Best of, Music

Best of 2013: Albums, #50-40

So we did things a little differently this year. As opposed to last year, where our music editor, Jack Evans, compiled a list of what were in his opinion the best albums of 2012, this year we’ve become a little more democratic. We wrangled in several contributors, new and old, to supply us with their own individual lists of up to 50 of what they feel are the best albums from 2013. Each album was assigned a point based on its ranking- the first album getting 50 points, the second 49, and so on. Then we took all those respective lists, added the points together, and put the 50 highest-ranked albums together. Later in the week we’ll hopefully be posting the ballots, if you’re interested in a look at some of the (still good) albums that didn’t make it. As can be expected, our overall list is quite diverse. We hope you like it. But before we get started, let’s meet our contributors. – Nathan

Ethan Copeland: Music and Video Games Contributor  (he’s a new face here, so be kind to him!)
Jack Evans: Music Editor
Patty Greer: Music Contributor
Ben T O Smith: Host of The Indie Aisle on WUTK-FM, the campus radio station of the University of Tennessee
Nathan Smith: Editor, lead writer, co-founder, Minister of Information, etc.
Brad Taylor: Music Contributor

Jake White: Electronic music director and host of The Midnight Voyage on WUTK-FM (and hopefully eventual Smash Cut contributor)

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50. Robbie Fulks – Gone Away Backward: Robbie Fulks has been making music for decades, but it took until 2013 for him to release his best album. Gone Away Backward features Fulks at his strongest as a songwriter, singing country tunes that Hank Williams would have loved. Americana is probably the preferred nomenclature for that brand of music nowadays, but his country credentials are given on the song “That’s Where I’m From,” where he sings “Can’t tell I’m country, just you look closer, it’s deep in my blood.” Throughout the album, Fulks sings common country themes of love gained, love lost, and life down in the dumps, but with a genuine, stripped-down, tastefully produced quality to them missing from the mainstream country music that Fulks frequently rebels against. Slipped in around the ballads are quick, fiddle-heavy bluegrass songs. The grainy cover of the album depicts a tornado destroying a town. It speaks of the overarching theme of the album, an ode to the small town, Midwest, underclasses of America. People often say “I don’t like country, but I like Johnny Cash.” To those people, I say look towards the alternative-country and Americana movements where the likes of Robbie Fulks continue to thrive. – Brad Taylor

Listen: “Imogene” – Robbie Fulks

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47. Majical Cloudz – Impersonator: Devon Welsh and Matthew Otto’s second release is an ambient and poetic dream. Most tracks, although very simple in harmonic devices, are incredibly moving and presented with depth comparable to none. Welsh has one of the most powerful male voices on the scene today. Impersonator truly shows this band is going nowhere but up. – Patty Greer

Listen: “Childhood’s End” – Majical Cloudz

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47. The Ocean – Pelagial: European metal collective The Ocean are no strangers to concept albums. The Robin Stapps-led group’s 2007 masterwork, Precambrian, revolves around Earth’s geologic eras; their higher-profile 2010 companion albums, Heliocentric and Anthropocentric, tackle science and religion from the jumping-off point of the heliocentric theory. So it’s not surprising that Pelagial is a concept album; what’s more pleasing is how effectively the concept translates through the music. As the track names reflect the increasing depths of the ocean, the music slowly transforms from light piano melodies to impossibly heavy sludge, all while traversing currents of Mastodonian guitar licks and Tarkovsky references. – Jack Evans

Listen: “Bathyalpelagic III: Disequilibrated”

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47. Yo La Tengo – Fade: In 2013, the consistently solid indie trio Yo La Tengo released one of the strongest albums in their thirteen album long career. Fade calms the ears from the beginning of their aptly titled song “Ohm,” one of the best songs they’ve ever released. Its summery jangle of chords and uplifting lyrics have calmed me since it was released way back in January. The rest of the album features similarly calm and playful tunes, but Yo La Tengo aren’t afraid to deviate and throw down a heartfelt and serious acoustic jam. “The Point Of It” reminisces on a lifelong relationship and ends with a particularly melancholy line, “Honey, that’s okay, if we’re getting old, if we’re not so strong, if our story’s told, that’s the point of being born.” The cover image of the album is a tree, and that image summarizes the symbolic audible and lyrical content on Fade. German writer Hermann Hesse once wrote an essay discussing his reverence for the tree, stating, “Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is.” Like Hesse’s trees, Fade is a very simple and non-abrasive listen that emits a spiritual, transcendent quality. It brings contentment and soothes the soul. – Brad Taylor

Listen: “I’ll Be Around” – Yo La Tengo

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46. The Dillinger Escape Plan – One of Us is the Killer: Last summer, I finally saw The Dillinger Escape Plan live. It’s a cathartic experience – crowdsurfing musicians, Ben Weinman hanging from the rafters, Greg Pucciato’s sweat – and their fifth full-length captures that manic energy better than any release since 2004’s Miss Machine. One of Us is the Killer solidifies TDEP’s position as the Supreme Overlords of Mathcore, but the album’s accessibility (as well as the band’s signing to mainstream metal giant Sumerian Records and their positions as headliners of the Summer Slaughter Tour) introduces them as full-blown rock stars – albeit, ones with a taste for jazz and full-contact performance. – Jack Evans

Listen: “One Of Us Is The Killer” – The Dillinger Escape Plan

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45. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork: It’s not terribly often that an album garners both widespread mainstream acceptance and universal critical acclaim, and when it does, it’s more often rap or pop than it is rock music. Queens of the Stone Age have been somewhat cursed by being one of the few rock outfits to transcend those two fields, inasmuch as in the decade-plus since Songs for the Deaf, they’ve experienced lukewarm reception, be it for the macabre-fairy-tale stomp of Lullabies to Paralyze or the nauseous grind of Era Vulgaris. One listen to “My God is the Sun” makes it apparent why Songs fans find …Like Clockwork a return to desert-weathered form, but it’s not so much a carbon-copy of their older work as it is a sun-drenched culmination of the music, relationships, and near-death experiences that Josh Homme and co. have taken part in over the last 10 years. – Jack Evans

Listen: “My God is the Sun” – Queens of the Stone Age

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44. FIDLAR – FIDLAR: On their self-titled debut studio album, LA skate-rockers FIDLAR offer a very noisy, very gritty look into their lives while brushing off the thought of their future. With a count of 14 tracks – all but one clocking in at under 4 minutes – the album is extremely fast-paced and short-lived. The music is loud. However, these guys definitely know their way around songwriting: even with the album’s seemingly sophomoric lyrics – which mostly revolve around cheap drugs, cheaper booze, and surfing and skating – the music proves to show the sophistication FIDLAR possesses when it comes to their blend of surf rock, garage rock, and punk. FIDLAR set out to show that they’re okay with their lazy stoner lifestyles – and to show how they have a hell of a lot of fun doing what they do. They encourage living life to the fullest, which should include shouting at the top of your lungs to this album while riding around in a car jam-packed with your closest friends. – Ethan Copeland

Listen: “No Wave” – FIDLAR

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43. Octopus Project – Fever Forms: Another top album for this year. The Octopus Project is a sort of psychedelic, experimental band, well known for Yvonne Lambert’s use of the Theremin and their artwork and performances. A former music director at WUTK put me on to this band when he told me to go see them live back in October of 2010. Despite having never listened to them, I went. From that point, I’ve seen them three or four more times, including one gig they played with DEVO! Check out this album, then check out Hexadecagon (one of my favorite albums of all time). – Ben T O Smith

Listen: “Sharpteeth” – The Octopus Project

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40. Childish Gambino – because the internet: Childish Gambino, otherwise known as Donald Glover, recently released his second studio album. Some of you may recognize him for his role of Troy on NBC’s Community, but he’s proven himself to be much more than an actor. The hit single from the album, “3005,” is electrically filled with the typical Gambino zingers and an explosive chorus. Not to mention, the album coincides with a four-act screenplay he’s written, also entitled because the internet. – Patty Greer

Listen: “3005” – Childish Gambino

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40. Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady: In the fourth and fifth “suites” of her seven-part Metropolis series, Atlanta-based vocalist and producer Janelle Monáe expands the reaches of psychedelic soul. Monáe, along with an impressive list of guests (Prince, Esperanza Spalding, Miguel), combines elements from multiple genres of music – everything from funk to rock to hip-hop – with soulful vocals to continue her saga of the time-traveling android Cindi Mayweather and the struggle to save Metropolis from secret society The Great Divide. Monáe continues and furthers the modern combination of soul and hip-hop in a style that recalls Gnarls Barkley, utilizing an eclectic yet equal balance of instrumentation and beat production. Or, as she state’s in the album’s lead single, “Q.U.E.E.N.,” “They call us dirty ‘cause we break all your rules down.” – Ethan Copeland

Listen: “Q.U.E.E.N.” – Janelle Monáe (feat. Erykah Badu)

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40. Volcano Choir – Repave: Justin Vernon’s music has always had a cinematic quality (just look at all the movies and television shows his songs have been featured in!). Repave is Vernon’s take at the most cinematic of music genres: post-rock. The touchstones are there – extensive builds, explosive climaxes, hushed interludes, drawn-out passages – but the bombast is turned up to 11 and slathered in a healthy dose of autotuned vocals. It’s a good thing that Vernon had enough time away from his busy musical schedule of Bon Iver, blues rock, and being buddies with Kanye to create what might just be 2013’s most cinematic indie rock album. – Jack Evans

Listen: “Repave” – Volcano Choir

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2 thoughts on “Best of 2013: Albums, #50-40

  1. Pingback: Best of 2013: Albums, #39-#32 | SMASH CUT MAGAZINE

  2. Pingback: Best of 2013: Albums, #30-21 | SMASH CUT MAGAZINE

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