MY TEN FAVORITE ALBUMS OF 2013
(IN NO PARTICULAR HIERARCHY)
/// YOUTH LAGOON - WONDROUS BUGHOUSE
Let’s just get this out of the way first. I’ll confess that Youth Lagoon is a Boise-based outfit, so I’m sure there is some bias involved in my love for this album. Trevor Powers easily avoided any signs of a “sophomore slump” with Wondrous Bughouse. His previous album, The Year of Hibernation, was a quiet, inward album about the struggles of youth and transitioning to adulthood. Then, listeners are hit with a wide open, psychedelic funhouse in this 2013 creation. It was one of the most rewarding listens of the year for me. Though the lyrics still appear deeply personal, they speak to broader terms of the human experience. The occasional waltz and haunted merry-go-round tune keeps things really interesting on this beautifully strange trip.
/// THUNDERCAT - APOCALYPSE
An intergalactic voyage in remembrance of a friend who died too young might be a fair summary of the funky journey that is Apocalypse. Thundercat is one of those rare felines that can jam on a mind-bending level without creating music that is only appreciated by the technically inclined. This cat brings jazz, R&B, soul, pop, rhythm & blues, disco, dubstep, etc… and then hits puree on the interstellar blender. It is a pseudo-spiritual experience that I had on repeat for much of 2013.
/// BIBIO - SILVER WILKINSON
Stephen Wilkinson has brought another beautifully eclectic mix to the table. He jumps from heavily sampled dubstep, to quietly plucked folk ballads, to experimental electronica, to sunrise ambience and that’s just the first half of the album. Despite his impressive genre hopping, it is still distinctly Bibio and I love every minute of it. You Won’t Remember still gives me woozy chills. It makes me cry as I remember listening to it while riding my bike on a summer breeze through Boise’s historic North End.
/// OLIVER WILDE - A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO UNNATURAL LIGHT YEARS
This album was a bit of an anti-depressant for me this year. Not that it is a cheery, pick-me-up of an album, quite the opposite. It is more like finding a friend to wallow in the sadness with. It put my head in a bit of a groggy haze filled with comforting fuzz and glitch. At the base layer it is a traditional singer-songwriter/folk album. However, it is so steeped in layers of samples, synths, beeps, bloops, and ticks that it removes itself from a simple exercise in genre. Almost every track on the record has sonic surprises that come in the form of electronic embellishments. I still don’t know if this is a “real” genre, but Oliver Wilde crafts exceptional folktronica.
/// THESE NEW PURITANS - FIELD OF REEDS
It is rare for me to find something so dark, bleak, and off-kilter to be incredibly inviting. Don’t get me wrong, These New Puritans are not creating contemporary Scott Walker-style music. It has melodies and sounds that create a fog of beauty that is a bit more accessible than Mr. Walker. However, it is still an eerie, acquired taste. Their use of more symphonic instruments and brooding atmosphere make a curious match to quiet vocals seemingly sung on a last breath. Field of Reeds is not a nightmare, but you’ll probably want to sleep with the nightlight on.
/// WASHED OUT - PARACOSM
This album is summertime in a bottle. I’ve been pretty hit and miss with Ernest Greene’s previous 80’s-laden song craft. The introduction of more acoustic instrumentation and live drums brought a warm human touch that reeled me right into Paracosm. It is the sound of coasting with all windows down while summer winds fill the cabin of your vehicle. There is still the occasional journey into the soundtrack of the closing credits to Never Ending Story, but hey, that is still one of my favorite movies.
/// KWES - ILP.
Experimental R&B, what a great idea. I don’t know if Kwes came up with it, but he sure knows how to execute it. It feels like Kwes is bringing something new to the table. It is not mind-blowing or revolutionary, it is a quiet, unusual sound that I couldn’t ignore in late 2013. Even the poetry of his lyrics feels experimental with it’s broad strokes of word association. The opening track Purplehands comes to mind, “Red and blue makes purple, crop circles bury the fruits of our love”.
/// MOUNT KIMBIE - COLD SPRING FAULT LESS YOUTH
Here is another group that pushed the looming “sophmore slump” to the side of the road. I feel Mount Kimbie refined, improved, and progressed their infectious sound on all fronts with this worthy second effort. They took the next natural step in bringing more vocals into the mix including some slack-jawed rhymes at the hands of Britain’s current wonder-kid King Krule. As all forms of electronica continue to be on the rise, it is groups like Mount Kimbie that keep things fresh for me among a sea of stale fish.
/// MIDLAKE - ANTIPHON
This album felt like my personal soundtrack to the city of Olympia, WA which I now call home. Misty mountains filled with lakes, streams, and waterfalls; lantern walks in mossy, fern-covered woods; rain drops splashing on a bearded face; a domed political edifice glowing through the fog; this is what Antiphon has become to me. I had almost written Midlake off when I experienced a big disconnect with their previous effort, The Courage of Others. But the winds of change within the band and in my family’s life brought us back together again. A happy union under the gray skies of Olympia.
/// CUUSHE - BUTTERFLY CASE
This is dream-pop at it’s most REM inducing state. This record lulled me into a reverb soaked trance so soft and subtle that 50 minutes pass by without measure. There are other forces at work in this album that I can’t ignore. For example, the amazing art by Yoko Kuno throughout the packaging or a creation story that drew me in immediately. Visions of a little Japanese woman recording quietly in a small Tokyo apartment so as not to disturb the neighbors definitely peaked my interest. Butterfly Case is a audio dose best taken while lying down.
::: || HONORABLE MENTIONS || :::
Local Natives - Hummingbird
Amazing production, atmosphere, and soaring falsettos made this album stand out from the crowd in 2013.
King Krule - 6 Feet Beneath The Moon
This kid’s got swagger to spare and I look forward to seeing how his sound develops in the many years he has ahead of him.
James Blake - Overgrown
He continues to foster a sound that is quite unique in a world where this is becoming a herculean task.
Rogue Wave - Nightingale Floors
Another solid record by one of my longtime favorites. The killer packaging with art by Andrew Schoultz doesn't hurt either.
Shigeto - No Better Time Than Now
I’ve always enjoyed Shigeto, but after seeing him create my favorite performance of the entire 2013 Treefort Music Festival, he is on a new level for me. Much respect.
The Strokes - Comedown Machine
I feel like all media was encouraging me to NOT like this album, but I did, a lot.
::: || BEST LIVE PERFORMANCE OF 2013 || :::
James Blake at the Showbox (Sodo) - Seattle, WA
If there was Museum of Modern Music, then this performance would be the featured exhibition.