BEST OF 2013: Thor's Picks

10. Arctic Monkeys - AM

Seeing the Arctic Monkeys live is the closest thing in 2013 to seeing one of the monolithic classic rock bands of yesteryear in their prime. The Arctic Monkeys have consistently found a way to make great rock albums, fill big venues, and all the while be one of the closest things to a proper mega-star rock band we can get. Their latest album AM takes a bit of the laidback melodies they dived headfirst into on Suck It And See and throws a gorgeous R&B twist onto them. They still know how to crush skulls, though; just listen to the Zeppelin groove of album highlight “R U Mine?” 

9. Radiator Hospital - Something Wild

There is something special happening in Philadelphia right now; Radiator Hospital and Swearin’ are proof of the emerging power-pop meets ‘90s grunge scene that is resurging. Something Wild bounces back and forth between blistering full band explosions of four-chord pop tunes and softer, confession-style acoustic lo-fi music that give the feeling of being inside a small room as someone sings their heart out. Listening to this album is like hearing the 13-year-old you making an album for you to listen to in your 20s. 

8. Foxygen - We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic

Jonathan Rado and Sam Frances don’t care about your blog. They don’t care about the resurgence of ‘90s emo. Hell, they probably don’t even care about anything that came out after 1979, and that’s perfectly alright with me. The way they so effortlessly craft beautifully complex pop songs, plucking from the grab bag of such greats as the Rolling Stones, Donovan, Elvis Presley, and Bob Dylan, disproves the label of copycat that has been grafted onto them by some. Their songs shift and bounce around, filled with instruments popping in and out. These two men have no limits and watching what their upcoming double-album will grow to become leaves me more excited than ever for Foxygen’s future.

7. Fuzz - Fuzz

People often like to talk about Ty Segall being a workaholic, coming out with too many albums in a single year, but Fuzz is much more than simply a Ty Segall album. Fuzz is a collaboration with two others, Roland Cosio and Charlie Moothart, and on their debut as a band, it’s Moothart who really shines. His guitar playing pummels you with riffs ‘70s era Sabbath wished they could have come up with and guitar solos somewhere between Motorhead and Jimmy Page at the height of his powers. While Moothart may be the star of the show, Segall is no slouch behind the drum kit either, landing somewhere in-between John Bonham and Keith Moon with his frenetic fills. What makes Fuzz stand out is that the record feels like a band at work, not the auteur stylings of just Ty in his garage. Just listen to the guitar screeches before the explosive chorus of album highlight “What’s In My Head?” 

6. Superchunk - I Hate Music

Superchunk is the true success story of the indie-rock era. They out-lived, out-toured, and out-played virtually all of their peers. They created one of the biggest power houses of indie labels in Merge Records, and then, for good measure, came back 23 years after their first album to release arguably their best album to date. Their songwriting is in top notch, they’ve spent decades learning what NOT to do, and trimming all of the fat down to the barebones of sugary power-pop. The songs on I Hate Music are full of such triumphant moments and exhilarating fist pumping possibilities - the two minute blast of pure rock and roll energy that is “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo” is hands down my song of the year - that all I can do is hope for another decade of albums this good. 

5. Speedy Ortiz - Major Arcana

This band is a music nerd’s wet-dream. Big, seismic guitars, going in weird dissonant places, wrapping around your head in the midst of pounding drums that rattle your ear drums and leave you barely enough time to comprehend the constant stream of 21st century poetry fuming from front-woman Sadie Dupius. All it took was one proper album this year and the blogs went insane. They did more interviews and got more write-ups than is seemingly possible for a band that can be found playing basements as often as they are headlining clubs. Known for a head crushing live show that can involve the lead guitar player riding on someone’s shoulder or playing his guitar in the street, their music may be full of angst, but it’s the most well calculated and sophisticated angst to get pressed on wax this year. 

4. Weed - Deserve

Vancouver based four-piece Weed has been building a steady following thanks to years of DIY touring. What started as a solo project has become a full, blistering band, and their first proper output is among the finest guitar driven music on the market right now. This band is about big guitars and big hooks, sludge-driven pop music doused as much as it can be in fuzz and interweaving guitar parts that sometimes call to mind Mission Of Burma and just as soon turn into a distorted and perverted Pinkerton-era Weezer riff.  I expect big things from Weed’s future. 

Deserve by Weed

3. Mikal Cronin - MCII

For a long time known to garage-rock geeks only as Ty Segall’s bassist, Mikal Cronin has stepped out of his collaborator’s shadow with a brand of sugar sweet explosive guitar-pop that has put him on the fast track to reaching a whole new audience. Cronin lets his voice shine and opts for clarity when it comes to his sun-soaked three-minute symphonies – a nice break from the cluttered and muddy production of a lot of garage rock - embracing the inner-Beach Boy meets Black Sabbath that has been waiting to come out for some time now. With guitars that are just as over layered as the vocal harmonies, Cronin’s confidence oozes off the album’s brilliant transitions between softer pieces and bigger pieces that set the stage for issues like getting older, loves lost in the face of new love, and virtually all the things a twenty something could ever fear to go through.

2. Swearin' - Surfing Strange

The first song “Dust In The Gold Sack” on their sophomore album puts everything on the table. The heart-melting vocals of former P.S. Eliot sister Allison Crutchfield mix with the beautifully shaky lead guitar work from Kyle Gilbride to provide hooks so big you’ll instantly replay the song as soon as it’s done. Parts of Surfing Strange sound like they’re recycling left-over Pinkerton riffs that were too rough too make it onto the album, and at other points, Swearin’ channels the doe eyed pop-punk that brings you back to those feelings you wish you could forget. The song-writing credit is mostly equally split between all members of the band, which brings a great amount of variation to the formula and keeps the album plugging along and fresh even at its extremely short running time. 

1. Autre Ne Veut - Anxiety

Truly great music reaches across all boundaries. As I’m sure you’ve guessed from this list I prefer a certain type of music that puts distorted guitars at the front along with pounding drums.However, nothing has come even close to shaking my foundations more than Autre Ne Veut’s album Anxiety this year. In 2013, it has been all the rage for young bands to rip off and steal from the ‘90s R&B that dominated the radio in their childhood, but the way that Autre Ne Veut shoves it through the blender of revisionist history and creates a product that feels fresh and new is what puts the one-man artist above the rest. The way he plays with tantalizing slow jams by thrusting them through a cloud of anxiety and dark and eerie emotions make other groups stealing anything they can grab from early Destiny’s Child look like kids.