Best Albums of 2013

Music Blown Away

The first nine months this year were just ok for me, but some late year discoveries bridged the gap. I bought less albums this year. As always, I found some real gems. Some you know about. I hope a few that you don't. Music discovery through year end lists is a joy for me and I hope for you. For my favorite compilation of year end lists check out Metacritic.

I'll given a lot of thought to my top 20. The honorable mentions are many, and all worth checking out. Also check out Greg Thornbury's year end list. There are albums there I'm just getting to know.

Buying Through Amazon: Some albums are pretty cheap right now, so if it looks interesting click through to Amazon to check prices and listen to samples. Clicking through my links and buying music (or anything) helps me to buy books & music as my family has no budget for either. And it costs you nothing extra to use my links! Thanks for your support. 

Previous Years -- My Best Albums

2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 

Now, on to the good stuff from 2013...

2013 Honorable Mentions (no particular order): Danny BrownOldDeerhunterMonomania | Derek WebbI'm Was Wrong, I'm Sorry, and I Love You | DisclosureSettle | The Lone BellowThe Lone Bellow | Laura MarlingOnce I Was An Eagle | Kanye WestYeezus | Local NativesHummingbird | LowThe Invisible Way | Neko CaseThe Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You | PhantogramEyelid Movies | Pusha T: My Name Is My NameBoards of CanadaTomorrow's Harvest | The Avett Brothers: Magpie & the DandelionOkkervil RiverThe Silver Gymnasium | WoodkidThe Golden Age | Frightened Rabbit: Pedestrian VerseJustin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience | Chance the Rapper: Acid Rap (free) | Kurt Vile: Wakin On A Pretty Daze

20. Burial: Rival Dealer EP | I'm cheating as I don't put EPs on my best albums of the year list, but Burial is always amazing and this is remarkable. Hear the culture speak to us.

19. FoxygenWe Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic | A lot of fun with throwback sounds and harmonies. Playful music but not childish. 

18. The NationalTrouble Will Find Me | These guys can do no wrong, but that can do better. A lot of the sound you love from The National, but it just doesn't have that handful of amazing. Still, it's really good. Oh, that all bands would miss like this.

17. PhosphorescentMuchacho | "Song for Zula." Nuff said.

16. JunipJunip | An early contender for a top list album, but the second half of the album just didn't hook me for long. Still, some great stuff here from Jose Gonzalez. "Line of Fire" is the bee's knees.

15. Chris ThileBach: Sonatas & Partitas | It's classical music with a mandolin. Love. I listen while working, reading, or doing nothing but listening. 

14. SavagesSilence Yourself | Grinding, growling, rocking, rolling, loud, aggressive without jumping in your face. In lots of ways, I think this is where punk music now resides.

13. Gregory Alan IsakovThe Weatherman | Gorgeous. Gentle & calming. Solid songwriting. 

12. Autre Ne VeutAnxiety | An emotional trip, but not without fun. The whole thing is good. Falsetto R&B, pop, electronic. Head bobbing will happen.

11. Forest SwordsEngravings | A sonic wonderland. Cinematic. Walking in slo-mo in your own movie scene. I can work to it, and I can just sit alone and let myself be swallowed up in the wonder.

Buke10. Buke & GaseGeneral Dome | Prolly not for everyone. But holy cow, one listen through "Hiccup" (though the video might make you sick) had me hooked. I agree with Exclaim, "The pair are making strummable instruments sound new again, and it sounds like redemption. Proceed frantically and without caution."

WaterLiars9. Water LiarsWyoming | It's similar to some music you may already love (Fleet Foxes, Pedro the Lion, Band of Horses). It feels lonely, and you will be thankful for it. One of the best lonely albums I've heard. I like what the New York Times says, "This duo’s dark, lonely, roots-minded indie rock is affecting, all the more for its sparseness." (HT: Kevin Cawley)

Sunbather8. DeafheavenSunbather | The best reviewed album on Metacritic. I think it's the first metal album I've listed in my years of doing this. I like what Crash Music said, "A record everyone with half an experimental ear should experience, even if they run from it, screaming."

Arcade7. Arcade FireReflektor | For all the Arcade Fire backlash on the one end and thoughtless love on the other, this is a great album. Building on where they came from and adding epic length dance songs, disco ball included. These songs swell and it's fun to get lost in them. But don't check your brain with the bouncer. The ideas here are thick.

MCII6. Mikal CroninMCII | Throwback pop music that is ridiculously current and joyful. This has set a lot of my mood this year with playful melodies occasionally over some power chords. It's a sock-hop with growl. The appeal of the music is immediate as well as lasting. I keep coming back to it.

Immunity5. Jon HopkinsImmunity | One album I'd love to make everyone sit and listen to. It's a sonic masterpiece. It's an album trying hard to push toward the top. Remember when I picked Four Tet for album of the year a few years ago? It's in that realm of awesome. Could have been my album of the year.

Isbell4. Jason IsbellSoutheastern | Packed with great songwriting. Heartfelt and genuine. This sounds like home, a safe place to admit you are a mess. The Independent: "brilliant: vivid, multi-faceted tales of souls adrift." Could have been my album of the year.

Arctic3. Arctic MonkeysAM | Don't miss "No. 1 Party Anthem." For an album that really rocks out, that song is a great change of pace and just amazing. If you like The Black Keys, you will dig this album. If you like just cranking it up, yeah, that's a reason to get it. Could have been my album of the year.

Chvrches2. Chvrches: The Bones of What You Believe | Most played album of the year in my house. Hook-filled fun. Head-bobbing, foot tapping, energy-rich. And yet the songwriting is solid. It's not just fun, it's serious music. My discovery of the year. Could easily be my album of the year.

Vampire1. Vampire WeekendModern Vampires of the City | Breaking from the sound that made them great, this is their *beyond category* album. Some of the most creative, earworm music of the year with some of the best thought through lyrics of the year. Catchy but not at all cutesy. Massive, complex hooks. The most thought-provoking album of 2013.

$5 Albums | December 2012

Black-friday-2010-deals-roundup-0Another month, another list of $5 albums from Amazon. Some really good ones. Here are my recommendations as well as a link to the rest.

The Blunderbuss of Jack White


UPDATE 5.2.12: Blunderbuss is #1 on Billboard.

CONCERT UPDATE 4.28: At the end of this post I embedded the entire live concert directed by Gary Oldman. (Set List)

UPDATE 4.27: Jack White plays a live concert tonight directed by Gary Oldman. Go here to watch a preview video including music, discussion with Gary Oldman about the concert and Jack's two bands, and real blood.


Wow. I'm really loving Jack White's first solo album, Blunderbuss (blunderbuss?). I don't often talk about albums outside of Music Mondays, but I felt compelled. Especially after watching some of the recent TV appearances, which had me giddy. You'll find some of them below.

This is a man who hasn't found his place of comfort, but his edge. If you've followed Jack for a while (White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead WeatherThird Man Records), this isn't exactly a guy without an edge. I've loved everything he's done to a point. But there was always a point where I was sorta over it. I was glad to have his albums around to revisit from time to time, but it was cataloged. And I know it's still early, but Blunderbuss feels like a classic. I think I have to agree that Jack is "the coolest, weirdest, savviest rock star of our time" and he just might have created the best album of 2012.

Just a side note for those who cant "get" Jack White: Listen for Robert Plant in his voice. He's there. And I think the quirk that pushes some people away from White might suddenly disappear, at least for a few. And that little tip may just open your mind to a great album. I'm hoping so.

Jack White with all guy band on Jools Holland with "Sixteen Saltines"...

Jack on Jools with all girl band playing "Freedom At 21"...

Jack interviewed by Stephen Colbert, including a very funny section on Jack's business model and why the music industry is dying. Awesome...

Pick up Blunderbuss: digital | CD | Vinyl

Here's the full concert from Friday night, as I mentioned at the top of this post...

Best Albums of 2011


Time for my Best Albums of 2011 list. I don't listen to everything out there (who has the time? or money?), but I listen to a lot. I hope my list will help you discover some new music. I'll give comment to the higher picks and I'm happy to discuss any of the albums, why I liked them, why some albums are not on my list, etc. Please list your favorite album(s) in the comments. Love to hear'em.

See my Best Albums of 2010|2009|2008|2007|2006

HONORABLE MENTIONSAtlas SoundParallax | The Black Keys: El CaminoThe Low AnthemSmart Flesh | Other LivesTamer Animals |  Panda BearTomboy | RadioheadThe King Of Limbs | SepalcureSepalcure | Smith WesternsDye It Blonde | Gillian WelchThe Harrow & The Harvest | Youth LagoonThe Year of Hibernation


tUnE-yArDsW H O K I L L | As creative as it gets, but not as good of a listen as some say. When I listen, it stretches me but leaves me somehow unsatisfied. I want to both celebrate this accomplishment and punch it in the face.  

ALBUMS 35-21

35. GirlsFather, Son, Holy Ghost

34. CultsCults

33. Real EstateDays

32. Okkervil RiverI Am Very Far

31. Washed OutWithin or Without

30. My Morning JacketCircuital

29. Explosions in the SkyTake Care, Take Care, Take Care

28. Ryan AdamsAshes & Fire

27. Crystal Castles(II)

26. War On DrugsSlave Ambient

25. DoloreanThe Unfazed

24. Ha Ha TonkaDeath of a Decade

23. WilcoThe Whole Love

22. The Pains of Being Pure In HeartBelong

21. GlasserRing

ALBUMS 20-11

20. Joy FormidableThe Big Roar | Running through thorn bushes at full speed.

19. Fleet FoxesHelplessness Blues | Dancing through willow branches in slow motion.

18. Middle BrotherMiddle Brother | Love these three guys. Love what they created. But I still like what they do separately better than collectively. That said, it's a great album.

17. The HorrorsSkying | Eerie flight. Bending notes. Worthy of both their name and the album's name.

16. King Creosote & Jon HopkinsDiamond Mine | Fragile Scottish lullabies. Delicate & delightful. Pipe smoking. Peat beneath my feet.

15. The Roots: Undun | Concept album well conceived. Arrived late, but deserves much attention. Looking forward to more listens.

14. BeirutThe Rip Tide | Not sure they can make a bad record. Distant world flavor. Horntastic. Seasoning for a bland day. 

13. The AntlersBurst Apart | Please keep making music! They are doing amazing things, first through Hospice and now with Burst Apart. A wonderful follow-up to a crazy-good album.

12. James BlakeJames Blake | Audio playground. A sonic dance. Ear candy...that's good for you. A blend of a powerful voice and eclectic editing and creative processing. It continues to grow on me.

11. DawesNothing Is Wrong | Opening song, "Time Spent in Los Angeles," is one of my favorite songs of the year. I think I once listened to it 5 times in a row. Songwriting excellence. Lyric-driven rock'n'roll. 

TOP 10


10. DecemberistsThe King Is Dead | Their best-ever album. So many good songs. Thoroughly enjoyable. Completely accessible, yet it's well-crafted art and deserving of high praise. "Bear your neighbors' burden within reason." Singable. If you are weirded out by indie music, let this album invite you in.


9. Frank TurnerEngland Keep My Bones | Passionate. Straight-forward = says what he means. Atheistic worship songs, but don't let that discourage you. Redemptive themes throughout. It's incredibly informative, enjoyable, and artistic. Loud, but acoustically controlled loud. Sing-along with beer in hand. Punk sensibilities. Masterful. At times it's old-school Avettastic screamishness.


8. LowC'mon | Some of the most memorable lyrics of the year are here. Some because of word choice, and some because of how they are presented. The critical calling out of "all you guys out there tryin’ to act like Al Green, y'all are weak." "I'm nothing but heart" repeated for 6 minutes in a slow, heavy, glorious swell. "Try to sleep" and "don't look at the camera" on the opening track captured by a wonderful, memorable melody. As a whole this album is a slow crawl... beautiful, often delicately heavy, and always unsettlingly moody. A haunting album that won't leave you alone.

Wyeoak7. Wye OakCivilian | Moaning. Longing. Power on the edge of letting go. Back-n-forth between cleanly crafted & fuzzy heaviness. Dark. Haunted. A sense that something isn't quite right in the world. Uneasy. Wonderfully disjointed at times. What you create after a disturbing dream brings you to your knees.


6. The FieldLooping State of Mind | It is looping, ambient soundscapes. Perfect for work, reading, etc. Or, and maybe more important, it's perfect for putting the headphones on, laying down, turning it up, and riding along. These steady slow builds and gradual descents are a joy to navigate. And beyond mere ambient sounds without structure, that can be a pleasure as well, these tracks are guided by heavy beats and basslines. So while the music soars, it also stomps, stomps, stomps along. 


5. Josh GarrelsLove & War & The Sea In Between | Listened to this album more than most. Poetic. Rhythmic. Completely Christ-haunted and distinctly Christian, yet some of the best music of the year Christian or otherwise. I can't believe how little buzz I've seen about this album. It's really wonderful. And it's 100% FREE, which means everyone should be checking out and loving this album. And then you'll want to check out Josh's other albums.


4. Bon IverBon Iver, Bon Iver | I wanted to rate this lower simply because I loved For Emma, Forever Ago so much. I need objectivity! Stupid me. While losing the romance of discovery of Justin Vernon's falsetto and magical soundscapes that came with For Emma, this album establishes his genius as a lasting force. I ranted last year on Twitter that Vernon should stop making side projects and stick to Bon Iver. My goodness. He did.


3. M83: Hurry Up We're Dreaming | I enjoyed M83's 2008 album, Saturdays = Youth, though I seem to remember finding it late. I was interested when I hear a new album was coming. I didn't know I should be this interested. It adds more soar, more lift, more joy to 80's shoegaze. It also adds more epic views of despair. It really is a masterpiece that I, so far, haven't been able to stop listening to. The first five songs alone are worth the price of the album. I wish John Hughes was around to hear this.


2. PJ HarveyLet England Shake | A remarkable album. Disturbing. Poignant. WWI, war-time, yet universal at all times to the war-torn everywhere. Quirky. Odd. Rare. PJ's voice is a perfect kind of shrill (if there is such a thing) for these creative arrangements. On deck during a colossal battle, the siren of the ocean sings beyond view through the storm & cannons. The guts of dead soldiers are clearly in view.


1. The Poison TreeThe Poison Tree | Lovely & subtly massive. Cinematic. Baritone vocals. Literary. Charming. Moody. Introspective. Wistful. Barely wet city streets. Black and white. Hands-in-pockets. Collar pulled tight. Good penmanship, elegant words, antique fountain pen on an antique journal on an antique table in a sparsely decorated and lonely room. Life...experienced. Calmly dramatic. This album is almost completely and shamefully neglected. It's a rarely reviewed 2011 masterpiece. It's not #1 because it's neglected. It's #1 because it's gorgeous and brilliant. Please buy it...and be moved.