Top Albums of 2013

It's that time of year where I nerd out over the CDs purchased in the last 12 months and pick my favorites.  I spent a big portion of this year stuck in some sort of 90's-post-hardcore fixation (mostly purchasing things like old Jawbreaker and Helmet albums), but to my surprise I did end up buying and enjoying several things released in 2013.


1. Depeche Mode - Delta Machine

Early reviews of this album referred to it as a bluesy version of Violator. I think that's completely accurate.  While i enjoyed this album fine when it initially came out, following Depeche Mode for 10 days on tour (and giving Martin Gore a copy of my band's CD) definitely increased my enjoyment in the disc. Super-nerdy-fandom moments like that aside, this is a great modern-rock-meets-blues album.

Highlights: Sooth My Soul, Soft Touch / Raw Nerve, Should Be Higher, Welcome To My World


2. David Bowie - The Next Day

When this CD came out, I put my world on hold. I turned off my phone, I didn't check email. I sat in front of my speakers, soaking it in. New David Bowie albums are basically a sacred event for me. (I'm not thrilled with the cover art to be totally honest; it's probably some sort of joke he finds hilarious, but I think it was phoned in.)

Highlights: Valentine's Day, The Stars (Are Out Tonight), The Next Day


3. Lorde - Pure Heroine

There were a zillion hipster-lite-drum-machine-synth based albums released of late. Not many of them grabbed my attention.  "Pure Heroine" is another drum-machine-synth album. I should have dismissed this one too. But that song "Royals" would NOT go away. And every time I heard another hipster-lite-synth track on the radio that DID grab my attention, it turned out to be another song from Lorde.  I've given up trying to deny it - there is not a bad note on this album.

Highlights: Ribs, Buzzcut Season, Tennis Court


4. The Generals - Leave The Light On

Technically I think this came out the tail end of 2012, but I don't care. I can NOT stop playing this CD! This is easily one of the best local band releases in ages!  Matt's vocals are big and epic just like the other Generals albums, but there is a wider variety of sound/production, and the songwriting has gotten even better.  Well worth checking out! This might very well be my #1 favorite album of 2013.

Highlights: Keep Your Light On, Who Am I, Rain or Shine, Unknown Places


5. The Jealous Sound - A Gentle Reminder

Technically released in 2012, then re-released in 2013 (I think). Easily the most epic, biggest produced, well crafted album from The Jealous Sound ever. I REALLY hope this is a sign that we'll get more music out of them soon!

Highlights: Beautiful Morning, Change You, Your Eyes Were Shining....and pretty much everything else on the disc.


6. Kevin Devine - Bulldozer

I picked this up on a whim, mostly because the album kept getting mentioned on various music websites. It seemed a ton of musicians I respect were all raving about this album. With good reason -- it's a very John Vanderslice-esque acoustic pop record.  Well worth the purchase. (He put out another album in 2013 that was procued by Jesse Lacey -- has anyone heard that yet? Thoughts?)

Highlights: Now Navigate, Couldn't Be Happier, The Worm In Every Apple


7. King of Bones - We Are The Law

Brendan (Zen Arcadia's producer) was kind enough to give me a copy of this when we were in the studio one day.  If Iron Maiden formed today, it would sound like this. A huge throwback to Maiden-esque metal records, but with modern production.  And fewer dragons. :)

Highlights: We Are The Law, Heroes, I Won't Be Wrong


8. Alkaline Trio - My Shame Is True

I wasn't thrilled with the production on the last few Alkaline Trio albums, they were kind of over done for what I want out of this band.  This one sounds more like my favorite records from them -- Good Mourning, Crimson, etc. Not over produced, not low-fi, good quality pop songs all around. It got me excited about this band again.

Highlights: She Lied to the FBI, I Wanna Be A Warhol, Kiss You To Death


9. I Is Another - s/t

Jonah Matranga and Ian Love from Rival Schools made an album together.  And it sounds EXACTLY like it should. It's kinda poppy, but not as acoustic-ish as Jonah's solo stuff. It's got the quirkier production and arrangement qualities you'd expect from a Rival Schools album, more "space noises" and such.  Somewhat reminiscent of the New End Original record or the Rival Schools United By Onelinedrawing split, more accurately.

Highlights: I Is Another, Queen of Swords, Kerry Jane, Dear Departed


10. Eels - Wonderful Glorious

I buy everything Eels release, and have done so since before he went by "Eels". This has usually worked quite well for me, though I will admit the last 2 or 3 albums from Eels were more garage-rock than I usually enjoy. Wonderful Glorious is still a little that way, but it's tapered down in favor of better (read: fewer ultra depressing) songs and less deliberately low-fi production.

Highlights: Peach Blossom, Kinda Fuzzy, Accident Prone, You're My Friend


Honorable Mentions (because picking 10 is just TOO HARD!)

AFI "Burials"; Ghost BC "Infestissumam", Sepultura "The Mediator Between Head And Hands Must Be The Heart"; Senses Fail "Renacer", "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County" soundtrack.


Biggest Disappointments:

Matt Nathanson - Last of the Great Pretenders

I've seen Matt live probably 40 times. From Sunday afternoon matinee shows in front of 5 people that didn't care who he was, to The Warfield in San Francisco and everything in between. I've covered countless Matt songs at my solo shows (even recorded 2 of them for an EP). I've had numerous conversations with him about guitars, Bon Jovi, lunch, mutual friends; I've gotten his songs onto a few compilations; I was actively doing what I could to promote his music when I worked at the dotcom/record label. Matt's albums "Ernst" and "Still Waiting for Spring" are flawless, and his early live shows are some of the funniest things I've ever seen.  But the last 2 albums are NOT good. "Modern Love" sounds like he wants to be Gavin DeGraw and Jason Mraz really badly. This new one sounds like he wants to be Train.  Trumpet solos...check. Songs about San Francisco that include name-checking the town...check. Songs about quirky things like people in Winger or Kinks tshirts...check. Ukeleles...check.  There are only 2 or 3 songs I can even stand listening to on this disc. And typing that sentence makes me incredibly sad. Dear Matt, what happened?


The Lonely Island - The Whack Album

I heard this album discussed on NPR, and it came across (to me) as a hiphop album done by some of the SNL cast and some of their friends.  The bits played on the radio were quirky and humorous and it seemed like a really fun album (looking back now, the clips in the interview must have been HIGHLY edited). The interview mentioned them working with the likes of Justin Timberlake to get different production ideas dialed, and also talked of how much fun they had making the album.  Terry Gross was laughing. This seemed like a no-brainer: purchase The Whack Album.  It's mostly VERY over the top profanity-filled joke songs that feels about 15 years too late.  It's like a bad spoof of the soundtrack to Chris Rock's movie CB-4.  A few little bits are enjoyable, but mostly I don't think this needs to be in my collection.