Best Of 2013 (So Far): Justin's Picks

2013 will officially go down as they year I felt old. Not out of touch, per se; I kept up with new music and listened to just as much as I always have. But as every major release came and went, I found myself asking what it was I was missing. People raved about Daft Punk and all I heard was glorified disco. People freaked out about Vampire Weekend and all I heard was grating, cutesy pop that for whatever reason reminded me of those four douchebags singing “Constance Fry” in Trading Places. Worst of all, people flipped their lids about the National – a band that I truly loved at one point – and all I heard was exceedingly dull music that was only appropriate for a therapist’s waiting room. “It grows on you,” people said. So does fungus and flesh-eating bacteria.

All that said, while I seem to have developed a Chunky Kevin-esque “get off my lawn” streak, man there’s been some good music this year. Granted, it’s a bit on the lighter side than my favorite album of last year (and the last five years), Celebration Rock, and two of my ten selections were released just this month, but these are ten of albums I’ll have a hard time bumping from my year-end list.

10.  Savages – Silence Yourself

Yeah, I’m on board. A brilliant amalgamation of blistering punk and 80’s goth sensibilities (a little Mission UK mixed with singer Jehnny Beth’s Siouxsie-sounding caterwaul) make for a furiously wonderful romp.


9.  Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer Different Park

Perhaps you’ve shied away from this album because of an inherent hate of any country music made after 1990. I get it. But there’s something about these 12 extremely confident, well written tunes that make Musgraves sound much older than her 25 years. This is less Taylor Swift and more John Prine or Lucinda Williams.


8.  Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana

As much as Savages are a throwback to the 80s, Northampton, Massachusetts’ Speedy Ortiz is a throwback to the 90s. Sadie Dupuis’ vocals channel Liz Phair, or to make a more 90’s reference, Veruca Salt’s Nina Gordon. Combined with nift sounds-sloppy-but-is-actually-brilliant rock reminiscent of Pavement or Built to Spill, Major Arcana marks the arrival of a fantastic new band.

7.  Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold

The first of three proudly stoned bands on this list, Austin Brown and Andrew Savage also work hard to sound sloppy, yet manage to put together a record more focused than anything their other band, Fergus & Geronimo, have yet to release. They want us to think that Parquet Courts is only capable of two chord bursts of pop, but there’s much more going on here.


6.  Foxygen - We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic

Foxygen do their best to not only emulate the Stones, Dylan, and Lou Reed, but to flat out rip them off. And the result is divine. Sam France and Jonathan Rado don’t wear their influences on their sleeve, they wear them as costumes, and songs like the Reed-inspired “No Destruction” and the funky “Shuggie” will make you laugh the first time you hear them, and sing along the next time.

5.  20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – Patchwork of Light

Another 60’s throwback, Mobile, Alabama’s David Maclay calls his music “Delta psychedelia” and damn if that isn’t exactly the best way to describe it. An insanely talented group of instrumentalists, they create dizzyingly complex melodies anchored by drums, distorted guitar, and organ, then toss in flutes, toy pianos, and any number of other instruments. But rather than sounding gimmicky, they add to the overall feeling of stoner fun.


4.  Phosphorescent – Muchacho

Even if the rest of Muchacho was awful, the seven-minute opus “The Quotidian Beasts” would earn it a spot on this countdown. A prime example of everything Phosphorescent does well, densely layered and exceedingly well-played, with Matthew Houck’s just-good-enough vocals adding mumbly poetry to it all. But of course, the rest of Muchacho is just as gorgeous.


3.  Grant Hart – The Argument

Nearly a year after his former Husker Du band mate Bob Mould put out the best album of his solo career, Grant Hart puts out the best album of his. The understated songwriter who penned Husker songs like “She Floated Away” and “Never Talking to You Again” creates a sprawling 75-minute masterpiece based on a William S. Burroughs take on John Milton’s Paradise Lost. It’s a complicated idea to base a concept album on, but Hart has always been a complicated guy, as well as an amazing songwriter.


2.  Heather Maloney – Heather Maloney

One-upping her sensational 2011 album Time and Pocket Change, Maloney’s self-titled third album tries a bunch of different things and somehow manages to execute them all perfectly. Playful, inventive, and beautifully recorded, Heather Maloney continues a fantastic career arc that won’t be slowing down anytime soon. (She’ll be at Jammin’ Java on September 12 – don’t miss it.)

1.  Patty Griffin – American Kid

Another artist with a long and storied career who put out the best album of her career, Griffin’s American Kid ends her streak of hit-or-miss albums in a big way. Utilizing Band of Joy band mate (and current life partner) Robert Plant as well as the North Mississippi Allstars, this tribute album to her late father gets better with each listen as new songs and lyrics jump to the forefront. Like a good novel, you want to start it again the second it’s finished.