Top 15 Albums of 2013 and 5 Other Things I Liked

2013 was an amazing year for music. So many good albums showed up right until the very end of the year. (I’m really liking this new Beyoncé album believe it or not.) So this year’s list is mostly music with a few bits and pieces at the end for fun. On with it…

1. Nick Cave - Push The Sky Away Nick Cave made the best album of the year hands down. I’ve been following Cave since high school and he is truly one of a handful of musicians still able to make compelling music after thirty years. I was lucky enough to see the live show as well and his set list for the tour was pretty incredible. His latest version of Stagger Lee does not disappoint. I’ve been yacking about this album all year…I’ve said enough.

2. King Krule - 6 Feet Beneath The Moon I started following Archie Marshall late last year after purchasing his first self-titled EP immediately after hearing the song The Noose of Jah City. I almost like the less-produced earlier stuff better—it had a real basement quality to it. But, I like everything he’s doing. He’s going to be fun to watch over the next few years.

3. Rhye - Woman I’ve been a big fan of Mike Milosh for a while now and I really like this new collaboration with the guy from Quadron (who also put out a decent album this year). This remix of The Fall is pretty fantastic.

4. Tricky - False Idols I went to see a Liz Phair show in the early 1990s and the opening act was this guy who lit a giant blunt on stage and sang along to some pre-mixed stuff in a scratchy voice while the Moore Theatre filled with smoke. Maxinquaye came out a few weeks later and it’s still one of my favorite albums of all time. False Idols gets back to that original trip hop sound and Francesca Belmonte is a good match on vocals—it’s great to see Tricky back in form. (He’s still sampling David Sylvian too!)

5. Elvis Costello & The Roots This album is really good. One-off collaborations rarely are, so perhaps there will be more. This is great stuff. Check out Tripwire on Late Night..

6. Yasmine Hamdan - Ya Nass Yasmine hails from Lebanon and currently lives in Paris. She teamed up with the guy from Novell Vague and produced an excellent debut. The album is sung in various Arabic dialects set to dreamy music that combines traditional folk with electronica. Her voice is amazing. Check out Samar.

7. Haim - Days Are Gone Simple, great pop music. I played this one a lot. Loud. It was good. (Also, Este Haim has the best Bass Face ever.)

8. Lorde - Pure Heroine More great pop music. Check out a great early morning live performance on KCRW. She’s gonna be bigger than she already is.

9. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City I really didn’t expect to like this album as much as I did. I liked both albums previous, but I assumed it would be more of the same. It’s not. It’s better.

10. Willy Mason - Carry On I first heard Willy Mason on the album Hawk from Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan. Then again on a great duet with Lianne La Havas called No Room For Doubt. This is the first album solo album from Willy that I’ve listened to. Sounds like tragic roots music with an occasional modern twist and some “Tom Waitsy” percussion. It is good. Talk Me Down Video

11. Blood Orange - Cupid Deluxe I didn’t know anything about Dev Hynes when I first heard this album. I’m still not even sure I know how to describe it. R&B? Silky bedroom disco? This video might help. I really do like it though.

12. The National - Trouble Will Find Me This album makes me want to drink too much whiskey and be sad, then happy. Then sad again. My kind of album. (Bonus points for ending the album with a nod to the Violent Femmes.)

13. Hiatus Kaiyote - Tawk Tomahawk Funk-rock-neo-soul with a guest appearance from Q-Tip! Something like Little Dragon meets Jill Scott. Can’t wait to hear more from these guys. Check them out on KCRW.

14. Jim James : Regions of Light and Sound of God This is a solo album from the guy who sings for My Morning Jacket. I never really got into My Morning Jacket, but I like this album quite a bit. A strange mix of folky electronic revival music from outer space. Here’s a video for A New Life with dancing buffalo lady.

15. Kanye West - Yeezus While it’s true that Kanye West has become a giant, ego-maniacal asshat over the years, I still (mostly) like the music he makes. This album is something altogether different—just like College Dropout was when it came out. Justin Vernon from Bon Iver is back singing as is last year’s favorite, Frank Ocean. Lou Reed probably wrote the best review of this album here. Lou calls the album “Majestic”. I don’t think I’d go that far, but either way—hurry up with my damn croissants!

Bonus Round

Here’s some non-music stuff that I thought deserved a nod. Sadly, I don’t remember seeing one good movie all year long.

16. Hawkeye Comics - Matt Fraction & David Aja With the exception of Frank Miller’s Batman stuff, I’ve never been a big fan of super hero comics. And aside from the recent films, I know very little about Marvel’s Avengers. That said, Marvel’s new Hawkeye series from Matt Fraction and David Aja is easily my favorite comic book of the year. To be able to take a low-rent character like Hawkeye and turn him into something interesting—and funny—is a testament to Fraction’s writing. Pair that with Aja’s illustrations and a “Chris Ware like” attention to both detail and pacing and you have a superb comic about a regular joe who also happens to be an Avenger while managing an apartment building and getting into trouble with Russian hooligans, bro. The only bad thing I have to say about Hawkeye is that Aja doesn’t illustrate every issue, and I really prefer his stuff to his stand-in. If you have anyinterest in comic books or good story-telling go buy My Life As A Weapon and Little Hits.

17. Saga - Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona StaplesSaga is another excellent comic book (though, this one might be called a “Graphic Novel” even though I’m never quite sure what the difference is.) Vaughan wrote Y: The Last Man a few years back, and while I liked that quite a bit, Saga is much better. People are calling this a “Space Opera” and I suppose that’s a fitting title. Fantasy meets outer space in a classic Star Wars/Romeo & Juliet storyline with plenty of drama, comedy, sex and violence (not for the kids!). Vaughan’s storyline is great, but I really like Fiona Staples’ illustrations here. This one is just getting started, but it looks to be an epic tale. Pick up Saga Vol. 1 and Saga Vol. 2

18. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia I finally caught up with Always Sunny this year and watched every single season. Sweet jesus this show is great! Funniest thing on TV without question. Also I have a crush on Sweet Dee.

19. PBS - Mind of a Chef If all shows about food were this great I would get cable TV again. Mind of a Chef Season One is all David Chang with plenty of MSG and whiskey. Season Two is split between Sean Brock and April Bloomfield. Both seasons are narrated by Anthony Bourdain and the show is really fun and informative—lots of good science info and real world technique. Sean Brock did a great episode where he traced southern food to its true origins in West Africa. If you have AppleTV you can watch them all anytime you want.

20. Netflix - Orange Is The New Black/House of Cards If this is the future of television sign me up. Both of these shows were excellent and the all-in-one format is perfect for how I like to watch television. If only we could subscribe to HBO Go without the extra 200 channels of crap Comcast forces you to buy alongside it. Kudos to Netflix for doing it right.