We have finally reached our destination – the final five songs in our catalogue of 25 favourite albums of 2013. The other twenty songs were posted on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. If you just want the list now, well, here were the first twenty in alphabetical order:
- Arcade Fire – Reflektor
- Arctic Monkeys – AM
- The Belle Game – The Ritual Tradition Habit
- Clutch – Earth Rocker
- Courtney Barnett – The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas
- Daughter – If You Leave
- The Dig – Tired Hearts (EP)
- Gregory Alan Isakov – The Weatherman
- The Joy Formidable – Wolf’s Law
- Julia Holter – Loud City Song
- Lady Lamb the Beekeeper – Ripley Pine
- Local Natives – Hummingbird
- Mazzy Starr – Seasons of Your Day
- Mikal Cronin – MCII
- The National – Trouble Will Find Me
- Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You
- Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away
- Phosphorescent – Muchacho
- Portugal. the Man – Evil Friends
- Savages – Silence Yourself
And here are the remaining five.
SPECK MOUNTAIN – BADWATER
Chicago-based band Speck Mountain released Badwater in January. Badwater is their third LP, and first with the current lineup of singer & guitarist Marie-Claire Balabanian, guitarist & bassist Karl Briedrick, keyboardist Linda Malonis, and drummer Chris Dye.
Self-described as “ambient soul”, Badwater is definitely not easy to peg to a single specific genre, certainly not one that exists yet. Badwater is a hypnotic blend of psychedelic rock, indie, dream pop, jazz, and folk. Marie-Claire Balabanian’s voice is incredible, it blends well with the clean guitar work, and creates a sound that brings Mazzy Star to mind. The music can get very ambient. The intro to “Slow So Long” features organ, with some slide guitar and a very minimalistic drum pattern. The song then goes into a wordless section with some gorgeous harmonies, creating an intoxicating mix. The title track, “Badwater”, is one of my favorites on the record as it’s as close to Speck Mountain gets to a rocker. The harmonies are incredible, and the song ends with a two-minute long solo. Some other standouts include “Caught Up”, “Coldpoint”, and “Young Eyes”. Definitely check out Badwater if you haven’t, it’s been on heavy rotation for me since it was released. ~~~Rich
THAO & THE GET DOWN STAY DOWN – WE THE COMMON
Currently based out of San Francisco, Thao Nguyen and her band, Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, released the phenomenal We The Common in February. We The Common is funky, it rocks, it’s dancy, folky, jazzy, it’s a real treat to listen to.
The opening track, “We The Common (For Valerie Bolden)”, is one of the catchiest singles of the year – a danceable folk track that is a unique and innovative approach to the modern style of folk music that is beginning to take over radio airwaves across the country. Another really great track is “The Feeling Kind”, which has a New Orleans jazz feel to it, and closes out with a trumpet solo that wouldn’t be out of place on Bourbon Street. “Holy Roller” is another single from the record, and Joanna Newsom guests on the song “Kindness Be Conceived”. The music here is experimental – it’s not an ordinary folk or indie pop album – and a courageously reaching album that doesn’t feel forced. ~~~Rich
TORRES – TORRES
In making this list, we both agreed that the self-titled debut album of TORRES – the music project of now Brooklyn-resident Mackenzie Scott – was in each of our top-10 albums of the year. The album is extremely personable, and throughout the nearly 52 minutes Scott sings with passion and vulnerability. As she discussed in an interview back in October (here is the interview), the album took a couple of years to produce and record and throughout the process she has grown as a musician and a performer.
One of the things not quite evident from her studio album but can only be appreciated live is that Scott is not only a gifted songwriter, but she is also an extremely talented guitar player. Intricate fingerpicking melodies on songs like “Jealousy and I” and “November Baby” form a perfect backdrop for Scott’s passionate singing about a range of different subjects. On “Honey”, Scott sings of being trapped in a relationship; “Moon & Back” is sung in the point of view of a mother who gave her child up for adoption; “When Winter’s Over” is a raw rocker; while “Chains” is minimalist that features Scott singing over a low bass sound and the scratching of distorted guitar strings and a simple bass drum beat. The album closer, “Waterfall”, is one of the most impressive pieces of songwriting of the year, fading out as Scott sings the final words.
The music of Torres is beautiful, heart wrenching, passionate, and emotional. It is not only one of the best debut albums of the year but also, in our opinions, one of the year’s best.
~~~Ben and Rich
WAXAHATCHEE – CERULEAN SALT
Waxahatchee is the project of Katie Crutchfield, once part of a punk band called P.S. Elliot with her sister Allison (who now fronts Swearin’). Waxahatchee’s second album, Cerulean Salt, is a conglomerate of a mixture of styles; however, Crutchfield does not abandon her punk rock roots.
Despite having 13 songs, Cerulean Salt is not a long album with only three songs clocking in over three minutes, such as the opening track “Hollow Bedroom” being under two minutes. Somehow the quick shifts are not jarring, but welcome. The heavy sounding “Dixie Cups and Jars” lends its way into a folky track “Lips and Limbs”. The track “Coast to Coast” is a pop-punk song and is followed by an acoustic ballad “Tangled Envisioning”. Crutchfield is not the world’s greatest guitarist, nor are her chord progressions the most complex in the game, but her voice and her emotion carry these songs, singing with conviction and confidence. Cerulean Salt is a huge leap from American Weekend, both in terms of production, and the music itself. The only “negative” thing I can say about the short run-time is that it just makes me want to listen to it again, and really, that’s not a bad thing at all. ~~~Rich
ZACHARY CALE – BLUE RIDER
It’s fitting that Louisiana-born, Brooklyn-based Zachary Cale ends our list. Like when creating a mixtape, it’s great to end with music that summarizes what you are trying to achieve. Cale’s excellent fourth album, Blue Rider, is thoughtful, engaging, and sincere, just as he is in person (interview with Cale). It is that rare album that can be listened to on all occasions – in times of happiness or sadness, alone or with company, on the road or in the confines of your home. But in the age of music oversaturation, standout albums like Cale’s often get lost in the masses. As Matthew Fiander of PopMatters wrote in his article of Most Overlooked Albums of 2013, in which he identified Blue Rider as #1,”(T)his is the album 2013 needs and the one it needs to celebrate.”
Throughout the 8-track, 35-minute album, Cale takes on a folk journey, where we follow the exploits of a “Wayward Son”, reflect on our tough days where we tell ourselves to “Hold Fast”, and recall the “Noise of Welcome” when we meet someone for the first time. The album is stripped down -a simple yet dynamic mix of Cale’s whispery voice and his talented guitar playing. It is an album that can be played over and over again, never once wearing out its welcome but inside always inviting us back in for another listen.
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