The hit heartbroken single “Say Something” is by far the standout track on A Great Big World’s Is there Anybody Out There? The album includes both the original, plaintive melody and the Christina Aguilera duet version. The rest of the album has a lot of warmth and charm – of the quirky, Ben Folds variety. Fave tracks: “Say Something,” “Land of Opportunity,” “I Don’t Want to Love Somebody Else” and “Cheer Up!”
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
Irish singer-songwriter Declan O’Rourke’s Mag Pai Zai is an album I kept meaning to review but never seem to remember until I stumble upon it again. The problem is the standout tracks are so brilliantly amazing they cast a very dark shadow over the weaker tracks. Subsequently, the album is not very memorable as a whole. But those standout tracks are truly stellar: the mellow acoustic folk opener “Time Machine,” the gentle, tinkling tune “Dancing Song,” the string-accented rumination on “Galileo” and especially the astounding, mesmeric acapella ballad “Marrying The Sea.”
Elton John released The Diving Board, his first solo album in seven years, back in September but I only recently bothered to listen to it and now I’m kicking myself for taking so long to hear this beautiful, masterful record. Elton is one of those artists I often take for granted, mostly because his public persona has overshadowed his music in the past decade. I almost always like his music – particularly his ’70s and ’90s releases – but for whatever reason never of him as a favorite artist. But that may change with this album. Produced by T Bone Burnett, 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.
While Elton John’s musical compositions and vocals are impressive and breathe life into this new song cycle, the album’s true backbone is Bernie Taupin’s substantial, poetic lyrics. As Brendan said when we first listened to the album, it’s a sadly rare album these days with lyrics that actually mean something.
Elton’s piano wizardry is especially spectacular in the fantastic, uptempo, piano pounding standout “Mexican Vacation (Kids in the Candlelight)” and the latter half of melancholy ballad “My Quicksand.”
The world weary first single, “Home Again,” is another major highlight and the reason I became interested in the album. You can watch the video for the track below.
Other tracks of note are the album’s jazzy title track and the festivally militant instrumental “Dream #3.”
But there’s really not a weak moment on the album and it’s positively addictive, we in the Muruch household love it more with each listen. 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.”
As I wrote when Richie Havens died earlier this year, the legendary folk singer – best known for opening the original Woodstock festival – had one of the most distinctive and lovely voices in all of music history. Before his death, Havens completed recording two final studio albums: Mixed Bag for Kids and …His Last Songs.
Richie’s warm rasp and unique phrasing give new life to the cover of “I Can See Clearly Now” which opens …His Last Songs. You can stream the song below.
The album’s centerpiece is a lovely acoustic rendering of “What a Wonderful World,” which also appears on Mixed Bag for Kids.
Aside from those two songs, I was shockingly disappointed with this album. Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” is a favorite of mine and Havens’ rendition, while not bad, lacks the buoyant charm of the original. The repetitive “It’s Better Together” and the somewhat cheesy cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “59th Street Bridge Song” also weigh down what should have been a worthy final collection of such a substantial artist.
I usually adore anything by Richie Havens and I hate to give this album a less than raving review, but there’s just something that seems rushed and incomplete here. I’m reminded of Jeff Buckey’s Sketches (For My Sweetheart the Drunk) and Jimi Hendrix’ Valleys Of Neptune – as much as we crave new music by beloved, departed legends, sometimes I feel it’s better to not to posthumously release a work-in-progress.
Still, if nothing else, I highly recommend buying the individual mp3s of “I Can See Clearly Now” and “What a Wonderful World”. And check out Havens’ older releases and writing, his was an extraordinary talent.