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
I expect Hem’s new album, 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. Depature & Farewell is every bit as panoramic as 2006’s spectacular Funnel Cloud (which is still available as a free download), but the new album travels in an entirely different direction. Whereas Funnel Cloud conjured up fantastical images of the wide open plains, Departure & Farewell is a dazzling transcontinental journey — by air and by sea.
our eyes open wide as the sky is turning red
we’re caught in the tides tangled on the bed
and we rise, and we fall
and we land where we’re led
Lyrically, Ellyson says, “This album is about loss, about the fear of loss and about the trajectory of life…it was one of the more emotionally resonating albums to record.”
The opening title track is a whimsical, albeit wistful, parting gift for a loved one left behind.
“Walking Past The Graveyard, Not Breathing” rises and falls on lush, gorgeous waves of intricate folk instrumentation.
“The Seed” is a beautifully string-accented lark song, while “Bird Song” is a pretty lullaby for grownups.
“Things Are Not Perfect In Our Yard” has a gentle breeze of a melody.
“The Jack Pine” is pure poetry, as the following lyrics show:
the road has got a foot of water, but the fields are full again.
you fallen, broken seed. the day returned to you,
and shook you from your sleep, and laid the world to view.
you dreamt of fire and woke to find it true.
“Tourniquet” is a ruminative train ride visit home to Brooklyn. You can watch the video for that song and “Seven Angels” below.
The album’s centerpiece is “Gently Down The Stream,” which is a lovely, windswept seafaring tale.
Such a long, emotionally wrought sojourn leaves “Traveler’s Song” as homesick as a child at summer camp, leading “The Tides At The Narrows” to sail softly home.
“Last Call” is a toast to adventures abroad as well as home sweet home.
The gospel-tinged finale “So Long” confirms the metaphorical layer to the album’s themes of leaving and loss.
Hem’s spectacularly brilliant Funnel Cloud is now available as a free, 100% legal full album download! Enter your email into the Noisetrade widget below to access the mp3s. I called Funnel Cloud a “nearly perfect album” in my original review and included it on my Top Albums of 2006 and Best Albums of the Decade lists. I’ve grown to love the album even more in subsequent years and think “Great Houses of New York” is one of the most beautiful and classic songs of all time.
25. Muse: The Resistance
This is one of those albums that has classic potential, and I expect to move its way up the list as the years go by. A quote from my review: “Integrating classical and opera music into their theatrical electro-rock sound, Muse have created one of the most exciting song cycles I’ve ever heard.”
24. Gaba Kulka: Hat, Rabbit
It was difficult to narrow how Gaba’s releases to just one, but I think her latest is her strongest to date. As I said when I named it #4 on my Top Albums list, it is “probably the most unusual and creative album” of 2009.
23. Soundtrack: Once
The soundtrack to the Irish independent film Once features The Swell Season’s Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. I said in my 2007 review that Hansard’s “lyrics are deeply poetic, his music is heart-wrenchingly lovely, and his beautifully raw voice conveys emotion as if the man were literally ripping his own chest open as he sings.”
22. Antony & The Johnsons: Antony & The Johnsons
Instead of a best of 2005 list, I deemed it The Year of the Bird and that post says everything about how Antony’s music made me feel when I first heard it. While I Am A Bird Now was their more popular release, I’ve always favored their self-titled 2000 album.
21. Pina: Quick Look
Pina sadly remains my best kept secret. I discovered her in the early aughts when a French pal shared mp3s of “I Loved the Way” and “Bring Me a Biscuit.” I also love Pina’s 2005 release Guess You Got It, but the rougher edges of Quick Look‘s production fit better with her “Gothic folk” style.
20. Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson: Rattlin’ Bones
My 2008 review summed it up: “The flawless beauty of this album is almost beyond my comprehension.“
19. Hem: Funnel Cloud
I like this album even more now than when I called it a “nearly perfect album” in my 2007 review.
18. Damien Dempsey: To Hell or Barbados
As I stated in my 2007 review, the album is a “genre-hop through folk, rock, electronica, and reggae…but the genre gymnastics still take a back seat to the stunning quality of Dempsey’s voice.”
17. Anais Mitchell: The Brightness
My 2007 review said: “Like the greatest of classic literature, the compositions on The Brightness are the kind that softly seep through your skin and slowly make their way into your heart and mind before exploding in dazzling display of amazement.”
14. Xavier Rudd: Dark Shades of Blue
Xavier has quickly become my favorite male artist in recent years, and as I said in my 2008 review: “the astounding quality of his songs make me wonder if future generations might consider Xavier Rudd to be the greatest artist of this era.”
15. Mavis Staples: Never Turn Back
I’m almost ashamed not to put this at #1, because in many ways this is the greatest album of the past two or three decades. I simply don’t listen to it often as the albums listed below. I suppose this is because the weighty subject matter requires a certain mood. But as I said when I reviewed it two years ago: “We’ll Never Turn Back is what music should be. Gut-wrenching blues, earth shaking beats, hip swaying rhythms, deeply moving lyrics, and a rich voice that defies description.“
14. Luminescent Orchestrii: Too Hot to Sleep
I deemed 2005 “the year of the bird,” but that’s only because I didn’t hear Luminescent Orchestrii until 2007 when I said: “there’s a definite connection between their frenzied, violent approach to orchestral instruments and the punk cabaret of The Dresden Dolls, but neither description fully captures their unique and unearthly sound.“
13. Flogging Molly: Swagger
This album ushered in the Celtic Punk craze of the decade. There’s no such thing as a bad Flogging Molly album, but this one was definitely their best.
12. Vienna Teng: Inland Territory
In my review I called Inland Territory a grand “display of Vienna Teng’s brilliance, grace, and talent.” I continue to fall more and more in love with this album with each listen.
11. Kurt Vonnegut & Dave Soldier: Ice-9 Ballads
10. Mary Timony: Mountains
I had never heard of former Helium singer Mary Timony until a friend sent me this album shortly after its 2000 release. Mary’s unusual mix of Medieval folk, chamber pop, and indie-rock was unlike anything I’d heard before, and it remains one of the most strangely beautiful recordings I’ve ever heard.
9. Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band: The Whole Fam Damnily
My #1 album of 2008. In my review, I called it an “inebriating concoction of swamp stomp and backwoods pluck.” But in subsequent listens I’ve found myself drawn more to The Rev’s lyrics, which accurately capture the perils of modern rural life.
8. Allison Crowe: Live at Wood Hall
Oh that voice! Still gives me chills. I’ve posted about Allison Crowe so many times over the years that I consider her Muruch’s musical mascot. As I said in my 2007 review: “there’s really no way to convey through mere words how much the music on Allison Crowe’s Live At Wood Hall moves me” Forget Susan Boyle, Allison sang the definitive cover of “I Dreamed a Dream.” (mp3)*
7. Soundtrack: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More With Feeling
I always call it the “Buffy Musical” rather than its proper title Once More With Feeling.” Years before Dr. Horrible, Joss Whedon wrote a hilarious, poignant, and very catchy musical for an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I don’t know how well the songs translate if you never watched the Buffy series, but I still love singing along to the soundtrack. The album features vocals by actors Sarah Michelle Gellar, Allison Hannigan, Michelle Trachtenberg, Nicholas Brendon, James Marsters, and Anthony Stewart Head. This is an example of why file sharing works – I and several friends burned our own soundtracks from mp3s recorded directly from the televised episode long before the soundtrack was released, yet we all purchased the official album once it became available.
6. Xavier Rudd: White Moth
I could easily include all of Xavier Rudd’s albums on this list, but I tried to limit myself to just two. My 2008 review said: “Rudd deems the album his “proudest work” and it’s easy to understand why.” But it’s really only been with repeated listens over the past two years that I’ve grown to love and truly appreciate its magnificence. And nothing speaks to the greatness of an album like having a panic attack when you think you’ve lost it and knowing you must replace it immediately. Fortunately, I found my copy!
5. Damien Rice: O
Unlike most Americans, I heard and fell in love with O when it was originally released in Ireland in 2001. My clothbound first edition of the album is a collector’s item now, but I wouldn’t part with it for anything. Rice seems to have faced some post-hype backlash in recent years, but that doesn’t erase the brilliance of this album. Most remember it for Lisa Hannigan’s delicate harmonies, but Rice’s use of strings and opera music were also very unique at the time. And the album as a whole has withstood changing trends in music over the years.
4. Fiona Apple: Extraordinary Machine
This is another example of why file sharing can have a positive effect on album sales. Remember “Free Fiona”? If you don’t, Fiona recorded a version of this album with producer Jon Brion and her label initially refused to release it. Mp3s of the demos were leaked online, the fans loved them, and a huge campaign called “Free Fiona” was launched in hopes of getting the album released. It worked, though Fiona re-recorded most of the album for the official release. I was one of many who purchased the album even though I had the demo mp3s. My 2005 review also shifted the focus of this site from simply sharing music to encouraging people to purchase albums. It has since become one of my favorite albums ever, and I hope Fiona decides to grace us with another release in the near future.
3. Soundtrack: Hedwig & The Angry Inch
Among the 2000-04 archives of this site that have been lost were my reviewes of the movie Hedwig & The Angry Inch (which I saw in a double bill with The Anniversary Party at a local film festival) and its soundtrack. Whether or not you’re familiar with John Cameron Mitchell’s awesome musical about a German transgender rocker, the soundtrack is one of the best rock albums of all time. There are thunderous punk rock numbers like “Angry Inch” and heart-melting ballads like “Origin of Love.” Why Mitchell continues to act instead of record music is a mystery to me.
2. Old Crow Medicine Show: Big Iron World
In my November, 2006 review, I said “I don’t believe I’ve ever said this about an album before, but I think Old Crow Medicine Show’s Big Iron World is just about perfect.” I stand by that statement. I’ve played this album more than any other released in the past three years, and only one band could keep it from the number 1 spot…
1. The Dresden Dolls: The Dresden Dolls
Anyone who knows me or has been a longtime reader of this site knows that The Dresden Dolls are/were my favorite band. My posts about their self-titled debut (and the live A Is For Accident album that preceded it) were also lost with early archives of this site, but I’ve raved every other Dresden Dolls release since then. After “Over the Rainbow”, The Dresden Doll’s “Girl Anachronism” is my favorite song and this is possibly my all-time favorite album. Amanda Palmer proves without a doubt that – in the right hands – the piano is the most punk rock of all instruments.
*mp3 hosted by & posted w/ permission of artist