Lo, and behold, this is a pleb’s top ten albums of the year. I’ll include ten honorable mentions before I begin this list for this year of two thousand and thirteen, in the year of Our Lord, really delivered in terms of quality and experimentation. These honorable mentions are, as you will notice, in alphabetical order.
You can learn more about each of these by just clicking on the name.
Now, it pains me to rank albums but I’ve gotta do what I gotta do… right?
10. The Besnard Lakes – Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO (Jagjaguwar)
I would be lying if I were to say I’ve been a long time follower of The Besnard Lakes. I came across Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO earlier this year and after years of seeing the name “The Besnard Lakes” around this vast internet of ours, I finally decided to give them a listen. “46 Satires” begins with this otherworldly chime ringing in to existence and this sparse electric guitar being plucked with warmth. Once Olga Goreas started singing, I felt guilty, REALLY guilty, about not checking them out sooner. Jace Lasek’s vocal work is nothing less than stunning as well. “And Her Eyes Were Painted Gold,” my favorite track off of this album, was lush and the song flowed with the smoothness of a river. Lasek’s fair and seraphic voice intermeshed marvelously with the grandiose reverberating violins and violas, Goreas’ tenacious bass grooves, Sarah Pagé’s harp and the multitudinous variants of percussion undulating throughout the majority of the running time. Lasek has cited 60s and 70s pop music as an inspiration and it shines through in the closing of the track with Lasek’s repeated crooning of the words “give up” – Stephen Humphries, over at Under the Radar, describes the band as “Brian Wilson goes shoegaze.” I could go on and on but trust me when I say each song on this album is extremely strong and is perfectly capable of standing on its own, but this is an album that’s best appreciated with an attentive listening, front to back. Did I mention Spencer Krug appears on more than half of this album’s tracks? He plays marimba, vibraphones and xylophone! The Besnard Lakes get called shoegaze a lot, but I don’t really see that. I see progressive rock with elements of post-rock, and it’s sprinkled with plenty of lovable pop sensibilities. If you want a band with plenty of variety, give The Besnard Lakes a try. I’m hitting myself in the head for not checking out these Montrealers sooner.
9. The Kevin Costner Suicide Pact – Container Ship (Patient Sounds Intl.)
You’re asleep on that cargo ship’s barracks and you’ve been on there for a few weeks. It’s some unholy hour in the morning and your eyes snap open. You look around from your small bed for the time but the only clock that’s in the room is out of battery. You have no idea if you’ve even slept but you feel an unexplainable amount of energy. There’s no way you’re going back to sleep so you head up to the deck. It’s twilight. The ocean is miraculously glass from what you can see from the dark stairs. You head to the starboard bow to get a better look. You look down in the water and you can see the ship’s reflection perfectly along with your face’s. There’s a fog that’s starting to set in so you’re taking in what these waters can offer. There’s a storm brewing in the distance as well and your ship’s heading right in to the thick of it. Luckily, The Kevin Costner Suicide Pact is here to soundtrack your experience with ominous aquatic atmospheres. This Colorado band, which specializes in post-rock, ambient and drone, has been releasing material for three years now and they’ve amassed a formidable catalog within that timespan. I wrote about one of their limited releases from last year, Standstill and let me say that is rather excellent as well. Container Ship evokes the feelings of a palatial big-budget film score (or Windy & Carl) with tracks such as “I Don’t Believe Me,” or “Aerodrome,” but it also reminds me of K.C. Accidental with tracks such as “Wallace” or “Mookie Suit.” I like to think I listen to a good load of ambient/drone/post-rock and when friends ask what I’m listening to as of late, something in one of those genres often gets brought up. Many of my friends complain that they find this type of music boring but I feel like those that complain about it are missing the point. An album such as Container Ship is something that needs to be meditated upon. Anthony Fantano, in one of his many videos, said something to the effect of “you have to let ambient music take you.” Let the Container Ship take you away on a voyage in to unknown waters.
8. DIANA – Perpetual Surrender (Jagjaguwar / Paper Bag)
I grew up in the glorious nineties and when I was a wee tike, I had to listen my parents’ music. My mother and father (a gigantic audiophile), luckily, had a pretty good taste in regards to what they were listening to. I heard Frazier Chorus, Deep Forest, Tears for Fears, Talking Heads, Sade, Enya (I’ve got a soft spot for her), and more on the surround sound systems set up in the house. Basically, a load of great 80s/(obviously) 90s pop music which I completely resented at the time but when I got older and developed a taste I could not be more grateful. There were some soap operas too, but I can’t say I’ve developed a taste for them. DIANA, the Toronto four-piece, brings me back to those simpler times when all I had to worry about was going to bed on time and trying to sleep through The Bold and the Beautiful or The Young and the Restless. The cover of this album really reminds me of Patrick Nagel or The Bold and the Beautiful’s opening theme – its stark use of gray on a predominantly pink background. Obviously, I’m not expecting anybody to even remotely develop the same connection I have to DIANA. However, I’d be lying if I said all of these memories that are brought to the forefront of my mind because of their nostalgically tinged pop didn’t contribute to a large portion of my admiration for Perpetual Surrender. In a shorter iteration on this record, I touched upon the some of the niceties Perpetual Surrender offers in a piece I put up earlier on Sly. Carmen Elle’s smoky yet smooth vocals overlayed, layered and manipulated on songs such as “That Feeling” and “Foreign Installation” crafts an identity that has no counterpart. Joseph Shabason and Kieran Adams’ instrumentation and backing vocals are the cherries on top of it all. On the song “Perpetual Surrender,” Joseph Shabason’s saxophone solo (and succeeding backing) accents the song and ties it all together perfectly. It’s not obnoxious, or cheesy, in the slightest. I’d like to add that Shabason is a strong vocalist in his own right and his backing is invaluable to Elle. DIANA, overall, squeezes every good thing out of the pop from the 80s and 90s and gives it a fresh life for us to enjoy.
7. Colleen – The Weighing of the Heart (Second Language)
This year was definitely a year of exploration for me. I’ve found so much good stuff this year because I was forced to listen to other artists and bands outside of my normal playlist regiment. I get somewhat discouraged because I’ll listen to roughly one hundred (I’m probably being conservative with that number) bands/artists before I find one I like – my pickiness can be regarded as my strength or my weakness. Many artists I get around to checking out are names I’ve constantly heard and read about for a very long time but I just didn’t have the energy to expel to check them out. The people I like are also coming out with new material every year so I have to give my attention to that. I’m getting better about exploring these names, though. It really is insane how much music exists out in the wild. I can’t even fathom how much material I haven’t even listened to, much less heard of. This year, I made a resolution to a friend of mine that I’d post a song to his Facebook every single day (starting on January 1st) and I’d post two songs on Sundays. I was able to find a different artist/band for each day thus far without any trouble whatsoever. Colleen, otherwise known as Cécile Schott, happened to be one of the names I had been seeing forever and only this month did I give her a fair chance. Hearing… “gems” like this album reminds me why I shouldn’t be so hesitant to explore. Through all of the “undesirables” I sift through, I find diamonds like her. Spencer Stephenson, aka Botany, brought her up in passing in one of the many conversations we’ve had when we were just discussing albums we’ve liked. I think this is when her name really just stuck with me. The Weighing of the Heart is a bit atypical to the rest of her catalogue but that’s not a bad thing. In the past, she did pure neo-classical/ambient compositions. She took a long hiatus that began in 2007 and it only just now broke. She gave up her title as a civil servant in France (she was a school teacher, if I remember correctly) to pursue her dream of being an artist. Talk about dedication. Anyhow, I say this is atypical because this is the first time she’s ever showcased her vocal chops and I don’t know why she waited so long because her voice is velvet. Her use of only baroque/organic instruments and some loop/delay pedals to make these lustrous neo-classical songs is stunning. From “Push the Boat Onto the Sand” to “The Weighing of the Heart,” it’s magnificence and it showcases the validity of classical instrumentation in modern music. Her virtuosity makes me want to call her a female version of Andrew Bird.
6. Sally Shapiro – Somewhere Else (Paper Bag)
Sally Shapiro is another artist/duo (depending on whichever way you look at her/them) I’ve just now gotten around to investigating. Sally Shapiro proudly proclaims themselves to be an italo-disco outfit but I feel Somewhere Else is unashamedly pop music (which isn’t a bad thing by any means. As you can probably tell from this list, I love pop). It’s a niche market/genre, italo-disco. I honestly can’t think of many other groups who would call themselves italo-disco. Perhaps Rubies? The odd artist on Italians Do It Better? Sally Shapiro is Swedish and apparently, that’s not even her real name. If I remember correctly, her first and last public performances was in the form of a DJ tour back in 2008. Shapiro vehemently refuses to tour, saying she doesn’t want to live the life of constant travel and public attention. She’s like the female version of Loveless-era Kevin Shields in the sense that when she records her singing, absolutely nobody can be watching – not even her own producer and partner in crime, Johan Agebjörn. As you can probably tell, she is painfully shy (and she’s been called such by Johan, I believe). There is next to no information about the chanteuse. Apparently, they both worked at the same place and met each other that way. There were able to find common ground on the music they liked. The press campaign around Somewhere Else seemed to be nearly non-existent, as I’ve honestly just come across Somewhere Else and that was by chance – this album was released back in February. Beginning with the ambient “Prescript,” you wonder if Sally Shapiro is going to take a sharp dive in to more of a “world-esque” approach but it fades in to “I Dream With An Angel Tonight” in to the bright and lovely synthpop that the duo is known for. Each song on this album is entirely capable of standing on its own ranging from “Sundown” to “Starman” to “If It Doesn’t Rain.” Give Somewhere Else a listen if you enjoy fun music.
5. My Bloody Valentine – m b v (self-released)
Oddly enough, My Bloody Valentine was actually one of the last shoegaze bands I got in to. When I first heard them 6-7 years ago, my taste was underdeveloped. I was just starting to care about good music. In my research back in those days “shoegaze” and “My Bloody Valentine” were mentioned in the same breath numerous times in random articles I’d find on the internet, so I decided to check them out. Loveless is heralded as their magnum opus. Some would call it one of the most important albums to ever come in to existence, if not the best. “Only Shallow” was the first track I had consciously listened to of theirs, and I just hated it. I was wondering how this was called music. I wasn’t mature enough to understand it, but now I am. After years of finding out what I like and what I don’t like in music, I finally got what the fuss was all about. The first shoegaze band I properly got in to was Chapterhouse with their album Whirlpool, which actually pre-dates Loveless. From that, it was a slippery slope of sorts – I got in to Mahogany, Lush, Slowdive, LSD and the Search for God, Pale Saints… then My Bloody Valentine. I saw the band live back in August, and I got their very early with a buddy of mine so we could be front-row and center for the spectacle that was about to unfold before our eyes. Sitting in line were many people in their 30s and a couple were in their 40s – an older demographic than I’m used to seeing. They seemed a bit quiet so I broke the ice and started asking them about how they came to find My Bloody Valentine. The idol status Loveless left was wholly apparent as they told me their stories. A man was telling me that for years, he would listen to Loveless on vinyl every single night. I heard many other stories that basically amounted to “I’ve listened to Loveless God knows how many times.” I had told the group that I actually think m b v is their best work yet. No one was angry, but they were nonplussed. Loveless has had over twenty years in the limelight of music nerds, and critics, alike and the album has been beaten to death a thousand times over. A student at Florida State even wrote his master’s thesis over the album. I call it “the most famous album nobody’s ever heard of.” The myth, the rumors and the pioneering status of Loveless will never be taken away. I think m b v has stolen the show, though, and it needs to be given a fair chance to sink in just like Loveless has. On m b v the production value on this greatly improved, we can actually understand the vocals this time around and there seems to be a clear narrative guiding it – there’s a new vitality in the band. I wish I could verbalize why I like this better than Loveless, and I feel like a dingus for not being able to. A friend of mine said something along the lines of “the big crashes and swells are what appeals to you” – it’s what I hear in most of the music I like.
4. Luke Temple – Good Mood Fool (Secretly Canadian)
My first encounter with Luke Temple was on a drive home from school four years ago, when I had a Sirius/XM radio subscription. The drives were about twenty minutes in length there, and twenty in length back, so I learned to get very comfortable with the radio as my iPod did not have the largest selection of music to listen to yet. This radio became my gateway to learning about some of the up-and-comers; the traditional way, I suppose. This was before I started following blogs and other publications for my music news. SiriusXMU was (I suppose it still is) a station that was commercial-free and it almost exclusively played indie/alternative music. They played the touchstones such as TV on the Radio, Dirty Projectors, Radiohead, Broken Social Scene and so on. However, they played “newer” names and Here We Go Magic happened to be one of them. “Tunnelvision” was the first song I’d heard from the band. I was perplexed by how catchy this song was, yet it played on a hushed modus operandi. Luke Temple’s voice straddled the line between feminine and masculine with the word “tunnelvision” being repeated ad nauseam with murmuring in the background – it was trance-like. The song ended before I was satisfied and the station just moved on to the next song. The DJ at the time didn’t discuss the song but he/she seemed to talk about the others. The next day I was driving somewhere and without any kind of announcement “Fangela” came on – this was the same band as the day before. The song used hand clapping as the prime source of percussion and it was fascinating because it was just so effective against the muted guitar strumming and quieted synthesizer. After I heard that song, I decided to finally go investigate and buy the album. This was the project of one Luke Temple who happened to bring on additional members to help him out. Unbeknownst to me at the time, he had a solo career under his own name prior to this. After coming across that factoid randomly in my scouring of the fair internet for news, I had been meaning to check it out for a while now and thank the Lord I have. Good Mood Fool is more reminiscent of Here We Go Magic than his other solo albums Don’t Act Like You Don’t Care, Luke Temple, Snowbeast, and Hold a Match for the Gasoline World which all could be classified as folk/anti-folk or just good old indie rock. Good Mood Fool is something all its own, though. Good Mood Fool takes you to a world of shameless 80s pop with slick bass grooves and scintillating synthesizers. His falsetto really drives home the anachronistic angle this record takes, though. Luke Temple is also able to mix in dub, psychedelic and jungle tinges as well. “Katie,” “Florida,” and “Those Kids” are the standout tracks from this thing, if you were curious.
3. Ejecta – Dominae (Driftless Recordings)
A tidbit that seems to be often touted in articles centering around Ejecta (the brand new project between Leanne Macomber and Joel Ford) is that Leanne is a touring member of Neon Indian. I remember only a couple of years ago when Neon Indian and, specifically, Leanne were the topics du jour for the hipster version of TMZ, Hipster Runoff. When I finally got to see Neon Indian here in Dallas, lo and behold, she was there playing in his band sporting blue hair. For some reason, I thought she was going to provide backing vocals but I don’t recall her doing such at the time. Mind you, I was (shamefully) completely ignorant of Fight Bite’s material at the time outside of just knowing the name. My memory is next to shot these days so there’s a good (after looking at the sagely Wikipedia, let’s change that to a “sure”) chance I could be wrong about her not singing with Neon Indian. Anyhow after his show, I went outside with others because I wanted to do the typical fan things. Leanne also came outside with him and a girl close to me struck a conversation with her. I wanted to try and talk to her as well while Alan Palomo was swamped with people but for some reason, I just couldn’t get the questions or congratulatory remarks out of my mouth. I kind of froze and gawked at them from the corner of my eye – thank God she didn’t notice. It’s surreal and odd looking back at that and seeing this now, Dominae. If only foresight was possible! Back in August, Palomo tweeted about Ejecta and their first single “Jeremiah (The Denier).” After the first listen, I was hooked. I actually bought the singles leading up to the album’s release date (“Afraid of the Dark” and “It’s Only Love”) because they were such earworms. I knew they would all probably be on the album when it dropped but I just couldn’t bear to wait that long. My pre-order took a little bit long to get to me (a few weeks) but there was no way I was going to stream it beforehand. In the last leg of November, Leanne (I assume) sent out an e-mail with a file of demos as a thank you “gift” (she put gift in quotation marks as if it was some kind of burden she was offloading on to us!) to those who pre-ordered Dominae. She called them “haphazard.” I loved the demos. They were rough, otherwordly, saccharine and a curious insight in to what the songs were before they were polished for Dominae. These are supposedly Fight Bite rejects. The demo contained eight songs that you can hear on Dominae. Lyrically, they were unaltered, some song names changed regarding spelling, or they changed completely (“Beef Mistress” becoming “Mistress”, “I’m Not Your Dad” becoming “Small Town Girl” etc.), but the instrumentation drastically changed from the demos to the finished product. Dominae showcases synthpop you’d be a fool to pass up on. Its anachronistic sensibilities aren’t corny – they’re smooth and inviting. Leanne’s confessional lyrics overlaying the, at-times, whimsical synthesizers crafts a surreal atmosphere. This character Leanne portrays on the cover (and in other photos from the same shoot which are NSFW as a heads up) is supposed to be an “everyman” you can project yourself on to. She doesn’t have any clothing on so she’s devoid of class, gender, etc. – not for shock value or erotica. Joel Ford and Leanne Macomber have created a magnificent album and I hope they continue this project. I wish I could be a bit more poetic about this.
2. Jessy Lanza – Pull My Hair Back (Hyperdub / Geej)
Fact: I’ve listened to Pull My Hair Back, front to back, over 130 times. Ever since I started listening to it late September, I can’t muster the words to describe what I’m listening to or why I love this album so much. When I’m asked by friends about the best albums of the year, Pull My Hair Back always pops up immediately. I tell all of my friends about Jessy Lanza and how I’m addicted to listening to this album, but I can’t exactly explain why. It’s almost like trying to describe something I’ve never experienced or seen, as silly as that sounds. I literally listened to this album on a full loop for over a week – I only stopped when I realized there were other albums I had to look in to. I simply can’t get sick of this album. If I put any Jessy Lanza song on (it’s always “Giddy,” the intro track) to show anyone what goodness I’m speaking of, Pull My Hair Back‘s not leaving my rotation for a long time. In fact, I’m listening to it as I write this poorly put-together amalgamation of words. Pull My Hair Back isn’t about some sado-masochistic fantasy as some have assumed. It’s not even supposed to be anything overtly sexual. Lyrically, it has elements of R&B but I don’t feel it’s right to call her R&B – it’d be cheap to just throw her in that pigeonhole. Jeremy Greenspan (half of Junior Boys) was involved in the production of this album, but I don’t feel the need to put the spotlight on him – I feel this is ultimately Jessy Lanza’s time to shine. She did half the production and she c0-wrote (Lanza might be the sole writer – the liner notes’ wording is a little confusing) all of the songs. The production on this thing is absolutely outstanding though. Her dulcet voice is tranquilizing and the expert use of her father’s passed-down vintage synthesizers to create something that will defy the times is nothing less than commendable. I could shoddily describe each of the songs but I don’t want to soil the same experience I’ve had well over a hundred times. Each time I give this album a listen through, it’s like I’m listening to it for the first time in terms of utility. This album is meant to be taken in as a whole in my opinion, however each of these songs could very well be touted as a proper single (“Against the Wall,” “Keep Moving,” insert the rest of the songs here). I don’t have much more to say. I wish Jessy the best and I hope she eventually reveals the four or five songs they scrapped from this as I’m sure they’re wonderful. For someone who had no published material prior to this year (just a vocal feature on an Ikonika track and a great remix of Matthew Dear’s “Earthforms”), she’s made quite the splash.
1. DJ Clap – Best Night Ever (Magical Properties)
I’ve listened to Best Night Ever a good 100 times through, front to back. I first came across him when AdHoc wrote about the music video for “Unbelievable” less than a month after his debut dropped. Never had I heard/seen something so spastic, something so unpredictable. I had a gap period between classes so I decided to check further in to DJ Clap. I wasn’t sure what I was hearing but it was magical (no pun intended). Yeah, there’s gabber and other harsh forms of techno but none of those are genres I’ve been enthralled with. I was familiar with juke/footwork but never had I heard it go this fast. This album hovers around 120 BPM to upwards of 300 BPM. Best Night Ever avoids juke clichés. There are vocal samples, but they’re not of hip hop songs like juke/footwork usually are. They’re usually one word phrases that are often pitch-shifted or distorted to a point where what they’re saying isn’t clear – DJ Clap makes them grunts, effectively. Best Night Ever, much like Pull My Hair Back, has been attached to my hip ever since my happening upon it. Best Night Ever has gone on many drives with me. Best Night Ever has accompanied me to almost every workout (and sauna) I’ve done this year. Best Night Ever has been blared in friends’ cars and sound systems. Attempting to describe Best Night Ever‘s sunny and dazzling array of sounds would just be an exercise in futility. This is something you have to experience for yourself. If you can’t get enough, check out his EP Bliss that came out recently. If you sequence it right after Best Night Ever ends, it flows seamlessly in to Bliss (which I hope you will be in). I wonder why everyone talks about DJ Rashad but not DJ Clap? Who would’ve figured that this would be one of the tersest write-ups yet, considering this is my favorite album? It’s a shame that there’s no vinyl version of this album. This is my favorite album of the year. There are many albums this year, but Best Night Ever is my number one.
- Maybe Buy
- Not My Style
- Too Expensive