Monday, January 6, 2014

Top 10 Albums of 2013.... (One Week Later)...

It seems I'm always late with getting this blog posted... Usually a couple of weeks... But hey, 6 days into the new year isn't too bad... 
 So, without further ado.... Here is my completely "unbiased" opinion of the best 10 albums that came out last year... (In no particular order)...

Yeezus - Kanye West
    I'm not a big Kanye fan. 
    In fact, I'm pretty sure he's lost his mind and is completely out of touch with reality. On the other hand, Yeezus is pretty damn awesome.  Sounding like early 80's rap taking its cue from Kraftwerk records and creating a freakin' icy, cold vibe throughout - this album surprised me. It has a scattering of samples, but is mostly dominated by squelchy, minimalist synths with Kanye rapping about (seemingly) anything that comes to mind - whether he's ranting about consumerism/racism on "New Slaves" or about hurrying up with his damn croissants on "I Am a God"... The whole thing sounds like a mental breakdown on tape... Which is actually, (possibly unintentionally), the allure of this album.
    Egotistical maniac he may be, but Kanye has made an album that seems an attempt to weed out true fans and, (in it's own way), stand alone as a piece of art - just take a look at the album's packaging and artwork, (or lack there of)...
    People are gonna hate it, but this album is impressive. 
The Silver Gymnasium - Okkervil River
    I was lucky enough to get this album as a birthday gift on my 33rd birthday during an epic pub crawl, (tune back in another week or so for more on that)....
     Anyway, this album is a brilliant Americana album, with every song telling a story in a grand hometown sorta feel... (see the songs "Pink Slip" and "Where The Spirit Left Us" ).... Every time I sit and really listen to this album, I think Bruce Springsteen.  Hell, "Down Down the Deep River"  has a keyboard lick that brings the essence of "Hungry Heart" to this album. Not to say that the rest of the album doesn't solidify the Springsteen-esque inference, but that song pretty much seals the deal - and it's only the third track!
       Seriously. Do yourself a favor and run down to Music Millenium and pick this up. No, seriously.
Pick up a physical, "in your hands" copy. Cause if there was an award for cool packaging and album artwork design - this album would win. Hands down.
Spreading Rumours - Grouplove
     I have a bit of a soft spot for this band. Not that I feel guilty for loving them, cause they're pretty damn amazing, (and if you have the opportunity to catch them live, do it... They're freakin' awesome!)
      But this album was one of 2 that I anticipated for this last year, and it was certainly worth the wait. This album defies your expectations of what pop music should be.
   We have strangely perfect electro-pop ("Ways To Go"), the best Pixies song since 1992 ("Raspberry"), weird Muse-like awesomeness ("I'm With You"), and riffy guitar alterna-rock worthy of a 90's grunge band, ("Borderlines and Aliens").  
       Rolling Stone gave this album 3 stars.... (Which isn't too bad).... But I say fuck that... Five stars all the way. This is a great pop album that doesn't mind changing genres even between songs, yet remains cohesive. 
        And the interplay between Christian Zucconi and Hannah Hooper's vocals is textbook Frank Black and Kim Deal. That combination seems to only come along every 15 years or so, so check it out and enjoy it while you can....
Bankrupt! - Phoenix
    Where to begin... 
     This was the other hotly anticipated album that I waited impatiently for.... And it totally delivers.
     This one isn't a big surprise. Phoenix has an impressive track record of shifting styles a bit, but making it feel natural... (and if all you've heard is "Wolfgang Amadeus", I encourage you to dig a bit further in their back catalog)....
      If there's a psychadelic new wave album, this one is it.  Covered in synths, and practically mutating into each following song - this album hits every milestone from their career and moves it further into the unknown... ("Trying To Be Cool" sounds like it should be on Alphabetical, and "Don't" from "It's Never Been Like That" to name a couple)...
    These guys got a lot of credit for this album, but it's deserved. They've done a solid job on creating a good album, and making it enjoyable. It's not a challenging album, but it's impressive none the less.
AM - Arctic Monkeys
    I've been saying this for at least two years - Arctic Monkeys are the sh*t. 
    Yeah, I might've come to the party late, (liking their first album, but losing track of them since).  But after "Humbug" these guys have continually impressed me with their willingness to experiment. (Plus, hanging out with Josh Homme can't hurt)...
    And after the perfect pop of "Suck It and See", these guys created a dark and sensuous masterpiece here. Attention should be drawn to the sleek opening track "Do I Wanna Know", and the Black Sabbath inspired "Arabella." 
      Enjoy this album, and then wait impatiently for their next one.
More Than Just A Dream - Fit and the Tantrums
     I'm a sucker for good pop music. You should already know this by now. 
     But these guys followed up a R&B-flavored debut album - (which was great in it's own right) - with an album that added more synths to the mix, making them sound more like an updated ABC, than Motown revivalists... (Case in point: "Fools Gold")...
      These guys could've just done a repeat of their previous album, but they pushed it a bit further and made a cool pop album that has paid off well for them, (as evidenced by their increase of radio play)...

Sunbather - Deafheaven
    Ever wondered what Sigur Ros or My Bloody Valentine would sound like if they played black metal? Well, that's basically what Deafheaven sounds like.
    Anthemic and beautiful, with buzz-saw guitars and unintelligible vocals.
    This type of style is bound to turn off a lot of people - but honestly, those people need to experiment a bit more with their musical palate.
     Despite my name-checking description above, these guys have made a metal album that dapples liberally in the shoe-gazing and post-rock vein. with several songs reaching the 10 minute mark, and a few short songs that are ethereal interludes - there are moments of calm on this album that are epically beautiful...and the whole thing is a cool sonic experience.
     Whether this is your type of music or not, this album deserves your attention.

Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions - Franz Ferdinand
      I'd say it's been easy to write off Franz Ferdinand. These once reigning kings of the mid-2000's post punk revival released their 4th album this last year. And needless to say, I didn't rush right out and buy it, (though the reviews I'd read were positive).
    Kind of a loss for me - cause this album is freakin' great! They've certainly not lost any of the appeal that they exuded on their 2004 debut. They're still sarcastic and/or snarky in their lyrics, (as evidenced by the shout-outs of "You randy bastard!" that punctuate "Evil Eye".... Or the possibly serious "Goodbye Lovers and Friends" that seems like a sly song to end their career on...)
     There's some cool acapella vocals at the apex of "Stand On The Horizon" that make it sound like the most mature song these guys have written.... (But don't worry, it's still easy to dance to...
     The main stand out for me, is the quirky "Fresh Strawberries", which turns a few odd little phrases, and ends up being a cool pop song - that only these guys could do.
   Sure, these songs still sound like Franz Ferdinand - but at times, there is something to be said for creating  a working formula and then adding the tiniest of tweaks to make an album familiar, but different. The whole album goes down easy, doesn't hang around too long, and makes itself easy to revisit.  And in that regard, it's fantastic.

Reflektor - Arcade Fire
   Despite my initial concern about this upcoming album being partly produced by James Murphy, (and don't get me wrong, LCD Soundsystem is absolutely amazing... But I wasn't so sure I wanted to hear an overly dancey Arcade Fire), I really had nothing to fear. Arcade Fire doesn't sound more dance-like than they have on previous albums.
 I remember reading an interview somewhere with Win Butler regarding "The Suburbs" as  trying to sound like Depeche Mode meets Neil Young... Well, I would definitely say that that's a better description of "Reflektor", rather than "The Suburbs."
     Either way, it's probably already dividing fans - but it's still a fantastic, if not darker, journey  with these guys. Stand outs are of course, the title track, "Afterlife" and "Here Comes the Night Time"...

 More Light - Primal Scream
     Well, this album basically works as a best of Primal Scream primer, in that it pretty much explores every facet this band has ever shown - but in the form of 13 new songs.
      Starting off with "2013" and "River of Pain", the first two tracks mine the psychadelic rock of their mid 90's explorations - (i.e. "Vanishing Point" and "Give Out But Don't Give Up") - the second of which breaks down into a spatial orchestra arrangement, before heading back into it's acoustic guitar and drum-loop.
      Other songs find the dark electronica elements these guys used way back in 2000 on "Xtrmntr" and smooth out some of the atonalness of it. (see: "Cultercide").... There's straight-ahead rockers here, too - (see: "Hit Void", "Invisible City", and "Turn Each Other Inside Out").        The whole album is a dark, druggy trip into psychadelic-electro-rock, that comes out at the end with "It's Alright, It's OK" shedding a bit of light on the precedings - and giving more than a generous wink to their classic "Screamadelica" album.
        It's not the best album of the year, but it's one of the most interesting.

 So, there's my 10.   And yes, you're asking "What about Vampire Weekend's album? Or Daft Punk's album? They should be on there."
     And yeah, they would be if I could choose 12 albums - but I've kept myself to 10. And I have my reasons why they didn't make it on here, (of which I won't go into now...)...
   But, these are my totally subjective top 10 - the ones I listened to the most, and enjoyed the most.
  So, what are your ten?