Sunday, June 30, 2013

Best Of The Year 2013: First Half Update

Welcome to MuzikDizcovery's quarterly article on our favorite releases of the year to date. Each of our staff members has posted a list of our five favorite albums of the year to date, with a little blurb showing why we love each one so much. Every album released in 2013 that we have heard was eligible, even if the album has not been released to the public just yet. As always, there's a wide variety of music on these lists, and every release on here is worth checking out. Owel, The World Is A Beautiful Place, Kanye West, Captain, We're Sinking, Rare Monk, Justin Timberlake, Sigur Ros, The Knife, Tegan And Sara, Youth Lagoon, The Wonder Years and Lights and Motion all take prominent spots in multiple lists, and represent some of the best that 2013 has to offer. Check out of all of our lists below, and click on any links in the album names for our reviews.

Casey Whitman

1. Owel - Owel
It always makes me both immensely happy and totally frustrated when a very under the radar band puts out a record that blows away nearly everything else released in a year. While it brings me a warm feeling to see small bands put out fantastic releases, it just makes me upset that such inferior bands are selling so much more to the masses. Either way, it's difficult not to be struck by the beauty of Owel's debut album. It's a gorgeous post-rock album with vocals and contains plenty of variety, moving from more powerful rock-based segments to beautiful ambient parts full of strings even between songs. Be sure to buy the album and support the band even by simply posting a link to their page, as music this fantastic deserves to be heard by everyone.

2. The Wonder Years - The Greatest Generation

The Wonder Years released Suburbia I've Given You All And Now I'm Nothing at approximately the same time of year in 2011 as they did with The Greatest Generation in 2013, so I had about the same amount of time to consume the albums between release and my first half list. While Suburbia ended up at #2 on my end of year list, it was called a "disappointment" in the mid-year update. In a comparison of impressions after a month, The Greatest Generation blows it away. The band's songwriting is easily its best to date, driving life into a pop punk genre that has grown boring and stale in the last two years. Tracks like "There, There," "Devil In My Bloodstream" and "I Just Want To Sell Out My Funeral" just keep raising the bar of what The Wonder Years is able to do, and there's no point doubting this band anymore. Expectations will always be exceeded.

3. The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die - Whenever, If Ever

The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die has had such a massive impact on the current emo scene that it's hard to imagine that Whenever, If Ever is their debut album. The fact that ten different musicians and four lyricists worked on the record makes it even more shocking that it's such a cohesive effort, combining beautiful ambient post-rock sections with crushing emo, while moving through many different styles of songwriting. This is an album that's as diverse as it gets, and it's no wonder that this record is Topshelf Records's first to chart.

4. Kanye West - Yeezus
Yeezus was one of the most interesting case studies on a release of an album that I've seen in recent years. An artist that is arguably the largest in the world decides to release an album without promotion and in a style that both rejects his previous styles and mainstream musical preferences. The reception of Yeezus has been mixed (to say it lightly), but it is absolutely a worthy mention in both Kanye's discography as well as any list of the best releases of 2013. The production is minimalist, but is still grimy and dirty to the point in which I've seen people call it one of the worst things they've ever listened to. The sexually charged "I'm In It" is enormous and one of my favorite tracks of the year, while "Bound 2" goes back to Kanye's roots in soul samples and Charlie Wilson's chorus is probably one of the best moments on the album. Yeezus absolutely doesn't exceed the modern classic of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but very few albums released will ever reach those heights. For now, Kanye will just have to stick with one of the best hip hop albums of the year rather than one of the best of all time.

5. Captain, We're Sinking - The Future Is Cancelled

The Menzingers's On The Impossible Past captivated me throughout all of last year, and it looks like Captain, We're Sinking's The Future Is Cancelled will be 2013's equivalent. It's a melodic punk album that contains a wonderful interplay between music and lyrics, forming a dynamic that should be used far more these days. While the fifth spot on this list was up for grabs, Captain We're Sinking inches past all those honorable mentions due to the emotional impact of the record as well as the potential shown by the young group to make something even greater.

A Bunch Of Honorable Mentions:

Ali Welford

1. Jon Hopkins - Immunity
I first encountered Jon Hopkins through his 2011 collaboration with King Creosote, and although I've subsequently investigated and enjoyed his solo work, none of it has quite struck me like the introspective magic of Diamond Mine. This fourth LP, though, is another matter altogether in terms of both quality and sound; the London producer melding his token ambience with a more dynamic, club-friendly guise. Arranged to portray the highs and lows of a wild night out, it's fitting that the record's two finest moments represent its two stylistic extremes, with the propulsive adrenaline rush of "Open Eye Signal" complimented wonderfully by the serene title track, which features a guest vocal from Creosote of staggering, barely equivocal beauty. Having said that, Immunity is a swooning sonic journey as opposed to a collection of individual tracks, and without doubt ranks among the best and most immersive electronic albums of recent years.

2. Sigur Rós - Kveikur
Sigur Rós' performance at Glagow's SECC back in March was the best I've ever witnessed by an almost obscene margin, and along with past stunners provided a tantalising glimpse of the Icelander's seventh LP. Released barely a year after ValtariKveikur is essentially everything that album was not, with shimmering, low-key ambience giving way to what is by some distance their most direct and accessible music to date. Promises of an "aggressive" new direction are upheld by the phenomenal "Brennistein" and the percussive behemoth that is the title track, but on the whole it's the pop-tinged numbers such as "Ísjaki" and "Bláþráður" which are most indicative as to the overall direction. Immediacy isn't something many people associate with Sigur Rós, but it's culminated in comfortably their strongest release since Takk... and shown that their template is indeed open to adjustment.

3. The Knife - Shaking the Habitual

I've tried listening to Shaking the Habitual through speakers a few times, and to be honest with you, I've never made it all the way through. This is partly due to its ludicrous and undoubtedly bloated 96-minute runtime, but mainly it's because I just find it boring - aside that is from the phenomenal bombast of "Full of Fire". Plug in a pair of headphones, however, and the contrast is extraordinary. Rather than passing over your head, The Knife's new, darker sounds now rattle through your body like nails being run down a blackboard, an aural sensation which brings the likes of "A Cherry on Top" and "Raging Lung" to life. Even the 19-minute drone of "Old Dreams Waiting to Be Realised" suddenly becomes tolerable, and although the final two tracks are somewhat unnecessary the album as a whole gradually reveals itself to be a truly gripping achievement.

4. Frightened Rabbit - Pedestrian Verse
Selkirk's finest have been a favourite of mine for quite a while now, but I must admit I was sceptical upon first hearing LP number four - their major label debut. It all seemed a little upbeat, and although Scott Hutchinson's lyrics were as strong as ever it took a good few listens before I began to truly appreciate Pedestrian Verse's excellence. Once I did, though, it revealed itself to be virtually everything I'd hoped for; a record which embraced misery rather than wallowed in it, and one packed to the brim with the type of passionate, anthemic indie rock they're currently doing better than anyone. It might not be on the same level as The Midnight Organ Fight, but it's nevertheless satisfying to see such a great band move forward in both a musical and commercial capacity.

5. Queens of the Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork
Josh Homme and QOTSA went downhill badly in the latter half of the '00s - so much so that few complained during the six years they spent recharging their creative batteries. Right from the opening bars of "Keep Your Eyes Peeled," though, it becomes obvious that extended break has done them the world of good; the subsequent guest-littered LP being easily their best since Songs For The Deaf all of 11 years ago. Resisting the urge for furious rockouts, ...Like Clockwork instead settles into a comfortable, mid-paced groove, with lead single "My God Is the Sun" the only notable deviation. It mightn't appeal so much to the heavier elements of their fanbase, but it all results in a sexy and seemingly effortless opus which firmly re-establishes them among modern rock's A-listers.

Nathan Flynn

Maybe it’s my search for a thread of continuity in my first summer after college or my unwavering adoration with all things Timberlake clouding my judgement, but this album remains my number one of the year. The length of the album is more intriguing with every listen, twisting straightforward songs like “Pusher Love Girl” into vaguer, more intriguing numbers or establishing “Mirrors” as a track that isn’t the literalization of JT and Timbaland’s relationship. Some songs have certainly lost their luster, I finally understand those who never enjoyed “Suit and Tie,” but the middle third of the album, from “Strawberry Bubblegum” to “Spaceship Coupe,” is a string of impeccably constructed and intriguingly superficial songs. I’m still not convinced this album is better than FutureSex/LoveSounds, but I do know “Blue Ocean Floor” is still as enchanting as it was when I first heard it; those who disagree need to stop holding the wall.

2. Tegan and Sara - Heartthrob
I don’t have a lot to say about Heartthrob, it’s just one of those albums where you listen to it and ask “can I spin it again?” It doesn’t play itself out; it just gets back in your head. Without a doubt the most commercially accessible of the Quin twins’ releases, this album gets straight to the point, driving home powerful synth melodies and a wide variety of hooks- ear candy in its purest form. There’s nothing really innovative or impressive about Heartthrob, but it is an incredibly easy, satisfying listen. Its straightforwardness lends it a slightly chameleonic quality- the synths are loud enough to blast in the car, Tegan’s vocals are tempered enough to use as muzak- but the duo’s charisma it what keeps you coming back. This concise collection of love songs is one that shouldn’t be missed.   

3. The-Dream - IV Play
 IV Play is the sound of The-Dream selling out and proving he deserves to be the main attraction. His solo songs- among which “IV Play,” “Michael” and my personal favorite for reasons I can’t quantify “Equestrian”- are far more cohesive and rhythmic than those with celebrity cameos shoehorned in. 2 Chainz proves to be the most valuable of the support staff, turning in a verse whose ludicrous lyrics fit in well with The-Dream’s artfully sleazy ballads, but it’s Mr. Terius Nash, the man behind the music, who constantly steals the show from his more commercially appealing guest stars. Doing double duty, as he always has, on production and vocals, The-Dream effectively mixes synth and vocal swells with nearly whispered verses and minimalist production. The twinges of Autotune are anything but gratuitous, tweaking Nash’s voice into a shape-shifting tour de force. His lyrics, on the other hand, have never been as suggestive and blunt, occasionally cross the line into the tastelessly obscene, but this is the only area in which he shows no restraint. IV Play is a calculated release that may taint The-Dream’s ‘auteur’ label, but is a nonetheless charged, entertaining release.

My friends called me a dick-rider and bandwagoner throughout the NBA playoffs because I was cheering for the Heat (which isn’t any worse than cheering for ‘whoever is playing the Heat,’ by the way) so shit really hit the fan when they found out I liked Yeezus. The criticisms of it are valid: it’s not very easy to listen to, the lyrics are insane and contradictory to his older material, it’s not as good as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but why would we expect anything else from Kanye? Since Graduation, when he incorporated Euro-pop into his sound, changed the face of popular rap and ended 50 Cent’s career in one fell swoop, his objective has been to commercialize underground phenomena (listen for the Death Grips influence on the first half of the album) and raise awareness for the perceived racism of our culture. On Yeezus, Kanye figures himself as a sort of black God, who looks down on the culture he has helped create. “New Slaves” is especially drenched in hypocrisy, as Ye sits atop his Olympus, frowning on those who spend paychecks on clothes and “I Am a God” is already internet-famous for the “hurry up with my damn croissants” line, but is also notable because Kanye spends a majority of the song ordering other people around; commanding the new slaves to “get his Porsche out the damn garage.” Yeezus isn’t going to make him any new friends and has seen many fans turn their backs on him, but he’s comfortable setting trends and doing his own thing. The Christian God is hypocritical and vengeful, can’t Yeezus be the same way without us questioning him?

I’d like to believe Laura Stevenson is the kind of girl my mother expected me to date when I was in high school but who I wouldn’t give the time of day to. She seems simple, almost boringly so, but has a great understanding of how to dram empathy from the listener. This unique musical charisma, part-lyrical, part-instrumental, is the result of incredible lyrics, gentle vocals and a cast of guest musicians who would sound at home on the Grand Ole Opry stage. Mostly, though, it’s the perceived conception of her character that carries the album. Stevenson seems so genuine and so poetic in writing this breakup album that you can’t help but side with her. As she explores the relationship from all sides, you have to side with her; there’s no way she could do wrong- both in real life and on record. With only three “solo” albums under her belt, it’s still too early to declare Stevenson a Master of Art but her resume got a lot stronger with Wheel.

Dan Hounslea

1. The Dillinger Escape Plan - One Of Us Is The Killer
Gone are the days when The Dillinger Escape Plan viciously marauded your eardrums for forty minutes straight, but now is the time when they demonstrate their efficacy as musicians. More mature than its predecessors but still with their trademark bite, One Of Us Is The Killer builds confidently on the blueprint set by both Ire Works and Option Paralysis resulting in their best album in almost 10 years. You don't need to look much further than the title track to see just how far the band has come, and the long road on which they started is merely a speck on the horizon.

2. Night Verses - Lift Your Existence
Arriving late but most welcomely on the second quarterly scene, Night Verses debut album sees them announce themselves in the boldest way imaginable. Taking all the highs of modern post-hardcore and blending them seemlessly into one delicious album, Lift Your Existence is the highlight of both Doug Robinson's career and of all the post-hardcore releases of 2013.

Although Trevor Powers' second album has lost some of its initial surprise and charm, one bare fact remains - Wondrous Bughouse is brilliant. Sure, at times it treads a little too closely to the layered soundscapes of Animal Collective, but the way in which Powers channels paranoia and melancholy is sublime, with eerie beats and cathy hooks rarely out of balance. Caught in the right mood with the right headphones, Wondrous Bughouse will take you for one hell of a ride.

4. Queens Of The Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork
Featuring a melting pot of past QOTSA members, ...Like Clockwork draws expertly on the wealth of knowledge and creativity available to show once more why they are one of the finest rock bands on the planet. "If I Had A Tail" and "I Sat By The Ocean" typify the more mature approach the band takes, and it's a route which many will be content for them to follow for many years given the album's excellence.

5. Kurt Vile - Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze
Wakin' On A Pretty Daze should be the album which propels Kurt Vile into the bigtime. Long progressive jams dominate the album and accurately reflect the personality of the man behind the music. His penchant for hooks has not disappeared entirely though, and the shorter, catchier tracks provide good variety and contrast to the epics surrounding them. If you're looking for music to amble, chill or get lost in, Kurt Vile's latest and finest album will be your soundtrack.

Will Robinson

1. Kanye West - Yeezus
As is clear from responses to the album thus far from around the Internet. Yeezus is a rather polarizing album.  "Well, duh," some might say. It's a long stride away from the easily listenable yet profound My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and the harsh, ragged industrial stylings are difficult to experience. However, in this writer's opinion there hasn't been a better constructed album in a very long while. Kanye West is a genius producer, and rather than using his production to forward the massive ego he displays on his raps he instead utilizes scared, skittery noises and beats to highlight the huge dichotomy between rapper Kanye's focus on self and producer Kanye's realization of the destructive nature of rapper Kanye. The production is nothing short of brilliant, especially in conjunction with the rap, and it's likely that Yeezus will be atop this list at the end of the year as well.

2. Naibu - Fall
I was a little surprised at how quickly Fall was toppled from its Album Of The Year pedestal. The fact that it's now number 2 doesn't really speak to it's own lack of quality, though (and, I mean, it's still the second-best album of the year), but to the quality of Yeezus instead. Because Fall is one of the best drum & bass releases in a very long time. It's thoughtful, careful, shimmering, and loads of other good things, and just as importantly it isn't stereotypical liquid drivel in the least. The eight-minute "Wrong" actually uses all eight of those minutes to ebb and flow, and rather than feel overlong it's perfectly paced and complete. It's more a picture of the whole EP, though - by not confining itself to standard DnB tropes, it succeeds in ways no one was expecting.

3. Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience
Speaking of eight-minute songs feeling complete rather than overlong, direct your attention to Justin Timberlake's Mirrors. It's an eight-minute pop song, the first four or five of which have been all over top-40 radio over the past few months. However, what the radio edit misses is the last three and a half minutes of the song, which are some of the best three-and-a-half minutes in music this year. The piano, JT's falsetto, and the robotic "You are, you are the love of my life" combine to make an utterly sublime ending to a fantastic songs. Moments like this are scattered all over The 20/20 Experience - the entirety of opener Pusher Love Girl, the one-two-three punch of "Strawberry Bubblegum," "Tunnel Vision," and "Spaceship Coupe," and the beautiful ending of "Blue Ocean Floor" are all near-perfect. And while the album isn't quite as consistently coherent or high-quality as its mainstream polar opposite, Yeezus, it's still easily one of the best albums in a while, and could probably be atop this list were 2013 not such a strong year for music.

4. Captain, We're Sinking - The Future Is Cancelled
The Future Is Cancelled is one of the most impressive debut albums I've heard in quite some time. The melodic punk sounds of the whole thing make for a fast-paced, no-holds-barred ride through the land of hitting rock bottom. "Adultery" is one of the best album openers since Brand New's "Sowing Season," and the rest of the album follows suit accordingly. It's a very messy album, with screechy guitars and slightly irritating high vocals throughout, and succeeds all the more because of it. Lyrically, the album is surprisingly potent - the opening line of "More Tequila, Less Joe," "Well, I'm staring at a blank page / And I don't like writing anymore," fits the ethos of the album so well that it hits hard. Here's hoping Captain, We're Sinking can hold over their success on future releases - if they can, they have the potential to be one of the best punk bands of the decade, if not ever.

5. Bonobo - The North Borders
I talked about this a bit in a previous post, but I forged an almost inexplicable emotional connection with Bonobo's The North Borders. I completely immersed myself in the ethereal production and clinking keys, and as a result the album "clicked" in a way I wasn't expecting. The elegant trip-hop and downtempo electronic is pristine and beautifully chilled-out, and the whole "organic" feel of the whole thing works wonders for the cohesive nature of the album as a whole. Everything is so carefully done - just listen to the tinkling water and glass of "Cirrus" and see how every single noise is edited to perfection. One of the most perfectly balanced albums of the year, The North Borders is Bonobo at his best.

For further listening:
6. Swindle - Long Live The Jazz
7. V.I.V.E.K - Asteroids / Over My Head
8. How To Destroy Angels - Welcome Oblivion
9. Anamanaguchi - Endless Fantasy
10. The Wonder Years - The Greatest Generation
11. Andrew Bayer - If It Were You, We'd Never Leave
12. Deville - Hydra
13. Paris - Paris
14. CHON - Newborn Sun
15. James Ferraro - Cold

Jonny Hunter

1. Geskia! - Silent of Light
Despite looking a little lonely without any of its January-March friends, Silent of Light still stands proud at the top of the list. Everything to do with this record is a buzzing swarm of different approaches and preferences all leashed together in a beautifully haphazard way: from the juxtaposition of melody and percussive complexity to the unending depth of differing textures. It's possibly not the best album to use to draw in the layman, but time spent exploring Silent of Light will result in it opening up like a flower full of gold, diamonds or cocaine: whatever you personally crave, really.

2. Petrels - Onkalo
I said this in the review, but the defining moment of Onkalo is the second movement of "Characterisation Level," which sees a shrill collection of whines routinely brushed aside by a deep, unstoppable drone. It creates a feeling so raw and powerful you can't help but marvel at the sheer force behind it. For an album attempting to explore the minute reality of human existence against the comparatively immortal universe, it couldn't be more on point. Neither could it sound better on vinyl, though it has little (or nothing) to do with the meaning.

3. Bluhm - In the Veil of Tears
It was only a matter of time before 2013 found it's own "so many feels" ambient album. Usually the album in question would be some Stars of the Lid side project (i.e. A Winged Victory for the Sullen, The Dead Texan etc.), but this time it's a result of a collaboration between Tim Diagram (of ambient legends Maps & Diagrams) and Macedonian singer Genoveva. The result is an extraordinarily deep and contemplative mix of light, orchestral drones and rich, husky vocals ready to carry you off to a particularly reflective sleep. I could not recommend this highly enough, and were it winter this would have sit very snuggly at #1.

4. U-ziq - Chewed Corners
With competition from Daft Punk and Boards of Canada, there were very steep odds against U-ziq coming back on top - so steep it wouldn't have been worth the effort to make the bet. The odds were wrong, and someone out there's a millionaire, because the mind behind Planet Mu has proved he's definitely still got it. Chewed Corners latches on to the blend of analogue, retro-neofuturism (god that's a mouthful) and completely dominates it: bringing woozy optimism to the myriad genres and styles incorporated throughout its run time. What's more, anyone lucky enough to buy the LP directly from Planet Mu will also receive 55 minutes of unreleased material - it's literally two albums in one.

5. Boards of Canada - Tomorrow's Harvest
I realise I may have come across as a bit harsh when reviewing this. Not from some eurecha moment, but because I was told so: by quite a few people. The fact is it was the only option I had when writing about who many including myself consider to be the greatest artists still working today. Seriously, they need to develop a new letter of the alphabet preceding A so Music Has the Right to Children and Geogaddi could receive a proper score here. Maybe A+++ will have to do for both of them for the time being. Without being critical, I would just come across as gushing, and as a self-styled elitist I just cannot have that. Tomorrow's Harvest is Boards of Canada on an off day, so as a result they only manage to be number 5 out of the 600 or so albums I've heard so far. Shame on them.

Maxwell Harcsar

1. The Wonder Years - The Greatest Generation
My most anticipated for this year, The Wonder Years released their best and most cohesive album to date. The Greatest Generation is fast, slow, experimental, progressive, mature, and emotional all wrapped up into a realist pop-punk package. Every song hits hard, and it's going to be hard for the band to top this album. A true piece of history in the development in pop punk, and a milestone for the hardworking band members.

2. Light Years - I Won't Hold This Against You
Cleveland-based pop punkers Light Years released their first full length a couple weeks back, and boy is it a ripper. Speeding through 12 tracks at a blistering pace, songs chug along featuring some of my favorite choruses of the year. I Won't Hold This Against You is catchy, but not repetitive, and the band jumps outside the cliché genre box to explore a variety of different sounds. The album was heralded as "pop punk for grown ups," and it definitely delivers.

3. The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die - Whenever, If Ever
The massive collective of The World Is A Long Band Name also released their debut full-length, an emotional roller coaster that pulls influence from all corners of the universe to create a remarkable, unique sadfest. After landing in the top 200 Billboard charts, you should know TWIABP means business drifting between dissonant emo tunes laced with elements of post-rock. Finally, the band released a record that's long enough!

4. Rotting Out - The Wrong Way
Coming out of left field is The Wrong Way by Rotting Out. I hadn't heard of the band before this year until a friend recommended them, and I've got to say they're absolutely fantastic. The Wrong Way harkens back to hardcore's glory days before it became tinged with metal with 11 tracks of pure skate-punk tracks. I've listened to this album innumerable times, and though some of the middle songs blur together, you can't help but scream along and bang your head.

5. Allison Weiss - Say What You Mean
No Sleep sweetheart and all around talented singer-songwriter Allison Weiss put out Say What You Mean and immediately became my go-to summertime anthem. The direct indie-pop hits the sweet spot between rock and roll and a more subdued indie sound, and the choruses will latch onto your skull upon the first listen. Also a newcomer to my music library, I hadn't heard of Weiss before until I saw her play a show at a bowling alley with Pentimento and Candy Hearts. Guess you can say it stuck with me, and it should stick with you, too.

Honorable Mentions:
Daylight - Jar
A strong grungy album, full of headbanging moments and 90's nods. "Knew" is one of my favorite songs of the year. I can hear Nirvana all over it.

The Front Bottoms - Talon of the Hawk
The follow up to the band's debut, Talon of the Hawk is a less-charming, but evolutionary partner that's a bit more rock-driven.

Pity Sex - Feast of Love
I haven't had much time with this, but Feast of Love is quickly becoming my go-to in car rides. I was stuck in traffic for an hour, and listened to it twice. Let's see how it grows on me.

Mixtapes - Ordinary Silence
I thought I grew out of the Mixtapes phase, but I guess not. I listened to Ordinary Silence and was pleasantly surprised: great hooks, simple-but-tight musicianship and the best vocals to date. Kudos!

Misser - Distancing
5 songs of (what is practically the same) alternative pop punk from the supergroup that are solid, particularly "Goddamn, Salad Days" and "Slow It Down//Write It Out." The former being an edgy wollop, while the latter is the band's best song to date.

Moses Kim

Musicians from the heart of Florida let themselves sink into the muggy May clime; dig deep and excavate beatific ballads, joyous jam sessions and smoky jazz serenades. Treasure seekers usually revel in the hunt, and make no mistake, there’s a hunt to all this madness—but the big red X will only lead you right back to your backyard. Good night, good night.

2. Thao and the Get Down Stay Down - We The Common
We The Common is a cross-section of the modern urban diaspora: it’s hard to find rhythm and reason in a mass of 10 million, to identify these unknown faces as your people. With some crafty songwriting, bountiful instrumentation, and just a hint of genius, Thao Nguyen bridges the gap.

Sunshine dreams anchored with tinges of weariness. Sounds like those mornings when you open your eyes forty minutes before your alarm’s set to go off and somehow the sun’s there to meet you.

4. Farewell Fighter - Challenges
I don’t trust myself to be objective when it comes to Farewell Fighter, so take this as a personal declaration: Challenges is THE album of 2013, the capitalized Big Statement that I will use to encapsulate my last year of high school. And it’s so good that objectivity be damned, I just know somehow it’ll worm its way into the hearts of anybody else who listens.

I’ve been burnt enough times to know not to trust a promise when I hear one. And yet The Boxer Rebellion’s latest album is so earnest and refreshing that it’s made a believer of me once again. 

The rest of my top 10:
8. OneRepublic - Native

Other albums I enjoyed this year:
Bell X1 - Chop Chop
We Are The City - Violent
dep - Ever Looming
Fall Out Boy - Save Rock And Roll

Mat Fukano

Reanimation retains its top spot on my list because it retains subconscious presence in my mind. There's never a moment where I can turn on Reanimation and have it feel out of place. The flow of the immaculately written tracks is flawless, and the entire album is a joy to listen to again and again. Lights & Motion wrote a powerful record and the stunning debut refuses to submit to anything else.

2. Owen - L'Ami du Peuple
Mike Kinsella somehow improves Owen's discography with every album he releases. And he's never short of things to talk about, which might be the selling point for most of his albums - they're intimate pieces of work that always relate to his life in the most touching of ways. The sensitive message dances and sings with his powerful instrumentation allow this album to be even better than Ghost Town.

3. Mogwai - Les Revenants
Les Revenants has had less presence than any of Mogwai's other albums. It's the dramatic music underlying a depressing funeral scene and the creeping music behind any good ghost story. For once, Braithewaite doesn't have to show the world that he's a rockstar and still garner absolute respect for his music.

The only reason that Illumination Ritual isn't higher on this list is the fact that the other three records have a powerful resiliency that is very hard to shake. That being said, they're all quality albums, and The Appleseed Cast's latest effort is no exception. Their beautiful blend of emo and post-rock displays their discography as not a collection of trophies, but as a process of learning and adapting. The fluid, 10-track release is a testament to the band's pursuit of perfection and displays exceptional technique and harrowing emotion.

5. The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die - Whenever, If Ever
I first got the chance to listen to The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die's (whew) newest release a few days after release on a whim; in fact, I didn't even really know they existed until Whenever, If Ever blew me away in its entirety. It's such a very different take on emo music than what I'm used to. It takes Empire! Empire!'s sound, throws in a ton of upbeat jams and adds tonal experimentation and lots of feel good choir vocals. The band's creativity certainly knows no bounds and they're willing to try anything, as aptly seen on this wonderful record.

Honorable Mentions:
Oak - Not Afraid Anymore
Autism - The Crawling Chaos
I am waiting for you last summer - Edge Party
Alex Newton

Released both with and without vocals, The Ocean’s sixth LP is an astonishing journey through the depths of the ocean and the human psyche. Conceived as a single piece of music, Pelagial ranges from serene piano pieces to thunderous doom metal over its 53-minutes.

Sigur Ros’ distinctive brand of post-rock may have been largely perfected with 1999’s Aegaetis Byrjun, but that hasn’t stopped them from released a string of stellar albums ever since. Sung completely in the band’s synthetic language Hopelandic, Kveikur is a haunting and imaginative work by one of the most respected bands in progressive music.   

3. Intronaut - Habitual Levitations
Continuing its evolution from a sludge metal outfit to a progressive powerhouse, Intronaut landed a headlining tour this summer in support of its newest album, Habitual Levitations. The quartet’s most accessible effort yet – and the first without harsh vocals – Levitations is anexample of an excellent metal band showing they’re just plain excellent.

It’s been a good year for Finnish metal, but Kalmah’s newest album stands out from the pack. Combining the hooks of melodeath with the grit of thrash metal, Seventh Swamphony is solid top-to-bottom with explosive songs and adds several new dynamics to the band’s sound.

Leprous may be known as Ihsan’s backing band, but that could change in a hurry with efforts like Coal, an album that aptly straddles two musical worlds of extremity and accessibility. Largely forgoing metal for progressive rock a la King Crimson and Rush, Leprous is quickly becoming major players in the heavy music scene.

Daniel Rhoads

1. Parquet Courts - Light Up Gold
I have a tendency to second guess myself. Parquet Courts’ second record, Light Up Gold, has been at the top of my 2013 list since I heard it. Every now and then, after maybe a month of not listening, I wonder if I made my excitement up. Maybe, sometime early February, I was so desperate for a record to love that I gave myself totally to one that could, on paper, have made me mad. They borrow from Television, the Modern Lovers, Meat Puppets, Pavement - all bands near and dear to me. Influences like that make me defensive, like I don’t want them violated or something. When I get this funny feeling, I do what must be done and put the record on. Then my head starts bobbing, and my toes moving around frantically feel freer than they have in, yeah, probably about a month. Nine songs of straight perfection slur into one another all careening towards the apex of “Stoned and Starving”, a quest of a song, so obvious and outright that it sells itself short, starting nowhere and ending nowhere like every roundabout journey humankind has ever made. I’m not overselling.

2. These New Puritans - Field of Reeds
A thick ring of something separates These New Puritans’ latest from the greater mess of indie. Hidden was a conscious push forward. They had something to prove - despite all the odds, including a 10/10 from Vice for a first album that owed a little too much to the past, they overcame the label of hype-band and mailed in their first true thing of beauty. So, Field of Reeds is odd because it doesn’t shout out like the next step in rock, or scratch with discord. It’s delicate, and slowly rhythmic like the sensation of growing, built around figures that repeat like a back and forth wind. Strings and horns and keys and hums go all over the place, but not too fast, and never too out of reach. It’s seaside music, but for the darker days when no one wants to be out and the beach is silent but for the nature we usually overlook through our sighs of contentment and pulp-reads and the squeals of kids with sand in their eyes from digging. The ocean shows the movements of the earth more plainly than any other place, crashing and reforming in front of us, like yelling in our faces to see and understand that everything is a cycle. That’s Field of Reeds - Jack Barnett, acting for us, staring back at one of the few true abysses we know, and understanding, or at least hoping to. The New Age hit of the year by a bunch of just-post-pubescent Brit art-rockers that used to be immature enough to think Mark E. Smith had something important to say. Worth investing in, I say. 

I saw Iceage a little under a month ago, and I was underwhelmed. It doesn’t really matter, though, because You’re Nothing is powerful enough to speak for itself. In fact, putting a face on the angst almost cheapens it. That growling, pissed voice can be yours for a half-hour if you let this record play. The words can mean whatever you wish. You can send them in whatever direction you please. They’re there for you. Iceage as an act are just entertainment, maybe even cut-rate. You’re Nothing is a tool. It exists for you, and I suggest you utilize it instead of banging your head or your fist against the wall. Your landlord will not appreciate. 

A lot about the way I think about music has changed in the months since m b v came out. There are parts of this record that are so beautiful, that do precisely what they’re supposed to, guitars screeching and oscillating like future-machines mining away at the fabric of life, tapping in to some effervescent stream beneath consciousness, and delivering it all to our doorstep wrapped in a soft blanket of “ooh’s” and hushed non sequiturs. As excited as I was when I heard it was going to be released, I hardly had a right. Noise lovers my age can talk all they want about 21 year hiatuses and blah blah, but there are people who have been literally waiting since 1991. Who’s to say Kevin Shields didn’t deliver for them. Certainly not me. But m b v helped me realize a greater truth - that genius is a myth as old as time, as important and fascinating as any other, driving humanity to fulfill their potential. Loveless is both an end (for Shields) and a compelling force (for the rest of us). Shields isn’t some champion. For a moment, in 1991, he realized himself, and so, like the bodhisattvas, he now acts as a guide. In comparison to his masterpiece, m b v is wonderfully human. Because he is a human, you know, like us, and he makes mistakes like “Is This and Yes” just like us. That reminder may be his greatest, most empowering gift. 

Who in 2013 has balls like the Knife’s Karen Andersson? Shaking the Habitual is an utter shelling of success, an affront to fame so vile and terrifying at times will make you want to cover your ears, but in that horror-movie way where you feel like you aren’t in control, like you must listen, no matter how much it scares you. This is a full-scale assault on consumerism, entrenched racism and prejudice, inequality, the whole shebang, that refuses to hide behind elegant, side-stepping Radioheadisms and instead  barrels ahead with no hope for financial gain. The way Andersson screams about the darkness, the true turmoil of humanity’s vast and muted oppressed class, wrenches guts and simulates the pain, for a moment helping it seem real to those who couldn’t possibly imagine. This record is flawed, clunky and overwrought in places, and perhaps a bit too self-aware, but it should not and cannot be ignored. 

And the other five:

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