If you’ve read any of my year-end music lists over the past few years, you’ll know that I avoid calling them ‘best-of’ lists. This isn’t because I don’t think these albums are absolutely fantastic, but more that I prefer to list records that I spent a lot of time with personally – rather than attempting to rank and rate them in order of quality, or scrutinize them in search of their artistic merits. These 25 albums all spent a considerable amount of time keeping me company in my headphones for any number of reasons, but they appear on my year-end list because they grabbed me, and kept me coming back for more over a long period of time.
Honorable mentions that were a struggle to cut from the list include: Laura Stevenson, Boat, Superhuman Happiness, Mazes, Aye Nako, Outfit, Iron Chic, Slow Warm Death, Vampire Weekend, Goldfrapp, Teen Girl Scientist Monthly, Modern Life is War, Drawn Ship, Tancred, and so many more.
If you have Rdio, you can hear my year-long favourites playlist here.
With that out of the way, here we go! Click the artist and album names for a samplin’ of their tunes.
After their EP Us You All We made an appearance on my list last year, Pretty & Nice dropped their third album of Sparks and Argy Bargy-era influenced herky-jerky post-punk art-pop. Golden Rules for Golden People marked a real step forward for the band, as their turn-on-a-dime structures and huge new-wave hooks now sit shoulder-to-shoulder with their breathless sense of energy and experimentation. Honestly, it’s a cliche, but there’s something for everyone on this album.
When you toss on the new album from Generationals, your first impression upon hearing “Spinoza” – a bass-driven, 80s-aping jangle-pop track – might be that it’s all been-there-done-that. Not that the track’s melodies aren’t infectious, but it’s a snap judgement I’m sure a lot of people made this year. Give the album some time though, and a huge variety of styles unfurls to reveal a remarkably unique pop album. From the Spoon-esque rhythm section of “Extra Free Year” to the undeniable summer anthem “Put a Light On”, Heza was the soundtrack to my summer walks and continues to warm straight into the winter.
Waxahatchee goes full-band and comparably hi-fi on Katie Crutchfield‘s second outing – but her crushingly sad and honest songwriting is still in full effect on Cerulean Salt. American Weekend might have sounded more intimate by virtue of it’s stripped down nature, but Cerulean Salt’s production robbed none of the power from Katie’s richly sketched lyricism.
Speaking of, Katie Crutchfield‘s sister Allison also had an great year, with the release of the second Swearin’ full-length Surfing Strange. Swearin’s debut LP and demo tape actually both appeared on my previous year-end collections, so it should be no surprise that I loved this record. Swearin’ just continue to get better and better as they mature. Surfing Strange is a little bit heavier at moments – both emotionally and musically – than the self-titled debut, but it’s as thoroughly catchy as it is exciting.
There’s no bones about it, when I first heard Lusine‘s album The Waiting Room, I could not put the damn thing down for the life of me. “Panoramic” became my soundtrack to busy afternoons at work, while “February” played as I walked through a beautiful snowfall last winter. Lusine‘s electronic music is soothing, and smooth as hell with fluid bass-lines and a few vocal guest-spots that do not obscure the wonderful synthscapes. Fans of Tycho – and Ghostly Records in general – that haven’t already made their way to Lusine‘s discography should take note.
Beyond Was All Around Me sounds like a natural progression for Colin Caulfield, as he rounds out a trilogy of indie-pop albums that documented the passage from youth-to-adulthood with strikingly gorgeous results. The guitars shimmer and strum, tempos build and recede, structures meander and then click back into place at a moments notice, all while strings rise in to mirror the dramatics of Colin’s lyrics. If it sounds impenetrable from that description, that’s not the case at all – the songs are every bit as rewarding melodically as they are challenging. There are certainly not many albums released in the past year that hang together as a whole as well as Beyond Was All Around Me – an impressive feat for an artist of any age.
And the best album title of the year goes too… Marnie Stern! With former-drummer Zach Hill all tied up with the success of Death Grips, Marnie got Kid Millions (of Onieda) to man the drums on this, her most stripped back and poppiest effort. Marnie still brings the math-rock guitar heroics, but the chaos of her previous records has been focused for laser accuracy on Chronicles of Marnia. The result is some of her most undeniably engaging work to date.
Lemuria are one of those bands that you keep hearing about over and over again, but just completely drop the ball in terms of taking that final step and actually checking out their music. They’re also one of those bands you kick yourself for not listening to earlier, as well. The Distance is so Big is packed with great, fuzzy indie-rock and plenty of memorable melodies. Compared to their past releases, on Distance Lemuria are taking even more opportunities to slow down, stretch out, and switch things up throughout their songs. A very exciting release from an exciting band.
About a month after everyone freaked out about the (in my opinion) overrated album from Savages, Heliotropes quietly dropped their superior A Constant Sea. Stoner rock, vintage psychedelia, dream pop and sludge-riffery all collide together here, and though the album cover suggests that the music inside might resemble something of a horror movie soundtrack, A Constant Sea actually sounds more like what a summer day in their home of New York City feels like – sweltering, bleak – and yet punctuated with moments of intense beauty. You can read my full review of the album here – which I’ve just paraphrased some of for the sake of brevity.
Pardon my french, but this is just straight up fucking incredible glitch and ambient techno music. Jon Hopkins‘ album Immunity is divided into two very distinctly themed sides – separated only by “Abandon Window’s” soft piano interlude to transport you through. The result is an album of really wonderful, emotive electronic music from the genre stalwart which should please a lot of long-time fans, but also welcome brand new listeners – myself included.
Major Arcana fuses a hefty dose of dissonant and angular guitar riffs (which remind me quite a bit of Polvo of Merge Records) with that whole 90s sound going on these days; just one glance at their reviews will provide you with a huge array of reference points including: Throwing Muses, Sleater-Kinney, Pavement, and more. What it actually sounds like though, is really awesome and fuzzed out pop tunes which pack a wallop when combined with Sadie Dupuis‘ delightfully original vocal style.
If I had organized this list in order of how addictive each record was, Nona’s album Through The Head would surely rise to the top. I wrote about it earlier this year, saying: “Maybe I’m getting predictable, but well-executed indie-rock albums like this have become my bread and butter lately. It certainly is a great time to be a fan of pop-punk inflenced indie, with bands like NONA lending a sense of credibility back to the oft-maligned genre. With Through the Head, NONA have crafted my first true album addiction of 2013.” That final statement still stands today, and Through The Head remains as maddeningly catchy as the first day I heard it.
With the sounds of waves lapping on the beach that open their latest album Fetch, you might be thinking Melt-Banana have released some kind of ambient chill-out record. That thought is sure to exit your mind as quickly as it entered, as the bass takes the steering wheel and drives the track through its exhilarating alternation between noise-pop and blasts of grindcore drumming. Melt-Banana recorded Fetch as a duo, and you would never be able to guess from the sounds of it – it’s as vital a recording as they’ve released in a number of years.
The day that I discovered Pyres‘ album Year of Sleep – an album of crushing and riff-heavy metal with a healthy dose of sludge and post-rock atomospherics – I found out that they played at my favourite bar the night before. Luckily, Pyres calls Toronto home, so I should be able to find another opportunity to see them in action on stage soon. Year of Sleep is not only one of my favourite metal albums of the year, it’s certainly one of the best releases that came out of Toronto – regardless of genre.
The latest album from Emiliana – who has one of my all-time favourite voices in music – has a nice balance of electronic-tinged stuff (though not exactly a throwback to her debut, this is a much more modern sound on display) with echoes of her down-tempo acoustic Fisherman’s Woman-era stuff. There are some positively stunning songs on Tookah.
What else is there really to say about PUP? PUP – formerly known as Topanga – were pretty much the biggest buzz-band in Toronto earlier this year, and they play big, brash, sweat-soaked indie-rock. This is one of those instances where a band not only matches the expectation that the music scene places upon them, but smashes right through and delivers even more. For my money, these dudes put out an album that soars above the similarly hyped album from METZ.
Speaking of hype, how many times a year do you think mainstream, Top 40 albums drop that are as terrific as Lorde‘s Pure Heroine? Not very often, and yet Lorde proved to be the real deal in 2013 – crafting pop songs that fit as snugly into the airwaves as they do sequenced as an album for the headphone set. Even if you’re sick to death of “Royals”, there are so many other equally as catchy songs on here like “400 Lux”, “Tennis Court”, “Ribs” – the list goes on.
La Luz‘s album It’s Alive is front-to-back surf-y goodness – heavy on the atmosphere with killer hooks, wicked organ licks, and most excellent bass-lines. The kind of album you can toss on any time of the day and know you’re in for an all-around great listen. An especially interesting album in that it takes the reverb-drenched 60s girl-group retro-pop sound that is has been so popular in the past few years, and makes it sound entirely fresh with the addition of its beach-ready surf-guitar licks – doesn’t hurt that the songwriting on display is so strong, either.
With a name like Crying, you might expect some shoe-gazing, Midwestern second-wave emo inspired sadness to burst forth from your speakers as you hit play on Get Olde. Instead, chiptune bleeps blend seamlessly with crashing cymbals and driving indie-rock riffs on this spectacularly catchy EP. Elaiza Santos has the kind of soothing coo of a voice that makes you believe she might just be singing to only you – all while taking seemingly mundane details and, through clever turns of phrase, making them poetic. I’m dying to hear a full length – or even just another EP – from this band.
If any release deserves a spot on my year-end list, it’s one that completely changed my entire opinion on a band in one single, fell swoop. Tennis‘ Small Sound EP did just that. I wasn’t really into their debut album, and follow up Young & Old improved upon their sound, but just didn’t grab me overall. From the first track on Small Sound, I knew I’d be re-thinking my opinion. Bouncy, joyous pop music with impeccable instrumentation and hooks. Small Sound is so good, I’ve gone back to Young & Old and found myself liking it more and more with each listen. Dang.
In a year inundated with guitar-rock groups, it takes something special to stand out from the pack. Yeah, most any band can fashion a decent hook and hammer it out with some energy, but few are doing it with as high a hit-to-miss ratio as Audacity display on their exceptionally shaggy third album Butter Knife. Party on.
Do you like The Smoking Popes? How about Cheap Girls? Do you long for the days when The Figgs‘ debut album never left your cassette deck? Then you should probably be listening to Broadcaster, a 3-piece who have been releasing solid power-pop punk with workmanlike passion for a while now. Here on their second full-length – and first to fully capitalize on their sound since the release of their turning-point EP Joyride – they’re continuing to do just that.
“I don’t care, I don’t care – go fuck yourself!” Caves proclaim as Betterment explodes out of the gates. The Bristol based punk-rock band then go on to prove how little they really do care by playing some of the most authentic, vibrant and relateable punk music that saw a release this year with full, reckless abandon. Betterment is an album for anyone who’s propelled their fist in the air and screamed along to lyrics that seemed to articulate their feelings better than they ever could themselves.
Remember The Busy Signals? They were the kind of band that re-kindled your love for the power-pop / pop-punk genre, having taken most of their inspiration from Stiff Records-esque pop and adding some NYC punk-rock crunch. Big Eyes are carrying that torch these days, and they’re doing a bang-up job of it. Everything about this album screams classic, from the spiky lead-lines, to Kate Elridge cracking and effortless attitude; Big Eyes make being this look easy, when it ain’t – Almost Famous indeed.
If you told college-era Dan Gorman that Hellogoodbye – the purveyors of a song as annoyingly awful as “Here In Your Arms” – would put out not one (first with the retro-pop of 2010’s Would It Kill You?) but two legitimately enjoyable and well-crafted pop records (now introducing their old sound to new electronic flourishes on Everything is Debatable), I’d probably have laughed in your face. And yet, here we are and I’m nodding my head along instead of laughing.