Andrew Lampela: My Top Albums of 2013

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This is the ninth 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.

Well, dang. That time of the year.

Usually, this is the part where I slander 2013 for being a big ball of musical crap, but I don’t get that pleasure this year.

It was actually hard to narrow this down. There were some great records this year.

A shout-out to some that were great listens but not Top 10 material (Superchunk, Nick Cave, Mazzy Star, Touche Amore) and to a few that could have made the list but I didn’t get enough time with them (Tim Hecker, Daniel Bachman, Alan Licht).

Also a huge shout-out to a few local albums that were awesome and that you should buy so they can eat on tour (Bridesmaid, Hex Net, D-Rays, Connections).

I’m sure I forgot things, and I’m sure there are plenty of things I missed out on hearing.  I’m okay with that.

1. Russian Circles, Memorial/Skeletonwitch, Serpents Unleashed: I couldn’t decide, so I have a tie for first. For me, these are the two records that went above and beyond expectations. Russian Circles just keep getting better and better, somehow continuously adding more depth to their cinematic instrumental brand of metal. I’ve been a fan since I heard their debut and still can’t believe how good this album is. This was also the year that Skeletonwitch nailed it, releasing a start-to-finish-no-extra-fat stunner. With a razor-sharp focus on songwriting, matched against the best production to date, Serpents Unleashed is the sound of Skeletonwitch coming into their own, with a vengeance.

2. Lau Nau, Valohiukkanen: Another fantastic album from Lau Nau (Finland’s Laura Naukkarinen), whose first two albums are layered noise-pop perfection, and also some of the absolute best winter music I’ve heard. With Valohiukkanen, much of the noise is gone, replaced by delicate piano and sparse backing, utilizing the cleanest production to date. Most of it is in Finnish, so if that bugs you, you need to loosen up and live a little. Lau Nau delivers another winner.

3. Chelsea Wolfe, Pain is Beauty: 2013 wasn’t just a great year for metal, it was also a great year for getting in touch with my inner goth. Out of this list, Pain is Beauty is the album I’ve listened to the most. Solid goth-folk-rock spooky music. Love it.

4. Pelican, Forever Becoming: Pelican is another band that really stretched beyond their past output this year. Forever Becoming marks the first album with a new guitar player (Asschapel’s Dallas Thomas), and the band sounds positively revitalized. From the industrial intro of “Terminal” to the beautiful atmospheric closer “Perpetual Dawn,” this is some kick-ass instrumental rock.

5. Gorguts, Colored Sand: I don’t normally include this extreme of metal on these lists, as I know most people can’t handle it. However, Colored Sand blew my mind, so here it is. Less over-the-top cookie monster and way, WAY more proggy concept album about Tibet, this album does more to break down the “Death Metal is stupid” myth than any other I’ve heard in a decade. Fantastic, progressive, extreme, this album really hit me.

6. Carcass, Surgical Steel: Okay, so two extreme metal albums. Reunion albums are always scary, and the last Carcass album, some 17 years ago, was absolutely terrible. However, they are one of the best thrash/death metal bands of all time, so there was no question I was checking this out. Luckily, it’s a face-melter, nodding back to their best material while sounding fresher than most of the bands they inspired. Bill Steer is blazingly fast throughout, and there isn’t a dud on this thing. Welcome back, fellas.

7. Black Angels, Indigo Meadow: This one gives the Chelsea Wolfe a run for the most played this year. I hated the last one, so it is a welcome return; full of heavy, fuzzed-out psych-rockers.

8. Esben and the Witch, Wash The Sins Not Only The Face: It took their debut a minute to grow on me, but it certainly did. They build on their droney, gothy tribal sound by hitting up the vintage 4AD roster, most notably the Cocteau Twins catalog, and add several layers of shimmying guitars to the mix. Bang, I’m sold.

9. Agrimonia, Rites of Separation: Not sure how I missed this band, as it features members of several crusty D-beat bands I love, but jeepers, this thing caught me way off-guard. Sounding nothing like their other bands, this sits alongside the Gorguts as one of the more progressive takes on metal I’ve heard lately. Melodic thrash sits quite naturally beside quiet piano, resulting in a very interesting listen, start to finish.

10. Water Liars, Wyoming: Another great album from the Water Liars (up yours, Van Dorn). I can’t say enough about these dudes, and I’ve never had anyone bring it back after completely forcing them to buy it at the record store. Heartfelt Americana by one of the best voices going.

11. Windhand, Soma: If you’re into doom metal (and I know EVERYONE reading this is), Windhand is doing it up right. I mean, I’m fully aware that most of the first track is basically an Electric Wizard song and I have zero problems with that. The rest of the record is more their own, and if this really young band can keep it up, I expect a stone classic two or three records from now.

12. Wax Idols, Discipline and Desire: I interviewed Hether Fortune when her debut dropped and most of the influences she gave were very 80s and gothy. While that album didn’t sound like it, this one is her kicking her influences in hardcore. Super-gothy, wiry rock that is as catchy as it is dark. A great follow up.

Runners up (that on any given day, could replace things on this list):

Sebadoh, Defend Yourself
Savages, Silence Yourself
King Khan and The Shrines, Idle no More
Thee Oh Sees, Floating Coffin
Julianna Barwick, Nepenthe
Altar of Plagues, Teethed Glory and Injury

Andrew Lampela has been pushing music on people at Haffa’s Records for a long, long, long time. You also might have seen him playing out in numerous local bands. He only looks mean.