We’re about to turn the calendar over to Ja… wait… June? Oh. You don’t say. Well, here’s a list of great albums from 2013 because I enjoy this nonsense and it’s fun for my own dumb reference anyway. Feel free to complain.
10. San Fermin by San Fermin – What would happen if you mixed The National and Dirty Projectors while cranking up the “baroque” knob? Now you can find out! Oversimplification aside, the debut effort by San Fermin is uneven and lovable. The pacing is a bit odd and the instrumental breaks aren’t always memorable. Paired with those weaknesses are some breathtaking highs. Opener “Renaissance!” sets an amazing tone, “Torero” boils deliciously, the drums in “Bar” simply must be experienced, and you’ve already heard the great single “Sonsick.”
09. Make Good Choices by Sean Nelson – You probably remember the song “Flagpole Sitta,” that fun 90s one-hit-wonder by Harvey Danger. This is the debut solo effort by that band’s singer, and it captures the same kind of charm and style found in the releases from his former project. And if you’re like most people, you won’t realize the strength of that compliment. We get thoughtful lyricism, strong melodies, and that distinctive voice, all packed and delivered to a 2013 audience.
08. Cerulean Salt by Waxahatchee – There are two ways to approach Cerulean Salt. The first is to love singer-songwriter/folk fare, and to gravitate to the slow burn energy of the quiet songs. Powerful singing and haunting melodies are sure to hit home with you. The second (and my way) in, is to fall for those brilliant loud tracks, soak in the glorious guitar fuzz. No matter the path you pick, the record is likely to grab your ears. And before you know it? All the other tracks will rise and add to a great whole.
07. Beyond the Drone by Saint Rich – Do you like guitars? Do you like the idea of classic rock and wished somebody would give an updated take on the concept? Congrats, we’ve found the album for you! “What if I don’t like ‘classic rock?'” Good question. The best course for you: quit being so pretentious about music labels. This is a fun experience for rocks fans of any kind. That Beyond the Drone should sit will with you and your parents is not lamentable, it’s impressive.
06. Absolute Zero by Little Green Cars – I’m not sure that earnest energy is always a positive quality, but here it’s used to great effect. On their debut, Little Green Cars assemble a set of quasi-singalong tracks with a sound that lands between folksy and straight rock. But it’s that fervor in delivering the message that seals the deal. They aren’t yelling at you (I promise you’ll enjoy those “whoa-ohs”), and their best weapon is singer Faye O’Rourke (a woman with the voice of an Irish Neko Case).
05. Settle by Disclosure – This was the best Daft Punk album released last year. Now to be fair, RAM was a fine display of musicianship. Settle is just better. It’s more infectious, has stronger beats, it’s more danceable. Yeah, “Get Lucky” has a great guitar lick. “When a Fire Starts to Burn” captures the soul of “Da Funk” and “Around the World” and elevates the sound to a religious experience. Disclosure doesn’t stop there, of course. Their sound rubs against drum n’ bass, a bit of dubstep, and general R&B style, all while delivering a unified record.
04. The Bones of What You Believe by Chvrches – It would be easy to dismiss Chvrches. The hype machine around them was outrageous and that letter “v” is determined to ruin my spelling skills forever. And here they are anyway. All 12 songs are catchy, built on a foundation of delightful synth-rock. That would be enough to deserve repeat listens, but lead singer Lauren Mayberry elevates everything. Her voice is outstanding, and those emotional performances give real weight to the (often) dark lyrics.
03. Hummingbird by Local Natives – Do you like stereotypical indie rock? Then just stop and pick this one up already. I know it sounds reductive, but Hummingbird offers so much to like if you’re a Shins/REM/Fleet Foxes/Strokes/Arcade Fire fan. Guitars that are jangly sometimes? Check. Guitars with interesting distortion other times? Yup. Lovely vocal harmonies? Again, yes. Songs grounded in emotion but not driven to whiny emo? Absolutely! A blend of quiet reflection and louder dynamics? Look, just go for it. I love this record for Pavlovian reasons, but it’s not derivative while spreading the message.
02. Trouble Will Find Me by The National – I find it surprising that “boring blandness” and “bowled me over like a mach speed sack of bricks” are in such close proximity, but The National have a weird way with different people. if you’re like me, you scoff at the idea that shades of grey can be repetitive. Instead, you’re swept up in all the depth of sound and reflections on modern life. Trouble doesn’t quite have the superpower wallop of its predecessor (2010’s top pick High Violet), but being merely brilliant is a fan consolation. Unless you find The National unlistenable. In which case you’re wrong.
01. Modern Vampires of the City by Vampire Weekend – When we last left our heroes, they were busy giving depth and direction to their sound in the fantastic sophomore album Contra. Yes, there was no more “A Punk” supernova. The more varied (and frankly better) sonic palette was reward enough. That Vampire Weekend was able to grow further should come as no surprise post-Contra, but the leap here still manages to astound. Modern goes for broke, exploring morality, faith, and love. Not only does Vampire Weekend hit the target, they manage to blow by nearly everybody else. The maturity of composition and lyricism are impressive, nuance and brilliance in full display.
It’s easy enough to fall for the singles (the conversation with God on “Ya Hey,” or “Diane Young” giving a delightful take on mortality), but the entire album progression of Modern impresses. In particular, keystone track “Hannah Hunt” offers incredible catharsis. “Hunt” also serves as transition from upbeat earlier tracks and the sorrowful second half. This is not the carefree Vampire Weekend of 2008. It’s much better. It’s the best album of 2013.