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

10. Sigur Ros – Kveikur

The more things change, the more they stay the same. I can’t honestly say that Sigur Ros breaks any new ground with Kveikur and, if anything, it feels like a throwback to their earlier work more than a continuation of the new direction they embarked on with last year’s Valtari. But for two good albums in a 12 month span, I’m inclined to forgive the lack of originality.

 

9. Frightened Rabbit – Pedestrian Verse

The themes (hook ups, boozing, love, more boozing, passing out drunk after boozing) haven’t changed for the brothers Hutchison but with each successive album their execution has improved. On Pedestrian Verse, the lads again craft booming power pop anthems and acerbic ballads to make the ladies swoon and the gents nod ruefully. Maybe they will need to change their game to stay relevant going forward but, for now, Pedestrian Verse serves as a fitting companion piece to previous standout The Winter of Mixed Drinks and should stay in their fans’ rotation for years to come.

8. Grouper – The Man Who Died in His Boat

Liz Harris’s latest album as Grouper is an extension of the brooding path she has traced over the past several years that took five years to come to fruition. As usual, she layers her haunting vocals over dark, ambient chords, creating soundscapes steeped in foreboding and creeping dread. It is a chilling and sublime collection of atmospheric music.

 

7. Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin

Dirty fuzzed out riffs, experimental punk grooves, and some sick pop hooks to hold it all together…yes please. If you have the urge to rock this summer (and really, who doesn’t), leave Queens of the Stone Age on the shelf and give these guys a listen.

6. My Bloody Valentine – m b v

In February, our long national nightmare ended when Kevin Shields emerged from his subterranean soundbunker with a new My Bloody Valentine record. The Internet proceeded to spontaneously combust as everyone rushed to the band’s site (and Twitter) to share in an oddly collective listening experience. Once the bits settled, we were left with was a complex, beautiful piece of music that fully lives up to My Bloody Valentine’s reputation and legacy…despite the fact that it never reaches the same heights as Loveless.

5. Mikal Cronin – MCII

Those familiar with Cronin’s work with Ty Segall may have expected his second solo album to be a noisier, more raucous affair. Instead, On MCII Cronin proves himself a master of the hook, crafting timeless little pop gems on nearly every track. There is nothing particularly innovative about his output but sometimes all you need is a well-executed catchy tune and MCII has those in abundance.

4. James Blake – Overgrown

As covered more thoroughly here on his second album, James Blake takes baby steps to move outside of his comfort zone without abandoning the droning, haunted dubstep that he made his name on in the first place. Some of these efforts are more successful than others and the best of them hew closely to the elements that made Blake a star in the first place. It is definitely a transitional piece but one with more than enough highlights to justify its ranking on this list.

3. Black Host – Life in the Sugar Candle Mines

As detailed here Gerald Cleaver’s new band traffics in a unique blend of experimental noise, free jazz, and post punk instrumentals. Their work captures the frenetic, spontaneous energy of a live jazz set without losing the well thought out complexity evident in their album riffs. Even if this doesn’t sound like your usual jam, you owe it to yourself to give these singular musicians a listen.

2. Phosphorescent – Muchacho

Damn. Matthew Houck has been through some shit. But, while the rest of us might react to heartache, rejection, and disappointment by trying desperately to find the bottom of a bottle of bourbon, Houk took those feelings and made the year’s most gorgeous album (so far). Almost all of the intricately layered instruments and vocals are his alone, painstakingly crafted over untold hours until the final tracks were ready.  It is a fantastic album from beginning to end and “Song for Zula” may end up as the best song of the year.

1. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

When these eccentric French robots went digging through their disco, electro, and soft rock records for inspiration, it could have been a mess. Instead the result was an eclectic, addictively listenable mix of songs that went well beyond homage, recontextualizing familiar sounds in new and inventive ways. Some of the tracks (cough – Panda Bear) will probably have been played to death by the end of the summer but there’s plenty more here to keep you entertained.