Arcade Fire made the best album of the year and Savages released the top debut I heard. Mikal Cronin recorded pure pop bliss, while the new Deerhunter album reminded me how lucky we are to have Bradford Cox churning out intriguing music. See the full list for the year’s top 10 albums below.
1. Arcade Fire – Reflektor. The latest from Arcade Fire is far more diverse and imaginative than the Grammy-winning album The Suburbs. Produced by James Murphy, Reflektor mixes disco, Caribbean, dub and other styles. There is more than a nod to the Clash’s Sandinista!
2. Savages – Silence Yourself. This is an aggressive debut from a U.K. female quartet that pays homage to earlier post-punk bands. Think of Siouxsie and the Banshees only tougher.
3. Mikal Cronin – MCII. Cronin makes great music, but he really over achieved on this hook-laden record. Irresistible pop from Ty Segall’s collaborator.
4. Deerhunter – Monomania. Even by Deerhunter standards, this album is pretty edgy and raw. It’s one of the more overlooked albums this year.
5. The National – Trouble Will Find Me. The latest from the National doesn’t hit you in the face. But the depth of the songs will pay off after repeated listens.
6. Bill Callahan – Dream River. Callahan more often resembles a poet than a singer, speaking through his songs in his deep, impassive voice.
7. Kurt Vile – Walkin on a Pretty Daze. As meditative as this album sounds at points, Vile lays down some serious guitar licks. An original musician with a distinctive sound, he sometimes reminds me of mid-70s Neil Young.
8. Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt. This is a personal-sounding album from Katie Crutchfield, who performs as Waxahatchee. The songs and music are reminiscent of the very best parts of Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville.
9. The Men – New Moon. While New Moon explores a hodgepodge of styles, the new love for country rock stands out. Maybe because the album was recorded in a cabin?
10. Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin. Some day, I expect Thee Oh Sees will make the No. 1 album of the year (at least on my list). Frenetic, infectious rock ‘n’ roll. Sheer enjoyment.
Rounding out the top 20:
11. Superchunk – I Hate Music. Elder indie rock statesmen make a record to keep your head nodding and feet moving. A strong offering from a band who has been going for almost a quarter century.
12. Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic. This has to be one of the most fun albums of the year from guys who take a real tongue-in-cheek approach to ’60s and ’70s genres.
13. Cass McCombs – Big Wheel and Others. Here is an excellent collection of songs from a great singer-songwriter. If you pare it down to the very best tracks, this would be a top 10 album.
14. Polvo – Siberia. What a great comeback for these ’90s noise warriors. Essentially, they stick to the same formula but it sounds fresh today.
15. Ty Segall / Fuzz – Sleeper / Fuzz. We again see the two sides of the prolific Bay-area rocker. With its slow to mid-tempo acoustic and electric numbers, Sleeper is similar to Segall’s 2011 release Goodbye Bread, while his new band Fuzz pays tribute to stoner rock from four decades ago.
16. King Khan & the Shrines – Idle No More. If you listen to just the upbeat, soulful music, you’ve got a great dance party. Underneath, Khan wants to make a statement about the wretched world we live in after battling his personal demons.
17. Queens of the Stone Age – Like Clockwork. I really didn’t think Josh Homme had another good album in him (at least not as Queens), but Like Clockwork is a rollicking good time.
18. The Love Language – Ruby Red. Listening to the full sound of Ruby Red, you wouldn’t know the Love Language originally started as a guy making bedroom recordings. Stuart McLamb created a powerful pop album that’s also a blast.
19. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II. The second album from Unknown Mortal Orchestra is quirky, funky and sometimes breezy like its predecessor but I like the songs better on this one.
20. Wavves – Afraid of Heights. The latest album from Nathan Williams doesn’t stray far from King of the Beach (2011). Afraid of Heights is tighter and rocks harder.
Honorable mention. Here are some other albums you should check out: Majical Cloudz, Impersonator; Swearin’, Surfing Strange; Crocodiles, Crimes of Passion; Iceage, You’re Nothing; Oneohtrix Point Never, R Plus Seven; No Age, An Object; Yo La Tengo, Fade; Fidlar, Fidlar; Suuns, Images Du Futur; and Charles Bradley, Victim of Love.
HEY THERE! All the Young punks has a new home. Read this article and others at alltheyoungpunks.com.
Deerhunter played a number of Chicago sets over the years, hitting Empty Bottle, Pitchfork, Lollapalooza and even a spot below an expressway bridge (see video below). When Bradford Cox and his gang last played Metro, it was epic.
Having crossed the midway point of the year, it’s time for a look at the best albums of 2013 (so far). And since it’s too early to give anyone the crown, I’ve listed my top 10 in alphabetical order by artist.
Mikal Cronin – MCII: This is great power pop from Ty Segall’s buddy.
Deerhunter – Monomania: Bradford Cox teased this album before its release by calling it a “mystery disc of nocturnal garage.” Cox is one of the most interesting musicians out there today.
Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic: First of all, I’m a sucker for bands who can work a clever foxy reference into their band names. These guys bring a light-hearted approach to ’60s and early ’70s music worship.
The Men – New Moon: The rockers go a little more country than their last album. But this is a record full of multiple genres, punk, classic rock, post punk and more. This has to be one of the most under appreciated albums of ’13.
The National – Trouble Will Find Me: I’ll be honest. As much as I love the National, I had to warm up to this one. But patience pays off. This is good stuff and it’s potentially another classic from one of our national treasures.
Savages – Silence Yourself: It begins with a snippet from a John Cassavetes movie and then explodes into an old-school post-punk beast. As I said in a previous review, this is a brutally good album.
Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin. Do Thee Oh Sees make new albums or do they just record the same one over and over. I would argue that the band branched out a bit on its last two or three releases. Floating Coffin even includes a ballad. And who cares if each album is so freaking awesome?
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II: Like Mikal Cronin, the band didn’t spend a lot of time on a creative album name, but this is highly original music from a band you should get to know.
Kurt Vile – Walkin on a Pretty Day: Kurt Vile is Mr. Reliable as he always delivers great albums. As mellow as this one seems at points, it ranks among his best.
Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt: Katie Crutchfield, who performs as Waxahatchee, reminds me of the best parts of Liz Phair’s debut Exile in Guyville. That’s not to say she’s aping Phair, who flamed out quickly. This is great, honest music.
You can catch some of these acts in Chicago over the next week. Mikal Cronin, Foxygen, Savages and Waxahatchee play Pitchfork fest this weekend. Savages also plays Lincoln Hall Friday. Schubas hosts Foxygen Friday and Waxahatchee Saturday.
Monomania, the new album from Deerhunter, is scheduled for release May 7. That’s something to get excited about. We haven’t seen a new Deerhunter album since Halcyon Digest in 2010. The press release announcing the new album is pretty funny. Monomania is a “mystery disc of nocturnal garage,” the statement reads. “New format is avant-garde (?) but only in context not form.”
There was no shortage of ironic T-shirts, hats or moustaches at Pitchfork. The cups of Heineken stayed cold for about 45 seconds and the smell of weed hung in the humid, 90-plus degree air.
Here’s more of what I liked about this year’s Pitchfork:
Woods made the most of its 45-minute set. It was one of the early shows Saturday. The band has a cool psychedelic-kraut-jam sort of thing going on. Woods’ Sun and Shade is one of my favorite albums this year.
Off! was better than I thought it would be. While No Age does a respectable job paying homage to early punk, Off! lead singer Keith Morris helped pioneer American hardcore in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Morris was the original singer for Black Flag and founded Circle Jerks. Playing the small stage Saturday, Morris told the audience that Off! brought a different and “odd flavor” to Pitchfork. I’m glad he did. (No Age played a good set Saturday as well.)
Damn if Kurt Vile doesn’t sound a whole lot gnarlier live. Playing a mix of new and old stuff on Sunday afternoon, Vile drew a sizable crowd. But I was struck that he and his band, the Violators, just seem to play it harder live.
Yuck played an early set on Sunday. This band is one of my favorite discoveries this year. The show lived up to my expectations.
Finally, two sure-bets, Deerhunter and Superchunk, played smoking shows on Sunday. The members of Superchunk are in their 40s but they played as energetic a set as you could ask for. For its last song, the band pulled out one of its earliest songs: Slack Motherfucker.
Fleet Foxes and TV on the Rado headline Pitchfork Saturday and Sunday but I’m far more excited about seeing at least a dozen other bands.
I’d be happy to see Zola Jesus Saturday night and then head to the bus stop before the rest of the masses. Likewise on Sunday: Deerhunter is a must-see and it would be great to catch Cut Copy but I’m just not that jazzed about TV on the Radio.
As I said before, the early bands are worth seeing both days. I definitely want to see Woods at 1:45 p.m. Saturday. The other sure things that day: No Age, Wild Nothing, geriatric punkers Off!, the Radio Dept. and Twin Shadow. DJ Shadow also is worth checking out.
On Sunday, Yuck (another 1:45 p.m. show) is essential. Odd Future’s appearance is stirring a lot of interest and angst. Expect that show to be packed (also expect to see some middle-aged white dudes with their hands in the air).
The rest of my Sunday list includes: Kurt Vile, Twin Sister, Shabazz Palaces, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Baths and Superchunk. I’ll likely check out Toro Y Moi but I doubt he’s going to kill it live.
This year’s Pitchfork festival starts off strong with Animal Collective headlining the first night. Or at least that’s the way it appears now. A partial lineup was announced today as tickets went on sale for the July 15-17 fest at Union Park. Animal Collective also headlined Pitchfork in 2008.
The Friday night schedule also includes James Blake and Das Racist. On Saturday, ATYP-approved bands Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti and Woods perform. A reunited Dismemberment Plan also plays Saturday, and at the top of the bill (?) …Fleet Foxes. Hmm.
Sunday features Deerhunter, TV on the Radio, Cut Copy and an ATYP new favorite, Yuck. See the rest of the initial schedule announcements here. Tickets are $45 a day or a three-day pass for $110. The three-day passes will sell out quickly.
UPDATE: The three-day passes were sold out by Saturday.
Of course, the schedule will be beefed up over the coming weeks. And the order of performance will be more clear as we get closer to July.
I’ve been to every Pitchfork festival and I’ve never been disappointed. There have been some incredibly strong performances in recent years.