Just A Guy’s Favorite Albums of 2013

JUSTAGUY squaredIt seems that every year is the best year for new music. I know that I’m guilty of making that assumption nearly every year and 2013 isn’t any different. I listened to a lot of music this year. Some of it was great, some of it was terrible, and some of it started great and fell to mind-numbingly average in the span of one album (looking at you Jay Z). With that in mind, and since I dropped my favorite EP’s of the year earlier, I decided to write about my favorite albums of the year. Below, in no order, are nine albums (I’ll share my “album of the year” tomorrow) that really made an impact and stayed with me throughout the year. There’s no ranking, just what I liked and why I liked it. Special thanks to everyone that recommended music to me, I probably didn’t include it here, but I did listen to it. Feel free to drop it in the replies.

The Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation

I’ve already wrote a lot on The Greatest Generation so there isn’t a whole lot more to say other than this album really grew on me. One of the year’s best, and one of the band’s best releases, The Greatest Generation finally has The Wonder Years on the national radar. An upcoming Spring tour is poised to earn them even more fans and no one deserves it more.

Fall Out Boy – Save Rock and Roll

Did anyone have a bigger year than Fall Out Boy? Following a surprise return from hiatus, the band released Save Rock and Roll, quickly becoming their most popular album and cementing them as a pop-force. Since the release, the band has been touring non-stop. You may have caught their performance at the NBA All-Star Game, or maybe the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. If you had the privilege to see them live this year, you’ll know that lead singer Patrick Stump’s voice is a powerhouse in world of pop music and songs like “The Phoenix” and “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light Em Up)” are the clearest demonstration of that. There really isn’t a bad song on the album (save an awkward Big Sean verse) and the whole thing is capped off with a near flawless closing track “Save Rock and Roll” featuring the legendary Elton John. The whole album was huge and the band is firmly in the radio rotation which is amazing considering the fact Fall Out Boy was once pegged in the ridiculous “emo” category. Now they’re just one of the biggest bands in the world, which isn’t bad for a band a little over ten years in.

Disclosure – Settle

Settle sounds like an old school Chicago house album, which is probably why I was drawn to it. I actually decided to listen after I read an interview where Noel Gallagher (yes, of Oasis) casually mentioned how good they were live. Simply put, this album is infectious. “When A Fire Starts To Burn” opens the album with snippets of motivational speaker Eric Thomas over a pulsing house beat. “F For You” was the first single to not feature a guest vocalist while “White Lies” features rising artist AlunaGeorge. Both are standout tracks and were right to be released as singles. Electronic music really hit the mainstream this year, featuring a lot of bass drops and ADD-synth work even incorporating itself into the pop charts. All that is well and fine, but the genius of an album like Settle is that it dares new listeners to dive into the history of the genre. For one album, we get Disclosure taking electronic off of the festival main stage and back to the clubs that Frankie Knuckles, Adonis and the rest of the Trax Records crew frequented. It’s a simpler sound, and newer fans of electronic music may not appreciate it, but it’s still one of the year’s best.

The Limousines – Hush

The Limousines only have two albums, but they’re vastly different from each other. Hush is a creative leap from 2011’s Get Sharp. The music itself sounds better and would fit in well with any 80’s pop group. A track like “Gimme Control” is a perfect example. At best, it’s a downtempo track off of any 1980’s Michael Jackson album, while the case could be made that with it’s stomping drum beat, it was resurrected from peak-era New Kids On The Block. Either way, it works. “Fool’s Gold” sounds like it could have been used in a Miami Vice episode, while “Wrecking Ball” would have fit in on any 80’s pop chart. “The Last Dance” is simply a beautiful song, I can’t really think of anything else to say about it. Lyrically, it’s vastly different than the group’s previous work. Darker, more mature, whatever you want to call it, this album marked a change in direction for the group (seriously, read their history, it’s amazing). Hush was an album you probably didn’t hear about this year, but for fans of electro-pop it’s required listening.

Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe

If The Limousines hearkened back to the 1980’s with Hush, then Chvrches definitely provided a more modern sound. The band broke onto the scene in 2013 by releasing The Bones of What You Believe, a nice electro-pop debut from the Glasgow based band. “Recover” was the first song that I heard from the band and it got me hooked pretty quick. “We Sink” is another favorite with some pretty cool synth work thrown in. Lauren Mayberry on vocals provides a nice change of pace in the male dominated world that is non-pop music. The band is building a pretty strong following both stateside and in Europe, expect to see them make a big leap in popularity in 2014.

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

Vampire Weekend has always been an interesting band. Their early records had such a different sound to them thanks to incorporating world music (specifically African sounds) into their music. This naturally made them somewhat inaccessible for a lot of people. That changed with Modern Vampires of the City. Not to say that they dumbed down their sound, but merely found a happy medium. I wrote about “Step,” with it’s unique sound and how far from mainstream it is, but “Diane Young” (pronounced “dyin’ young” if anyone has still not caught that) could be fit on any alternative radio station seamlessly. Lyrically, the album is surprisingly religious (in terms of discussing, not necessarily worshiping), but that shouldn’t turn anyone off to it. Modern Vampires was an album that I constantly found myself coming back to and one of my favorite releases of the year.

Arcade Fire – Reflektor

I may be the only person in the world that wasn’t that into Arcade Fire’s previous release, The Suburbs, otherwise known as the album that won Album of the Year at the  2011 Grammy’s and won the band the world. So when the band released Reflektor, I was wondering how it would sound. The answer was that it would sound more from the Caribbean and less from the suburbs. Like their previous albums, Reflektor tells a story. Specifically about how technology has crept into our everyday lives and the impact it has on relationships. Reflektor is an ambitious album. Haitian elements are present on a majority of the tracks, with most of them exceeding five minutes in length. Technically, it’s a double album, and Arcade Fire is one of the few bands around that can manage to pull it off. It’ll take a while to get into, for fans and non-fans alike, but for lovers of alternative music, it’s an album that needs to be checked out.

Volcano Choir – Repave

Repave moved me more than any other record I listened to in 2013. Justin Vernon’s music has a way of putting me in a reflective mood whenever I hear it and Repave is no exception. The introduction to a song like “Tiderays” is so simple, but so wonderful at the same time. Vernon’s vocals are so distinct, and they weave in and out of songs like waves thanks to the effects that he employs. With Vernon contributing only vocals, the heavy musical lifting falls on the other members of the band, and they excel in making Repave sound like a fuller Bon Iver album, if that’s a comparison you want to make (I personally don’t). It all comes together on a tracks like “Comrade” (maybe my favorite song of the year) and “Byegone,” a soaring track where the band really elevates Vernon’s vocals. Repave is such a wintry album, so Midwestern, that it has stuck with me since it’s release, and will for a long time.

The National – Trouble Will Find Me

I love The National, like a lot. So it probably isn’t a surprise to find their album on my end of the year list. That said, since I love their work so much, any album they release has the task of being measure against their previous work (and some of my favorite music ever). The good news for the band is that Trouble Will Find Me stacks up marvelously on its own. While opening track “I Should Live in Salt” may lyrically be directed to lead singer Matt Beringer’s brother, it’s the 9/8 time signature (music nerds unite!) that shows you this band really operates on a different level. Songs like “Demons,” “Don’t Swallow the Cap” and “Humiliation” are some of the best songs that the band has ever recorded. Beringer has such a classic baritone voice, that you’re moved by it whether it’s the first time you hear it or the hundredth time. Musically, Bryan Devendorf’s unique drumming patterns (probably perfected on 2007’s Boxer) propel the album, while guitars and piano act perfectly as complementary pieces that enhance each song. Honestly, The National probably appeal to an older audience, but that shouldn’t turn anyone off to their music because Trouble Will Find Me is indie rock at its pinnacle.

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A certified personal trainer and graduate of Northwestern University (M.A. in Sport Adminstration), Steve is resident fitness expert and music snob of JustAGuy. In addition to fitness and music, Steve also enjoys sports. Feel free to trash talk him at steve@justaguy.us.

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