Sean’s Favorites: 2013

Okay, getting to this one relatively quick compared to the last few. So let’s see… In 2013 I was in my second year at my third college, still pursuing my engineering degree. As I was deep into it, keeping up with music and such understandably took a bit of a back seat. As such, this list is much shorter than the previous ones, and the next few will be as well. It’s actually a little strange. I like to highlight key historical events in these intros and it’s like the whole world took a little break in 2013. Yes, stuff still happened, but the biggest universal thing I could come up with was the resignation of Pope Benedict and subsequent election of Pope Francis. Movies were a little dry too. The biggest things there were Frozen and Man of Steel. One took pop culture by storm and the other was a feeble attempt at recreating the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Anyway, below are a handful of albums from the year that have stuck with me.

Daft Life/Columbia

DAFT PUNK – RANDOM ACCESS MEMORIES–Anyone who knows me knew that this album was going to be on this list. Everyone’s favorite French robots took their sweet time releasing their 4th studio album. 8 years, to be exact (if you don’t count their soundtrack for Tron: Legacy). And after flirting with disco back on Discovery, they delivered pretty much a straight-up disco album with Random Access Memories. Never ones to do anything halfway, they recruit disco heavyweights Giorgio Moroder and Nile Rodgers, as well as modern heavyweights like Pharrell Williams, Julian Casablancas, and Panda Bear. This album has everything from massive electro-disco bangers that are over 9 minutes long (“Giorgio by Moroder”) to perhaps one of the catchiest and best composed minimal pop songs ever (“Doin’ It Right”). I also feel like this album either predicted or kicked off the recent re-emerging of disco in pop music.

Mercury Nashville

KACEY MUSGRAVES – SAME TRAILER DIFFERENT PARK–I listened to this album on the recommendation of an acquaintance who was a big fan of country music. I had expressed my dissatisfaction with a lot of modern country and he pushed this one on me, assuring me that I would like it. And dammit, he was right. Musgraves’ more folk-leaning brand of country pop and her honest lyrics immediately endeared themselves to me. One could even argue that this album qualifies as outlaw country with it’s musical portraits of middle America. I often credit this album as the one that got me into modern country music and assured me that good stuff can be found in the genre. And Kacey Musgraves has continued to make great music and prove herself to be a formidable force in the world of modern country.

Universal/Lava/Republic

LORDE – PURE HEROINE–Yeah, it’s another one that had a single that blew up and maybe got a little overplayed. But it’s also another one where that overplayed single kind of deserved all the attention and the album is full of other songs that are just as good or better. Lorde released this album when she was only 17 years old, which makes the quality of it all the more impressive. The world of pop music needed something to shake it up, and Pure Heroine‘s dreamy and minimal synthpop with lyrics that critique celebrity culture was exactly the thing. This was further emphasized by the way Lorde delivered here lyrics in a dreary and apathetic way, paving the way for future stars like Billie Eilish. This was an album that I listened to repeatedly, to the point of making myself sick of it.

Century Media

TESSERACT – ALTERED STATE–This album was part of my introduction to the djent side of progressive metal. A roommate let me borrow it when I expressed some interest (a year or two after it came out) and I was impressed. This was the English band’s second album and the only one with vocalist Ashe O’Hara. The album’s 10 tracks are packaged in 4 suites, each named in a way that completes a phrase started by the albums title (Altered State… Of Matter, Of Mind, etc.). What really left an impression from this album was the band’s use of odd time signatures, but still maintaining a groove. There are passages where you want to move your head with the chugging guitars, but you find yourself missing the beat as they take an unexpected turn. I believe this still stands as one of the better albums that came out of the djent boom.

Fueled By Ramen

TWENTY ONE PILOTS – VESSEL–I’d like to say that I knew about Twenty One Pilots before they were cool, but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate. A more appropriate statement is that I knew about them before they were on a major label but they already had a massive hometown following. I loved their blending of indie pop with hip-hop and dark lyrics with upbeat music. I was thrilled when I heard that they were signed to Fueled By Ramen and given a larger platform. The re-done tracks from their indie release were only made better and the new tracks fit with them well. And they took the world by storm like everyone knew they would. Admittedly, this album in particular has not aged all that well, but it’s still listenable. And the band only went up from here.

XL

VAMPIRE WEEKEND – MODERN VAMPIRES OF THE CITY–I feel like I’ve been talking about this album a lot recently, but I don’t really mind because it’s a fantastic album and one of my top favorites from the past decade. Vampire Weekend impressed me with Contra and then blew me away with Modern Vampires. I like to describe this album as taking the band’s sound to its logical, and sometimes absurd conclusion, bringing the trilogy of albums to a nice close. Songs on this album like “Diane Young” and “Everlasting Arms” inspire repeat listens even today, 7 years later. This would be the last album with Rostam Batmanglij as a member of the band, and the band would go on a bit of a hiatus, waiting 6 years before delivering the follow-up. Needless to say, they ended this period of their career on a high note.

Sean’s Favorites: 2011

Well, I certainly took my time getting to this one. Before you get too far, you might want to go back and refresh your memory of my 2010 list. But anyway, in 2011 I finished my second year of college and left that school for a couple reasons (let’s just say I didn’t transition well to the college lifestyle). The Marvel Cinematic Universe began to truly take root with the release of the first Thor and Captain America movies, NASA flew the last Space Shuttle mission, and Osama bin Laden was found and killed. The role music played in my life was pretty similar to 2010. I was still listening and reading as much as I could. I continued to discover new things and dig deeper into genres I previously hadn’t explored. Here are some albums that have endured for me from that time.

Capitol

BEASTIE BOYS – HOT SAUCE COMMITTEE PART TWO–4 years since their last album, 7 years since their last album with lyrics, and 13 years after their last great album (sorry to fans of To the 5 Boroughs), the Beastie Boys came back in the best possible way. They came back loud, funky, and ready to party. Hot Sauce fits nicely in the sound that the Beasties established through the ’90s with obscure samples, live instruments, synths, and punk rock attitude. Other Beastie Boy staples like instrumental funk tracks and the odd punk song are here too. This really was a return to form for the Beasties and it would become a fitting end to their discography. MCA sadly passed away from cancer in 2012 and Mike D and Ad-Rock announced that they would not make new music as the Beastie Boys a couple years later.

Nonesuch

THE BLACK KEYS – EL CAMINO–2010’s Brothers broke The Black Keys into the mainstream, then El Camino blasted them off the charts. The fuzzy guitars in the opening seconds of “Lonely Boy” tell you immediately that you’re not getting the slow-jamming R&B rock of Brothers. This is going to be a raucous, badass garage rock record, and you better buckle up. But the Keys haven’t forgotten their blues roots. “Gold on the Ceiling” and “Little Black Submarines” still have hints of their beloved delta blues. And later tracks like “Hell of a Season” and “Stop Stop” still pull from R&B. El Camino really is the total package and the crown jewel of the later half of The Black Keys catalog. They haven’t quite captured the same magic since.

Jagjaguwar

BON IVER – self titled–My ass was planted firmly on the indie folk bandwagon in the early 2010s. I had heard of Bon Iver, but my knowledge was limited to the song “Skinny Love,” I hadn’t heard the rest of the first album. When I saw that he had come out with a new album and it was getting very good reviews, I gave it a chance. I pressed play and was met with… not indie folk. I don’t really know how to categorize what I heard but it was beautiful and incredibly compelling. I put this album in my car stereo and it stayed there for months, despite not really being “driving music.” There are so many layers to uncover on this album. Even as I revisit it for this list, I’m hearing new things along with what made me love it in the first place.

Sensibility/Columbia

THE CIVIL WARS – BARTON HOLLOW–Sticking with the indie folk theme, The Civil Wars were one of many groups to emerge during the genre’s boom at the time. A collaboration between contemporary Christian singer Joy Williams and Americana singer-songwriter John Paul White, the band quickly proved they were not just another Mumford clone trying to capitalize on a trend. Their sound was much quieter (mostly), and their lyrics embodied feelings of longing and loss in ways that other songwriters only dream of. Barton Hollow itself plays almost like a timeline of a relationship with lighter songs leading to the explosive and raucous title track. The tone then turns to darker minor key songs and then ends with bittersweet goodbyes. Unfortunately we only got one other album from The Civil Wars before they called it quits, but they will be remembered as one of the better parts of the indie folk boom of the 2010s.

Samples & Seconds/Republic

GOTYE – MAKING MIRRORS–Yes, this is the “Somebody That I Used to Know” album, and that song is fantastic, but I think we can all agree that it was overplayed at the time. However, this album is so much more than that song. It’s track list has just one indie pop gem after another, some with hints of old school soul and R&B and even hints of Paul Simon. There is some art-pop weirdness here and there, but it’s way more accessible than it isn’t. I also feel like the fact that “Somebody…” became such a meme distracted from the strength of Gotye’s songwriting and his voice. You really should do yourself a favor and check out the rest of this album, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you find. The only downside is this is the last thing that Gotye has really released. But I keep my fingers crossed in hopes of someday getting another album.

Universal

OWL CITY – ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL–I feel like I’m going to lose a lot of music fan cred by admitting that I like Owl City. Say all you want about how he’s a more sanitized, ultra twee version of The Postal Service, but if you follow Adam Young, you find out that he has a serious DIY attitude and he just does what he wants, and I respect that. All Things Bright and Beautiful was his second major label release and, to me, the best example of the Owl City brand of synth pop. The instrumentals are super clean and precise with intricate percussion tracks. These back catchy melodies and lyrics that are full of metaphor and beautiful language (that is, admittedly a little cheesy, but way less than some found on Ocean Eyes). I could go on for awhile on this one. Maybe I’ll do a full write-up for it someday.

Pure Noise

THE STORY SO FAR – UNDER SOIL AND DIRT–By 2011, the emo and pop-punk bands of the late ’90s and ’00s had either disbanded or were making radio rock and bland power pop. It was enough to keep the fans happy, but the world needed a new class of pop-punk to bring the energy back. The new decade brought that with bands like Fireworks, Man Overboard, Real Friends, The Wonder Years, and Handguns. One that quickly rose to the top was The Story So Far who kept the catchy pop hooks but brought back the harder edge of punk with more raw vocals and energy that would permeate through the entire scene over the next few years. 2011 was a good year for pop-punk, and Under Soil and Dirt was one of its best releases.

Hassle

TURBOWOLF – self titled–In the last entry of this series, I mentioned that The Sword left me hungry for more riff-heavy hard rock and metal, but I had a hard time finding it. However, I was lucky enough to find Turbowolf while I was stumbling about in the dark. But Turbowolf is not your typical stoner or doom metal band. They do have sludgy guitars, an occult aesthetic, and riffs for days, but they also have the attitude and occasional speed of punk, the atmosphere of psychedelic, and the weird synths of horror punk. Mix this all together and you get the tasty, hard rocking riff smoothie of their self titled debut.

Vulf

VULFPECK – MIT PECK–Somewhere in Michigan, a few friends decided that they were going to start a band that tried to capture the vibe and sound of old live rhythm sections like The Wrecking Crew or the Muscle Shoals band. Little did they know that they were about to create the minimalist funk powerhouse of the modern era known as Vulfpeck. Mit Peck was the first collection of tracks they released into the world, containing songs like “Beastly” and the band’s signature track, “It Gets Funkier.” With this EP, Vulfpeck introduced us to their brand of retro-styled funk and soul, but more importantly it introduced us to the bass playing of Joe Dart. (We’re not worthy!)