Matt Simone: Top Albums of 2013

Philadelphia, PA

The critics have dumbfounded me once again. There were quite a few albums that cracked many a “best of” list that I just can’t wrap my head around. At the top of this list is Kanye West’s craptastic mish mash of “let’s see if I can get away with this” bullshit. Perhaps I’m just not bright enough, or just don’t have the ear for it, but if this is the music of the future I am just gonna have to be stuck in the past. Maybe after a few more listens I’ll “get it”, or maybe I will never listen again. HAIM feels so unnaturally crafted in a Hollywood studio basement that I find its popularity offensive. It might as well be One Direction. Disclosure, though more accessible house music, is still just fucking house music. Finally, there is betrayal even amongst our critics. Will someone please explain to me why my voting power is enhanced by being required to listen Brittney Spears?

That being said, as a music fan, I couldn’t be happier with 2013. So much more to explore this year and there was hardly a let down. Making the Top Ten proved to be a challenge as there were many albums that could have qualified for the back end of my list. Many of my all time favorites released albums this year and every time I buy an album from a respected musician that I have come to enjoy, I brace myself for the inevitable letdown. It seemed for many of these albums, that that was going to be the case. But with each listen it became apparent that these bands not only put out some worthy contributions to their catalog, but some of the best work of their career. Some of them you will find on my top ten, others didn’t make the cut, but sufficed to say, it has been a heckuva year for quality music.

top ten albums

10Kurt Vile: Wakin on a Pretty Daze

So easy and smooth, I can’t believe it took me so long to listen to this Philly performer.

Standout Track(s): Walkin on a Pretty Day

09Fuck Buttons: Slow Focus

Sounds like they should be scoring the next science fiction post apocalyptic world movie. Seriously, wouldn’t surprise me if that’s where there career was headed.

Standout Track(s): Brainfreeze

08Deafheaven: Sunbather

Some of the best post rock I have ever heard. I recognize the primal “deathmetal” screams are what makes this music different, but if it would lose that element I would have ranked this album much higher.

Standout Track(s): Dream House

07The National: Trouble Will Find Me

More the same greatness from the National, just more refined.

Standout Track(s): Pink rabbits

06Run The Jewels: Run The Jewels

I listen to hip hop to get my hips shaking, to get me fired up for a night out, for some poetic shit talking and a little humor. This album encapsulates all that much better for me than any of the other hip hop albums this year. No disrespect to Kanye (OK, disrespect to Kanye), but you should take a few notes and get back to the music that got you where you are today.

Standout Track(s): Banana Clipper, Get It

05Jagwar Ma: Howlin

Combining the best of pop rock, electro-synth dance beats and Beach Boys level harmonies, I dare you to put on the album and not dance. The most fun I have had with an album this year.

Standout Track(s): Come and Save Me, Backwards Berlin

04Phosphorescent: Muchacho

I simply don’t have good enough words to describe this full, warm, brash countrified delight, but it’s awesome.

Standout Track(s): Song For Zula, Terror in the Canyons

03Arcade Fire: Reflektor

I nearly gave up on this one. Three listens in and I just didn’t get it and clearly there are a few outright misses. As much as I love James Murphy, I just wanted his influence to go away. I’m not sure why they chose to go that route, and even as my love for this album has grown, and as much as I can see these tunes exploding in the stadium, I could still use a little less of the old Soundsystem. That being said, regardless of the dance rock vibe, no one band is able to efficiently move me the way Arcade Fire can. Overall (the second half anyhow – for which I am preferential), it feels like a meditation on life after death – a mystery that I find invades my subconscious more often than I am comfortable with. At times it feels like this album could sooth your soul. That’s exactly what AF is trying to do here – use music to help provide a comfort – a reassurance – that life and love can go on after death. “It’s never over.”

Standout Track(s): Here Comes The Night Time, The Afterlife, It’s Never Over

02Daft Punk: Random Access Memories

Daft Punk looks to the past and creates an album for the future. They cover just about every element of electronic music, honoring their influences, and leaving you tapping your feet or staring out into space. Jamming down the road at night to this album and you feel like your car could sprout wings a gently soar out into the atmosphere, beyond the darkness and into another solar system.

Standout Track(s): Touch, Doin’ it Right

01Vampire Weekend: Modern Vampires of the City

Surprisingly this album rose to the top of my list with every listen. Much like the Arcade Fire album, I just didn’t enjoy it the first couple times through. But as each listen explored a new level of depth to each song musically, the lyrics revealed themselves and showed that while this is a more subdued VW, they have taken their music to the next level and crafted the best album of year. I feel I can relate to the characters existentialist struggles and confrontation of religion, ultimately being comfortable with their own atheism. I could have it all wrong, but I chose to interpret it as such, and for me, it’s presented in such a beautiful and honorable way. Hey Ya, comes off as a eulogy to God and calls to mind “Eulogy” by Tool, without the anger and vitriol. In “Unbeliever’s” he knows his choice not to believe will send him to hell, but he’s going to the grave sticking to his beliefs. Throw in all the letdowns of the millennial generation, frustration with the taste makers, and retrospect on failed relationships and the album reads as a disillusioned man gracefully and confidently coming of age in a difficult and disappointing world.

Standout Track(s): Ya Hey, Step, Unbelievers, Hannah Hunt

honorable mentions

Chvrches – The Mother We Share, Queens of the Stone Age – Like Clockwork, Arctic Monkeys – AM, Deerhunter – Monomania

similarity to overall top ten: 48%, 5 matches

top songs

10Reflektor – Arcade Fire

09Retrograde – James Blake

08Rap God – Eminem

07The Mother We Share – Chvrches

06Hannah Hunt – Vampire WeekendTough to chose from this album, but this one has risen to the top. Describes the sad revelations a road trip brings about to a failing relationship moving in separate directions. Beautifully moving.

05Here Comes The Night Time – Arcade FireMy favorite from the album, tells the missionaries and the zealots to stuff it. You can keep the lock on heaven’s gate, we’ll be dancing for eternity.

04Song For Zula – PhosphorescentHeart wrenchingly beautiful.

03A New Life – Jim JamesA great song to begin with, when the Roots joined him on Jimmy Fallon they added a 50s soul vibe and a full marching band that takes the song to next stratosphere. This particular version bumps it up to the top of the list and is the best thing I have seen all year. http://www.latenightwithjimmyfallon.com/video/jim-james-a-new-life/n32348/

02Royals – LordeI just totally dig that a song that was written to take a jab at the materialism of pop culture, was so embraced by the mainstream pop audience. It felt like more of an indie vibe to me, until I heard a handful of black girls singing along in the shops on South Street. Just goes to show you how far a well crafted pop song can go when it’s sung by a young, pretty face.

01Get Lucky – Daft PunkDance or get laid. I think both are worth pushing through the wee hours. I’m sure we can all relate. The mellow disco beats and Pharrell’s smooth voice make it impossible not to.

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