Saturday, January 25, 2014

Listing To Starboard: Favorite Albums 2013

TOP 25: 2013
Here we are once again, another year down the pipes, and based on the evidence found within, a further edging away from the bloated corpse of the music industry, as little if any of this list appeared on a major label. Take that as evidence of my curmudgeon-ness as much as any artistic judgement. While the main focus on this blog has always been performance, many albums crossed the transom this year, and we'll stick with the O.G. format of a top 25, although twice that many would have been doable. Perhaps next year. Shout outs to Don Giovanni and Slumberland for being co-holders of the Label Of The Year distinction, a testimony to their depth, balls, and ears, with multiple releases landing on the list.
Notable releases from the year, just bubbling under the list, include the debut of California X, Anna Calvi's second album, a second full length from Nashville's own Diarrhea Planet, the second, (and unforturnately final) entry from Spectrals, and a double LP celebrating the 20th year of Quasi, (can that really be so?!). Also making waves were Brooklyn via Oakland's Weekend, (not to be confused with the vowel and soul-challenged singer with a similar name), Jonathan Wilson, Mikal Cronin, Sky Larkin, Terry Malts, Janelle Monae, and the first new work in many a year from Sebadoh. Lists, of course, are a fool's errand by definition, and any of these records are worth your valuable time.
Without further ado:
25) Chastity Belt: No Regerts
24) SISU: Blood Tears
23) Upset: She's Gone
22) Bleached: Ride Your Heart
21) Dog Party: Lost Control
20) Joanna Gruesome: Weird Sister
19) Veronica Falls: Waiting For Something To Happen
18) Besnard Lakes: Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO 
17) Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: Push The Sky Away
16: Savages: Silence Yourself
15) No Age: An Object
14) Arcade Fire: Reflektor
13) Cate Le Bon: Mug Museum
12) Swearin': Surfing Strange
11) No Joy: Wait For Pleasure

10: Okkervil River: The Silver Gymnasium 

9) Wax Idols: Discipline + Desire

8) Los Campesinos!: No Blues 
7) Speedy Ortiz: Major Arcana
On their first full-length, all the pieces fall together for Speedy Ortiz. Helping to spearhead a Massachusetts renaissance, the band effectively torches its way through, though, interestingly, leaves its deepest mark when it dials the volume back (relatively) on "No Below". This bodes well for the future-it will be interesting to see how far they push their boundaries.
6) My Bloody Valentine: mbv 
5) Kurt Vile: Wakin' On A Pretty Daze
Wakin' On A Pretty Daze is Kurt Vile's State Of His Own Union address, as every Kurt Vile album is, but more so. Expanding his vision onto two discs, the title track spins out to just under ten minutes without a wasted note. Vile and the Violaters are in that rare space where they could take on the phone book and make it work, as evidenced by two festival appearances this year that took the same material and transformed it into acoustic lullabies in a foggy San Francisco meadow and aggressive riff-heavy rock in a parched field in the middle of downtown LA.

4) Superchunk: I Hate Music 
There's a special kind of gauntlet being dropped when one entitles an album I Hate Music, and who else but Superchunk could make it work?  Like Yo La Tengo's Fade, it's an LP wrestling with mortality, suffused with mourning over the loss of an old friend. The trick is in embracing the shadow of memories and backing it up with music that's nothing short of life affirming. Their most trenchant and affecting work since Foolish, no matter how dark it gets, Superchunk shows the way forward.

3) Yo La Tengo: Fade
The unsinkable Yo La Tengo faced down mortality and came away with Fade, an elegant collection of the Hoboken trio's pop gems, leavened with the lessons learned from Ira Kaplan's recent health scare. Fade reminds us of the importance of community and the work we do, and how easily it can be lost, and the strength it takes to go forward. Nowhere was this more apparent than in their performance of "The Point Of It" during this year's FYF, pushing the hushed song forward in the face of a noisy, distracted field-leaving a devastating mark on those who were actually listening. A potent reminder that punk is not always loud.

 2) Waxahatchee: Cerulean Salt
Casting aside the acoustic rawness, but keeping the incisive portraits of her debut American Weekend, Katie Crutchfield, aka Waxahatchee, amped up the sonics and left us Cerulean Salt as a snapshot in time. "Coast To Coast" was a winning single that hit over the head like great 50's rock classics, in and out in under two minutes. The elliptical "Dixie Cups and Jars"might be her finest achievement to date. The prolific artist also found time for an EP and a double album (!) with side project Great Thunder.

1) Laura Stevenson: Wheel
A staggering tour de force from the Long Island wunderkind...the place where all the threads she'd been working with came together in a hypnotic song cycle that flirts with many genres, but can't be confined to one. Ace string and horn arrangements by Rob Moose and Kelly Pratt, respectively, carry the day. Like last year's top choice, Father John Misty's Fear Fun, it's an album I'll be listening to five years down the road.

In closing, this marks the fifth year of BAMNWGAN, and this would be the place to thank you all for your love and support.