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.
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.
The side stage at Pitchfork’s annual music festival in Chicago featured some standout performances in recent years. And this year’s lineup is strong, too. The caveat is that the great bands playing the Blue stage force some difficult choices between the main stage acts. The just-released Pitchfork schedule confirms there will be some conflicts again this year.
On the Friday night of Pitchfork (July 19), Mikal Cronin begins his set on the Blue stage 10 minutes before Wire plays the big field. That’s a real shame. You have to pick between the rising star Cronin (who made one of the best albums of the year) and the legendary Wire. That same night, Woods starts 15 minutes after Angel Olsen’s Blue stage set begins.
On Saturday night, there’s another dilemma. I predict Savages and Swans will play two of the most memorable sets of the festival. But if you want to sneak over to side stage to catch Metz, you’re going to have to cut a set short.
One positive is that Union Park is relatively small and you can get between the main stages and the side stage relatively fast. (This isn’t Lollapalooza).
Here’s the full schedule.
Mikal Cronin sets up his new album, MCII, nicely with the first song, Weight, a bouncy power pop number. That song sets the stage for an enjoyable collection of fuzzy, melodic tunes. Perhaps Cronin is still best known as Ty Segall’s collaborator and traveling band mate but the guitarist shows on his sophomore album that he is a highly entertaining solo artist as well.
There is an interesting movement in California that is resulting in excellent music from artists who are (mostly) influenced by ’60s psychedelia, ’70s classic rock and metal, and yet they produce very relevant music today. Cronin, Segall, Thee Oh Sees and Sic Alps all largely draw from the same well but they’re also producing some of the finest music.
Cronin’s album is highly recommended.
Pitchfork rounded out the lineup for its annual three-day Chicago festival and there’s a lot to like this year. I’ve said that this is one of the most interesting music festivals regardless of headliners. The up-and-coming early acts are often a highlight for me.
The biggest name added to the fest is M.I.A., who will play Sunday night before R. Kelly (at least that’s how the schedule appears now). Also joining the lineup are indie vets Yo La Tengo (Sunday) and the punk legends of Wire (Friday).
What really excites me are the additions of Woods, Frankie Rose and Mikal Cronin Friday; Parquet Courts and Metz Saturday; and Waxahatchee and Glass Candy Sunday. But there are a number of other highlights. See the full schedule here. The festival runs July 19-21.
Garage rocker Ty Segall treated his fans to three albums last year. Last month, two early Segall albums were reissued, including the self-titled release from his surf-punk band Traditional Fools. The second reissue, Reverse Shark Attack, is Segall’s release with longtime bandmate Mikal Cronin. Segall has come a long way as an artist since those earlier recordings but I still enjoy listening to these raw tracks. If you’re a Segall completist, you’ll want to pick up the reissues.
I Wear Black is the first song on Reverse Shark Attack. The video above was shot at Permanent Records in Chicago.
“Where we surf, there’s always waves.” This Traditional Fools video gives you a good idea what the band sounded like. The song, Street Surfin’, is not on the recently reissued album.