Chris Pyle: My Top Albums of 2013

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This is the eighth in a series of year-end blog posts by WOUB staff, volunteers and contributors. Check out all of this year’s lists at this link.

This has been an incredible year for album-oriented music. The first 10 albums on this list are absolute classics, in my opinion.

1. Arcade Fire, Reflektor: The haters can hate. Every great band has a backlash. Some critics argue that this should have been a single record and that there is simply too much music here. Hogwash, I say! The White Album received similiar comments when it was released. The reviews for Reflektor were all over the place. Even Tiny Tapes’ A+ review called it a “fragmented mess.” I would agree with this but, like The White Album, that’s what makes it sound whole after repeated listens. It’s dense, and hard to wrap your head around at first, but it’s a brilliant record that I can’t get enough of. Every song on here is either very good or great. If this was a debut by any other band, those naysaying critics would be calling it the greatest thing since…well, Funeral by Arcade Fire.

2. Daft Punk, Random Access Memories: Daft Punk goes “organic” and adds strings, a retro disco feel and traditional songwriting to their already-influential electronic music and makes an undeniable masterpiece. They’ve been pushing the boundaries of pop music for years, but now mainstream America is finally listening. This is a good thing: I happen to love it when my favorite bands become huge (as long as they continue making great music).

3. Mikal Cronin, MCII: Sounds wonderfully fresh, even though the power-pop thing has been done many times since the mid-60s. Cronin’s sense of melody and songwriting makes everything sound so vibrant and urgent. This is by far his best record.

4. Kurt Vile, Walking on a Pretty Daze: Druggy, reverb-y guitar songs never sounded so awesome. This album gets under your skin after a few listens and stays there. We listen to this at Donkey Coffee non-stop and I’m still not sick of it. It has just enough oddball weirdness to make you want to start at the beginning again after listening to the last song.

5. Low, The Invisible Way: Low are one of the pioneers of the slowcore movement. I’ve liked every record they’ve made, but this one is a hands-down classic. Jeff Tweedy nails the production and helps them deliver their best album yet.

6. Deerhunter, Monomania: Another great album by a great band. Bradford Cox takes the band in a number of different directions as he veers from his usual dream-pop into punk and folk. If it weren’t for so many amazing releases this year, Monomania would be at the top of this list and many others.

7. Phosphorescent, Muchacho: I’ve never loved a Phosphorescent album until now. I’ve liked them all; some more than others. But this album has me floored. Its Daniel Lanois-esque textures makes it a heart-wrenching masterpiece.

8. Sam Phillips, Push Any Button: One of the most underrated songwriters of the last two decades, Sam Phillips makes yet another great album. On Push Any Button, she continues to make Beatlesque pop sound new and exciting. Only 30 minutes in length, and every song is a winner.

9. Foxygen, We are the 21st Century Ambassadors: These guys love the 1960s. A mish-mash of The Kinks, The Zombies, The Animals, The Beatles and modern indie rock. Funny and heartwarming, this album takes you to a whole other place.

10. Willis Earl Beal, Nobody: Beal mixes up hip-hop, punk, R&B, soul and whatever else he needs to make an extraordinary epic album of soul-searching and longing.

11. Thee Oh Sees, Floating Coffin: Balls-to-the-wall garage rock and roll.

12. Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer, Different Park: Mainstream country music with heart, depth, and great songs. Who would have thought it was still possible?

13. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Push the Sky Away: Another great Nick Cave album. This one is quiet with more of his great insights and introspection.

14. Time Is A Mountain, Time Is A Mountain: Hipster groove-oriented instrumental slowcore music from Sweden.

15. The Field, Cupids Head: Swedish chill ambient electronica.

16. Rhye, Rhye: Danish and Canadian chill ambient electronica by way of Los Angeles. Beautiful vocals by Mike Milosh.

17. Lorde, Pure Heroine: She’s 16?!?! Is it possible that she could make such an amazing record at 16? Well, she did. You could hardly call this teeny-bopper music. Very stripped-down and melancholy, it shows a teenager trying to make sense of her world. Very imaginative lyrics (and not just for a 16 year old). I’m scratching my head. How did she do this?

18. Parquet Courts, Light Up Gold: Brooklyn-based Pavement-ish slacker punk rock with a great sense of humor.

19. Robert Glasper Experiment, Black Radio 2: More genre-bending greatness from a guy who truly loves gospel, jazz, R&B and rock. Laid-back, with great grooves and guest vocalists.

20. Bill Callahan, Dream River: This man knows how to write a song. Stripped-down with a quiet backing band, Bill paints many pictures with few words. He matter-of-fact demeanor comes through as he sings his way through this incredible album.

Other releases from 2013 that I liked (in no particular order):

Laura Mvula, Sing to the Moon
Jason Isbell, Southeastern
Factory Floor, Factory Floor
Laura Veirs, Warp and Weft
David Bowie, The Next Day
Savages, Silence Yourself
Billy Bragg, Tooth and Nail

Older albums I discovered this year that I have to mention because they absolutely blew me away:

Human Cannonball, Let’s Be Friends
Dan Penn, The Fame Recordings
Lhasa, Lahasa
Here We Go Magic, A Different Ship

Chris Pyle is owner of Donkey Coffee and The White Album & Mr. Kite Enterprises and co-owns 3 Elliott Studio in Athens, Ohio. He loves music so much that he feels guilty about it sometimes.