For your holiday pleasure, watch as I struggle with the intensely difficult task of hierarchically ordering ten of the best albums of 2013 that have graced KRUA’s airwaves. With so many uniquely good records, this is going to be nearly impos- no. Wait. They’re all so great. I don’t think I can say with any certainty that one is better than the other. So I’m going to lay them out here in no particular order. You can decide.
Haim – Days Are Gone – People have disputed whether the California sisters are indie or not. The truth is: it just doesn’t matter. Because what they did on this record established them as a powerful force in the world of pop music. They took stock – or maybe even initiated – the 2013 trend of returning to the royal Retro, and from that well of old school experimental songwriting and glamorous adventures in melody they pulled up a modern piece of music that combines the best elements of Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac, and others to the end of being completely incredible.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – The Speed of Things – Another record here that took notice of reworking sounds from other eras, The Speed of Things put DEJJ on the map like none of their previous work. This is for the simple reason that the entire record is outstandingly catchy, heartwarming, lyrically clever, acoustically inventive, and just damn good. DEJJ here nabbed style points from each decade between now and 1950 and collaged them into a festival-headlining record that, because of its retro leanings, has an appeal for the widely varied masses.
Drake – Nothing Was The Same – The idiom “showing one’s true colors” might be applied to Drake’s latest works. Because on his newest, his true color is blood red. The Hollywood jolly that was the former nice-boy rapper has been replaced with a gritty, unrelenting, straight up angry evil-twin version of Drake who reminds you that he has immense talent and will flaunt it, just because he can. This “just because I can” attitude is what makes Nothing Was The Same into something else, while not losing sight of his knack for ridiculously catchy hooks and all that made Drake into a sensation in the first place. Sometimes, it’s just terribly pleasing to watch someone get pissed.
The Head and The Heart – Let’s Be Still – Just listen to “Another Story” and you’ll know why Let’s Be Still is one of the top ten records of 2013. H&H sure went ahead and wrote themselves another story which we read with absolute joy, a transformational piece for a band that was beautiful to begin with. Let’s Be Still is the album that took their quaint folk rock and brought it to the world on a silver platter with a shot of whiskey. Their experimentation and exploration of classic rock while maintaining their remarkable ability to write beautiful folk music are what makes their newest record one of the foremost sonic triumphs of the year.
Arctic Monkeys – AM – It’s fitting that this record is called AM, because it’s the musical morning on which this band woke up. They put aside their precocious punk beginnings, stopped trying to smash as many notes and syllables into one line as possible, and just made a growling, haunting, purely rock n roll record that solidifies their place on the world’s stages and in our hearts. It’s a colossal, meticulously produced rock record that draws on classic Brit rock in all its iconicism, summed up in leather jackets and perfectly done up greaser haircuts. And, it stands to mention, every track is genius. Catchy, powerful, and sincere. Everything that epitomizes rock n roll.
Volcano Choir – Repave – It doesn’t matter who Justin Vernon is working with or where he’s doing it. So long as he continues to churn out some of the most heart-felt folk rock with post-rock leanings and electronic eclecticism, we’re going to be alright. Repave, Volcano Choir’s second album, masterfully balances that heart-wrenching back-woods sound that is a staple of Bon Iver’s music while bringing it to a whole new audience at the same time, thanks to its inventive and applause-worthy use of novel instrumentation and electronic production techniques that bridge the often too wide gap between acoustic tom folkery and the world of post-rock electronica. On top of all this, it’s an absolutely beautiful album. But that’s to be expected. JV touched it.
Arcade Fire – Reflektor – This is the story of “the big band goes bigger.” While that’s not always synonymous with better, Arcade Fire has really achieved new heights with Reflektor, which powerfully plays to the spectrum of human emotion in enormous Baroque fashion. They’ve basically become the idiosyncratic, quirky, weird, and larger than life equivalent of indie rock Bach. And what’s more, they brought the long song back into popular focus. “Reflektor” is seven minutes. “Supersymmetry” – eleven. And they’re eleven of the most beautiful minutes of music to happen this year. Reflektor is the album that cements the Arcade Fire legacy.
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories – With the overbearing trend in electronic music of glitchy, twitchy, omg-im-freaking-out buildups leading to massive drops, it’s nice to know that not all robots malfunction. Perhaps the two most renowned robots in music returned this summer. And they returned to a scene which they indisputably helped to establish. It was if they came back to say “Bonjour, tout le monde, we are here to show you how it’s really done.” And they did. Random Access Memories is a timeless, smart, and sophisticated piece of music that, while definitely being dance-oriented, reaches into so many genres as to render it almost unclassifiable. It’s just good. So very good. It was the perfect way to solidify the Daft Punk legacy, which no doubt has become the stuff of legend for those who were fortunate enough to experience it.
The National – Trouble Will Find Me – People know what to expect from The National – beautiful melancholia. And Trouble Will Find Me delivers. But wrapped up in this record is so much more. There’s an element of slyness in Berninger’s voice: “You should know me better than that;” “What did Harvard teach you?” which is a testament to the fact that the indie world knows this band, and wants to continue knowing them, and that what they lack in Harvard education, they make up for in musical genius. Odd time signatures, poetic lyrics, that ridiculously smooth vocal, a time-warping nostalgia, and just damn good songwriting are what make this the record of all the many National records. This is the record of 2013 that will propel The National onward through their odyssey of indie rock excellence.
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City – They’ve always been catchy. But they’ve not always been mature. But that’s what you get on their newest album. Not only is each song incredibly catchy, but they’re also incredibly smart, ripe with pop culture allusions and social commentary. Like Arctic Monkey’s AM, this is a change-direction record while simultaneously maintaining all the best qualities of their music – great hooks, silly, irreverent antics, and Ezra Koenig’s floppy hair flying around in a devil-may-care-but-who-cares-because-we’re-vampires-dude kind of way.