We’re at the halfway point of our 25 Favourite Albums of 2013 list (click for the first five songs and click here for songs six to ten). One of the noticeable things of our list, and in today’s music in general, is the number of women and woman-fronted bands. And kicking off our list today is another female singer-songwriter.
LADY LAMB THE BEEKEEPER – RIPLEY PINE
A little over a year ago, I saw Aly Spaltro – aka Lady Lamb the Beekeeper – open up a show in a small club in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. From the moment she started singing her first song, I was hooked. She had only at that time released the solid Mammoth Swoon, a collection of recordings originating from the DVD store she used to work at when she lived in Maine, but was in the process of producing her first LP.
In February of 2013, Lady Lamb The Beekeeper released her debut studio album, Ripely Pine, which is solidly one of my favorite records of the year. Many of the songs on Ripely Pine built on Mammoth Swoon and, thus, her experiences at the DVD store, where she would work on songs long after her shift was over. The songs, though had evolved, from acoustic songs to full instrumentation featuring strings, Omnichord, and other instruments. Part of what makes Lady Lamb’s music so appealing is her unabashed approach to singing and songwriting. Ripely Pine has songs about love, loss, relationships, anxiety, and depression; however, the imagery Lady Lamb uses in her songs add a layer of surreality to Ripely Pine. Songs like “Bird Balloons” rock hard while songs like “Little Brother” are soft and heartfelt. “You Are The Apple” and “Crane Your Neck” are whirlwinds, undergoing huge changes throughout. There were a lot of amazing albums in 2013, and Ripely Pine belongs in the conversation. ~~~Rich
LOCAL NATIVES – HUMMINGBIRD
In February, Los Angeles-based band, Local Natives, released their second full-length album, Hummingbird – an 11-song record of stirring, atmospheric indie rock. Their songs are driven by the rhythm section of Nik Ewing and Matt Frazier to set the mood and then filled with the gorgeous harmonies of Taylor Rice, Kelcey Ayer, and Ryan Hahn, whose voices create the climax for the songs as oppose to the instrumentation. In many ways, they are an instrumental a cappella band, which is why the band is able to seamlessly translate their studio recordings to the live stage. And if you think there are similarities in formula and style to The National, you would be correct, as The National’s Aaron Dessner helped produce the album and also contributed to some of the songwriting.
From start to finish, Hummingbird, is nearly flawless. It can be grandiose, such as with “Breakers”; it is sometimes heartbreaking, like “You & I”; or it can be reflective and remorseful, as evident with “Ceilings”. It is an album that stands up against some of the best albums of this year and by some of the biggest indie bands in the business. ~~~Ben
MAZZY STAR – SEASONS OF YOUR DAY
It may have been 17 years between albums, but Mazzy Star still are one of the best indie folk-pop bands in the business. Hope Sandoval’s voice remains lush and sultry and David Roback continues to create smooth melodies. And while people continue to associate Mazzy Star with their breakout hit, “Fade Into You”, recorded nearly two decades ago, Seasons of Your Day will give people other things to talk about the California band.
The album follows much of the themes of past albums – of distance relationships, the search for belonging, lost innocence, and self-discovery. “California” is more than just an ode to their home state but a song about returning home. The title track speaks of reconciliation. And the opening track, “In the Kingdom”, could be mistaken for a gospel tune, and in some ways it is.
Like their past efforts, Seasons of Your Day is understated yet beautiful and captivating. The 10-song album is probably best listened to while having a drink on the patio or in front of an open fire. It is romantic at times and contemplative at others. It’s calm and refined but never pretentious. ~~~Ben
MIKAL CRONIN – MCII
When I am asked what is my favourite album of the year, I often immediately say Mikal Cronin’s MCII. To me, it is the perfect album – splendidly written with thoughtful lyrics; songs that can fill an arena and other tunes that are sombre and reflective; and from start to finish the album is inspiring and engaging. Cronin is also a master of melody shifts and rhythms, knowing when to keep the song high-paced throughout or starting the song slowly and ending it with a fury. These subtleties are why this album can be listened to at all times, whether you need a pick-me-up, are on a road trip, or just chilling with friends.
MCII is, for the most part, an indie rock album that has some similarities to Cronin’s friend and collaborator Ty Segall, whose band Cronin plays bass, with the driving guitar and the occasional use of reverb and fuzz. However, there are also pop and even surf-rock influences, as heard in “Weight” and “Shout it Out”. But not every song on the album is a rocker. In “Don’t Let Me Go” and “Piano Mantra”, Cronin shows off his versatility by writing two moving ballads (the former would make a great wedding song).
While the soon-to-be 28-year old Cronin will long be linked to Ty Segall, with his first two solo albums, he’s making a name for himself as one of the emerging, young indie rock artists in the business. ~~~Ben
THE NATIONAL – TROUBLE WILL FIND ME
In my opinion, The National are the best studio band of the last few years. Releasing Alligator in 2005, Boxer in 2007, High Violet in 2010, and their latest, the grammy-nominated Trouble Will Find Me in 2013, The National have released nothing but top quality albums and singles for a long time. Trouble Will Find Me is no exception.
Trouble Will Find Me is not a groudbreaking album like Alligator or Boxer, but more of a refining of their sound. Matt Berninger delivers the lyrics in his signature baritone voice, while guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner, bassist Scott Devendorf and his brother Bryan on drums play that melancholy sound that The National have perfected over the last 12 years. The National are joined by many guests on this album: Sufjan Stevens, Annie Clark (St. Vincent), Sharon Van Etten, just to name a few. The songs here are some of the best in The National’s catalogue, including “I Should Live In Salt”, “Don’t Swallow The Cap”, “Graceless”, and “Sea of Love”. Berninger has always had a way with words. Lyrically, this album is as dark and witty as you would come to expect from The National. “When I walk into a room I do not light it up… (expletive)”, from the song “Demons”, is one of my favorite lines of the years, along with “There’s a science to walking through windows” refrains through the end of “Graceless”. In a year full of amazing albums, somehow Trouble Will Find Me has been my go-to album most of the year. ~~~Rich
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