There have been several great 2013 albums that I didn’t hear until after Muruch’s Top Albums list was posted, so following is my P.S. to that list. Click on the album titles for reviews, videos and purchase links…
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.
“…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“
“…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.“
“…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“
“…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. “
“…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.“
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“
“…puts an ambient and electro-pop spin on Chopin’s classical melodies…magnificent, mindblowingly lovely…not your standard classical album…absolutely fantastic“
“…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“
Ours – Pretty Pain (mp3)*
“…The Wailin’ Jennys are spawning some excellent solo albums…Moody’s angelic, lilting soprano tangles with pop-polished bluegrass and folk. “
“…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“
“…absolutely outstanding…instrumentation is gorgeous, lush and elegantly Southern..phenomenal, thought-provoking“
“…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“
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“
“…an extraordinary collection…a beautiful, brilliant and absolutely enchanting album…thunderous piano crashes layered over bombastic horns and choral voices“
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.
“…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.“
“…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“
“…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“
“…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.”“
“…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“
“…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“
“…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.“
“…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.“
“…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.“
“…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.“
*all mp3s, streams & videos uploaded by & posted w/ permission of artists, labels and/or their PR reps
Though I continue to be a voracious reader, I can’t recall liking many new book releases this year. Most of the books I loved, such as Scott Alarick’s Revival, were all released in years gone by. Even the few novels that stood out (The Interestings, The Curiosity, Eleanor & Park and Donna Tartt’s much-hyped The Goldfinch) proved to be ultimately disappointing. I did, however, greatly enjoy three new poetry collections and two very unusual novels:
“A day like a day in summer. Exceptionally still. The long shadows of the maples nearly mauve on the gravel paths. And in the evening, warmth. Night like a night in summer. It does me no good; violence has changed me. My body has grown cold like the stripped fields; now there is only my mind, cautious and wary, with the sense it is being tested. Once more, the sun rises as it rose in summer; bounty, balm after violence. Balm after the leaves have changed, after the fields have been harvested and turned. Tell me this is the future, I won’t believe you. Tell me I’m living, I won’t believe you.”
Louise Glück is a Pulitzer winner and critically acclaimed poet, but I only recently became a fan. I can’t say I love all her work, which is collected here in one volume, but she does have a very powerful and evocative voice at times. I especially like her Persephone-themed poetry originally published as the book Averno, which is included in this volume.
William came, and sat opposite. Leonard pushed a glass of wine towards him.
‘Scotland was difficult,’ Leonard said, in answer to the unasked questions. How was your trip? How have you been? He knew William would never ask. ‘I wish you’d been there, William, at least for a visit.’
No response, but then it hadn’t been a question, so he continued as if unperturbed. ‘Mind you, if you had come what would you have found? Me drinking wine too early in the day and watching films and scratting through boxes of things in the attic, like a weird animal. I can’t say I’ve really been in possession of myself.’
‘I don’t know what that would mean anyway. To be in possession of oneself.’
William smiled with intrigue as he said it.
This one may end up being higher on my list, but I’m not quite finished with it. All is Song was originally released last year, but the paperback was released in 2013. I only obtained a copy of the book myself last summer when I traveled to Ireland and it had been lost in my bedroom book pile until this month. It seems to have become a tradition for me to purchase Samantha Harvey books in Ireland, as they are difficult to find in local bookshops and they are so lovely I cannot bear to order them online. Much like Harvey’s previous novel, The Wilderness, All is Song is an exquisitely well written, somewhat cerebral read about an unusual male character. But the plot is quite different, this time examining the complicated relationship and philosophical discussions between two brothers after their father’s death as well as the controversy surrounding one of the brothers, a retired professor.
“I fear the past is a brushfire
and I am a prairie. Now that I have what I asked for
I see that I should have been more specific.”
If you think poetry is boring and old-fashioned, I highly recommend this very modern collection of verse by relatively new poet Leigh Stein. Published by the small press Melville House, Dispatch From the Future is a fun, clever, quick read — though by no means lacking in substance or feeling.
From: Soo-Lin Lee-Segal
To: Audrey Griffin
I heard Bernadette tried to run you over at pickup! Are you OK? Should I come by with dinner? WHAT HAPPENED?
From: Audrey Griffin
To: Soon-Lin Lee-Segal
It’s all true. I needed to talk to Bernadette about her blackberry bushes, which are growing down her hill, under my fence, and invading my garden…
I usually hate literary gimmicks, but I adored this novel told in the form of found correspondence, report cards and other documented “evidence” as well as the fragmented memories of the teenage protagonist regarding the disappearance of her notoriously eccentric mother, Bernadette. It’s poignant, hilarious and totally unique. I can’t imagine how anyone will make a successful film of this book, but apparently one is in the works.
“And when I wrote about him, did he
feel he had to walk around
carrying my books on his head like a stack of
posture volumes, or the rack of horns
hung where a hunter washes the venison
down with the sauvignon?”
Sharon Olds is my poetry idol. Her 1987 book, Gold Cell, opened my eyes to the world of modern poetry and taught me that poetry could be (and convey) so much more than mere pretty words. She takes confessional poetry to entirely new, eloquent, gut-wrenching levels. Her post-divorce collection, Stag’s Leap, is perhaps her most personal to date. There’s a reason it won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry this year.
Guest Post By: Jen “Coble” Hopper
Coble’s Top Albums of 2013:
Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience part 1
In all seriousness, Justin Timberlake wins 2013. When this album first came out, it took a couple of listens before it sunk in. Life was empty without a song about courting in space (only he could make a song about that sexy) but now I can’t go back– no I won’t go back to a world without it. Everyone in our house loves it and it is the go-to music when we don’t know what to listen to. Whether it’s my speakers, SNL, Jimmy Fallon, my heart etc; I bow in front of the king, JT.
Of Monsters and Men – My Head is An Animal
This album is so rich and fulfilling. I discovered it in the spring and truly haven’t been able to wear it out. Harmonies are my weakness and so is catchy folk music, apparently. It’s been a theme this year for me.
Again with the catchy folk music. Jeremiah Fraites voice is young and vulnerable and perfect for this Americana sound. “Ho Hey” sucked me in and I haven’t left. It’s reminiscent of Cold War Kids in all the best ways.
Bastille – Bad Blood
Everything is Bastille and nothing hurts.
Fall Out Boy – Save Rock n’ Roll
This is the best
comeback album of the decade so far, I will fight anyone who argues (with this album as a soundtrack, and I will win). Perhaps my opinions are blurred by nearly ten years of strong appreciation for this band, but I have no apologies for it.
Note: Arcade Fire has a special place in my heart but I regret that this year’s album has not yet spoken to me.