Zach's Top 10 Albums Of 2013

Monster Rally
Return To Paradise

A Frommer's travel guide through soothing tropical beats and lush atmospherics disguised as an album, the hypnotic Return To Paradise is a cultural collision of instruments and found sounds that satisfies even its most lyric hungry listener (like myself).  The tracks are dressed in lounge attire and have a breezy attitude about them - but they never feel careless.  Make no mistake, these under-three minute jabs are carefully constructed, with a bond between each new sound and its creator, Ted Feighan (Monster Rally).

My Bloody Valentine

A new release from a band in hibernation for two decades isn't supposed to be this good.  mbv should have been a nice pat on the back surrounded by polarized overreactions from a rabid fan base.  Instead, the album feels like the only thing that could have possibly followed Loveless, and it does so without ever acknowledging the years separating the two.  mbv could have come out in 1992 or it could have come out in 2013 - it doesn't matter, because it's just that damn good.  People were skeptical, but My Bloody Valentine pulled it off.  mbv might be the biggest musical achievement of 2013.

Neko Case
The Worse Things Get...

If you consider Neko Case's rugged and sometimes aggressively truthful personality, it's always a shock hearing how much beauty she's able to pack into her songs.  It's what makes Case hard to pin down, and what makes her such an interesting musician.  The songs on this album bounce between humorous and heartbreaking.  It's Case's usual M.O., but it never ceases to amaze.  The track "Nearly Midnight, Honolulu" is a track that has caused me to break down in tears several times, transcending music itself by delivering a fresh narrative and an utterly unique message.  I will never be able to decide if I'm more fascinated by Case or her music, but luckily enough, I don't need to decide in order to understand the great value of this album.

Kurt Vile
Wakin' On A Pretty Daze

Kurt Vile is just smooth.  He's one of the few contemporary musicians who can groove out (I don't say "groove out" but that's what it is) for long lengths of time without the track ever feeling bogged down or insignificant.  Vile's persona is that of a laid back vanguard, a sort of chilled chaperone leading the listener through heavy ideas that are presented more as part of a circular discussion rather than a declaration.  Wakin' On A Pretty Daze doesn't have the immediate punch found on Smoke Ring For My Halo, but the strong songwriting continues to hint at Vile being one of the most important musicians we have writing music today.

The Treacle Well (Parts I & II)

Every day the inboxes of music bloggers fill up with submissions.  If you have a small staff or you run a really successful music website, it's really hard to give them all a shot.  Occasionally I'll sit down with some alcohol and make my way through the week's 500+ submissions.  This process is often like making new friends at a party... it has to be the right moment and it has to fit your tastes, and even then the odds of liking what you come across is slim.   Each new click is a stranger, and unlike real life, you can get out of the awkward conversation with a click of the trashcan button.  I know this sounds bleak, but it's all so true.

The best "cold submission" I received all year was from YouYourself&i.  This two part, over twenty-five track package of songs immediately made me fall in love with the process of artistic discovery all over again.  As I listened, I was reminded of the early Jeff Mangum demos: too rough and too scattered to be declared a masterpiece, but filled with undeniable potential.  There are so many thoughts and interesting songwriting decisions made on this album that point to YouYourself&I being a songwriter capable of changing the landscape of music.  It's a tough undertaking, but if you have the time to invest in YouYourself&i, the reward is being there at the beginning of a very bright future.

Time Was

Everyone seemed to ignore this release, which makes sense because the music didn't really click with me, either.  But then I saw Zomes live.  Time Was is a set of hypnotic tracks that build so slowly one would think Zomes were working with a different manifestation of time.  The combination of Asa Osborne's thick melodies and Hanna's chant-like soaring vocals creates a world of sounds unique only to Time Was.  This is an album that sinks into the very core of creation, grows with the building sound, and - if you're willing - leads you into a calming yet artistically riveting state of mediation.

Run The Jewels
Run The Jewels

El-P and Killer Mike are clearly having so much fun working with each other that this might be the first album ever that doesn't require a single listener to justify being made.  On Run The Jewels we have two artists, both currently at the height of their talent, challenging one another verse after verse.  In doing so, they remind the listener that music can be a great deal of fun, all without ever sacrificing the message or art form.  These are the best hip-hop tracks since Killer Mike's R.A.P. Music (he's having quite the run), but the songs also lend themselves to a non-stop live road show, one that spawned some of my favorite live experiences of 2013.  When artists are on top of their game, they make approaching perfection look easy.  On Run The Jewels, that's exactly what Killer Mike and El-P accomplish.   

Candy Claws
Ceres & Calypso In The Deep Time
The newest album from Candy Claws sounds like a My Bloody Valentine album produced in the depths of nature.  It's an absolutely insane concept record that was created by the only people who could have pulled off such a bizarre undertaking.  This is part of an attached description:

recovered excerpts from 
excavated alongside ZEPHYROSAURUS type specimen MCZ 4392 
in Lower Cretaceous Cloverly Formation by Hans-Dieter Sues, 1980 

"Ceres was a forgotten beast. She was the only one of her kind, a small seal composed of bones and snow. She had an invisible cloak and she had a secret appearance. Her white fur was translucent and illusory. Beware her inaudible sigh! Ceres was associated with time travel and caverns." -p. 5 

There are layers and layers of narrative adventure swirling around here.  It's some of the most challenging, yet beautiful music of 2013.  The most interesting component of Ceres & Calypso In The Deep Time is not that the melodies themselves are gorgeous, but that they're recorded in the same way that a slugged-out noise record would be created. These contrasting elements smash against each other, building a brand new world for the characters of the narrative to take life, explore, and deliver the most daring approach to sound in 2013. 


  1. Solid list. That Candy Claws record still sounds fresh every time I play it.

  2. Great list. So glad to see YouYourself&i getting some love. He is underappreciated even here in Montréal, let alone in the rest of the world.