and again for the new revelations it provides." Played - "Dungeon of Irons"

6. Primal Scream - More Light : Primal Scream - in my book, at least - have a bit of a tendency to release good to great records followed by middling ones and then back to great. But More Light is their best since Vanishing Point (probably my favorite of theirs) and it is simply astounding. I don't know that I believed they would release an album this good again, but something got into Bobby Gillespie and Co. because More Light is ridiculously good. Played - "It's Alright, It's OK"

5. Caitlin Rose - The Stand-In : Caitlin Rose is a traditionalist songwriter's songwriter. She knows how well-hewn songs are crafted and it's evident in every note of this record. On top of that, she knows how to pick her songs. While she is the author of nearly the entire record, one of its finest songs is "I Was Cruel," a song written by one of her bandmates and showcasing the incredible interpretive skills she has as a performer. There just wasn't a better country record this year. Played - "Only a Clown"

4. Bill Callahan - Dream River : That said about Ms. Rose, Bill Callahan is maybe the most accomplished songwriter on this list. Honing his craft over years as Smog and now into his albums under his own name, Callahan can take the small and make it feel lived in, warm and absolutely spell binding. Take "Small Plane"'s best line: "sometimes you sleep while I take us home / that's when I know we really have a home." It's a line brimming with meaning, and overflowing with an emotion that doesn't need further elaboration. It's the economy of good songwriting in action. In terms of songwriting, pure and simple, it didn't get better than this in 2013. Played - "Small Plane"

3. Yo La Tengo - Fade : From my Aquarium Drunkard write-up: "The venerable Hoboken band’s thirteenth album is the most magnificent of their later releases. Produced by Tortoise’s John McEntire – their first full length since 1992 to be produced by any one other than Roger Moutenot – it’s a warm and hypnotic set of songs opened by the tone-setting 'Ohm,' a piece that encourages us to 'lose no more time / resisting the flow.' Like the sound of the river in which Siddhartha finally finds enlightenment, Fade is an album that pulls Yo La Tengo’s existence together into a singular, harmonic package." Played - "Paddle Forward"

2. Blood Orange - Cupid Deluxe : Coming a bit out of nowhere for me, this record is every thing I crave in forward-thinking pop music: it's catchy, it's really catchy, it's insanely catchy and it has depth. The lyrics to "Uncle ACE" alone are worth the price of admission, but this is a deeply thought-out pop record that vastly transcends the immediate surface sounds of its influences. It may reek of 80s sounding instrumentation or production or what have you, but the sound is a vehicle - not a distraction. It sounds outside its time while perfectly within it - much in the same way records like Tears For Fears' Songs From The Big Chair still sounds like a well-honed album of music, not tethered to its time and place. Cupid Deluxe is the pop record of this year. Played - "You're Not Good Enough"

1. Phosphorescent - Muchacho : First, from my Aquarium Drunkard write-up: "There's a weird kind of playfulness in the dusty grooves of Muchacho. It's a portrait painting of the moods of life - joyful exultation, love and its effects, day-to-day demons. It spans influences classical, spiritual and cultural and all seem to hinge on the morning reflections of just another man. There's not another record that sounds like this - just like no one person's day looks like another." This is a record that should only be experienced in its entirety. In the same way that we can't pick apart moments in time, this is a piece of art that should only been seen as a whole. Even the magnificent "The Quotidian Beasts," mesmerizing as it is as a single song, loses something when separated from its surroundings. This is 2013's best album. Played - "The Quotidian Beasts"

Thanks to all of you who have listened to the podcast throughout the year. I'll be back on January 1st to kick off another year of Mayhem on WQFS. Until then, have a safe and happy holiday season, and take care.

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