Best of 2013: Albums
Usually I save the albums list for last, but in an attempt to actually publish my year end list of albums before the end of the year I’ve opted to kick off the Finest Kiss list season with my favorite records of the year. At first glance, my year end list looks like it might be a Slumberland vs. Chapter Music slug fest as both of those labels put out some of my favorite records of the year. Certainly they would tie for the best label ballot.
Hopefully there are a few records in here that you agree with, one or two that you might not have heard and I’m sure there are some you will disagree with. That’s the fun of list making, putting it out there so others can scoff at your taste in music. In the next week or two I hope to publish my list of the best Seattle records of the year and my annual top 40 7-inch countdown.
30. Minks – Tides End (Captured Tracks)
The Minks second album is part Depeche Mode and part New Order which surprisingly seemed to miss getting much attention this year. Guitars and synths are employed with a strict adherence to writing super catchy songs that are lighthearted fun. Cynics will cry that it’s derivative, but they’re a bunch of bores that want all their music to sound important. Sometimes it’s just supposed to be fun.
stream: Minks – Doomed and Cool
29. The Limiñanas – Costa Blanca (Trouble In Mind)
The Limiñanas are not quite classic french pop. More like classic french pop through a haze of hashish wafting from a dark room filled with strange characters smoking from hookahs. Their third record sees them expanding their Velvet Underground sound onto other shores of their Mediterranean local further honing their unique blistered white out sound.
stream: The Limiñanas – My Black Sabath
28. The Stevens – A History of Hygiene (Chapter Music)
What would happen if the Clean met Guided by Voices in a dark garage or a deserted beach? They would leave as the Stevens of course. After self-releasing an EP last year that had many folks excited the Melbourne band return with their debut opus of 24 songs that barely last minute each. Each one is miniature pop masterpiece that will have you shaking your head at how easy they make it look.
stream: The Stevens – Hindsight
27. Girls Names – The New Life (Slumberland)
Northern Ireland’s Girls Names have taken dark era Cure and added some early Railway Children and Echo and the Bunnymen and come up with a potent hypnotic concoction for their second album. This has been my go-to record when the need comes to escape the realities of life and zone out into the horizon. I think some might call it a lifesaving record for that reason.
stream: Girls Names – Hypnotic Regression
26. Cate Le Bon – Mug Museum (Wichita / Turnstile)
For her third album Cate Le Bon picked up and moved to Southern California, but I don’t think that the change in geography has altered her bohemian prog psychedlia. She still sounds like she could have been the kid sister of Kevin Ayres, but where Ayres often lost the plot Le Bon has a very good idea of where she’s going and Mug Museum is a trip worth taking.
stream: Cate Le Bon – I Can’t Help You
25. Warm Soda – Someone For You (Castle Face)
We knew that Mathew Melton was capable of pop goodness from his previous band Bare Wires, but Warm Soda sees him honing his powers to killer effect. Some For You is like the Raspberries mixed with Teenage Fanclub and King Tuff. The hits keep coming and coming on this record.
stream: Warm Soda – Jeannie Loves Pop
24. Beaches – She Beats (Chapter Music)
Invariably a band that likes to lock into hypnotic psych rock grooves is full of older dudes with beards, but Beaches is the exception to this unwritten rule. This groop of five women deftly lay down the grooves that will make lesser bands wanting to shave their beards and take up religion. Many of the songs on this record don’t hit you immediately but I found myself pulled back into repeatedly listenings by an almost supernatural hypnotic pull.
stream: Beaches – Dune
23. The Sleaze – The Sleaze (Total Punk)
I have no idea if the Sleaze are broken up or not. Some reports said this was a posthumous release and then they turned up at SXSW and played a bunch of shows. Punks are so irreverent and like to keep you guessing by not playing the game. This record is white hot and it wouldn’t surprise me if the band flamed out making it. Somehow keeping a flame this bright burning for any length of time is near impossible, but thankfully they new when to bottle it.
stream: The Sleaze – Tektonix Girls
22. The Courtneys – The Courtneys (Hockey Dad)
The Courtneys brand of DIY pop takes a little from bubblegum, punk and powerpop to make a completely likeable debut record. Not taking themselves too seriously they write odes to Keanu Reeves, 90210 and being poor. A record with a knack for hitting you in the funny bone and the pop jugular at the same time.
stream: The Courtneys – K.C. Reeves
21. Wax Idols – Discipline and Desire (Slumberland)
The UK music hype machine ain’t what it used to be, but it still can rally to pull the whites over our eyes from time to time. This year all the talk about post punk strong woman rock centered around the underwhelming Savages while San Francisco’s Wax Idols quietly put out the better record. Discipline and Desire evokes the roar of the Sound, Comsat Angels and the Chameleons while at the same time not really sounding like any of them. A powerful amazing album that in years to come will probably take on the same reverent status as From the Lion’s Mouth, Waiting for a Miracle, and Strange Times.
stream: Wax Idols – AD RE: IAN
20.5 Frowning Clouds – Whereabouts (Anti Fade)
The Frowning Clouds could be the Mantles cousins from down under. They add a little more Kinks intensity to their sound and come up with a winner. Whereabouts is their second album and they’ve got a batch of great harmonies and riffs that continue on the upward trajectory set by their first album. Keep your eyes on this Melbourne band.
stream: Frowning Clouds – Shoe Suede Blues
20.0 The Mantles – Long Enough to Leave (Slumberland)
The Mantles sound harks back to a to the 60′s and the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. I had a feeling that their second album was going to be something special when I heard the Kelley Stoltz would be producing it. His production makes the lines cleaner and bends the light just right on this batch of dusty canyon pop.
stream: The Mantles – Marbled Birds
19.5 Eat Lights Become Lights – Modular Living (Great Pop Supplement/Rocket Girl)
Every now and then I like to put on a record that makes me feel like I am floating in space. Ladies and gentlemen, this record creates zero gravity with its motorik grooves that you will put it on repeat to avoid re-entry.
stream: Eat Lights Become Lights – Modular Living
19.0 Cavern of Anti-Matter – Blood-Drums (Grautag)
Tim Gane, who was one of the masterminds behind Stereolab, has kept a fairly low profile since Stereolab called it quits. Cavern of Anti-Matter is his new band and they not surprisingly lean in a motorik direction and seem to be heavily influenced by Neu. Some would say that it borders on a tribute record but these instrumentals pulse so easily into your conscious you can tell the Gane has found a new lease on life making this record.
stream: Cavern of Anit-Matter – Irridated Dream Mouth
18.5 Jacco Gardner – Cabinet of Curiosities (Trouble In Mind)
This is the second best psych pop record to come out this year. Gardner is young and loves Syd Barret but he plays it pretty straight. Cabinet of Curiosities sounds great, but I often got the feeling that Gardner wasn’t weird enough. He sounds like he likes weird, but it felt like he was playing a part. Hopefully time will pass and his eccentricites will grow to enhance his already sharp psych pop senses.
stream: Jacco Gardner – The One Eyed King
18. Robyn Hitchcock – Love From London (YepRoc)
Love from London is the best psych pop record to come out this year. The only problem is that rock is not an older fellow’s game, so Hitchcock mostly got fair to middling reviews for this album because he’s not new, but let me restate, this was the best psych pop record to come out this year, or last year for that matter.
stream: Robyn Hitchcock – Strawberries Dress
17. King Krule – 6 Feet Beneath the Moon (True Panther Sounds)
Leave it to a 19 year old kid from the UK to make a record that sounded like nothing else this year. Krule or Archy as his mother calls him, works from a rough pallet of jazz, punk, funk, dub and trip hop to come up with a batch of pop songs that he sung over with his thick south London accent.
stream: King Krule – Border Line
16. Sleaford Mods – Austerity Lads (Harbinger Sound)
Sleaford Mods have inherited the brilliance of John Cooper Clark, Mark E Smith and Shaun Ryder. This record is not for the faint of heart with expletives strewn about like cigarette butts in the airport smoking lounge. There are so many killer beats and and lines on this record I feel like I need to listen to it about 50 more times to really get it. Watch your back though, these hoodlums from the gutter will steal the shirt off your back if they think it looks good.
stream: Sleaford Mods – The Wage Don’t Fit
15. Heavy Times – Fix It Alone (Hozac)
Fix it alone sees this Chicago band reigning in their intensity just a little, but don’t let that give you the wrong idea. They’re all the better for it. This is a highly melodic and highly intense album that brings back golden age memories of Husker Du and the noisier Flying Nun band like Gordons but Heavy Times are not afraid to snag a riff from the Chills or the Bats too and let it fly.
stream: Heavy Times – Tradition Of Abuse
14. Blouse – Imperium (Captured Tracks)
Portland’s blouse thankfully decided a change was in order for their second album Imperium. They changed from an average synthpop band to a brilliant guitar pop band. Imperium employs narcotic guitars and ethereal vocals with devastatingly effective results. Who knew that inheritors of the Cocteau Twins, Julie Cruise, Broadcast and Wendy and Bonnie trophies would turn up in stumptown?
stream: Blouse – Eyesight
13. Ketamines – You Can’t Serve Two Masters (Southpaw)
Canada’s Ketamines come from a garage rock background, but on You Can’t Serve Two Masters they shed many of the garage rock pretenses and go the quirky power pop route. The sound is cleaner and lyrics are pointed and since the sound is cleaner the vocal melodies shine brighter. It’s deft move and shows you what a brilliant band the Ketamines are.
stream: Ketamines – Don’t Stop
12. Dick Diver – Calendar Days (Chapter Music)
On Calendar Days, Dick Diver combine the melancholy melody of the Go-Betweens and the comfortable familiarity of the Lucksmiths and the dustiness of the Triffids. It’s a classic Australian born album that evokes its sense of place, while speaking in the universal pop tongue so you can enjoy it no matter what continent you reside on.
stream: Dick Diver – Lime Green Shirt
11. Outfit – Performance (Double Denim)
Liverpool’s Outfit offer up the best record in synthpop since Hot Chip’s The Warning or Metronomy’s The English Riviera. The blips and electronic crackle from the grooves of this record with a cold disaffection reminiscent of the Notwist, but Outfit warm up the electronic pathways with a strong sense of melody. That combination of warm and cold gives this record its staying power.
stream: Outfit – Thank God I Was Dreaming
10. Joanna Gruesome – Weird Sister (Slumberland)
Joanna Gruesome are sugar coated spazzy noisepop with a soft side and a goofy name. Part Veronica Falls, part Los Campesinos and likely some Boyracer hidden there as well. This record undoubtedly had a guaranteed niche audience, but what was surprising was that seemed to have broken through the niche barrier when they came over to play at CMJ in New York. The recognition was justifiable, and if they decided to actually do a tour beyond a few US cities I could see their brand of skewed pop connecting even more. Bonus points for coming up with the best lyric of the year: “Bah, Bah, Bah, my head explodes.”
stream: Joanna Gruesome – Sugarcrush
9. Dirtbombs – Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-blooey! (In the Red)
How do you follow up your tribute album to Detroit techno? If you’re the Dirtbombs you deliver your long threatened bubble gum rock tribute record. Since it’s the Dirtbombs, it’s a unique take on that genre that employs two drummers and leader Mick Collins’ gravely delivery. Collins is well known for incorporating a myriad of influences into the Dirtbombs sound. We knew he had some unadulterated pop leanings and this record confirms it in wonderful technicolor.
stream: Dirtbombs – Hot Sour Salty Sweet
8. Dream Boys – Dream Boys (Art Fag)
Sometimes bands with exquisite taste end up making albums that are hollow imitations of their heroes. This is not the case with Los Angeles band Dream Boys. In fact they’ve made a record that equals and maybe even surpasses some of the wonderful records made by the jangly masters of old like Bif Bang Pow, Aztec Camera, the Bluebells, and Close Lobsters.
stream: Dream Boys – Holding Pattern
7. Lady – Lady (Truth and Soul)
When someone tells you that they don’t make them like they used to, hand them this record. Lady who are actually two ladies Terri Walker and Nicole Wray have delivered, with the help of an ace backing band, a 60’s soul-inspired record that might just restore your faith in the entire manufacturing process…of everything.
stream: Lady – Money
6. Ooga Boogas – Ooga Boogas (AARGHT!)
The first Ooga Boogas album did noting to prepare you for the greatness of this their second album. Mikey Young of Eddie Current Suppression Ring is a band member and may have had some influence them becoming a cleaner more patient group, but it’s singer Leon Stackpole’s lyrics and delivery that put this record in the realm of greatness. Part Mark E Smith and part James Murphy, he rants and raves and even sings a little too. Some of the songs are sung from the point of view of some not so savory characters making it sometimes uncomfortable, but the band holds you in check whipping up a thick sheet of groove behind him.
stream: Ooga Boogas – Studio of My Mind
5. Day Ravies – Tussle (Pop Frenzy)
Some people think that it is amazing that shoegaze is still a thing. Those people are nuts. How could you not expect bands like Slowdive, Chapterhouse and the Pale Saints not to have inspired generations to come with the great records they made back in the original wave of shoegaze. Day Ravies take that inspiration and employ their deft pop sensibilities to it and come up with something to be reckoned with whether you’re familiar with the history of shoegaze or not.
stream: Day Ravies – Pinky
4. Vision Fortune – Mas Fiestas con el Grupo Vision Fortune (Faux Discx)
This album has eight tracks on it, but you could argue that it’s one long song. Vision Fortune don’t make it easy for you. If you saw this record in the store you could easily pass it by thinking that it’s Spanish troubadours or Mexican narcocorrido. Imagine if you bought it thinking that and then got home put in on your stereo only to find squalls of feedback and pulsing bass roar from your speakers. You would either take it back or turn it up. You already know the correct choice.
stream: Vision Fortune – XVII
3. La Femme – Psycho Tropical Berlin (Born Bad)
The record sounds like it could have come out on Bungalow back in the 90’s. You may remember the space age surf, synth and dance records that the German label put with some regularity back then. La Femme know their surf records and also probably like a bit of Depeche Mode as well as some Intelligence records but that doesn’t go the distance in describing the fun and fascination of listening to this album. Pity the people that thought that the Daft Punk record was the best French album of the year and give them this record.
stream: La Femme – Antitaxi
2. Prophet Hens – Popular People Do Popular People (Fishrider)
New Zealand’s Prophet Hens sort of came out of nowhere and swept me off of my feet with their Chills meets Belle and Sebastian pop alchemy. Both of those bands are highly regarded and the Prophet Hens may be better than both. Granted they haven’t written a Pink Frost yet, but many of the songs here are nearly as memorable and lead me to believe that they just might have something of the Pink Frost caliber in them.
stream: Prophet Hens – Pretty
1. Hookworms – Pearl Mystic (Gringo/Weird World)
I wrote in my mid-year round up that the Hookworms were sitting on top of the best album of the year. Since then nobody was able to topple them from that teetering pile. Pearl Mystic is like a pendulum that swings from unhinged and crazy to mellow and droning. I don’t think I’ve ever hung out this much with a schizophrenic and liked it.
stream: Hookworms – Form & Function