My friends, UTG colleagues and I are all driven and inspired by music in some way or another. It is the art form that we connect with the most; it is the way we communicate our aspirations to the outside world and helps connect us to people with similar loves, dreams and ambitions.
If you are a lyric-focused listener and enjoy reading between the lines, or if you get jazzed about the layers of a song’s complexity, this was a very special year. I found some songs that no matter how many times I listened, they moved me. The noise occupying your ears and thoughts brings a comfort that makes you feel less alone in the world. So many artists kept me company this year on my journeys. Whether is was on the apathetic/crowded trains of Boston, weathering the chilly winds and broken concrete streets of Allston, along the echoing cobblestone roads of Oxford, or the endless track of interstate amidst the desert while driving across the U.S.. I feel like I owe a debt towards the artists who have provided me with hours upon hours of comfort, familiarity, connection, or the closest thing I have to feeling home.
Top Albums for 2013
1. Restorations – LP2
LP2 has been my “new music” go-to album for any friend who wants me to recommend something for them. Released back in April, played daily in my music queue, and I still have a hard time properly explaining or talking up this band. Each song stands on it’s own and the album flows incredibly well. Brilliant bass lines and intricate guitar melodies, all layered with illustrative lyrics and blended with the raspy voice of Jon Loudon. The illustration of time found embedded in the lyrics of “New Old” or the dark imagery within “Civil Inattention” are must-listens.
2. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
It is a blind and bold statement to say a band’s new album is the best they’ve come out with yet. With a band like The National, whose past releases include Alligator and Boxer, it would be a bold statement indeed. Trouble Will Find Me is the best album The National has put out. The lyrics are sentimental story telling and each bit of each song meshes flawlessly. If music were a physical craft to pick up and examine, even under a microscope this album has to frayed edges or wear; it feels like hearing velvet. I struggle picking a favorite track but “Heavenfaced” and “Humiliation” are the two that I feel stand out to me the most.
3. Baths – Obsidian
Will Wiesenfeld, the electronic artist know as Baths, came out with his third album back in May and the album has continued to be in my weekly rotation. The lyrics discuss and address mortality and the fear and struggle that comes with prolonged weakness/sickness. The complexity of the songs are subtle, like cursive, it’s all in the flourish of delivery.
4. Elway – Leavetaking
Elway’s newest album has a maturity about it that you don’t hear much in punk music. On the surface, it’s regular punk music (songs like “One Flew East” send an impulse to shout along, air drum or mosh). If you listen closer, you have reflections from troubled times and a shadow only cast by someone who has had to trudge through the cold world that is associated with loss. If the album and my argument isn’t enough encouragement to check it out, maybe the little bit of trivia that John Elway actually abhors this band can do the trick.
5. Allison Weiss – Say What You Mean
I think Noisey put it perfectly when they said “Sorry dudes, the ladies won punk this year.” Allison Weiss’s third album, Say What You Mean, is pop punk at it’s finest. Each song is catchy and if even for a moment you sat back and decided you needed more, she re-released the album with a country punk-y sound.
6. Larcenist – Eager City, Patient Country
It’s always frustrating when you have a January or February release and it gets lost in the giant stack of albums throughout the year. I’m a real sucker for good, sincere Americana (though they claim they’re “doom folk”) music. Stand-up bass? Sign me up. Larcenist delivers an album that is fun to listen to and also beautifully composed.
7. Signals Midwest – Light On The Lake
Narrative lyrics make me weak at the knees. Signals Midwest frontman, Maxwell Stern, sings of romantic memories and present-life poetry. “Saint Vincent Charity,” a track that past label-mates Restorations contributed vocals to, tells a beautiful, sad story in so few of words. Each song on the album paints a situation, a story or a stream of thought that illustrate the whispers a house’s walls echo to a songwriter with a lot to say and a band to help him express it.
8. Off With Their Heads – Home
Strength through struggle is a running theme in many of my favorite albums that came out this year. Producing something positive when provided only negative is hard to do but Home does it with a “fuck you” finesse. I dug deeper into the album as a whole earlier this year back in February.
9. Red City Radio – Titles
Red City Radio’s sophomore album, Titles is full of power punk anthems. The band trades off vocals duty but any song with gruff singer and guitarist, Garrett Dale, belts out are the tracks I consistently revisit. There’s a weathered gloss over each song that he sings in, “Show Me On The Doll Where The Music Touched You” being my personal favorite. Some songs stand by you and become enriched with personal experiences or periods of deep reflection. Two verses in that song ring true on a personal level that many can connect with,
“And I’ve heard smarter men than me / Say it gets dark before the dawn / And I can’t wait until the morning / To admit that something’s wrong”
Facing hardship, slipping into a deeper hole or the world trying to swallow you whole but then making something out of nothing and coming out with new confidence and courage to face the day.
10. London Grammar – If You Wait
In December 2012, the London-based electronic trio, London Grammar, released their first single “Hey Now” on Soundcloud and have since been swept up in international hype. Their full length, released back in September, has eleven tracks (six additional bonus songs if you bought the physical media) and is one of the most impressive, well-composed freshman albums I’ve had the luck to come across in recent years. One U.S. tour down and another slated, this group is going to be making waves (and not just the sinusoidal kind).
EP Encore / 7″ Shout-out
It wouldn’t be fair to not acknowledge a lot of artists who came out with EPs this year. Below I listed my favorites.
Cayetana – Hot Dad Calendar
Chumped – Chumped
Self Defense Family – The Corrections Officer In Me
Trophy Lungs – No Judgement
The Hotelier – Home, Like No Place There Is (pre-LP release)
Pete Holmes – Nice Try, The Devil
Kumail Nanjiani – Beta Male
Brian Posehn – The Fartist
Tig Notaro – LIVE