Tuesday, January 7, 2014

WYMA Top Albums of 2013 (Scott's List)

More music is released than any group of writers can assess, and much quality music falls in genres that we tend not to cover.  So this list reflects the best of what I heard, which to a great degree reflects what I was looking for.  For my tastes, 2013 was a good music year, which presented some clear challenges in compiling my list of favorite albums.  And if choosing albums is tough, it is child's play when compared to ranking.  On any given day, many of these albums could have a different ranking.  But bloggers tend to rank, so here it is, a "baker's half hundred".

1.  Dick Diver - Calendar Days - The brilliance of this album includes its balance between the profound and the distillation of the ordinary, its musical accessibility and its refusal to water-down its Australian essence.  Dick Diver is emerging as a worthy successor to The Go-Betweens and Paul Kelly.  Our review here.

2.  The Prophet Hens - Popular People Do Popular People - Carrying the spirit of Dunedin's dark guitar pop forward, this band displays abundant performing and songwriting talent, catching lightning in the bottle on their debut.  Our review here.

3.  Bubblegum Lemonade - Some Like It Pop - Laz McCluskey is a master of jangling guitar pop.  He has the sounds, the hooks and the overall songwriting ability.  Over the years his work has been more cohesive but remarkably varied.  And this album is his most accomplished work yet.  Our review here.

4.  Adam Stafford - Imaginary Walls Collapse - Scottish filmmaker and musician Stafford made one of the most distinctive albums of the year, combining guitars, electronics, drum machines, soul vocals and beatboxing.  Released in the UK by Song by Toad, and in the US by Kingfisher Bluez.  Our review here.

5. Dorado - Anger, Hunger, Love and the Fear of Death - This was one of my early favorites this year (link), and time has done nothing to dull its charm.  Subversive southern rock with a sheen of adventuresome pop so bright it strikes me as the southern Pet Sounds.  Dorado is Jody Nelson and friends, and the album is released via This Is American Music.  Our review here.

6.  Veronica Falls - Waiting for Something to Happen - The sophomore LP from this London band should cement their place as one of the preeminent guitar pop bands on the scene.  Their performances are tight; their songwriting continues to impress.  But most importantly, there is a palpable conviction in their recordings.  Our review here.

7.  Ooga Boogas - Ooga Boogas - The lack of worldwide praise for this record surprises me.  Leon Stackpole is a madman lyricist/frontman in the best sense, and the band lays down varied and wonderful grooves on every track.  Our review here.

8.  Sonny and the Sunsets - Antenna to the Afterworld - I think this is Sonny Smith's best album, and I keep coming back to it.  Heavy themes, delightful guitar tones.  One of San Franciso's best.  Our review here.

9.  Courtney Barnett - The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas - A storyteller armed with a guitar, insight and wit.  She has us at her mercy, and it is a wonderful feeling.  Our review here.

10.  La Luz - Its Alive - Reflect for a moment on the components: All female vocals, compelling stories, authoritative rhythm section,, soaring keys, and a surf guitar that will remind you of Dick Dale in every way that is good.  This group has been on a steady rise for 18 months, and this album demonstrates that they deserve every bit of the attention.  Our review here.

La Luz - Call Me in the Day from Bobby McHugh on Vimeo.

11.  Scott & Charlene's Wedding - Any Port In A Storm - This noisy, rocking ode to NYC from an Aussie expat has taken up permanent residence on my disc player.  It has scruffy charm, blood pumping anthems and "Spring St.", which is one of my favorite songs of the year.

12.  The Mantles - Long Enough to Leave - Just the right mix of jangle, psychedelic and garage rock that quickly established itself as a soundtrack for my life.

13.  Frightened Rabbit - Pedestrian Verse - The ability to grow and sound fresh without abandoning the essence that attracted your original fan base is a quality to be celebrated.  Scott writes great songs and the band continues to get tighter and more cohesive in sound.  Normally "big label" releases don't get reviewed here, but I've been following this band for years and they continue to earn the support.  Our review here.

14.  Girls Names - The New Life - This dark swirl of melodies and noise probably was my most-played album in the first five months of the year.  The jangle orientation of their prior album gives way to the post-punk sounds of Echo and the Bunnymen, New Order and the Cure.  Our review here.

15.  The New Tigers - Badger - This is the second year in a row for this Finnish band to finish in my top group of albums.  Perhaps I should consider retiring the trophy -- for me no one does guitar fuzz/shoegaze pop like The New Tigers. Our review here.

16.  The Stevens - A History of Hygiene - Summa Cum Laude graduates of the Guided By Voices school of DIY indie rock, this debut LP is packed over the brim with semi-polished melodic gems that often disintegrate delightfully just as they begin to dazzle.  Our review here.

17.  Mark Mulcahy - Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You - A street poet with a rock and roll venue, one of rock's best songwriters unleashed a stellar album.  Our review here.

18.  King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Fill Your Lungs - Psychedelia is coming back, and a number of bands are doing it well.  For my money, no one is doing heavy, psychedelic garage rock as well as this Australian band.  Our review here.

19.  Cool Ghouls - Cool Ghouls - Sir Douglas Quintet plays in a San Francisco garage, learns some surf pop touches, and renames themselves Cool Ghouls.  Absolute, stone truth.  You can believe me, I'm a lawyer.  One of the most thoroughly enjoyable releases of the year.  Our review here.

20.  Astro Children - Proteus - Audacious and unconventional without being too precious, this talented New Zealand duo was willing to push the envelope in a very entertaining manner.  And Millie Lovelock is a force.  Our review here.

21.  A History of Apple Pie - Out of View - I reviewed this collection of candy-coated, shoegazy noise pop early in the year, and had forgotten just how good it was.  Our review here.

22.  Fear of Men - Early Fragments -  This intriguing and talented fourpiece has repeatedly impressed me with their sound.  The expected album of new material did not, well, materialize.  But that makes the release of this collection of songs from their singles and EPs a brilliant decision.  Our review here.

fear of men - green sea from Friday on Vimeo.

23.  Lower Plenty - Hard Rubbish - Sparsely adorned but musically interesting tales of young suburban lives.   Haunting, dark and beautiful -- a top Australian album in 2012 got its deserved world release in Spring 2013.  Our review here.

24.  The Mallard - Finding Meaning in Deference - This one makes me sad, because the throbbing garage rock debut of 2012 was followed in 2013 by this searing post punk treasure, and then the band broke up.  But the music remains, and it is very good.  Our review here.

25.  Ski Lodge - Big Heart - Reminiscent of the Smiths and Orange Juice, but more polished than the latter and poppier than the former.  Andrew Marr is a pop songsmith of great skill, and this album is full of excellent and well-executed tunes.  Our review here.

26.  The Procters - Everlasting Light - Great melodies, jangling guitars and soft boy/girl vocals.  This is the way it is done by the masters, folks.  Our review here.

27.  Saint Max and the Fanatics - Saint Max Is Missing and the Fanatics Are Dead - A noisy declaration of indie rock talent featuring swooping vocals and punctuated by horns.  Young troubadour Saint Max of Galloway has grown into Saint Max and the Fanatics.  I loved this edition and I'm looking forward to more. Our review here.

28.  Dot Dash - Half-Remembered Dream - These guys all are veterans of other much loved bands, but their playing and singing has improved in each of the three albums released in the couple years they have been together as Dot Dash.  Assured power pop with a punk edge; it is as good as it is timeless.  You should own all of their albums, but if you own none, give yourself a present and get this one.  Our review here.

29.  Doc Feldman and the LD50 - Sundowning at the Station -  An Americana/alt country record that should be in everyone's collection for late night whisky-sipping and reflection.  When you need this album, you will want this album and nothing else will do as well.  Our review here.

30.  Math and Physics Club - Our Hearts Beat Out Loud -  This Seattle band's brand of indie pop often has been described as twee, but it always has had musical and thematic depth, and top notch songwriting.  And on this outing, there are flashes of muscle and resolve.  Simply their best work.  Our review here.

31.  Males - Run Run Run/MalesMalesMales -  An adrenaline pop experience by a talented duo from Dunedin, New Zealand.  Hyper melodic with big hooks and big choruses.  Another bit of astute talent scouting by our friends at Fishrider Records.  Our review here.

32.  Bitch Prefect - Bird Nerds -  A matter of fact discussion of the many ways life can kick you where it hurts, told with a good turn of phrase, solid musicianship and all the stronger for the lack of excess drama or complaint.  It includes several of my top songs of the year, including "Adelaide".  Our review here.

33.  Mikal Cronin - MCII  - His collaborations with Ty Segall proved his prowess as a musician, but MCII reveals Cronin to be a first class pop songwriter and performer.  Our review here.

34.  Kid Canaveral - Now that You Are A Dancer - Masterful guitar pop from a Scottish band from which we'd like to hear much more music.  Our review here.

35.  Paperfangs - Past Perfect - Charm is an underrated quality in a pop album, and this Finnish electro-pop gem may be the most charming record of the year.  Our review here.

36.  The Pastels - Slow Summits - Much loved Godparents to the DIY indie pop scene show that they still have their fingers on the pulse of what makes a good pop song, as well as remaining relevant to their fans as the years pass.  By the way, the real name of the song below is "Check My Heart".  Our review here.

37.  Kevin Harper - Kingdom of Wires - Scottish DIY maestro Harper provides a engaging set of indie guitar pop songs influenced of American '90s rock.  And it absolutely works.  Our review here.

38.  The Wharves/The Rosy Crucifixion - Split Vinyl 12" -  Essentially two EPs, one from an all-female English band that plays haunting guitar pop, the other from a Scottish band that plays raucous roots/garage.  You could buy the EPs separately, but the combination is magic.  Our review here.

39.  The Spook School - Dress Up - In the past the talent of this group may have been overshadowed at times by the "cute" and "off-beat" attributes.  But Dress Up should make music fans pay attention for all of the right reasons.  It is noisy, enthusiastic and fun.  It is garage punk with plenty of melody and some thoughtful lyrics.  Our review here.

40.  Star Anna - Go to Hell - Some albums lose their luster when played months after their review.  Some, like Star Anna's American gem shine even brighter.  Plenty of barbed wire, blood, tears and whisky.  And a voice that you have to love when you hurt.  Our review here.

41.  The Band in Heaven - Caught in a Summer Swell - Excellent jangling dream pop on the band's sophomore release.  I liked their debut EP, but I was blown away by this follow-up.  Our review here.

42.  Salad Boys - Salad Boys - This Christchurch, New Zealand trio released an eight track album of fuzzy guitar pop in February via the Melted Ice Cream collective.  There are a few of the limited run cassettes left, and the digital download is available at the generous "name your price".  And despite that modest beginning, it is in my top 50.  No big label, no PR firm.  Just the Salad Boys; it is enough.  Our post here.

43.  Peak Twins - Peak Twins -  Blurring genre lines, this Australian project functions as a showcase for the vocal and guitar prowess of its main members, Joel Carey and Liam Kenny, respectively.  But in doing so, the listeners are favored with a great collection of songs.  Some have swagger, some have regret, and some have tears.  But they all are entertaining.  Our review here.

Peak Twins - Steppin' Off from BSR on Vimeo.

44.  Golden Grrrls - Golden Grrrls - Glasgow/London project that borrows from New Zealand and Australian guitar pop, as well as Glasgow's rich tradition.  A glorious rush of sounds.  Our review here.

45.  Surf Friends - Endorphins -  Surfy and fuzzy, with lots of harmony and party-ready grooves.  Endorphins is an appealing mix of New Zealand guitar pop and California surf party.  Our review here.

46.  Shannon & the Clams - Dreams of the Rat House - As I wrote in my review, this album takes doo wop and late '50s and early '60s rock and roll and runs it through a garage/surf/punk/filter.  The result is a party soundtrack.  Our review here.

47.  Ginnels - Plumes - Collection of material from Dubliner Mark Chester (also of No Monster Club and Grand Pocket Orchestra).  This album collects songs from three prior releases and some material that had been available only online.  Released by the small but tasteful Madrid label Tenorio Cotobade, I can't give you a direct clip because the blogger platform has stopped talking to Bandcamp.  You can sample some tracks at our review: here.  Or you can go directly to the label's Bandcamp page for the album: link.

48.  Young Fathers - Tape One & Tape Two - This is cheating, because Tape One and Tape Two are distinct releases, but I'm going to aggregate them for the purposes of this year end list.  An audacious blend of hip hop, soul and electronica.  Our reviews here (Tape One) and here (Tape Two).

Young Fathers - "Romance" from anticon. on Vimeo.

49.  Bushwalking - No Enter - A dynamic, surprising, absorbing, and throbbing mixture of post punk and drone rock. Our review here.

50.  Josephine Foster - I Am A Dreamer - "An aptly named Americana tapestry" from a distinctive talent.  Our review here.

51.  GRMLN - Empire - Pop songs wrapped in a rock and punk envelope.  This album has a big heart and doesn't mind showing off a bit.  Our review here.

52.  Free Time - Free Time - Aussie expat Dion Nania displays an adept touch with both melancholy and happy songs -- breezy, jangling and efficient.  Our review here.

Free Time - I Lost Again from Charles Poekel on Vimeo.

1 comment:

Frank Fahey said...

Here is a Spotify playlist of Scott's Best Albums of 2013.