Well, you haven’t heard much from me this year at hearingade, but I’ve still heard plenty of music worth talking about. For my music-obsessed heart and soul, the end-of-year list dies hard. As is the nature of lists, not all of what I loved will be able to make the cut, but I think I’ve managed to pick out the albums I’d be most likely to offer up as recommendations if so prompted. And isn’t that basically the purpose behind these things anyway? I just wanna do my part in making sure that this remarkable music gets the love it deserves, for whatever my part is good for.
1. Lady Lamb the Beekeeper – Ripely Pine
Often albums that come out early in the year have the misfortune of being played out by the time we start writing these lists. A lot of albums I loved last winter aren’t making the cut because they don’t excite me like they did in the beginning. However, Aly Spaltro’s latest has not lost any appeal over the months. She has a wonderful approach to the guitar rock genre and a palpable passion behind the coarse words she spits forth.
2. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
For the most part, I avoid including albums that are all over mainstream media’s year-end lists, because I like to give exposure to the things people aren’t as likely to have heard yet. But I have to be honest and include The National here because my 2013 was full of this album. Matt Berninger’s signature somber vocal delivery, with its elegant use of accompaniment, is complete with emotionally smart lyrics that continue to prove he’s a guy keenly aware of the universe.
3. Samantha Crain – Kid Face
I’ve long been a fan of Samantha Crain’s, but she’s outdone herself with Kid Face. Produced by John Vanderslice at his Tiny Telephone studio in California, it’s the most refined she’s ever sounded as her songs marry guitar, piano, violin, banjo and percussion like they were blood.
4. Telekinesis – Dormarion
Telekinesis seamlessly intersperses making you feel feelings with taking you away someplace where you can forget your feelings. Michael Lerner delivers rock ‘n’ roll with hefty amounts of grit and grunge, but throws in plenty of poppy, synthesized goodness so you’re still left with a sunny disposition.
5. Wild Ones – Keep It Safe
If you’re looking for some real bright pop, look no further than Keep It Safe. It’s a ray of sunlight in disc form (okay, probably digital form, but you get what I mean). Not quite saccharine enough to be candy for your ears, but certainly a popsicle.
6. Typhoon – White Lighter
I have a hard time even finding words for Typhoon. We tend to overuse the word “amazing” in this generation and culture, but I don’t think that it’s inaccurate to call this band amazing. Its multitude of members creates such a strong, full sound, it engulfs you like a great big tide that drags you into its watery depths, except not at all terrifying.
7. Thao & the Get Down Stay Down – We the Common
Thao Nguyen’s inventiveness seems to have no end. With every creation, she never fails to find new things to do with sound. Her music always sounds like the freshest on the block.
8. Mal Blum – Tempest in a Teacup
A couple of years ago, I stumbled upon a Kickstarter link that, for whatever reason, spoke to me. I don’t think I’d heard Mal Blum before, but I wanted to help her make a Malbum, and I’m very glad I did. Blum’s is the polka dot pattern of vocal inflections, making this album a candidate for twee, but there is enough rock guitar and drums to keep Tempest in a Teacup from being overly adorable. It is just adorable enough.
9. Guards – In Guards We Trust
I like these chords. I like these layers. Guards does that sun-soaked kinda music that comes through like an Instagram filter for sound, and Guards does it better than many. A hook that won’t leave your mind is not always a good thing, but the hooks on this album are totally welcome to me.
10. Joshua James – Well, Then, I’ll Go to Hell
Years ago, the first Joshua James song I heard grabbed me immediately and ever since I have been hopelessly endeared by his melancholy songwriting. James doesn’t really do happy songs, and that’s all right by me. There is just as much beauty in darkness as there is in the light.
11. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – The Speed of Things
Of all the music that came out this year, from start to finish, my No. 1 song has been “If You Didn’t See Me (You Weren’t on the Dancefloor).” Being such a hard song to measure up to, I at first was disappointed by the full-length album that it appeared on. But it turns out, even without living up to the single, these songs still beat out a lot of the rest.
12. Surfer Blood – Pythons
Pythons is certainly no masterpiece, but it’s got the exact kind of feel-good melodies I needed this year.
13. denitia and sene – his and hers.
If I’d discovered this album a month later than I had, it would have been too late to get a spot on this list. I’m quite glad I found it when I did, because this electro duo deserves all the exposure it can get.
14. Feed Me – Calamari Tuesday
Most of the electronic music I loved this year was in the form of singles, EPs, or remixes on Soundcloud (or just portions of an imperfect full album) but I kept Calamari Tuesday on repeat in my car for weeks before I had to switch it out for something else.
15. Pillowfight – Pillowfight
Emily Wells creates music that challenges her listeners. She joins with Dan Nakamura for Pillowfight, adding new depths to that tradition with hip-hop and electronic elements.
16. Youth Lagoon – Wondrous Bughouse
It took me a while to warm up to the latest from Youth Lagoon. This album is certainly a departure from The Year of Hibernation, but ultimately, its detour into strangeness is actually what I fell in love with.
17. BOY – Mutual Friends
Listening to BOY is like snuggling up in a cozy sweater. Soft and warm, it’s the kind of pop you can bundle your brain up in and totally forget how cold it is out there.
18. St. Lucia – When the Night
Some days I just really miss Erasure in their heyday, but thankfully with St. Lucia I can imagine that period of time never ended.
19. Cate le Bon – Mug Museum
I love ’60s French pop, and even though Cate le Bon is Welsh, her music bears a close resemblance to this style. A guest appearance by Perfume Genius on “I Think I Knew” makes this album extra special.
20. Sombear – Love You in the Dark
As if the name Sombear isn’t awesome enough, he’s also pretty great at making music. All sorts of electronic flourishes comprise Brad Hale’s danceable debut.
21. Sam Phillips – Push Any Button
Upbeat and highly motivational. Sam Phillips knows her way around a verse, and her longtime experience recording music seems to only make her better when it could just as easily lead to a sound that’s worn too thin.
22. Cold War Kids – Dear Miss Lonelyhearts
I don’t think I’ve ever fully loved a Cold War Kids album before Dear Miss Lonelyhearts. Either the timing was finally just right, or these indie-rockers have finally managed to fit all the shapes in their corresponding holes.
23. Child Sleep – Distortions
Sounds like Ypsi has done it again, this time with garage pop duo Child Sleep.
24. Sally Fowler – I Will Cry at Your Funeral
Indie-folk bares its bones on Fowler’s new album. It’s artful in its deliberate desolation, and although brief, it never feels like it’s leaving anything out.
25. Lynx – Light Up Your Lantern
It’s always a treat to stumble upon an obscure indie band that’s doing a modern sound better than many of its contemporaries. That’s Lynx, fitted with banjo, mandolin, violin, cello, trumpet, and (heck yes) flugelhorn to adorn the more common roster of guitar, drums, and keys.