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My Favorite Albums of 2013

Special Honorable Mention: Maniac – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, by ROB

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So freaking good I almost included it into my Top 20 proper, but since I’ve never thrown film scores into the list in previous years, I decided against it. Still, let it be known that I may have listened to ROB’s haunting score for the Maniac remake more than any other album this year. Absolutely fantastic, and anyone making a horror movie right now and not at least thinking about hiring this guy to score it is crazy.

20. Mindless Self Indulgence – How I Learned to Stop Giving a Shit and Love Mindless Self Indulgence

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MSI aren’t really breaking any new ground on this fan-funded effort (though I was happy that it felt less “dance clubby” to me than 2008′s If), but oh well – I’m clearly not ashamed to admit I’m still into their schtick.

 

19. Deafheaven – Sunbather

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Shoe-gaze black metal sounds like a really bad idea on paper. Deafheaven prove it’s not.

18. Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time

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This one would probably a lot higher on the list if I had listened to it earlier in the year. As is, I just finally gave it a chance a couple days ago, and was very pleasantly surprised with it.

17. David Bowie – The Next Day

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The surprise Bowie album none of us expected, coming ten full years after his last effort (after which many commonly assumed Bowie had simply retired). It would have been a real shame if it had sucked. It didn’t. In fact, it was awesome, and a nice reminder of why we loved Bowie in the first place.

16. Waxatatchee – Cerulean Salt

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I swear I didn’t pick this one just because of how much fun it is to say “Waxahatchee.”

15. M.I.A. – Matangi

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A definite improvement over Maya (which I liked, but often felt alone in defending). I’m not sure it was completely worth the really long wait M.I.A. put us through, but it’s quite good all the same.

14. Chelsea Wolfe – Pain is Beauty

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Beautiful music to be sad to.

13. Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus

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Come for the funny band name, stay for the excellent electronic post-rock. One of my go-to bands for background music while reading and writing.

12. Eels – Wonderful, Glorious

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Eels have long been one of my favorite bands, and I’ve always been frustrated that they’re not a bigger deal than they are. That said, I’ve also often said they haven’t quite yet made the one masterpiece album that I know E has in him. This one, though (their tenth album), gets a lot closer than their last few efforts.

11. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

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I’m still not convinced Arcade Fire will ever make another album as good as Funeral, but nor do I yet believe they are even capable of making a bad album.

10. Phoenix – Bankrupt!

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Phoenix can always be counted on for great, catchy pop albums. I feel like they could crank these things out in their sleep, which isn’t as much of an insult as I suddenly realize it might sound.

9. The Haxan Cloak – Excavation

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Wanna be creeped out? Lay in bed late at night, and put this electronic concept album about the afterlife on in your headphones. It’s fun!

8. The Knife - Shaking the Habitual

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I’m still holding out hope for another Fever Ray album, as well, but I’ll never turn down a new Knife offering, either.

7. Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks

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In 2009, Trent Reznor said it was “time to make NIN disappear for a while.” I don’t think anyone was really that surprised to see the hiatus turn out to be short…in fact, with an album this good, I’d guess most of us were quite relieved. I love that Reznor is doing film scores now, but NIN is where he really belongs.

6. Sleigh Bells – Bitter Rivals

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With each album, Alexis’ teen-pop past/sensibilities creep a little bit more into Sleigh Bells’ sound. Rather than be a bad thing, though, this is actually leading to real growth from the group – a happier middle-ground between the bands pop and noise elements. Sure, I might somewhat miss the more aggressive feel of their debut, but I won’t complain if they stay this good.

5. Haim – Days Are Gone

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This one was worth the really long wait…

4. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

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Though I didn’t dig it nearly as much as High Violet, it’s placement on this list just goes to show that even a slightly disappointing National record is still better than most other music out there. And, to be fair, my initial disappointment wore off as I ended up giving this album a lot of listens, and loved it more and more each time.

3. Kanye West – Yeezus

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Yep, I still like Kanye West. All his douchebag tendencies take a big backseat to albums this damn good.

2. Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady

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If you can’t get into a cute, sci-fi loving R&B/Soul artist who is in the middle of a seven-part series of conceptual albums about androids, can dance like nobody’s business, and interrupts her music videos with mid-video zombie attack breaks, then you and I are just not on the same wavelength.

1. Savages – Silence Yourself

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The most excited I’ve been about a debut album in a pretty long time.

 

My Favorite Albums of 2012

HONORABLE MENTIONS (Otherwise known as 21-26):

  • Bear in Heaven – I Love You, It’s Cool
  • Tame Impala – Lonerism
  • Bat for Lashes – The Haunted Man
  • Tallest Man on Earth – There’s No Leaving Now
  • Twin Shadow – Confess
  • Titus Andronicus – Local Business

Not really sure why those all ended up being “T” and “B” artists, but there you have it. For the record, I’ve only listened to Local Business once, and I really liked it. So it’s possible if I had waited a few weeks to write this list, it might have crept its way further up the list.

20) Scott Walker – Bish Bosch

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I hope I’m as gloriously weird as Scott Walker when I’m 69 years old. The fact that a guy his age is making stuff this daringly odd is reason enough to give it a listen.

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19) Die Antwoord – Ten$Ion

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Yes, I know they’re a gimmick group that is more interesting on a conceptual level than a musical one. And part of me knows I shouldn’t like this album as much as I do. But I also can’t deny how catchy I actually find most of the songs.

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18) Pop. 1280 – The Horror

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According to Wikipedia, Pop. 1280 call themselves a “cyberpunk” band, which already earns them some points in my eyes. A must listen for horror fans.

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17) Grace Potter & The Nocturnals – The Lion the Beast the Beat

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Though the overall album is coming in at 17, the song “The Lion, the Beast, the Beat” might just be my favorite song of the year.

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16) Menace Ruine – Alight in Ashes

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I don’t often gravitate towards “black metal,” but I enjoy Menace Ruine’s creepy droning sound.

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15) Japandroids – Celebration Rock

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Not really a huge leap forward from their debut album or anything, but in this case “more of the same” is a good thing.

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14) 3-WAY TIE: Ty Segall – Twins; Ty Segall & White Fence – Hair; The Ty Segall Band – Slaughterhouse

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Alright, maybe I’m cheating here, but geez, I figure it’s the least I can do to reward the incredibly prolific in 2012 Segall, who gave me three great albums this year. If I had to choose one as the standout, I’d go with The Ty Segall Band’s Slaughterhouse.

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13) Garbage – Not Your Kind of People

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Welcome back. I missed you.

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12) Muse – The 2nd Law

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A nice bounce back from 2009′s disappointing The Resistance. I know some fans balked at the album’s dubstep elements, but I thought that was such a small (and for the most part, actually effective) part of what is otherwise a collection of songs exactly as over-the-top and bombastic as you hope for from Muse.

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11) TIE: Grimes  - Visions; Purity Ring – Shrines

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Alright, another cheat here, as I’m lumping these two together simply because they seem so aesthetically similar (AKA, artists that should have been on the Drive soundtrack), and I couldn’t pick one over the other. Hey, I never said I was a real music critic. And if there were ever two artists that should be touring together, it’s these two. Let’s make it happen.

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10 ) Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits

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Divine Fits are a  “supergroup” made up of members from Spoon, Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs and New Bomb Turks. Obviously, only a certain type of music fan would call people from those groups coming together a “supergroup,” and I’m not even sure I consider myself one of them. But I did love this album.

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9) Jack White – Blunderbuss

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I’m not sure that I’ll ever stop mourning The White Stripes, but as long as Jack White is still making excellent albums like this, it will be a little easier.

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8) David Byrne & St. Vincent – Love This Giant

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Sure, the collaboration seems a little dominated by Byrne (not surprisingly), and I wish it featured more of St. Vincent’s guitar gymastics rather than being so horn driven. But these are minor quibbles. I still dug it quite a bit. And hey, we got another music video with wacky Byrne-dancing! That’s always a good thing.

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7) Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti -Mature Themes

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Yeah, Pink is crazy, and I’m not entirely sure I would risk my money to go see him live. But if he keeps putting out albums this good, I can overlook all that. The hair, though? I don’t know, man…

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6) Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror

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I wasn’t sure about this sophomore effort at first, as I sort of missed the more straight-ahead beats of the last album. But it really grew on me over multiple listens, and I finally recognized as a nice, subtle (and welcome) artistic jump forward for the duo.

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5) Metz – Metz

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Just a great debut punk album. That is all.

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4) The Walkmen – Heaven 

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The seventh album from The Walkmen made me very sad that I only just started paying attention to them this year. I instantly made up for my oversight by getting the previous six, as well. But I actually do think this is their best yet.

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3) Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel…

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It’s no fun waiting seven years for a new Fiona Apple album, but man, at least she makes it worth the wait. That being said, could we maybe move the next one along a little quicker, Fiona?

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2) Regina Spektor – What We Saw from the Cheap Seats

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My favorite Spektor album since Soviet Kitsch. I was very happy to hear some of her old trademark vocal weirdness return in a much larger fashion this time around.

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1) Amanda Palmer & the Grand Theft Orchestra – Theatre is Evil

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Amanda Fucking Palmer.

The first time Steven Soderbergh saw MMA fighter Gina Carano on TV, his first thought was “wouldn’t it be cool if I built a big all-star Hollywood action movie around this girl, despite her complete lack of acting experience?” The first time I saw MMA fighter Gina Carano on TV, my first thought was “wouldn’t it be cool if I hooked up with her?” I guess what I’m trying to say is, Steven Soderbergh has a lot more clout than I do.

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A bad movie that never really stood a chance is one thing. I mean, when you see a bad movie starring someone like Katherine Heigl or directed by Brett Ratner, you just sort of shrug and say, “yeah, well, what else was that gonna be, really?” On the other hand, Dark Shadows, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s new reimagining of the cult supernatural soap opera, is the most disappointing kind of bad movie, one that constantly teeters right on the edge of being something truly worthwhile, only to keep shooting itself in the foot at nearly every turn. It’s got a decent concept, with seemingly the right director and definitely a very game cast, but something just seems off almost the entire way through. If you could take the word “frustrating” and distill it into film form, it would be this movie.

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I gotta hand it to The Avengers, it sure isn’t afraid to be “comic-booky.” And on one hand that’s pretty obvious – it is the fucking Avengers, after all. But man, this one is extra comic-booky, and damn proud of it. More so than any of the films that preceded it, this one asks, nay, demands that you accept all this silliness at total face value. Put all these guys (and gal) together in one room sitting around a conference table, and suddenly their costumes and super-powered status seem even sillier than ever before. And the movie doesn’t care! And, because it doesn’t care, you don’t care! That’s the real magic of The Avengers. There’s something to be said for the more realistic modernism of Nolan’s Batman series, sure. But this ain’t the place for that. This is The Avengers, damn it. Let’s get crazy.

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You’ve seen and heard it happen. Maybe you’ve even been part of it yourself. It’s that moment at the end of the trailer for G.I. Joe: Retaliation, when we get the big reveal of Bruce F’n Willis, and the whole audience goes absolutely ape-shit. And why not? It’s really freaking cool to see Bruce Willis, right? And in a G.I. Joe movie? This is awesome!

Except, today it finally occurred to me – is it really? For that matter, why are we still excited about Bruce Willis at all anymore?

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Horror needed The Cabin in the Woods.

I don’t necessarily mean it needed another self-reflective, meta, deconstructive look at the genre and its various cliches. One of those every few years is just fine, thank you. But what it did need was a slap-in-the-face reminder of just how good, original and powerful the genre can be, particularly at the theatrical level. Sure, there have been decent enough horror films over the last few years, but when was the last game-changer? The last film with this sort of word of mouth? The last “knocks you right out of your seat, you can’t believe how great it is” masterpiece? I know some will point to Paranormal Activity, but that was just a more popular and better-received version of a sub-genre already going at the time, and all it really did was unleash a wave of predictable sequels and wannabes. The Cabin in the Woods is something else entirely. This is Next Level film-making.

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I read a lot of zombie books. That will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, nor will the info that I tend to enjoy more of them than I don’t. But even still, I’ll be the first to admit that the genre tends to be pretty repetitive, with most authors just doing their tired spin on the same cliches that Romero popularized years ago. Of the numerous zombie books I have read, only a handful really stick out. The Reapers Are the Angels immediately jumps to the forefront of that list.

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As I watched 21 Jump Street, the new comedic take on the cult-classic FOX show about undercover cops posing as high-school students, one critical thought kept floating through my head:

“Does this mean I have to like Channing Tatum now?”

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In all the speculation about why Disney’s John Carter failed at the box-office (poor marketing, limited mainstream appeal, lack of big stars), one potential explanation has remained curiously unmentioned – perhaps most folks just thought the story had already been told well enough in The Asylum’s 2009 adaptation, Princess of Mars.

Ha, I’m just fucking with you. Nobody thinks that.

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