Looking over the list I’ve penned as my personal ‘Best of 2013 in Music,’ I can’t help but smile. I remember sitting in class around this time last year, scratching down a list on loose leaf of my ‘Most Anticipated of 2013;’ to see how few of those records made my end of the year list is refreshing. Three out of my top ten are debut full-lengths, four are from artists I hadn’t listened to before this year, and one is from a label that established itself in 2013. The discovery and rising popularity of artists I’ve come to love renews my faith in an industry that has been “doomed” since the dawn of Napster. This year has proven that music is about more than the money it produces.
As consistently rewarding as this year has been, compiling an end of the year list was tumultuous to say the least. It took me hours to count how many records I listened to in 2013, and ranking them was even more strenuous. It felt strange to write a list of my ten favorite albums of the year while leaving out so many records that I couldn’t put down for weeks at a time. Demoting fantastic records from Touché Amoré, Counterparts, Cross Town Train, Daft Punk, Kanye West, Defeater, and so many others to “honorable mentions” feels unjust, but the pure quality of music put out this year speaks for itself. In decades to come, all of the best albums released in 2013 will deservedly go down in history as classics.
Here are my favorite records of 2013.
1. The Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation
May 14, 2013
At this point in my young adult life, no other band has been so universally poignant and impactful in my daily life as The Wonder Years. After starting a revolution in pop-punk with The Upsides and affirming their longevity with Suburbia I’ve Given You All And Now I’m Nothing, The Wonder Years truly outdid themselves with The Greatest Generation, providing a compelling argument in favor of the artistic value of pop punk, a genre seen by many as juvenile. The airy Something To Write Home About vibe of “There, There,” the blisteringly groovy two-step in “The Bastards, The Vultures, The Wolves,” the raw power in the climax of “The Devil in My Bloodstream,” and the goosebump-inducing reprise in “I Just Want To Sell Out My Funeral” are just a few highlights that show the powerful direction that The Wonder Years have taken. The Greatest Generation is a triumph of an album with an outstanding grasp on record composition and songwriting prowess, and it is the best record I listened to in 2013.
2. letlive. – The Blackest Beautiful (Epitaph)
I bought a promotional copy of The Blackest Beautiful in a used CD store a few days after release for two dollars. Having never listened to letlive. before I picked up the cardboard envelope the CD was sold in, I never would have guessed it would end up as my second favorite album of 2013. letlive. have mastered the fusion of hardcore and groove, and Jason Aalon Butler has proven himself one of the more unique and versatile vocalists in the game. One listen to “Empty Elvis” should show you what The Blackest Beautiful is all about.
3. Have Mercy – The Earth Pushed Back (Topshelf)
Have Mercy is another band I didn’t know about until their record fell into my possession. It took a few listens to really get the hype, but every word of praise is deserved. Heartbreak is a major theme in the record, but it never feels pitiful or cliché; rather, the tonality of the vocals and the honesty of the lyrics creates a tragic atmosphere that can (and will) break your heart.
4. Mansions – Doom Loop (Clifton Motel)
I fully expected Doom Loop to pale in comparison to its nearly perfect predecessor, Dig Up The Dead. I was relieved once I realized that the best part about Doom Loop is the simple fact that it didn’t even try to outdo Dig Up The Dead and instead shows a different, but just as capable side of Mansions. The duo went for a different style for their 2013 full-length and succeeded immeasurably. While songs like “The Economist” showcase Chris Browder’s songwriting style perfectly, “Flowers in My Teeth” takes on a whole new sound for Mansions and proves that good songwriting prevails over the frivolous pigeonholing of genres.
5. Portugal. The Man – Evil Friends (Atlantic)
I was beginning to grow bored of Portugal. The Man’s trippy, psychedelic rock with 2011’s In The Mountain In The Cloud, but the band shocked fans, myself included, with the sonic direction of Evil Friends. The band clearly put a lot of faith in producer Danger Mouse and the results are astounding, giving a fresh take on a band that has never given in to the pressures of popular music. The hip-hop influence gives new life to the band’s typical ’60s rock sound and makes for an honestly innovative record.
6. On Your Marks – Ripped Out By The Roots (Mayflower Collective)
As the pop-punk trend of yesteryear fades into delusions of an “emo revival,” the smoke has cleared on the current state of the genre, providing a fresh perspective on what makes a pop-punk record genuinely impressive. With that in mind, everything about Ripped Out By The Roots is pop-punk done right. The intensity and desperation in vocalist Alex Piraquive’s voice as he sings “You were my open wound/Infect me like you used to” in “Perfect” is one of the emotional high points in music this year. Make sure to keep an eye on On Your Marks in 2014.
7. Mixtapes – Ordinary Silence (No Sleep)
Mixtapes’ Ordinary Silence was one of the year’s biggest surprises for me. I found previous releases enjoyable for a few spins, but ultimately the overly simple song structures were too repetitive for me. The band mixed it up a bit for Ordinary Silence and delivered a record full of great hooks, a broad range of lyrical topics, and bigger emphasis on Maura Weaver’s voice. The songs are simple, but perfectly so; nothing feels forced or unnecessary and the songs speak for themselves. Plain and simple, Ordinary Silence hits the nail on the head. You’d be hard pressed to find a record as fun as Ordinary Silence in 2013.
8. Fall Out Boy – Save Rock and Roll (Island)
Everyone knows where they were when the hiatus ended. In the hype surrounding the triumphant return of Fall Out Boy, I revisited Folie a Deux, a record that 13-year-old-me couldn’t stand when it was released. After revisiting it however, I grew to love the straight-up pop direction priming my tastes for the wonderfully crafted Save Rock and Roll. Every song is catchy and well-written enough to be a pop radio hit, but the album is simultaneously cohesive and directed. The unconventional guest appearances and the return of Pete Wentz’s tongue in cheek writing style puts Save Rock and Roll right at home in Fall Out Boy’s excellent discography.
9. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City (XL)
How many bands in 2013 use harpsichord as a prominent instrument? Modern Vampires of the City is a hazy masterpiece, giving a glimpse into the seemingly impossible idea of a mature version of Vampire Weekend. Despite any maturity showcased on Modern Vampires of the City, all of the quirky melodies and adorably Ivy League style remain intact, maintaining the backbone of the band’s primary appeal. Lyrical gems like “Wisdom’s a gift but you’d trade it for youth/Age is an honor, it’s still not the truth” in “Step” prove that Vampire Weekend have more to sing about than madras this time around, and the airy atmosphere creates an instant classic with legs in the established indie scene.
10. Captain, We’re Sinking – The Future is Cancelled (Run For Cover)
I slept on The Future is Cancelled for months (largely because of its shared release date with The Greatest Generation), but I’m relieved that I discovered it before it was too late to earn a spot in my top ten of the year. Taking the instrumental atmosphere of Brand New’s Deja Entendu, the alcoholic lyrical themes of Misser’s Every Day I Tell Myself I’m Going To Be A Better Person, and the nostalgic bitterness of The Menzinger’s On The Impossible Past, Captain, We’re Sinking have created a record that’s every bit as uncomfortable as it is enjoyable. The sour honesty of “It felt like you all left me/So I started drinking steadily/Now I’m crippled with anxiety/So I started drinking heavily” in “Brother” showcases what the band is all about, while “A Bitter Divorce” is emotionally crushing in every respect. Hopefully Captain, We’re Sinking continue to garner hard earned respect in 2014.