10(ish) albums that truly moved me in 2013

If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say, “Music today isn’t what it was back in the ‘60’s, ‘70’s, or ‘90’s (no one says that about the ‘80’s),” I’d take that bag of nickels and throw it at the person who said it.

Today’s world is a music lover’s dream. There is an almost infinite amount of new music floating around the interwebs, just waiting to be discovered.

It seems there is a dark side of this trend, as the industry continues to struggle to reconcile the business side with technology. Artists need to get paid. That’s a fact. But it’s the auditory wild, wild west out there. Open auditions for anyone who lays down a track. And this arena has creativity thriving. It no longer matters if someone tells you there’s no audience for your style. Financial backing? Pssh. Not necessary. We get to decide what’s “good enough.” And I like this world.

But enough of that. Let’s get to the music. I’m not going to list the Top 20 (or whatever) albums of the year. It would just be my opinion and everyone knows opinions are like bellybuttons. But also because a “favorite” album depends on what mood you’re in, depends on the time of day, depends on who’s in the back seat of your Caddy.

So instead I’m listing 10(ish) albums that truly moved me in 2013. Chances are we will not agree on most. As many new albums as I listened to this year, there are plenty I’ve missed. Also, I’m only sticking to styles I know. No doubt there were some fantastic jazz or country albums released this year. But I’m not going to pretend to know what they are. So you tell me. What did I miss? Where are the glaring omissions? Who was the second gunman on the grassy knoll? The best part of sharing is getting inspiration from others (hug it out…it’s a holiday moment).

Death Grips – No Love Deep Web and Government Plates

If you’re into experimental hip hop and haven’t listened to Death Grips, it’s past time you did. These guys go hard with a style that I can best describe as militant ghetto techno rap. And the music is every bit as manic as this made-up genre suggests. No Love Deep Web has the same raw, aggressive style as their previous work. But what sets the album apart is the band’s development in beat progression. The songs are filled with slamming, fist-pumping tracks. Government Plates has the duo taking more of an electronic turn without losing their edge. If anything, it just gets more bizarre (channeling Charles Bukowski?). I’m not sure if these guys really don’t give a flip or if it’s all part of the act, but either way I’m enjoying the ride.

If you like this, you might also dig: Black Milk – No Poison No Paradise, Kool A.D. – 19 and 63, Fat Tony – Smart Ass Black Boy, Danny Brown – Old

Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic

Okay so this isn’t a rankings list, but if it was I would have a hard time not placing this album at or near the top. It is absolutely fantastic and includes everything a great album should: emotion, energy, catchy hooks, dramatic style shifts, weirdness. There’s a ton of ridiculousness in the lyrics (“Cause it’s arms & legs, bacon & eggs”), but somehow they pull it off without even a whiff of cheese. There’s an aloof sincerity to the songs about love lost, such as the chorus exchange from “San Francisco”: “I left my love in San Francisco / That’s okay, I was bored anyway.” (Warning: That tune will get stuck in your head.) Other times Foxygen channels the ghosts of Jim Morrison & Mick Jagger (wait…not dead yet!) with grooving tracks like “Oh Yeah” & the rowdy, stumbling title track. 21st Century will have you tap dancing in your kitchen and looking up the next live show.

If you like this, you might also dig: Foals – Holy Fire, Suuns – Images du Futur, Youth Lagoon – Wondrous Bughouse

Kalmah – Seventh Swamphony

It might seem cliché to highlight a Finnish death band in the metal section, but in this case it can’t be helped. Wait, first a disclaimer. This is real metal. Obnoxious guitars, double base drums, guttural screams, the works. If you’re not a fan of this style then don’t waste your time. You’re just going to hate it (maybe ease in with some Opeth or Clutch). Seventh Swamphony is the seventh (duh) album for Kalmah and quite possibly their best. The band delivers a rare combination of thrash brutality and listenability. They have become true masters of the melodic dark arts. So throw your horns up (don’t do that. horns are lame) and body check your nearest friend.

If you like this you should probably get a full psychiatric evaluation, and you might also dig: Carcass – Surgical Steel, Windhand – Soma, Nails – Abandon All Life, All Pigs Must Die – Nothing Violates This Nature, Drug Church – Paul Walker

The Knife – Shaking the Habitual

The Knife delivers big on their first proper album in seven years (guess that’s how long it takes to follow up an album as epic as Silent Shout).

No one else does whatever the heck it is they do. Driving, sensual beats that get sped up and slowed down, twisted and distorted until they barely resemble the track that first walked in your door.

We’re talking next level, baby making music. This should make the next seven years more tolerable.

If you like this, you might also dig: Dobie – We Will Not Harm You, Daniel Avery – Drone Logic, Mount Kimbie – Cold Spring Fault Less Youth, !!! – Thr!!!er

The National – Trouble Will Find Me / Arcade Fire – Reflektor

I list these albums together not because they are similar. They’re not. But these two bands have reached such iconic stature that it’s almost a given anything they release will be stellar. I’m always prepared to be disappointed, but never am. It’s hard to pinpoint what makes The National so intriguing (other than deceptively brilliant drum work). Their sound seems so straight forward, but I’ll be damned if I don’t keep coming back to this album again and again.

And can Arcade Fire get any better? From the “Billie Jean”-esque baseline of “We Exist” to the other-worldly energy of “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)”, there are different reasons to like every song on Reflektor. In a time when music is so fragmented that it’s hard for a band to stay relevant for a year, much less a decade, Arcade Fire’s current run is super duper impressive.

If you like this, you might also dig: Volcano Choir – Repave, Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt, Typhoon – White Lighter, Portugal the Man – Evil Friends, Generationals – Heza

These New Puritans – Field of Reeds

These New Puritans seems to reinvent themselves on every new release, with varying degrees of success. They nailed it on Field of Reeds, a dark, meandering masterpiece of an album. This isn’t something you can cue up at a party to wow your friends. It takes patience. I suggest turning this album up loud while you’re doing something else, like washing dishes or putting the finishing touches on your life-size Miley Cyrus macaroni sculpture. If you’re like me, Field of Reeds will seep into your brain and you’ll start craving more before you know it.

If you like this, you might also dig: David Lang – Death Speaks (Bonus: Shara Worden vocals), Future Bible Heroes – Partygoing, Grant Hart – The Argument

Wampire – Curiosity

I’ll admit I almost didn’t even give this album a chance. The band name Wampire is kind of goofy and they definitely win the award for creepiest album cover of the year (shiver).

But man o’ man, these jams are infectious. And it’s so unexpectedly happy. I dare you to listen to “Magic Light” or “Spirit Forest” without smiling. No, I double dare you! Just goes to show, don’t judge an album based on a couple of blue-lipped weirdos on the cover (you know…that old chestnut).

If you like this, you might also dig: Pond – Hobo Rocket, Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II, Bombino – Nomad, Jagwar Ma – Howlin’

Water Liars – Wyoming

After listening to the title track for about three straight days (yeah, it’s that good) I finally got around to discovering that the rest of vtp://waterliarsmusic.com”>Water Liars‘ Wyoming is pretty darn good, too. The sound is soulful and honest. There are soft flowing songs like “Linens” and “Bird of Song” that pour into your ears and wrap your brain in familiar reflection. There are meatier songs like “Backbone” that spin you close to the edge before pulling you back in. And then there are simply wonderful songs that defy labels like “Fire” and the aforementioned “Wyoming.” Thoroughly enjoyable.

If you like this, you might also dig: Houses – A Quiet Darkness, Bear’s Den – Agape, Jim James – Regions of Light and Sound of God, Villagers – {Awayland}

Wild Child – The Runaround

Are Austinites Wild Child considered folk, bluegrass or indie pop? Who cares? They have a terrific sound.

The Runaround is music made for sitting down by the river (with or without a van) or just wallowing around in the grass with a sixer of Busch Light.

The vocal harmonies of Kelsey Wilson and Alexander Beggins mix perfectly with cellos and fiddles (did I hear a banjo in there?). It’s hard to believe anything is worth getting in a hurry for when listening to Wild Child.

If you like this, you might also dig: Brown Bird – Fits of Reason, Air Loom – Seeds (Bonus: Local!), The Greencards – Sweetheart of the Sun, Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer Different Park