The Top 12 albums of 2013!

Happy New Year!

As 2014 begins its slow unfolding, I spent part of my first couple of days looking back and compiling my top 12 albums of 2013.  I also got a lot of laundry done (necessity!), watched a Twilight Zone marathon with my ten year-old (passing-the-torch awesome!), started season one of Smallville with my 15 year-old (mutual interest!), and went to a grown-up movie with my wife (no cartoons, superheroes, or mythical creatures!).  But you are likely here for the music, so let’s move on with that bit.

If you are new to me, or to the The Alternafolk Surfsoul Rock & Roll Revival Meeting, you may be wondering why it’s a top twelve instead of a top 10, 15, 20, or some other rounder number.  The reasons why are vague and distant now, and any explanation would likely contain reinvented history.  Just know that I’ve always done 12, and there is certainly a really good reason why I am sticking with the formula.

In this paragraph, I give a long explanation about how difficult it was to narrow down the list to just a top twelve.  I’m not actually going to write this paragraph, but just know that it was hard.  It always is.  Which is why I throw extra stuff in at the end.  But I love subjective lists!  I probably explain all of this better in previous years.

Also, I like to throw in my “Five-Year Rule” disclaimer.  It simply indicates that, five years from now, once I’ve had an appropriate amount of time to let the music of this year settle into my subconscious, this list will probably look really different.  Especially once I start listening to things I missed the first time around.

So, with formalities out of the way, I will invoke the spirit of The Black Eyed Peas and declare “let’s get it started!”

We’re counting down backwards, because that’s what Casey Kasem taught me:

13.  Various Artists – About Time soundtrack  “Wait a minute – didn’t I just say this was a top 12 list?”  Yes, I did.  “Then why is this listed as number 13?”  That’s a fair question I’ve asked myself.  I offer this as an answer – I rarely consider soundtracks for the year-end lists, unless they are comprised of all original material from mostly one artist or composer.  But I just adored the movie About Time, and much of it was due to the wonderful way that music was used in helping to tell the story.  So, while I won’t include this glorified mix-tape in my top twelve, I loved the compilation enough to force me to include it on my year-end post.  Go see the movie, then you will be able to enjoy the soundtrack with proper context.

12 and 1/2.  We Are Twin – We Are Twin   “Twelve and a half?  Dude, you’re kind of pushing it, now.”  I know, I know.  But the five-song We Are Twin ep is not technically a full album, so I couldn’t fairly include it in the top twelve albums.  But the five songs are so incredibly good, it is my belief that had We Are Twin fleshed out a full album, it would have been strong enough to belong.  These songs are pop monsters that I want you to listen to.  In fact, I wrote more about it here.

12.  Avicii – True   I’m not a big EDM guy, but this album is really affecting.  It easily transcends the genre and becomes accessible to fans of rock, pop, hip-hop, and even folk and country.  I wrote more about this album here.

Be sure to check out:  “Hey Brother”, “Wake Me Up”, “Liar, Liar”, “Addicted To You”

11.  Derek Webb – I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You   Since leaving Caedmon’s Call about ten years ago, Webb has been viewed as a controversial figure in CCM, apparently because he is more interested in being brutally honest and creative in his craft than he is in  conforming to the cookie-cutter sound so prevalent in that corner of the music industry.  I love him.  And his new album is wonderfully written and produced, moving freely from that which sounds traditional and retro to songs with a more modern edge.  And lyrically, Webb is as good as ever.  Hmm.  I think I should have ranked this higher.

Be sure to check out:  “Closer Than You Think”, “The Vow”, “I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You”, “A Place At Your Table”

10.  Matt Pond – The Lives Inside The Lines In Your Hand   This is so good and easy to listen to.  Pond has always delivered tasty alterna-pop, but his first album without “PA” attached to his name is his best yet.  I wrote more about the album here.

Be sure to check out:  “Let Me Live”, “Love To Get Used”, “Starlet”, “When The Moon Brings The Silver”, “Go Where The Leaves Go”

9.  Okkervil River – The Silver Gymnasium   Each Okkervil River album has had some magnificent high points, but The Silver Gymnasium is the first for me that sounded cut-for-cut great.  There is not a single out in this lineup, with lots of extra-base hits (okay, baseball metaphor over).  This is rock and soul in a Van Morrison kind of way, but also reminds me of The Hold Steady.  I wrote more about the album here.

Be sure to check out:  “It Was My Season”, “On A Balcony”, “Down Down The Deep River”, “Pink Slips”

8.  Andy Gullahorn – Beyond The Frame   I knew nothing about singer-songwriter Gullahorn before randomly listening to this album last summer.  What I found out was that he co-wrote one of the most beautiful love songs ever – “Everyday”, performed by Jill Phillips about a dozen or so years ago.  I also found out that he put together one of this year’s most lyrically strong albums.  Gullahorn is honest and vulnerable.  There appears to be a lot of pain and frustration in these songs, directed at both himself and others.  But it’s still hopeful.  Beyond The Frame reached me on a real personal level this year.  It got my attention often.

Be sure to check out:  “I Will”, “The Surface of Things”, “Line In The Sand”, “Favor Is a Foreign Tongue”

7.  Texas – The Conversation   I don’t even remember how I first latched on to this album, but once I did, I had about a three-month stretch where I just kept coming back.  The Conversation is Texas’ first album in about eight years.  It’s bluesy and rootsy, with just a little bit of bubblegum flavoring it up along the way.  Sharleen Spiteri’s vocals are a super-cool blend of Chrissy Hynde, Carol van Dijk (of Bettie Serveert), KT Tunstall, and Nicole Atkins (all voices I love).

Be sure to check out:  “Be True”, “Detroit City”, “Dry Your Eyes”, “Big World”

6.  K.S. Rhoads – The Wilderness   Rhoads is a wonderful, Nashville-based singer-songwriter.  He manages to weave his way around pop, rock, folk, and even a dash of rap and hip-hop.  He is a thoughtful songwriter who likes to explore the topic of our place in the world.  I wrote more about the album here.

Be sure to check out:  “Orphaned”, “Harvest”, “If You Want Love”, “The River of Suffering’

5.  Fitz and The Tantrums – More Than Just A Dream  Where 2011’s Picking Up The Pieces featured well-crafted pop tunes pumped up with a Stax-Volt muscle, More Than Just A Dream takes equally well-crafted songs and glosses them over with a new wave sheen.  Both ways, the result has proven endearing.  While I would say the debut was slightly better, this new album has remained on heavy rotation for me throughout the year.

Be sure to check out:  “Out of My League”, “6am”, “Break The Walls”, “Last Raindrop”

4.  Rachel Zeffira – The Deserters   I liked this album right away, but it has continued to grow into me more and more throughout the year.  It’s moody and dreamy, with Zeffira’s voice sounding both haunting and comforting.   There is something hypnotic about this offering.  Maybe that’s why I kept coming back.  It’s okay, though.  I’m happy to be hypnotized.  I wrote more about the album here.

Be sure to check out:  “The Deserters”, “Star”, “Break The Spell”, “To Here Knows When”

3.  Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City   This, their third album, is their best.  I admit that, after their wonderful 2008 debut, I worried that they might be a one-hit album wonder.  The opposite has been true, as each album has superseded that last.  Delightful world rhythms are mixed with lyrics that explore humanity and spirituality.  I wrote more about it here.

Be sure to check out:  “Unbelievers”, “Step”, “Finger Back”, “Worship You”, “Young Lion”

2.  The Orange Peels – Sun Moon   I’ve loved The Orange Peels for a while now, but this is easily their most complete album.  More than just a collection of pop songs, Sun Moon takes us on a journey of self-awareness set to a tasty pop soundtrack.  In fact, the album sounds like a soundtrack to a movie that hasn’t yet been made, with the instrumental “Theme From Sun Moon” standing tallest.  I wrote much more about the album here.

Be sure to check out:   “The Words Don’t Work”, “Your New Heroes”, “Grey Holiday”, “Aether Tide”, “Theme From Sun Moon”.

1.  Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart   This was, hands down, my favorite album of the year.  I planned to write about it maybe half a dozen times, but always stopped myself.  Best as I can figure, I just wasn’t sure how to explain the depth of how this album made me feel.  I may still try, as this paragraph blurb will not do my love of this album justice.  Turner writes with a heart-on-sleeve kind of honesty that I appreciate.  But he doesn’t just recount escapades as experience – rather, he conveys experience as wisdom gained.  He shares lessons learned, but also lessons being learned.  He is a man in progress, humble enough to share his progress with us.  He has a punk pedigree, but plays music that can be accessible to anyone (though he tends to be a bit salty with the language, if you are sensitive to that).  I’ve been listening to it since the beginning of the year and don’t get tired of it.  In fact, my favorite song seems to change with each listen, depending on how it reaches me.  I already can’t wait to hear what Turner does next, if just to hear what he’s been up to and how he’s been growing.  To me, this album is what rock & roll is supposed to sound and feel like.  Take Deck Heart will be something I return to regularly for a long time.

Be sure to check out:  “Recovery”, “Four Simple Words”, “Oh Brother”, “Good & Gone”, “Losing Days”…oh, just check out all of the songs on this album.

And now, it’s time for some bonus mentions…

Albums That Might Benefit From The Five-Year Rule:

Arcade Fire – Reflektor   Some days I love it, some days I’m just bored by it.  But I like a lot of tracks from this, and I love Arcade Fire.  So I’m pretty sure this will continue to grow on me.

Check out:   “We Exist”, “You Already Know”, “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)”

Jars of Clay – Inland   I think I just haven’t spent enough time with this beautifully honest album yet.  Jars remains, I contend, one of the best bands of the last twenty years, regardless of genre.  I expect that time will move this up on the list.

Check out:  “Age of Immature Mistakes”, “After The Fight”, “Loneliness & Alcohol”

Gungor – I Am Mountain   I was sure this would end up on my top 12.  Then, when I started lining up my faves from this year, it kind of got squeezed.  A different story may get told five years from now.

Check out:  “God and Country”, “Beat of Her Heart”, “The Best Part”

The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars   I actually love this album.  I think it is just so painfully honest that it was hard to emotionally invest in sometimes.  As time moves on, I will likely internalize this in a more appreciative way.

Check out:  “Same Old, Same Old”, “The One That Got Away”, “D’Arline”

Honorable Mention (in no particular order)

Palma Violtes – 180

Harry Connick, Jr. – Every Man Should Know

Christopher Owens – Lysandre

Dropkick Murphys – Signed and Sealed in Blood

Eels – Wonderful, Glorious

Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady

Johnny Marr – The Messenger

She & Him – Volume 3

Robert Randolph & The Family Band – Lickety Split

Joseph Arthur – The Ballad of Boogie Christ

Jose James – No Beginning, No End

Foy Vance – Closed Hand, Full of Friends

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~ by themattmorrisshow on January 3, 2014.

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