The Artists Pick the Best of 2013, Part 1

[30 December 2013]

By PopMatters Staff

To round out PopMatters’ coverage of the best music of 2013, we hand things over to the artists and give them a turn at playing critic. The lists and thoughts that follow reveal some of the artists that other artists revere the most, as well as some unsung pros’ pros and heretofore unknown up-and-comers worth your time and attention, now and in the future.

 
A-1

Musical highlights of 2013
1. Touring Canada with Zion I: I got to play packed shows every night, the people were awesome, the women were beautiful, I learned some shit about hockey, and I soaked up nothing but game from the dudes in the Zion I crew about the tour life, and people bought my CDs like they were going out of style—what more could you ask for? Those cats are true vets and true MASTERS of ceremony when it comes to this hip hop, so it was a blessing to ride out with them and an experience I’ll never forget.

2. Drake, Nothing Was the Same: Lotta folks ain’t gonna like this (even I wouldn’t admit it at first) but hey…if you’re a music fan, you can’t deny the sophistication of this album. The production is majestic back to front, Drake’s raps are dope, and he’s saying a lot of real shit. There’s one or two kinda slow songs, but even those work well in the context of the album. This project is good to play in a lot of different settings, though I’m not sure you could say the same for this next one.

3. Kanye West, Yeezus: Sure, he’s cocky as hell on it, but that’s just the evolution of Kanye – plus, this tape makes you feel like a boss when you listen to it. My only complaint is that I can never find an appropriate time to listen to this album. Not great when you have people over, nor end-of-the-night winding down, nor really to listen to by yourself when you’re just chilling. I just liked it for some reason. I don’t know.

4. All of Kaytranada’s remixes in 2013: Especially the dance-y ones. I’d like to personally thank this dude for my rippling washboard abs and my 42-inch biceps. If it wasn’t for headphones blasting Kaytra’s dance remixes in my ears at the gym, I would have no motivation to work out ever. Dude just has a great ability to breathe new (usually very funky) life into old songs, but there is one other thing I bump to help me throw those kettle bells through the ceiling, which happens to be…

5. Everything Mr. Carmack put on his Soundcloud page this year: This guy is just plain ridiculous. As soon as you try and box his production into a category, he comes out with some track that’s completely the opposite of whatever you were expecting and it’s usually incredible. He can do every sub-genre of electronic production as good, if not better than, the premier guys in each of those niches and half the time he’s not even trying. His collabs with other producers are always amazing as well, which leads me to…

6. The fact that Mikos Da Gawd is finally getting recognition for his talent and the fact that that’s my down-ass homie: This dude been producing beastly tracks for forever and has been under the radar for years. Turns out all he had to do was establish his Soundcloud page, and voila. He’s playing for sold-out crowds throughout the Bay Area and getting offers from popular indie labels to release projects. Best part is that that’s my dawg foreal. He’s my tour DJ and my good friend and has always supported me by DJ’ing my shows. Now I get to support him by emceeing at his shows. Gotta love when the dopeness comes full circle!

7. Having our hometown root for us, and realizing that they’re convinced we’re going to win: Whether it’s the local music scene or just walking down the street, people in the Bay are stopping me and my folks to tell us that they believe in what we stand for and that they have faith in our success. They’re supporting our music, but moreso our ideas and our message, and they’re counting on us to represent the area in a positive light and make it famous for something other than cable cars and tech companies. They love us and we love them, and with that I’m convinced nothing can stop us from taking our art as far as we decide to take it.

Here’s to the blessing of 2013 and to a happy new year! Peace to you and yours! It’s THURL, baby!

San Francisco rapper A-1 (Adam Traore) released The Thurl Tape in 2012 and more recently collaborated with Ryan Hemsworth on a remix of Lana Del Rey’s “Summertime Sadness”.

 
All Tiny Creatures

Tom Wincek (multi-instrumentalist; also a member of Volcano Choir)
Dawn of Midi, Dysnomia: These guys went from being a free improv group to one that explores rhythms and the textures of their instruments in minute and expert detail. They use traditional jazz-combo instrumentation (piano, stand-up bass, drums), and make it sound like anything but. Polyrhythmic, minimalist, it’s a great crossover between “serious” new-music and more accessible experimental sounds.

Classixx, Hanging Gardens: Pure, unadulterated fun; it made for the perfect summer soundtrack. However, for music that’s as instantly gratifying as it is, it’s also very meticulous and nuanced, which is probably why it holds up so well upon repeat listens.

Sylvan Esso, Play it Right / Hey Mami (and their unreleased LP): These guys are friends and they opened up for Volcano Choir when we toured the east coast, but they are also making some of the best electronic pop music right now. Amelia has an amazing voice, and Nick compliments it perfectly with his playful and multifaceted compositions. They only have a two-song record out right now, but we’ve gotten a sneak preview of their full-length album, and it’s going to blow some minds.

TM404, Electronic Explorations 247: Recorded live by Andreas Tilliander at a music festival, each track is made up of a different combination of the classic Roland boxes (TB303, MC202, TR606, TR808) heard thousands of times on acid/techno records. But through both the sheer number of machines he uses (one track uses four 303’s and two 606’s) and by concentrating on overlapping polyrhythms and textures, he manages to create something entirely new sounding. In that way, I suppose it’s a bit like the Dawn of Midi album, even though the end result sounds completely different.

Andrew Fitzpatrick (guitarist)
Autechre, Exai: Two hours of insane music that generously rewards repeat listenings.

Helado Negro, Invisible Life: Roberto makes vibrant and beautiful records that sound really good, and Invisible Life is yet another one of those records. I had the honor and pleasure of seeing him perform some of these songs with Jason Ajemian on bass, while surrounded by a bunch of my friends in Austin, TX earlier this year. I’ll treasure that memory for a while.

Rashad Becker, Traditional Music of Notional Species, Vol. I: Rashad is perhaps best known as an extremely prolific mastering engineer, but Traditional Music is his first statement as a musician. Endlessly compelling synthesizer music.

Tar Pet, Deaf Drawing Blind Listening: Taralie Peterson is a fellow Madisonian, as well as one half of the amazing Spires That in the Sunset Rise. Her music comes from another time and place.

Wisconsin- based indie electropop quartet All Tiny Creatures released its second full-length Dark Clock via Hometapes in 2013; ATC founder Thomas Wincek is also a member of Volcano Choir.

 
Alpha & Omega’s Luis Hernandez

Albums:
1. Tegan and Sara, Heartthrob
2. Twitching Tongues, In Love There Is No Law
3. Down to Nothing, Life on the James
4. Haim, Days Are Gone
5. King Nine, Scared to Death

Movies:
1. Prisoners
2. The Conjuring
3. The Iceman
4. West of Memphis
5. The Place Beyond the Pines

Alpha & Omega released No Rest, No Peace on Bridge Nine in 2013.

 
Anne

● Drake, Nothing Was the Same
● Koreless , Yugen
● Oneohtrix Point Never, R Plus Seven
● Haim, Days Are Gone
● Chance the Rapper, Acid Rap
● Chelsea Wolfe, Pain Is Beauty
● Cloakroom, Infinity
● Industrial Park, Cold White
● Modern Life Is War, Fever Hunting
● The National, Trouble Will Find Me

Portland-based electro act Anne releases its debut album Pulling Chain (Run for Cover) on 4 March 2014.

 
Jay Arner

I spent most of 2013 developing an eye twitch while sending tour-booking emails and subsequently driving around in a weird parent-SUV quasi-van thing, mostly listening to Nirvana and Sparks. But somehow, I’m lucky enough to have the most talented friends in the world (IN THE WORLD!!!), so I’m around good new music all the time.

● Tough Age, Tough Age
● The Ketamines, You Can’t Serve Two Masters
● Weed, Deserve
● Pender Street Steppers, Life in the Zone
● Monomyth, King, Does This Not Please You? (Behold the Power)
● New Vaders, Dynamic Traxx Vol. 1
● Movieland, Blows Up
● Cult Babies, Cult Babies (I played drums on this but who cares?)

I also liked the songs “Weight” by Mikal Cronin and “Monomania” by Deerhunter, but I’m not friends with those guys.

Vancouver multi-instrumentalist Jay Arner put out a self-titled album on Mint in June 2013.

 
Audacity’s Thomas Alvarez

● White Night, Prophets of Templum CDXX
● Pissed Jeans, Honeys
● Nü Sensae, Sundowning
● Treasure Fleet, Future Ways
● White Fang, High Expectations
● Toys That Kill, Fambly 42
● Mean Jeans, On Mars
● Screaming Females, Ugly
● The Memories, Love Is the Law

Fullerton, CA punk-pop outfit Audacity released Butter Knife via Suicide Squeeze in 2013.

 
Backtrack’s Ricky Singh

Top five hardcore LPs of 2013:
1. Take Offense, United States of Mind
2. Down to Nothing, Life on the James
3. Terror, Live by the Code
4. King Nine, Scared to Death
5. Incendiary, Cost of Living
Honorable Mentions: Power Trip, Manifest Decimation; The Rival Mob, Mob Justice

Top five most anticipated hardcore releases of 2014:
1. Suburban Scum LP
2. The Extermination 2 Compilation
3. Heavy Chains EP
4. No One Rules EP
5. Piece By Piece LP

Hardcore combo Backtrack will be coming out with a new LP, Lost in Life (Bridge Nine), on 14 January 2014.

J. Bannon, Black Hearted Brother, and more

 
J. Bannon (Converge, founder of Deathwish, Inc.)

Best of 2013, in no particular order:
● Depeche Mode Delta Machine
● Zola Jesus Versions
● ASG, Blood Drive
● Mazzy Star, Seasons of Your Day
● Nails, Abandon All Life
● Magic Circle, Magic Circle
● Carcass, Surgical Steel
● Satyricon, Satyricon
● Enforcer, Death by Fire
● Red Hare, Nites of Midnight
● Blast!, Blood
● Friends and loved ones
● “Diamonds and Rust”
● All things Deathwish

J. Bannon is the vocalist of Converge and the founder of the label Deathwish, Inc., among many other roles.

 
Jake Bellows

1. Alessi’s Ark, The Still Life
2. Tim Kasher, Adult Film
3. Smokey Robinson, Being with You
4. Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions
5. I saw a tree grow out of a crack in a rock.
6. Human kindness
7. Incredible sunset
8. Beautiful moon
9. Kim Deal, “Are You Mine?”
10. My sweet dog, Dragon

Former Neva Dinova leader Jake Bellows released his debut solo album, New Ocean, in 2013 on Saddle Creek.

 
The Black and White Years’ Landon Thompson

Been a great year for upbeat, Gloria Estefan-inspired tracks and ‘60s inspired West Coast vibes. Here are some of those and others.

● St. Lucia, “Elevate”
● Haim, “Falling”
● Haerts, “Wings”
● Jagwar Ma, “Come and Save Me”
● Pure Bathing Culture, “Pendulum”
● Vampire Weekend, “Hannah Hunt”
● White Blush, “Jolene”
● Stephen Steinbrink, “Animate Dust”
● Foxygen, “San Francisco”
● Rhye, “Open”
● Foals, “Inhaler”

The Black and White Years will be releasing their new album Strange Figurines on Modern Outsider on 21 January 2014.

 
Black Hearted Brother

M.I.A., Matangi: Finally back and making some great noises and pushing forward once again…really inventive and inspiring.

Boards of Canada, Tomorrow’s Harvest: Quite predictable for me to love this, but when it’s great it just is…and you just have to go with the flow. Back to doing what they do best, and it shows.

The Flaming Lips, The Terror: They just keep getting better and better…where next?

Young Husband, Dromes: A great British psychedelic band who remind me of the Jesus & Mary Chain or something like that.

Foxygen, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic: Not nearly as good as their debut but still playful and worth getting a copy.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra, ii: The unique sounding Unknown Mortal Orchestra who pick up from where ‘i” left off with maybe even stronger songs.

The Mantles, Long Enough to Leave: A proper indie-pop album which is very concise—honed like an indie six-pack.

Black Hearted Brother, consisting of Slowdive’s Neil Halstead, Seefeel’s Mark Van Hoen, and Opulent Oog’s Nick Holton, released its first album Stars Are Our Home on Slumberland in 2013.

 
Bloody Knives

Preston Maddox (vocals, bass):
1. Dreamcrusher, Suicide Deluxe
2. The History Of Colour TV, Emerald Cures Chic Ills
3. My Bloody Valentine, m b v
4. Riff Raff, Neon Icon
5. New Canyons, Everyone Is Dark
6. R. Kelly, Black Panties
7. SPC ECO, Sirens and Satellites

Jake McCown (drums):
1. Kanye West, Yeezus
2. Dreamcrusher, Suicide Deluxe
3. Tyler, the Creator, Wolf
4. New Canyons, Everything Is Dark
5. My Bloody Valentine, m b v

Kim Calderon (samples)
1. KVB, Immaterial Visions
2. La Femme, Psycho Tropical Berlin
3. Tropic of Cancer, Restless Idylls
4. Still Corners, Strange Pleasures
5. Soft Metals, Lenses
6 Wolf Eyes, No Answer: Lower Floors
7. Jenny Hval, Innocence Is Kinky
8. Steel Hook Prostheses, The Empirics Guild
9. Dead Leaf Echo, Thought & Language
10. Austra, Olympia

Austin noise-rockers Bloody Knives released the Death EP on Saint Marie in June 2013.

 
Blouse

● Deerhunter, Monomania
● Julianna Barwick, Nepenthe
● Parquet Courts, Light Up Gold
● Cosmic Machine, Various Artists
● Oneohtrix Point Never, R Plus Seven
● Jacco Gardner, Cabinet of Curiosities
● Kurt Vile, Walking on a Pretty Daze
● David Bowie, The Next Day
● No Joy, Wait to Pleasure
● Earl Sweatshirt, Doris
● The Courtneys, The Courtneys

Portland dream-pop act Blouse released Imperium on Captured Tracks in September 2013.

 
Boysetsfire’s Nathan Gray

● I Am Heresy, Thy Will
● Mogwai, Rave Tapes
● Behemoth, The Satanist
● Current 93, I Am the Last of All the Field That Fell: A Channel
● Imogen Heap, Sparks

Post-hardcore mainstays Boysetsfire released While a Nation Sleeps (Bridge Nine) in June 2013.

 
The Brother Kite

Pat Boutwell:
Neko Case, The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You: It has everything I like—really catchy songs, meaningful lyrics, but not self-conciously so; and at times, it is a wicked bummer. If you don’t decide to re-examine your life after listening to “Calling Cards”, then I am seriously worried for you, friend. One for the somber, newly autumn weather record rotation.

My Bloody Valentine, m b v: I had given up hope that anything was going to be heard from them again, and just like that, it was available to the masses. I am amazed that it stands up to the years of expectation. Loveless it isn’t, nor does it need to be. It takes the sonic conceptuality of their early 1990s output and makes it much more organic without sparing us all the woozy fucked-uppery that made us love them in the first place.

Jon Downs:
Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City: This band is constantly doing things that should sound terrible (heavily pitch shifted vocals, punk songs without guitars, etc), but it’s almost always great. That’s inspiring.

Spring Breakers Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: I didn’t hear a lot of records from 2013, so I’ll use this opportunity to crow bar in a mention for a movie I loved. Everything about the movie is terrific, including the music. Get in on the ground floor and see this if you haven’t. It will be ripped off for many years to come…so hook your cart to the original and rub it in your hipster friends faces.

Mark Howard:
The Stepkids, Troubadour: The Stepkids follow up their excellent self-titled debut with an equally excellent album of psych-soul-jazz-funk jams. Recommended listening outside on an extra-sunny day. For bonus points, check out their covers of “Get Lucky” and “Suit & Tie” on YouTube!

Candy Claws, Ceres & Calypso in the Deep Time Forever: I had never heard of this band when I came across this album randomly this year, and it’s awesome. It is dense and hypnotic, and unlike anything I’ve heard in awhile. It is apparently a concept album set in the Mesozoic Era, but the dream-like music has been enough to warrant repeated listens without even diving into the story.

Andrea Downs:
The song that was stuck in my head most during 2013 (besides all of the ridiculous songs we sing to our cat, Duncan) was “The Wire”, by Haim. It has such a great, earnestly ‘80s feel, and it always reminds me of singing into hairbrushes and curling irons with my sisters when we were kids.

One of my other favorite songs of the year was “Dropla” by Youth Lagoon. His debut album was in my top ten a few years back, so I was thrilled to hear what he’d do next. I love the sincerity, and vulnerability of his voice. Simply interesting and creative stuff.

Matt Rozzero:
Julianna Barwick, Nepenthe: Ambient music (in an Eno sense) created from layered, almost entirely wordless vocals. The album can actually make you feel weightless. Truly gorgeous music made from a pretty simple concept.

Mikal Cronin, MCII: Classic pop songwriting presented through a garage rock prism. The guitars are crunchy, but the album has a warmness about it that reminds me of Elliott Smith. I really loved Mikal’s first LP, but this one has a soulfulness about it that really grabs you.

In 2013, Rhode Island power-pop band the Brother Kite came out with its fourth album in 2013, Model Rocket (Clairerecords), which premiered on PopMatters.

Zachary Cale, the Caribbean, and more

 
Zachary Cale

Cass McCombs, Big Wheel and Others: Probably my favorite of the year. You’d think with a double LP that it would be hard to get through this sucker in one listen, but not with Cass—the guy is a master. There’s sort of a “let’s throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” vibe to it, but despite some eclectic styles and sequence choices, it all make sense together. I think it contains some of his finest songs to date. There’s some odd ducks for sure, but it wouldn’t be a Cass record without them.

Plates of Cake, Teenage Evil: This has gotta be one of the most underrated records of 2013. Plates of Cake play rock ‘n’ roll that’s punchy, clever, lyrically surreal, and super fun. Front man Jonathan Byerley’s got major songwriting chops, like a mix between Robert Pollard and Robyn Hitchcock, and he’s got a band that knows its rock/pop history, all the way from the Kinks to Pavement. They’ve gone on record saying that this is their “rock” album, which is true, but most rock bands aren’t as inventive as these guys. They’re definitely one of NYC’s best-kept secrets.

Express Rising, Express Rising: Not sure what to say about this one. I bought it on a whim after reading a review on Tiny Mix Tapes. Not much is known about the composer. The music is intriguing though, super dreamy soundtrack recordings using guitars, synthesizers, and canned drum tracks. The album breaks a lot of rules, but the sound world ER creates is easy to get lost in. Its production values are really hard to place, feel like it could’ve been recorded anywhere between 1975 and now. There’s some serious Lynchian moods found here, best heard in the wee hours.

Hiss Golden Messenger, Haw: Americana done right. Michael Taylor is one of my favorite songwriters at the moment. His records are crafted lovingly and it shows. The songs themselves tell truths about everyday life, be it family, work, love, religion, or hardship; they’re melancholy and hopeful in the same breath, earnest but mysterious, and delivered by a dude that can really sing. On top of that he works with some talented players, all of whom genuinely get what best serves a song.

Deerhunter, Monomania: In my humble opinion, this band has been ruling the indie rock world for the better half of a decade (not that I’d describe them as indie rock), and they haven’t shown any signs of slowing down. Monomania plays like one long sustained scream from a caged animal. To make a “rock ‘n’ roll” record might not be anything new under the sun, but I’m hard put to find anything that came out this year that sounds this much alive. Put it on when you need something strong, it’ll wake you the f*ck up.

Steve Gunn, Time Off: Steve’s been working hard this year with all sorts of records gracing his name, but I have to say that this one takes the cake. It’s one the best sounding guitar records I’ve heard all year. He incorporates raga-like structures with this dusty tone that seems to nod to both Robbie Basho and Ry Cooder in equal measure. His playing is virtuosic, but it also has a lot of heft and bite to it. It’s definitely his most melodic to date and on top of that he rocks it full band style.

Crystal Stilts, Nature Noir: I might be biased as I just got off a tour with these guys and heard the songs on a nightly basis (and even played some guitar with them), but this record really shines. It’s probably their most mellow outing, focusing more on the song craft rather than just atmospherics. It might not be as grand a statement as their last LP In Love with Oblivion, but it’s definitely their most romantic and lush. Closer in sound to the Paisley Underground bands than the post punk and garage references they get dogged with.

Kelley Stoltz, Double Exposure: I’m a little late to the party with this guy, he’s been releasing records for a good 15 years. Loosely associated with the garage pop bands that have come out of the Bay Area in recent years, namely the Fresh & Onlys and Thee Oh Sees, KS is one of those consistently great rock/pop songwriters that’s managed to escape widespread attention. He’s sort of a rock ‘n’ roll chameleon, but one that really knows what he’s doing. This new LP was recorded entirely himself, every instrument, in his garage and it’s one of the catchiest batch of songs I’ve heard in a while.

Various Artists, Six Feet Under: When I was on tour this past summer I stayed in Portland, OR for a weekend. My good friend works at the restaurant next door to Mississippi Records, one of the greatest stores and labels in the country. He turned me onto this compilation of obscure pre-rock ‘n’ roll hillbilly artists. It blew my freaking mind! I’m a sucker for wild roots records that predate Elvis Presley and this definitely fit the bill. Some of these cuts are performed by teenage bands, some by seasoned performers. Every song on here is a gem. Worth it for the version of “Still as the Night” alone.

Pure X, Crawling Up the Stairs: I’m new to this band, but I’m really digging this record as well as their first one. It’s one of the most emotionally ragged records I’ve heard in awhile. They have this sort of gloomy undertone to everything they do—think the Church or Talk Talk—but with a real sense of classic songcraft that borders on rootsy at times (they’ve covered Willie Nelson, and hail from Austin, TX.). I really like how the singer just goes for it, the ache in his voice adds a lot of tension to the music. Haunting stuff.

Other records I need to spend more time with, but am digging…
● Wooden Wand, Blood Oaths of the New Blues
● Circuit des Yeux, Overdue
● Case Studies, This Is Another Life
● Chris Forsyth, Solar Motel
● Fiver, Lost the Plot
● Psychic Lines, Everything Keeps Getting Brighter
● Date Palms, The Dusted Sessions
● William Tyler, Impossible Truth

Zachary Cale released The Blue Rider (All Hands Electric) this year, which placed #1 on our overlooked albums of 2013 list.

 
Capsula

1. David Bowie, The Next Day
2. Lee Ranaldo, Last Night on Earth
3. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Push the Sky Away
4. Queens of the Stone Age, ...Like Clockwork
5. The Flaming Lips, The Terror

In 2013, Bilbao’s Capsula put out the full-length Solar Secrets (Krian Music Group), which premiered on PopMatters.

 
The Caribbean

The Caribbean, whose last album Discontinued Perfume topped PopMatters’ Best Indie-Pop of 2011 list, is set to release a new album, Moon Sickness, on 4 February 2014, via Hometapes.

 
Celestial Shore’s Sam Owens

1. Leapling, Losing Face: Gorgeous songwriting, effortless vocals, and thoughtful sounds. I love these guys.

2. Zula, This, Hopeful: This is one of the best sounding records I’ve heard in a while. I believe they recorded to tape. Play it on a hi-fi system, your car, or in headphones. Fuck a Macbook.

3. Luke Temple, Good Mood Fool: Perfect for road trips or head trips. Take a ride in someone’s Buick, or sit on a nice, worn-in sofa. Luke’s voice is beautiful. This record is LUSH.

4. Guerilla Toss, Gay Disco: I’ve been seeing this band for a few years now, and every so often we’ll play a show together. It is future music that will pull your brain out of your ears and stuff it back in through your nose or another place that is not as nice. I thought it would be impossible to make a record that’s as good as their live show, but they did. Listen to it and all hail Guerilla Toss.

5. Cassandra Jenkins, EP: I listened to this record on a solo drive down to North Carolina. It was midnight and the moon was high and the trees were casting spooky shadows on the road. There were lightning bugs and night birds. There was a lightning storm in the distance.

6) .michael., Home Is Where You Hang Your Heart Is: I routinely come back to this record to remind myself of everything that is beautiful about music.

7) Speedy Ortiz, Major Arcana: Sadie is a badass. :)

In September 2013, Brooklyn art-rockers Celestial Shore came out with their debut album 10x (Hometapes/Local Singles).

 
Challenger’s John Ross

● Holly Hunt, Year One
● Jesu, Everyday I Get Closer to the Light from Which I Came
● Death Grips, Government Plates
● Sigur Rós, Kveikur
● Eluvium, Nightmare Ending
● Panama Wedding, All of the People
● Small Black, Limits of Desire

NYC electronic duo Challenger is planning to release its sophomore full-length, Back to Bellevue, in 2014.

 
Chaos Chaos

2013: There are so many great, powerful females dominating the music industry right now so I’m putting some of them on the list. These artists have influenced my year, inspiring my songwriting and performing, and injecting an energy into me. So here are some songs that shaped and defined my 2013!

● Lorde, “A World Alone”
● Savages, “Marshal Dear”
● Miley Cyrus, “Wrecking Ball”
● Au Revoir Simone, “Somebody Who”
● M.I.A., “Bad Girls”
● Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, “Round and Round”
● La Sera, “A Love That’s Gone”
● Jay-Z, “Holy Grail”
● San Cisco, “Wild Things”
● Kurt Vile, “Girl Called Alex”
● Haim, “Forever”

Chaos Chaos is a Brooklyn-based duo made up of sisters Asy and Chloe Saavedra.

Todd Clouser, the Del-Lords, and more

 
Todd Clouser

1. John Zorn 60th Birthday Concerts: All over the world, a composer and groups of musicians committing in a way that can inspire generations of artists to come.

2. Craig Taborn, Chants: Craig Taborn’s depth is brave in eclipsing his virtuosity. Piano of tomorrow, yesterday, now.

3. Blind Boys of Alabama, I’ll Find A Way: Recorded a couple hours from Minneapolis, my friend JT Bates, who drums on it, hipped me to the record and a bit about how the band communicates and creates. All love. We need this music now.

4. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Push the Sky Away: “The tree don’t know what the little bird brings / We go down with the dew in the morning.” Wood pianos and howling flutes, somber voice.

5. Melt-Banana, Fetch: They do what no one else does and it’s vicious.

Todd Clouser released two albums in 2013, Naked Beat (Royal Potato Family) with A Love Electric in February as well as A Man with No Country (Amulet) in September 2013.

 
The Colleens

Har Mar Superstar, Bye Bye 17: Sean Tillman is the Ron Jeremy of R&B and this album has all the soul and vibe you’d expect with a distinction that cool. Bye Bye 17 will have you jiggling and jiving in your seat.

Jonathan Wilson, Fanfare: He’s one of our favorite musicians and producers. Everything he works on has killer mojo and his new album is no different. Each song takes you to a new musical setting. Wilson represents an old school aesthetic that we’re pretty in love with.

Foxygen, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic: Foxygen recordings have so much attitude. The songs play back with a live show-like energy that’s hard to achieve without sounding too ragged. We really dig hearing the ‘60s and ‘70s influences shine through.

Parquet Courts, Tally All the Things You Broke EP

Colleens will be releasing their debut album Wild Dreams on 4 February 2014.

 
Conveyor’s T.J. Masters

The unique music and sounds of 2013: “Unique” here understood to be used as modifying the compound subject “music and sounds” to reflect the nature of the as-yet undeclared “music and sounds.” The word “unique” is used because it connotes a sense of individualization or singleness, which is to say that what stands out about the music and sounds listed herein is that they were only heard by as few as one person (myself) and as many as a handful (let’s say 20, arbitrarily, because it retains a certain component of intimacy that tapers off in higher numbers as 30, is all but gone by 40, and is nowhere to be found in 50 and above).  Here, then, in no specific order, are the music and sounds that defined the year 2013:

1. Small group meditation: Starting in winter, in the early months of 4:00 PM twilights and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a small group of people that comprises myself and wavers between two and four others meets briefly in a small white and gray conference room on the fourth floor of 4 Washington Place, New York, NY to meditate for up to 30 minutes at a time. The sound, taken in against the gray/white landscape of closed eyelids, is small: contemplative nasal breathing, swallowing, apologetic throat clearing, the sharp adjustment of a cheap metal and plastic chair against linoleum, the slide of pant material against the same chair, concrete- and glass-dampened car horns, the scuff of a shoe, often-but-not-always a calm, female, guiding voice, and, the dénouement, a high-pitched, resonant bell.

2. “THINKIN CLEARLY”: My first experience of truly personal songwriting comes in the form of a quick, one-take, improvised song during the second quarter of 2013. I save the resultant audio file in the Microsoft PCM (.wav) format and title it “THINKIN CLEARLY.wav.” The song, consisting of acoustic guitar and voice, manifests early in the morning in the middle of a depressive and drug-induced paranoid episode. “Truly personal” because I have no intention of performing it, it is not created with the context of a larger oeuvre in mind, and I have not since performed it or shared the recording with anyone; in the moment I honestly believe it is the only thing that I am capable of doing, and I bury it in a folder and listen to it only on occasion to remind myself of a feeling that I consider to be still important.

3. Cumbiagra: In E. Garfield’s garage on 16 November and at some points on 17 November, the band Cumbiagra revolves hazily around us through rings of marijuana smoke, pools of spilled beer, and 2-3 clave. Here’s what else: idle party-inflected chattering, the shuffling of feet, electric guitar and bass, the de-pressurizing psht of carbonated drinks, N. Perez and S. Lopez, the chorus of “Happy Birthday”, bongos and congas, two dogs barking, laughter, a trumpet and a trombone, clapping, an accordion, “Indocumentado”, among others, and (get this) the pulsing implication of extra-sensory vibrations.

Conveyor is a Brooklyn-based art-rock band, which released its self-titled debut (Paper Garden) in 2012.

 
The Crookes

Here’s a list of our favourite musical things from 2013, in no particular order:

Low , The Invisible Way: This new album from Low is already one of our favourites of theirs. We particularly like the song Plastic Cup.

Telekinesis, Dormarion : Such good pop songs, and the drums on this album sound amazing.

Sweet Baboo, Motorhome Songs: A marvelous EP. “Motoring Home” has a brilliant chorus.

Smith Westerns, Soft Will: Definitely a favourite album of the year, even better than their last.

The Oreoh!s: Already brilliant, these guys get better every time we see them.

High Hazels, Hearts Are Breaking: Our producer Matt Peel made this record and we love it. The video is cool too: old footage from the guitarist’s family party in the ‘80s.

Deerhunter, Monomania : So exciting and interesting. It’s fizzing with ideas.

Temples, Keep in the Dark: We attended their gig at Queens Social Club in Sheffield and they blew it away. Great guitar sounds.

Hey Sholay, Cloud, Castle, ______ : Crazy and beautiful. “Wdyrwmtb” is our favourite song on this new record.

The National, Trouble Will Find Me: You can rely on the National to deliver something good every time they make a release, and this one’s no exception.

In 2013, Sheffield, UK’s the Crookes released their second album Hold Fast (Modern Outsider) in 2013, while working on a new full-length slated for 2014.

 
Deadstring Brothers’ J.D. Mackinder

We spent the whole year on the road, with a broken stereo for the majority of it, so discovering new anything was difficult. There are some things I truly came to appreciate though:

Carrie Anne Hearst singing anything, solo, with Shovels and Rope or dueting with Hayes Carll.

Hayes Carll, for that matter—definitely late to the game in that category, but he’s a great songwriter.

Austin Lucas was great at the AMA festival, I’d heard about him for years, but this was the first time I got to see him play. Great stuff.

Also hadn’t heard Dawes until this year—it’s quality stuff that is far too rare these days.

I only heard a bit of Jason Isbell’s new record, but I think his rising success is great for all of us out there working, and it shows that if you give the time and effort, you got a shot.

Shonna Tucker and Eye Candy were a blast to play with this year and I’m glad the record they made is starting to get some radioplay and I look forward to seeing them grow and doing more shows together next year.

Hellbound Glory out touring with Kid Rock was exciting for them and the underground country scene. I’ve known Leroy [Virgil] for a long time and I’m glad he’s rising up the ladder.

Also in need of mention are Matt Woods, Dock Ellis Band (always a favorite), Fifth on the Floor, Sturgill Stimpson, Chelsea Crowell (not to mention how great it is to see her dad and Emmylou singing together as well), and White Buffalo all turned my head and were great things that happened in our little musical world this year.

Deadstring Brothers released Cannery Row via Bloodshot in April 2013.

 
The Del-Lords’ Scott Kempner

These end-of-year wrap-ups always seem to be slanted towards events that are most recent. This year is no exception. On the positive side I am in the final week of the Del-Lords month-long European tour—our first in over two decades. It’s been exciting, spiritually rewarding, and a fuckload of fun fun fun. The audiences have ranged from thrilled to ecstatic. That is the positive for me.

On the darker side, our friend—and for me, a personal musical hero and inspiration—Lou Reed, has passed away. We got word at our second show of the tour, in Leiceister, England. We were stunned and saddened. I still am. Lou was so great to us when we toured with him back in the ‘80s, appeared in one of our videos, and it was always a blast to run into him in the neighborhood when I was still a NYC resident. We remained friendly acquaintances and sometimes had great chats on the streets of our beloved Greenwich Village. To me, Lou was the quintessential New Yorker, and the living breathing heart and soul of the city of my birth. He and my dear friend, Dion, were also pals, and formed a little mutual admiration society of their own. We have been performing “I’m Waiting For My Man” (a song we used to play back in the ‘80s) every night of this tour in his honor. It will take me awhile to adjust to a world without Lou Reed.

Lauded ‘80s band the Del-Lords returned with Elvis Club (Megaforce), their first full-length since 1990.

 
Karl Denson

1. Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience: I feel like this record kind of came out of nowhere. There is no real hip-hop being played on the radio anymore, and the pop songs are monotone and terrible. I like the fact that a real R&B crooner record was able to make such a statement. I also like that all the songs are long.

2. Fat Freddy’s Drop, Blackbird: I happened upon this record listening to public radio and I couldn’t take it off my playlist for a few months. Just a great sound. Nice mix of influences and a strangely familiar voice.

3. Danger Mouse and Danielle Luppi, Rome: Just a beautiful album. The harmonies are way more interesting than I expected.

Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe is preparing to release its fourth album, New Ammo (Stoopid), on 4 February 2014.

 
Dott’s Anna McCarthy

● My Bloody Valentine, m b v
● Veronica Falls, Waiting for Something to Happen
● The Knife, Shaking the Habitual
● True Widow, Circumambulation
● Haim, Days Are Gone
● Chelsea Wolfe, Pain Is Beauty
● Villagers, Awayland
● The National, Trouble Will Find Me

Irish garage-pop act Dott just released its new album Swoon on Graveface in December 2013.

 
DTCV

1. Smartest Tumblr post: Grimes’ manifesto about sexism in the music world
2. Coolest post-breakup projects: Kim Gordon’s Body/Head
3. Best internet trash talk: Mark E Smith talking about Mumford and Sons
4. Best most awkward backstage interaction: Jeff the Brotherhood at Middle of the Map festival
5. Prettiest/most friendly small town we played: Hot Springs, Arkansas, for Valley of the Vapors Festival
6. Favorite festival: Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City
7. Most exciting drunken show: MidPoint Music Festival in Cincinnati with Bob Pollard heckling
8. Best band argument about a band: The Toadies
9. Best band argument about a decade: The ‘90s
10. Funniest moment on tour: Opening with “Fuck you, Brooklyn” at a Brooklyn show
11. Guylaine’s new favorite British band: Joanna Gruesome
12. Jim’s new favorite L.A. band: Strangers Family Band
13. Best album that followed us everywhere during the March-April tour: Parquet Courts, Light Up Gold
14. Most reassuring fact: The Midwest will always rock
15. Best city on tour where anything can (and will) happen: New Orleans

French-American post-punk group DTCV, led by Jim Greer (formerly of Guided by Voices) and Guylaine Vivarat, just released the full-length Hilarious Heaven.

 
Ducky

1. Ben UFO, fabriclive.67: This is a no-brainer. Could listen to this forever, definitely a future seminal mix. Seeing him at Blkmarket. Hessle Audio forever.

2. DJ Rashad, Double Cup: I’m really down with the ghetto house resurgence and even more so with DJ Rashad, because he does shit his own way.

3. Kyle Hall, The Boat Party: Spending a little time in Detroit this year got me excited about dance music again after a brief slump. (NYC was kinda barn for a second, am I right?).

4. Martyn, Newspeak EP: 10/10 would play out. One time I told Fatboy Slim to listen to this record and tell me if he liked it, but he never got back to me. I’m gonna assume he did.

5. Unicorn Hard-On, Weird Universe: Is there anything better than ladies who make weirdo electronic music? Why, no, there is not.

6. Hank Jackson, Deposit EP: Hankypoo at the cutting edge of outsider house.

7. Analogue Monsta, Boo: More badass ladies who I love and admire.

8. Milo McBride, Losaand: Space house techno future dance party kunst.

9. DJ Deeon, Debo G Chronicles Vol. 2: I know I am a feminist, but god dammit, I love ghetto house. Not embarrassed to say that I dance to this EP when I get ready in the morning.

10. Delroy Edwards, White Owl: Yup.

Ducky, aka Morgan Neiman, recently released the single, “Two Over Ten”.

Dum Dum Girls, Elf Power, and more

 
Dum Dum Girls’ Dee Dee

DD’s top ten from 2013—not always their origin, but rather my discovery of and obsession with:

Artist: Jessica Pratt
Her album from last year is my favorite thing; I think she is this otherworldly angel who can do no wrong.

City: NYC
I’ve lived here for over two years but never had the time to really establish my apartment as home. With the forced time off from touring, everything changed. I set up a new life here, managed to collect a handful of new friends, and just generally feel very tapped into what for me is a creative and motivating atmosphere. Too fucking expensive, though, a vampire city.

Cocktail: The “Angry Gallagher” at the Smile in NYC.
My friend Raquel works there and, aside from the great food, the drinks are fantastic. This one is tequila based with a the same sorta kick as getting those Mexican dried watermelon pieces dusted in chili powder.

Record: Dirty Beaches’ double album Drifters/Love Is The Devil
Not even biased cuz my label [Zoo Music] released it, just that astounding.

Camera: Spectra Polaroid
My friend Tamaryn shot me with one for an interview piece and I liked watching the long color development process.

Encounter: Had a drink with Gaspar Noé in St. Marks.

Book: KLF Manual

Cassette Tape: The Smiths’ Strangeways, Here We Come
As recently warped in Crocodiles’ van. It makes you feel like you’re underwater drowning in its perfection.

Weed: AK47

Film: Beyond the Black Rainbow
For its insane visuals. James Orlando (Bullett Magazine), who shot my cover and press photos, recommended it after that very long photoshoot and I went home, got stoned, and tripped the fuck out.

Dum Dum Girls are planning the release of their third full-length, Too True, on 28 January 2014, via Sub Pop.

 
Elf Power’s Andrew Rieger

The Breeders / Deerhunter live in Atlanta, GA at Variety Playhouse: Deerhunter’s new lineup and new songs from this year’s excellent Monomania were amazing. Lots of old songs and extended meandering improvisational instrumental sections as well. The Breeders sounded as great as ever as they played their classic album Last Splash in it’s entirety, as well as some songs from Pod and obscure b-sides at the end.

Mountain of Tongues: Musical Dialects of the Caucasus: Haunting and beautiful modern field recordings of folk musicians from Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan released on the Living Music Dupli-Cation label from Albuquerque, NM

Travis Scott, Owl Pharaoh: This guy collaborated with Kanye West on Yeezus and you can see the sonic similarities in a bunch of these tracks…some of the stranger, most interesting arrangements in rap music in recent years.

Leonard Cohen live in Atlanta, GA at Fox Theatre: For a guy in his eighties, Cohen delivered an outstanding and energetic performance and his voice was still in fine form. Great setlist too, encompassing all eras of his career

Bill Callahan live in Athens, GA at 40 Watt Club: Excellent performance as usual. I’ve been seeing him play since the early ‘90s and he just keeps getting better. He played mostly all new material from his latest album Dream River.

Mazzy Star Seasons of Your Day: Their first album in 17 years, and it might just be their best one ever. Beautiful vocals and intricate guitar playing, including one of legendary folk guitarist Bert Jansch’s last recorded performances. Their live performance at Coachella last year was a sublimely lovely experience as well.

Redd Kross live in Atlanta, GA at the EARL: Glam-pop rock masters delivered the goods at this shreddingly brilliant and exuberant live show, where they played classic tunes from their great ‘80s/‘90s albums as well as from last year’s Researching the Blues.

Jandek, Athens Saturday: Live album documenting Jandek’s show in Athens, GA that we put on at the Orange Twin Conservation Community, which consisted of a lengthy, lovely improvisational performance featuring Jandek on keyboards, Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox on guitar, Olivia Tremor Control’s Eric Harris on drums, John Fernandes (also of OTC) on bass clarinet, and cellist Heather McIntosh. This was a truly a magical summer evening as the group performed out in the woods in a natural amphitheatre, accompanied by the locusts and crickets.

Neutral Milk Hotel live: My band Elf Power did our first big tour in 1998 with NMH, so it was very exciting to do it again 15 years later! The 11 shows I saw on this jaunt were just as exciting and enthusiastic as the ones 15 years ago, but this time around the band was less ramshackle, more focused and precise with the arrangements, but still retaining the elements of chaos that made those early shows so memorable.

Viking Moses live at Flicker Theatre: Excellent solo performance combined with a screening of the documentary Werewolves Across America, which documents Viking Moses’ nomadic musical wanderings and adventures over the last several decades.

Kanye West, Yeezus: Really interesting and bizarre arrangements on this record, featuring successful collaborations with Daft Punk, Travis Scott, and Rick Rubin. Fun to dance to also.

http://www.popmatters.com/review/175549-elf-power-sunlight-on-the-moon/

Indied mainstays Elf Power released their latest album, Sunlight on the Moon, on Orange Twin in 2013.

 
The Entrance Band’s Derek James

1. Cass McCombs, Big Wheel and Others
2. My Bloody Valentine, m b v
3. The Cairo Gang, Tiny Rebels
4. Dream Boys, Dream Boys
5. Kurt Vile Wakin on a Pretty Daze
6. Matt Baldwin, Imaginary Psychology
7. Liam Hayes, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan the III soundtrack
8. Bitchin Bajas, Bitchitronics
9. Light Fantastic, Light Fantastic EP
10. Human Expression, Love at a Psychedelic Velocity

Spider from Paz Lenchantin on Vimeo.

The Entrance Band released Face the Music (Beyond Beyond Is Beyond) in November 2013.

 
Dana Falconberry

1. Good Field, “You Notice”
2. Royal Forest, “Broken Bow”
3. Some Say Leland, “It’s All Right Here”
4. Heartless Bastards, “Winter in the Blood”
5. Laura Veirs, “Sun Song”
6. Lightning Dust, “Fire Me Up”
7. Califone, “Frosted Tips”

Dana Falconberry - Crooked River - Halfway House Sessions from Halfway House on Vimeo.

Michigan singer-songwriter Dana Falconberry released Leelanau (Antenna Farm) in 2012.

 
Forest Fire

● Cass McCombs, Big Wheel and Others
● Stellar Om Source, Joy One Mile
● Zachary Cale, Blue Rider
● Nick Delffs’ music
● Factory Floor, Factory Floor

NYC experimentalists Forest Fire put out the album Screens (FatCat) in September 2013.

 
Chris Forsyth

Strictly speaking, these are not all 2013’ers, but they stuck out the most for me this year, in no particular order.

● King Blood, Vengeance, Man
● Steve Gunn, Time Off
● Circuit Des Yeux, Overdue
● Marisa Anderson, Mercury
● Cian Nugent & the Cosmos, Born with the Caul
● Mary Lattimore, The Withdrawing Room
● Spacin’, live at Hopscotch Festival, Raleigh NC (9/6/13)
● Neil Young & Crazy Horse, live at Wells Fargo Center, Philly (12/1/12)
● Horse Lords, live at Ortlieb’s, Philly (10/2/13)
● Bitchin Bajas, live at Little Berlin, Philly (5/12/13)
● Ignatz, Can I Go Home Now?
● Mind Over Mirrors, When the Rest Are Up at Four

Released in 2013, Chris Forsyth’s Solar Motel (Paradise of Bachelors) ranked #6 on PopMatters’ best overlooked albums of the year.

 
Lyla Foy

● Yo La Tengo, “Well You Better”
● Kiran Leonard, “Port-Ainé”
● Soap&Skin , “Pray”
● Washed Out, “Great Escape”
● Unknown Mortal Orchestra, “So Good at Being in Trouble”
● Mazzy Star, “In the Kingdom”
● Kurt Vile, “Never Run Away”
● Au Revoir Simone, “Somebody Who”
● John Grant, “GMF”
● Youth Lagoon, “17”

Lyla Foy released the “Easy” 7” single on Sub Pop in November 2013.

Robbie Fulks and more

 
Robbie Fulks

Since music precedes language, and offers an ecstatic liberation from it, using words to pin down your musical pleasures is probably foolish: a wrong-way operation. However, here we go. Though I admittedly have an innate liking for country and a helpless boredom with most of what they call “classical”, I find that, beyond that accident of genetics, I can’t account for what appeals to me or doesn’t on the basis of genre. It no doubt has something to do with the music-saturated, click-and-consume era in which we find ourselves and being an old guy, but I often summarily reject music on the basis of an irked impression that it’s too in my face, too overtly likeable and available, selling itself to me too savvily. The surface might be an earnest person with disheveled hair singing about important personal matters, but surrounding him/her is a quantized, digitally buffed groove, behind which is the no-nonsense team of workmen that created it. And somewhere behind that is some silver-tongued, obscenely paid marketer, cooing, “Yeah, I know all about you and what your kind wants,” like an aphrodisiacally cocky prostitute. I like to go to Starbucks, but to hell with that.

Many casual music fans are content to graze on a monoculture like death metal or Dixieland without worrying about what lies beyond the fence. Then there are some stargazing eccentrics, many of them professional musicians burned out on the mainstream, who press for ever-farther-out voyages. I like a piece of music that partakes both of you are here and where are we? Something that offers a flavorful sense of place and time and school—as definite, say, as “in a club in Philadelphia in 1962 with black horn players in fancy dress,” or as general as “punk”—but also muddies the mental picture with the human factor, or something that’s just off. I like the feeling that there’s a personality behind the music that couldn’t contain its less sociable and smoothed over aspects, as though someone strove sincerely for flawlessness but fell a little short.

I see the name of this site is PopMatters. And I see that in the short list I’ve put together below is the implicit theme, “pop doesn’t matter”, which to me it really doesn’t. Pop’s short for popular, which is short for a lot of things, such as the Roy Rogers restaurant and True Religion jeans and Vince Vaughn and some person named Khloe, all of which are non-mattering in an almost aggressive way. I try to keep my ears open to current things, but there’s 120-odd years of recorded music out there and only so many hours, and I do love the freedom of swimming all around. I’m listing four records below from 2013 that I liked very much and played lots. But to put it in perspective—that’s four out of a total of about 14 that I heard.

Noam Pikelny: Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe: One reason the young gods of post-newgrass don’t sound like the old lions when they play bluegrass is that their hands have spent substantially more hours flexing on the fretboards of expensively well-luthiered and exquisitely set-up instruments, and far fewer tossing oil barrels around and banging on sheetrock. Musicians have it a little easier these days! To some extent you can sound like the denizens of different times by imitating their recorded performances, but zealous mimicry tends to cast a suspect light on your intentions and bona fides. Noam is one of those happy moderns who has played since a tyke, practices 10 hours a day, and has never, to my knowledge, labored outside of music. Dozens of non-bluegrass threads are in his skein; no one would mistake his playing for J.D. Crowe’s. Yet his bluegrass sounds spectacular and deeply felt. Some guys who play this fast and clean sound bored doing it, but when he’s executing a backwards chord rake, mixing up note values in phrases of wild grammatical complexity, or going ridiculously high up the neck, Noam’s plays with a momentum, a quiet but certain kind of lust that’s fundamental to all kinds of music, so that higher-brain math doesn’t rule the day. He seems to register an appropriate excitedness with his own daring. Besides timefeel, there’s purity of intent. The main way that comes through in this genre, as well as in jazz, is does the player communicate a love of melody and composition, along with—and preferably well over—a love of hearing himself goof around? The basis of these fiddle-tune renditions is Noam’s diligent transcriptions of Baker’s original heads, which are models of melodic clarity and subtle surprise. The result is that perennials like “Monroe’s Hornpipe” and “Wheel Hoss” sound, between the stripping away of later generations’ normalizations and the imposition of some banjoistic language, fascinatingly off-kilter and wholly fresh. The woody, small-room group sound and the conscientious, light-touch mix by Dave Sinko allow you to listen around the room where you like; you can burrow into the soloist or switch focus to any other player. The casting is irreproachable: Ronnie McCoury on mandolin, Stuart Duncan fiddle, Bryan Sutton guitar, Mike Bub bass. “Big Sandy River” has been recorded many times but never better—and Sutton’s solo, by the way, is as brilliant a solo as has been played by any instrument, on any recording.

Justin Roberts, Recess: This is a great thick slice of power pop, as in polished short songs with in-a-hurry-to-get-there vocal melodies and equally catchy signature riffs, creative layouts of simple major-minor chord palettes, zippy group syncopations, boyish tenor singing, and good humor. The dense, smartly compressed sound expertly rocks/romances your ear—it’s hard to believe Liam Davis did a lot of the mixing at his house, rather than Mutt Lange at his gated compound. Oh, and it’s “kids’ music”; and, as is often said but seldom truthfully, it appeals to all ages. Justin’s great strength is never to write or perform as if to a lesser subgroup of our species, and I find his songs about riding on elevators and spaceships, being bored in classrooms, and dogs (sung from one’s point of view), at least as galvanizing as songs about ladies in tight skirts and towns where you left your heart. They Might Be Giants’ record No! seems to have broken the ground for music like this—hard-pulsing childhood-themed pop that replaces sappy moralizing with smart irony and sensitive observation. With every record he makes, my friend Justin—okay, Noam’s my friend too; how do you think I came by all these 2013 records?—somehow refines and advances on the writing and aural image of his last.

Cécile McLorin Salvant, WomanChild: This approach to jazz, with immaculate (and immaculately recorded) prodigy playing, showing a deep love for “tradition” (from ancient Africa to at least 1950 America)—the kind of jazz you can easily imagine programmed at lavishly funded cultural institutions patronized by people who don’t dance—is generally a little slick for my tastes. But when music is done this full-heartedly and heroically, words like “for my tastes” shrivel away like the response-inhibitors they are. Overlooking Miss Salvant for a moment, take James Chirillo’s solo guitar back-up on “St. Louis Gal”: simple, clear, emotionally transparent, avoiding dense and show-offy substitutions—for the ages! And, somewhat contrariwise, Aaron Diehl’s unbelievable piano solo on “What a Little Moonlight Can Do”...I don’t want to shove my ignorance of jazz pianism in the reader’s face, but let’s just say that at a hot and challenging tempo, Mr. Diehl executes daredevil chord climbs, left-hand right-hand role reversals, and teasing syncopations that you don’t need to know diddly about jazz to be floored by. On that eight-minute-plus tune, Cécile takes it home with a nearly comic final flourish that will bust your eyeglasses. On most of the rest of this excellent record, she works the less extreme remainder of her range, growling and purring and little-girling. In a world full of talent but short on fruitful ideas on how to focus and direct it, this is a refreshingly restrained, comprehensively conceived, and many-sided piece of work—and it works as an album. Put it on and let it go. It has a seductive soft beginning, that abovementioned eight-minute fury followed by epilogue, and a fully satisfying middle arc, with a few worthy original songs scattered along the path, showing one more thing she can do.

Bruce Molsky, If It Ain’t Here When I Get Back: Don’t let this new one by an established master get by you simply because it’s a digital self-release. As usual, Bruce pulls little-performed songs from the dark nether-reaches of the folk grotto and lays them out in a variety package, accompanying himself on fiddle, banjo, and guitar. He’s almost the only person I’ve heard of who fiddles while singing, alone. When he does that trick, the intonation of voice and fiddle comes off as a natural package, mutually reinforcing, like we’re in a magic land where no policing is required. It makes the rest of us, who needs frets to play our axes decently and also need the reference point of the fretted instrument to sing plausibly well, look pretty small. Bruce’s playing skills are widely lauded, but I think his singing is less so, so let me laud that. His timbre is rich, in the low-to-middle male range, and his characteristic delivery is easeful, in fact just a crucial bit short of Might Wind folk-boom mind-curdling pleasantness. This is a singing style that rests on the ear like honey on the tongue, and, because it doesn’t at all overplay the drama and pathos of some of the lyrics—concerning lonely cowboys, doomed ship passengers in 19th century Australia, and sex-fueled violence—you are afforded a clear window into the soul of these tunes, and can provide an emotion of your own, ungoaded.

Here are the other records I loved and listened to over and over in 2013, none of them released in 2013: Still Runnin’ Round in the Wilderness by Matt Munisteri; At the 5 Spot by Eric Dolphy; Norman Blake and Red Rector by same; Ram by Paul McCartney, Judee Sill by the one and only; Hillbilly Boogie Best by the Delmore Brothers; Almost to Tulsa by the Texas Troubadours; Chiaroscuro by Anat Cohen; Big Sur by Bill Frisell; We’re Usually a Lot Better Than This by Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott.

In August 2013, Robbie Fulks released the album Gone Away Backward (Bloodshot), which placed #4 on PopMatters’ list of the best country albums of 2013.

 
GEMS

● Jai Paul, leaked demos
● FKA Twigs, “Papi Pacify” video
● Sevyn Streeter, “It Won’t Stop”
● Wet, Wet EP
● Mø, “Maiden”
● Sohn, “Bloodflows”
● James Blake, Overgrown
● Wale (feat. Tiara Thomas), “Bad”
● Empress Of, “Don’t Tell Me”
● Basecamp, “Emmanuel”
● Ciara, “Body Party”

D.C.-based indie synthpop duo GEMS recently released an EP, Medusa, via Never Age.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/177693-the-artists-pick-the-best-of-2013-part-1/