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.”

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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.
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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.

Top 10 Albums of 2012 Revisited

Now, Now - ThreadsAs is my yearly tradition prior to posting my top 10 albums list, I look back at my top album from the previous year and tweak it with things I missed or ended up growing on me. Looking back on 2012, there’s one album that was on the list that jumped a few spots, and new entrants barely knocked out the previous slot holders at the list’s bottom.

The Original Top 10 Albums of 2012

1. Celebration Rock – Japandroids
2. Negotiations – The Helio Sequenc
3. History Speaks – Deep Sea Diver
4. Threads – Now, Now
5. Fear Fun – Father John Misty
6. The Heist – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
7. Tramp – Sharon Van Etten
8. Touch Screens – Erik Blood
9. On the Impossible Past – The Menzingers
10. North – Stars

The Updated Top 10 Albums of 2012

1. Celebration Rock – Japandroids
2. Threads – Now, Now
3. Negotiations – The Helio Sequence
4. History Speaks – Deep Sea Diver
5. Fear Fun – Father John Misty
6. The Heist – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
7. Tramp – Sharon Van Etten
8. We Don’t Even Live Here – P.O.S.
9. The Kaleidoscope – Lemolo
10. Visions – Grimes

Seattle Met Mixtape Volume 2

Mixtape 2Just in time for the holidays, I compiled another free downloadable mixtape of some of Seattle’s best new music. This edition features Mansions, Sol, La Luz, My Goodness, and more. Get it.

Fiendish Conversation with The Physics’s Thig Nat

By Brandon Hill
I talked to The Physics’s lead MC Thig Nat about the central theme of the group’s new album Digital Wildlife and why the trio decided to release it for free. Check it out.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Recap for Rolling Stone

Macklemore Key
Over at Rolling Stone, I wrote a recap of the final night of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s sold out run of shows at KeyArea. It also touches on how much the duo has come to mean to the Seattle. Check it out.

A Year+ of Macklemore Coverage

Photo by John Keatle.

With Macklemore and Ryan Lewis returning to Seattle for three sold out show at KeyArena, I rounded up all of Seattle Met’s coverage of the hometown heroes. Check it out.