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: 2010

Let’s see, where was I in 2010? I turned 20 years old, I finished my first year of college, and would start my second. I did that thing almost every guy does and stopped getting haircuts and I would continue to grow my hair out for the next couple years. A lot of good movies came out and a couple would become all-time favorites of mine (Inception and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World). My interest in music was at an all-time high. I was pretty well-informed on indie and alternative music with a little help from MTVU (or so I thought). I started taking hip-hop music more seriously. And I was pretty humbled when I started reading Pitchfork and for the first week, I didn’t recognize a single artist they reviewed. But I wasn’t deterred, I just went deeper. Below are not only some of my favorite albums from 2010, but some that were important to me and my musical growth.

Nonesuch

THE BLACK KEYS – BROTHERS–This was the album that turned The Black Keys into a sensation. Not to be that guy, but I was into the Keys before they were cool. I was introduced to them in 2006 with the Chulahoma EP, and they quickly became one of my favorites. I had a lot of mixed feelings about Brothers when it first came out. At first I wasn’t thrilled about the band trading their sludgy delta blues sound for a more R&B inspired rock. But at the same time, Brothers was a huge improvement over their previous two records. In true hipster form, I also lamented the attention that the band was getting, fearing this would lead to a more mainstream sound from them. But again, I was also happy that more people knew about one of my favorite bands. It took 8 years of hard work, but The Black Keys finally made it, and it still holds up as one of their best albums.

Ferret

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA – ZOMBIE EP–In 2009, The Devil Wears Prada released their third album, With Roots Above and Branches Below, and it was their best work yet. The production finally caught up with their style, and their songwriting was better than ever. Metalcore was at its peak popularity and Prada was among the best. How could they possibly do better? Then in 2010 they released the Zombie EP and completely blew Roots out of the water with five fucking tracks! The band ramped up the speed and brutality, and the theme was based on vocalist Mike Hranica’s interest in zombie books and movies. Weirdly enough, The Walking Dead would premiere two months after this EP released and everyone else in the world would hop on the bandwagon. The band was just firing on all cylinders with this one. It’s a bright spot in Prada’s discography and one of the few metalcore releases I can still listen to today.

Parlophone

GORILLAZ – PLASTIC BEACH–Prior to 2010, I didn’t pay much attention to Gorillaz. All I really knew about them was “Feel Good Inc.” and it wasn’t my style of music when it was popular. I don’t remember what caused me to give the band another look but when I did, I became almost obsessed with them. This newfound appreciation coincided almost exactly with the release of “Stylo,” the first single from Plastic Beach. Their third album would have them moving further from hip-hop and refining their wonky alt-pop. The result would be some of Gorillaz’ best tracks and best collaborations, with contributions from artists like Mos Def, Snoop Dogg, Lou Reed, Little Dragon, and Bobby Womack (who had a bit of a resurgence in popularity, thanks to this album). Unfortunately, it would end up being the last great Gorillaz album. But they’re still making music, so there’s always hope.

Bad Boy/Wondaland

JANELLE MONÁE – THE ARCHANDROID–The first time I knew anything about Janelle Monáe was when I saw a poster at Best Buy. I was instantly intrigued by this black woman wearing a tuxedo with a massive pompadour hairstyle. What on earth kind of music could this woman make? I don’t know what I expected, but I liked what I found. Her funk infused, alternative R&B and psychedelic soul were so much fun that it quickly became a favorite of mine. Which is weird considering I didn’t give pop and R&B music much attention at this time in my life. The genres were presented through a lens that helped me bridge the gap from my preferred music at the time, with rock and progressive influences coming through. And because I’m a nerd, the overarching sci-fi narrative of the album helped too.

Big Beat/Atlantic

SKRILLEX – SCARY MONSTERS AND NICE SPRITES–This entry has probably awakened some dark memories for some readers. Memories of hard drops, wobble bass, and questionable fashion choices. But regardless of how immature some of those trends seem now, they were a key milestone on the trajectory of EDM in popular culture. And it all starts right here with this EP. Scary Monsters was the EP and the song that made brostep a phenomenon. Whether you loved him or hated him, you knew about Skrillex. And if you listen to this EP beyond the title track, it proved back then that he wasn’t just a one trick pony. He had some range, and his work since proves that he still does. He hasn’t really matched the quality of this EP since, but the mark it left has given him producer credits throughout the decade and likely well into the future.

Mom+Pop/NEET

SLEIGH BELLS – TREATS–The “Loudness war” is something that has plagued music production for the past 30 years, and it can be the difference between a good album and a bad one. But there’s something to be said for using that digital compression as an aesthetic choice. From the very first seconds of Treats, you are bombarded with guitars, synths, and drums that are bricked out so hard that everything clips. Apart from bass boost memes, this is perhaps the only time that these levels of compression 100% serve the songs. It’s just one piece of Sleigh Bells’ in-your-face approach to noise pop (or their self-described “shred pop”). I had never heard anything like it before this album, and nothing has quite captured this level of noise and energy for me since.

Kemado

THE SWORD – WARP RIDERS–I know that within the spheres of stoner rock and doom metal, this album is not held in very high regard. But, I wouldn’t know that if it wasn’t for this album. I don’t even remember where I first saw the album artwork, but the retro typeface and Roger Dean-esque sci-fi watercolors compelled me to listen to this album. Through it I was introduced to retro styled traditional metal and left hungry for more. Finding other artists like this proved difficult at the time, but I just didn’t know where to look. I finally did learn a few years later, and even though I’ve found “better” examples of what The Sword were trying to do on this album, the riffs on Warp Riders still hold a special place for me a decade later.

XL Recordings

VAMPIRE WEEKEND – CONTRA–This album was my introduction to Vampire Weekend and contains perhaps my favorite song of theirs (“Giving Up The Gun” is the song by which all other Vampire Weekend tracks are judged, and it has one of the best music videos). The bright and clean sound was a perfect break in the winter clouds when the album came out. When compared to the band’s debut, Contra took the formula they set for themselves and refined it. Rough edges were polished and influences were mined even deeper, creating a major improvement stylistically and compositionally. This really was a great work of indie rock that was only topped by their third album that took this stylistic trajectory to its logical, almost absurd conclusion.

Honorable Mentions of 2019

Before we get into my top favorites of the year, I’d like to mention some albums that are good in their own ways but didn’t quite make the cut. These are albums that represent some kind of special achievement, a better-than-expected comeback, or albums that impressed me in one way but weren’t really exceptional for one reason or another. Not much else to say beyond that, so on to the musics!

Equal Vision

AS CITIES BURN – SCREAM THROUGH THE WALLS–As Cities Burn finally give their fans the album they’ve been waiting 14 years for! No, I didn’t count wrong. Not only is this their first release in 10 years, but it’s the first since their 2005 debut to feature original vocalist TJ Bonnette. This reunion also brings harsh vocals back into the mix, but this isn’t just an attempt to recreate Son, I Loved You at Your Darkest. This album pulls inspiration from their entire catalog. The frantic, mathy hardcore of 2005 is traded for competent post-hardcore with mature, but distinctly As Cities Burn songwriting. Watch my full review here.

RCA

BACKSTREET BOYS – DNA–On their first album in six years, the Backstreet Boys actually try to bring their sound up to current trends. The result is better than you’d probably expect. I’m not saying it’s great, because there are some tracks here that sound incredibly dated and others that just plain aren’t that good. But a Backstreet Boys album in 2019 could have been a lot worse than this. Part of the reason I think it went this well is the group is talented enough vocally to apply themselves in a lot of different situations. It’s one of the reasons they’re one of the few bands from their era still releasing music as a group.

Darkroom/Interscope

BILLIE EILISH – WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?–Billie Eilish has been getting a ton of hype this year and it will probably upset some people that this album is an honorable mention and not on my final year-end list. And look, I pretty much agree that she is a very exciting and promising voice for the future of pop music, especially considering she’s only 17. I think she has the potential to put out some really fantastic albums, but this just isn’t doing it for me like it is for other people. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic debut for a young artist, but I think the best is yet to come from Billie Eilish. Watch my full review here.

Real World

THE GLOAMING – 3–The award for the prettiest album I’ve heard this year should probably go to this one. The Gloaming is an Irish folk band that tries to modernize the music by incorporating elements of contemporary classical, post-rock, and minimalism. The results aren’t necessarily ambient, but very beautiful and pensive tracks with sparse arrangements. Another carryover from post-rock is long songs with many on this album being over seven minutes, but none of them overstay their welcome. It’s an excellent album for both active listening and just playing in the background.

Decca

JEFF GOLDBLUM & THE MILDRED SNITZER ORCHESTRA – I SHOULDN’T BE TELLING YOU THIS–Jeff Goldblum continues his venture into the realm of jazz musicians with his second album, this one being a proper studio album. His backing band returns and the album features several guest vocalists, including Miley Cyrus, Sharon Van Etten, and Fiona Apple. Goldblum only offers his own voice to one track, deferring to his talented guests for most others. In a similar fashion, his piano playing is beyond competent, but he’s content to sit back in the mix and let other members of his band take the solos. There are a few clever mashups of pop lyrics with jazz instrumentals. The only thing missing is the banter with the audience and the guests like we got on The Capitol Studios Sessions. Read my full review here.

Thrill Jockey

MATMOS – PLASTIC ANNIVERSARY–Matmos, a group famous for building their songs from samples of everyday objects, turns their focus to plastic. Creating an entire album from plastic items is not only a creative challenge but an environmental message. At first, that might make this sound like a novelty record with a heavy-handed agenda, but the result is some truly impressive electronic music. Matmos effectively try their hand at various musical styles including IDM, industrial, and even Samba, all using items like vinyl records, silicone implants, billiard balls, and a riot shield. It’s very impressive for a group to continue challenging themselves like this so deep into their career and still turn out really compelling music. Watch my full review here.

Nuclear Blast

POSSESSED – REVELATIONS OF OBLIVION–And the winner of the band that waited the longest time between releases goes to the OG death metal band Possessed who put out Revelations of Oblivion thirty-two years after their last release of new material. Now, the only original member is vocalist Jeff Becerra (I know, I’m disappointed Larry LaLonde didn’t come back too), but he really does keep the original spirit of Possessed (hehe, spirit) alive in this new iteration. Usually, when a band comes back after an extended break the results leave a bit to be desired, but Revelations doesn’t suck, which is quite the accomplishment.

NPG/Warner Bros.

PRINCE – ORIGINALS–This is a collection of demos of songs that Prince wrote for other artists. If I’m perfectly honest, I wasn’t too familiar with many of these songs. And some of the ones I was familiar with, I didn’t know Prince wrote them (Manic Monday? Really?!!?). Even though these are demos, they are fully fleshed out performances of these songs, sometimes rivaling proper studio releases. Truly a testament to Prince’s perfectionism. I know you’re wondering, and yes, “Nothing Compares 2 U” is on here, and it’s just as amazing as you’re imagining. It’s just so interesting to hear how these songs were originally envisioned by their writer.

Starbomb

STARBOMB – THE TRYFORCE–Starbomb is a collaboration between comedy band Ninja Sex Party and YouTube gamer/artist Arin Hanson (a.k.a. Egoraptor). The collaboration is really not too surprising given that Danny from NSP is Arin’s co-host on the YouTube gaming channel Game Grumps. Starbomb’s sound takes the ’80s synth inspired sound of NSP and puts rapped lyrics about video games over it. The Tryforce is the group’s third (and possibly final) album and their best so far. The production has gotten better and so has their songwriting, which has transitioned from fitting as many dirty jokes as possible into a song to clever lyrics and wordplay. Comedy music is pretty niche already, making it all about video games narrows the demographic even more. But if you’re into either of those, you don’t want to miss this.

Spring Snow/Columbia

VAMPIRE WEEKEND – FATHER OF THE BRIDE–Six years after capping off a fantastic trilogy of albums with Modern Vampires of the City, Vampire Weekend return with their fourth album. Representing a bit of a stylistic shift for the band, the album pulls inspiration from genres like Americana and jam bands like Phish, but it still has a sound that is very distinctly Vampire Weekend. With only a couple exceptions, the compositions on this album are a bit more relaxed, but their lyrics are still just as dense as they’ve ever been. The album is a bit long and as such, there is some filler, but there are some real gems on here. “Harmony Hall” in particular is one of my favorite singles of the year. Watch my full review here.

Top Albums of 2019 So Far…

Here is one of the last videos I did for the YouTube channel. In it I go over 15 of my favorite albums of the year so far. Below the video will be a list of the albums as well as their links on Spotify. If you want to know why they were my favorites, you’ll have to watch the video.

Listen to the albums mentioned in this video:

BRUCE HORNSBY – ABSOLUTE ZERO: https://spoti.fi/30b29wq

DREAM THEATER – DISTANCE OVER TIME: https://spoti.fi/2KWD5p4

FEVER 333 – STRENGTH IN NUMB333RS: https://spoti.fi/2XmiE6V

MALIBU KEN – self titled: https://spoti.fi/2KVGmFh

PALADIN – ASCENSION: https://spoti.fi/2KXEs7g

SWMRS – BERKELEY’S ON FIRE: https://spoti.fi/2Xohg8T

THE JAPANESE HOUSE – GOOD AT FALLING: https://spoti.fi/2Xq8Ttb

VAMPIRE WEEKEND – FATHER OF THE BRIDE: https://spoti.fi/2JoWSu9

AM TAXI – SHIVER BY ME: https://spoti.fi/2YtEmY9

FREE THROW – WHAT’S PAST IS PROLOGUE: https://spoti.fi/2NLoT4T

FUMING MOUTH – THE GRAND DESCENT: https://spoti.fi/3278VFd

HAYES CARLL – WHAT IT IS: https://spoti.fi/2xzFCNf

JOEL ROSS – KINGMAKER: https://spoti.fi/2RRL7jQ

LITTLE SIMZ – GREY AREA: https://spoti.fi/2XNkdPx

MOLLY TUTTLE – WHEN YOU’RE READY: https://spoti.fi/2xzFu0d

Feel free to tell me what your favorites are from this year so far in the comments. You can also tell me what you think of my picks and tell my why I’m an idiot and completely wrong as well.