Class of 2013: The Overachievers

2013-Overacheivers

2013 was a great year in music. I’d argue it was among the best in the past 10 years. The diversity among the overachievers was remarkable. Representative artists from hip-hop, pop, rock, metal, hardcore and electronic music all brought their best to the table, but it was those albums that obliterated genre definitions that really stood out. Those undefinable sounds (and a newfound acceptance of ‘extreme’ music among the masses) made multiple lists unnecessary this year (although I did put out my annual Children of the Damned list earlier). Instead, I took it upon myself to break it down to 40 albums, regardless of style. This was not an easy task. First of all, narrowing it down to only 40 albums was next to impossible. Second, how do you rank something like Sunbather against something like Random Access Memories? The sounds are just so different.

But that’s the problem with any year-end list, right? It’s all subjective. Not only are these lists based on one person’s tastes, those tastes can change depending on that person’s mood from day-to-day and minute-to-minute. The albums that follow are ranked by my tastes during the process of making this list, which is to say that they are not necessarily ranked by musical excellence or artistic merit, and that the order might be different if I had done this a week earlier, or a week later.

This list is flawed, as they all are, but I seriously believe that although I might regret the order as time passes, I will stand by my picks. There isn’t anyone out there who will agree with this list in its entirety, but that’s not really the point. This is my list. Mine alone. These are the albums I spent the most time with in 2013. These are the albums I spent (or will spend) my money on. I just hope you take the time to browse through it. I hope you take the time to find something you didn’t know about. I hope you agree with some of my picks. I hope you make fun of some of my picks. Let’s start a conversation…only then will we both get something out of it. But if not, no worries…this will just serve as my personal document of another year listening so others don’t have to.

midcity

40. clipping. – midcity
(self-released)

get money get money get money get money get money…

clipping. – intro

I'm Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams

39. Diarrhea Planet – I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams
(Infinity Cat Recordings)

‘”oh oh you, you can’t fuck with this!“‘

Diarrhea Planet – Separations

Pain Is Beauty

38. Chelsea Wolfe – Pain Is Beauty
(Sargent House)

I showed you how to hold my hand, and kiss me slow and unending

Chelsea Wolfe – Feral Love

Falling Faster Than You Can Run

37. Nathaniel Rateliff – Falling Faster Than You Can Run
(Mod y Vi)

‘“I don’t know a goddamn thing

Nathaniel Rateliff – Still Trying

Pelagial

36. The Ocean – Pelagial
(Metal Blade)

sinking towards the unknown inside of ourselves

The Ocean – Mesopelagic: Into the Uncanny

Kveikur

35. Sigur Rós – Kveikur
(XL)

now it drags and pulls and tears out every particle

Sigur Rós – Brennisteinn

Odori Sepulcrorum

34. Grave Miasma – Odori Sepulcrorum
(Profound Lore)

the everlasting wheel is unveiled

Grave Miasma – Death’s Meditative Trance

Soma

33. Windhand – Soma
(Relapse)

freedom, no freedom for me

Windhand – Orchard

California X

32. California X – California X
(Don Giovanni)

‘I wait for you!’

California X – Sucker

True

31. Avicii – True
(Island)

wake me up when it’s all over

Avicii – Wake Me Up

Pure Heroine

30. Lorde – Pure Heroine
(Lava / Republic)

we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams

Lorde – Royals

Heart of Oak

29. Anciients – Heart of Oak
(Season of Mist)

all roads lead to the longest river

Anciients – Raise the Sun

Surgical Steel

28. Carcass – Surgical Steel
(Nuclear Blast)

the cycle of death exhausted well and truly plagued

Carcass – Thrasher’s Abattoir

Pushin' Against A Stone

27. Valerie June – Pushin’ Against a Stone
(Concord)

lord you know I’m a good looking woman

Valerie June – Somebody To Love

Is Survived By

26. Touché Amoré – Is Survived By
(Deathwish)

it was possibly my loudest cliché

Touché Amoré – Just Exist

Old

25. Danny Brown – Old
(Fool’s Gold)

don’t let me into my zone, don’t let me into my zone

Danny Brown – Dip

Repave

24. Volcano Choir – Repave
(Jagjaguwar)

spent all of that time not wanting to

Volcano Choir – Comrade

Pale Green Ghosts

23. John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts
(Bella Union / Partisan)

I’m usually only waiting for you to stop talking so that I can

John Grant – GMF

Night Time, My Time

22. Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time
(Capitol)

I blame, I blame, blame myself for my reputation

Sky Ferreira – I Blame Myself

Rites of Separation

21. Agrimonia – Rites of Separation
(Southern Lord)

—–

Agrimonia – Talion

Perils from the Sea

20. Mark Kozelek & Jimmy Lavalle – Perils from the Sea
(Caldo Verde)

to lay awake at night ceiling gazing

Mark Kozelek is a storyteller, and what you’ll find here are 11 new stories. They range from psycho ex-boyfriends, to hotels and motels, to tragic stories of illegal immigrants calling collect from a payphone in Tijuana. Where would music be without sad, angry bastards like Mark Kozelek?

Mark Kozelek & Jimmy Lavalle – You Missed My Heart

More Constant Than The Gods

19. SubRosa – More Constant Than the Gods
(Profound Lore)

a tender end to a life of descent

More Constant Than the Gods should appeal to those well outside the doom metal circle. Rebecca Vernon’s vocals weave themselves in and around strings, woodwinds and precious piano notes, all while balancing on tectonic plates of riff and sludge. This is some Earth shifting shit.

SubRosa – Ghosts Of A Dead Empire

Random Access Memories

18. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
(Columbia)

but there’s something out there

When I think of Daft Punk, I think of “Around the World” and “One More Time”. Before Random Access Memories, I probably couldn’t name any other songs from this electronic duo. All the press made it difficult to ignore their comeback, but even with it, I came into Random Access Memories a skeptic. I left a believer.

Daft Punk – Get Lucky

LONG.LIVE.A$AP

17. A$AP Rocky – LONG.LIVE.A$AP
(Polo Grounds / RCA)

extraordinary swag and a mouth full of gold

LONG.LIVE.A$AP was the first album I really got into this year, although I will admit to creating an edited playlist to highlight the Clams Casino tracks. I honestly didn’t know this album would rank so high until it did. It turns out drug-infused hip-hop appealed to me more than expected this year.

A$AP Rocky – Goldie

Days Are Gone

16. Haim – Days Are Gone
(Columbia / Polydor)

I fumbled it when it came down to the wire

Haim are a pop group from Los Angeles made up of the sisters Haim. Days Are Gone is a pop album. It took at least five listens before I found myself on the right frequency, but once I found myself in sync with its insanely catchy melodies and hooks, there was no looking back.

Haim – The Wire

Wild American Runners

15. Arliss Nancy – Wild American Runners
(Black Numbers)

‘”so I sold all my shit, I’m leaving Colorado, I don’t think I’ll miss it anymore

These kids from Ft. Collins drink hard, live hard and fuck up — and then they write songs about drinkin’ hard, livin’ hard and fuckin’ up — and then they take those songs on the road so people can see them performed in dive bars while drinkin’ hard, livin’ hard and fuckin’ up.  It’s a beautiful cycle.

Arliss Nancy – Benjamin

One of Us is the Killer

14. The Dillinger Escape Plan – One of Us Is the Killer
(Sumerian)

now one of us must die, but the killer won’t survive

Where I only heard screaming in the past, I am now able to experience The Dillinger Escape Plan’s full palette of sound. This album proves that just the right amount of hardcore + punk + metal + progressive rock = perfect pandemonium.

The Dillinger Escape Plan – One of Us Is the Killer

Modern Vampires of the City

13. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
(XL)

nobody knows what the future holds

Vampire Weekend get better with age. Their first album drown in its overblown praise. Their second album showed promise. Modern Vampires of the City delivers on that promise. This is a young band who has finally found a mature sound.

Vampire Weekend – Diane Young

Sister

12. In Solitude – Sister
(Metal Blade)

tender hands, caress your shivering back

In Solitude moved away from their obvious influences with Sister, taking things in a more gothic direction. This was a calculated risk, but it paid off well for the young band. They have come into their own and they deserve all the praise they receive.

In Solitude – He Comes

Seasons of Your Day

11. Mazzy Star – Seasons of Your Day
(Rhymes of an Hour)

somewhere distant and it’s all far away

Hope Sandoval and David Roback’s first Mazzy Star album in 17 years is a stripped down, country-influenced collection of pop songs. It is subtle, but breathtakingly beautiful. Seeing them perform these songs live was a highlight of 2013. Heartbreak has never felt this damn good.

Mazzy Star – California

Electric Lady

10. Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady
(Bad Boy)

you got a life, but there’s zombie in the front yard. take a bath, but nothing gets the funk off

Janelle Monáe is the most exciting thing to happen to r&b music in recent history, but to call her r&b is to ignore 98% of what she’s about. Just one listen through The Electric Lady will expose a range so broad it will have your head spinning. What other 27-year-old singer could inspire Prince to not only contribute to her opening track, but to also send her a personal singing telegram? I realize she’s not exactly underground anymore, but the fact that she is not a household name (when so many lesser artists are) is just sad. The Electric Lady is her best work to date.

Janelle Monáe – Dance Apocalyptic

In The Throes

09. John Moreland – In The Throes
(Last Chance)

I heard truth is what songs are for’

If you’re into singer-songwriters with a boozy country feel, then you need to follow Ninebullets.net. I don’t always buy what they’re selling, but they knock me on my ass at least a half dozen times a year. In The Throes would have passed unnoticed if Bryan Childs and his crew wouldn’t have shoved it down my throat like a shot of Jamo at 4am. Every time I turned around, they were insulting me for not loving this album. The lyrics alone are impossibly relevant, but the songwriting and rough production make this a perfect example of what country music should be.

John Moreland  – Gospel

6 Feet Beneath The Moon

08. King Krule – 6 Feet Beneath the Moon
(XL / True Panther)

same old Bobby, same old beat

When I first heard Archy Marshall’s debut full length, I didn’t get it. It was nothing more than some quiet beats, the twang of an acoustic guitar and some slurred vocals that sounded like they were coming from someone with a slight speech impediment. But the album was like a nagging ex-girlfriend who wouldn’t let go, so I kept going back to it. As it turns out, 6 Feet Beneath the Moon is more than it appears on the surface. The album has a depth I had not explored on my first few listens. This album won’t be for everyone. Marshall’s voice will turn some off right away, but if you find his style intriguing instead of irritating, give this album some time — it really does stand out as something different.

King Krule – Easy Easy

Trouble Will Find Me

07. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
(4AD)

you said it would be painless, it wasn’t that at all

Trouble Will Find Me isn’t going to win The National any new fans. The National are one of those bands that you either get, or you don’t. You either allow yourself to swim in the layers of emotion, or you get stuck at the surface…only to declare the music ‘boring’. I’m not going to argue, or try to convince anyone that The National are not boring. The National are for people who have patience with music. If you give them some time, they will not only impress you, they will blow your fucking mind. Trouble Will Find Me finds the band with little left to prove. It also serves as the reason why.

The National – Don’t Swallow the Cap

Anxiety

06. Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety
(Mexican Summer / Software)

come stay with me so that we can be much higher

When I first recommended Autre Ne Veut back in 2011, I didn’t even know who the dude was. I just knew his self-titled debut sounded like Tom Krell invested in some real recording equipment. Somehow I completely missed Arthur Ashin’s coming out party, but there’s no way I could’ve missed his latest release. I’ll admit I wasn’t immediately blown away by the Prince-worshiping Anxiety, preferring the subtly of Autre Ne Veut, but it became more and more essential as the year went on.

Autre Ne Veut – Play By Play

Push the Sky Away

05. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away
(Bad Seed Ltd.)

and we know there’s no need to forgive

When the end of the world is upon us, in those last days when only a few survivors hold on to humanity’s last hopes and dreams, I see Nick Cave walking through the streets of a decimated city in a dusty black suit and crisp white shirt. He’s swinging a timepiece on a gold chain, and in defiance of the encompassing carnage, he has a smile on his face. Block by block he struts, as if he doesn’t have a care in the world — and block by block his flock increases. Women, men and children, the last of the human race, follow the man in black out of the city — because he seems to have a purpose — a destination. Push The Sky Away took me awhile to come around to, as do most Nick Cave albums, but after immersing myself into his pre-apocalyptic world of prostitutes, Miley Cyrus, elementary particles and justified paranoia, I can chalk it up to another great collection of tracks from one of the master songwriters of our time. As long as the world still spins, I’m glad Nick Cave is around to document it.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Jubilee Street

Julia With Blue Jeans On

04. Moonface – Julia with Blue Jeans On
(Jagjaguwar / Paper Bag)

I don’t know if I can call this home

Spencer Krug is one of my favorite musicians of all time. Whether he is the brains opposite Dan Boeckner’s brawn, the voice of Finnish Siinai, or the ringleader of Sunset Rubdown — his voice is something sublime. Moonface is not a band, it is a moniker that represents Spencer’s various personalities — a vehicle for his experimental flights of fancy. Julia with Blue Jeans On finds Moonface at his most vulnerable — just one man with one voice and one piano. It is an incredible piece of work. If you are a fan of this artist, this album is for you. Rarely heard in a bare bones format, this might be his most honest and experimental work to date. Following Krug’s post-Wolf Parade career has been a truly rewarding experience.

Moonface – Barbarian

Yeezus

03. Kanye West – Yeezus
(Def Jam)

‘in a French ass restaurant, hurry up with my damn croissants

What can I say about this album that hasn’t already been said? It seems everyone either absolutely LOVES!!! or absolutely HATES!!! it. Opinions about Kanye are like assholes, some think he is one, and he toasts the rest of them. Whatever you think of Kanye, he has created a persona that’s big enough that it might never die, or fade away. Kanye knows exactly what he’s doing.  He doesn’t think he’s the new Steve Jobs any more than the Geto Boys really wanted to kill your grandma, or that LL Cool J really thought he was bigger and deffer than anyone else on wax. He is playing a part, and I think the ‘Kanye’ he has created is better than anything a Hollywood writer could make up. That all said, it wouldn’t work if he wasn’t talented, but he is, so it does. I didn’t want to like Yeezus as much as I did. The first time I heard it, I thought it was broken. But I kept coming back, like you do with horrible stories on the internet, because I couldn’t help myself. It didn’t take long before I realized Kanye had done it again. Is this album going to change hip-hop? No. Is it his best album? No. Is it different and fun and loud and distorted (in a good way)? Yes. Are the lyrics ridiculously awful? Yes. But that’s kind of the point. People believe Kanye believes what he’s saying, and as they repeat and embellish what he says, they just ensure his status at the top of pop culture. And I have no problem with that as long as he continues to put out great albums.

Kanye West – Bound 2

Sunbather

02. Deafheaven – Sunbather
(Deathwish)

hindered by sober restlessness

I know, I know…you’re sick of hearing about Sunbather, but in my defense, I have been a Deafheaven advocate since they were less than a year old. When they came through Denver for the first time they played Blast-O-Mat with a bunch of hardcore bands and I was one of the very few who stuck around for their set. We interviewed George and Kerry that night. They were just stoked that someone wanted to talk to them. Roads to Judah was my #5 album that year — something the band, their label and their management thought merited posts and tweets. This was before “Dream House” introduced their introspective blackgaze to the masses. The guys from San Francisco weren’t dreaming about girls on towels in wealthy gardens back then, and they didn’t dare to dream about releasing the most critically acclaimed album of 2013. Their biggest dream in 2011 was to play the Great American Music Hall — a dream that came true only months after speaking with them. I’ve seen Deafheaven perform live 4 times. I’ve introduced them to countless people (most of whom were not all that receptive). They are one of my favorite bands making music today. Sunbather is a fiercely monumental album by an extremely talented young band. It deserves the #2 spot on this blog, but more importantly, it deserves all the attention it has received since its release. It is a true masterpiece and I can’t wait to hear what this band does next.

Deafheaven – Dream House

Southeastern

01. Jason Isbell – Southeastern
(Thirty Tigers / Southeastern)

‘I sobered up

I swore off that stuff

Forever this time

Jason Isbell has been in my life for ten years now. From the first time I heard “Decoration Day” to the last time I listened to “Traveling Alone” — through his divorce and departure from his previous band — through the solo tours and the late night tweets inundating my Facebook feed. Even when there were times I wish I didn’t know anything beyond his music, I felt as close to him as one can feel to a complete stranger. I was disappointed when he went out on his own and I was even more disappointed when he felt he had more to say via social media than he did via song, but that disappointment only added to my excitement when I learned he had remarried and sobered up. At the end of the day, nothing Jason Isbell does in his personal life should matter to me, and at the end of the day it really doesn’t. But when personal choices lead an artist down a road to their most engaging, heartbreaking and satisfying work to date — when those choices manifest themselves into a performer that can hold an audience hostage to their every word, then it does matter. Southeastern finds Isbell at the best he’s ever been. This album is a true modern classic.

Jason Isbell – Cover Me Up

Favorite Albums of 2013:
40. clipping. – midcity
39. Diarrhea Planet – I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams
38. Chelsea Wolfe – Pain Is Beauty
37. Nathaniel Rateliff – Falling Faster Than You Can Run
36. The Ocean – Pelagial
35. Sigur Rós – Kveikur
34. Grave Miasma – Odori Sepulcrorum
33. Windhand – Soma
32. California X – California X
31. Avicii – True
30. Lorde – Pure Heroine
29. Anciients – Heart of Oak
28. Carcass – Surgical Steel
27. Valerie June – Pushin’ Against a Stone
26. Touché Amoré – Is Survived By
25. Danny Brown – Old
24. Volcano Choir – Repave
23. John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts
22. Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time
21. Agrimonia – Rites of Separation
20. Mark Kozelek & Jimmy Lavalle – Perils from the Sea
19. SubRosa – More Constant Than the Gods
18. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
17. A$AP Rocky – LONG.LIVE.A$AP
16. Haim – Days Are Gone
15. Arliss Nancy – Wild American Runners
14. The Dillinger Escape Plan – One of Us Is the Killer
13. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
12. In Solitude – Sister
11. Mazzy Star – Seasons of Your Day
10. Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady
09. John Moreland – In The Throes
08. King Krule – 6 Feet Beneath the Moon
07. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
06. Autre Ne Veut – Anxiety
05. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away
04. Moonface – Julia with Blue Jeans On
03. Kanye West – Yeezus
02. Deafheaven – Sunbather
01. Jason Isbell – Southeastern

Class of 2013: The Soundtrack
Class of 2013: Children of the Damned
Class of 2013: The Performers
Alums

spotify-logo

Favorite Albums 2013