Please stand by

I must admit that I’ve been having a hard time keeping up with this blog lately. I don’t have many readers but I do appreciate the kind words and attention folks have shown me. litlblog will be going on hiatus for a while as I figure out how to proceed, but I’ll continue to post on Facebook, create Spotify playlists, and tweet. In the meantime here are the rest of my favorite albums of 2013, in no particular order.

Rising Appalachia: Filthy Dirty South

Bosnian Rainbows

Red Baraat: Shruggy Ji

Wax Idols: Discipline + Desire


Fear of Men: Early Fragments

Into It. Over It.: Intersections

Bad Religion: True North

Steven Wilson: The Raven That Refused To Sing

Buke and Gase: General Dome

Phoenix: Bankrupt!

Veronica Falls: Waiting For Something to Happen

The Joy Formidable: Wolf’s Law

Kylesa: Ultraviolet

Avett Brothers: Magpie and the Dandelion

Midlake: Antiphon

Depeche Mode: Delta Machine

Royal Bangs: Brass

Grandniece of Best of 2013

21. Frankie Rose, Herein Wild — She’s put in her time. Frankie Rose worked in Vivian Girls and the Dum-Dum Girls before striking out on her own, and that experience shows. She doesn’t always hit the heights that Dum-Dum Girls do, but damn she’s consistent. This is some of the best indie pop songcraft out there. Strip away the reverb and shimmer (which I wouldn’t advise–the production is gorgeous) and you’d still have some beautiful songs.

22. Pusha T, My Name Is My Name — This is hip hop for serious hip hop fans. Despite Kanye’s support I don’t see big crossover success in Pusha T’s future and that’s OK. He’s spitting out some tight, dank rhymes. This is music for headphones, late nights, postmodern Eric B. and Rakim shit.

23. Dirtfoot, Coming Up For Air — I’m not always one for rootsy Americana, but this just works. Dirtfoot isn’t just looking back to 70s music–they’ve got that spirit of Frank Zappa at his funkiest, Captain Beefheart trying to make a hit single.

24. Frank Turner, Tape Deck Heart — It’s weird that it took me so long to hear of Turner; equally odd that he’s only now getting more success. He makes no bones of drawing on the archetype of the sincere, politically active young singer-songwriter. Indeed, I still half-suspect that he’s a clone of Billy Bragg who was kept in stasis until 2003. No matter his origin this is British folk-pop at its peak.

25. Childish Gambino, Because the Internet —  The more I see of Donald Glover the more I am convinced that he’s one of the smartest, bravest men in the entertainment industry. One of the best comic writers of the past decade, Glover then decided to record some of the most relevant rap songs of his generation. He came under some poorly thought out criticism this year for being so open and honest in social media about his struggles with anxiety, and those worries come to the forefront of the new album. Far from weakening him, songs like “3005” show the uncomfortable and worthwhile juxtaposition of youthful swagger and existential dread.

Best of 2013 of the Black Lagoon

21. Ghostface Killah, Twelve Reasons To Die — This is Ghostface Killah at his best–not just deep, intense rapping but a coherent album tied in with the archaic media styles that Wu-Tang Clan love so well. It’s giallo in this case, cheap Italian horror/crime stories of the 70s, and the lurid genre melds perfectly with 21st century hip hop.

22. the Dodos, Carrier — I had never heard of these guys until the last few weeks. It’s fascinating stuff, firmly in the American indie pop camp but with pronounced progressive rock tendencies. Just when I think I have a song of theirs figured out it goes in a totally different direction, one that seems obvious and beautiful in retrospect.

23. Savages, Silence Yourself — Rare is the year when I can point to an album and say “This is it. This one’s the best.” 2013 is an exception, because London-based Savages just released one of the best debut albums in rock history. The power, the fire, the artistry, the sheer command of the stage this young band shows is astounding. It’s a revival of the 80s postpunk sound à la Siouxsie and the Banshees, but Savages leave mimicry and retreading far, far behind.

24. MS MR, Secondhand Rapture — It feels like I waited forever for this album, but it was certainly less than a year. MS MR came out with a super-tight EP in 2012 and Secondhand Rapture delivers on that promise. They’ve got the knack for making fascinating music that crosses over into the mainstream–think early U2, Florence and the Machine, Peter Gabriel. I think MS MR is gonna be a big player in the music world this decade.

25. Arctic Monkeys, AM — Hey, speaking of big players! Age isn’t mellowing Arctic Monkeys, but it is maturing them. The band’s Britpop instincts are coming to the fore here; AM isn’t as danceable as their earlier work but it’s every bit as catchy, well-crafted, and important.

Bride of Best of 2013

16. Atoms for Peace, Amok — I am always buying whatever Thom Yorke is selling. First off he has an understanding of harmony like no one else going in rock. Second, he and the rest of Radiohead had already perfected the combination of raw, organic sound with cold electronics a decade and a half ago. This is a more intriguing entry than most with the presence of Flea, one of the most innovative bassists around.

17. Chelsea Wolfe, Sick — Experimental doom folk? Electronic singer-songwriter? I’m gonna go with contemporary goth. That’s what this sounds like to me. Darkness is at the core of everything Wolfe does, whether she’s drawing from black metal, folk ballad traditions, icy synths, or 80s avant-garde. Listen to This Mortal Coil’s It’ll End In Tears, then to Wolfe’s new album–it sounds like a logical modern extension of the 4AD sound.

18. The Boy Least Likely To, The Great Perhaps — And now for something completely different. The Boy Least Likely To are the anti-dark. This is most optimistic, sunny twee pop that the human mind is capable of conceiving. Fortunately this band is an absolute hook machine and they delivery what they’re trying for.

19. Trombone Shorty, Say That To Say This — He’s at it again. Troy Andrews, aka Trombone Shorty, is the most important musician in New Orleans today; the young performer is at the forefront of thew, revitalized music coming out of my native city.  I played trombone myself and in case anyone was wondering, this guy is a technical genius. He’s got it all–chops for days, a unique vision, great looks, songwriting skill, a tight young band, and lively performances.

20. Polvo, Siberia — Polvo are firmly in the category of “Oh yeah, THOSE guys! Whatever happened to them?” Even that’s generous–unless you know the early 90s Chapel Hill scene or follow math rock they might be entirely unfamiliar. Well they’re back, more than 20 years since their first album and making some of the most interesting music of their career. They effortlessly balance dissonance and listenability; this is technically adept noise rock I can get behind.

Valley of Best of 2013

11. Neko Case, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You — What do you want from me, it’s Neko Case? She hasn’t made an album in close on 15 years that wasn’t one of the most important albums of that year.

12. Camera Obscura, Desire Lines — It’s weird to me that Camera Obscura has been around for nearly 20 years. Rarely has a band so wholly inspired by a single artist (in their case, Scotland’s Belle and Sebastian) lasted this long with such an impressive body of work. The band’s early efforts, while full of beauty and wonder, seemed an island to themselves, an improbable sunny island off the south of 1960s France. Desire Lines still draws from older pop styles but it’s unmistakably modern twee pop at its most affecting.

13. Pretty & Nice, Golden Rules for Golden People — Ridiculous hair, skinny jeans, offbeat song structures–if Pretty & Nice were any more hipster they’d piss PBR. It works for them, though– where many similar acts don’t bring much the table besides a vague art school sensibility, this New England band focuses their unrelenting quirkiness into thought-provoking, satisfying songs. An album with real meat in it.

14. MGMT — Hey, speaking of quirky! Highly produced, ornate, wandering, and eclectic, MGMT knows what they are about here. This feels like the kind of album that 70s krautrock fans would play for their friends at every chance, trying to get at the deeper meaning. Not exactly toe-tapping, but it stands with the band’s best work.

15. Bill Callahan, Dream River — I admit that I was never a big fan of Smog. I don’t know whether I’ve changed or if Callahan has, but this music really speaks to me. It’s so . . . still, I guess, so stately and centered. Callahan’s rich, laconic bass voice delivers such a punch with just a few lines (“I always went wrong in the same place / Where the river splits towards the sea / That couldn’t possibly be you and me”). Americana fans take note.

More Best of 2013

6. Emiliana Torrini, Tookah — Iceland breeds up EASILY the highest number of interesting, icy electronic pop artists per capita. (That’s a real statistic, right?) Emiliana Torrini relies on a wide variety of synths from across the decades, but this album never feels academic. It’s easy and organic and breathing in the best traditions of Scandinavian music.

7. Sigur Ros, Kveikur — And hey, speaking of Scandinavia! Look, I love post-rock generally and Sigur Ros’s () blew me away when it came out. Their more recent work has been good, but admittedly a bit samey-samey. Here’s the very soft introduction, the quiet escalation, the rising tension to bombastic loudness, and drift into the ether. This album is different: insistent drums, grooves that work toward something, and most importantly a heavier overall sound, often firmly in the territory of experimental metal. I wouldn’t quite call it accessible, but it feels much more like an album of interesting songs than an exercise in loud ambience.

8. Janelle Monae, The Electric Lady — Artists like Monae have been sadly lacking from the R&B scene from decades. She’s a skilled singer, a brilliant dancer, a beautiful woman–all right, there’s always been plenty of those. But Monae brings a fantastic imagination, visual sense, and ambition to soul music, creating concept albums that stand with the best work of Stevie Wonder, Parliament, and Prince.

9. Kanye West, Yeezus — Kanye made some of the most successful commercial hip hop of the 2000s, spouts off whatever fool thing comes into his head, lives in atmosphere of rockstar privilege and easy money, and recently married an unholy avatar of all that is wrong with celebrity culture. Then he made Yeezus,  one of the best hip-hop albums of all time. It’s uncompromising, lyrically knotty, challenging, and redefines the genre. If you’re interested in where American popular music is going you need to listen to this.

10. Man Man, On Oni Pond — Man Man are heirs to the freak music tradition of Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart. This album is their most accessible, which is to say it sounds like it was at least made by blissed out surfers playing Gypsy blues at a psychedelic carnival in this universe.