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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Best Songs of 2013

Its difficult to put these lists together, because, lets be honest, our top 20 songs lists may actually feature 1/2 of our favorite album rather than a song a piece from each of our favorite albums.  But, that wouldn't make for a very interesting list.  So - let me state that there are a lot of songs from my top 10 albums that I probably like better than some of these, but I tried to only feature 1 per artist.

Beta Love
from Ra Ra Riot - Beta Love
Oddly, this track comes from one of my less favorite albums of the year.  Really.  I didn't like the album much.  But THIS is the track that stuck with me all year.  Even after a million listens and in-the-car sing-alongs with my family, I still love it.  So catchy.  Plus, it features - hands down - my favorite music video of the year, and possibly one of my favorite music videos ever. 


This comes from my #1 album of the year.  Man, I wish it wasn't such a short album!  For those not in the  know, Volcano Choir is Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) + Collections of Colonies of Bees, a post-rock instrumental experimental super group from Milwaukee.  I found them years ago as they have some associations with Pele - one of my all-time favorite "post-rock instrumental experimental super groups."  Volcano did an album a couple years ago, but it didn't quite click as most of it, from what I gather, wasn't a full collaboration between Vernon, et al.  Whereas they actually wrote Repave together.  The whole album is great, but Byegone is a real standout.  This song that really gelled for me when they played it live on Jimmy Fallon.  Unfortunately, NBC took the video down.  Boo.  You can grab some other great live performances of Comrade, or a full concert hosted by NPR

Get Lucky was the first track we all heard of the new Daft Punk album, and was my summer jam.  However, even though it and Lose Yourself to Dance (my 3 year old son's favorite song - he says "this is my jam" when it comes on) were catchy and instant hits...they didn't have much staying power for me.  They lacked substance and proved a bit shallow and repetitive.  Ironically, Touch was one of my least favorite songs on the album.   The vocals by Paul Williams REALLY rubbed me the wrong way.  But, if you can get past his voice - which I did eventually - this song is immense.  It has enormous depth and over the course of the last few months, has crept up on my list.

Stay Young
This is a tough choice because The Silver Gymnasium has SO MANY good tracks.  It Was My Season, Down the Deep River, Pink Slips, On a Balcony, Lido Pier Suicide Car, or nearly every other song on the album could be on here too.  

Diane Young
After a spectacular self-titled debut album, and so-so sophmore release (Contra), I was very happy to see Vampire Weekend put out a GREAT 3rd album.  It topped a lot of peoples' lists.  Obvious BicycleStep or Everlasting Arms were all strong contenters.  But, I'll go with the Diane Young (Dyin' Young) for today.

Born Too Late
I loved Dent May's first Ukulele-based album.  It was ridiculous.  For his 2nd album he dropped the Uke in favor of 80's electro-pop.  I didn't like it.  For his 3rd album, he kept the 80's flare, but fleshed the sound out with a lot more organic sounds - horns and such.  The result is great.  He has a gift for catchy pop melodies, and his over-the-top oldschool crooning is infectious.  

Joy to You Baby
 Ah Josh Ritter.  One of my favorite singer-songwriter balladiers ever.  He's a poet (and an author - he wrote a book last year).  The new album is a little hit and miss, but this track gives me goosebumps sometimes.  

Criminal Fingers
 Over the past 2 years I have had something of an obsession with The Hold Steady.  Finn is a story teller and the characters, places, and narratives that run through all of their albums (recurring characters and scenes) sucked me in.  I can't wait for their new album - hopefully coming next year.

 The great thing about this National album is that they come off as a band firmly comfortable with what they are - not trying to reinvent themselves - just doing what they do, and doing it well.  This churner of a song is a great example. 

from RA Scion - The Sickle and the Sword 
Followers of the blog will have heard of RA Scion, formerly of Common Market, before.  Kentucky born and raised, current Seattle-ite, he has been putting out socially conscious hip-hop for years and has reinvented himself so many times.  The new album is spiritual, metaphysical, deep, and a bit spaced-out in content and production.  The production is surprisingly ambient, but has really grown on me.  Unfortunately, the producer Rodney Danger and him have gotten into a disagreement and RA Scion is now offering it for free.  Although he has turned down many offers for donations to help him recoup the personal investment he put into it (and a beautiful video), I still think we should pass the plate.  To make matter worse, this comes off him taking all of the proceeds from the album release party, and donating them to a local Seattle surf rock band La Luz whose equipment had recently been stolen.  No good deed goes unpunished, I guess.


Heart of Nowhere
Just like their last album, this one took a couple months to finally hook me - but it got me good.  The entire album is catchy and great.  This is the album opener, and a real standout - even in spite of the HORRIBLE guest vocals on the bridge by Anna Calvi.

from Atoms for Peace - Amok

News of Radiohead's Thom Yorke putting together a full album with his Atoms for Peace project was very exciting and I played this track repeatedly on my radio show last year.  Standout on the album.

Even if We Try
This comes from one of my early favorites for the year.  New band.  Great harmonies.  Like Fleet Foxes meets Local Natives.

Great Lake Derelict
Post-rock awesomeness + enigmatic vocals.  I love me some Appleseed Cast!

Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigrins)
Shad is hands down my favorite Canadian hip-hop artist.  Ok...also the only one I know.  He is articulate, intelligent, self-deprecating in his humor, etc...  Great message.  Shout out to First Nations.  Even some controversy on borders and transnational commerce / oil pipelines.

If You Didn't See Me (Then You Weren't on the Dancefloor)
Forgive them their name.  These guys (from Detroit) put out great, unabashed, dance tunes.

Grace for Saints and Ramblers

Kind of a hit and miss album, but along with Caught in the Briars, this here is a highlight.  Here's a great live version they did on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.  

A New Life

Another hit and miss album.  The stand-out track here.  Another live version, via Fallon and the Roots.

Blues to Black
Mike Kinsella rarely disappoints.  I often make the mistake of thinking of him as an acoustic singer-songwriter, but then remember that on most of his songs, he plays a full range of instruments - often layering his ALWAYS piercing lyrics with waves of electric guitars. 

Miracle Mile
Not their strongest album, but a handful of tunes worth keeping.  The lead-off track here is the best.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Best Albums of 2013, Final Version

Best Albums of 2013

For previous years see
Best of 2007

As always, taking albums from a bunch of disperate genres and trying to stack them up against one another is an imprecise science.  The difficulty of ranking early-in-the-year releases (which may be feeling stale 10 months later) with brand new ones about which you are still excited, is also difficult.  With that preamble, I'll pretty firmly commit to the top 10-15 here.  I think they are right where I want them.  Beyond that, I would likely move things around from day to day depending on my mood - which is why I'm just going to post this and get it over with!  Enjoy!  

  1. Volcano Choir - Repave
  2. Okkervil River - The Silver Gymnasium
  3. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
  4. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City 
  5. RA Scion - The Sickle and the Sword
  6. The National - Trouble Will Find Me 
  7. Noah and the Whale - Heart of Nowhere   
  8. Josh Ritter - The Beast in It's Tracks 
  9. The Appleseed Cast - Illumination Ritual
  10. Sigur Ros - Kveikur 
  11. Dent May - Warm Blanket 
  12. Atoms for Peace - AMOK
  13. Iron and Wine - Ghost on Ghost 
  14. Owen - L'Ami du Pueple
  15. Night Beds - Country Sleep
  16. Dr. Dog - B-Room
  17. Jim James - Regions of Light and Sound of God
  18. Junip - Junip
  19. Shearwater - Fellow Travelers 
  20. Shad - Flying Colours
  21. Saves the Day - Saves the Day
  22. RA Scion - Adding to the Extra
  23. Drew Danburry - Becoming Bastian Salazar 
  24. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. - The Speed of Things
  25. Mikal Cronin - MC II
  26. Joshua James - Well, Then, I'll Go to Hell
  27. Ben Folds Five - Live
  28. Cold War Kids - Dear Miss Lonelyhearts 
  29. The Polyphonic Spree - Yes, It's True
  30. Brendan Benson - You Were Right
  31. Matt Pryor - Wrist Slitter
  32. Latyrx - The Second Album
  33. Matt Pond - The Lives Inside the  Lines in Your Hand
  34. Less than Jake - See the Light
  35. Reggie and the Full Effect - No Country for Old Musicians
  36. Local Natives - Hummingbird
  37. Mike Doughty - Water and Washington
  38. The Head and the Heart - Let's Be Still 
  39. They Might be Giants - Nanobots
  40. Mike Doughty - Circles Super Bon Bon Sleepless...  
  41. Ra Ra Riot - Beta Love
  42. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin - Fly by Wire
  43. Talib Kweli - Prisoner of Conscious
  44. John Vanderslice - Vanderslice Plays Diamond Dogs
  45. Rogue Wave - Nightingale Floors
  46. Phoenix - Bankrupt!

  1. Their/They're/There - Their/They're/There
  2. Calexico - Maybe on Monday 
  3. Drew Danburry - The 1st Pillar, 2nd Pillar,  3rd Pillar and 4th Pillar EPs
  4. Cold War Kids - Tuxedos 
  5. Their/They're/There - Analog Weekend
  6. Minus the Bear - Acoustics II
  7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. - Patterns
  8. David Bazan - Spring 2013 Tour
  9. Andrew Bird - I Want to See Pulaski at Night
  10. Matt Pryor and James Dewees - Matt Pryor and James Dewees
  11. Colin Meloy - Colin Meloy Sings the Kinks
  12. Bambu - The Lean Sessions

Singles / 7 inches / Misc

  1. The Hold Steady - Criminal Fingers b/w The Bear & Maiden Fair [single]
  2. Iron and Wine - Next to Paradise b/w Dirty Dream [single]
  3. Dinosaur Jr. - Now the Fall b/w Ricochet [single]
  4. Dinosaur Jr. - Entertainment [single]
  5. Beck - I Won't Be Long / Gimme / Defriended (3 singles)
  6. The Postal Service - Tattered Line of String & Turn Around (from Give Up: Deluxe 10 Anniversary Edition)
  7. Jimmy Eat World - Damage b/w Stop Whispering [7" single]