My 10 Favorite Albums – 2013.

Over the past week, I’ve read through the flood of lists from major music blogs/publications – making a purported attempt at objectively ranking the “best” albums of the year. I can’t say that I believe in those lists, as I have no idea how you can objectively rate music, at least to a level of specificity that you can differentiate between much of the best music released over a 12 month span.

WIth that in mind, I do love taking stock of the year that’s past, and making a list of my 10 favorite albums of that time. Not only is it in hopes that you find an incredible album that you might have missed, but it gives me an excuse to dig back through so much incredible music. So, before you dig in, please note that these are in no particular order, and that the videos I include for each are just a teaser – please go investigate these albums, be it via Spotify, Pandora, or torrents – then go buy the ones that you connect with (hopefully all 10!).

1. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

I can’t say enough words about how much this album meant to me this year. An expansion of the incredible sonic depth and breadth of High Violet, with the bite of Boxer – I have listened to this album countless times this year. Favorite Track(s): “I Need My Girl”

2. Typhoon – White Lighter

Kyle Morton and the rest of the Typhoon gang created an album that’s not only vulnerable, expansive, and tremendous – but they managed to do it while staying true to all the little subtleties that made me fall in love with them in the first place. Favorite Track(s): “Prosthetic Love” and “Morton’s Fork”

3. Dessa – Parts of Speech

I love pretty much everything Dessa does. Her command of the English language, her rhythmic sensibility, the musicianship of the artists she works with. This album was wonderful, front to back. Favorite Track(s): “The Man I Knew”

4. Caroline Smith – Half About Being a Woman

Caroline Smith, former folk songstress, current purveyor of explosively beautiful indie r&b/soul. Caroline, with trust bassist Jesse Schuster in tow, and a whole slew of talented characters – really created a timeless album. Favorite Track(s): “Child of Moving On” and “Half About Being a Woman”

5. Phosphorescent – Muchacho

Three words. Song for Zula. That song drew me in, the stunning continuity, well crafted songs, and the fact that this is an A+ road trip album guarantee it a spot here. Favorite Track(s): “Song For Zula”

6. Courtney Marie Andrews – On My Page

I’ve written about Courtney a thousand times on this blog. This is my favorite folk album of the year. So many hints of Joni Mitchell, with the subtle, simmering energy of Joan Baez. Absolutely in love with this one. Favorite Track(s): “500 Nights” and “Woman of Many Colors”

7. Volcano Choir – Repave

Justin Vernon continues to explore sonic boundaries – with a very talented cast of characters behind him. Repave explores more territory vocally than Bon Iver’s eponymous album, and I found myself entranced by this one all autumn. Favorite Track(s): “Comrade” and “Dancepack”

8. Luray – The Wilder

Luray is the project of Shannon Carey (sister of Bon Iver’s Sean Carey). Similar to Sean, and his solo project, Luray is a beautiful exploration of ambient, banjo-laden folk/americana, and it is ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS. Take the time and listen to this one. Favorite Track(s): “Tidalground” and “The Wilder”

9. Pickwick – Can’t Talk Medicine

I know, it came out really early this year. But Pickwick put out an album I’ve never set down for more than a week at a time all year. This is just a big, awesome, fantastic record. Let the video speak for me. Favorite Track(s): “Hacienda Motel” and “Halls of Columbia”

10. The Avett Brothers – Magpie and the Dandelion

I wasn’t that impressed by last year’s Avett Brothers album – but Magpie and the Dandelion reminded me why they’re one of my favorite bands. They went back to a lot of what worked so well about I and Love and You – a simpler, more melodic approach, interrupted by their signature folk-punk sound. Favorite Track(s): “Morning Song” and “Souls Like The Wheels”

Special Mentions:

Hey Marseilles – Lines We Trace

Night Beds – Country Sleep

Josh Ritter – The Beast in it’s Tracks

At the end of the year, I look back, and really, my takeaway is that more and more incredible music comes out each year – and it’s all about finding what you connect to. What makes your heart beat faster? What makes your breath catch? Hopefully this list gives you something new to add to that list.

Much love y’all!

Advertisements

Upcoming Albums – Part Two

Of course, the minute I post a list of albums I’m really, really excited about – I’m reminded of a bunch more albums that are coming out that I’m really, really excited about. So, with no further ado – a couple more (and don’t forget to look at yesterday’s post!):

1. Caroline Smith – Half About Being a Woman

For anyone who follows my blog, I’ve been pretty vocal about my support of Caroline, her incredible musicianship, and her stunning stage presence. I remember sitting in The Hideout earlier this year, eyes closed, beer in hand, and just letting the sublime power of Caroline’s voice wash over me, lost in her incredible storytelling. Jump over to their Kickstarter, donate, get a free download of the new single “Magazine”, and be incredibly happy. This one’s definitely worth it. If you need a brief reminder, just watch this video of the title track, which I’ve posted before:

 

2. The Avett Brothers – Magpie and the Dandelion

There’s never a bad time to be excited about The Avett Brothers, and the new single from their upcoming album reminds me of some of their earlier albums, which hold an unquestionable place in my heart. It’s rare that I don’t find myself listening to at least one Avett Brothers song a day – so a new album sounds like the perfect thing for fall. Listen to ‘Another is Waiting’ over at NPR. Trust me.

 

3. Basia Bulat – Tall Tall Shadow

I saw Basia Bulat play at Schuba’s earlier this year, and she really is enchanting. She brings me out of my head, which is always welcome – and her music makes me feel as if I’m sitting in a chair along a river somewhere peaceful. Not a bad thing to have come out in the midst of what will inevitably be a busy fall, eh? Listen to the first single below:

 

I’m sure I’ll have to amend this even more as time goes on – there are so many albums that I’m beyond excited about this fall.

Upcoming Albums

As many of you know, I’m incredibly fond of complete albums. Albums that from the first song to the last, you never feel compelled to his shuffle, or switch to another song. In short, I want an album to take me on a journey, and I want to be on that journey for the duration.

This year has already seen some incredible albums, many of which I’ve written about. For a quick recap, The National – Trouble Will Find Me, Courtney Marie Andrews – On My Page, Small Houses – Exactly Where You Wanted To Be, Dessa – Parts of Speech, and Josh Ritter – The Beast in Its Tracks all jump to mind. If you haven’t buried yourself in any of these albums yet, you are absolutely missing out.

The next five months look just as bright as the previous seven. I wanted to take a second away from writing very specifically to take a moment to point out albums that I can barely contain my excitement for – and that I hope you can get just as excited for.

1. Typhoon – White Lighter

Typhoon’s orchestral folk-pop has been dear to my heart for a while, and I can tell you with 100% confidence that this album only confirms my feelings about this band. Kyle Morton’s tremendous lyricism, coupled with incredible musicianship, result in a type of music that deeply affects me, both positively, or in the case of tracks like “Morton’s Fork” in a more pointed, soul-searching manner. Enough writing – the whole album, due out 8/20/13 is streaming right now on NPR.

Go listen to it: Typhoon – White Lighter

 

2. The Head and the Heart – Let’s Be Still

I don’t have to tell any of you how much I love The Head and the Heart. I’ve seen them approximately ten times, and my vinyl copy of their debut album has been spun countless times. They write music that’s incredibly elegant in its simplicity, but so complex emotionally and lyrically that it stands up to countless listens. They released the first single, entitled “Shake”, this past week – and the album comes out 10/15/13. Listen to “Shake” and go pre-order the album ASAP.

 

3. Volcano Choir – Repave

As juvenile as it may sound, I genuinely believe that everything Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) touches turns to gold. Volcano Choir is no exception. WHile their first album, Unmap, was deeply experimental, their upcoming album appears to have worked with all of the fascinating ideas they wrestled with in the first, and blended that seamlessly with the intoxicating narrative and musical sensibilities of Bon Iver and DeYarmond Edison. Honestly, this single is incredible, and I’m beyond excited to sit down with this album and nothing to interrupt me for hours when it comes out. Repave is out 9/3/13. Watch the video for the first single, “Byegone”, below:

 

4. Vikesh Kapoor – The Ballad of Willy Robbins

I had the opportunity to see Vikesh Kapoor’s spellbinding set at Timber! He kept all of us on the edge of our seats as he wound his way through his haunting narratives. This album promises to be one of the most intriguing of the year. Listen to the first single, “I Dreamt Blues”, below:

 

I’m sure many more albums will be released this year that I’ll want to share with you, but I really wanted you to be as excited for these as I am. I also wanted to quickly remind you of a few things:

Come visit me on Facebook and Twitter. Lots of stuff happens there.

Facebook

Twitter

Also, don’t forget. Small Houses and Ty Maxon will be playing the second concert in my intimate house series on August 17th, at 914 N. California. You’ll regret it if you don’t come out. You can bring a bottle of whatever you love to drink, relax with some really great people and great artists, and witness phenomenal music in an unusual setting. RSVP at musicmeansfamily@gmail.com

More posts soon!

New Years is over…No excuses.

So, I took a bit of a break at the end of December. It was my birthday, then I got sick, then it was Christmas, then I got sick, then it was New Years, then I had to go back to work. So, lots of easy excuses. Well, no more. For my first post in 2013, I want to take the time to do something I meant to do at the end of the last year, but late is better than never!

As some of you may know, I went to 100 concerts last year. Approximately 2 a week. It was intense, awesome, exhausting at times, and really, really fun. I saw some bands twice, or three times, and some bands that I barely knew until I saw them live. I saw big concerts, little concerts, festivals (Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza), and introduced some of my friends to some really cool live bands. Since I did this, I wanted to spend a bit of time and a blog post to comment on my favorite concerts of last year, and hopefully encourage you to see some of these folks live in 2013.

 

(The videos below are most likely not from the actual show I attended. Sorry!)

 

1. Noah Gundersen – 11/6/12 (SPACE in Evanston)

Seeing Noah Gundersen on election night, in this intimate, wonderful venue was an unforgettable experience. Noah, and his sister Abby, who I rave about every chance I get, kept an entire audience of people with election night jitters totally silent and unmistakably moved for well over an hour. His stage presence is phenomenal, and I’m so glad I had a chance to experience this one.

 

2. The Head and the Heart – 3/8/12 (The Vic)

The Head and the Heart are one of my favorite bands, and certainly one of my favorite live bands. They have an impeccable knack for getting me dancing, while feeling absolutely all of the feelings I could possibly feel. I saw them three times this year, and this show was probably my favorite. Drew Grow and the Pastors’ Wives blew me away with their opening set, and The Head and the Heart followed it up with a set with a lot of new songs I hadn’t heard, and wonderful renditions of those I had heard countless times. The video below is from their Lollapalooza set, which I was also at and was also incredible. Go see them live. As many times as you can.

 

3. Hey Rosetta! – 6/7/12 (Bonnaroo)

We left Alabama Shakes’ Thursday night headlining set at Bonnaroo because the energy wasn’t there and the sound was awful. In doing this, we happened to stumble upon Hey Rosetta! playing a 1 am set at a tiny stage in the middle of the woods, well outside of the actual Bonnaroo stage area. They played till almost 3 am, covering most of their material, and providing an unbelievable, unforgettable end to what had already been an incredible day. Their ability to write catchy rock music with astounding musical and lyrical twists and turns just makes for such an awesome set.

 

4. Daughter – 10/25/12 (Schubas)

Elena Tonra, who performs with her band under the moniker ‘Daughter’, has an eery, expansive folk sound that is inescapably beautiful live. Her show at Schubas came right on the heels of them getting in a car accident that day, and even though they were visibly shaken up, they managed to encompass the entire crowd with their enthralling sound. Really a beautiful show, and one I’m so glad I was at. I expect them to get bigger and bigger, and they really are meant to be seen in that size venue (200 or so).

 

5. Bowerbirds – 11/12/12 (SPACE)

The first time I saw Bowerbirds was in a slightly larger venue, and it had left me feeling a bit unsettled. Seeing them at SPACE was perfect, and I got to spend a lot of time just letting the music of a band I’ve loved for 4 years or so wash over me. We also got to spend some time with them before and after the show, and Phil and Beth really are some of the sweetest, most interesting people I’ve ever met. They played a gorgeous set, and I truly am grateful I had a chance to see them in this space (no pun intended).

 

6. The Lumineers with Kopecky Family Band – 4/13/12 (SPACE)

This show was exceptional if for no other reason than the fact that The Lumineers had already clearly blown up well beyond the size of SPACE, and it felt like a tremendous privilege to be there. Not to mention, Kopecky Family Band put on an incredible set as well, and are some of the coolest artists I’ve met. This show was unbridled energy, explosions of feelings, and a hell of a good time. When The Lumineers closed their encore with a cover of Talking Heads ‘This Must be the Place (Naive Melody’, the entire audience felt like it was crying and jumping for joy at the same time. What a show. (Posting a link for this video, because the embed code is breaking everything. Sorry.)

http://www.vh1.com/video/misc/815709/naive-melody-you-oughta-know-live.jhtml#id=1689765

 

Those were really the ones that blew me away in 2012, and I can’t wait for 100 more in 2013! (Also, a new mix should be on the horizon in the next 2 weeks or so!)

 

Happy new year y’all!

The End of the Year

Obviously it’s not quite the end of the year. It’s barely December. That being said – Thanksgiving is behind us, whiskey and a few good porters/stouts/ales are in my future, and most of the year’s major releases are out. So it’s time for…

The year-end list!

Now, let me be clear, I’m not going to do a Pitchfork/Stereogum-esque list asserting that I have some idea of what the “best” albums were that came out this year. I have no idea what the best albums are that came out this year, because I didn’t listen to EVERY album that came out this year. Also, I think it’s a really slippery slope to objectively analyze music, and even if it is possible, I’m still not sure how valuable it is. So, I’d like to present to you a list of the 25 albums that impacted me the most this year – albums that I think are phenomenal, stunning, and absolutely worth the money to buy and to treasure. If you don’t see an album you loved here, I’d love for you to comment and let me know what I’m missing, chances are I’ll listen to it and like it too. So, in no particular order:

1. First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar

Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg released this follow-up to their stunning debut album The Big Black and the Blue early this year. While they retained the evocative folk sound so deeply rooted in the sound of the late 1960’s, they’ve added a drive and power to this album that makes it even more exciting than their debut. My favorite tracks on this one are “Emmylou” and “The Lion’s Roar”.

2. Anais Mitchell – Young Man in America

I deeply believe Anais Mitchell is one of the most valuable American songwriters alive today. All of her albums are treasures, and this one, while not necessarily my favorite, has still gotten an absurd number of plays at my house, on my iPod – everywhere. Her incredible carefully written lyrics, coupled with a superb sense of dynamics and an intoxicatingly unique voice – this album is a must have. Favorite tracks – “Shepherd” and “Ships”.

3. Ben Howard – Every Kingdom

While this was technically a 2011 release, its American release was 2012, so I’m counting it. This is one of the most infectious, toe-curling, “here are all the feelings” albums of the year. Ben Howard is a phenomenal guitarist, a stunning songwriter, and his voice is amazing. THis was my primary soundtrack for late spring and early summer. Favorite tracks: “Keep Your Head Up” and “The Wolves”

 4. prairie empire – prairie empire

This was one of the first true gems I found using Bandcamp. It’s the perfect album to listen to while waking up, or going to sleep, or doing anything where you can let your mind and your body be at ease. Please, do yourself a favor and listen to this one. Favorite tracks – “Summer Light” and “Where You Are”

5. Field Report – Field Report

The debut album from Chris Porterfield, formerly of DeYarmond Edison (the former band of Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, as well as the guys from Megafaun) is one of the most perfect fall albums I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. The richness of the pedal steel, the smoky storytelling of Porterfield and his exceptional lyrics, one of the most impressive debut albums since For Emma, Forever Ago. Don’t miss this one. Favorite tracks: “Chico the American” and “Taking Alcatraz”

6. The Staves – Dead & Born & Grown

These ladies came on to my radar when they opened for Bon Iver on they’re European tour. A folk trio comprised of three sisters, they weave impossibly beautiful harmonies into an ethereal blend of nostalgic folk that’s perfect for those snowy nights ahead. Favorite tracks: “Facing West” and “Dead & Born & Grown”

7. Joe Pug – The Great Despiser

Joe Pug is one of my favorite young talents. His tireless work ethic, relentless touring, and friendships with some really strong musicians resulted in this fantastic album, in which he continues his hard-hitting Americana, conjuring images of long dusty roads home to the people we love. Favorite tracks – “Hymn #76” and “Silver Harps and Violins”

8. Cold Specks – I Predict a Grateful Expulsion

Al Spx, who performs under the name Cold Specks, is jaw dropping. This is her debut album, and she sounds like someone twice her age, who has lived through hardships and joys I will never even begin to know. At 23, I can’t even imagine what the future holds, with a debut album as incredible as this one. Favorite track: “Blank Maps”

9. Macklemore x Ryan Lewis – The Heist (Deluxe Edition)

I couldn’t be more proud of Macklemore. I picked up on him somewhere in the middle of last year, and watched his insane talent, unbelievable DIY work ethic, and his impressive relationship with producer Ryan Lewis take him from playing 100 person clubs to selling out 2,500 seat venues and larger with the surprising meteoric success of his debut album with Lewis. From introspective heartbreakers to massive party dance jams, this album is a pleasure, from start to finish. Favorite tracks – “Neon Cathedrals”, “Victory Lap”, and “Starting Over”

10. P.O.S – We Don’t Even Live Here

Stefon Alexander, ringleader of the Doomtree hip-hop collective, has been peddling his exceptional brand of angry, punk-driven hip hop for over a decade. We Don’t Even Live Here is his best album yet. It’s uncompromising pacing, its plethora of exceptional cameos, and its unflinchingly honest lyricism makes it one of those albums that I always feel the need to spin when I have to shake off any slump I’m in. Favorite tracks: “Wanted/Wasted” and “How We Land”

11. The Bowerbirds – The Clearing

I’ve loved The Bowerbirds for a few years now, and each of their albums has a special place in my heart. As I type this, I’m actually listening to this album, and its calming effect is really remarkable. This is a perfect album for a long commute, to sit with on a cold night, or to wake to on a spring morning. Not to mention, I had a chance to hang out with this band earlier this year, and they are really some of the kindest, most talented people I’ve ever met. Favorite tracks: “Overcome With Light” and “This Year”.

12. Kopecky Family Band – Kids Raising Kids

Speaking of phenomenal people – you’d be hard pressed to find a whole lot of bands cooler than Kopecky Family Band. Kids Raising Kids, their debut LP, combines their fun-loving upbeat rock side with their remarkable ability to write songs that can make me cry. Get this album – be part of the family! Favorite tracks: “Change” and “Hope”

13. Andrew Bird – Hands of Glory

As much as I loved Bird’s full length Break it Yourself, this companion album spoke to me much more deeply, and reminded of what I initially came to love about Bird. His nuanced dynamism, his ability to bring the listener into the same space as him, his heart on the sleeve performances. You should pick up both, but this album is absolutely wonderful. Favorite track: “Orpheo”

14. The Avett Brothers – The Carpenter

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t think this is The Avett Brothers’ best album. However, it is an Avett Brothers’ album, and as such, there are still a number of tracks that I probably will keep with me forever, because they’re just that good. Their ability to blend foot-stomping glee with tearful ballads never ceases to amaze me. Favorite track: “A Father’s First Spring”

15. The Lumineers – The Lumineers

After hearing their Daytrotter session, and then seeing them in April, I was unbelievably stoked about this release, and it did not disappoint. At all. Their, raw, unbridled energy is something that is hard to capture on record, and they did a damn good job of it. This was definitely one of my favorites of the year. Favorite tracks: “Slow it Down” and “Stubborn Love”

16. The Shins – Port of Morrow

I actually wasn’t much of a Shins fan until this album, and seeing them at Bonnaroo and then Lollapalooza. They manage to create very diverse, interesting rock music while maintaining a very soothing aesthetic. I really loved this record. Favorite tracks: “Simple Song” and “Bait and Switch”

17. The Oh Hellos – Through the Deep, Dark Valley

This amazing bandcamp find (a brother-sister duo from Texas) make the kind of music that I always wished Mumford and Sons would make. They embody that same foot on the gas pedal, stomp and holler mentality, but with a much greater diversity and nuance – not to mention phenomenal female vocals. I gave this album so many plays since I found it late this year. Favorite track: “I Have Made Mistakes”

18. Lost in the Trees – A Church That Fits Our Needs

The haunting chamber-folk of Ari Picker and the rest of the band is both musically impressive and really overwhelming emotionally. While this album didn’t hit me quite as hard as their debut album, it still managed to take me on a really vibrant and emotional listening journey, and I find myself really excited to listen to it in its entirety pretty often.

19. Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan

I’m still never sure what to do with this music, other than occasionally let it wash over me and experience it in whatever meaningful way I can. It’s complicated, dense, and really, deeply engaging. This is a perfect album for just laying out and watching the world pass by. Favorite track: “Gun Has No Trigger”

20. Kalispell – Westbound

A beautiful, moving album self-released by Shane Leonard, who is currently drumming and playing various instruments for Field Report. This is one of those albums that is absolutely necessary, particularly paired with a great beer and a porch in autumn. No favorite tracks here, just listen to the whole album.

21. Mumford and Sons – Babel

I’ll be honest – had I not seen them live in August, this album probably wouldn’t be on this list. Their live energy significantly surpasses what they do on record, something they freely admit. That being said, this album is a leap forward from Sigh No More, both sonically and lyrically, and I think it’s an important album to remember – especially if you can find an opportunity to see them live. Favorite track: “Below My Feet”

22. Adam Arcuragi – Like a Fire That Consumes All Before It…

Adam Arcuragi has flown under the radar for way too long. He’s a folk-oriented sonic tidal wave, and you can’t help but get caught up in the joy of it all. This is his best album to date, and you should listen to it.

23. Delta Spirit – Delta Spirit

More often than I acknowledge, I just need a great straight-forward rock album. This fits the bill. THeir 3rd full length release, it feels like Delta Spirit really found the sound they wanted, and then pushed it as hard as they could. This was one of my favorite driving albums this year. Favorite tracks: “Empty House” and “Money Saves”

24. Various Artists – Long Distance Salvation: A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska

I loved Springsteen’s Nebraska album when I was younger, and this set of covers is absolutely wonderful. Featuring covers by the likes of Joe Pug, David Wax, Strand of Oaks, Kyle Morton, and Adam Arcuragi, there isn’t a whole lot not to love. Favorite track: “Atlantic City (Bonus Track)”

25. Deep Sea Diver – History Speaks

Deep Sea Diver is a project from The Shins’ Jessica Dobson, and it covers a lot of sonic ground. There’s some rock, some melancholy piano, and a whole lot of beautiful. In my mind, a must have for any Shins fan, and probably a must have for anyone else. Favorite track: “NWO”

 

SPECIAL MENTIONS

For all the albums that didn’t make the cut – but were really phenomenal albums that I’d like to at least mention.

1. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange

2. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…

3. Lord Huron – Lonesome Dreams

4. Grizzly Bear – Shields

5. Cat Power – Sun

6. Patrick Watson – Adventures In Your Own Backyard

7. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp

 

I may have missed a few – this has been an incredible year and I’m a wee bit overwhelmed by all of the music. I can’t wait to hear/see your comments and I hope you might find an album you might otherwise have missed from this list!

Happy December!