Staff Pick: Top 10 Albums of 2013

I don’t have an incredibly diverse or varied taste in music. People have told me all my life that “Everything [I] listen to sounds the same,” and for a long time when that particular insult was hurled – I got defensive. Now I like to think I know better because I realized something: those people were right. It’s not a bad thing to have a limited taste – you like what you like and no one should have to make excuses or feel bad about it.  I thought I would put together a list of my 10 favorite albums that came out this year…and if you’re not keen on what I’ve listed – tough.  Here it goes.

 

10. Iron Chic – The Constant One

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Long Island’s Iron Chic builds upon their already near-perfect formula on their second full length album, The Constant One. With the same kind of head-banging, fist-pumping punk songs like those on Not Like This, the boys in Iron Chic manage to take things even further. The Constant One has an urgency and persistence unlike Not Like This. They aren’t going to stop singing until they have convinced every last person that hears their music that everything is going to be okay, and even if you’re down it won’t last for too long (see “True Miserable Experience”). “We’re here right now and that’s all that counts” is Iron Chic’s attitude as a whole, and if you listen to The Constant One long enough, you’ll start feeling that way, too.

 

9. Rilo Kiley – Rkives

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Rkives is not a new Rilo Kiley album; rather, it is a collection of all of the songs that “[didn’t] work as a part of the whole thing”, according to singer Jenny Lewis. For hardcore RK fans such as myself, the fact that the band promised to release anything at all after Under the Blacklight was incredibly exciting and many people were eagerly awaiting Rkives’ release. Rarity and B-Sides comps generally aren’t very exciting unless they are released by a band that you truly believe can do no wrong, because let’s face it, most of the time they just fall flat. Rkives, on the other hand, absolutely exceeds expectations (even going so far as to include a track featuring rapper Too $hort). Tracks like “Emotional” and “Let Me Back In” would fit right in with older Rilo Kiley material and are by no means songs that should have been tossed out. The majority of Rkives feels like the Rilo Kiley that wrote The Execution of All Things and More Adventurous that we all know and love and that’s a great thing.

 

8. Lemuria – The Distance Is So Big

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Lemuria’s third proper album, released on June 18th, was one I hesitated (albeit for a little too long) to check out. I didn’t want to like it. I was afraid it would disappoint me in the same way that Pebble did. (It just didn’t have the same sense of urgency and desperation that Lemuria’s earlier albums did.) What I really wanted was for them to make another Get Better (since that’s their best album), but they didn’t. No, Lemuria made an album that might take you a while to really get into. It’s not as immediately satisfying as Get Better and The First Collection were. It’s a grower. If you give it a chance, though, there is no doubt in my mind that you’ll find yourself singing the chorus of “Brilliant Dancer” or “Paint the Youth” when they aren’t even on. That’s how catchy and infectious this album is – and who doesn’t want something that’s a close second to Get Better?

 

7. Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse

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Frightened Rabbit’s Pedestrian Verse finds the band on Atlantic Records instead of the indie label FatCat Records where their previous albums were released. Does the jump to a major label affect the band’s sound? Of course it does, a little. Pedestrian Verse has an overall bigger sound with a crisp and cleaner production than, say, The Midnight Organ Fight. It’s not as raw. That said, Frightened Rabbit is still Frightened Rabbit. If you’re as much of a sucker for Scott Hutchinson’s self-deprecating and depressing lyrics as I am, you won’t let the fact that the album isn’t as raw as its predecessors get you down. You’ll find tracks like “The Woodpile” and “Nitrous Gas” to be your typical Frightened Rabbit fare – the only difference is that they sound a little grander, and it’s by no means a bad thing.

 

6. Swearin’ – Surfing Strange

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Surfing Strange finds Brooklyn via Philadelphia’s Swearin’ expanding their sound. Their self titled LP (released last year on Salinas Records) was a fast paced, catchy indie rock album that felt like it ended almost immediately after it began. Surfing Strange isn’t as instantly gratifying as the band’s self titled, however. “Glare of the Sun” and “Melanoma” can be a little unsettling and jarring at times, but head-banging and hummable tracks like “Dust in the Gold Sack”, “Watered Down”, and “Young” more than make up for it. Surfing Strange definitely stays true to its title, with each track on the album sounding different from the last, leaving the listener to speculate about what tricks the band might have up their sleeve for the next track. Swearin’ is really mixing it up this time – going from the feedback-drenched “Echo Locate” to the bittersweet and mellow “Loretta’s Flowers”, one of the album’s highlights. Allison Crutchfield may have gotten her start with her sister Katie in The Ackleys and P.S. Eliot, but Swearin’s Surfing Strange is an album that stands out from twins’ earlier work and garners them a sound all their own.

 

5. Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold

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Brooklyn’s Parquet Courts debut, Light Up Gold, is exactly what you might expect from Andrew Savage if you’re familiar with his other bands Teenage Cool Kids and Fergus and Geronimo. Originally released in 2012 on Savage’s label Dull Tools, Light Up Gold was re-released in 2013 on What’s Your Rupture? and has been making waves ever since. If you’re familiar with any of Savage’s work, you know that he likes to take risks and mix things up. That’s why every Teenage Cool Kids album sounded different from the last, and it was impossible to tell what would happen next with Fergus and Geronimo. Parquet Courts’ Light Up Gold is much like that.  Savage delivers his lyrics in a monotone fashion for the majority of the album, which goes flawlessly with their slacker-punk sound and his overall indifference. The first time I listened to this album, I was bored by it and annoyed by the amount of feedback-laden guitar, but then I put it down for a while and came back to it. The second time around, I found myself genuinely appreciating Andrew Savage’s sense of humor and enjoying the fact that they somehow found a way to worm songs that I didn’t even like initially into my brain. That’s the thing about Light Up Gold, even if you try to resist it, it will haunt you.

 

4. The Front Bottoms – Talon of the Hawk

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The Front Bottoms’ sophomore album Talon of the Hawk is relatable, to say the least. The New Jersey acoustic folk-punk duo is not new at knowing how to write songs that will elicit a response from fans. With lyrics like “It’s such a big city, I feel so stupid / Thinking I might see you if I wander around”, singer/guitarist Brian Sella demonstrates his ability to write lyrics about things that we’ve all thought and felt at some point or another. “Twin Size Mattress” and “Tattooed Tears” are highlights of the album, with Sella passionately shouting against a backdrop of toe-tapping and fun, danceable instrumentals. Talon of the Hawk is like The Front Bottoms self-titled debut in that it’s the kind of album that doesn’t get old and warrants repeated listens. No matter how many times you spin it (if you do), you’ll always find yourself singing along – and likely with a smile on your face because The Front Bottoms know how to have fun.

 

3. Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt

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Waxahatchee’s sophomore album sounds nothing like its predecessor, American Weekend. American Weekend is sparse and stripped down – just a girl and a guitar; with Katie Crutchfield (the driving force behind Waxahatchee) sounding as if she’s too shy to sing her own songs confidently. Cerulean Salt, however, allows the listener to see a different side of her. With this album, Katie is self-assured, confident and unabashed, baring her soul for all to see (except this time she doesn’t care what anyone thinks). Poignant, honest lyrics sung with conviction accompany for the first time, a full band that will have you bobbing your head as you sing along. It’s hard to decide which tracks are the highlights of the album because every single song is solid and will hook you in. From front to back, Cerulean Salt flows like a river. It keeps moving along at a steady pace until it reaches a conclusion that feels organic and like an appropriate place for the album to close.

 

2. Pachangacha – WEIRDHEAD

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The debut full-length album from Massachusetts four-piece Pachangacha is an entirely different sound than that on their 2011 EP Berserkabunga. Okay, so maybe not entirely different. WEIRDHEAD still incorporates Bryce Pulaski’s goofy lyrics and falsetto vocals that appeared on the EP, but it also expands their sound to include more than just cloudy distortion and intense gang vocals. WEIRDHEAD is a winding, exciting, and sonically interesting album that is just as funny and weird as it is catchy. WEIRDHEAD will keep you on your toes, without a doubt. Even after a full month of jamming to this album every day, I still found myself wondering what was going to happen next. It’s the kind of album that sounds like it was made for sunny day drives with the windows down and eager sing-a-longs with friends. What kind of person wouldn’t want to sing along to the simple (but true) statement “I’m really confused a lot”? Who isn’t?

 

1. Owen – L’Ami du Peuple

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Mike Kinsella’s latest solo album under the moniker Owen isn’t just more of the same. That’s right, I said it. As much as I adore every Owen album that’s ever been released, they tend to be a bit like Jack Johnson’s catalog at times. They can get a little same-y. Thankfully, L’Ami du Peuple (French for the friend of the people) is a welcome departure from Owen’s usual sparse acoustic sound.  The acoustic guitar is still present, though. This is an Owen album after all. What L’Ami does differently than everything in Owen’s back catalog (with the exception of Ghost Town) is that it adds to the effortless beauty that was already there and enhances it, using (at times) a full backing band.  “A Fever” (finally fully-realized) along with “Bad Blood”, and “Blues to Black” are prime examples of the true beauty that Kinsella is capable of dreaming up when left to his own devices. Still, L’Ami du Peuple fits right in amongst the rest of Owen’s catalog even as it stands out – it’s a small step away from the formula with which he writes his songs, but not enough so that it’s unexpected. After years of making music as Owen, Mike Kinsella is finally perfecting the sound he’s created, with L’Ami du Peuple being arguably his best work to date.

 

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