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Pop ‘stache’s Favorite Albums of 2013

written by: on December 17, 2013

#5050. Low – The Invisible Way

To record the follow-up to 2011’s C’mon, Low paired up with Wilco frontman (and Grammy nominee for Producer of the Year) Jeff Tweedy for what ends up being their best album in years. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s also their most accessible; some of the songs are downright frenetic compared to their other work. Thankfully, the songwriting is just as tense and dramatic as ever. “Plastic Cup” and “Clarence White” are some of Alan Sparhawk’s greatest slow-burners, but the real star this time around is Mimi Parker. After being the band’s secret weapon for years, she stepped up her game and took lead vocals on nearly half of the album’s eleven songs. Her delicate vocals will tug at your heartstrings on album highlights like “Just Make It Stop” and the haunting “Some Holy Ghost”, which would be covered by Mavis Staples only a few months later on her Tweedy-produced album One True Vine. If having a soul icon cover your song right after it comes out isn’t a sign that you’ve made something great, I don’t know what is. -Bryn Rich

#49 Vacation - Candy Waves49. Vacation – Candy Waves

The unlikely Cincinnati trio of blood-stained, solar-seeking skaters silently screamed a masterwork this year. Vacation is each of your favorite elements of pop punk without once smacking of fakeness or overproduction. Careful though, these feel-goods will stab your heart out with ecstatic abandon. We’re talking about a band who uses feedback like a bricklayer uses bricks. Behind each song there is a beast, an indescribably huge, flailing monster of omnipotent noise—reined in for the moment, barely, by Evan Wolff, Peyton Dabney Copes and Jerome Westerkamp. See the triumphant, melodic ode “Cellophone”, blistering-BPM opener “Pyro Hippies,” and the revolving guitar-squall finale on “Horny Politicians.” There are no lessons in Vacation, probably not even a point but to those who have seen the live show (the fuckers ignored my request for an interview), it’s described as something akin to spiritual rapture–pure, bleeding ear, ecstasy. Vacation, “that other band” on Don Giovanni, to my mind, was the strongest of the bunch this year. -Taylor Cowan

#48 My Gold Mask - Leave Me Midnight48. My Gold Mask – Leave Me Midnight

Once I heard an advance copy of Chicago trio My Gold Mask’s latest record, Leave Me Midnight, I had a hunch it would appear somewhere on my 2013 “best of” list.  I had no idea it would head up the bunch, but ad infinitum listens revealed new depth, new intricacies, new textures and wondrous shifts in dynamics and temperature.  Gretta Rochelle’s swirling, swooning, octave-jumping vocals and Jack Armondo’s guitar work and baritone backing vocals bring to mind their post-punk/goth forebears Siouxsie and the Banshees, Diamanda Galas, Dead Can Dance and Cocteau Twins.  But Leave Me Midnight, like the best albums, sounds like it could emanate from any time, from a present day release to a great lost sixties horror/art film soundtrack.  Although “Burn Like The Sun” might best coagulate all of the sounds and influences of My Gold Mask, from its Egyptian intro, Spaghetti Western soundtrack inflections and the way it channels both DCD and helium inflected obscurities Cranes, every track tops the previous one.  There are sonic and thematic through-lines, yet every composition features such compelling melodies and sports so many sonic bells and whistles (and gongs), My Gold Mask could be a different group on each song.  Brilliant. -Craig Bechtel

#47 Daughter - If You Leave47. Daughter – If You Leave

This year saw a peak in artists taking the “bigger is better” approach, bringing in countless collaborators, creating dress codes for their arena shows, and even managing to include a cameo from “White Jesus” during performances. Yes, it took a lot of courage to put out a fragile, minimalistic album about heartbreak in 2013. Luckily, Daughter’s If You Leave has the songwriting to stand out among this year’s flashier efforts. The songs are delicate and glazed in reverb, like a more introspective (and less trendy) version of The xx, occasionally interrupted by more lively efforts like “Human.” What really makes If You Leave great is the way certain lyrics will come out of nowhere to punch you right in the gut. Elena Tonra will knock the wind out of you with lines like “I’m sorry if I smothered you/Sometimes I wish I’d stayed inside my mother” and the heartwrenching chorus of “Youth,” “If you’re still breathing, you’re the lucky ones/’cause most of us are heaving through corrupted lungs/Setting fire to our insides for fun/Collecting names of the lovers that went wrong.” Should we get Morrissey to take a paternity test? -Bryn Rich

#46 Savages - Silence Yourself46. Savages – Silence Yourself

Savages really, really, really want you to be quiet—and listen. Album title, artist statement, first song and pre-concert notices be damned, they seem an outfit run completely on sound and fury. Before anyone heard a note, everyone knew what they came for —thanks to a series of very plainly worded manifestos on the band’s page. Jehnny Beth’s caustic wail falls in and out with the Gemma Thompson’s miasmic guitar in a macabre dance. Fay Milton’s thunder, along with the other singer, Ayse Hassan’s viciously stampeding basslines, go about murdering, efficiently, every preformed skepticism you had about the debut (e.g. derivative, hasty, fumbling for an aesthetic.) Everything from their staggering, unapologetic desire, to their soon-to-be iconic album cover art portends of greatness. Finally, a band like Savages. -Taylor Cowan

#45 Andrew Bird - I Want to See Pulaski at Night45. Andrew Bird – I Want to See Pulaski at Night

Each year around the holidays, Andrew Bird plays the Fourth Presbyterian Church in his native Chicago. It’s always multiple nights, it’s always sold out and it’s always transcendently fucking gorgeous. A week ago, I met a woman who had dragged her husband and child from upstate Maine to come see the violinist/guitarist/singer/songwriter/whistler play the night. Though there wasn’t an LP this year, Bird did us all a favor with Pulaski At Night. There’s something oddly analogous about Christmas music and Bird, they both have that haunting, sacred feeling—and despite their ancient, cavernous brooding, are joyous. Employing numerous devices from Break It Yourself/Hands of Glory, Pulaski at Night would appear to be a bridge from that effort to whatever’s next. An album of playful arrangements constructed around a single song of lyrical longing—nothing to see here, except Pulaski at Night. -Taylor Cowan

#44 J Cole - Born Sinner44. J. Cole – Born Sinner

Is it not cool to like this album? The way I’m hearing it, J. Cole has all the talent of his heros with hooks to boot. Sure, pop-rap isn’t well-received by hip-hop purists and gets nary a casual glance from those who usually avoid the genre altogether, but what’s the harm in just grooving to a beat and letting a talented rapper flow innocuously? Cole’s got the gall to sample Biggie’s “Juicy” and use “Sometimes I brag like Hov” as a mantra on the opening track; maybe’s he’s got something to back that up? Truly, the man has a nice flow and his beats groove pretty hard (Cole produced most this himself). He’s got the same sense as the Kanye West of old for sampling vintage soul and gospel (“Crooked Smile,” “Chaining Day” but he really loves to bring the bass too (“Power Trip,” “Trouble”). Cole hopes to gain the respect of his idol Nas on the penultimate track with more rhymes and less pop, and he’s really not that far off. His voice and his lyrics never reach that truly sublime level that Nas or Jay attained, but the talent is there. In the meantime, Born Sinner is just a pleasure to throw on whether you’re driving or kicking it. -Chris Favata

#43 Los Campesinos! - No Blues43. Los Campesinos! – No Blues

For diehard fans like myself, there is little wrong this group can do, and this year’s release continues the consistently excellent evolution of indie rock’s best kept secret. Gareth Campesinos’ take-no-prisoners wit and wry are the engine to this Cardiff outfit’s addictive brand of anthemic indie, and is at its apex with this year’s No Blues. But not only is Gareth’s lyricism at a high: The rest of the band have matured as a tight and talented machine of dynamism and catchiness, and as a result propel the short but memorable album ahead of its predecessors. Highlight “Avocado, Baby” is as silly as you think, but struts though a hook that should be considered one of the best of the year. If you can keep up with the literary and football references, good for you, but in all reality, you don’t need to know about the 2004 League Cup between Bolton and Middlesbrough to fall in love with No Blues. Just imagine how much fun screaming these songs along with the band is going to be. -Dorian Mendoza

#42 King Krule - 6 Feet Beneath the Moon42. King Krule- 6 Feet Beneath the Moon

19-year-old Archy Marshall, aka King Krule, is one of the most interesting songwriters to emerge on our radar in 2013. At 17 he debuted an EP in London, showcasing an incomparable and unique talent to the world. Just after turning 19, 6 Feet Beneath The Moon was released and he embarked on a Europe and North American tour. Krule’s voice is deep and grumbling with what could be the adolescent torture of broken love, but lyrical study points towards something wiser, older and much more thought-out. “This girl, she doesn’t hold a tear in my head/The brain lives on but the vibes are dead/Corrosively tread through emotionally spoon fed purpose/Hel me as the worthless/A surplus, blank white surface.” Hip hop airs across all tracks on the album, as does jazzy live jams and stark a capella proclamations spoken with a passion that demands our attention. Beneath Krule’s thick English accent and flaming red hair is a curious mixture of innocence, apathy and passion for lyrical expression- keep eyes out for him and his jam-loving bass band next year. -Adrienne Thomas

#41 Iron & Wine - Ghost on Ghost41. Iron & Wine – Ghost on Ghost

It’s always been interesting how widely Sam Beam’s post 2005 live show has deviated from his proper LP output. He has one the best live bands touring today, morphing his plaintive acoustic numbers into extended dub and jam trips, yet his records The Shepherd’s Dog and Kiss Each Other Clean have always tamed this wayward impulse into more plaintive, concentrated bits. This year’s Ghost On Ghost brought those two worlds together to sublime effect. Slow burning movements like “Grass Windows” make splendid use of a brass section. “The Desert Babbler” devotes a portion of it’s headphone space to 70s AM pop “oohs” and “ahhs,” Beam’s lyrical prowess is slightly blunted in the face of all the elements at play on Ghost (with the exception of heartbreaking closer “Baby Center Stage”), but instead of feeling wanting, the album makes up for lyrical slightness with hi-fi studio excellence. Yet another maturation for one of the best singer-songwriters on the planet. -Tyler Remmert