Too much of a good thing is a rare occurrence. In fact, it doesn't even apply in this instance. The amount of quality music that was released during the current calendar year, however, doesn't make life any easier. Well, it actually makes life better. What it does do, is make the last month of the year complicated for some -- those who wring their hands and rack their brains to summarize the year in music or more accurately their year in music. Titles and headers may read "best," but I tend not to trust that particular verbiage. I prefer favorites. I like to know what people enjoyed, especially given the musical wealth we were all bestowed in 2013. So much, in fact, that I found it just about impossible to shrink my choices down to ten. Couldn't even do twenty. Even when I successfully, and gleefully, edited down to twenty-five, I knew there was more.
Then there were the songs -- the individual members of these albums, and others, that kept me trending towards repetition. These were the ones that had me grasping towards the back of the album cover, or fumbling with my phone. I needed to remember these titles. Fifty songs was an arbitrary number, but it also seemed manageable. It wasn't small. In fact, I was looking for the opposite. I needed an amount that would make my life easier. Between twenty-five albums and fifty songs, I figured I could a halfway decent job in sharing my favorite music of the year.
Top 25 Albums of 2013:
1. Marnie Stern -- The Chonicles of Marnia
Marnie Stern is not for everyone. Convincing people otherwise is a fool's errand. Instead, we should take the time to bask in the glory of The Chronicles of Marnia, an album infused with more tangible energy and life than we've seen from a brilliant talent.
2. Deafheaven -- Sunbather
On Sunbather, Deafheaven straddles the line between overwhelming and overbearing. The music surrounds the listener more than it attacks, creating an as pleasant and soothing listening experience involving a metal record in recent memory.
3. The Front Bottoms -- Talon of the Hawk
Go to a Front Bottoms' show and you'll see fans of all ages screaming every last word back at the band, with their friends and towards the heavens. If writing lyrics that a listener can relate to is a quality a songwriter should strive for, The Front Bottoms have excelled. The proof is on the record and in every last dark, cavernous club.
4.) Daughter -- If You Leave
It could have been called Fragile As They Want To Be. Elena Tonra locates the exact point where self-awareness, self-doubt and vulnerability meet. If You Leave is as beautifully honest, as it is terrifyingly accurate.
5.) Waxahatchee -- Cerulean Salt
Katie Crutchfield is a rock and roll fan's singer-songwriter. Waxahatchee is more a personal project, rather than a solo one. This fact is never more clear than on Cerulean Salt. A full band doesn't distract or detract, but instead provides a megaphone and a figurative overdrive pedal.
6. Mikhael Paskalev -- What's Life Without Losers
It remains entirely unclear to me as to why Mikael Paskalev isn't a global sensation. Nearly every song on What's Life Without Losers sounds like a hit to my ears. Paskalev dives headfirst into catchiness. The Norwegian never stumbles. The songs are stuck in our heads, and we don't mind in the least.
7. Filthy Boy -- Smile That Won't Go Down
Filthy Boy isn't the first group of musicians to be simultaneously tongue-in-check, and dark and brooding. In fact, there's someone else on this list who very well may have perfected that technique. Trending towards the former, Smile That Won't Go Down is a well-scripted, dark comedy designed to make you squirm just a little.
8. Touche Amore -- Is Survived By
Touche Amore creates the type of emotional punk music I want. The message is clear and the words are clearer. If we are ever being screamed at, the volume only serves as an invitation. Is Survived By is a reminder that there's solidarity in solitude.
9. Los Campesinos! -- No Blues
Have no fear, No Blues, is not an album about the power of positive thinking. If we continue the lyric, we'll find the same knowingly self-important, wordy wallowing we have come to expect and love. "There is no blues that can sound quite as heartfelt as mine," lead singer Gareth bellows. To date, LC! have given us no reason to disagree.
10. Pearl Jam -- Lightning Bolt
After a five-year wait, in 2013, my favorite band released a new album. To be honest, this one had to grow on me. But luckily, with each listen, I discover new parts of different songs to love. With Lightning Bolt, Pearl Jam shows their age, and thank goodness. The band hasn't slowed as much as they are more measured and contemplative. The anger is wisely populated by ponderous question marks.
11. Kacey Musgraves -- Same Trailer Different Park
Country legends with voices of angels have told us compelling stories of making something out of nothing. The best of that group didn't sing merely of regional or cultural pride, however. They never demonized those of another socioeconomic class, and always told the full story - that of self-doubt and painful realizations. Kacey Musgraves follows down her own path with those forbears as her guide, continuing to replace romance with solace and encouragement wherever it's needed.
12. Joanna Gruesome -- Weird Sister
A spoonful of pop helps the noisy garage rock go down. Instead of just being fast and loud, Joanna Gruesome, is fast, loud and also, just a bit sweet. Screamed refrains, sugary choruses, deliberate picking and reckless wailing. At some point, Weird Sister will give you what you need.
13. Coma Cinema -- Posthumous Release
I've always thought anyone can make a sad or depressing record, but it takes some talent for a musician to force despair onto a listener, wherein emotional pain manifests itself in physical discomfort. Posthumous Release is Mat Cothran's highest fidelity release yet as Coma Cinema. For Cothran, lo-fi was never a sound or a statement, but something barely more than a side effect. There is no need to prove authenticity, and so with Posthumous Release, the listener gains more than aural clarity.
14. Weekend Nachos -- Still
At its best, hardcore is organized chaos. The structure guides the aggression, unbeknownst to the listener.There is no formula. From nearly the first note, you know it when you hear it. With Still, I heard it and then kept on playing it -- over and over and over again.
15. Potty Mouth -- Hell Bent
Not surprisingly, Potty Mouth offers straight-ahead, plan-spoken rock and roll. Despite the sonic similarities, there's not enough under-the-microscope personal narrative for Hell Bent to be the next chapter of Exile in Guyville. But maybe that's for the better. Over the course of the album, we can sit down with lyrics-in-lap or, if preferred, gleefully flail around a room.
16. Zola Jesus -- Versions
Versions is Nika Roza Danilova's chance to show off. Taking what has already been accomplished, she partners with J.G. Thirlwell's string quartet and stops us dead in our tracks. If the songs you loved before were breathtaking, these new arrangements are spellbinding. Versions is an album that commands attention.
17. Valerie June -- Pushin' Against A Stone
There is so much to love about Valerie June. And with all the personality she has sunk into Pushin' Against A Stone, its impossible to not fall for this record. Her troubles and pain are worthy of any bluesman. It's the good-natured, fresh approach that June implores when tackling life's hurdles that make her deserving of many more listeners.
18. Money -- The Shadow of Heaven
Just when you thought you had grown tired of falsetto vocals, sometimes layered, and other times delivered sparsely over piano, here comes Money. Well, actually they have been here. But if you are like me, you had no idea. I'm slightly glad I'm late to the party, as I would not have liked to wait for a recorded version of what has become one of my favorite songs of the year, or so I thought.
19. The Blow -- The Blow
High-concept pop music is not an easy endeavor in which to succeed. With all the good music, it's easy enough to look elsewhere. And somehow, with all the earnestness in the world, The Blow pull it off. This self-titled album is as daring as it is catchy.
20. Savages -- Silence Yourself
For the duration of Silence Yourself, Savages grabs a hold and doesn't let go. The band never moves in one direction, but deftly maneuvers via rhythmically pounding bass lines, and the now unmistakable vocals of Jehnny Beth.
21. Ashley Monroe -- Like A Rose
Similarly to a country contemporary also on this list, Ashley Monroe doesn't paint a pretty picture for the sake of doing so. The stories that make up Like A Rose are both wistful and nostalgic. We get the good and the bad, but most importantly we get Ashley Monroe. Never does that come through more than when she delivers her lyrics with a sense of humor and a wry smile.
22. Diarrhea Planet -- I'm Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams
If you're willing to rule out a band based on their name, maybe you'll give them another chance because they have four guitars. I admit, the latter piece of information may not be enough to win you over -- although it was exactly what did the trick for me. DP wastes no time gazing shoe-ward. Instead, with a positive outlook, these Tennesseans are looking to connect. The only people having more fun than a Diarrhea Planet audience are the band members themselves. It's that attitude that is nearly perfectly conveyed on I'm Rich.
23. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds -- Push The Sky Away
If you're a Nick Cave fan, with Push The Sky Away, you get what you want. The tales told are dark and even disturbing at times. Absent are the sonic assaults we've heard before from The Bad Seeds. But delivered in a laid-back, devilish stance, Push The Sky Away is Cave's mystery novel.
24. My Bloody Valentine -- m b v
"Return to form" doesn't exactly apply. I guess they picked up where they left off? When a band goes away for over twenty years, are any expectations fair? When that last record, released in 1991, was damn near perfect, do we deserve a flawless return? I am unclear as to what the appropriate standard is when attempting to evaluate m b v. I do know that it is a very good My Bloody Valentine album, and who would have thought we would get to say that in 2013?
25. Rhye -- Woman
Woman is filled with ballads for people on the go, and romance for the indifferent. Or maybe Rhye delivers dance songs for listeners more interested in the bedroom than the dancefloor. And all the while gender norms are left in Mike Milosh's sensual dust.
MY 50 FAVORITE SONGS OF 2013
And to Angel Olsen, EMA, Ex Hex, Lydia Loveless, St. Vincent and so many others, see you in 2014!