Best Albums of 2013: Mid-Year Roundup

If you haven’t yet been blown away by any albums you’ve heard this year, read and listen on. Some of us Vancouver Weekly music nerds got together and came up with a short list of what we think are the best albums that have been released since January 2013. Of course, we didn’t agree on everything, and some heavy favourites fell by the wayside after much debate – The National and Daft Punk’s latest releases come to mind. However beloved these and other left-out albums were by some, they were panned by others and ended up getting knocked out of the running. That said, this (like any list) is never really final, and we’ve got another six months of new Music to look forward to. Who knows, maybe those memories will get randomly accessed and trouble will find us in the end… We’ll see.

For now, I’d like to offer my sincere thanks to the following sets of ears for contributing to the selection process: Andrew Beason, Leslie Ken Chu, Thomas Creery, Alix Critchley, Ricardo Khayatte, Cormac Kilduff, John Mohan and Rita Mooney.

Don’t let the fact that there’s only one selection per album fool you – these 15 albums (listed in no particular order other than alphabetically) are chock full of great tracks. Consider these appetizers. This list is a tray full of little pieces of music with frilly toothpicks stuck in them. Have a few. Have them all. There’s more in the fridge.

Brandt Brauer Frick – Miami
March 19, 2013 – !K7 Records
Listen: “Ocean Drive”

Following the release of their two previous albums, this Berlin trio was slapped with the “acoustic techno” tag. This alone should pique your interest. True to form, the group sought to keep innovating with Miami, this time fully embracing any technology (and guest vocals) they felt might fit. But don’t worry, the rawness and purity of their sound is as present as ever. The enveloping tension of “Plastic Like Your Mother” may just make you “turn around” to see who’s behind you. Darker and less minimalistic than its predecessors, Miami is an immersive trip that will keep you guessing… and listening.

Chelsea Light Moving – Chelsea Light Moving
March 5, 2013 – Matador Records
United States
Listen: “Sleeping Where I Fall”

At the end of 2011, Sonic Youth announced they were “ending for a while”. In 2012, Chelsea Light Moving released their self-titled full-length debut. You just can’t keep a good rocker like Thurston Moore down. Check out their excellent KEXP live set, recorded in March. This should be an easy transition for most Sonic fans – noise, punk, psych, rock, and big, big balls. This album should have been called How To Rock.

The Courtneys – The Courtneys
June 7, 2013 – Hockey Dad Records
Listen: “90210”

As light as the wind, as heavy as a pining heart, Vancouver trio The Courtneys have an uncanny ability to conjure the city’s sunny skies, sandy beaches and depressing drab all in the same song. Blending Vancouver’s unpredictable weather in 25 flash-bang minutes, seemingly without effort, The Courtneys’ self-titled “full-length” debut is ready-made for day-cruisin’ or dragging a heavy heart through the downpour. Whatever mood suits you, The Courtneys will be your chauffeurs.

Cult of Luna – Vertikal
January 29, 2013 – Density Records / Back on Black
Listen: “Vicarious Redemption”

Heavily influenced by Fritz Lang’s game-changing Metropolis (1927), Vertikal begins with “The One” – a pulse echoes, distorted, then muted; a foreboding melody warns of oncoming change. The silence is shattered by the collision of a sandpaper yell, crashing drums, and heavy guitars; such is the beginning of “I: The Weapon” (9:24). This seven-piece Swedish post-metal outfit excels in setting mood, pulling you in, and strapping you to the outside of the ship for a unique, completely enthralling ride. “Vicarious Redemption”, which clocks in at nearly 19 minutes, is one you’ll most likely have to lay down for. Just make sure you’re holding onto something. Vertikal is a dark, patient, heavy and ambitious piece of work. Don’t miss out.

Fidlar – Fidlar (full review)
January 22, 2013 – Mom & Pop Music
United States
Listen: “Cocaine”

“I drink cheap beer. So what? Fuck you.” Subtlety. Who needs it? Not Fidlar. “I feel, feel like getting drunk / I feel, feel like fucking up my life again with all my friends / I hope we’ll make it til the end.” Me too, man… Me too.The self-titled debut full-length by these California boys is an instant classic. Seriously. I’ll be rocking out to this in 20 years when I blow the candles out on my virtual 50th birthday space-cake. This is a front-to-back, substance-fueled, braincell-torching, bylaw-breaking collection of flophouse-party anthems. Throw this on and do something stupid, because Fuck It Dog, Life’s A Risk. They’re at The Biltmore on Monday (ouch!), September 2. Cheers!

James Blake – Overgrown
April 8, 2013 – ATLAS / A&M / Polydor Records
United Kingdom
Listen: “Overgrown”

London producer and musician James Blake turns 25 this year. Blake’s latest, the aptly titled Overgrown, is the sound of a young master who’s not only at the top of his game, but who’s changing the rules as he plays. The magic happens in between the notes played. This soulful album demonstrates that “electronic” doesn’t have to mean cold, robotic and technical; with Blake at the helm, it can be warm, organic and deeply personal. Overgrown transcends genre preference. We highly recommend it to beings, human and otherwise, who enjoy beautiful sounds.

Jim James – Regions of Light and Sound of God
February 5, 2013 – ATO Records
United States
Listen: “Actress”

My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James released his solo debut early this year. James’ talent has been a well-known fact for years, but not until now has he been able to fully flex his wholly individual musical muscle; with Regions, he rips the metaphorical shirt right off. James seems to be gleefully declaring that he’s found the one true God. Now whether this is his story or an interpretation of the 1929 novel God’s Man by Lynd Ward (from which the album takes its name), the issue is moot; the truth is likely somewhere in the middle. The real truth here is in the music; be it the Marvin Gaye-esque “Actress” or the desert-land hymn “All Is Forgiven”, Regions is a thing of inspired (and surely, for some, inspiring) beauty that is undeniable, regardless of which kind of spirit fills you.

Jon Hopkins – Immunity
June 4, 2013 – Domino Records
United Kingdom
Listen: “Sun Harmonics”

The English producer/musician’s fourth full-length is a real treat for the ears. Lush, complex and innovative enough for detail-oriented sound-junkies to dissect and gush over, yet perfectly seizable for any music fan, Immunity should please the ears of audiophiles everywhere. Hopkins truly walks the listener right into this album from the outside: keys jangle, a door opens, steps are walked, steps that soon become a steady beat. The man’s indisputable talents as soundbuilder are on showcase here, as layer upon layer of textured beats, instrumentation and effects are crafted into cohesive, seamless pieces. There’s a lot going on, but never to the point of distraction; a careful, beautiful balance pervades throughout. This is an expertly crafted, seductive listen.

The Knife – Shaking The Habitual
April 9, 2013 – Mute Records / Rabid Records
Listen: “A Tooth For An Eye”

Siblings Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer are The Knife. Shaking The Habitual, the electronic duo’s first major release in seven years, is a percussive romp of pseudo-tribal rhythms; evocative and conjuring vocals; and moody, frenetic hypno-tronica. Weird, right? Sure, but what an album to get lost in. Drawing much of its inspiration from both the literary world (with references to Michel Foucault, Margaret Atwood, Jeanette Winterson) and the literal (with its takes on environmentalism and modern institutions), The Knife’s latest effort offers listeners an option: stay in the shallow end and absorb these curiously powerful sounds as they happen to hit the ear; or dive in, straight down, and see what’s at the heart of this unique and dangerous body of work.

Mister Lies – Mowgli (full review)
February 26, 2013 – Lefse Records
United States
Listen: “Dionysian”

I made it a point to catch Nick Zanca as he came through Vancouver last month. Mowgli is an album I’ve found myself going back to again and again, be it when I’m alone and looking for a good headtrip, or with a few select friends for a late-night session. This album travels all over the place, from cool, ambient lands of ice through to more aggressive and (pleasantly) borderline assaultive, smoke-filled burghs. Live, Mister Lies is a treat to watch – rather than just hand the crowd the steady danceable beat it craves, he consistently and quite intentionally messes around with his sound by stopping this, starting that, glitching here and switching there. As a result, his performance is garden-fresh, even a little dirty. Mowgli, naturally, is much slicker and more linear than his live show, but it is every inch as exciting.

Nails – Abandon All Life
March 28, 2013 – Southern Lord Records
United States
Listen: “Suum Cuiqe”

Also from California and also extreme in their ways – yet in a more bone-crushing, fire-setting, deity-cursing (open) vein than Fidlar – Nails’ sweetly titled Abandon All Life blows through your head fists-first in just over 17 minutes. Produced by Converge’s Kurt Ballou (sold yet?), this album is unrelenting in its brutality. Oh, there are breaks here and there that last a few seconds, but they’re really just to make you sure you’re conscious before the next pummeling begins. What’s that metallic taste in your mouth? It’s blood. Good luck.

The Night Marchers – Allez! Allez!
January 22, 2013 – Vagrant Records
United States
Listen: “All Hits”

California keeps it coming with San Diego rockers The Night Marchers, who are basically the perfect blend of punk, garage, boogie, rock, and roll. John Reis’ gritty vocals have as much attitude as his and Gar Wood’s fuzzy, jangly guitars. Almost every song on this features you on back-up vocals going “Waaaaaaoooooooohhhh!” Guitar, drums, bass and vocals – that’s all we need. That and volume. Good luck trying not to party to this. It’s impossible.

Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold (reissue)
January 15, 2013 – What’s Your Rupture?
United States
Listen: “Borrowed Time”

What? Reissue? What the hell, man?! Alright, I’m breaking the rules on this one. Sort of. Light Up Gold was released in August 2012 on lead frontman Andrew Savage’s Dull Tools label. It was then reissued by New York indie label What’s Your Rupture? this January. So technically… whatever, I’m done justifying this pick. Just give this a spin, or better yet, watch their full KEXP set recorded earlier this year, then watch their recent tour documentary, and tell me this doesn’t rock your dirty little socks off. They played The Electric Owl earlier this year and tore… it… up. Four guys, four instruments, fifteen songs – fan-freaking-tastic. Rock. Punk. Indie. Whatever. It’s just plain great.

Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork (full review)
June 3, 2013 – Matador Records
United States
Listen: “I Appear Missing”

Some Queens fans hit the panic button when Era Vulgaris (2007) came out; I’m not sure why. Some had lost some faith when Lullabies (2005) was released; again, I can’t figure that out. Beyond the lame and lazy accusation of how “it doesn’t sound like their early stuff” – which I’m still guilty of on occasion when listening to certain bands – every Queens album has gone a bit further down the sun-baked, tequila-soaked highway of cojones rock. Homme and (many) friends are back with …Like Clockwork, and they’re (arguably, of course) better than ever. Sombre and sweet, musing and violent, QotSA’s sixth full-length is, quite simply, The Shit.

Toro Y Moi – Anything In Return (full review)
January 16, 2013 – Carpark Records
United States
Listen: “Harm In Change”

Silky… Slick… Hot… What’s the word… Smoooooth. There it is. If there’s one word to sum up Chaz Bundick’s sound, it’s ‘smooth’. Born and raised in South Carolina, the young producer now calls Berkeley, California home. I started hearing industry buzz about his third full-length around this time last year. The build-up was significant, and for good reason. Tight, confident, groovy – and smooth as all hell – you can feel confident about throwing on Anything In Return and not having to hit ‘Next’ at any point. He plays The Vogue Theatre on November 10.

So that’s our list. What do you think? What did we miss? What are the obvious, glaring omissions? Do you forgive us? Do we care?

Of course we do. Let us know below what you think are the best (and worst…) albums to have come out so far this year. We’d love to hear from you.