Skip to content
Dec 15 / Great Apes

The Best Music I Heard In The Year 2013 Of Our Lord

This year was a really good year for music so I expanded my best-of list to 15.  I left off some good albums here, but these are the ones I feel most strongly about recommending.  I think music reviews generally are nonsense so I’m not going to bother trying to review these albums.  I’m just going to say a few words about what I think about them and then link to a song that you should check out if you’re interested.

Wait, hold on a second.  Maybe about ten years ago there was a phrase that people would often use on music message boards to try to indicate what other bands an artist was similar to.  It was kind of a way to transcend genres a bit by being more specific about what a band’s influences and peers were.  The phrase was “Rocks If You Like”, usually shortened to RIYL.  Unfortunately the phrase became a bit of a joke because, I mean, it sounds ridiculous.  Well friend, as it happens I don’t mind looking ridiculous, so I’m going to help you all out by throwing a RIYL out for all of these albums.

15. Pelican – Forever Becoming

Pelican claim to be a punk rock band even though everyone calls them a metal band and there isn’t really anything punk about their sound.  Indeed, some of the songs here almost sound like they could be by Isis but for the very clear lead guitars.  They’ve been playing a very tuneful brand of instrumetal (yeah, I just made that up, I don’t care that a Google search might say otherwise, you owe me royalties if you use it) over the course of several albums now.  Unlike a lot of instrumetal though their songs aren’t especially dense nor are they particularly technically proficient.  There’s a lot of space in their music and oh god I’ve started using one of those meaningless music review clichés, abort abort abort.

RIYL: Birds that can hold an ungodly volume of fish in their beak, my taste in music

14. Colin Stetson – New History Warfare, Vol. 3

Pretty weird album, but I like some pretty weird music, especially when it’s put out by Montreal label Constellation.  I am contractually obliged to tell you that Stetson plays saxophone in a very unusual manner that is made possible by his mastery of circular breathing.  The music doesn’t really sound anything like saxophone though; most of these songs are more similar to drone.  Oh, and Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon sings on a few tracks.  I don’t like Bon Iver but Justin Vernon sings on two of the albums on this list.  That’s a fact that I thought would be useful to you.

RIYL: Third volumes, my taste in music

13. Volcano Choir – Repave

Oh hey Justin Vernon, I was just talking about you.  So Volcano Choir is Justin Vernon’s side project.  They write atmospheric indie rock sort of stuff.  I dunno, listen to the track below.  I guarantee that it will make you go check out the rest of the album unless you’re not really interested in doing that.

RIYL: When streets get torn up and you can’t get anywhere you want to go because they’re putting down new asphalt, my taste in music

12. Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks

It’s Nine Inch Nails.  If you haven’t listened to it you probably aren’t going to.  But, you know, it’s good, so listen to it.

RIYL: Things that most people stopped being into in the 90s, my taste in music

11. Vattnet Viskar – Sky Swallower

Just as a warning to people who don’t like music that is awesome, this list is going to get pretty metal heavy from this point out.  Vattnet Viskar are a black metal band, and while the album definitely has its moments where everything is blasting at maximum volume, these guys understand the importance of dynamics.  A number of songs have long mid-tempo sections with clear riffs and patient drumming, and some of the songs even move into Isis-ish mellow atmospherics.  Really good stuff all around.

RIYL: Band names that don’t lend themselves to puns, my taste in music

10. Balance and Composure – The Things We Think We’re Missing

I don’t know if anyone other than me is still into grunge in 2013, but Balance and Composure have come along with an album of songs that probably would have gotten a lot of airplay if it had been released in 1997.  Unfortunately, the album is afflicted with the scourge that drags down most modern rock records, over-compression.  This makes the music in a lot of the songs blend together so that only the drumming and vocals stand out.  Thankfully, the vocals carry a number of the songs here quite well and in the songs where the guitar parts become more clear (like “Reflection”) they’re very good.

RIYL: Band names that sound like they could be Jane Austen novel titles, my taste in music

9. Subrosa – More Constant Than The Gods

I would like to say that hearing a metal band with a woman in it is perfectly common, but it’s not.  So a metal album, a really fucking burly metal album, that has three women in it is quite unusual.  The guitars on this album run thick and sludgy and dissonant and if you heard Subrosa live I’m willing to be that you wouldn’t be able to hear for a few days afterward.  The drumming is surprisingly under-stated given the heaviness of the album and does a great job of propelling the music forward.  There are also violins on most of the songs here, which lends Subrosa a bit of a more unique sound.  Pretty tough to recommend an individual track since the whole thing is full of dense, long, complex tracks, but you can stream the whole thing for free on their Bandcamp page so go do that.

RIYL: Band names that you initially misunderstood as Nirvana’s old record label, my taste in music

8. The Appleseed Cast – Illumination Ritual

The previous two Appleseed Cast albums were at or near the top of my best-of lists of their respective years.  Illumination Ritual is a bit of a step back for them, unfortunately, discarding the varying sonic palette and more post-rock oriented sound of their other recent records for a sound that more closely resembles their earlier work.  Most of the songs here are built on a similar foundation of jangly, reverbed guitar parts repeated until they build toward a climax, which is the point in most songs where the vocals come in.  I have thought on previous Appleseed Cast albums that their drummer is one of the best in the business, and he continues that trend by putting in a top notch showing here.  So while this album isn’t as good as the outstanding Peregrine it’s still very good and well worth listening to.

RIYL: Other albums by this band, other albums by similar bands, other albums by dissimilar bands that are good anyway, my taste in music

7. Implodes – Recurring Dream

Implodes are on the almost uniformly excellent record label Kranky, which continues to quietly put out some of the best experimental music around.  The strange thing is, while Kranky is mostly a drone label at this point, Implodes aren’t a drone band at all.  They’re actually a fairly standard rock band that just runs their instruments through a lot of effects.  This is an album that rewards close listening, as the sounds are deeply layered through distortion and reverb pedals, but there’s a lot going on and they’re a fascinating band to listen to.

RIYL: 9/11 controlled demolition conspiracy theories, my taste in music

6. Russian Circles – Memorial

This is kind of the best Pelican album that Pelican never wrote.  Heavier than Pelican though.  And with a hint of Mogwai’s louder songs thrown in too.  I’m not really sure where I’m going with that.  I think the thing that makes me happiest about this album though is that ever since the fantastic These Arms Are Snakes broke up, I’ve been waiting for one of the bands they split off into to turn into something similarly exciting.  Well, this isn’t as good as These Arms Are Snakes, but it is still one of the year’s better albums.

RIYL: Nationally specific geometry, my taste in music

5. Jason Isbell – Southeastern

I don’t really listen to country music, but Twitter’s Ryantologist said that I should listen to this album so I listened to this album and I was glad that I listened to this album.  Southeastern has a good mix of catchy pop tunes and more sombre, meditative music and the lyrics are very strong throughout.  It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what I like about this album when I wouldn’t have much interest in so many similar albums, but I guess at risk of telling you nothing useful about the record I would have to say that it’s that Isbell’s songcraft and gift for melody elevate this album to a different level.  While the best song on the album is definitely “Relatively Easy“, I’m embedding “Flying Over Water” below because I think it’s a bit of an easier sell for the album.

RIYL: To wonder if there really is ultimately any point to it all, my taste in music

4. Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe

Consider the following facts about Lauren Mayberry, singer in Chvrches:

1. She has a Masters degree.
2. She has a law degree.
3. She can play drums.
4. She has an adorable Scottish accent.
5. She’s really cute.
6. We are soul mates.
7. Her incredible voice is the driving force behind one of this year’s top albums.

RIYL: To misspell the names of religious buildings (FUCK YOU RELIGION YEAH!!!), my taste in music

3. Matthew Good – Arrows of Desire

There was a time in my life where it would have been inconceivable that a Matthew Good [Band] album could have come out without me knowing ahead of time that it was probably going to be my favourite album of the year.  But I didn’t even know that this album existed until a couple of months after its release.  Unexpectedly, unlike most of his solo work, I quite like this album.  At its best moments, like album highlight “Guns of Carolina”, it hearkens back to his later work with the Matthew Good Band on The Audio of Being.  The songs here are much less varied than what he used to do with MGB (there’s nothing here comparable to the unusual and emotionally resonant “Advertising On Police Cars”) but unlike his other recent solo albums the quality is an awful lot more consistent and there’s something of a return to his peak as a rock star (as opposed to his more recent work which leaned toward folk and even country).  Here’s one thing I just don’t get though: Good is thoroughly informed and publically opinionated about politics, particularly foreign affairs, and yet those subjects don’t really seem to come up in his music at all.  Well, anyway, this is unexpectedly one of the year’s best albums, particularly on the strength of its second half.

RIYL: To be reminded of that one really pretty girl in high school who you endlessly pined over who turned out to be a super hardcore evangelical Christian and you aren’t religious but you would totally pretend to be if it made you attractive to her maybe this is too much information, my taste in music

2. Mouth of the Architect – Dawning

I am kind of torn on Dawning.  While the later tracks on this album would probably suggest that this album fits back several spots on this list, the earlier tracks are absolutely outstanding.  The second track, “It Swarms” (embedded below), is probably my favourite song of the year (“Recover” by Chvrches and “Guns of Carolina” by Matthew Good are close competitors).  It starts out as a fairly standard, sludgy doom metal track, but over the course of eight and a half minutes it slowly transforms.  Three and a half minutes in the song begins to reconstruct itself as the first triumphant guitar solo appears.  Then the song slows down and starts to sound like it’s returning to the earlier sludge, only to have the band begin to engage in a punk-rock style shout-along leading into another long guitar solo, finally returning to a punk shout-along of the song’s refrain of “And the world moves on.”  It might not sound like much when I type it out like that, but when you listen to the whole thing start-to-finish it’s as emotionally gripping as anything else I’ve heard this year.  You can stream the full album on Mouth of the Architect’s Bandcamp page.

RIYL: Bands that opened for Intronaut in Montreal earlier this year, my taste in music

1. Anciients – Heart of Oak

This album came out of nowhere for me.  I sometimes wonder if I’ve hit a point in my life where I’ve locked into a set of bands that I like and those are mostly going to be the bands I listen to until I become so boring that I die.  Thankfully two of the albums in my top 5 are debut albums (this and Chvrches) while another is from an artist I’d never heard before (Isbell) so at least for this year I can pretend that I’m not aging too quickly.  But enough about me.  Anciients remind me a lot of Mastodon: they trade off deep metal growls and clean, melodic singing quite frequently; they can play aggressive, dissonant metal that wouldn’t sound out of place on many heavier records, but they also know when to throw in a killer hook or memorable solo; their songs are all long, multi-part epics; they play metal but the songs are usually surprisingly catchy.  Anciients don’t yet have the range that Mastodon do (and maybe they never will), but they’re already not far off on their debut album.  There’s no individual song on here that really stands out in the way that some of the previous albums have, it’s just a great listen from beginning to end.  Like seemingly every metal band these days, they’ve put the whole thing up for free on their Bandcamp page, so go give it a listen.

RIYL: Anything, really

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.