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2013 was a year filled with great albums. We were so glad to add music from newer artists like Mikal Cronin, Phosphorescent, Daft Punk, and Tame Impala, up to classic names like Bruce Springsteen, U2, Paul McCartney, Pearl Jam. The list of great albums, however, goes on far past what we get to play for our listeners on air. Here the WERS staff tells you a little bit about their favorite album from this year, from folk to electronic, pop to instrumental, hip-hop to indie rock. Let us know what you think — and be sure to vote for your favorite album for our Top 89 Countdown here!
Evil Friends rocked my world this summer and every party that came after– with a handful of songs relying on catchy hooks, weird lyrics, and introspective reflections on everything from fatherhood to “Hip Hop Kids,” Portugal. The Man’s seventh studio release was anything but boring. Produced by Danger Mouse, the release was never given the attention by critics or “Best Of” lists that my iPod and inner spirit demands it have. While there were a number of wonderful releases from 2013 that will remain in my rotation for years to come, Evil Friends is bound to become an album I pass on to the kiddos.
Love him or hate him, Kanye West’s Yeezus is a powerful blend of style, swagger, art, and ego. Oh, and the deconstruction of racist social structures. Amid the electronic chop of the Daft Punk produced lead track “On Sight,” a children’s chorus lets us know “He’ll give us what we need/It may not be what we want.” We might not want Kanye to remind us that racism exists in the United States in 2013, but it does. In “Black Skinhead” he raps, “They see a black man with a white woman/ At the top floor they goin’ come to kill King Kong.” Yeezus is a modern electro-punk-rap album that maximizes minimalism both lyrically and sonically. Don’t listen to it once—listen to it ten times, because the more you listen, the more it hits you. Yeezus is new ground for hip-hop. Last year, Kendrick Lamar took us back to Compton in a new way, but hip-hop has been to South-Central L.A. before. Yeezus is out of this universe.
This album took me completely by surprise this year. It is both completely unique and absolutely expected from one of the best avant-garde electronic groups making music today. This album features some of the most frenetic and energizing tracks paired next to some of the most captivating studies in digital ambient music. Each individual sound used in each song is masterfully crafted. These sounds heard together are at once confused and trance inducing. They are unrelenting and calming. They are beautiful and profane. The track “Raging Lung” is my favorite example of this. If you listen to Shaking the Habitual, I guarantee that you will hear sounds and rhythms you never thought a computer – let alone a human being – could make.
When I first saw Lady Lamb the Beekeeper perform in Boston, I was one of many left with my jaw on the floor. A petite, thin, and bashful girl, Aly Spaltro seems more likely to have her nose buried in book than clutching an electric guitar to her chest as she backs away from the microphone to scream. But the 23-year-old knows the secret of how to craft long songs without using a chorus as a crutch. She screams without regards to her vocal limit all alone onstage. Underneath that skin, however, lies a girl who has waited five years to release this debut album, and she’s learned how to tame her ferocity — which almost makes her all the more frightening. Hearing Spaltro transform Lady Lamb the Beekeeper from a solo act into a full band took some adjusting. Electric guitar and vocals are now backed by gorgeous sweeping strings and (could it be?) drums, but the Maine native didn’t let that change the structure or snarl of her songs. Instead, she’s put out a debut studio album that has the posture and wisdom of someone who’s been on the scene for decades. This is the best folk rock album of the year, and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you skip over it.
The debt that countless rock, folk, and country bands owe to the Everly Brothers is enormous. Everyone from the Beatles and Hollies to Paul Simon and Dave Edmunds has acknowledged the influence of Phil and Don Everly in their own work. Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, who’s also a fan, found their 1958 album, Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, and thought it would be an interesting vehicle for a modern update. He then asked Norah Jones to be his duet partner. The results of their collaboration on Foreverly are true to the original recording’s purpose – to pay tribute to the country and folk standards that the Everly Brothers learned to sing as children – yet filled with subtle instrumental flourishes that flesh out the original acoustic guitar-based arrangements. In the end though, it’s about harmonizing and standout tracks like “Long Time Gone”, “Roving Gambler,” and “Oh So Many Years” succeed all expectations. Billie Joe and Norah sound like they’ve been singing together for years and are thoroughly enjoying the experience. This is beautiful harmony-based music that sounds as timeless as it did in 1958.
Maybe it’s a bit of a cop out to choose a greatest hits album. Truth be told I haven’t listened to enough music this year to properly evaluate any new stuff, so I’ll go with what got me here. The Killers, especially their album Sam’s Town, have been comfort music for me through school, marriage, multiple moves, ups, downs, and sleeping on a roof in Turkey. Growing up in a small town, the themes of songs like runaways remind me where I’m from. Being human, It’s feels good to frame my many mistakes in the context of songs like “All These Things I’ve Done.” And having “When You Were Young” there for life’s unending stream of tests is a nice little crutch. So when Direct Hits was released, it was like listening to the moments and memories of the last ten years of my life. My only lament is the lack of a new sound to start the transition into the next ten years as a proper neighbor, husband, and father. Hopefully this album signaled the end of one age and the start of another, more responsible phase for both myself and The Killers.
To say I love this album would be an understatement. I remember the day this fifth studio release popped up on my “Recommended Albums” list on Rdio. The moment has burned itself into my brain mainly because this album literally changed my summer. I should have known Simon Greene – stage name Bonobo – was going to capture my soul from that first track, aptly named “First Fires.” Seriously, that track really did spark a fire and soon, I could. not. stop. listening. I binged on the 13 tracks non-stop at work, on the train, on bike rides, while lying in bed, in the middle of breakfast, and when I was supposed to be in social situations. I was humming it in while brushing my teeth and talking about it with all my friends. It got to the point where they sat me down and told me I might have a problem. “But have you really listened to it? It’s amazing,” I would rebut to rolling eyes. What makes The North Borders so addicting goes beyond its rhythmical beats and sounds — Greene has mastered the art of catchy instrumental drops. What the greatness boils down to is versatility. All of the songs–along with being top notch–are playable in all locations and moods. They work well as background music at work and also jam out music after a long day in classes. Play them when you’re angry, play them when you’re sad. Hell, I’ve even listened to this album to pump myself up for a road race. It just works and works so well. If I had to choose, I’d say “Know You” and “Antenna” are really the gems of this release, but asking me to choose one or two favorite songs from 13 amazing, transcendental pieces is like my musical Sophie’s Choice. It can’t and shouldn’t be done. Give the entire album a listen, start to finish and I guarantee you’ll agree.
Very rarely does a band release a follow-up to one of the most important albums of all time after a twenty-two year hiatus. Even rarer does the follow-up album meet the expectations of its listeners. Even RARER does the album EXCEED the expectations of it’s listeners ten-fold. But, leave it to My Bloody Valentine to accomplish the highly implausible and unimaginable. The most recent album by the shoegaze pioneers, m b v, takes us on the same sonic joyride that their renowned Loveless does, guiding us through lush, melodic dreamscapes and dropping us into spiraling wormholes of jet-engine noise. It is a familiar sensation while also feeling completely brand new. Although this year may have been filled with dream poppers and drone rockers, with this highly anticipated release, My Bloody Valentine proved that they were, are, and always will be, the kings.
With Daft Punk’s massive influence on the recent EDM boom, the French electronic duo easily could have pandered to the DJ crowd and still sell a massive amount of records. Instead, the band took their time with the much anticipated Random Access Memories and turned the album into a universal testament to music in general. From the opening, anthemic “Give Life Back to Music” to the smash crossover hit “Get Lucky,” RAM exemplified the powerful effects music can have on the mind, body, and soul. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the experimentally ballsy “Giorgio by Moroder,” in which influential producer Giorgio Moroder provides a spoken-word piece about his musical background while commenting, “Once you free your mind about a concept of harmony and music being correct, you can do whatever you want.” And Daft Punk proves his point by doing exactly that with a constantly evolving music bed shifting through electronics, orchestras, and even turntables, and creating beautiful music without sticking to the rules is what RAM is all about.