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Top Albums of the Year

January 10, 2014
 

Chris’s Choicest of Morcels: 2013 Style

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(If you are interested, I posted my Top Songs HERE)

Oh, did you wanna see my favorite albums? Well, ok then.

2013 was one for the books. The last time I was this excited about a year of music was probably 2007. For awhile there I was wondering if I’d ever be as excited again. So many great artists, old and new, bringing the goods sumfin’ fierce.

And these were the albums that did it for me. My Top 25, to be exact (with a few Honorable Mentions for good measure, of course). I think especially in a year such as this, it’s important to keep in mind that every one of these is a worthwhile listen. I would wholeheartedly recommend any of these to fans of good tunes. Numbering them just makes things interesting, but just because something is at #23 does not mean it is not worth a gander. Ya feel?

So let’s start with a few items of miscellaneousness. A few fantastic releases that don’t quite fit in the typical “album” category (in case it wasn’t obvious, click the “+” to drop it like it’s hot):

MISC.

Favorite EP:
EMPTY ESTATE | Wild Nothing
Runner up:
THE LOVE CLUB | Lorde

Favorite Original Film Score:
THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES | Mike Patton
Runner up:
OBLIVION | M83 and Joseph Trapanese

Favorite Original Soundtrack:
THE WORLD’S END | Various Artists
Runner up:
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS | Various Artists

RIGHT!
And now, on to the HM’s…

HONORABLE MENTIONS

TOMORROW’S HARVEST | Boards of Canada

Great electronic ambience from pioneers of the genre. This one is still marinating, or else it probably would’ve broke into the 25.

MODERN VAMPIRES OF THE CITY | Vampire Weekend

I had a hard time figuring out why I didn’t enjoy this as much as everyone else. I recognize it’s goodness, it just wasn’t what I was looking for this year for whatever reason.

PARAMORE | Paramore

One of the more surprising delights of the year. Chock full of harmless pop rock brilliance.

THE BONES OF WHAT YOU BELIEVE | Chvrches

I’m a little surprised I didn’t enjoy this more as well. Above average synth pop with a couple of superb tracks.

THE ELECTRIC LADY | Janelle Monáe

R&B brilliance. Might be higher if I gave it more attention. Too many other albums I spent my time on.

BITTER RIVALS | Sleigh Bells

Not even close to as good as their last, which disappointed me. But the more I listen to it, the more I like it.

PURE HEROINE | Lorde

The handful of great tracks on here make me think she’s only going up from here. Interested to see where this young lass goes.

CERULEAN SALT | Waxahatchee

Love the sound of this album, but too often it sounds like a collection of half-formed ideas. Sort of reminds me of a half-baked version of one of my favorite Japanese bands, Love Psychedelico.

REPAVE | Volcano Choir

I’ve decided the further Justin Vernon strays from the intimate beauty of that first album, the less I like his stuff. But, this is a beautiful album, nonetheless.

IF YOU WAIT | London Grammar

Literally just started listening to this as I wrote my favorite songs and came to Disclosure’s “Help Me Lose My Mind” (feat. London Grammar). So, it’s still growing on me. A lovely soulful trip-hop colleciton.

And now for the champions of audio might. Skim the list if you’re lame, drop ’em down and read all about it if you aren’t. And click the song links for some sounds.

#25 – SHAKING THE HABITUAL | The Knife

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This is a listen that requires quite a lot of patience. I think I only sat through the whole thing a couple of times, which is why it sits this low. But while it lacked some re-playability, it sure was one of the more interesting and unique albums and artistic statements this year. An album I respect a lot more than I really enjoy, but well worth your attention.
Choice Tracks: A Tooth For An Eye,  Full of Fire,  Without You My Life Would Be Boring

 

#24 – REFLEKTOR | Arcade Fire

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Arcade Fire gettin’ their groove on up in here. I was fairly disappointed in this upon first listen, but it is growing on me. The least “concept” driven of their albums, making it a little less epic, but a good time nonetheless.
Choice Tracks: Here Comes The Night Time,   Joan of Arc,  It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)

 

 

#23 – PALMS | Palms

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Chino Moreno had a part in my second favorite album of last year with Deftones’ Koi No Yokan, and I won’t complain if he’s gonna bring his sexy back. Teaming up with the boys of Isis, they’ve thrown together a beautiful collection of sprawling guitar haze that sounds incredible in a nice pair of headphones. Do yourself a favor and honestly listen to these tracks. The last five minutes of “Antarctic Handshake” alone is one of the most blissful moments all year.
Choice Tracks: Future Warrior,  Shortwave Radio,  Antarctic Handshake

 

#22 – NIGHTMARE ENDING | Eluvium

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Of the three double albums on this list (the others being Shaking the Habitual, and Reflektor), it may surprise some folks to see this on top. I love me some spine tingling ambience, and Eluvium is the best there is. Twice the lovely makes it all the better. I’m pleased he chose not to sing as much this time around. Otherworldly and completely mesmerizing. WARNING: Do not listen while operating heavy machinery.
Choice Tracks: Warm,   Sleeper,   Covered In Writing

 

#21 – AMOK | Atoms For Peace

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If a Thom Yorke related project is this low on the list, you can bet your ass it must have been an amazing year. Amok is the sound of some of the most talented tunesmiths of our time doing their thang, and doing it right. The songwriting itself is a little less forward than anything by Radiohead, and it resembles a funkier version of Nigel Godrich’s Ultraísta project more than anything. Just wish I could’ve seen it live.
Choice Tracks: Before Your Very Eyes,   Ingenue,   Reverse Running

 

#20 – BANKRUPT! | Phoenix

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Another album I was initially let down by, but it did become my personal soundtrack whilst prancing around Europe last spring. And of course I made a point of listening to it on the train ride over to the Phoenix boys’ hometown of Versailles. Light and airy synth grooves, perfect for such memories.
Choice Tracks: Chloroform,   Trying To Be Cool,   Oblique City

 

#19 – SEASONS OF YOUR DAY | Mazzy Star

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Man, let’s hear it for the vets this year, eh? Their first album in 17 years, and like some other legends making comebacks, Mazzy Star haven’t lost a step. Hope Sandoval sounds as dreamy and seductive as she ever did, and some of us modern kids get reminded who artists like Beach House and Lana Del Ray look up to. But even those artists don’t have the same twang that David Roback brings. A perfect example of the less is more principle.
Choice Tracks: In The Kingdom,  California,   Spoon

 

#18 – PARACOSM | Washed Out

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Tired of those terrible, foggy winter days? ME TOO. Then put on some Paracosm and float away with me. Let’s go play with neon colored flamingos and hold hands on the beach. It’s ok that the lyrics aren’t life altering, you know why? Because when I’m floating on pink clouds in nothing but a flowery bathing suit, I simply don’t give a damn. So just chill, hermano.
Choice Tracks: Don’t Give Up,  All I Know,   Pull You Down (Bonus Track)

 

#17 – GLOW & BEHOLD | Yuck

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Yuck lost their lead singer Daniel Blumberg last year, and apparently that was a good thing. Because this post-Blumberg effort is spectacular (much better than Blumberg’s Hebronix material). In fact, they didn’t even bother replacing him. They just cranked out some of the fuzziest, 90’s sounding guitar rock since…well…their debut. Many bands have tried to capture a similar 90’s aesthetic, but unless you thrived in the 90’s in the first place (looking at you MBV and Mazzy), it seems like a tough one to nail. Yuck is doing their damnedest though. Sounds a lot older than it should.
Choice Tracks:  Lose My Breath,  Memorial Fields,  Rebirth

#16 – COMEDOWN MACHINE | The Strokes

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I was a little worried about these guys the last time around. I didn’t particularly enjoy Angles at the time. But I really enjoyed Comedown Machine, and as a result went back and put Angles into context (even rambled about it a tad here.) The Strokes really are a superb band, and always have been. Are they still the epitome of “cool?” Of course not. But this album finds the band strutting confidence in a new sound, and pumping out some of their best material yet. Anyone wanna play some Outrun after this?
Choice Tracks:  Tap Out,  One Way Trigger,  Happy Ending

 

#15 – PSYCHIC | Darkside

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…and out of left field came Darkside. All I had to see was the name Nicolas Jaar and I was interested, but multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington takes this to the next level with some perfectly placed minimal guitar work. The result of this tag-team ends up being a bit of an oxymoron – Catchy ambience? Soulful electro-psychedlia? Doesn’t sound like it should work, but it totally does. And Jaar has solidified his place amongst the modern elite in the meantime.
Choice Tracks: Golden Arrow,  Heart,  Paper Trails

 

#14 – WOMAN | Rhye

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…and out of left field came Rhye. I all had to see was the name Mike Milosh and I was interested (yes, that is a man singing). Like Darkside, an artist I was aware of and respected teamed up with a buddy instrumentalist and made some musical fusion. In this case sexy, minimalist R&B soul fusion. Woman is the perfect title for this thing. It’s basically a concept record, a gentleman’s musical guide on how to treat the ladies. As much as I love Justin Timberlake, he could do well to take a few pointers from Rhye as far as delivering lyrics to swoon by. JT might have the hit, but Rhye’s music actually sounds like it wears a suit and tie.
Choice Tracks:  Open,  The Fall,  3 Days

 

#13 – CUPID DELUXE | Blood Orange

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Devonte Hynes is an all-star. The dude is all over the place, and it seems whatever he touches turns to gold. So go figure his second album as Blood Orange is just that. This one is miles beyond the first Blood Orange. I enjoyed that release, but nothing was even close to the scrumptious non-album single “Dinner,” which was a disappointment. Cupid Deluxe, on the other hand, delivers. And then it goes ahead and serves you up dessert. Plenty of late 80’s/early 90’s grooves to be had by all. There’s even the occasional old school rap break. It’s delish. More, please!
Choice Tracks: You’re Not Good Enough,   It Is What It Is,   Clipped On (@29:02)

 

#12 – ANYTHING IN RETURN | Toro y Moi

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Chazwick Bundick. Just cuz it’s fun to say. He made some sassy jams this year. Putting your hands in the air, and waving them like you just don’t care is an appropriate response to these tunes, I think. Party music for smart people that don’t actually party that hard, but do enjoy a good time nonetheless. I originally had this pegged as the one to beat for AOTY early on, but like I said, it’s been that kind of year. Now shake. But please don’t break.
Choice Tracks: So Many Details, Rose Quartz, How’s It Wrong

 

#11 – JETLAG | Milosh

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As he toured the world in support of Rhye, Mike Milosh, with inspiration from his actress wife Alexa Nikolas (that’s her on the cover), were inspired to put together his fourth solo album. The recording is apparently made up of found sounds and memories as the two traveled, and the intimacy is definitely felt through these 10 tracks. It was a little hard choosing between this and Rhye, but I simply couldn’t get enough of the “Postal Service if Ben Gibbard was sexy” goodness present here. Even so, it hasn’t had the advantage of time that the album just above it did, which ended up being a deciding factor in it’s current placement just outside the Big 10. I have no doubt it’ll rise with time. In fact, it’s risen a few spots since I started putting this list together.
Choice Tracks: (Full album here) Do You Want What I Want,   Skipping,   This Time (watch the video, it’s adorable and appropriate)

 

TOP 10
And finally…the Top 10. Only the choicest. Let it be known that cutting out albums from a Top 10 is like choosing which kids get dessert. Any of the albums falling 11-16 could have been 10 worthy. Any other year they probably would have been. But alas, this was 2013. Without further adieu…

#10 – SILVER WILKINSON | Bibio

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Bibio does it again, slyly and quietly sneaking into the 10 spot. It hadn’t dawned on me how much I truly enjoyed this album until I thought of it in list context. On first listen, I didn’t think much of it. A little slow moving, a little too ambient, and not enough spazzy electronics. Closer to the sound of his earlier releases, but much more of a somber tone than his last two. Despite that, I found myself coming back to it, diving into every nook’n’cranny. I finally discovered what I was looking for as I gave it a headphones listen on a long walk one spring evening. Suddenly “slow moving” became “patient,” “too ambient” became “beautifully calm,” and “not enough spazzy electronics” became  “pleasantly organic.” And while the couple upbeat/electronic tracks are among my favorites, I started thinking they almost feel out of place in this mostly quiet collection of spacey campfire tunes. Overall, a mood and sound that I found very pleasant (much like the cover), and an album that kept calling me back as the year progressed. It’s not often one of your favorite electronic artists can double as one of your favorite acoustic artists.
Choice Tracks: Dye The Water Green,   À tout à l’heure ,   Sycamore Sillhouetting

 

#9 – OVERGROWN | James Blake

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Mr. Blake’s debut full-length finished just outside my Top 10 in 2011. My reasoning was it was slightly inconsistent, that if the back half was as good as the first half, it would’ve possibly been my favorite album of the year. Well, this time around, we have liftoff. While none of the individual tracks are as good as his best from that first album, there is definitely more consistency to his special brand of minimalist R&B, and it is breathtaking. It’s almost humorous to think that James Blake was once a herald of what was originally called “dub-step,” a term that has since been bastardized and watered down to oblivion. Now he’s among the hyped elite of white-boy soul. Blake has two secret weapons that he utilizes to perfection: His voice, and his bass. The former reaches to the sky on tracks like “To The Last” and “Retrograde.”  The latter anchors it all down on tracks like “Overgrown,” and as I’ve said before, no human being has any reason listening to these songs without the proper listening accommodations to feel it. The bass point also leads to Blake’s impeccable use of space. Rarely have I heard electronic music sound so sparse yet pack so much punch. About as emotionally saturated as electronic music can get.
Choice Tracks: Overgrown,   Life Round Here,   To The Last

 

#8 – NIGHT TIME, MY TIME | Sky Ferreira

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I never would’ve thought Sky Ferreira would be sitting at #8. I enjoyed the song or two I’d heard from her EP’s, but didn’t think she was anything that spectacular. Just another bratty indie teen, I figured. But I’ll be completely honest: when the cover photo was announced, I was intrigued. No, not in the “Woah, BOOBS!” sort of way. I’m old enough now and have had my fair share of art classes, people. What intrigued me was the idea of that photo. It’s not glamorous, it’s not “sexy,” it’s not Miley-friggin’-Cyrus. In fact, it’s everything Miley isn’t: honest, emotional, brave, gritty and kind of sad (actually, Miley is very sad, but in a different way). Call it superficial, but I decided to give her a chance. And wouldn’t you know, the music itself matches the cover. I was floored upon first hearing “24 Hours.” It’s “pop,” for sure but there’s an honest “heart-on-sleeve” emotion to these songs that is refreshing for someone so young. It’s the kind of key element that keeps Lorde from being as amazing as she could be (give her some time, she’ll get there.) There’s nothing inherently new about Sky’s approach, but it sounds fresh and it’s wildly entertaining. Sometimes she sounds like Katy Perry, and other times she resembles Wild Nothing. It’s about as “hip” as pop can be. So, good on you, Sky. Perhaps there is still hope for your generation yet.
Choice Tracks:  24 Hours,   I Will,   Love In Stereo

 

#7 – KVEIKUR | Sigur Rós

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“Kveikur” means “quake” in Icelandic (and is pronounced similarly), and there couldn’t be a more appropriate album title. My first listen was in complete darkness, turned up to 11. In contrast to last year’s Valtari, it was a thundering return indeed. If I hadn’t been so lukewarm about that album, this one probably wouldn’t have kicked my teeth in so successfully. It’s as if they planned it that way. I used to describe Sigur Rós as what an elvish rock band from Middle-Earth might sound like, and on Kveikur they sound as though they borrowed some orc ideas. I went into some detail about this album when it dropped. To be honest, my opinion hasn’t changed much since then, and I’m pretty proud of how I expressed it. So, take a gander at that if you want. Simply one of my all-time favorites, keeping me on my toes. And I thank them for that.
Choice Tracks: Brennisteinn,   Hrafntinna,   Kveikur

 

#6 – NANDA COLLECTION | Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

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Last year a Japanese tune reached my Top 10 Songs for the first time in a decade, and I had high hopes for that band’s debut full-length to do the same. But they didn’t pull it off. Instead, to my surprise, insane J-pop sprite Kyary Pamyu Pamyu nailed it, and with flying colors. In fact, she quite literally did it with flying colors. Bold, neon, retina-burning colors. The album title is a bit of a play on words: In Japanese, “nanda kore” translates to “What is this?” and when saying the English word “collection” it ends up sounding more like “korekshon.” So, you see what she did there? I thought it appropriate, since “What is this?” is a very understandable response upon hearing this stuff. The key to enjoying it, aside from a bit of cultural perspective, is to recognize the completely over-the-top and self-aware intent of it. She’s often been called the Lady Gaga or Katy Perry of Japan, but I’d go a step further and say she’s a fusion of the two. Take the outrageous art-antics of the former and mix in the sly, tongue-in-cheek humor of the latter, and you’re getting close. Now imagine listening to that hybrid’s music on acid at an anime circus. Scared yet? Perhaps you should be. Because while the exterior threatens a saccharin overdose, there is an oddly sinister mischievousness about it all. With all of that in mind, it is simply one of the most addicting, energetic bursts of adrenaline I’ve heard in some time. It’s Jolt Cola for the ears. Too much may kill an average human. But then, I ain’t no average human.
Choice Tracks (is it cheating to do five?) Invader Invader,   Me,   Fashion Monster,   Noriko to Norio,   Furisodation

 

#5 – THE 20/20 EXPERIENCE | Justin Timberlake

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Sure, the lyrics are a little goofy (a LOT goofy in some spots). And some would complain the songs are a tad too long. I can see those points. But here’s a guy who knows how to simply HAVE FUN. Justin Timberlake is an entertainer. And a damn good one at that. He knows the key to a good party is to not take yourself too seriously, and let the good times roll. This is that kind of album. If there’s anything we’ve seen about JT since his last release, it’s that he has a sense of humor. He can deliver lines like “If you’ll be my strawberry bubblegum, then I’ll be your blueberry lollipop” with deadpan seriousness and it is simultaneously hilarious and soulful. He and Timbaland know how to keep the ball rollin’ with the best tracks on here. If you find yourself wishing a song like “Pusher Love Girl” would just end at 3 minutes, you aren’t doing something right. Blast that sheeyit, and get down! 8 minutes almost isn’t long enough if you’re shakin’ it sufficiently. Admittedly, Part 2 of The 20/20 Experience dampened the effect of this release. It was too obviously a b-sides collection, and it’s like his hall pass expired. It just wasn’t as charming. There was speculation that since JT had two albums left on his contract, this was a one-two punch to rid himself of those obligations. I don’t know. Whatever the case, this original collection of stellar pop is still a phenomenal listen. Mainstream pop so rarely gets better than this. MJ would be proud.
Choice Tracks:   Pusher Love Girl,   Suit & Tie,   Strawberry Bubblegum,   That Girl

 

#4 – DAYS ARE GONE | Haim

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I recognize that this is just my point of view, and that not everybody has the same tastes, blah blah yakkity shmakkity. But I find it so hard to believe anyone could dislike such perfectly crafted tunes as “Fallen,” “The Wire,” and “Don’t Save Me.” It just doesn’t seem right. It’s like someone saying they don’t like bread. “What the hell do you mean you don’t like bread?? Who doesn’t like bread??” There’s got to be some scientific test that shows it is impossible for a sentient being to dislike such songs. Now I’ll admit that not every track on this thing is at such a caliber. But the fact that 75% of it is merits at least a #4 for me. What I like about Haim is their unassuming nature. To me, there isn’t much more to it than three very talented sisters playing the tunes they like. It just so happens they hit the nail on the head as far as what the blogosphere elite are looking for. “Hip” or not, they are who they are, and rock it unashamedly. (DISCLAIMER: Please don’t attack me for jokingly assuming you aren’t a sentient being if you dislike this album. Obviously, you know how to read and use a computer, so…what do I know?)
Choice Tracks:   Fallen,   The Wire,   If I Could Change Your MindDon’t Save Me

 

#3 – SETTLE | Disclosure

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As a kid, I was very much into house music, in a weird way. It seemed like my favorite movie soundtracks were always full of it, and some of my favorite video games blasted it in glorious 16-bit fashion. Fast forward a decade and a half, and suddenly I started hearing those sounds creeping into the music I was listening to again. Hercules And Love Affair rekindled my interest, but while they had a handful of great tracks, neither of their albums gave me a full fix of that nostalgic groove from my childhood. And suddenly, here came Disclosure. In a year owned by veteran comebacks, a couple of English brothers who weren’t even born when I was blasting the Ninja Turtles soundtracks managed to create an entire album full of the sounds of my childhood. Now, I’m no “house connoisseur” by any stretch of the imagination. I couldn’t begin to tell you details about who did what first and all that crap, or if Disclosure’s brand of club-thumpers is even authentic by elitist standards. Don’t know, don’t care. All I know is when I first heard “White Noise” it was a revelation. It’s been sometime since a song by a new group I knew nothing about hit me so instantly. I thought it would be impossible to have an entire album full of those, but I was wrong. Settle is front to back goodness. All killer, no filler. It’s the real deal, and worth every ounce of hype it got this last year. And that’s turtle power.
Choice Tracks: Latch feat. Sam Smith,
White Noise feat. AlunaGeorge,
Defeated No More feat. Edward Macfarlane,
Help Me Lose My Mind feat. London Grammar

 

#2 – RANDOM ACCESS MEMORIES | Daft Punk

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This isn’t at all what I was expecting from Daft Punk when I imagined a new album. Nope – it’s even better. Could these guys have made another Discovery and got away with it? Sure. They’d probably have a hit or two and be just fine. But instead, they recognized the debacle that was the mainstream electronic scene, realized they created a monster, and decideded to go old school with middle fingers in the air. Then, they had a hit anyway. Bold choice, good sirs. Speaking of bold, I found myself noticing some interesting parallels with The Knife’s Shaking the Habitual. Both duo’s, both electronic artists, both fed up with the sounds around them, both deciding to go analog. Obviously, The Knife went über-artsy and basically said eff you to songs in general. But, The Robots did just the opposite. They went further into traditional songcraft, and more or less went backwards in time, creating a perfect 70’s album of the future. Both approaches were respectable, but I’ll be damned if RAM’s wasn’t about a billion times more enjoyable. And does this thing sound expensive or what? It is the most pristine recording I’ve heard all year, hands down. An absolute joy to listen to in a great pair of headphones. In the end, one thing that really made RAM such a brilliant listen was the excitement they brought back to the experience. This album is a theatrical variety show featuring some incredibly talented guests. And for the first time in their career, they truly brought the Robot characters to life. It’s the same type of thing that made the Gorillaz albums so fun. I think it’s called “pretend” or something. It’s the responsible grown-up joining forces with the inner child and staying up all night to get lucky. (But of course, “getting lucky” means something different for the inner child. Sssh. Don’t ruin it.)
Choice Tracks: The Game Of Love,
Giorgio By Moroder feat. Giorgio Moroder,
Get Lucky feat. Pharrell Williams,
Touch feat. Paul Williams,
Doin’ It Right feat. Panda Bear,

 

#1 – MBV | My Bloody Valentine

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So, this year quite a few veterans came around to show the kids how it’s done. It was great to hear so many solid albums from some true legends. But there is a specific reason why My Bloody Valentine’s mbv reigned supreme: 22 years since Loveless, and there is still nobody that does this as good as they do. NOBODY. That’s not to say bands haven’t tried. There have been some pretty amazing attempts over the years, many of which found themselves among my favorite bands. But in the midst of all those stylistic successors, MBV proved once again that they are untouchable. Other returning vets like Boards of Canada or Mazzy Star had fantastic releases (still haven’t heard Bowie’s yet), but what held those albums back slightly was the simple fact that some of their modern contemporaries are doing it better. Daft Punk recognized too many of their descendants had driven their kingdom into the ground, so they managed to avoid the situation altogether by taking root elsewhere. But Kevin Shields & Co. stood their ground, and melted the faces of all would-be heirs to the throne. The last time Kevin Shields officially released anything was ten years ago, contributing songs and score pieces to Sophia Coppola’s Lost In Translation (which happens to be my favorite film of all time, and one of my favorite soundtracks). Taking that into context provides somewhat of a stylistic link and chronological midpoint from Loveless. But the truth is, this album would’ve fit just as well in 1993 as it did in 2013. Mbv is beyond the boundaries of time, beyond the limits of genre. It is a perfect entity. And it was my favorite album of the year.
Choice Tracks:   She Found Now,   Only Tomorrow,   Who Sees You,   New You,   Wonder 2

So, there you have it kids. Until next time.



About the Author

Chris