I struggle to no end with this stupid list every year. I made some mistakes; I’ve corrected myself. Albums are mostly in order of goodness.
thirteen was stupid good for album releases: a handful of new discoveries and a ton of solid artists releasing follow up albums. Ill let the music speak for itself:
Typhoon - White Lighter
I’ve been a longtime fan of Portland big-band Typhoon, and I can say they’ve made some steps forward with their 2013 album White Lighter. For a band that often incorporates over 10 instruments in a given song, its got to be hard to follow a collective vision and keep the sounds from muddling one another. On “Young Fathers” Kyle Morton’s grown up lead vocals are matched by the ever-sweet backing vocals of Shannon and Jen. As my uncontested favourite song, “Morton’s Fork” displays everything that makes Typhoon: the symphonic orchestral sweetness, the powerful restraint, the heavenly harmonies, and the crashing climaxes that can only be delivered by a band with two drum kits. Dont miss a chance to see these guys play live. That’s happening Jan 18th in Vancouver btw!
Frightened Rabbit - Pedestrian Verse
Scottish indie bands slay me; this year I have included Chvrches and Frightened Rabbit in my list. I’ve been a long time Frightened Rabbit fan, but this album is a step up in production value. I listen to the whole album through and love every song more than the last. On the opening track, the opening two lines go ‘I am that dickhead in the kitchen/Giving wine to your best girl’s glass’. How can you not want to hear more? With punchy pop-punk guitar riffs and one of a kind vocals, you’ll wonder why you hadn’t heard this sooner. Go dig up some “Backyard Skulls” to get down with these scottish gents.
Pusha T - My Name is my Name
Pusha’s album is loaded with hit after hit, featuring the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Rick Ross and Kelly Rowland. From silky smooth R&B slowjams to heavy hitting hip-hop chart toppers, Pusha crossed genres with this well-rounded masterpiece. On “40 Acres”, Pusha raps about the abolition of slavery over a modest piano beat with a sweet hook by The-Dream.
Blood Orange - Cupid Deluxe
Singer/Songwriter/Producer Devonte Hynes single-handedly sculpted this electronic driven 80s inspired jazzy soundtrack. The saxophone on this record with sooth your soul and the vocals on these track will get locked up in your brain on endless repeat. Stand out tracks, “Time Will Tell” and “You’re Not Good Enough”, balance sultry lyrics over bassy retro beats.
Waxahatchee - Cerulean Salt
Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield’s voice is just downright sexy. Full of angst and aggression, she sings to me like a cougar tearing into a helpless jackrabbit. Stir her in a mason jar with some tamborine and slide guitar and let it dry in the Alabama sun and what you’ll be left with is Cerulean Salt crystals. This alt-folk gem has a gritty punk rock feel like sand in your beer with the fuzzed out song “Coast to Coast”, but manages to drift between two oceans, also finding itself on the gentle sandy shores of folk rock with “Swan Dive” and “You’re Damaged”.
Haim - Days Are Gone
Bursting onto the scene in a big way, the Haim sisters released their breakout album this year, topping charts around the globe, in addition to completing a world tour. Mixing bits of ABBA and Fleetwood Mac, but bringing their own individuality, these rocker babes have put together a stellar album full of addictive pop-rock bangers. On “The Wire”, the sisters each sing a verse, all the while dominating their own instruments. Through the course of the album, Alana, Danielle, and Este take turns on drums, but are also joined by Dash Hutton on drums.
Kacey Musgraves - Same Trailer Different Park
Who is Kacey Musgraves and why aren’t we traveling around the country together in a winnebago playing folk music in dusty southern speakeasies? Her harmonica-heavy song, “My House”, stole my heart with lyrics “Any KOA is A-OK as long as I’m with you”. In simply down to earth and truly relatable lyrics like “If you wanna find the honey/You can’t be scared of the bees” Kacey reaches out to the 99 with 12 anthems for the underdog, blue-collared trailer park-living homie in everyone.
Phosphorescent, the moniker of Brooklyn via Alabama, singer-songwriter Matthew Houck. After hearing the reverby, rocking track “Ride On/Right On” I sourced out the rest of the album and was caught by the catchiness of this indie folk album. Midway through the album as the tempo is dwindling, the apologetic track, Muchacho’s tune, unleashes a chorus of horns that rights all of the wrongs. Then the 7-minute long jam “Quotidian Beast” really kicks it back into high gear and does a good job to balance the hit-heavy first half of the album.
Tegan & Sara - Heartthrob
I’m a sucker for female singer/songwriters and I like supporting local music. Pop music has a small sugary sweet spot in my heart. Tegan and Sara kill it three for three with their latest, Heartthrob. Its a 45 minute long dance party chock full of should-be club anthems. From the purr of an engine at the start of the song, to the thump to the kick drum, to the sappy lyrics, to how they sing “Whyy-uld”, I love everything about “You Drove Me Wild”.
Night Beds - Country Sleep
Night Beds is the musical brainchild of Winston Yellen. The 23-year old singer/songwriter writes like he’s lived at least twice as long. Country Sleep sounds like what you might hear playing over an old radio in a sleepy country town somewhere between Birmingham and Roanoke. Let the acapella “Faithful Heights” echo in your skull, then bleed out your nose as you are whisked to the peak of Night Bed’s musical elegance with “Ramona”. The album continues on a rollercoaster of melancholia, but leaves you with hopeful introspection rather than sadness and depression.
Wild Belle - Isles
The Bergman sibling system that is Wild Belle has found a sound that is uniquely their own: it’s something tropical, something soulful, something sexy. If Eliot’s saxophone on “Shine” doesn’t get you moving then skip forward to the keyboard based “Love Like This” to listen to Natalie croon. Eliot takes his turn on vocals with “When It’s Over”, but I think the real display of both member’s respective talents is “June”.
Earl Sweatshirt - Doris
Not gonna lie, OFWGKTA scares me like dark alleys. Earl makes me uneasy too but I can’t deny his lyrical genius. Odd Future homie, Frank Ocean, helps out on “Sunday”, what may be the least scary song. On “Chum” Earl shows that he can truly stand up on his own with out his homies featuring all over his tracks. He walks us through a trying childhood and explains how he found a father figure when Tyler the Creator took him under his wing. On “Hoarse” Earl ticks like a metronome stacking flat line upon line with a disciplined delivery.
The Wild Feathers - The Wild Feathers
This self titled album from the five piece Austin, TX band, The Wild Feathers, makes up for the shitty additions to this year’s musical potlatch by bands I love like
Deer Tick, Dawes, and Blitzen Trapper. Of course the Feathers owe their sound to everybody that came before them. But they we able to take what they’d learned and compile a no-bullshit all killer/no filler album in a way that aforementioned bands locked into record deals struggle with nowadays. Turn on the twangy track “The Ceiling” while you lay out in the summer with windows open and the ceiling fan spinning. Then lock into the Americana anthem, “I’m Alive” and get off your ass and go do something.
Daughter - If You Leave
I found out about this British babe from her cover of Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, which racked up more views on youtube than the original video. Her voice really gets me when it crescendos from croning birdsong into crashing cymbals in songs like “Smother” and “Tomorrow”. Hit single “Youth” hits it home with a beautiful emotional song featuring fragile fingerpicking, booming basslines and languid lyrics like “Setting fire to our insides for fun/To distract our hearts from ever missing them”.
Emily Reo - Olive Juice
This synth-laden dream pop album was up high on my repeat plays. Her beats are a mix of Sabzi and Postal Service, but Emily’s voice is what really stands out with an almost natural auto-tune. The short, 8-track album only features three previously unreleased tracks, but this time around everything sounds much more solid and unified. With a couple tracks like “Coast”, pushing the 7 minute mark, this album is a fuzzy friend you can really fall back into.
Chvrches - The Bones of What You Believe
The Bones of What You Believe is electro-pop perfection. With a bang, “The Mother We Share” opens the floodgate of the album releasing a monsoon of melodic synth syrup in your ears. On the track, “Gun”, the cute and innocent Lauren Mayberry, ironically exclaims, “I’m going to break you down/To tiny, tiny parts” and “I’ll be a gun/And it’s you I’ll come for”. The album’s theme of love and heartbreak continues with the reverby, robotic “Lungs”. Having only performed for the first time together in July 2012, this young Scottish band has heaps of room to grow.
Lorde - Pure Heroine
Don’t know how I missed this little beauty. I was initially turned off by all the radio play Lorde (pronounced Lordy) got, but then I warmed up to her in the fall, and Pure Heroine has received repeated playtime on my devices.. Lorde blew onto the scene this year with this debut album, and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. From the hit opener, “Tennis Court” to “Team” and everything in between, this album is stacked full of electro-pop beauties. On “Ribs”, Lorde shouts out to Canadian indie band Broken Social scene and then uses a powerful and catchy echo of every line in the second half of the song.
Deer Tick - Negativity
Deer Tick is a great fucking band. It took me a few listens of this album to wipe my tears and understand that they just decided to write a darker album, and they haven’t given up being the drunken party animal rockers I’m used to. This album is slow, its boring, it sucks, it’s called Negativity. The mellow mood on Negativity is carried forth in the sombre song titles, “The Rock”, “The Curtain” and “Just Friends”, but then it kicks up a notch for “The Dream’s in the Ditch”. The album rounds out with a track featuring “White Houses” stunner Vanessa Carlton for an overall 3 broken hearts out of 4.
K.Flay - West Ghost
K.Flay is the female answer to Shad K. Educated and underground, she spits way harder than Nicki Minaj and looks five times as good without even trying. In “The Cops” K gives us a depressingly truthful insight into her lovelife. And then in “Another Round” she takes us into a shitty day that warrants a night of heavy drinking. On my favorite track, “Fleas Navidad”, K.Flay looks at the awful reality of America, “Bums grubbing down Mickey D’s on 51st/You got a sad tale, buddy somebody got 50 worse”. You just can’t not like K.Flay: at Bonnaroo two years ago, she did a free show in the campsite and was tossing calzones into the crowd.
Rhye - Woman
From the opening lyrics, from the opening track, “Open”, “I’m a fool for that shake in your thighs”, the listener is reeled in to a lustful lyrical love affair. I fell victim to the undoubtedly popular notion that Rhye is the voice of a woman. But it is actually the collaboration of Canadian singer Milosh(a man), and Danish instrumentalist Robin Hannibal. Woman is a soul-pop R&B record that may mold you and melt you like putty as the soundscape shapeshifts like the setting of the sun in a cloudy sky.
Arcade Fire - Reflektor
Title track “Reflektor” kicks off the album with a trancy bilingual hit from the Montreal band Arcade Fire for their highly anticipated follow up to Grammy-winning The Suburbs. The next song that jumps out is “Here Comes The Night” with a catchy tuba-loaded, keys-sprinkled. On the spooky track, “You Already Know” I am vaguely reminded of “Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. “Afterlife” is another big hit on the album with catchy vocals and a bouncy beat. The big band is already set to headline Glastonbury, and will surely be all over the festival circuit this summer.
Pretty Lights - A Color Map of the Sun
On A Color Map of the Sun, Derek Vincent Smith takes a big step in a new direction for electronic music. Recording live artists in studios across the country, he composed the album of entirely self-produced music. The forethought that must have gone into this speaks volumes for his talent, and sets Pretty Lights on a level above all other DJs. With major elements of funk, blues, soul and jazz music, this album should take the electronic dance music scene back from the whacked out dubsteppers and bleepy bloopers. With over 70 minutes of music, this isn’t an album full of three minute long fuzzy house tracks. There is an immense amount of buildup and restraint.
Disclosure - Settle If you didn’t dance your ass of to disclosure this summer you weren’t on this planet. This album was huge all across dance floors everywhere. These two English deep house gods mixed up a dirty album with tracks that topped charts in the UK, US and Australia to name a few. Help Me Lose My Mind will easily make you lose your mind with the catchy house beat and London Grammars sexy vocals.
Blitzen Trapper - VII
Blitzen Trapper was very creative with the naming of their seventh studio album. The new album is a groovier mix of songs, compiled in an effort to create a more danceable folk-bluegrass album than those past. “Drive On Up” is a funked out country track about pickup trucks that will have you drumming on the steering wheel of any old chevy. The track, “Don’t be a Stranger” is reminiscent of “Furr” with its catchy guitar riffs and singable lyrics.
Shad - Flying Colours Its been a couple years since Shad has released an LP, but it was worth the wait. The Canadian wordsmith collaborates with Saukrates, Lights and K-Os to produce an album that bleeds repeat listens. From the Intro through the length of the album, Shad’s crafty and creative lyrics are slung effortlessly over a slew of interesting beats. Public Service Broadcasting - Inform Educate Entertain Chance The Rapper - Acid Rap Its nice that hip hop can include voices like Danny Brown, Gambino and Chance The Rapper. A little squeaky, a little silly, and not too serious, you know Chance is just having fun with this album. From the poppy “Good Ass Intro” to the piano-driven, reflective “Everythings Good (Good Ass Outro)”, Chance displays his musical flexibility.
This English musical duo blew me away when I first listened to them on NPR Music. Taking samples from archived public information films and propaganda videos, and using their own musical instruments the Englishmen attempt to ‘teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future’. The track “The Now Generation” looks at how advertising has brainwashed our generation, telling us how we should dress and behave. The track “ROYGBIV” samples audio from what must have been the introduction of colour film to the world. For the full audio/visual effect take a look at their music videos.
Eminem - Marshall Mathers LP2 Shady’s back. In his latest edition he still sounds angry as ever but his songs have a more amicable atmosphere to them, apologizing to his mother, and dedicating his success to the city of Detroit. Sampling classic folk and rock beats, with some heavy-hitting featured artists this album is what we’ve come to expect from mainstream hip-hop. Continuing to use vulgarity to express his machismo, Em hasn’t lost his signature sniper-focused rhymes, and delivers on every track with a vengeance. One nit pick is that the beats are pretty pop-centric and often take away from his vocals..
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BC Place Stadium (1983)