Top 10 Albums of 2015

Death Cab For Cutie - Kintsugi10. Kintsugi – Death Cab for Cutie
There may not be a more aptly named album than Kintsugi (the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold to make the cracks an artistic part of the object’s history). The album finds a band that’s broken, but not shattered. And the group pieces together what remains results in something beautiful. Chris Walla’s swan song with Death Cab for Cutie doubles as the first album the guitarist didn’t produce, and it shows for better and for worse. While Kintsugi lacks some of the intimate, personal touch Walla provided throughout the band’s history, but going with modern alt rock producer Rich Costey gives the songs a certain radio pop polish. Tracks like “The Ghosts of Beverly Drive” and “No Room in Frame” marry Ben Gibbard’s knack for hopefully forlorn lyricism with the band’s ability to still sound fresh and tight after almost two decades of experience to create reconstructed greatness.

Childbirth - Women's Rights9. Childbirth – Women’s Rights
Seattle’s queens of funny feminist punk struck more than a few chords on their sophomore LP Women’s Rights. Both musically and lyrically, the trio revels in its unkempt filthiness and tongue-in-cheek bravado while taking shots at female glamour standards (“Nasty Grrls”), vapid songwriters (“Breast Coast”), dating apps (“Siri, Open Tinder”), close-minded friends and family (“Since When Are You Gay?), and tech bros (“Tech Bro”, duh). And while there’s plenty the band tears down, the music also serves as a rallying cry for a certain strand of feminist thought. The playfully satirical tone has the power to even catch a few detractors off guard and maybe just open up their thinking a little bit.

Bully - Feels Like8. Feels Like – Bully
From the moment Alicia Bognanno begins howling on “I Remember,” Bully instantly becomes a band that’s impossible to ignore. The group’s debut LP Feels Like buzzes for nearly 30 minutes in a triumphant showcase of angsty alt rock. On songs like the pitch perfect “Trying,” Bognanno taps into the sonic legacy of Courtney Love’s rage and Liz Phair’s incredulousness without seeming like some sort of derivative and formulaic ’90s ripoff. It’s the rare instance where a Bully is out to pick a fight and you’re rooting for it to kick the snot out of everyone in sight.

Speedy Ortiz - Foil Deer7. Foil Deer – Speedy Ortiz
Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis has long been a lyrical wizard, and that remains the case on Foil Deer. But the album stands out because of the sonic stylistic diversity the band as a whole added to its mix. If it took one (or 10,000) too many comparisons to ’90s indie rock to force the group’s frustrated hands, the end result was worth it (at least for the listener). Whether experimenting with its poppiest song to date (“The Graduates”), menacing dance rock (“Puffer”), a burst of bouncy angst (“Swell Content”), or off-kilter mystery storytelling (“My Dead Girl”), Speedy Ortiz pushes its sound forward at a breakneck speed as soon as the previous track ends. Hopefully the band won’t slow down anytime soon.

Girlpool - Before the World Was Big6. Before the World Was Big – Girlpool
Often times when describing and analyzing emo lyrics, a comparison to reading the singer’s diary is made. But that’s slightly off base. Diaries aren’t just about whining about being heartbroken, they chronicle someone trying to figure out what life’s all about during the messy parts of growing up. No album embodies the actuality of a diary like Before the World Was Big. Girlpool’s Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad share their personal journeys in a way that doesn’t seem wrought with drama, but rather sorting out the highs and lows of youth. The duo’s guitar and bass arrangements manage to fill the sonic space to the brim and never seems sparse despite the obvious limitations. Whether singing teen anxieties via childhood reflections (“Before the World Was Big” and most of the other tracks) or simply swimming in Seattle (“Dear Nora”), there’s just enough distance and blurry details to keep it things from seeming uncomfortably personal. The journal entries they do share seem like sonic comfort blankets that warmly wrap around listeners.

Sleater-Kinney - No Cities To Love5. No Cities to Love – Sleater-Kinney
Everyone was stoked when Sleater-Kinney announced they were reuniting. Getting to see the band live again (or for the first time) would be a treat. The fact that they were going to put out a new album seemed almost like a secondary detail. After all, reunion comeback album almost universally suck. No Cities to Love bucks that trend. It’s not simply good, it’s on par with (or maybe even better than) the classic albums Sleater-Kinney put out its first go-round. Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein, and Janet Weiss sound as fierce as ever as they blister though ten anthemic (sorry, “No Anthems”) melodic rock declarations of enduring power.

Will Butler - Policy4. Policy – Will Butler
It terms of out of the blue surprises, no 2015 album matches up to Will Bulter’s solo debut Policy. Who thought a side project ramshackle dance rock record by Win’s little brother could be leaps and bounds better than the last Arcade Fire album (Reflektor wasn’t good, but still)? The album manages to be effectively bipolar. Butler finds success with both slow-burning, lyrically downtrodden tunes (“Sing to Me”) and whimsical numbers that are silly for silliness’s sake (“What I Want”). Policy chatters with toe-tapping exuberant energy as Butler warbles lines like a desperate back alley preacher just looking for a good time.

Father John Misty - I Love You, Honybear3. I Love You, Honeybear – Father John Misty
After lighting the rock world on fire in an attempt to satirically burn it down with his debut album Fear Fun, Father John Misty’s next act was to figure out this whole “love” thing. With luscious arrangements and sharp lyrical witticisms, each song on I Love You, Honeybear comes across like a doomsday prophet seeking companionship for the end times. As the scenes get messy (“The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment”), the malaise weighs heavy (“Bored with the USA”), and tempers flare in wild ferocity (“Ideal Husband”), I Love You Honeybear becomes one long ballad that attempts—with increasing hopelessness—to find connection while slogging through the bullshit of the modern age. Good luck, weary travelers.

Grimes - Art Angels2. Art Angels – Grimes
By sheer power of will, Grimes makes anything seem possible. On Art Angels, she forges her own weirdo electronic musical path with an unrelenting determination that crushes anything that stands in her path. She can layer a track with enough compelling bells and whistles to turn three repeated chords into the best song of the year (“Flesh Without Blood”). She can base a tune around bloodcurdling yelps (“Scream”) or ethereal dance swells (“Realiti”). She can turn her own fan fiction dreams of vampires and The Godfather into a cheerleader chant-driven scream pop masterpiece (“Kill V. Maim”). Hell, she can even bring a Cheshire grin to a listener’s face with an undeniably cheesy pop ditty (“California”). And maybe that last one is most crucial, because its a testament to her greatest strength: Grimes approaches all the music she makes with unparalleled glee. You can feel it on every Art Angels track.

Mountain Goats - Beat the Champ1. Beat the Champ – The Mountain Goats
With Beat the ChampThe Mountain Goats managed to turn tales from the territorial pro wrestling era into the most beautiful and touching album of the year. Take a moment to consider that degree of difficulty. Somehow, John Darnielle pulled it off flawlessly. Beat the Champ rocks out to captures the pseudo-sport’s violent fun (“Foreign Object”), ruthless aggression (“Werewolf Gimmick”), pride (“The Ballad of Bull Ramos”), and familial roots (“The Legend of Chavo Guerrero”), but also slows things down for breathtakingly gorgeous tunes about the road life (“Southwestern Terriory”), tradition (“Unmasked!” and “Hair Match”), and the faded glory of lost souls (“Luna”). Perhaps those without a background in pro wrestling can’t fully appreciate the mastery of the songwriting on display, but take a moment to look up the real life stories. That knowledge makes Beat the Champ become an even more awe-inspiring feat.

The limping warrior headed back to the locker room with a golden belt slung over his shoulder? That’s The Mountain Goats.

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Top 10 Albums of 2014

Before we launch into the list, I’m going to take a moment reiterate some points (somewhat verbatim) that I made about year end lists when writing about my 10 favorite Seattle albums of the year over at Seattle Met. I’ve seen a lot of chatter recently decrying the very concept of ranking artistic endeavors as a year winds down. The main ideas behind this stance seems to be twofold:

1. “Art isn’t supposed to be a competition.”

That’s true, but one has to have a pretty warped and jaded to view to see lists like this as any sort of competition. A list is simply a way to say, “Look at all the awesome stuff that came out this year. Check out what you may have missed.” I take ranking to be merely a way of saying, “If you have limited amount of time, I’d say check out #1 first, #2 second…” and so on. People usually spend more time complaining about what isn’t on a list then thinking about what made any given countdown. Viewed them celebrations of things that provided some moments of joy rather than tools of derision.

2. “There’s no objective way to rank what’s the best.”

Duh. All year end lists are based on personal (or group editorial) preferences and biases. For example, the list below is entirely comprised of rock music. That’s weird, but that’s just how it shook out this year. I wasn’t drawn to any traditional pop, hip-hop, electronic, or other genre records enough for them to make the cut in 2014 (Lorde and Caribou have topped recent year end lists, so I clearly have no bias against any of it). And that’s totally fine. It’s all objective. It’s always objective.

Posse - Soft Opening10. Soft Opening – Posse
Posse’s throwback slacker indie rock vibe calls to mind some of the best of the ’90s bands, but it feels like the band’s simply kicking dirt on the outskirts of those forefathers’ property rather than looking to move in. The relaxed instrumental worlds the band creates seem so effortlessly natural, which offers the perfect backdrop whenever Paul Witmann-Todd interjects with another detached, snarky lyrical line on tracks like “Shut Up” and “Zone.” Soft Opening is music that’s artfully laissez-faire.

S - Cool Choices9. Cool Choices – S
Cool Choices is the breakup album of the year by a mile. From the lip-quivering opening notes of “Losers” to the finale’s (“Let the Light In”) blunt declaration “This was how I thought I’d get over you / I’d write it all down like it makes this true / Let go of the things that you said to me / And now in the end we can feel so free,” S (aka Jenn Ghetto) explores all the lowest moments in the aftermath of a love gone sour. In order to get over it, Ghetto’s got to let out all the pain. Cool Choices is catharsis in action.

PAWS - Youth Culture Forever8. Youth Culture Forever – PAWS
On Youth Culture Forever, PAWS connects with the spirit of youth while dealing with the reality of no longer being a kid. It’s about the making it through rough patches of growing up without growing old in soul. Whether it’s decrying the false pretense of cool apathy in a snarling burst of punk (“Give Up”) or reflecting on the melancholic feelings of returning to your hometown over distant, weakly gripped chords (“YCF”), the album hashes out those universal moments of old friends, old flames, and the old bullshit they bring to the table.

Dude York - Dehumanize7. Dehumanize – Dude York
Charmingly bratty is a difficult persona to pull off, but Dude York makes it look easy on Dehumanize. With manic energy and a strong melodic sensibility the band rips through songs of love (“Hesitate”), disenchantment (“Dehumanize Yourself and Face To Bloodshed”), and nihilism (“Believer”) behind Peter Richards’s berserk vocals and guitar and Andrew Hall’s deftly rapid fire beats and fills (my favorite drumming performance of the year). The album captures a delightfully foolhardy sense of passion that begs for a little thrashing.

La Sera - Hour of the Dawn6. Hour of the Dawn – La Sera
La Sera’s Katy Goodman dreams of eternal summer, but inevitably the season fades. Hour of the Dawn finds La Sera floating though a sea of warm and dreamy surf pop musings centered around the freedom, love, and decay of summer. After the blistering vitriol on the opening track “Losing to the Dark,” the band settles into a carefree groove with a touch of shredding guitar edge. There’s joy to be found by bathing in the sunshine of songs like “Running Wild” and even “Hour of the Dawn” despite its lament, “Summertime was the time of my life / Now it’s the hour of the dawn.” Don’t worry Katy, much like anyone who gives this album a listen, it’ll return.

TacocaT - NVM5. NVM – TacocaT
NVM is quite simply the funnest album that came out in 2014 than NVM. TacocaT excels at crafting silly sugary pop punk tunes out of just about any topic, from drug-fueled birthdays (“Psychedelic Quinceanera”) to menstruation woes (“Crimson Wave”) to anarchist roommates (“This is Anarchy”) to Seattle being unable to handle inclement weather (“Snow Day”). The most serious the band gets on NVM comes in the form of the audio middle finger to catcallers that is “Hey Girl,” but the rest of the time the singer Emily Nokes is more content to let her anger and tambourine banging loose on things like the bus not showing up (“FU #8”). Rocking out to stoner pop has never felt so sweet.

jag246.111834. Burn Your Fire for No Witness – Angel Olsen
While it spends most of the time softly brooding, Burn Your Fire for No Witness is without a doubt the most brutal record of the year. Angel Olsen’s haunting voice and knife-twisting songwriting make each a song a gut-wrenchingly beautiful exercise in the cruelty of love. With unshakeable songs like “White Fire,” Burn Your Fire for No Witness makes the listener feel like a slow burning candle – each passing moment they melt even further until there’s nothing left and the flame extinguishes.

Sharon Van Etten - Are We There3. Are We There – Sharon Van Etten
When was the last time Sharon Van Etten wrote a song that wasn’t—at the absolute least—very good? That’s not a rhetorical question. Van Etten is a model of heart-wrenching songwriting consistency, and Are We There is another worthy entry in her impressive songbook. She struts through each track with a vet’s swagger, nailing each song’s necessary demeanor: Cooly confident on “Taking Chances, emotionally masochistic on “Your Love is Killing Me,” and breezily whimsical on “Every Time the Sun Comes Up.” Even when the songs are bummers, there’s undeniable bliss in listening to a master continue to perfect her craft.

St.Vincent - St. Vincent2. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
With each passing record, St. Vincent is getting slightly stranger (and slightly better). St. Vincent finds Annie Clark effortlessly gliding between electronic funk of “Rattlesnake,” angular guitar riff driven tunes like “Birth in Reverse,” the horn-heavy “Digital Witness,” and spacey ethereal odes like “Prince Johnny” and “Severed Crossed Fingers.” Her (non-severed) fingers remain ever skilled on the fretboard as she delivers her takes on the monotony of our mundane modern existence (being out on the road with David Byrne for a couple of years will do that to you). I always like to joke that Clark is a higher life form than us humans, but—considering St. Vincent is her most complete and cohesive record in an already sterling catalog—it might just actually be the truth.

Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria Blues1. Transgender Dysphoria Blues – Against Me!
If punk rock is supposed to give a voice to the brash, rebellious, maligned, and disenfranchised though unfettered aggression, then Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues might just be the most punk album ever. The record serves as Laura Jane Grace’s screamed declaration of arrival as an open and out transgender woman. Over the course of 10 unrelenting tracks, she says” “Here’s who I am, here are the insecurities I’ve dealt with all my life, and I’m gonna kick in the teeth of any bigot who get in my way.” Against Me! turns deeply personal explorations of transgender issue into catchy, anthemic sing-alongs and capture the heartbreaking anguish of being a true outsider.

Top 10 Songs of 2014

These are songs I thought were cool this year.

10. “Give Up” – PAWS

The PAWS album Youth Culture Forever dwells on the insincerity of old relationships as people grow up and grow apart. “Give Up” tries to parse though the bullshit of facades of indifference in a two and a half minutes of pissed off punk brilliance propelled by Josh Swinney wicked drumming. Burn bright, young and reckless glory.

9. “Forgiven/Forgotten” – Angel Olsen

Much of Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness employs a slow burning pace that allows her to meticulously melt listeners’ emotional innards. “Forgiven/Forgotten” provides an essential divination from that clip, speeding things up and allowing Olsen to get her fangs out and bite into your still beating heart. The ferocity in her delivery makes any proclaimed forgiveness seem like shaky footing, but there’s no choice but to dig your heals in and let her intensity wash over you.

8. “Hey Girl” – TacocaT

“Hey Girl” isn’t my favorite song off TacocaT’s awesome album NVM. In fact, there are probably four our five I like better (“This is Anarchy” and “F.U. #8” for sure. But throughout the year I kept finding myself sharing the anti-catcalling anthem the most. While there was (as always) lots of push back, I think 2014 was a significantly positive year as far as feminist awareness goes, and when discussions sprung up in person or online, I often found myself bring up the greatness of “Hey Girl.” Those I shared the song with greeted it with near universal approval. It seems reductive to label it a feminist “moment,” but however you choose to categorize this year’s strives to equality, TacocaT contributed in the most fun way possible. That counts for something.

7. “Taking Chances (Demo)” – Sharon Van Etten

The album version of “Taking Chances” from Are We There is superb in its own right, but there’s a haunting vintage air to Sharon Van Etten’s demo version that’s even more enthralling. The 7″ b-side has a feel of lo-fi distance that makes it sound like a track from some long forgotten 1930s gem. Van Etten coos like a ghost of a bygone era, giving the song an ever so slightly different emotional punch. It may not be polished, but goddamn it’s beautiful.

(Note: There was no version of the song online, so I had to crudely shoot this video myself. Hopefully it does the track a modicum of justice and doesn’t get pulled.)

6. “Everybody Knows” – Iska Dhaaf

There’s something ominous about the lead guitar riff in “Everybody Knows.” It’s consistently swirling overhead like the memory chopper blades above a long forgotten battlefield (this was the imagery in my head prior to the music video being release, which made said video strangely more creepy). Iska Dhaaf builds progressively more tension with each verse, and the momentary relief of the inescapably catchy choruses only offer a brief reprieve before more chaos breaks loose. It’s an artfully balanced rock song that can’t simply be hid in the recesses of the mind.

5. “Fallen Giants” – Kithkin

“Fallen Giants” is basically everything you need to know about the chattering forest indie rock of Kithkin distilled into 4 blisteringly energetic minutes. Cascading layers of floor percussion rhythms clash with frantic yelps and wailing guitar lines, Ian McCutcheon and Kelton Sears trade smoothly calm and wildly jittery vocal verses, and the whole thing ends in a ball of chaos. It’s so exhilarating that it’s almost exhausting.

4. “Bigger Party” – Speedy Ortiz

Rule #1 of a Speedy Ortiz party: Keep your friends close and Sadie Dupuis closer. While Speedy Ortiz followed up 2013’s Major Arcana this year with the Real Hair EP, the band’s best song came via Adult Swim’s free single series. “Bigger Party” is the poppiest Speedy Ortiz tune to date and Dupuis sly lyricism cuts sharp and she meta-laments “I only want to sing about murder in my songs / I have to use these metaphors just to say I like you” and delivers the hooky refrain with the hollow apology, “I’m sorry for the time that I made out with all your friends / I’m really a shithead.” It the perfect tune for a basement party she’d be sure to ruin.

3. “True Trans Soul Rebel” – Against Me!

“True Trans Soul Rebel” acts as Transgender Dysphoria Blues‘s, and by that token Laura Jane Grace’s, heartbreaking declaration of transgender arrival and defiance. While she get more personal regarding her own transsexual experience on other tracks, the poetic simplicity and poignancy of refrain of “Does God bless your transsexual heart? / True trans soul rebel” shows the authentic tattered heart of a fighter. And while that would be powerful in and of itself, the fact that she was able to turn those lines into an anthemic rock chorus that demands to be screamed along regardless of where you identify on the gender spectrum ingrains the song with power and serves as a testament to Grace’s songwriting skills.

2. “Losing to the Dark” – La Sera

Don’t neglect La Sera’s Katy Goodman and expect to get away unscathed. On “Losing to the Dark,” Goodman brims with confidence and eye-rolling sarcastic ire as she decries her lover’s rock and roll lifestyle (“How ’bout you write another song about how fun you are to drink with at the bar?”) and angelically quips “What a shame it must be to have to be in love with me.” The edge in her voice is bolstered further by the surrounding tones as guitarist Todd Wisenbaker shreds without abandon. It’s the a vicious takedown tied up in a pretty surf pop package.

1. “Cannibal” – Dude York

I’ve had the first 5 seconds of “Cannibal” stuck in my head all year and loved air drumming along with the downbeat playing in my head every time. The strength of the song is the leash-like control Dude York maintains; one moment the grip is loose as Peter Richards howls and guitar bends make a crazy scene, but with a quick yank things become taunt and instantly focused around Andrew Hall’s drum beats. It’s an invigorating audio tug of war that’s yet to grow old.

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.”

Top 10 Songs of 2013

Cover of the Year: Grimes’s “Oblivion” by Katie and Allison Crutchfield

It was a banner year for sisters Katie and Allison Crutchfield, who both produced fantastic albums (as Waxahatchee and part of Swearin’, respectively) and shockingly upset the Tegan and Sara Quin to earn the top spot in the (just made up) musical sisters power rankings. In addition to the work of their primary bands, the sisters also turned out 2013’s best cover when they covered Grimes’s “Oblivion” for Rookie Mag. Their version maintains the frenetic, danceable spirit of the original, but swaps the dark electronic soundscape for layers of blissful jangly guitar. It’s enough to make one long for the P.S. Eliot days.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
10. “Window Sill” – Pickwick

After years of building a Northwest fan base with their terrific live shows, Pickwick finally released its first LP, Can’t Talk Medicine, in 2013, and “Window Sill” captures the band’s wild live energy better than any other track on the record. The band’s tight R&B influenced sound teems with anticipatory energy during the verses, setting the table for singer Galen Disston to explode in a fury of soulful vocal howls on the chorus. It’s the fullest distillation of Pickwick in recorded audio form to date.

9. “Close to You” – Colleen Green

With its brooding sound, “Close to You” is somewhat of a dark outlier on Colleen Green’s sunny Sock It To Me. But the mysterious vibe created by Green’s near whisper vocals, the consistency of the bass line, a colorful bells accent, and the waves of synth sound make it stick out for all the right reasons.

8. “Second Son” – Mikey and Matty

The Gervais brother have had a lifetime to perfect their harmonizing ways, and “Second Son” finds them at their absolute best. While the track bears many hallmarks of modern folky pop music, the blending of Mikey and Matty’s voices elevate this song above the offerings of their peers.

7. “Au Revoir” – The Front Bottoms

An underlying sense of condescension can fester throughout a relationship and come to a head during a breakup. “Au Revoir” by The Front Bottoms makes that ugly breakup moment painfully palpable. With not much beyond a few strummed notes, a snotty-nosed lo-fi aesthetic, and some deceivingly simple lyrics, the band is able to capture the cutting condescension and tension of two young parties headed their separate ways.

6. “Dixie Cups and Jars” – Waxahatchee

Sonic complexity isn’t Waxahatchee’s aesthetic; it’s more about Katie Crutchfield vocally delivering a gut punch. No track on Cerulean Salt better drives this home than “Dixie Cups and Jars.” The guitar progression she repeatedly strums seems to defiantly march forward as she tactfully throws on lyrical layers southern grieving without a hint of heavy-handedness.

5. “I Love You” – Said the Whale

When I first heard “I Love You” at a Said the Whale show in March (before the song’s release), my first thought was, “Wow, that song that sounds kinda like ‘My Sharona’ rocks.” My stance remains unchanged. The crunchy palm muted guitar on the verses sounds great, and the distorted “ooo” refrains in the chorus are undeniable. In the most mind-numbingly simple terms, “I Love You” is a love song that’s easy to love.

4. “Repeat” – Wimps

There was no more aptly named song in 2013 than “Repeat.” After hearing the call-and-echo-response chorus of this bratty melodic punk ditty, it’s an absolute chore getting it to stop looping around inside your head. It’s equal parts hooky and delightfully messy, and that’s a combo that’s hard to execute.

3. “Kicking Me Out of the Band” – Sean Nelson

Sean Nelson has seen his shares of high and lows in the indie rock game, so it should come as no surprise how well he crafts this sung tale of a hotshot musician gone astray in a haze ego and uppers. Nelson narrates the tale with snarky bite, from the singers description that “NME said we were quintessential power pop–meets–rock–meets–folk–meets–punk–meets–alt-country, but with a healthy sense of metal,” to his plans of forming “a supergroup side project… like Velvet Revolver.” It’s Nelson doing what he does best; cheekily hacking away at our culture with unrelenting aggression.

2. “A World Alone” – Lorde

Lorde’s debut LP Pure Heroine wouldn’t totally work as a cohesive whole if it wasn’t closed by “A World Alone.” With a slow burning style, the track encapsulates all of the albums best features: Lorde’s powerful and emotive voice, the minimal electronic musical backing, savvy lyricism, themes of isolationism with a “you and me against the world” edge, and moments of pure dance exultation. It’s the perfect end to an album marking a career’s beginning.

1. “Climbers” – Mansions

One drum beat. That’s all listeners get before Mansions unleashes a vicious wall of overdriven guitar and thick bass fuzz on “Climbers.” The song plays on the soft/loud dynamic, with singer Christopher Browder’s withheld emotions and exhausted scrapper mentality dropping like a bomb and bursting into sonic fits of angst each chorus. After “Climbers” Mansions really has nothing left to prove, and it’s a damn good thing Browder got too tired to be the nice guy.

Fiendish Conversation with Sub Pop’s Jonathan Poneman

Jonathan PonemanBefore Sup Pop Records celebrates it’s 25th anniversary with a blowout bash in Georgetown, I got the chance to talk to the label’s co-founder Jonathan Poneman about how Sub Pop has changed in the past 25 years, what unites all Sub Pop acts, and ruling supreme. Check it out.