The list rolls on! Today Ben and I take a look at more of our top albums of 2013. We’re almost done, tomorrow we list 21-25! But today, here’s 16-20, Neko Case, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Phosphorescent, Portugal. The Man, and Savages. If you missed the last few lists, check out these posts: (1-5) (6-10) (11-15), and be sure to check out our finale tomorrow!
NEKO CASE – THE WORSE THINGS GET, THE HARDER I FIGHT, THE HARDER I FIGHT, THE MORE I LOVE YOU
In more than twenty years as a recording artist that has seen her produce 9 solo albums in addition to the five she has recorded with The New Pornographers and countless other contributions, Neko Case has established herself as one of the preeminent singer-songwriters in music. Her lyrics are poignant and sometimes whimsical. She is a master as using allegory to convey a message (e.g., “Maybe Sparrow”, “This Tornado Loves You”), often one that is personal, honest, or touches on subjects that are sensitive yet often ignored.
Her latest album, The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You, might be her most personable and endearing album to date. On “Man”, through M. Ward’s raging guitar, Case sweeps away traditional gender roles through her declaration that “I’m a man…That’s what you raised me to be…I’m not an identity crisis…This was planned.” Folk rocker, “City Swans” reads as a confession to someone close. On “Night Still Comes”, on which My Morning Jacket’s Jim James provides backup vocals and Bo Koster plays keys and provides vocal support, is a trippy, slow tune that could mean many things – being found and lost in today’s world or finding a rare gem beneath all the noise.
The album is truly a great one and Case’s best since “Fox the Confessor Brings the Flood”. Through the 12 songs and 38 minutes of music, one is lost in Case’s storytelling and maybe just a bit of her own personal history.~~~Ben
NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS – PUSH THE SKY AWAY
Australian music legend Nick Cave has been releasing music since the 1970s with a number of different bands. Almost thirty-five years after the release of the first The Birthday Party album, Door, Door in 1979, Nick Cave released one of his best albums, Push The Sky Away in 2013.
Push The Sky Away is a masterpiece. It is minimalistic, compelling, strange, and engaging. The pace is set early on with the slow building “We No Who U R”. On the next song, “Wide Lovely Eyes”, Cave channels his inner Leonard Cohen, crooning over the minimal instrumentation of just some light percussion and an organ. The album has some of the year’s most epic tracks, including “Jubilee Street” and “Higgs Boson Blues”, which lends its way into one of the best album closers of the year, “Push The Sky Away”. It is a dark album like much of the Bad Seeds’ catalogue is, but this has a much more brooding darkness, slow build songs, no full-on rockers.
I am a fan of many classic rock bands and it seems that once bands or artists reach a certain age, they slow down, their music rarely holds up to their past releases, or simply release “more of the same”. That’s part of why Push The Sky Away is such an impressive album – Nick Cave has managed to escape a lot of the pitfalls that seem to trap artists who have been making music for as long as he has and created a masterpiece in the process. ~~~Rich
PHOSPHORESCENT – MUCHACHO
Matthew Houck, better known by his stage name Phosphorescent, released his sixth album, Muchacho in 2013. I was a late comer to the music of Phosphorescent, but I am happily on board now. It wasn’t until 2013’s Newport Folk Festival that I truly realized how great Phosphorescent and Muchacho really are. While Houck played “Ride On/Right On”, the audience rose from their seats and started to dance and move to the music. For the rest of the set, Houck’s music had the audience under his spell.
Muchacho is an album that was written while Houck was touring in support of his previous album, Here’s To Taking It Easy. One of many reasons why Muchacho is on this list, is Houck’s ability to write and perform many different types of songs. Muchacho is not defined by a single style. The opening track, “Sun, Arise!” has some incredible harmonies over a Philip Glass-esque synth. The second song, “Song For Zula”, is a gorgeous contemporary ballad. The album also has some country-ish songs, such as “Terror In The Canyons”, which is laced with pedal steel and acoustic guitars and piano. “The Quotidian Beasts” builds and builds before it comes to an intense climax with Houck howling, cymbals crashing, and some insane violin playing. No two songs are the same on this dynamic album, making Muchacho one of the year’s best. ~~~Rich
PORTUGAL. THE MAN – EVIL FRIENDS
There has always been an element of pizzazz in Portugal. The Man’s music, but with Evil Friends John Gourley, Zach Carothers, Kyle O’Quin, and Kane Ritchotte have produced a truly epic album. From opener “Plastic Soldiers”, which sets the mood with his crescendoing intensity, to the sublime, brooding closer, “Smile”, the album completely captivates the listener. As such, with the help of Danger Mouse, Evil Friends may just be the Portland-based band’s best of its eight-album discography.
While Evil Friends may differ slightly from past efforts with its anthemic and dance-oriented pop-rock, the band continues to touch on themes of good vs. evil, the role of religion in defining societal norms, and the push for innovation, individuality, and differentiation in a copy-cat world. Songs like “Atomic Man”, “Modern Jesus” (which has a lot of similarities to Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”), and “Purple Yellow Red & Blue” are quintessential Portugal. the Man songs and ones that will be played well beyond 2013.~~~Ben
SAVAGES – SILENCE YOURSELF
London post-punk rockers, Savages, released their debut album in May to mass critical acclaim, and their effort was acknowledged with a nomination for the prestigious Mercury Prize, awarded annually to the “best” UK and Irish artist. A tightly compacted album comprising of 11 songs under 39 minutes, Silence Yourself is intense, gothic, and verges on prog rock. With frontwoman Jehnny Beth’s piercing vocals (she’s actually French and her real name is Camille Berthomier), Gemma Thompson’s waling guitar, Ayse Bassan’s throbbing bass, and Faye Milton’s ferocious drumming – has produced a remarkable album and probably one of the best debuts of the year.
In many ways, the production value of Silence Yourself shares similarities to fellow Londoners the xx’s debut, xx, with its multiple layers of sound and dark, haunting beats and melodies. Yet it is the complete opposite with its driving punk-rock sound and, with songs like “Husband” and “She Will”, its intention to hit the listener in the face from the start. There are, however, slow burners on the album, like the unforgettable “She Will” and “Marshal Dear”. If you are listening to Savages for the first time, buckle up because you’ll be taken on a ride.~~~Ben
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