Favorite Albums of 2013

First: I should acknowledge that this is the first time I’ve posted here since December 2011. I am not  what you’d call  a “power blogger.” Or even a “blogger.”

Second: I just realized I never posted a favorite albums of 2012 list. I’ll retroactively post a list so that my children can later use it to laugh at how pretentious I was.

Third: 2013 was not my best year for purchasing/discovering new music. Second babies, man: hard. More than twice as hard as having one baby. I’ll admit I missed lots of stuff this year and didn’t give other things the time they deserved. Also, Ansel is now at an age where he has an opinion about music, and while his tastes are pretty impeccable for a three-year-old, he’s just not down with my more adventurous tastes. (Although we love to listen to Berlin-era Bowie and play Lego.) Most often, he just wants to listen to the Star Wars soundtrack.

So, I’ll do what I did in 2011 and separate the LOVES from the REALLY LIKES.

Records I Loved:

Neko Case — The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

Shocker: I loved the new Neko Case record. I’ll never deny I’m a loyalist for the artists I love. I also think this is her best record, so there. Probably the record I spent the most time with this year.

Goat — World Music

Loved this. Freaky kaleidoscopic groove-heavy psych rock played by a dozen masked Swedes. Perfect mix of primitive sounds and assured musicality. A blast to listen to.

Elvis Costello and The Roots — Wise Up Ghost

That this works as well as it does is, admittedly, a surprise – I was intrigued when announced, but didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I do. The biggest pleasure, for me, is how Costello is sampling himself throughout the record; repurposing old songs, lines, melodies, etc — a brilliant way to re-contextualize some of his own work and lend the record a really strong theme.

Vampire Weekend — Modern Vampires of the City

I was over Vampire Weekend; we saw them live a few years back and I walked away thinking “those guys obviously took their bit about as far as they could.” I expected the third record to be a retread of the first two, but with diminishing returns. Their third, though, is by far their best — a truly great pop record. Very impressive.


Yo La Tengo — Fade

Another fantastic Yo La Tengo record. Among their best, I think — has all the qualities I love from them. “Cornelia and Jane,” particularly, is really hauntingly beautiful.

HOTPIPES — Dust

My friends and favorite no-longer-really-a-band in Nashville finally released their final (?) record. Nashville isn’t the same without the Hotpipes; this record is a pretty fantastic farewell. (And holy smokes, what a beautiful LP.)

The Records I Really Liked

Okkervil River — The Silver Gymnasium

Not sure why Okkervil River gets overlooked on best of lists. I thought this one was great; their best since “The Stage Names.” Will Sheff is a hell of a writer and seemed to be having fun on this one.

Califone — Stitches

Singular in sound; I’ve yet to find a Califone record I dislike.

Bill Callahan — Dream River

Another artist who hasn’t made many records I dislike. “Small Plane” alone is a masterpiece. Also, if you like flute, Bill Callahan evidently has a friend who plays one and was readily available throughout the recording of this album.

The National — Trouble Will Find Me

I’m not as rapturous over The National as I once was, and this album has one song that just makes me angry (“Fireproof”) but when I’m in the mood for moody serious-white-guy-in-his-30s music, this is pretty much the top of the line. This one bloomed a bit after seeing them live, too.

William Tyler — Impossible Truth

Caitlin Rose — The Stand In

Frightened Rabbit — Pedestrian Verse

Reissues and Whatnot:

Harry Nilsson – RCA Albums Collection box 

FINALLY, Nilsson’s catalog gets the loving reissue it deserves. This, along with the Nilsson biography, put Harry back in heavy rotation. Frankly, with 13 discs, this is something I’m still consuming. Worth it just for the rarities.

Big Star – Nothing Can Hurt Me

Nothing new here, but this is a perfectly loving Big Star overview: fantastic alternate mixes, great mastering job, and on beautiful clear orange vinyl. Sat down one Sunday morning and listened through the whole thing as if I had never heard these songs before (and I’ve heard them hundreds of times each, so that’s saying something.)

R.E.M. — Green 25th Anniversary Remaster
Green had historically been in the bottom tier of loved records by my all-time favorite band (well above their two terrible records, of course). This reissue made me re-think that long held opinion, and the live disc from the Green tour is fantastic.

Greatest Disappointments:

The Walkmen Go On Extreme Hiatus

The best currently active band around call it potentially quits for good. Everyone should be sad about this, and everyone should be listening to “You and Me” or “Lisbon” right now in mourning.

Still Feeling Ambivalent About Bruce Springsteen

Every year I try, and every year nothing changes. Not to say I don’t like Springsteen, I just can’t bring myself to really care about him. 

I Never Heard the My Bloody Valentine Record

I almost bought the vinyl, but it was $40. I kept waiting for it to get cheaper, and it never did, and I could not remember to go online and download it. I’ll remedy it eventually, I’m sure. Probably would have been on my list.

The Men live at The Stone Fox

Here’s a band I was feeling very enthusiastic about playing at a tiny venue. And they were completely upstaged by an opening band named Diarrhea Planet by a factor of about 100. We heard about 8 songs by The Men and left. Disappointing. (For the record, I should probably put the Diarrhea Planet record in my list of likes, despite my reluctance to admit that I really enjoyed a band by the name of Diarrhea Planet.)

Missing Jonathan Richman Live, Again

Got a late start because of a kid who didn’t want to go to bed. Pulled up and it was sold out. Crushed.

What Parenthood Has Done to My Listening Habits

I’ve basically only listened to side 1 of any piece of vinyl for the last 18 months.

The Fact That I Didn’t Find any New Hip Hop Records To Love

Beyond discovering and loving Oddisee’s “People Hear What They See” (from 2012), I didn’t really find any new hip hop to love in 2013. In truth, I probably listened to more hip hop this year than in years previous; just didn’t find anything new that struck me as much as discovering (or rediscovering) older records. On this same topic, the 2nd Big Boi record was a flop — but let’s get a new Outkast record in 2014 and put it behind us.

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