Monday, December 23, 2013

Top Albums, Shows and Songs of 2013

When I’m old, fat and (hopefully) happy, I will probably look back at 2013 as a pivotal blip in my life, where I lost one of the most important things to me—something I had been planning my entire adult existence around for some eight years—and was suddenly forced to forge a new path on a new map. Opposite directions, graduation, crumbling, cynicism, and the renouncing of my faith in what I thought was my home. Yes, more downs than ups this time around, but if everything was perfect, I’d never feel anything (the balance will allow). To my beautiful lady, supportive family and the following bands, albums and shows that consistently found a way to lift me up from wherever I had fallen this year, I am forever thankful.

 My Top Ten Albums of 2013:

10. Los Campesinos! – No Blues 

No matter how grey the morning, the repeated act of rolling over in bed and groggily opening my now-vintage Winamp player with a queued No Blues somehow always found a way to brighten the overcast skies glooming my disheveled, lonely dorm room. Yes, Mr. Paisey, I think your “For Flotsam” prescription is correct. One more, please.

9. Tera Melos – X’ed Out

The staggeringly diverse X'ed Out plays out like some sort of classic vaudeville show, where the freakish idiosyncrasies of dream pop, math, indie and doom metal all get an equal chance to shine in front of the oddly silent audience.  Criminally underrated in my book and noticeably absent from other year-end round ups, Tera Melos deserves far more than the paucity of praise doled out in 2013.  Hopefully the new year will have given X'ed Out enough time to skin in.

8. TTNG – 

In 2013, I came to terms with something I’ve been ignoring for quite some time: I am unabashedly a math rock fanboy. TTNG just so happens to be one of the best bands doing it right now, so their spot on my list was basically guaranteed as soon as the first jangly notes of “Cat Fantastic” twinkled into my ears. Throw in some rhythmic absurdity in “I’ll Take the Minute Snake” and I’m still as unashamed as ever.

7. Annuals – Time Stamp 

Originally hailed as the "swan song" for Annuals, who were precariously on the brink of disbanding earlier in the year, Time Stamp brought new life back into these forgotten indie masterminds with 11 tracks of pure, unrestrained fun.  From the pinball arcade playfulness of "Broke" to the meta rejection percussion in "I Quit," Annuals is clearly at the top of their creative game with Time Stamp, which, with a little luck, won't be the last we hear from them.

6. Touché Amore - Is Survived By 

To deliver is one thing. But to overcome all of the internal insecurities of succeeding with album three while completely and unarguably delivering to everyone that has invested their faith in you, well, that’ll definitely help ensconce even the humblest of offerings. I will remember what it was. I will attach myself to it, and learn just how much more there is to believe in. Consistently never let down, Bolm and friends, I’m in. 

5. Typhoon – White Lighter 

Discovering Typhoon was like unearthing some closely guarded secret that had been kept from me for years.  Who would've thought a folk collective with years of experience and over ten members could have eluded me for this long?  And who would have equally thought an album so fixated on death and human insignificance could be this uplifting?  By the time the denouement of melancholic strings finish off the opus that is White Lighter, I am more appreciative than ever of such mountains we humans can create with our meager existence.

4. A Lot Like Birds – No Place 

The sheer ambition of No Place should be enough to warrant mountains of year-end praise for these Sacramento alchemists, but the near-perfect execution is what’s going to be remembered. Masters of bringing low simmers to a boil, A Lot Like Birds prove their worth again and again from their liberal emotional applications in “No Nurture” and “Kuori Ledge” to the schizophrenic clatter of “No Nature,” which is so unsettling that you’ll want to go running down the hall screaming for your parents. Somehow, though, there is an odd sense of comfort within this conceptual demonic household, and no matter how dark it gets, you’re never going to want to leave. Not like you could, anyway.

3. HRVRD – From the Bird’s Cage 

An early year frontrunner for me, HRVRD's deceivingly intricate sophomore attempt has withstood the test of time again and again in this remarkably dense 12 months of new music.  Rather than bombard you with complexity, the compositions instead gradually reel you in over time like some seasoned salesperson, well-aware From the Bird's Cage is absolutely what you need, even if you haven't quite decoded the "Black Creme" cipher yet.  Synth, brass, syncopation, vocal looping, and so much more.  Why aren't these guys selling out concert halls yet?

2. Barrow – Though I’m Alone 

I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing, but Barrow is what I believe to be quintessential go-to band for all of your late night reveling-in-the-proverbial-pool-of-depression needs. Whether you just need to let yourself bleed from the complete and utter absence of a loved one (“Wither”) or cynically accept your grim fate as another caged number trapped within a suburban box (“God’s in His Heaven—All is Well”), Though I’m Alone exists as an oddly bright shot in the dark, asserting that you may not be as dreadfully alone as you once thought.

1. Enemies – Embark, Embrace 

I wish I could say I was with you from the beginning. I wish I could say my longtime expectations were fully and completely met, but somehow, yet again, I was late to the party, not arriving until 2012. While I may have missed the tapping of the keg, the first slice of the shovel into the clay, I was early enough to appreciate the significance of hearing you speak for the first time. I heard you learn to walk, run, swim and sail in “Executive Cut,” and by the time you decided to go out on your own and run away with someone in “Indian Summer,” I was, of course, sad (and incredibly anxious) to see my full-grown baby set off, virtually alone. But I should have learned by now just how strong you are. I should have known that you feel most at home when you're away. I realize how hard it is to stay put, but yet still, I cannot wait to embrace you with open arms when you finally come back home.

Honorable Mentions:

Melt-Banana - Fetch 

A Great Big Pile of Leaves – You’re Always On My Mind 

And So I Watch You From Afar – All Hail Bright Futures 

Crash of Rhinos – Knots 

The Dear Hunter – Migrant 

Top Live Shows: 

1. The Dillinger Escape Plan, Cat's Cradle, 5/30
2. Melt-Banana, Local 506, 11/5
3. Weatherbox, Local 506, 2/23
4. RVIVR, Pinhook, 10/22
5. Fall Out Boy, The Filmore, 6/1

Year-End Mixtape: 

Thanks for reading!  As a last-minute impulse of fun, if you really want to get a sense of the emotional roller coaster that was my 2013, then I recommend taking a step into my shoes for an evening and playing these songs sequentially, all of which were released this year.  Check them all out here. For best results, add headphones and an easily accessible fifth of Evan Williams:

Side One:

“Young” – Air Review 
“Smoke and Mirrors” – Widowspeak 
“Cardboard Houses” – HRVRD 
“Constract Contrast” – Geskia! 
“Wrinkle” – I Can Make A Mess 
“Cat Fantastic” – TTNG 
“True Trans Soul Rebel” – Against Me! 
“Possible Deaths” – Typhoon 
“Big Thinks Do Remarkable” – And So I Watch You From Afar 
“Prancer” – The Dillinger Escape Plan 
“Impasses” – Crash of Rhinos 

 Side Two:

“Color Blind” – Comadre 
“Blue Angels” – Touché Amore 
“I Am A God” – Kanye West 
“X’ed Out and Tired” – Tera Melos 
“Back to School” – A Great Big Pile of Leaves 
“New Old” – Restorations 
“Pull the Pin” – The Lonely Forest 
“Phoenix” – Fall Out Boy 
“Big News” – Weatherbox 
“I Got High” – Owen 

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