Ben’s Top Albums of 2013 Ben’s Top Albums of 2013

Best_0f2013Top Artwork by Phillip Manning

This unordered list is representative of the thoughts and tastes of Editor-in-Chief Ben Irwin; Make sure to See Managing Editor Charles’ Top of 2013 picks as well

I’m perpetually awestruck and humbled by the inexorable link between music and the human condition, or at the very least my condition. My perception of the world and myself ebbs and flows; seasons gradually bleed into one another; my heart and brain fight over love and lust; and while I roam the peaks and valley of life music is my confidant. When it’s good, music will harmonize with my mood and be a faithful companion. When it’s great, music will provide a level of insight and confidence that can only be achieved by being touched down in the pits of my soul.Looking back on the music that captivated me over any period of time is the same as studying who I was during that period time. It’s like trying to decipher an individual hue on a palette after hours of the paints being mixed.

So without further ado here are the brightest colors that decorated my canvas in 2013.

(These albums are provided as an unranked, alphabetically sorted list)


11779Bill Callahan – Dream River:

Dream River is a masterfully understated piece in which the low-key tempo is a tool that provides the listener a chance to absorb the wide breadth of sentiments being conveyed. A world-class lyricist and musician Callahan has found a way to drive home heavy thoughts with the grace of a velvet glove. Adorned by gentle keys, flute, and psychedelic guitar Callahan delivers his best work to date.

homepage_large.23e67eefBoards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest

With the amount of chill wave, shoe gaze, and spaced out electronic we’ve heard over the past few years it’s astounding to think that it’s been around 7 years since we’ve heard a note of new music from the brothers who essentially are the forbearers of those styles. Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin’s return was unheralded and yet arrived exactly at the right time. The distinctively visceral energy surrounding Boards of Canada hasn’t been lost in their near decade-long absence. Swirling and ethereal Tomorrow’s Harvest feels like true masters getting back to work rather than a victory lap.

Foxygen-We-Are-The-21st-Century-Ambassadors-of-Peace-and-Magic-001Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic:

Admittedly I was ready to hate this album. There are so many bands doing watered down imitations of 60s music that my tolerance for the rehashing of this genre is almost nil. I had listened to Foxygen in passing before but they had never left an impression on me above the masses inspired by the same decade they were. Well something changed, something clicked, and on this record Foxygen has managed to create a new sound all their own. An amalgamation of pop, garage rock, psych, and experimental Zappa-esque jams means I can no longer identify any one influence, and that may be the secret to the success… well that and this record is the most fun thing I’ve heard in a while.

Kurt-Vile-Waking-On-A-Pretty-DazeKurt Vile – Wakin On A Pretty Daze

Is confidently imperfect a style? Dylan comes to mind, but even Bobby didn’t expose himself like this. Kurt Vile has pulled off this magic trick where he’s as bare as a man on his deathbed and yet exudes the confidence of post workout Ryan Gosling. KV has been effortlessly in the zone for about 3 or 4 years now but Wakin On A Pretty Daze is a gold mine and people are finally starting to catch on.

The-National-Trouble-Will-Find-1024x1024The National – Trouble Will Find Me

The National are basically antiheroes of the rock world. Seeing Matt Berninger take the stage with a few glasses of white wine in a dapper three-piece suit while talking about being a parent and a touring musician doesn’t exactly fit into anyone’s mold of a rock star. Yet The National have once again struck a chord with a disillusioned population who feel like they’re living somebody else’s ideal of a proper life. There’s nothing that deviates here in terms of thematic inspirations from any of their previous work, but luckily the range of material that can be explored from unrequited love and unrealized dreams is quite broad.

nick_cavesNick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away:

I started listening to Nick Cave in the late 90s, around the time his 9th album Murder Ballads came out, and that tortured magnum opus shaped my opinion of Cave as this intensely dominant persona. Within the last 10 or so years Nick Cave would release a handful of albums, some with The Bad Seeds and some with Grinderman, which continually explored the dirty underbelly of a road less traveled. Push the Sky Away represents an impeccably timed respite from the often blunt works Cave has released over the last 2 decades. As a massively big Dirty Three fan the majestic composition featured in Push the Sky Away would indicate to me that Warren Ellis may have played a larger role in the structure of this album. Gentle and seductive while maintaining a brash nature that’s distinctively Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Push the Sky Away is a stunning accomplishment and serves as an indicator that Caves most magnificent years might still lie ahead of him.

T. Hardy Morris - Audition TapesT Hardy Morris – Audition Tapes

Out of every album that came out in 2013 T Hardy Morris’s Audition Tapes will be the one that I’ll still be listening to in 20 years. It also wins the prize for the most overlooked album of the year by the music media.

Audition Tapes is deliberately sparse and, emotionally, it slides around like the lap steel that it contains. This album feels like it has more of a supple membrane than any type of frame. The protagonists are all faceless throughout but T. Hardy Morris is adept at quickly bringing the listener deep within the psyche of his songs’ characters. Like four ingredient biscuits, Morris’s delivery is simple, warm and unassuming. If nothing else Audition Tapes is to the point: in most tracks there’s no setting, no names, but plenty of affection. There’s a countless amount of singer-songwriters that come off as vulnerable and distant. The charm that Morris has is letting his music expose the vulnerabilities in its listeners rather than draw attention to himself.

thee-oh-seesThee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin

Thee Oh Sees have been so prolific with their releases that it’s going to take years for the average listener to catch up. Floating Coffin is another gem in the crown of these kings of hard-driving garage psych. The album opens with breakneck speed with “I Come From the Mountain” (one of my favorite songs of 2013) and smashes into a valley of fuzzy psychedelic sound. Like your bipolar girlfriend who conveniently forgot all of her meds this vacation Floating Coffin will leave you disoriented, consumed, and completely fulfilled.

a1059517547_10Tijuana Panthers – Semi Sweet

Seemingly Tijuana Panthers knew the rub of releasing a sophomore album; evolve or die. Perhaps that’s overdramatic but after establishing themselves as a sunshine drenched Long Beach band whose music was so summer that instead of playing it at parties, you would plan parties surrounding it; their sophomore album could define them. Maybe it did, in the best possible way. At the very least Semi Sweet revealed Tijuana Panthers as a band with an enormous range, capable of making introspective music that draws on several different influences then their debut album. Perhaps the biggest achievement was showcased each of the 3 lead singers independent of each other while maintaining a watertight attitude and consistency.

81g3r3P0hXL._SL1408_Townes Van Zandt – Sunshine Boy

The late, legendary, Townes Van Zandt’s best works were recorded live and had a common sound of a man moments away from falling to pieces. In the past the times Townes did sit down in the studio often came off as too polished and lacking the primitive truth found in his live recordings. Sunshine Boy is a double CD collection of reimagined versions of Townes’ hits along with unreleased B sides and demos. It’s spectacular that nearly 15 years after his death this collection may have rewritten history to show how stunning Townes’ could sound. Definitively his best studio work and quite possibly maybe the best sounding version of Townes we’ve ever heard.

Full Top Albums of 2013 List

  • Bill Callahan – Dream River
  • Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
  • Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
  • Kurt Vile – Wakin On A Pretty Daze
  • The National – Trouble Will Find Me
  • Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away
  • T Hardy Morris – Audition Tapes
  • Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin
  • Tijuana Panthers – Semi Sweet
  • Townes Van Zandt – Sunshine Boy

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