Phosphorescent Tops My Best 25 of 2013
I’ve always been fascinated by year-end ‘best of’ music lists. The big guns (Rolling Stone, Spin, NPR etc) have more ground to cover than I can wrap my head around (from Miley Cyprus to Speedy Ortiz?) and the indie blogs need to stay true to their particular vibe. Perhaps that’s how “Song for Zulu” by Phosphorescent can end up as #50 on Stereogum’s Top 50 and #1 on Paste’s. It’s #1 for me as well so perhaps I am more of a Paste gal than a Stereogum hipster? Well yes, for those of you that know me, that would seem obvious.
The bottom line is lists are deeply personal. They’re about the music that’s touched you over the past year for one reason or another and putting it to a committee vote kind of loses the point. The lists I gravitate to are the ones that help me discover music I might have missed or overlooked.
We are exposed to a tremendous (almost daunting) amount of music at MusicFile Productions over the course of a year and we spend a lot of time scouring the planet for up and comers. But at the end of the day, I admit to being heavily influenced by a combination of a) a good melody b) strong lyrics c) a bit of edge and creativity and d) some classically trained chops used in non-classical ways. If it makes me choke up, pump my fist in the air, dance my butt off, stomp my feet or give me pause, well that’s what I’m talking about.
I’ve left off all the Kanye West’s,the Arcade Fire’s, The National’s and the Vampire Weekend’s, not because they aren’t good records but because guessing you don’t need to see them on another list? I’ve also left off most of the bands we have playing Savannah Stopover Music Festival in March. Including them might seem self-serving plus a lot of them have VERY good records coming out in 2014. The exception I made was Caitlin Rose. Her 2013 Album The Stand In has restored my faith in country!
The list below is comprised of individual tracks taken from what I consider to be some of the best Albums or EP’s of the year. It contains rock, folk, pop, classical, dance, country, electronic, R&B, chamber pop and a lot of songs that defy categorization. To my knowledge, it contains no songs currently being played on over the air radio. And there are a few trends we definitely noticed this year: Strong country women with a classic bent (Caitlin Rose, Kacey Musgraves, Holly Williams), Smooth R&B with an 80’s nod (Rhye, Denitia and Sene), the continued resurgence of garage-y surf pop (too many to list!) and complex, orchestral folk/pop efforts with neo-classical elements (San Fermin, Mutual Benefit, Amason).
Hopefully, you’ll recognize a few tracks that spoke to you this year and maybe discover some new faves.
The full playlist on Spotify is available here: Best of 2013
Phosphorescent – Song For Zula – It’s rare that a song can move me to tears, bring me to my knees and lift me up all at the same time. Song for Zula is a trifecta of song writing brilliance about coping with the loss of love.
Mikal Cronin – Weight – Mainstream melodies that rock. MCII, Cronin’s 2nd album hit it out of the park. This track has stayed on repeat since it came out in May.
Cass McCombs – There Can Be Only One – Elusive, reclusive and one our most brilliant songwriters of today. In a year where we lost Lou Reed, I am glad we have Cass McCombs.
Tennis – Mean Streets – Obsessive ear candy that floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. Such a good groove.
San Fermin – Sonsick – Imagine Dirty Projectors collaborating with The National. An orchestral pop concept album that glows. One of the most interesting new sounds to come out of 2013.
Waylayers – S.O.S – If Coldplay had become a dance band, they’d sound like this. New band from the UK that has hit maker written all over it. About as mainstream as I get but I can’t stop listening to this.
Sarah Neufeld – Hero Brother – The violinist for Arcade Fire. Debut album of violin compositions. If you have friends that say there’s no ‘real’ talent in today’s music, make them listen to this!
Majical Cloudz – Childhood’s End – We’ve been trying to get Devon Walsh (aka Majical Cloudz) to Savannah since we first heard a preview of this album last winter. A gorgeous, haunting, emotional record that knocks the wind out of you.
Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Day – It takes guts today to release a single that’s 9 and ½ minutes long but it takes talent to leave you wanting more. A song that reminds us that it’s all going to end so we might as well enjoy the simple things (try rolling down your windows and taking a long drive with this one).
Caitlin Rose – Dallas – Rose is ‘New Nashville’s’ antidote to Taylor Swiftdom. Strength and vulnerability combine to recall the classicism of Patsy Cline with the edge of Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis. This cover of The Felice Brother’s “Dallas” is one of many standouts on the album.
Yo La Tengo – Ohm – Oh the je se nais quois of YLT! For almost 30 years, they’ve been making music that effortlessly embodies cool. And they sound as fresh today as they did in the heyday of I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One.
Sonny & The Sunsets – green blood – I adore everything Sonny & The Sunsets does and yet they remain criminally under the radar. A spoken word love song about breaking up with an android that bleeds green blood? You betcha.
Destroyer – El rito -Dan Bejar’s (aka Destroyer) EP “Five Spanish Songs” was a little year-end present that arrived in December. I love the retro rock feel! Give this a spin at your next party and see if magic doesn’t ensue.
Rhye – The Fall – The smooth sound of R&B returns with this stunner of a debut album from Rhye (Canadian singer Milosh and Danish instrumentalist Robin Hannibal). Remember Sade?
Jai Paul – jasmine (demo) – The controversy over the leaking and then yanking back of Jai Paul’s proper debut album on XL Recordings is the stuff legends are made of. The elusive London DJ and producer swears he didn’t do it. Some say the material was stolen, others a brilliant PR stunt. It kind of sucks to post a track from an album that hardly anyone has but Jasmine survived and it’s hard to leave it off of this year’s list. It’s like some lost Marvin Gaye track hurled back from another galaxy distorted by time travel.
Devendra Banhart – Für Hildegard von Bingen – The king of freak folk delivers again with a song that re-imagines the 12th century saint as a VJ on location. Banhart’s ability to blend genres and poke us with a hummable wink and a nod is unparalleled.
The Shouting Matches – Gallup, NM – Justin Vernon’s (Bon Iver) new super group released a debut album that surprised the heck out of a lot of people…and added blues to his repertoire. This track has the killer guitar solo of the year. If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn it was Nels Kline from Wilco.
King Krule – Easy Easy – 19-year-old British wonder kid King Krule has every producer in the world wanting to work with him. On this track, he pulls off a Joe Strummer vibe with jazz undertones. In a year filed with some excellent King band releases (see King Tuff, King Dude and King Khan), it was Krule who blew me away.
Wild Cub – Thunder Clatter- This album will be re-released in 2014 under their new record label deal with Mom & Pop Records. As of this writing, all songs have been removed from the world wide internets except this one…but make no mistake this was a 2013 release and a damn catchy one.
Cayucas – Cayucos – Perhaps my favorite new band of 2013. Straight up fun pop, ala Vampire Weekend, with a California vibe. My only complaint? At only 8 songs, the album leaves you wanting more!
Triathalon – Swells – Though not an album or an EP, my list wouldn’t be complete without adding local Savannah rising stars Triathalon. I first heard this new track live at a recent show and it’s been stuck in my head ever since. It recalls the classic surf rock they do so well, all fuzzed up for the city!
Amason – Älgen – A Swedish super group based in LA that features members of Miike Snow and Dungen caught my ear this summer after a KCRW blog post. I don’t even know how to describe this. A 70’s folk vibe with a lot of synth. Godspell meets the Carpenters?
Courtney Barnett – The Avant Gardner – It’s all about the lyrics. And then I saw her live. Melbourne Australia’s Barnett has that “it” factor that’s almost impossible to define. It’s slacker folk that makes fun of slackers. Smart, pithy, catchy and it rocks.
Eleanor Friedberger – Stare At The Sun – On Freidberger’s 2nd solo album (away from The Fiery Furnaces), she proves that her eccentric, intellectual and slightly oddball approach to songwriting can be frenetic while it’s appearing nonchalant. One of those record’s that’s worth fully dissecting over and over for all the little nuances that stick in your cerebellum.
Lady Lamb the Beekeeper – Bird Baloons – It feels like no coincidence that Lady Lamb The Beekeeper has signed to the same label as Sharon Van Etten; Badda Bing Records. It has the same raw, honest edge albeit wrapped in a very different package. A new discovery in 2013 and one that’s worth a few spins; sort of like a super avante-garde version of Florence and The Machine, without all the machine.