Top 10 Albums of 2013 Revisited

Speedy Ortiz - Major Arcana
I enjoy end of the year albums lists, but they can seem outdated just 12 months later. There are two major reasons for this:

1. Over the course of more time, certain records grow on you. What’s the stuff you actually go back and listen to the most?

2. I’m a big dummy and I straight up miss listening to some stuff until the following year.

So I always post these revised rankings before launching into the current year’s edition. A lot of the albums I ranked in 2013 reshuffled for the reason outlined in #1 above. Also, I didn’t get into Speedy Ortiz until this year because I’m a fool whose opinions you clearly should never take seriously because I didn’t get into Speedy Ortiz until this year.

The Original Top 10 Albums of 2013

1. Pure Heroine – Lorde
2. Cerulean Salt – Waxahatchee
3. Sock It to Me – Colleen Green
4. Desperate Ground – The Thermals
5. Doom Loop – Mansions
6. Repeat – Wimps
7. S/T – Tancred
8. Surfing Strange – Swearin’
9. Hawaiii – Said the Whale
10. Matangi – M.I.A.

The Updated Top 10 Albums of 2013

1. Pure Heroine – Lorde
2. Major Arcana – Speedy Ortiz
3. Sock It to Me – Colleen Green
4. Desperate Ground – The Thermals
5. Cerulean Salt – Waxahatchee
6. Hawaiii – Said the Whale
7. S/T – Tancred
8. Doom Loop – Mansions
9. Repeat – Wimps
10. Matangi – M.I.A.

Top 10 Albums of 2013

MIA - MATANGI10. Matangi – M.I.A.

Bangers, bangers, and more bangers. M.I.A.’s Matangi is unrelentingly frenetic, even for her. While the album focuses heavily on extravagance, she remains the only artist who can spit about xenophobia, feminism, refugees, and the exodus, and still weave it together to sound like a nonstop party.

Said the Whale - Hawaii9. Hawaiii – Said the Whale

In Hawaiii, Said the Whale creates a veritable musical grab bag. “More Than This” relies on little more than some piano chords and vocal harmonizing. “I Love You” sounds like a modern reimagining of “My Sharona.” “Resolutions” ends with a rapped outro (for some reason). Through it all, Said the Whale maintains its defining indie pop sweetness. Instead of feeling like a scattered mess, Said the Whale manages to be a rare specimen – a pop-friendly indie rock band that’s unafraid to take some wild swings for the hell of it.

Swearin' - Surfing Strange8. Surfing Strange – Swearin’

Surfing Strange is the best ’90s underground rock album of 2013. It’s a shame Swearin’ wasn’t around to open for Pavement at some NorCal dive back in the day. Allison Crutchfield and Kyle Gilbride swap lead vocal duties and lines of disenchantment over a bed of distorted dissonance without losing a sense of melodicism. It’s ugly and snarling in all the right ways.

Tancred - S/T7. S/T – Tancred

S/T isn’t just another album for Tancred – it’s a complete reinvention. While Jess Abbott’s first Tancred album, Capes, was pure hushed and minimal (to the point of being tiny) indie song craft, S/T is a lively pop rock record flush with exuberance. Songs like “The Ring” and “Indiana” surge with catchy energy and lyrics of soured relationships. Musical quantum leaps aren’t supposed to sound this smooth, effortless, and natural.

Wimps - Repeat6. Repeat – Wimps

Repeat is the adult-made, kick ass version of every awful adolescent punk album. You know the ones… when ragtag groups of misfits first pick up instruments and try to play, but the only material they have to write songs about is the relative trivialities of their day-to-day existence: Sleeping in, hating school, pizza, and staying forever young and vital. Wimps takes that formula, adds sharper musical skills, and applies it to adult parallels: Naps, hating work, the importance of not eating expired food, and growing old and getting boring. Thankfully, Rachel Ratner’s bratty singing and lyrics dripping with sarcastic wit prove that Repeat isn’t fully grown up.

Mansions Doom Loop5. Doom Loop – Mansions

From the opening aural bombardment of “Climbers,” Doom Loop unleashes a steady stream of fuzzy bass, overdriven guitar, and seething fury. Christopher Browder’s lyrics about unraveling relationships and communication breakdowns perfectly suit his voice, which can go from conveying withheld emotions to sonic fits of angst at the proverbial flip of a switch. While there are plenty of things Browder can bemoan, the quality of Doom Loop is certainly not one of them.

The Thermals - Desperate Ground4. Desperate Ground – The Thermals

After releasing 2010’s Personal Life, its kindest and most polished record, The Thermals got brutal and raw on Desperate Ground. The album is somewhat of a throwback – mixing the aggression and venom of The Body, the Blood, the Machine with the unhinged punk instrumental edge of More Parts Per Million. Hutch Harris lyrically hacks and slices his way through song after song about vicious killing (divinely ordained or otherwise) and bellows each of his impassioned creeds to the heavens.

Colleen Green - Sock It to Me3. Sock It to Me – Colleen Green

Colleen Green is bored and enamored. On Sock It to Me, she delivers bursts of sunny, smitten lo-fi rock with a blissfully stoned detachment. With little more than some bar chords and a drum machine, Green creates unbelievably catchy, upbeat ditties (“Only One,” “Number One,” etc.) and a couple deliciously dark, brooding tunes (“Sock It to Me” and “Close to You”). It’s daydream music for the smitten souls of summer.

Waxahatchee - Cerulean Salt2. Cerulean Salt – Waxahatchee

Fragility does not beget weakness. Waxahatchee’s Cerulean Salt showcases delicate strength at its most emotionally cutting. There’s a sense of Southern sorrow at the root of many of Katie Crutchfield stripped down tunes, but she never feels crushed under their weight; instead opting for a steadfast resilience. She’ll find a way to leave gracefully… or she’ll escape.

Lorde - Pure Heroine1. Pure Heroine – Lorde

There’s a deep-seeded sense of isolation that permeates Lorde’s sterling debut LP Pure Heroine. The roots of the seclusion are multifaceted: Growing up in a remote locale (New Zealand), general teenage angst (being an actual teenager), and an element of musical separation. But Lorde’s outsider mentality pushes the pop paradigm forward. With layered snaps, claps, and her deep, dramatic voice, Lorde forges a new brand of minimalist electronic pop that, compared to the rest of the radio-friendly landscape, sounds jarringly sparse. And yet each of Pure Heroine’s isolationist anthems shines more than any of the overproduced status quo. As she defiantly proclaims on the album’s finale, “Let ‘em talk cause we’re dancing in this world alone.”

Deck the Hall Ball 2013 Recap

By Iron Mike Savoia
Over at Seattle Met, I recapped 107.7 The End’s annual holiday radio showcase. This year’s lineup featured Lorde, The Head and the Heart, Phoenix, Vampire Weekend, CHVRCHES, and more. Check it out.

Paramore Recap for Rolling Stone

Paramore Key
I wrote a recap of Paramore’s tour kickoff concert at KeyArena. It’s the first thing I’ve written for Rolling Stone. So that’s cool. Check it out.

Suchness – We Are Loud Whispers

We Are Loud WhispersDistance is relative. Ten years ago, Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello released an album called Give Up that they made by sending tapes back and forth in the mail. This month that side project—the Postal Service—played live in the state of Washington for the first time in nine years, headlining the Sasquatch! Music Festival. So it seems appropriate that the best local album of the month was constructed in similar means. We Are Loud Whispers’ debut electropop album Suchness was assembled via email exchanges between Seattleite singer Sonya Westcott (Arthur & Yu) and Japanese musician Ayumu Haitani (4 Bonjour’s Parties), despite the pair not seeing each other in person since 2007. The result is a collection peaceful pop tunes that mixes feelings of intimacy and distance.

Stitched together over the expanse of the Pacific Ocean, Suchness is one of the most laid back and inviting electopop albums out there. Haitani builds backing compositions made of electronic blips and beeps, bells, bursts of gentle guitar, while Westcott—who has always been a master of gently cooed vocals—delivers lines with a cheerful tone. The songs excel at transitioning from minimalist noise experiments to fully fleshed out, nearly orchestral soundscapes. Most of the tracks capture a relaxed, free-flowing vibe, but We Are Loud Whispers showcases the ability to go up-tempo on songs like the catchy “Modern World.” Fittingly, the Postal Service does play a role on Suchness, as Tamborello trades vocals with Westcott on the lovely “Glossolaia.”

While Suchness was composed on separate continents, it never seems impersonal. In a world that often feels overrun by the noise of modern technology, digital pen pals Westcott and Haitani have created an album to soothe the soul.

Review Score: 6.7

*Original version published on SeattleMet.com.*

American Idol Feature Feature From The Inlander

American IdolWith Carrie Underwood coming to Spokane, I decided to write about the American Idol winners for The Inlander. One minor caveat… I’ve never watched an episode before. Check it out.

Top 10 Albums of 2012

Stars - North10. Stars – The North

Compared to previous Stars records, The North is positively joyous. Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan’s dual vocal attack remains as tight as ever, but there’s more hope in the words they’re singing. The instrumentals are also more upbeat with shimmering indie pop backings being boosted by deep groves. It’s a sweet collection of love songs that begs listeners to sway along.

Menzingers - Impossible Past9. The Menzingers – On the Impossible Past

The Menzingers is the band I thought I was getting when people first started raving to me about The Gaslight Anthem. The music wonderfully blends an angry punk sound with lyrics the pine for the elusive American dream in a way that’s Springsteen-esque. On the Impossible Past fiercely kicks off with “Good Things,” one of the year’s best songs, and barrels full steam ahead from there.

Erik Blood - Touch Screens8. Erik Blood – Touch Screens

Touch Screens is the classiest, most polished filth of the year. Erik Blood’s ode to pornography mixes a variety of guitar-driven rock styles while (naughtily) touching on everything from porn star biographies (“The Lonesome Death of Henry Paris”) to selecting a daily dose of smut (“Today’s Lover”) to the complexities of porn actor’s relationships away from the job (“Share Your Love”). Each song is fine tuned with the deft production skills that have made made Blood one of the go-to producers in the Seattle scene. Touch Screens may leave you feeling dirty, but it’s too pleasurable to deny.

Sharon Van Etten - Tramp7. Sharon Van Etten – Tramp

There’s beauty in stability. Sharon Van Etten wasn’t shy about letting her personal pain spill out on her first couple records, but Tramp finds her exploring music with a new sense of poise. It’s much more of a full rock record than her previous efforts and the fleshed out sound shines on songs like “Magic Chords” and “Warsaw.” While her words can pack an emotional, cutting punch (“Serpents”), its pleasant to see that Van Etten has found some personal peace of mind.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - The Heist6. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist

After spending years of honing their craft and slowly building their brand, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis finally delivered their breakthrough record. Macklemore is equally deft at deft at delivering swagger (“Thrift Shop,” “Can’t Hold Us”) and vulnerable reflections (“Same Love,” “Neon Cathedral”) and Ryan Lewis’s sample-free compositions help The Heist have a feel that’s distinctly it’s own. When you add a host of terrific guest choruses (Allen Stone, Mary Lambert, and more) to that mix, the result is the most solidly diverse hip-hop album of the year.

Father John Misty - Fear Fun5. Father John Misty – Fear Fun

No one bombastically burst onto the scene in 2012 quite like Father John Misty did. Fear Fun is a wildly entertaining drug-fueled ride through L.A.’s underbelly in a manner that would’ve made Jim Morrison proud. Whether he’s dwelling on darkness (“Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”), the tragic absurdity of art (“Now I’m Learning to Love the War”), or the chemical substances in his system (“I’m Writing a Novel”), FJM does so with a sly sense of humor and bravado. It’s a throwback rock album that revels in how silly the very idea of a throwback rock album is.

Now, Now - Threads4. Now, Now – Threads

With the aide of producer Chris Walla, Now, Now found its tonal sweet spot on Threads. Everything the band did well on previous records is distilled into an immensely accessible album full of superb vocal and guitar harmonies and unintrusive drum beats. And while the band still excels at slow jams (“School Friends,” ), it’s also great to hear the band unabashedly rock out for once (“Thread”).

Deep Sea Diver - History Speaks3. Deep Sea Diver – History Speaks

While Deep Sea Diver frontwoman Jessica Dobson served a stint as The Shins’ lead guitarist this year, her own band’s first LP History Speaks was clearly her crowning achievement in 2012. The album bursts with lively energy while blending melodically tight guitar rockers (“Ships,” “You Go Running”) and piano pop ballads (“NWO”). The entire package is crisp, clean, and undeniably hooky. One listen to History Speaks and you’ll be humming the melodies for days to come.

The Helio Sequence - Negotations2. The Helio Sequence – Negotiations

With each passing album, The Helio Sequence’s music has become more focused on atmosphere and flow. Drummer Benjamin Weikel’s synth backings now feature much more open sonic space and frontman Brandon Summers’s guitar work also no longer forces the issue. As a result, the band keeps getting better and better. Negotiations almost feels more like a single composition featuring a series of movements instead of a traditional rock record. No individual track reaches out and grabs you, rather they all welcome you warmly into their collective embrace.

Japandroids - Celebration Rock1. Japandroids – Celebration Rock

Celebration Rock got me back in the pit. While my body and age had kept me on the pit’s fringes for years, this record made my instinctively rush into the sweaty throng to thrash, bruise and scream along when Japandroids came to town. Every note on Celebration Rock pulsates with youthful electricity: every thundering drum beat, every massive split-signal guitar riff, every “woah-oh-oh-oh-oh” chorus — all of it. Japandroids elevated its game to a new level. It’s as if your favorite dumb punk two-piece band suddenly got arena rock ambitions while making a record and somehow nailed it.