Best albums of 2013

This year my ears were drawn to melody, technology, high-production values, and women. Years ago I would've been much more inclined towards organic sounds, intimacy in production and attitude, and a lo-fi aesthetic, but those days are gone. Is it because I have young children who cause me to hear music in new, fresh ways? Am I having a midlife crisis? Or am I just burned out on dudes with acoustic guitars? I'm not sure why, but I really loved female pop singers this year, and it sure felt good to me.

1. TEGAN AND SARA - HEARTTHROB
This is hands-down my favorite album of the year. Ten total slam-dunk pop songs with cool, cool sounds and more hooks per song than other artists can generate in a career. An inspiration of songwriting, production, and career re-invention.

2. HAIM - DAYS ARE GONE


Another ultra-consistent album-length home run. These songs and sounds make me happy. The Haim sisters exude gratitude and love of music, and I can feel it as a listener. Being in a rock band should be joyous and fun.

3. OH LAND - WISHBONE


I was clued into this album thanks to a Facebook post by excellent songwriter David Poe, who co-wrote this album's lovely folk tune "Love You Better." After clicking Poe's link to this "Renaissance Girls" video, I was immediately enamored by Danish pop / performance artist Nanna ├śland Fabricius. When visiting Denver this Fall I had a chance to catch Oh Land in concert and was happily caught up in her infectious energy, smiles, charisma, gorgeous voice, and brilliant song craft. I bought both of her albums, and continue to rock my Wintertime with this awesome Nordic electro-pop. If you miss the early Cardigans, or you long for the '80s-era Madonnna, Oh Land is for you.  

4. ELLE MACHO - IMPORT
I've been a fan of Butterfly Boucher since her debut 10 years ago and I've been following her musical adventures, but this album was a surprise. A rather grandiose art-punk trio (co-fronted by fellow Nashville-based songwriter David Mead), ELLE MACHO allows Butterfly to explore a louder and more theatrical facet of her musicianship. These tunes took some getting used to, but I'm loving them now. 

5. FALL OUT BOY - SAVE ROCK AND ROLL
Butch Walker's production drew me to this album, and his creative fingerprints are all over it. Bombastic, slick, catchy, and crazy fun, like a Summer blockbuster action movie at the mall megaplex. There are a couple stinkers on Side B, but the killer singles are undeniable. Love it!

6. EELS - WONDERFUL GLORIOUS
Although maybe not quite as timeless as some of their other albums, this new collection from ultra-prolific E is still uplifting, trashy, fun and consistently awesome.

7. AOIFE O'DONOVAN - FOSSILS
As I have hinted in this post's introduction, these days I'm weary of bluegrass music, folk singers, and Americana in general. So, I'm pleased to announce that the debut solo album from bluegrass darling O'Donovan has transcended any genre obligations she might be navigating. This is very smart and dreamy folk/pop music, and O'Donovans slinky and mysterious persona holds everything together.

8. ROBBIE FULKS - GONE AWAY BACKWARD
Again, although I'm having a hard time with bluegrass and twang these days, Robbie's sheer talent wins me over, as usual. Recorded live by Chicago studio legend Steve Albini, this album is mature, expert, and sonically sublime. My favorite track below:


9. PARTHENON HUXLEY - THANK YOU BETHESDA
I got this album after supporting Parthenon's crowd funding campaign, and I was quite pleased at the opportunity to bring about more music from this pop genius. His new tune "Love Is the Greatest Thing" is one of the greatest pop songs of the year, and also one of the best songs of Parthenon's three decades in rock.

10. BRENDAN BENSON - YOU WERE RIGHT
Released just days before the end of 2013, this one comes in under the wire. I've only had a chance to spin it a couple times, but as expected, Benson's music is retro-cool, rocking, surprising, and playful.

HONORABLE MENTIONS FOR 2013:

TAYLOR SWIFT - RED
Technically, it came out in late 2012, but I didn't get it until January of 2013. Good as a whole, but her Swedish-produced radio singles were some of my highlights of the year.

BUTTERFLY BOUCHER - HAPPY BIRTHDAY FLUTTERBY
To reclaim her 2003 debut album Flutterby, Butterfly Boucher re-recorded the entire record, wrestling control away from her initial record label. These re-imagined versions are slightly mellower than the originals, but it's super-cool to hear her approach to these tasty songs one decade removed.

FRIGG - POLKA V
Finland's fiddling wall-of-sound released another great album (their most rock-influenced, to my ears) in late 2012, but I didn't hear it until Summer of 2013. Superb nord-grass for acoustic proggers on any continent.

FRANK SOLIVAN & DIRTY KITCHEN - ON THE EDGE
If you are interested in more straight-up bluegrass, these guys tear it up. Wow…vocals and instruments are so precise it's a bit unreal. Sweet cover of Alex Chilton's "The Letter" too.

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