Our lovely Assistant Editor-in-Chief, Shannen Gaffney, also writes for Liquid Courage Media. This is their list of the top albums of 2013, co-written with Isabel Imperatore (in alphabetical order).
Allison Weiss – Say What You Mean
Allison Weiss’ No Sleep Records release, Say What You Mean, was an uplifting take on the more depressing moments of being a teenager-to-twenty-something. The first track, “Making It Up,” outlined the uncertainties of defining a relationship. Our favorite is the breakup pop tune “How to Be Alone”.
Beyoncé – BEYONCÉ
BEYONCE released a self-titled “exclusive visual album” on iTunes in the middle of the night without any previous announcement or promotion. Do I need to say anything else? Videos/tracks to check out: ”XO” and “Blue” (and the entire album).
Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe
If we can use the word ‘groovy,’ Blood Orange released one of the grooviest records this year. “You’re Not Good Enough” encompasses everything you’ve ever wanted to say to your ex, and has been stuck in our heads ever since its recent release.
Brick + Mortar – Bangs
It’s hard to categorize and describe Brick + Mortar, which is a duo comprised of Brandon Asraf and John Tacon. They combine elements of alternative, electronic, indie, drum and bass, noise-pop, hip-hop, and punk. It’s aggressive, anthemic and catchy. The intense drum and bass parts are overlapped with Brandon’s distinct vocals and instrumentation like synths and guitar. Listen to “Bangs” and “Locked In A Cage” and you’ll understand.
Charli XCX – True Romance
Charli XCX was definitely a breakout artist of 2013, and True Romance was one of the best dance pop albums of the year. Her obvious best track was “You – Ha Ha Ha,” but “Take My Hand” and “What I Like” were also equally addictive pop gems.
CHVRCHES – The Bones Of What You Believe
If you haven’t danced alone to The Bones Of What You Believe yet this year, there’s still time. CHVRCHES gives us the ultimate electro-pop jams with “The Mother We Share” and “Lies”.
Courtney Barnett – The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas
Courtney Barnett was a sensation at CMJ this year, and for good reason. Her bored, somewhat dull Aussie voice somehow works perfectly in her relaxed pop tunes. “Avant Gardener” has been stuck in our heads since October.
Daughter – If You Leave
Indie-ambient-folk group Daughter’s debut album If You Leave is a beautiful swirl of ethereal vocals, spacey guitars, subtle synths, and minimalist percussion. The essential heartbreaking tracks that make this record are “Youth”, “Still”, and “Human”.
Deafheaven – Sunbather
If something could be light and dark at the same time, it’s this record; black metal meets post-hardcore with elements of indie-rock. The ringing guitars, thrashing drums, and screaming-to-the-point-of-being-indiscernible vocals are larger than life in a way that can only be described as epic. Set aside a good half of an hour and listen to the 9-10 min tracks “Dream House” and “Sunbather” and then attempt to listen to any other music with satisfaction. I bet you will fail.
Deer Tick – Negativity
Deer Tick’s showcased their bluegrass roots on Negativity, which was equal parts slow acoustic songs and electric jams. Though not better than 2011’s Divine Providence, Negativity was still one of our top picks of the year. Our favorite track was “In Our Time,” a slower song that features frontman McCauley’s wife (Vanessa Carlton!) on backing vocals.
Donovan Wolfington – Stop Breathing
Donovan Wolfington’s first full-length record has an impressive range of indie-punk, emo-pop jams. Some tracks like “Die Alone” and “Ryan Rowley” explore a heavier more punk side of the band while others like “American Spirits” and “Love Is Natural” contain catchy, even quirky, upbeat guitar riffs with contrasting female vocals.
Ducktails – The Flower Lane
Real Estate’s Matthew Mondanile put out an album this year with his side project Ducktails, and it might have even been better than the Real Estate songs we all know and love. Listening to the opening track, “Ivy Covered House,” you wouldn’t realize it was a different band, but as the album progresses and tunes like “Timothy Shy” emerge, the featured organ gives Mondanile’s sound a new, refreshing feel.
FIDLAR – FIDLAR
L.A. punks FIDLAR delivered their drug and booze fueled self-titled record this year with belligerent swagger. Get stoked on the tracks “Cheap Beer,” “No Waves,” and “Cocaine”.
Gap Dream – Shine Your Light
Gap Dream put out one of the best releases on Burger Records this year. Shine Your Light is a perfect blend of dreamy, electronic pop and gang vocals; tunes like “You’re From the Shadow” kept our spirits up as winter started to settle in.
Gliss – Langsom Dans
If you’ve never heard of Gliss, start with 2006‘s Love the Virgins, to see how they’ve transformed over the years. Originally an indie punk rock band, their sound has evolved into more of a Beach House/The Pains of Being Pure At Heart vibe. Every song onLangsom Dans is our favorite.
Grandchildren – Golden Age
Native Philadelphians Grandchildren came out of the woodwork in May with a catchy pop album on Brooklyn based label Ernest Jenning Records. The breezy melodies on “You Never Know” made us nostalgic for our childhood.
Haim – Days Are Gone
The Haim sisters stole the spotlight this year with their first album, and have ended up on nearly everyone’s year-end lists. Released on Columbia, Days Are Gone was a refreshing twist on pop music, blending R&B with indie pop, our favorite track was “If I Could Change Your Mind”.
Kanye West – Yeezus
Is Yeezus a work of genius or the ramblings of an egocentric asshole? The world may never know. But we are enjoying every second of it; ranging from concrete and combative (“Black Skinhead,” “New Slaves”) to sultry (“Bound 2”) to soulful (“Blood On The Leaves”). We can imagine Kanye West in a junk yard picking up elements of rap, hip hop, electronic, even punk, putting it into a car crusher… and out comes the complex yet compact Yeezus.
Kevin Devine – Bubblegum
Kevin Devine put out two albums this year. Bubblegum was the full band album, filled with current events-inspired political anthems and nostalgic rock jams. “Private First Class” (about Private Manning’s unfair trial earlier this year) is our favorite track.
Kevin Devine – Bulldozer
Kevin Devine’s second release, Bulldozer was the acoustic counterpart to Bubblegum and was equally as good if not better. “Couldn’t Be Happier,” a sad tune about the ups and downs of love, is our favorite.
Lorde – Pure Heroin
Pure Heroine is the most sophisticated guilty pleasure I’ve ever had. It’s a pop record with an anti-pop agenda with its minimalistic instrumentation and sassy lyrics such as, “I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air” from the jam “Team”. The infectious harmonies and heavy bass drum make every track undeniably addictive as she delivers lines with a kind of smooth syrupy drugged-out clarity.
Mal Blum – Tempest in a Teacup
Mal Blum’s second album self-released in May was refreshing and simple, filled with mostly acoustic tunes about breakups, Brooklyn, and bad parties. Reminiscent of Kimya Dawson, each song has quirky, sometimes sad lyrics with an optimistic outlook. On “Valentine’s Day” she sings, “Don’t get me wrong/I’m not against being poly/but I think that we should talk before you go and screw somebody else.” Tempest In A Teacup represents teenage heartbreak that grew up and got smart; “Altitude (This Party Sucks)” is our favorite track.
Man Man’s – On Oni Pond
Man Man’s On Oni Pond was one of the funner albums released this year. Dancy tracks mixed with sassy female backing vocals and horns like “Loot My Body” and “Paul’s Grotesque” were among the best, and even slower gems like “Deep Cover” became some of our favorites in 2013.
Marietta – Summer Death
Marietta’s first full-length record Summer Death is a fantastic 90s nostalgic, noodley emo album that ranges from beautiful sleepy tunes to stand out sing along tracks like “ever is a long time (ever is no time at all)” and “fuck, dantooine is big”. Our favorite tracks: “chase, i hardly know ya” and “you’ve got the map backwards, matt”.
M.I.A. – Matangi
M.I.A. kills it yet again with Matangi. Some of out favorite tracks are “Y.A.L.A” (You Always Live Again) which is a hardcore dance jam with electronic, Indian, and even trap influences. “Bad Girls” and “Bring The Noize” also bring the “I don’t give a fuck” sass and high energy that we love from our girl M.I.A.
Minor Alps – Get There
When we heard Juliana Hatfield and Matthew Caws (of Nada Surf) were collaborating under the name Minor Alps our fourteen year old selves were ecstatic, and the result met our expectations. “I Don’t Know What To Do With My Hands” was the best nineties jam of 2013.
Obits – Bed & Bugs
When we first heard the Obits, we thought John McCauley had started a punk band. Scratchy angry vocals mixed with garage distorted rage and you can see why Sub Pop scooped them up. Our favorite from Bed & Bugs is the harmonica-littered “Operation Bikini”.
Of Montreal – Lousy With Sylvianbriar
Of Montreal never disappoints and Lousy With Sylvianbriar was no exception. Heavily inspired by 1930s poet Sylvia Plath, the album was mellower than Kevin Barnes’ usual funky stuff, but was still a fantastic album. “Hegira Emigre” is our favorite track.
Old Gray – An Autobiography
An Autobiography fights inner demons and ex-girlfriends with resonant guitars, verge-of-screaming vocals, and purposeful drums. In climax of the record “I Still Know Who I Was Last Summer” they build into a perfect storm of aggression and passion then abruptly there is only spoken word and a guitar plucking a fantastically harmonic riff. The entire record is built on the heavy to light dynamics and combines screaming, singing, and spoken word to create an emotional roller coaster of a record.
Pill Friends – Blessed Suffering
Pill Friends debut album Blessed Suffering delivers lo-fi, emo-punk with a pop edge, a voice that resembles Conor Oberst and perfectly sad lyrics. Settle down with our favorite songs, “Satan Is Your Master” and “Forget Me”.
Pity Sex – Feast of Love
Midwestern emo meets fuzzed-out noise pop in Pity Sex. Through the haze of their lo-fi shoegaze, 90’s revivalist sound, they express raw emotion with pop sensibility. Some of our favorite fuzzy jams are “Wind-Up” and “Hollow Body”.
Porches. – Slow Dance in the Cosmos
Slow Dance in the Cosmos is self-described by Porches. as “bummer-pop”. That really is a perfect description for the dark themes explored in this record with a subtle self-deprecating sense of humor. The instrumentation varies greatly; giving the band a wide range to deliver these alternative pop jams. Check out our favorite tracks “Headsgiving,” “Skinny Trees,” and “Xanny Bar” to appreciate their flawless transition from grunge to moody-electro-rock to acoustic bliss respectively.
Portugal. The Man – Evil Friends
With Evil Friends, Portugal. The Man seems to be saying, “we just want to have fun, man!” An easy-to-like record of the year, it might even be appropriate to call Evil Friends a guilty pleasure. Either way, check it out if you haven’t. Agnostic lyrics on “Modern Jesus” paired with upbeat melodies and a catchy chorus made it our favorite song of the album.
Radiator Hospital – Something Wild
Raw emo power-pop. In the ultimate jam “Our Song” the lyrics are perfectly sad and self-deprecating as he sings out about how much he loves a girl but if she leaves him, he can understand why. The upbeat nature of the noisy-pop guitars and drums contradict the melancholic lyrics. It’s as if you are beyond the point of sadness and on the verge of maniacal hysteria, laughing when you mean to be crying.
Shannon and the Clams – Dreams in the Rat House
Shannon and the Clams brought back their fuzzy, early 60’s pop sound with Dreams in the Rat House, a fun release from Sub Pop sister label Hardly Art. The upbeat “Rip Van Winkle” is our favorite track.
SHMNS – Somehwere Between Here and There
Philly band SHMNS put out an ambient five song EP in May that blended unusual percussion, lush reverby vocals and synths. “Alexandria,” a heartbreaking account of a girl’s drug addiction, is the song that stands out from the rest.
Sleigh Bells – Bitter Rivals
We hated Bitter Rivals the first time we heard it. But that’s how Sleigh Bells wants you to feel. Allison Krauss and Derek Miller have fun pushing the boundaries of whatever genre they’ve created and always keep us coming back wanting more. The title track was an awesome single, but the undeniable best song on the album is “Sugarcane,” which is apparently about Miller’s father who was a sugarcane farmer.
Superchunk – I Hate Music
After a three year gap, Superchunk put out a new record in 2013, just as catchy and good as ever. Everything that’s made Superchunk the band they are was present on I Hate Music, like shouting gang vocals, distortion, a basic back beat and nostalgic lyrics. Our favorite track is “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo”.
Swearin’ – Surfing Strange
Swearin’ delivers another fantastic power-punk with Surfing Strange. “Dust in the Gold Sack” is an immediate jam with its upbeat grunge-pop tendencies while our other favorite track, “Loretta’s Flowers”, features only a guitar and the stripped down bittersweet vocals.
Tennis – Small Sound
Tennis’ 2012 LP was at the top of many “best of” lists last year; though they only released an EP in 2013, we couldn’t leave Alaina Moore’s voice off our list. Opening track “Mean Streets” has been stuck in our heads since it came out this November, and every track that follows is easily as catchy.
The Front Bottoms – Talon of the Hawk
Talon of the Hawk is a more refined version of The Front Bottoms previous record. It’s still poetically simple, awkward, and relatable with an overall summer fun indie-folk-punk vibe. The stand out track on this record is “Twin Sized Mattress” which is definitely one of the best songs of the year, hands down.
The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – Whenever If Ever
Lyrically emotive and nostalgic while musically it can be classified as post-hardcore with elements like harmonic guitars, spacey synths, energetic drums, and occasionally even a cello. Overall a visionary record that explores the dynamics of loud to soft, slow to fast, and sweet to aggressive with awesome harmonies and driving rhythm. “Heartbeat In The Brain” and “Getting Sodas” are definitely tracks to check out.
Tijuana Panthers – Semi-Sweet
Tijuana Panthers released their sophomore album this year which was a perfect summer record, full of beachy LA garage rock hooks. Though each song holds its own, “Father Figure” was the angsty, sad jam that had us singing along the most.
Tiny Moving Parts – This Couch is Long & Full of Friendship
This Couch is Long & Full of Friendship is an honest take on the struggle of being a 20-something-year-old facing existential issues while trying to keep a positive attitude. Delivered with passionately strained vocals, melodic guitars, and erratically fantastic drum parts; “Dakota” and “Grayscale” are among our favorites.
Touche Amore- Is Survived By
Touché Amoré takes their hardcore raw energy and focuses it in a melodic and cathartic way that leaves the listener simply fulfilled. The record is a vocalization of Jeremy Bolm’s inner dialogue of “swallowing mortality”, which is summed up in our favorite track “Is Survived By” in one line, “So write a song that everyone can sing along to / So when you’re gone you can live on, they won’t forget you”. It literally screams passion and genuine emotion overlapped with transcendent guitar riffs and dynamic drums.
Volcano Choir – Repave
Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon started Volcano Choir back in 2005, but this year’s Repave was good enough to compare with For Emma, Forever Ago. Though not every song is a masterpiece, the ones that stand out really strike a chord.“Byegone” sounds exactly like the cover art looks: lonely and dark, dismal, lost. “Dancepack” seems to lag on for too long, but “Comrade” is our favorite, making an unexpected use of autotune towards the end.
Washed Out – Paracosm
Washed Out are probably best known for their track “Feel It All Around” which is used in IFC’s comedy Portlandia, however “It All Feels Right” was an even better stand alone track. The best word to describe Paracosm would be spacey; each song made up of off-kilter rhythms and hard-to-decipher lyrics, making it the ‘chillwave’ record of the summer.
Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt
Waxahatchee delivers their sophomore album with conviction. These hauntingly beautiful lo-fi tracks are the musical form of drinking alone in the corner of a party. So grab a glass of whiskey and enjoy these jams in solitude, especially “Coast To Coast,” “Hollow Bedroom,” and “You’re Damaged”.
Wild Nothing – Empty Estate
Wild Nothing’s Empty Estate was a danceable, synth heavy, seven-song album released on Captured Tracks this year and was an exciting follow-up to 2012’sNocturne. Opening track “The Body in Rainfall” is our favorite.
Yuck – Glow and Behold
We’re not sure if Yuck can ever make another record that’s truly overcomes their first self titled release, but as long as they keep trying, we’ll be patiently listening. It’s not that we were disappointed with Glow and Behold, (we really liked it!) it’s just that this collection of songs can’t compare with the initial noise of songs like “Operation” and “The Wall” – because they’re completely different. Glow and Behold is more somber and calm, distant to what you’d expect from Yuck’s sophomore album. Still, it’s worth a start to finish listen laying on your living room floor. Our favorite is the reverb-soaked “Rebirth”.