Every year,at the end of the year, I scour Spotify to review the year’s releases and decide which of them deserve to claim rank in my annual Best Albums list.
I typically did this sort of thing on my personal blog, but now that I don’t have one anymore, I’m going to have to post it here. I hope you don’t mind.
If you do, look at it this way: the only thing that goes with good coffee better than good conversation, is a good book; the only thing that goes with good coffee better than a good book..?
So, here we go! Drew Moody’s Best Albums of 2013.
the biggest disappointments of 2013:
09. Various Artists – …and I’ll Scratch Yours
A few years ago, Peter Gabriel came up with the idea of trading songs with some of his favorite songwriters. The resulting project was his incredible Scratch My Back… album. Finally, three years later, we get the second half in which the artists he covered cover him. The result? Much less of a tribute and much more like a burdensome chore. A couple great standouts, though, including Bon Iver’s rendition of “Come Talk to Me,” Randy Newman singing “Big Time” with tongue planted firmly in cheek, and Paul Simon doing “Biko.”
08. The Avett Brothers – The Magpie and the Dandelion
While I liked this album well enough, it certainly didn’t live up to its predecessors. Furthermore, we already had the Jayhawks in the nineties and they were amazing; we don’t need the Avetts doing them all over again.
07. Dawes – Stories Don’t End
I got swept up with Dawes and their laid back, classic California rock sound a couple years ago. Now I’m just bored by it.
06. MGMT - MGMT
MGMT showed a lot of promise in their first two records, but now in their third release, they just seem confused, lost, unfocused, and meandering.
05. Jay Z – Magna Carta… Holy Grail
This album sets Jay Z apart from his past. But not in a good way. Rapping about his rich celebrity friends and fashion jut doesn’t have the same urgency or importance as the rest of his work.
04. The Strokes – Comedown Machine
Probably the worst album of 2013. It would have been much better if The Strokes stayed broken up instead of tarnishing their legacy with this bunk.
03. Jars of Clay – Inland
Jars of Clay went independent and, presumably, finally got to release the album they’ve always wanted to make. And while I can appreciate what they’re doing lyrically, separating themselves from their CCM roots, the music is just bland, unchallenging, and weary. As a lifelong Jars follower and fanatic, this album left me disappointed and jilted. This isn’t the music of a band with 20 years of experience, this is the music of a band that’s been around for 20 years and is running out of steam.
02. Franz Ferdinand – Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions
This is a fine record, but I was really hoping that Franz Ferdinand’s long-awaited return would pack a little more punch. Instead they seem tired, uninterested, and disengaged.
01. The Flaming Lips – The Terror
Even by the Flaming Lips’ quixotic standards, this album is a very strange affair. They intentionally went out to create something “darker” and “edgier,” and gave us an album that is wholly depressing, bordering on something of a really nightmarish acid trip. Sonic brutality and lashings of existential dread! This album sounds like it was made by the sole survivor of a post-apocalyptic wasteland. A dire, depressing, and dismal dud.
Kanye West - Yeezus
Leave it to the Kanye West to leave us with the most jarring, controversial, and polarizing album of 2013. When it came out, I was really on board with the new sound. I thought it was amazing. The more I listened to it, though, the less I liked it. Here’s the thing – I enjoy music that’s challenging just as much as the next guy; what I don’t like is music that intentionally stiff arms me, and that’s all this album is meant to do.
Furthermore, I have never heard music that is more offensive than the music herein. Freedom of speech is one thing, but it’s another thing to sample Nina Simone’s gut wrenching “Strange Fruit,” which is a song about lynching in the South, in his song “Blood on the Leaves,” which is a song about cheating on one woman with another and being stuck with both of them at a basketball game.
So, while I appreciate what he did musically and sonically on this album, this is the album that pushed me off the Kanye bandwagon. It’s half brilliant, and half bullshit.
the best albums of 2013:
50. Brandy Clark – 12 Stories
Vivid, honest portraits of real life, from a uniquely feminine perspective. This is the sort “country music” that the Nashville establishment should be touting.
49. Thao & the Get Down Stay Down – We the Common
This is the band’s best work yet, with the musicianship and the songwriting both taking big strides forward. This is their most mature work and, coincidentally, their most enjoyable.
48. Yo La Tengo – Fade
This is, without a doubt, the band’s best album in ten years, and one of the best of their 30-year history.
47. Frank Turner - Tape Deck Heart
While this may not be quite as good or accessible as England Keep My Bones, it is certainly more direct and consistent.
46. James Blake – Overgrown
James Blake returns with even more evidence that he is actively creating the future of music, effortlessly blending several different genres into something that is wholly singular and unique.
45. Kacey Musgraves - Same Trailer Different Park
This album deserves to be recognized simply for the track “Follow Your Arrow.” Kacey Musgraves flies in the face of the Nashville establishment and releases country music that’s easy to get excited about.
44. Sigur Ros – Kveikur
This is a radical departure for Sigur Ros, ditching the ethereal atmospherics in exchange for brass-knuckled intensity. Instead of spacious and lush, Kveikur is anxious, busy, and, at times, downright gritty.
43. Los Campesinos! – No Blues
Hey – getting older doesn’t mean you have to give up all the things you like, and sometimes you just like pop music. And that’s okay. That’s what Los Campesinos! set out to prove with No Blues, and they did so masterfully.
42. Savages - Silence Yourself
Brutal, jarring, in-your-face, abrasive, confrontational, mean, and nasty. This is not the album you want to come face to face with in a dark alley.
41. Laura Veirs – Warp and Weft
Rich and expansive, at times quiet, subdued, and intricately layered and at other times raucous and wily.
40. Paul McCartney – NEW
While the second half of this album can be tossed, McCartney proves with the first half that his late creative output (since 2005′s Chaos and Creation) is as good as anything he’s ever done with his solo career.
39. The Leisure Society – Alone Aboard the Ark
Not much more than a fun and jingle-jangly jaunt in British folk pop, but it does find the band going upward, outward, and forward.
38. Laura Mvula – Sing to the Moon
An impressive debut that is ambitious, distinct, confident, and entirely bewitching, combining elements of gospel, jazz, soul, calypso, and blues.
37. Bell X1 – Chop Chop
I will forever champion Bell X1 and Chop Chop is a tremendous return to form for the Irish band while being more tight, controlled, and focused than their past work.
36. The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars
It’s apparent that conflict suits this duo, as their turmoil produced a stellar sophomore album that is disconnected, but more consistent and cohesive than their debut.
35. Keaton Henson - Birthdays
This album is so stark and raw and naked and brutal. This is a very sad album, but it is very engaging. It will make you want to lay down in the dark for a few hours and think about things.
34. My Bloody Valentine – mbv
Twenty years later, My Bloody Valentine unceremoniously dropped their follow-up to the brilliant Loveless. It doesn’t show the band progressing much over the past 20 years, but that’s okay, because all we ever wanted was another Loveless.
33. Iron and Wine – Ghost on Ghost
With every new release from Iron and Wine, I find myself incredibly challenged and even put off at first (RE Endless Numbered Days: “There’s no room for saxophones in this band!!”), but I always come around and become their biggest cheerleader. While this one started off true to form for me, I never fully came back around. While this is a good record, I know that Sam Beam is capable of so much more.
32. Haim – Days Are Gone
If there’s any album in which the music matches the album cover, Days Are Gone is it. This band is effortlessly cool and oozes with blase confidence.
31. Steve Martin & Edie Brickell - Love Has Come for You
This is a deceptively simple album, but Martin and Brickell bring out the best in each other and create an incredibly solid bluegrass album.
30. Queens of the Stone Age - …Like Clockwork
Sinisterly slow and steady chamber alt.boogie with a penchant for panache, flamboyance, and the theatrical.
29. Okkervil River – The Silver Gymnasium
This is a tight, honest, direct, upbeat, fun, and jaunty album that finds Okkervil River at their most focused. More than that, though, it’s bright-eyed and relentlessly optimistic.
28. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II
Reserved and minimalist, this album finds confidence in the quietest moments and gives the listener an experience that is both raw and pure, at the same time.
27. Mavis Staples – One True Vine
Teaming up with Jeff Tweedy may have been the best decision Mavis Staples ever made in her career. This album is mesmerizing and Mavis’s voice is just as effecting as ever.
26. Low - The Invisible Way
Once again, Jeff Tweedy is on this list as a producer (coincidence? I doubt it). This album showcases everything that makes Low a great band and magnifies it a million times over.
25. Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold + Tally All the Things That You Broke
This band rocks hard with an incredible urgency.
24. Daughter – If You Leave
Beautiful, evocative, and emotional hardly describe this album.
23. Cayucas – Bigfoot
Ignore the negative reviews. This music is cheery and upbeat in the moment, and leaves behind a poignancy in the finish.
22. Rhye – Woman
This is by far the best R&B album in years. It’s silky, glittery, lush, and oozes with emotion.
21. Night Beds – Country Sleep
A warm album that is immediately accessible and inviting; one that will embrace you like an old friend.
20. Dr. Dog – B-Room
This is the album of a band that has found itself and has effortlessly crafted a body of work that showcases all of their finest attributes.
19. Arcade Fire – Reflektor
This is one of the most polarizing albums of the year, but only because of two things: 1) the style and 2) the band playing that style. However, the bottom line is that the music is really, really good. Arcade Fire is having fun with their music for the first time in their career and that’s okay.
18. Charles Bradley – Victim of Love
It’s a real shame that the world was forced to wait so long for Charles Bradley, but boy am I glad to have him now. Nobody’s currently doing soul music as well as him.
17. Jason Isbell – Southeastern
I love what Blurt Magazine had to say about this one: “Listening to this stunning album will provide you with your own moment of clarity. Don’t let it slip away.”
16. The Lone Bellow – The Lone Bellow
This album displays a band that sounds fully developed on their very first outing. It will be interesting to see where they go form here.
15. David Bowie – The Next Day
David Bowie comes back, from out of nowhere, and unceremoniously drops one of the best albums of his long career.
14. Junip - Junip
Junip keeps their distance on their self-titled album, but they definitely take you to a special place inside yourself, particularly with tracks like “Suddenly” and “Your Life Your Call.”
13. Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady
There is no artist in R&B, soul, or hip hop that is doing anything even remotely close to what Janelle Monae is doing. And what’s more, she’s making her genius look easy.
12. Elvis Costello & the Roots – Wise Up Ghost
2013 saw one of the most bizarre team-ups in music history with Elvis Costello and The Roots, but good gravy does that combination work, as Wise Up Ghost is some of the best music either entity has ever created.
11. Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze
Kurt Vile once again proves his incredible songwriting and guitar playing with this one. Despite the length, this is a record that never bores.
10. Foxygen – We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic
Foxygen has figured out a way to turn the often tired and trite classic rock revivalism into a breath of fresh air.
09. Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse
Frightened Rabbit eschews the poppy, jaunty, and upbeat for matured, anthemic, and artistic.
08. Local Natives – Hummingbird
Insular, inward, and self-exploring, brimming with heartache and doubt.
07. Neko Case- The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You
Stout, strong-willed, robust, and wholly bad-ass.
06. Typhoon - White Lighter
An incredibly entrancing album that serves as a celebration and a warning of mortality as it confronts the dangers of living and the joyful grandeur of life. And the orchestration of this album is just brilliant, featuring full-scale horn and string sections. A very impressive sophomore release from an enormous talent.
05. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
The National maintain their somber lyrics and music, not shifting too far from their previous couple of releases, but with Trouble Will Find Me, their brilliance is personified and perfected.
04. Laura Marling – Once I Was an Eagle
Laura Marling is so talented and brilliant it makes me a little sick. Even at the tender age of 23 years old, Marling is creating the most daring and boundary-defying music any singer/songwriter has ever dared to tackle. I can’t imagine the kind of music she’ll be creating 20 or even 10 years from now…
03. Bill Callahan – Dream River
Lush arrangements and Callahan’s deadpan baritone stick enveloped in calmly understated Americana music, creating his most beguiling album to date.
02. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
I had no idea that Vampire Weekend had this sort of music in them. Modern Vampires is incredibly fun while displaying lyrical adeptness and technical brilliance.
01. Phosphorescent - Muchacho
Of all the incredible music released in 2013, this is the one that I listened to the most. It is beautiful and profound and joyful and haunting, all at the same time. Probably the best music Phosphorescent has ever made, and definitely the best of 2013.