Muruch’s Top 25 Albums of 2013

It’s that time of year again! Below are my personal favorite albums of 2013. This year the list fell together fairly easily – due both to the excellence of the following albums and the lackluster nature of their competition. Though I’m shocked by my #1 album, which only recently knocked two other favorites from the top spot. The top three are really interchangeable, they are far too brilliant and too different from each other to truly rank. But I’ve been playing my #1 album on almost continuous repeat for the past three months, so it’s undeniably my favorite of the moment.

Click on the album titles to read the full reviews, purchase the albums, and, in some cases, watch videos and/or download mp3s. And please feel free to comment with your own favorite albums (or songs) of the year.

*Honorable mention to Sara Bareilles’ The Blessed Unrest, which I only heard for the first time this week – long after having compiled and scheduled my Top Albums list. It’s impossible now to choose anyone to cut just to make room for Sara, but it’s a good album nonetheless.

Muruch’s Top 25 Albums of 2013

25. Rusty Belle: Common Courtesy

…their multi-genre, multi-instrumental style runs the gamut from Americana and folk to rock, soul and blues…bluesy, sparse, soul-rock…delicious shades of Nick Cave

Buy @ Amazon


24. Ian McFeron: Time Will Take You

…What a delight this little folk-rock gem is!…produces the same immediate reaction of refreshment and affection as Adams’ Gold – though there’s more of a classic country-folk swagger.

Buy @ Amazon


23. Valerie June: Pushin’ Against a Stone

…unlike anything you’ve ever heard before…acoustic blues masterpiece swiftly carried along by Valerie’s distintive voice… exquisite marriage of a low-fi folk melody and sweet, plucky bluegrass instrumentation…grinding, funky blues-rock sound associated with bands like The Black Keys and Alabama Shakes, but Valerie’s voice and phrasing give it a soulful, gospel-folk spin

Buy @ Amazon


22. Steve Martin & Edie Brickell: Love Has Come For You

…Comedian turned bluegrass musician Steve Martin and singer Edie Brickell have joined forces…what a delight their collaboration turned out to be! Martin’s deft, delicate banjo playing is the perfect complement for Brickell’s gentle, melodious voice.

Buy @ Amazon


21. Black City Lights: Another Life

…a sexy and very moody collection. At times the band’s dark, trippy electro-pop style sounds like a mix of Depeche Mode, Ultravox, Julee Cruise, Lacuna Coil and MS MR.

Buy @ Amazon


20. One Mile An Hour

…brilliant, self-produced, self-titled debut album, which they accurately call a “complex, introverted outsider-folk record”…airy, panoramic, beautiful, unusual folk music…swirling, psychedelic folk guitar riffs, slightly raspy and softly plaintive vocals. A bit of Ray LaMontagne, a little Elliot Smith, even hints of Jeff Buckley and Pink Floyd and something totally Other – a ghostly, intangible mood. This is why I love music, why I love writing about music. This is inspiration

Buy @ Amazon


19. Varous Artists: Variations on Chopin

…puts an ambient and electro-pop spin on Chopin’s classical melodies…magnificent, mindblowingly lovely…not your standard classical album…absolutely fantastic

Buy @ Amazon


18. Ours: Boxer the Ballet 1

…one of those albums I love more intensely with each listen…pure, old school American rock that often reminds me of classic Foreigner, maybe a bit of Scorpions or even Cinderella…big, theatrical voice of lead singer, Jimmy Gnecco, should also appeal to Muse fans

Buy @ Amazon

Ours – Pretty Pain (mp3)*


17. Ruth Moody: These Wilder Things

…The Wailin’ Jennys are spawning some excellent solo albums…Moody’s angelic, lilting soprano tangles with pop-polished bluegrass and folk.

Buy @ Amazon


16. Ivan & Alyosha: All The Times We Had

…comparison to The Lumineers is still fairly accurate. The two bands definitely share a certain multi-instrumental, melodic sensibility, but Ivan & Alyosha’s music is distinctively different enough to stand on its own merit…as lovely, comforting and encouraging as an old friend…somewhere between Ryan Adams and The Low Anthem

Buy @ Amazon


15. Melissa Ferrick: The Truth Is

…absolutely outstanding…instrumentation is gorgeous, lush and elegantly Southern..phenomenal, thought-provoking

Buy @ Amazon


14. Rykarda Parasol: Against the Sun

…gives her signature noirish rock sound a modern polish without compromising its dark, artistic integrity…Rykarda uses her voice as much as any instrument: haunting moans and surprising ooh la la’s…echoing yelps…melodic whistles…and Mamas & Papas harmonies…the kind of richly layered album that immediately mesmerizes and still gets even better with each listen

Buy @ Amazon


13. Molly Drake

…Nick Drake’s mother. Molly was a very talented poet, composer, singer and pianist whose music obviously had a strong influence on her son’s work. Sadly, Molly’s exquisite music was mostly a family secret during her life and is only now being released to the public…the entire album features Molly Drake’s unusually pretty soprano and piano in a lilting, old-fashioned parlour style of music. Her lyrics, however, delve into the same kind of elegant, poetic, somewhat melancholy introspection that her son would eventually explore

Buy @ Amazon


12. Brooke Waggoner: Originator

…an extraordinary collection…a beautiful, brilliant and absolutely enchanting album…thunderous piano crashes layered over bombastic horns and choral voices

Buy @ Amazon


11. Bing Satellites

I’m bending the rules here a bit, as Bing Satellites has released too many albums this year to narrow down to one and the ambient nature of his music makes it difficult to differentiate one track from another. I especially like his latest release, King Midas in Reverse, and Twilight Sessions: Volume 11. We at the Muruch household have a giant Bing Satellites mp3 playlist that is on almost daily rotation. Bing’s music is the perfect soundtrack for reading and relaxation.

Bing Satellites Official Site


10. Allison Crowe: Heavy Graces

…what a lush piece of work…a touch of Celtic folk in the instrumentation, haunting backing vocals and a slow building, seething tension until Allison unleashes her wail…I predict we’ll be seeing Allison Crowe not once but twice on our best of the year list.

Buy @ Amazon


9. Lucy Schwartz: Timekeeper

…a multi-instrumental, multi-genre sound that encompasses the atmospheric, high energy electro-pop of Butterfly Boucher, the folk revival instrumentation of Mumford & Sons and a dash of Hannah Fury‘s Gothic, antiquarian sensibility

Buy @ Amazon


8. Janelle Monáe: The Electric Lady

…as interesting, diverse and addictive as we’ve come to expect from Janelle and finds her collaborating with Prince, Erykah Badu, Solange, Miguel and Esperanza Spalding…artistic attention to detail combined with a gorgeous voice, a flare both for the dramatic as well as the funky and a science fiction churning imagination continue to put Janelle Monáe into a category all her own: Cyber-Soul

Buy @ Amazon


7. Elton John: The Diving Board

…finds Elton John making a welcome return to his musical roots with a basic piano-bass-drums set-up and features some of his finest piano playing in the past four decades…it’s a sadly rare album these days with lyrics that actually mean something…The Diving Board already sounds like a classic and is a worthy release for the man behind “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Levon” and “Tiny Dancer.”

Buy @ Amazon


6. MS MR: Secondhand Rapture

…dramatic, bombastic, sexy, moody and utterly fantastic…falls somewhere between Florence + the Machine‘s delicious over the top theatrics and Great Northern‘s haunting melodies with a little extra rhythmic oomph…like Kate Rusby fronting a ’90s trip-hop band like Faithless or Morcheeba…basically MS MR are everything I could want in a band…absolutely addictive and will surely be on my best of the year list

Buy @ Amazon


5. Hem: Departure & Farewell

…will be battling Foxygen for my Top Album of 2013…Hem have all but perfected their “Metropolitan Country” sound and singer Sally Ellyson’s voice is truly timeless…a dazzling transcontinental journey — by air and by sea

Buy @ Amazon


4. Trent Dabbs: The Way We Look At Horses

…a masterful and exquisite song cycle that brilliantly bridges the gap between Elliot Smith’s pensive folk-pop and Ryan Adams’ rustic alt-country…I’m so happy and relieved to have fallen in love with this album. I can’t remember the last time I listened to an entire album repeatedly without skipping at least one track…moody, melodic and magnificent. It’s certainly one of the best albums of the year and one whose songs stay with you long after it ends.

Buy @ Amazon


3. Foxygen: We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic

…If Foxygen’s We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic isn’t my #1 of 2013, we have a spectacular year of music ahead of us…the rare album that truly deserves to be called Beatlesque…elements of vintage psychedelic rock, modern indie- and garage rock, a bit o’ The Animals, a splash of Elvis, a smidgen of blues and various other experimental feats that defy category. It’s unusual, innovative and totally fantastic…a sublime slice of pop perfection.

Buy @ Amazon


2. Allison Crowe: Newfoundland Vinyl

…plays like a lovely, vintage collection of traditional Irish and Canadian folk ballads, lively sea chanteys and drinking songs, parlour songs and country tunes with surprising retro, girl-pop harmonies woven throughout…full of dazzling melody and such a unique charm…Allison’s voice is so strong and spectacular, I’m afraid Foxygen has fierce competition here for my favorite album of the year.

Buy @ Amazon


1. Lorde: Pure Heroine

…more than lives up to all the hype…one of those rare song cycles that flows seamlessly from beginning to end and keeps the same level of energy throughout…Lorde’s signature blend of heavy, sporadic beats and witty, sardonic lyrics, which are often written from an outsider’s point of view in a poetic style.

Buy @ Amazon

*all mp3s, streams & videos uploaded by & posted w/ permission of artists, labels and/or their PR reps

Bing Satellites: The Dream

Guest Post By: Brendan

Our friend Brin has released a new Bing Satellites EP, The Dream. It’s a glorious concoction of sounds, representing a singular talent. If you haven’t jumped into his world yet, now’s your chance. Bing Satellites gets several hours of play each week in the Muruch house and has become a respite from the stresses of life.

The Dream by Bing Satellites

Bing Satellites Official Site

Interview: Bing Satellites

Guest Post By: Brendan

Editor’s Note: I was skeptical about the so-called “ambient” genre, but was very impressed when Brendan played me the instrumental music of Bing Satellites. It’s beautiful, unusual and cinematic.

In my quest for new music in recent weeks, I have been trawling Noisetrade and Bandcamp for free Electronica albums. I waded through a lot of bad material before stumbling upon the ambient sounds of Bing Satellites, but the quest was worth it. There is something about this guy’s music with which I connect deeply.

My first experience with his music was the Mostly Ambient Radio Sessions from October 17th. Like most of the music of Bing Satellites, it’s a flowing soundscape of guitar, synth, nature sounds and much more.

The man behind the name is Brin, who also records under other monikers, most notably The Ambient Visitor, and The Lovely Moon. You can read more about him here.

The wealth of music available is somewhat daunting – I have removed a lot of favorites from my ipod to make room for more than 48 hours of material created by Brin. If, like me, you feel compelled to download a lot of his music, the easiest way to do so is to click on the album covers on this page. I was so excited about immersing myself in his ambient music that I decided to attempt my first Muruch interview!

Q. How did you get started making music?

At school, aged maybe 13, I was encouraged by my music teacher to try various instruments. He wanted a oboe or clarinet player for the orchestra but I really wanted to play AC/DC songs so took up the bass, drums and eventually electric guitar. I got my first electric guitar through my school. It is the one I still use today, 28 years later!

Q. You describe your studio setup on the ‘about’ page, but are there a few instruments/devices you would use more than others?

I tend to go through phases. At the moment, I am using the aforementioned guitar through a load of pedals – mainly chorus, delay and reverb. The main thing though is Reason – a really great piece of software. It is easy to manipulate and create new sounds with Reason. Most synth or piano sounds in my music are from that.

Q. Who/what are your influences (besides Brian Eno)?

Thomas Fehlmann, Ulrich Schnauss and Harold Budd. When I first heard the music of each of these people it was a revelation. They each do something that no one else comes close too – and many have tried! I think though, there is common ground between what they all do – there is beauty and space in their music.

Q. Is this a hobby for you or do you make a living off it? If not, do you envision a path to that point?

I’m not sure hobby covers it. An obsession maybe. I do it because I love it and because I have to – I think my head would explode if I didn’t. It is a totally personal thing but one that, luckily for me, other people enjoy too. The fact there is any money in this still amazes me. Who knows what the future holds but it seems pretty positive at the moment.

Q. What are the challenges and benefits to being an independent music producer?

Well, I’m independent in many ways – I release most of music myself or on my netlabel BFW recordings. It does mean that I do almost everything myself but also that I have no boundaries, either to what sort of music I release or how much I can put out.

Q. Do you like ambient music more than other forms of music, and why? What would you say to encourage an audience unfamiliar with the style to give it a try?

Not at all. I listen to all kinds of things (from, as they say, ABBA to Zappa) but ambient music is what I naturally create. Ambient nowadays is a coverall term for a wide range of music, and not all good. I’m drawn to music that is honest and beautiful. For that, Harold Budd is a good place to start, especially any of his collaborations with Robin Guthrie.

Q. Are there other artists you recommend?

SineRider is a genius. A young guy from the US who makes lots of music of varying genres from ambient to IDM to post rock, but whatever the style, he ends up creating something wonderful. And what’s more you can pay what you like to download much of his music. Please do check it out at Bandcamp.

Q. You release a mind-blowing amount of material – how much time goes into a particular project before it’s released?

Much of my music is improvised and recorded live. My studio set up makes this very easy. I have a bank of sounds I can use from synths, computer, guitar and other instruments. All I need to do is switch on and press record. Some of my music (especially performing as The Lovely Moon or The Ambient Visitor) is generative or system based – the music is created mathematically – so these can happen very quickly or take a lot of time. For example, I have been working on the next The Lovely Moon album for a year and it is still not finished but my album Landscape & Drift was recorded in one week. Once I start something, I tend to keep going until I’m finished. I work very quickly too – quite frenzied considering how calm the music often is.

Q. I love your use of nature sounds – can you disclose the source for the samples you use?

They come from all over the place. Some are recordings I have made, others are from various sources online. I use very long echoes and lots of wide reverb which can make these sounds much richer.

Q. Do you have any thoughts about sampling licensed material?

As I see it, nothing is really original in music. What we play is our take on what we have already heard. I see no problem in sampling a piece of music and making something new out of it, as long as it is actually something new. Be inspired, don’t just copy.

Q. How do collaborations work – is there a web service you use to work on something simultaneously or do you each record pieces and then splice them together?

I’ve been lucky enough to meet some very talented musicians in person or online through my music, so finding people to collaborate with isn’t difficult. Sometimes, one person starts a song and sends it to the other to finish. It can create results that neither party expected. It also means you can work with someone on the other side of the world. There are a few ongoing collaborations I am involved with that should produce some interesting results over the next few months.

Q. Considering the wealth of material you have generously made available for no cost, which album would you like us to feature on this post?

I have two suggestions.

The first is actually my first CD release, Visions & Memories.

The second is Soothing Images 1-15, which is a free/name-your-price
download. It is an album of mainly quite improvised piano songs. Each song is accompanied by a suitable photograph. Some of the music on this album is featured in the new coming of age horror movie Found.

Big Satellites Official Site

Forever from bing satellites on Vimeo.