I used to write year Top 10 lists and reviews very regularly, but have been out of the zine and music scene quite a while now. However, in 2014 I will start writing about music again and to kick things off I’m writing up this list of my Top 10 releases from 2013. While I haven’t heard nearly as many new releases this year as I have in the past when I was reviewing music regularly, I have run across many amazing bands and wanted to share some of my favorites. Technically I don’t really listen to full releases anymore so many of these bands are based on just a few songs, but still I really like what I have heard and feel that it is a good representation of their ability. If you’d like to check out some of my archived reviews please take a look at the ChickenFish Speaks (To be relaunched in 2014) and Mutant Renegade Zine (Archived since 2000).
Top 10 Releases of 2013 in alphabetical order:
Like many others I became aware of Bastille due to their infectious hit “Pompeii” with its great driving rhythm, haunting vocal lines and unique instrumentation structure. As I dug deeper into this indie electronic band’s album the more I was captivated by their upgrade to the 80’s electronica sound and subtle layering which was absent in so many releases in the 00’s. You can hear elements of Coldplay, Imogen Heap and Snow Patrol in their songs, but they have their own sound and style which is rich, crisp and clean…but still retains a bit of rough interest at times. A great new band who I hope to more from soon.
Bellerouche – Best of
Bellerouche is an artist who came into my sphere of notice when I caught the electro-swing bug early this year. This best of collection is a great introduction to the trip-hop / soul / electro swing of Bellerouche as well as some electro-swing in general. They bring to mind a logical progression from 90’s acts such as Morcheeba and Portishead. Some of their songs get a little to techno-pop for me, however when they head into sample mode and mash-up classic swing, live vocals and some instrumentation they are hard to beat and have such an amazing sound it is hard not to get on your dancing shoes. Overall there is quite a bit of variety on this best of release and fans of several genres will find something to like along with a few new favorites!
Robert Delong – Just Movement
Robert Delong’s debut album is a great piece of electronica dance music fused with quality singer / songwriter lyrical ability. Many of the songs also have a world beat feel running through them due to his inclusion of a variety of percussion instruments and the sense to change-up the beats mid song. However, the overall feel of this release is dance and Robert’s sense of rhythm and creation of a hook is delightful.
Ford Theatre Reunion – Famous Monsters
Wow, what can I say about this band that I have grown to love so much. I have had the privilege to see this band live many times and even spend time with them so I guess I am a bit biased…but they really are an amazing band. This self-described circus-punk band run through a variety of styles and time signatures often times within the same song. Sure they have a firm grounding in rock, but they really blend in a heavy blues and swamp influence with a side of jazz and a sprinkle of vaudeville for extra fun. With three very capable vocalists FTR has the ability to meld their sound to fit the mood of the story being told. And yes they are master story tellers, with songs about creatures large and small. Another aspect of this band which I love so much is their unconventional instrumentation: a vocalist / guitarist / banjoist, a vocalist / keyboardist / clarinetist, a vocalist / accordionist, a bassist and a drummer / percussionist. On this release and sometimes live they are also joined by a trumpet player. As much as I love this release they are one of those bands who is even better live due to their energy and the way their songs evolve over time.
The Jealous Sound – A Gentle Reminder
“A Gentle Reminder” is the latest masterpiece from singer / guitarist Blair Shehan and his latest band The Jealous Sound. Technically this was released in 2012, however there was a re-release in 2013 and it’s just such an amazing album I had to include it here. They are everything rock should be; energetic and emotional, with driving rhythms and though provoking lyrics. The songs are themselves are very well crafted with layers of contrasting harmonies that rise and fall with the mood of the lyrics. If you thirst for wonderfully crafted songs that will remind you that rock still has some relevance give this a listen.
The dark brooding electronica sound drew me in and the soaring harmonies kept me deeply involved. MS MR are a great blend of sullen and sultry with rhythm and hooks to spare. The lyrics are another strong point with plenty of introspection and raw emotion. Definitely one of my favorite new bands with so much potential.
While I will admit that Sleigh Bells’ third release isn’t as strong as either of their previous two, I still think that it is one of the best releases of the year which I’ve heard. This dynamic duo plays catchy experimental noise pop full of hooks. I love the harsh, crunchy guitar on top of the heavy beats matched with the sweet poppy vocals intertwining. If you want to listen to something heavy, but still sweet Sleigh Bells will fill you up.
I came late to the whole Parov Stelar party only hearing his music when I first started listening to electro-swing earlier this year. I feel he is at the forefront of the whole movement and though many of the songs by this prolific artist do not fit into that genre, they are all fun, danceable and amazing. The band itself primarily consists of Parov doing the programming along with a bassist, vocalist, drummer and three horn players to fully round out the sound. If you want a true taste of electro-swing look no further.
Frank Turner’s latest release is full of wonderful, heartfelt alternative folk songs that are catchy as well as though provoking. Between his deeply personal lyrics and ability to write a hook it’s hard not to like the songs, even though most of the songs are about sad and depressing topics. I feel that there is a Celtic rock tint to his tunes and can get a bit of his punk hardcore roots out of the songs as well. If you like something a bit lighter, but not really mellow this is a great release to check out.
Woodkid – The Golden Age
This debut release by Woodkid is full of sweeping, dramatic songs that bring to mind epic stories. I felt that many of the songs were almost ready-made for videos and then wasn’t too surprised to find out that he is also a music video director. Almost every song on this release feels like it could be used as a final on a film score, but they also stand well on their own building emotion with each passing phrase. His vocals are understated, but they really fit well with the grandeur of the songs.
Bonus release from 2012!
Well, this release was actually from 2012, but I didn’t discover it until 2013 and I wanted to pass it along in case you are unaware of this amazing band for some reason. An Awesome Wave is one of the rare releases I’ve heard lately that really is a full work and should be listened to start to finish. Sure many of the songs do stand on their own, but when you play the whole album with its many layers, changes and moods all in a row it is magical. I think they are one of the most complex bands musically to come around in quite some time and they can do it by sometimes being almost silent. One of my favorite aspects of Alt-J is that they treat the vocals as another instrument where phrases are stretch and melded into whatever structure is needed to fit in the overall structure. An amazing listen from start to finish.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief glimpse into some newer bands / releases. Hopefully you have found at least one band you’ve never heard of before that you are now a fan. I will start doing reviews on a semi-regular basis as I hear new releases that pique my interest. Also keep an eye out for The ChickenFish Speaks to relaunch in 2014! Feel free to mention your favorite releases of 2013 in the comments! – Greg