Top Albums of 2013

Top Albums

I usually go into these lists feeling like my "top ten" albums might be the only ten that I actually paid attention to. I also feel like I consistently forget about two or three releases that should have been on the list and guilt trip myself into thinking I let my favorite bands down (which will happen no matter how hard I think about it all beforehand). So, I put this off for a while, talked to some friends about what they listened to, reevaluated my options. I also wrote a full "top ten" list, but then decided that a couple of them weren't really top favorites at all, whether because the lyrics bummed me out, or because their initial standing was somehow obligatory in my mind. At any rate, I moved those ones down into the "honorable mentions" section, because hey, I already wrote them. For better or worse, here is what it all became...

 

The National - Trouble Will Find Me

The first time I heard Trouble Will Find Me, it was over Balvenie Doublewood at Joel Davis' house after a show in Tampa, FL on our LTP & GirlTour. My friend Jonathan had just flown into town to meet us, and we randomly ran into Aaron Gillespie at the airport (I remember thinking he had a weird haircut). Joel had the record on vinyl. Jonathan, who never uses foul language, was talking about how much he appreciated Matt Beringer's appropriately placed expletive near the end of "Demons." I've listened to that record 100 times over since then. It never got old. The National will always hold a special place in my heart. Two years ago, one of my best friends and I were sitting in a Hobby Lobby parking lot, bored, and decided to get matching lyrics from their previous High Violet tattooed around our wrists: "I was afraid I'd eat your brains, cause I'm evil." He's not really around anymore, but listening to The National always makes me think of him, and the memories are sweet. On tour, Jonathan, Brandi, Trilldog and I drove into sunsets singing "I should leave it alone, but you're not right", "I stay down with my demons," and "am I the one you think about when you're sitting in your favorite chair, drinking pink rabbits?" Beautiful memories. 

Then, in September, my wife and I, and some of our closest friends, all drove up to Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado to see The National play with Local Natives and Frightened Rabbit. It was my first time at the outdoor venue, the weather was beautiful, and it ranks at the top of any shows I've seen, effectively solidifying this amazing band's release at #1.

Notable lyrics: 

I'm so surprised you want to dance with me now, I was just getting used to living life without you around.

- I should live in salt for leaving you.

Remember when you lost your sh*t and drove the car into the garden? You got out and said "I'm sorry" to the vines and no one saw it.

 

Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience (Album One)

When JT released the single for "Suit & Tie" I hated it. My friend Micah and I sat in his room in Seattle and made fun of it. Compared to "Future Love/Sex Sounds", it just didn't compute. Then I saw the music video and thought it was so classy. I loved the black and white, loved seeing Hova chillin' with his bow tie undone, scotch in hand, toasting to the audience. The album grew on me, but it ended up being one of my favorites - another jam for the LTP & Girls Tour, in and out of New Orleans, Louisiana, through the swamps beneath the highway. I appreciated that JT could write eight-minute tracks that seemed to keep my attention all the way through. (Now the follow-up / second half, I'm not sold on. I guess there were a few jams - I enjoyed "Drink You Away" for what it was, and enjoyed talking to Craig and Jeanette Gross about their experience seeing him in Vegas. Lots of lasers, apparently.)

I had a conversation with someone who said that JT is as much of a brand as he is a musician. I appreciate that, I think, because I like good branding. Boy-band-gone-solo-artist-gone-actor-comedian-social-icon. Covered.

Notable lyrics:

My little strawberry strawberry strawberry bubblegum.

Pusher love, I'm just a j-j-j-j-junkie for your love.

 

Local Natives - Hummingbird

These guys opened up for The National when I went to see them at Red Rocks. Frankly, I would have been satisfied with the show had they headlined. Local Natives is one of those bands that I'm behind the curve on, but I know I've been making people proud now that I'm finally trying to catch up. Haha. They're a project that my friend Jonathan Orner introduced me to (he's also responsible for my love for Manchester Orchestra, Brand New, and then a bunch of other random, obscure bands that, three years ago, I would've only made fun of him about). My favorite track on the album is called "Columbia". It is absolutely beautiful, and when they performed the track in Colorado, I sang at the top of my lungs.

Notable lyrics:

You and I, we were always strong. It was enough to keep me on. Believe me.

Every night I ask myself, am I giving enough? … am I loving enough?

 

Beautiful Eulogy - Instruments of Mercy

"Theology, when done biblically, gives life… at its most high-flown, this doctrine is always, unavoidably, without exception, practical. How can it be otherwise? How can the truth that God reigns over creation not produce trust and comfort in the Christian? How can the realization that our justification stems from God's decree and the imputation of Christ's righteousness not create gratitude and freedom? How can a careful study of biblical testimony on the eternality of hell not inspire a believer to reach out to lost coworkers, seat-mates, neighbors? Provided we don't lose our self in some kind of internal monastic commune, how can the teachings of Scripture - handed down by faithful pastor-theologians and theologian-pastors - not exert a profoundly practical effect? Who was a deeper, more exhilaratingly insightful teacher than Jesus, the man who loosed the apostles to turn the world upside down? I'm happy to report that many portions of the Christian past knew no such division between theology and life, scholarship and sanctification." - Owen Strachan

This is what I see coming out of Humble Beast, and in this album, specifically - theologically life giving, creative excellence. I'm thankful for it. 

Notable lyrics:

It's the strumming and pressing of strings that momentarily stings, but in the end ultimately brings us to a place that causes hearts to sing.

Organize me. If you have my heart, then you have every part of me.

 

Citizens - Self Titled

Honestly, and to the permanent scarification of my poor mother, I don't listen to worship music all that much. But I list Citizens here because their album released within my church at a time in my life when I felt like I had nothing left - no faith, no hope, nothing that captured me or redirected my heart's affections toward Jesus. I was disappointed, at first, by a sound that I considered overly produced, at least when compared with their Already | Not Yet EP. But there was a warmth and joy defining the record that I found myself able to sing along with in the mornings, making breakfast, drinking coffee before anyone else was up. When a friend asked me what my opinion was, I told him I wasn't sure, but I was grateful that the Lord was using the record to reintroduce himself to me through songs like "Living In A Land Of Death" and "O God". Nearly a year removed, I probably listen to a track or two from the album weekly, and though not every moment captures my preferences, musically, I am grateful for those which capture my heart, spiritually.

Notable lyrics:

I focus my captivated gaze on the radiant light from Jesus' face…

- Though poison should threaten to kill, I know my Savior reigns, and when the breezes of death leave a chill, I've got Jesus' blood in my veins.

 

Red Sweater Lullaby - The Norrtalje EP

Kris Rochel - drummer of the critically-acclaimed Listener Family Band - gave me a digital download of his solo EP in November, and near the end of November at that. On December 30th, on a trip home from a Heat / Nuggets game in Colorado, I played my friends one of the tracks, to which they responded, tentatively, "Um… is this a studio mix?"

No. Kris recorded this EP on an iPad, in Sweden, with a plastic harmonica and an acoustic guitar, and that's why I love it. I've always loved raw recordings - whether they're the old Bright Eyes' A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995-1997 or some of the godawful hardcore records where you can barely differentiate between instruments in the chaos. I appreciate the simplicity of this EP, and I hope that when Kris comes through Albuquerque, we'll be able to get some other people introduced to Red Sweater Lullaby, as well.

Notable lyrics:

Take my heart, I think yours might be shot.

Sweaty palms, racing heart, can we skip to the part where we're married?

 

Listener - Time Is A Machine

I honestly can't remember the first time I met Dan and Christin. Maybe it was in Albuquerque? We've set up a few shows for them down here. Maybe a festival. We met before Wooden Heart came out, I know that much. Dan was selling hand-packaged Not Waving, Drowning CDs, and he ran a projector throwing old Looney Toons cartoons against the wall, before Christin started batting the washing mashing that they had picked up in Denver a few nights prior to the show. Brandi fell in love with Listener immediately, and I appreciated its uniqueness, and Dan's talent as a writer and spoken word artist. We all got acquaintanced and have hung out over the years, playing shows, visiting random hole-in-the-walls outside of festivals with White Collar Sideshow, and etc. The first time I saw them play anything from TIAM was at the last Cornerstone festival, before they pushed back the album's [unofficial] release date. The second time was at a show we hopped on in Providence, Rhode Island, after it had come out. Yet another record that we jammed whilst galavanting around the east coast this summer. I like the direction. I love Kris Rochelle's addition. I thought Dan killed it, lyrically, Chris wrote some great jams to compliment all of it well (or in whatever order those things all happen). 

Notable lyrics:

Some people feel just like home.

- … may the best disasters come to you. We need each other a lot more than we don't. 

It's okay to be scared sometimes, and brave sometimes, and fail some times sometimes.

 

Defeater - Letters Home

Defeater's been a go-to band on and off for a couple of years now. Like many people, I discovered them along with the likes of La Dispute and Touché Amore, although I don't want to categorize any of those bands as though they are replicas of one another - I've never thought that, and it disappoints me when people lump them all together. When Letters Home came out (or, at least when I heard about it coming out), Brandi and I were driving through upstate New York for our first time. Construction was bad on the highway, and workers were operating huge, red cranes against a white bridge, low-hanging fog slightly obscuring the ground below the overpass. I remember the greenery throughout the drive, and the history summarized in cathedrals we passed by on our way toward Rhode Island. Magical, really. One of the promoters told me that the record had been released, and he told me I'd love it if, for nothing else, how sad it was. He was right, but I loved it for everything else, too.

Notable lyrics:

I'm a man with no faith, but I'm familiar with hell.

I've got your letters, I've got your good luck, in your rabbit foot I keep.

 

Honorable Mentions & Concerts

letlive. - The Blackest Beautiful (Album)

Originally included this in the "top ten", but after really reading through a lot of Jason Butler's lyrics when going back through the album, I decided to remove it. Dude wrote some of the darkest material that I think I've read from a band in a long time. I don't know - it just left me uneasy. Even musically, I wanted to be tentative here - not because I don't appreciate letlive. artistically, but because I don't like this CD as much as their debut. Although I can definitely see it as a progression demographically (I think The Blackest Beautiful is a more accessible album than Fake History), I didn't care as much for the dance-ier direction they went. 

 

Eminem - The Marshal Mathers LP II (Album)

So honestly, I feel obliged to include this release, regardless of whether it was good or not. Eminem will never be what he was, but that has every bit as much to do with nostalgia and the memory of white america's suburban teenage angst as it does with anything else. People talk like Marshall Mather's fell off. Well with references to Bill Clinton, Kim Kardashian and Kid Rock's "bawitdaba", he's not relevant, anymore, that's for sure. However, in regard to his flow, subtle humor and creative word-play, I still think he's on his A-game. Filthy as ever, unfortunately, but I still don't see talent as consistent as his in the mainstream rap game. Musically, I wish we were back at MMLP, and I hate the full-band rock tracks he set so many of his flows over, but linguistically, Em still blows my mind.

The thing is, though, he's over 40 years old. Dude just shouldn't be rapping about the dumb crap he's rapping about anymore. That said, here's an ode to the past and an appreciation for the present, even though, if I'm honest, I'll probably never listen to the album all the way through again.

Lastly, I feel like saying that his album ending "Wicked Ways" really bums me out. It's all about how he's going to get away with everything: "I'm getting by with my wicked ways… I wanna dig my way to hell." The former statement, I doubt. The latter, I fear is likely to be accomplished. As someone who has followed Eminem's career for years and keeps hoping that maybe, someday, there will be some lyrical maturity reflecting heart change revealed in a new release, MMLPII is a drag. When, as Em says, "It's a f***ing miracle to be this lyrical" (with which I agree), I long for him to see the miracle-worker. 

 

Kanye West - Yeezus (Album)

Kanye's always going to be obnoxious, and his lyrics are always going to reflect it. That said, I think that Yeezus is, in regard to music and production, the best mainstream hip-hop record to come out in 2013. Christians started to get up in arms about the release when West called himself a god, and Odd Thomas of the above-mentioned rap group Beautiful Eulogy wrote a great response entitled "We Are A Kanye" that I'd consider checking out, here.

 

Underoath, mewithoutYou, As Cities Burn, letlive.

Need I say more?

 

The National, Local Natives, Frightened Rabbit (Concert)

Friends. Outdoors. Good beer. Beautiful music.

 

Macklemore (Concert)

First time at Staples Center in LA. Rapper who put out my favorite album of 2012. Good gift from Craig Gross and spent time with his family. Amazing to hear that kind of positivity come out at a rap show. 

 

Jay Z - Magna Carta Holy Grail (Album)

Always a Jay Z fan and interested in what this self-proclaimed business is doing. I think his release through Samsung was crazy, and feel like he owns the world. I also feel like, because he's floating so high up above everybody, no one can relate to anything Hova's saying.