Favorite Albums of 2013

David Bowie - The Next Day - Bowie has had some obviously great albums and some albums that could only generously be considered mediocre. This one, my biggest surprise of 2013, is closer to the “great” category without quite hitting the upper echelon of his catalog (that is to say I’d probably place it in the top half [just], but not the top third). From a sonic sound point, the album almost works like a trip through much of Bowie’s past - it sounds kind of like a a “greatest hits” album full of songs you don’t know. If you’ve always been on the fence about Bowie this won’t change your mind. If you like a lot of his stuff, this one is worth checking out. Choice track: “The Next Day”

Deafheaven - Sunbather - This one seems to take hold of you, force you into a chair, and make you listen. I’ll not pretend that I have much sense of what the various themes on the album address, but I do know that the black metal vocals crossed with the post-rock (is that word still in use?) sound create a really intense, mesmerizing experience. This is one that has something in it for pretty much anyone who likes their music heavy and/or layered. Choice Track: “Vertigo”

Deerhunter - Monomania: I think it would be safe to say that for the past 5 years or so, Deerhunter have been my favorite band. This album is a fun tromp through crunchy pedal effects and catchy riffs with excellent garage-style production befitting a band such as this at the peak of their career. It isn’t as heavy or serious as their past few efforts, but it is ultimately more fun and more infectious. Probably my album of the year. Choice tracks: “Monomania” and “Pensacola”

Jason Isbell - Southeastern - The more mellow mood of this newest album suits him well and allows his songwriting to really come to the forefront. It’s been weird watching him “blow up” a bit around this album as I don’t think it is his strongest solo effort, but it is perhaps his most personal. This one probably got more play than almost anything except Monomania from me this year. Choice tracks: “Elephant” and “Different Days”

Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady - I’m pretty convinced that Monae is the most interesting thing to happen to R&B in at least a decade. While her last album raised that suspicion, this one confirmed it. Razor sharp production, infectious beats and grooves, an ongoing lyrical concept steeped in sci-fi overtones, and an amazing voice round out what should be a strong contender on anyone “best of” list for the end of the year. If you get a chance to pick it up, grab the deluxe edition for some nice additional cuts. Choice tracks: “Dance Apocalyptic” and “We Were Rock and Roll”

Kanye West - Yeezus - This one is certainly more interesting for what it sounds like and the musical/genre risks it takes than for the giant bizarre marketing machine behind it. I like when an artist breaks out of their comfort zone and does something new sonically and lyrically, and Kanye continues to do these things from album to album in a way that is fascinating to follow. Love or hate him as a celebrity, the fact is that the music he creates continues to push hip hop into new territory in ways that almost always work. Choice Track: “New Slaves”

Neil Young - Live at the Cellar Door: A haunting performance that is just Young and an acoustic guitar for about half and - importantly - Neil and a piano for the other half. There’s something about the enveloping silence and mood found here that really makes this record stand out (I can’t help but wonder about any connection between preparing it for release in the archives series and the production of his last great studio album, Le Noise). Choice tracks: “I Am a Child” and “Cinnamon Girl” (on piano!)

--Honorable Mentions--

*The Flaming Lips : The Terror - A much more subdued record than their recent collaborations and one-offs would lead you to believe they were capable of, but another compelling evolution of their sound.

*A$AP Rocky: Long. Live. A$AP - Half of this album is full of really compelling stuff (lyrics, production, hooks, etc.). The other half I tend to skip over…

*Bob Dylan: Another Self Portrait - Like the best releases in his Bootle Series, this one provides a new perspective on a fascinating time in his long history. Some really captivating arrangements, outtakes, and demos here.

*Savages: Silence Yourself - This is a very solid rock n’ roll album that offers melodic wall of noise, varied instrumentation, and kick-you-in-the teeth vocals. Debut of the year.

*The Smashing Pumpkins: The Aeroplane Flies High [Reissue] - Because it is a giant box set of stuff from my favorite band during their best era

*Nine Inch Nails: Hesitation Marks - I don’t think this was as great of a “return to form” as many did, but it was another solid album from someone who, in my mind, hasn’t ever put out a stinker.

--Biggest Disappointments--

Elton John's Diving Board, Arcade Fire's Reflektor, Atoms for Peace's AMOK, Pearl Jam's Lightning Bolt