Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Best Albums of 2013

Once again I listened to less new music in 2013 than I really wanted to. I really liked these a lot, though!

Best of 2013

8. Autre Ne Veut - Anxiety

Anxiety mixes modern pop and experimental sensibilities to create something completely catchy that is way too weird to ever show up on top 40 radio. Even the lead single has these great falsetto vocals and infectious chorus that clashes against some dissonant horns and other odd choices. It makes the album sound original when it could have been something I'd otherwise totally ignore.

7. Daft Punk - Random Access Memories

After years of disco and funk being obvious influences on Daft Punk's electronic sound, they pretty much just made a disco and funk album. There's still plenty of modern synth and computerized vocals on there, but it's definitely more old fashioned sounding than their previous work. It's also absolutely loaded with talent contributing up and down the entire tracklist, and there are very few moments along the way that don't work.

6. The National - Trouble Will Find Me

This is now the fourth National album I've listened to, and none of the four truly distinguish themselves from each other. It's good then that the album they keep making is such a good one. It doesn't have any songs quite as good as the very best in their catalog, but the thirteen ones here are all solid, enjoyable rock. The National is a bunch of professional musicians making professional music.

5. Sigur Rós - Kveikur

Kveikur is an interesting release for this band, having as it does both completely obvious radio songs like you've heard from them before, and complete changes in direction like the bombastic and shockingly dark sounding opener. It sits somewhere in the range of accessibility between ( ) and Takk..., which is a pretty good place to sit.

4. The Flaming Lips - The Terror

I've discussed "Watching the Planets", the final track from The Flaming Lips' previous album Embryonic, as sounding like the world is ending, so it seems fitting to describe all of The Terror as sounding like the end of the world. Everything is dead, and only dust remains. It's a bleak, ambient album, which experiments in tones and will latch onto one small hook and work with it for minutes on end. It won't be a fun album for a lot of people, but I love that this band is still experimenting like this.

3. Chvrches - The Bones of What You Believe

Lauren Mayberry sounds like a little girl, but she also sounds like one of the most badass singers in modern music. The band plays around with different styles of synth music, from radio-friendly pop to dirtier and more aggressive stuff, but her voice is usually the constant that keeps it all together. Just good song after good song.

2. Kanye West - Yeezus

I don't know that there's another mainstream hip hop artist brave enough to release a record like this. Yeezus is bare bones at times, stark, without a lot of comfortable beats to get sucked into. It's really daring stuff, and while I don't think West is rap's best lyricist or technical vocalist, I think he deserves a lot of credit for ignoring the easy route of releasing another My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and instead pushing his sound in a completely different direction.

1. Arcade Fire - Reflektor

You know you love a band when you actually want a double album to be longer. I actually wasn't wild about Reflektor at first, but I turned around pretty quick. It was probably about time for a little reinvention, and here Arcade Fire got over their Bruce Springsteen kick and turned towards more island-influenced sounds and a surprising amount of synth. Pretty much every song has something to recommend for it. My only regret is that Régine never has a chance to sing lead, since when she does it often turns into an album highlight. Not that they needed help finding those this time.

Delayed Entry

This is the best album that wasn't released in 2013 but I didn't hear until then.

Talking Heads - Remain in Light

Nothing I heard in the last year really blew my mind, but my first real Talking Heads experience was quite a good one. I've always had mixed feelings about "Once in a Lifetime", possibly their most popular song, but I think it really works well in the context of the whole album. It's a nice mix of funk and contemporary (at the time) sounds, letting them find interesting riffs and play with them for as long as their sustainable. I know it's a vague sentiment, but it doesn't really feel like an album that's over thirty years old. What worked about it then still works now.

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