As we roll into another year we’ve asked some of our contributors to look back upon the year that was and offer up lists of their favourite music from 2013. Here are their picks …
1 Wax Idols, Disicipline and Desire
Hether Fortune won’t shut up, and music fans are lucky she won’t—Disciple and Desire is dark and textured but still full of hook-laden songs like “Formulae” and “Dethrone” that also double as a call to arms against the mediocrity in our lives and the music industry.
2 Strange Attractor, Back to the Cruel World (Mammoth Cave)
A 19-minute blast of punk-rock isolation and alienation, this is the first Canadian release from Sudbury’s Strange Attractor—one of Canada’s, sadly, best-kept secrets.
3 Janelle Monae, The Electric Lady (Bad Boy)
Monae’s seven-suite sci-fi epic enters into its final stages with The Electric Lady, a brilliant collection of songs united by some oddball sketches and Monae’s grand Metropolis mythology.
4 Terry Malts, Nobody Realizes This Is Nowhere (Slumberland)
Terry Malts continue to make simply amazing records, and Nobody Realizes This Is Nowhere is another one all about the alienation of the modern condition—with buzzsaw riffs and sing-along choruses to make the bland pain of existence a little better.
5 Gold, Losing Your Hair EP (Mammoth Cave)
Calgary’s Gold broke up during the release of this EP, which is a shame because songs like “Losing Your Hair” show a band crafting highly engaging pop music that promised so much more.
6 Joanna Gruesome, Weird Sister (Slumberland)
Joanna Gruesome threw 30 years of British rock and pop into a blender and crafted an album that sounds like a paranoid, coked-up Belle and Sebastian in the middle of a bender.
7 Mozart’s Sister, Hello EP (Merok)
Montréal’s Caila Thompson-Hannant’s four-track EP is a slightly off-kilter take on laptop pop, but what Thompson-Hannant does with her voice and vocal loops creates lush sonic landscapes that set her apart from the crowd.
8 The Lad Mags, Halloween EP (Independent)
Edmonton’s own the Lad Mags released two great seven-inch singles this year, but the band’s free Halloween EP shows the group at its best creating a spooky and soulful rock ‘n’ roll freak out.
9 Ketamines, You Can’t Serve Two Masters (Mammoth Cave)
Paul Lawton shook up the Canadian rock establishment twice this year: once by slagging off the Canadian music industry and another with this excellent LP of skronky psychedelic garage rock.
10 The Courtneys, The Courtneys (Hockey Dad)
The Courtneys’ self-titled debut is a perfect summer album, with bright hooks and enough musical complexity to reward multiple listens.
1 Gorguts, Colored Sands (Season of Mist)
The first album in 12 years from Quebec’s legendary avante-death metallists that just happens to be a concept album about Tibet proclaims classically trained band visionary Luc Lemay as a genre unto himself and crushes your head into paste for good measure.
2 KEN Mode, Entrench (New Damage)
Winnipeg’s angriest sons distilled their unsettling, uncompromising intensity of focus into another scathing, cathartic blast of metal-edged noise rock, then passed through town twice to ram “No: I’m in Control,” “Your Heartwarming Story Makes Me Sick,” et al down our earholes.
3 Iron & Wine, Ghost on Ghost (Nonesuch)
The previous I&W album sold me on the genius of Sam Beam, and Ghost on Ghost follows through beautifully—a radiant burst of soulful, sophisticated and deftly eclectic pop, immaculately arranged and produced.
4 Neko Case, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You (Anti-)
Everyone fell in love with Case’s captivating pipes a long time ago, but we keep coming back for her unbroken streak of passionate, personal albums stuffed with indelible melodies, images and supporting performances. And wow, that voice.
5 Phosphorescent, Muchacho (Dead Oceans)
The latest by sleepy-sounding savant Matthew Houck is one of those stealth-gems, an unassuming set of reverb-y, layered indie-folk that burrows its way into your soul with sly hooks and wry lyrics, and makes itself at home.
6 Profound Lore Records
For the past few years, this New Hamburg, Ontario-based indie has been racking up two or three spots in my year-end top 10 with some of the most exciting, frankly weird metal and metal-related sonic wares around, so they deserve singling out, as do such 2013 releases as: Vexovoid, by inscrutable Australian blackened death metal enormity Portal; Teethed Glory and Injury, the swansong from Northern Ireland’s Altar of Plagues, who go out in a blaze of black-metal effects, glitchy electronics and existential dread; the self-titled shredder from subterranean supergroup Vhöl; the perplexing yet propulsive post-metal abstraction of Castevet’s Obsian; Vaura’s hummably new-wave inflected dark rock on The Missing; and the reissue of Yob’s early doom opus Catharsis.
7 Honourable mentions:
Chance the Rapper, Acid Rap (independent); East of the Wall, Redaction Artifacts (Translation Loss); Intronaut, Habitual Levitations (Instilling Words with Tones) (Century Media); Mouth of the Architect, Dawning (Translation Loss)
1 Bill Callahan, Dream River (Drag City)
Mortal joy, love as aviation, names painted on boats, Donald Sutherland making amends on a truck radio: accented by flute, fiddle and feedback, Callahan, his voice ever-deepening, produces poignant, idiosyncratic songs about rivers, trains, animals and beer, complicated connections, and that feeling of travelling forever.
2 Yo La Tengo, Fade (Matador)
The Hoboken trio’s best record in over a decade balances transcendental guitar sprawl with breezy pop compression; not a fresh start exactly, but preparation for new excursions. Building to fanfare of strings and brass, “Before We Run” takes us out on a wave of awe.
3 Low, The Invisible Way (Sub-pop)
Produced by Jeff Tweedy, these sparely arranged, often hushed songs of faith, regeneration and panic seem designed to get you through a nervous breakdown—the insistent, desperate, sticky “Just Make It Stop” most especially.
4 Various artists, Kenya Special: Selected East African Recordings From the 1970s & ‘80s (Soundway)
The master preservationists at Soundway give Kenya the special treatment previously bestowed upon Nigeria and Ghana, offering a rhythmically intoxicating compilation infused with elements of rhumba, benga and R&B.
5 Phosphorescent, Muchacho (Dead Oceans)
Pitched somewhere between soaring spirituals and wasted declarations of wounded ardour, most of Matthew Houck’s songs sound like they started before we came in and continue long after the fade-out. This part-swirling/part-stomping record is about heartbroken perseverance, buoyed by alcohol, women and some lost Mexican weekend(s).
6 Willis Earl Beal, Nobody (XL)
I saw Beal upstage Cat Power last year with lingerie-clad mannequins, a reel-to-reel and some insanely hypnotic hybrid of Tom Waits and hip-hop. His sophomore release is more polished but no less inventive, spellbinding and insular than his lo-fi debut.
7 Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Push the Sky Away (Anti-)
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Live From KCRW (Anti-)
Largely eschewing narrative in favour of ribbons of fecund imagery, Cave & the Seeds’ latest studio work is a quiet revelation of ticking, rumbles and pulses, nearly pushing the band away as a collective force so as to draw out beautifully accented atmospheres—some songs are so skeletal they consist of only a single chord. The strikingly intimate Live at KCRW takes a similar tack to tracks from all over the catalogue, audaciously opening with Push’s eerie, smoke-like show-stopper “Higgs Boson Blues.”
8 Neko Case, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You (Anti-)
Mothers, daughters, men, listen up: Case nearly matches Middle Cyclone—that’s saying a lot—careening between “Honolulu” and “Nowhere,” between dizzy, busy, clever pop fury and stark, unnervingly naked a cappella. Plus: Neko covers Nico!
9 Untitled mix CD from a friend
Some of us still do this in 2013, take the time to make an object: something to carry, listen to, look at, remember someone by and cherish. My friend filled my ears with Hoagy Carmichael, Townes Van Zandt, Stars, Laura Nyro, Peggy Lee, CocoRosie and Penny & the Quarters. She also turned me onto Sharon Van Etten, who kind of haunts me now in the best way. Thanks, A. xo
Trying to scrape out my favourite 10 albums of 2013 proved fruitless labour: when I really reflected back on the year in music, my standouts were evident, and just didn’t break into double digits. Lots of good music, but here’s what I thought was great:
1 Daniel Romano, Come Cry With Me (Normaltown)
On his third solo album, Daniel Romano reclaims the open-sky heartbreak of classic country music, but makes the tear-in-my-beer emotion is palpable; genre pieces rarely feel this vivid or relevant.
2 Greg MacPherson, Fireball (Disintegration)
MacPherson’s sixth solo album further ignited the emotional blaze he’s always commanded by stripping the sound down to basics and getting really, really loud: a two-man, amped up, world-wizened take on rock ‘n’ roll.
3 Mikey Maybe, Honey + Bread (Old Ugly)
Local rhyme-maker maps out the arc of 20-something existence with an excellent balance of clever wit and deeper sentiment. Dude’s pretty funny, but this album’s no joke.
4 Best Coast, Fade Away (Jewel City)
Seven songs of curling surf guitars, bedside longings and near-perfect dream-pop.
5 The Uncluded, Hokey Fright (Rhymesayers)
The weirdo communion between a puzzle-box rapper and a childlike reflector, Hokey Fright stakes a strange, entrancing claim on the moments where innocence crests into experience.
6 Shotgun Jimmie, Everything, Everything (You’ve Changed)
This fucking guy—Jim Kilpatrick, quietly one of Canada’s most enduring songwriters—could write a song about anything and make it feel romantic and electrifying and necessary; here, he does just that about Skype dates, tractor beams, memories of good gigs and getting back on the road again.
7 The Ketamines, You Can’t Serve Two Masters (Southpaw / Mammoth Cave)
Like throwing a pack of Mentos into a vat of cola, You Can’t Serve Two Masters makes a frothy, unpredictable, endlessly listenable mess of psych, rock, pop and punk.
1 Shooting Guns, Brotherhood of the Ram (Independent)
Saskatoon psych-stoner metal whose musical credo can probably best be summed up by the nine-and-a-half minute “Motherfuckers Never Learn.”
2 Zebra Pulse, Heh, Vay Bae-Bays (Independent)
Madcap, weirdo experimental improv of the highest order.
3 Rita Hosking, Little Boat (Independent)
Gorgeous Appalachian tinged folk tunes highlighted by one of the best songs of the year, “Where Time is Reigning.”
4 The Replacements, Songs For Slim EP (New West)
Mostly because of their loose version of Gordon Lightfoot’s “I’m Not Sayin’.”
5 Corin Raymond, Ol’ Fort Mac (Local Rascals)
Written by Winnipegger Rob Vaarmeyer, the song has the feel of an instant standard; can be found on Raymond’s album Paper Nickels.
6 Betrayers, Let the Good Times Die (Independent)
Primal psych-garage hinged on two drummers, Farfisa organ and more pop-smarts then band leader Travis Sargent will ever admit to.
7 Charles Bradley, Victim of Love (Daptone)
Bradley has always been a great soul-funk performer, but his past albums have never quite caught the magic; Victim of Love is where it all finally comes together.
8 Himiko, DethNoizzz (D-Trash)
Screaming digital hardcore, where no track makes it over two minutes and a few clock in at under one.
9 Sendo Senshi, OST
A real soundtrack to a fake ‘70s Whitexploitation film, done up as homage to early Grindhouse and samurai B-movies.
10 The Lad Mags, Lover (Independent)
Released last spring, the first shot across the bow from these reverb drenched garage-rockers.
1 Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City (XL)
A very modern and urban rock album about getting older and rocking younger.
2 Drake, Nothing Was the Same (OVO Sound / Young Money / Cash Money / Republic)
If New Year’s Eve was had a soundtrack, this smooth, brash and full-of-hubris thing is the part where you dream of being a millionaire with Jay-Z and Beyoncé on FaceTime.
3 Atoms for Peace, Amok (XL)
There’s a lot of moving and shaking here—lost in the twitches is somewhere between a groovy Radiohead B-side and an Afrobeat spasm.
4 Daft Punk, Random Access Memories (Daft Life / Columbia)
Quite random, yet incredibly inspired (and long awaited) album that is just as much from the ‘70s as it is from today.
5 Bryan Ferry, The Jazz Age (BMG)
This ‘20s-inspired jazz album didn’t gain proper recognition until Leo became Gatsby. You might just love this album.
6 White Buffalo, Shadows, Greys and Evil Ways (Unison Music Group)
The best, alt-country act you should have heard of by now. You’re welcome.
7 Queens of the Stone Age, … Like Clockwork (Matador)
Steering (kind of) clear of a straight- ahead rock album, Josh Homme and friends have created a fuzzy exclamation mark.
8 Phosphorescent, Muchacho (Dead Oceans)
A wonderful, slow-ringer of an album with perhaps the best, most repeatable song you’ll hear in a while.
9 The National, Trouble Will Find Me (4AD)
A diverse, wondrous sixth album from these Swing-Staters. Very likely its best, most punctuated effort.
10 The Head & the Heart, Let’s Be Still (Sup Pop)
Showing more creativity (and star potential) than their first, The Head & The Heart shine when they let the passion fly.
1 The National, Trouble Will Find Me (4AD)
Tender, contemplative, and sombre until the volatile beauty hits you—it’s the perfect soundtrack for getting sloppy drunk on wine.
2 My Bloody Valentine, m b v (m b v)
The sensation of eardrum annihilation from 20 years of dormant feedback and distortion never felt so good.
3 Unknown Mortal Orchestra, II (Jagjaguwar)
Scratchy coos and phosphorescent noodling channel to the back of your mind, echoing through space and time.
4 Waxahatchee, Cerulean Salt (Don Giovanni)
Without any unnecessary flashiness, the simplistic, transparent delivery of private reflection is incredibly poignant.
5 Kurt Vile, Wakin on a Pretty Daze (Matador)
Float away on a pillow in an inviting haze of past and present memories powered by erratic riffing and spiritual lullabies.
6 Sigur Rós, Kveikur (XL)
Harshly fierce and abrasive yet exquisitely delicate and mystical in the same moments of turbulent unrest.
7 Baths, Obsidian (Anticon)
Lock yourself in your room and get ready to bawl your eyes out to the beat of perverse throbs earmarked by keyboard flourishes.
8 Majical Cloudz, Impersonator (Matador)
Minimal tones engulf a dark, empty space and a lone, naked voice shatters windows in an uncomfortably intimate affair.
9 Royal Canoe, Today We’re Believers (Nevado / Roll Call)
Instruments of all flavours are cooked in a colourful soup, balancing the right amount of oddball spicyness and retro warmth.
10 Suuns, Images Du Futur (Secretly Canadian)
Paranoia slowly dripping into a pool of murky anxiety—it’s a nightmare in a bleak, grey world of uneasy textures.
1 Shooting Guns, Brotherhood of the Ram (Independent)
Saskatoon’s Shooting Guns continues to revive stoner rock with Brotherhood of the Ram. Shooting Guns takes the contemplative magical journey of the Polaris long-listed Born to Deal in Magic 1952 – 1979 and proves it can deliver the forceful building drive that keeps you wanting more from a track like “Motherfuckers Never Learn” clocking in at over nine minutes. Take this album on a road trip.
2 Death Toll Rising, Infection Legacy (Independent)
Edmonton-based metal band Death Toll Rising’s sophomore effort demonstrates the technically solid and engaging talent the band is capable of. It’s a testament to proving death metal is not just speed drums and growled vocals, but at its best is technically precise and demonstrative of great creativity.
3 Blood Ceremony, The Eldritch Dark (Metal Blade Records)
The Toronto metal band’s established combination of pagan lyrical imagery and Sabbath-like sound is pushed to a much tighter, and yet more rollicking ride through a mystical ‘70s vista. Blood Ceremony have built on the era of psych to harness it as its own.
4 Russian Circles, Memorial (Sargeant House)
The Chicago three-piece instrumental metal/rock band reclaims the power of its epically layered and expansive instrumentals, but also manages to build new element of narrative cohesiveness.
5 Steve Martin and Edie Brickell, Love Has Come For You (Rounder)
And now for something completely different: the banjo! This collaboration is a great demonstration of Martin’s talent on the instrument he’s been playing for decades, but the combination with the beautifully constructed lyrics of Brickell create a homey overall tone that will lead you to just let the album play over and over again.
6 Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Push the Sky Away (Anti-)
It may not be surprising to put him on a best-of list, but this most recent effort is immediately engaging and demonstrates that dark beauty he’s known for on tracks like “Wide Lovely Eyes,” but also renews itself by reveling in twisted lyrics and subject matter on tracks like the dream-induced “Jubilee Street.”
7 Yo La Tengo, Fade (Matador)
Shorter is better is an unexpected lesson from a band that’s been around for decades, but Fade demonstrates that an album can contain lyrical heft and intensity while also creating a feeling of movement and uplift. It’s the perfect album for one in the midst of creative transition.
8 Kurt Vile, Wakin on a Pretty Daze (Matador)
While Vile’s brand of ethereal grunge became well-known on Smoke Ring For My Halo, his newest album moves that dreamy guitar work forward and exudes a confidence and comfort in telling a story the way only he can.
9 The National, Trouble Will Find Me (4AD)
This well-established band could rely on Matt Berninger’s delivery of complexly engaging vocals, but instead creates an album of dark mystery that builds in intensity and still somehow delivers a feeling of uplift through the misery.
10 Switches, Switches EP (Independent)
Edmonton band Switches puts out the best elements of punk-infused rock in the fun freedom of lyrics focused on laser-ray power and alternating instrumentals that move from swaying rock to grungy punk. It’s a tight four-song EP that reminds you why you became addicted to local shows in sweaty venues in the first place.