The Self-Hating Hipster’s Top 10 Albums of 2013

Deafheaven - Sunbather10.  Deafheaven – Sunbather

Deathwish Records

Sunbather was one of the most critically celebrated albums of 2013; the unique part about it is Deafheaven is considered a black metal band, a genre that requires immense musical ability, but more often than not proves to be too harsh on the ears and thusly alienates the casual listener.  What Deafheaven does once again on their second and markedly improved effort is incorporate elements of post-rock (the album is seconds shy of an hour, twenty minutes longer than their debut, with another four titanic tracks) and, this time around, coolly salve the most blistering moments on the record with melodic interludes and down-tempo pace-breakers.  You may not know it because black metal vocalists screaming and gutturals are typically undiscernible, but Deafheaven singer, George Clarke, has some lyrics that border on poetic (at least for black metal).  On the title track Clarke belts,

“Held my breath and drove through a maze of wealthy homes.  I watched how green the trees were.  I watched the steep walkways and the white fences.  I gripped the wheel.  I sweated against the leather.  I watched the dogs twist through the wealthy garden.  I watched you lay on a towel in grass that exceeded the height of your legs.  I gazed into reflective eyes.  I cried against an ocean of light.”

The overarching theme of the album is a poor boy scorching in the same heat that a priveleged girl basks in; it’s a vivid image and a bright album in a genre otherwise encompassed by blackness. – SHH

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Kurt Vile - Wakin On A Pretty Daze

9.  Kurt Vile – Wakin On A Pretty Daze

Matador

Wakin On A Pretty Daze is really the perfect name for Kurt Vile’s latest release; it’s a sweet, calming blend of foggy dream pop that begs to be played in the waking hours, or during periods of moderate lucidity.  The opening track, “Wakin On A Pretty Day,” a not long enough nine-minute foray through soft guitars and Vile’s easy and expressive vocals sets the tone as the album dives further into his signature sound.  The remaining ten tracks transfer without hitch from the soft, dew-filled opener to more classic rock and then back again.  The album is whopping 69 minutes with just 11 tracks, most of which surpass the traditional pop/rock song length and deservedly so.  It’s ethereal and free, it’s alive and majestic–it’s Kurt Vile, and it deserves a listen. – KDD

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Jason Isbell - Southeastern

8.  Jason Isbell – Southeastern

Relativity

There’s country music and then there’s intelligent writing mixed with a soulful southern twang.  Yes, it does exist, pop country fans.  As you might’ve guessed, Jason Isbell is a bit closer to the latter.  Sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, Isbell touches on a wide range of emotions while emanating an honesty that makes the listener empathize and laugh right along with him and the characters that he creates.  Southeastern is strong from top to bottom; you’ll sing along, smile, and then sit by yourself and think for awhile…or, you could just press “play” again. – KDD

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Kanye West - Yeezus

7.  Kanye West – Yeezus

Def Jam

Love him or hate him, Kanye is a gifted artist.  His latest, a complete 180 from the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, proves that he continues to evolve in a world afraid of change.  Yeezus is born with a bang, as what sounds like a speaker error on “On Sight” soon transfers into an abrasive synth.  The album never slows down and Kanye’s brash and often hilariously absurd lyrics support the perfectly placed samples, heavy bass and electronic pulses that pound your eardrums.  Yeezus is rap in S&M form.   Turn this album up to eleven and sacrifice your ears to the gleeful torture it’s sure to provide.  Then hurry up with my damn massage! – KDD

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Neko Case - The Worse Things Get...

6.  Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

Anti

If there’s one thing a music fan should do, it’s see Neko Case and her partner in crime, Kelly Hogan, live.  First you’ll be treated to the witty banter that comes so naturally to the two.  Then the music will start, the band will kick in and you will be wowed by the power and earthiness of Neko’s voice.  The album sees Neko as both a fighter (think “Man”) and an indie rock matriarch (“Nearly Midnight, Honolulu”).

In her most recent email to fans Neko states “See, I have to keep constantly working or I die, like a shark.”  She tours tirelessly, and when it’s not supporting her solo material, it’s playing a supporting role to the likes of A.C. Newman in The New Pornographers or guesting on tracks for Laura Veirs and Camera Obscura.  Neko’s love of nature and the human condition is endearing, and aside from being one of my favorite vocalists, she’s also hands down my favorite Tweeter.  The Worse Thing’s Get may be her best album whichi is saying something considering her already remarkable library.  It’s also her most personal, a small auditory window into her world, and those who listen are sure to like what they hear. – KDD

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DARKSIDE - Psychic5.  DARKSIDE – Psychic

Merge

After the immense success of 2010’s Space Is Only Noise IDM, production prodigy Nicolas Jaar began a side project with his touring guitarist and musical renaissance man, Dave Harrington, as the boringly titled DARKSIDE.  Their music, however, is anything but boring.  Jaar had already started to stretch the boundaries of electronic music by slowing things way down and, with the addition of Harrington’s creativity and ability to play multiple instruments, the duo delved even deeper into avant-garde electronica with their self-titled EP in 2011 (which is to be re-released on vinyl this year).

Two years later their debut LP, Psychic, takes the experiment even further, and this time, into the shadows.  The album is a series of constructions and deconstructions, case in point the slow-building opener, “Golden Arrow.”  The 11-minute track sets the tone for a psychological thriller of an album and fittingly, the sonic aim and trajectory.  It’s almost two minutes before some semblance of a beat materializes, a full five minutes before Harrington’s palm-muted guitar kicks in to drive the developing percussion and Jaar’s freaky falsetto hardly makes a peep until the seven-minute mark.  Shortly thereafter the listener should be in a full-blown trance–the beat pulsing, the guitar quietly emphasizing the downbeat and Jaar filling in the void with echoed cries.  And then, slowly, each piece of the composition is plucked away until all that’s left is Jaar’s desperate voice over an evaporating progression.

Most tracks follow suit in a similar, meandering path of vision, revision and division; “The Only Shrine I’ve Seen” begins with maniacal clapping (like something out of a Temple of Doom heart-grabbing ceremony), morphs into one of Harrinton’s funkiest moments on the album with a David Byrne Speaking in Tongues-era guitar riff and then it slowly dissolves into piano, fuzzy feedback and hail storm cymbals.  The one major exception on the album and by far the closest track to a single is “Paper Trails” where Harrington plays a ghoulish blues to back Jaar’s uncharacteristically deep vocals, creepily yearning for a “wooden house to live in, a baby to care.”

Pyschic is a non-stop arrangement of trials and retrials with miraculous little error (the pointless “Greek Light” being the only one).  Like all great albums, Psychic is a vehicle that transports the listener to another dimension where sound is the only sense that matters. – SHH

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Parquet Courts - Light Up Gold

4.  Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold

What’s Your Rupture?

There is inevitably going to be some argument about the inclusion of Light Up Gold on this list as it was originally released by the label Dull Tools in 2012; however, my reasoning is my ready admission that I was not hip enough to know of its original release until a few weeks ago (I missed seeing them at the 2013 4Knots Music Festival that I attended because I was drinking beer a few blocks away like an asshole), and, to be fair, it was a limited release of 500 copies.  The 2013 repressing is a testament to the album’s greatness and warranted exposure.

Parquet Courts have referred to their sound as “Americana Punk” which makes sense considering the bull-riding cover, tracks like “N Dakota” and the band members’ migration from Texas to New York City prior to their formation, but, despite my more recent distaste for micro-genres, the band will likely be unable to escape “slacker rock” as they sound an awful lot like the progenitors of the genre and they go as far as to mention a “slacker’s conference” in “Tears O Plenty.”  Like a number of the albums on this list Light Up Gold is a tip of the hat to a well-regarded group of hat-tippers.  Lead vocalist and primary lyricist, Andrew Savage, employs the speak-song of Sonic Youth, the album is paced similarly to Pavement’s Slanted & Enchanted and there is no mistaking a Guided by Voices link on tracks like “Caster of Worthless Spells” and “Picture of Health.”  The fact of the matter is that each of the acts just referenced did not exist in a vacuum; they pulled from punk and post-punk artists on both sides of the Atlantic as well as American folk artists–that is why there are also traces of Swell Maps, Wire, Devo, Talking Heads, Neil Young and Dylan.

Parquet Courts is one of the most exciting bands with just two albums behind them (their “unofficial debut” was American Specialties).  Light Up Gold is a must listen and, though I can’t speak intelligently on the matter, Parquet Courts is a should-see, even if beer is served only a few blocks away. – SHH

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Laura Marling - Once I Was An Eagle

3.  Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle

Ribbon Music

If there is one thing to be said about the now 24-year-old British singer songwriter, it’s that she’s the classic example of an old soul trapped in a young woman’s body.  She’s often pegged as this era’s Joni Mitchell, but Marling’s folky sound is more edgy and attitude-filled than Mitchell’s.  She’s a writer overflowing with words and an extra special means for expressing them–singing of love, loss, self-discovery and her beloved Great Britain.

Once I Was an Eagle is a false title as Marling proves once again that she soars high above most of today’s folk artists, even at her surprisingly young age.  The 16-song, 63-minute LP is the fourth in her impressive catalogue; it is by far her most mature, and for music fans, a sign that we have plenty to look forward to. – KDD

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HAIM - Days Are Gone

2.  HAIM – Days Are Gone

Columbia

With Days are Gone the California-bred Haim (pronounced high-em) sisters toed the line perfectly between indie goddesses and mainstream pop princesses.  The trio first released an EP in early 2012 titled Forever; the three-song critical triumph soon led to a record deal with Columbia and generated much anticipation for the full alength follow-up.  That hype was fulfilled in mid-2013 as an album stacked with nonstop hooks and 11 possible singles which catapulted the sisters to stardom.  The band was discovered by much of the world during their late night talk show tour; for good reason the buzz didn’t stop there.  From now on you’ll hear Haim everywhere–the mall, a plane or the hip neighborhood bar. – KDD

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Phosphorescent - Muchacho

1.  Phosphorescent – Muchacho

Dead Oceans Records

Phosphorescent’s Matthew Houck took a much needed break after the exhausting international tour for his ironically named 2010 album, Here’s to Taking it Easy.  It was that tour that made him contemplate hanging up his spurs (pun intended?) altogether.  Thankfully, Houck instead took an extended sabbatical in Mexico where he did finally take it easy.  While in Mexico, Houck conceived the majority of the songs that were to make up his sixth album, Muchacho.

Houck broadens the instrumentation on the record with the keys, horns, strings, synth and drum machines.

Aside:  I spoiled myself in purchasing tickets to see Phosphorescent live this past year in Brooklyn (King DD was also in attendance).  Houck was accompanied by a wonderful string trio on “Song For Zula” which was the highlight of the night.

The instrumentation combined with his excelled songwriting result in a brighter, bolder take on his mid-2000′s releases.   There is the country twang of “Terror in the Canyons (The Wounded Master),” the gringo waltz of “Muchacho’s Theme,” the Americana folk of “A New Anhedonia,” the grandiose ambience of “Song For Zula” and the glammy electro-rock of “Ride On / Right On.”  The album is all over the place but somehow never feels out of place.

Muchacho is equally intoxicating and sobering; one song sounds like a boozy romp and the next feels like a bloodshot stare in an early morning mirror.  Houck’s cunning synthesis of well-worn territory is nothing short of marvelous.  A less astute songwriter might have ended up with a recycled sounding bummer, but Muchacho glows with a warm brilliance that one might get from a Southern sunrise, or perhaps the painfully warm swallow of a tequila sunrise sans sunrise. – SHH

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And there you have it: The Top 50 Albums of 2013, well into 2014!  I’m sure that there will be frustration as a result of album exclusions.  Your humble reviewer is sympathetic with you, reader; if somebody had asked me in December which albums would absolutely make the list, I would have confirmed the inclusion of at least a dozen records not found here.  As much as I would love to do “honorable mentions,” it does defeat the purpose of the list.  If there are some particularly incensing omissions I encourage you to reply to the post and I will answer you honestly as to why the album didn’t make the list if and when I’m familiar with it.  Despite the volume of music that King DD and I absorbed (exposure to well over 200 records between the two of us), I readily acknowledge that we likely missed some jewels and I always appreciate recommendations.  I hope that you enjoyed the read!  And I’m glad to have my couch back…

Most of the albums that I own from 2013 taking up the majority of my couch circa 3/20/2014.

Most of the albums that I own from 2013 taking up the majority of my couch circa 3/20/2014.

50-41     40-31     30-21    20-11

2013 Extended

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3 Responses to “The Self-Hating Hipster’s Top 10 Albums of 2013”

  1. TFORD March 26, 2014 at 5:43 pm #

    No Cults!? What the flip brown bear?

    • the self-hating hipster March 27, 2014 at 11:52 pm #

      I own the album. It was just a really stacked year. You wouldn’t believe some of the cuts that I made…

  2. bobdoesthings March 26, 2014 at 10:27 pm #

    I am way far behind in the world. I knew about 30% of these.. I got some listening to do. Thanks SHH!

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