Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Best Albums of 2013 So Far

2013 has been a year abundant with stellar albums- new albums from new artists and new albums from not-so-new artists have graced our ears with such ferocity that its been hard to keep up.  Thankfully, the internet has done much of the legwork for us with its wide array of "best of so far" lists, which are compiled below. Each list has a few similar albums and lots of different ones, highlighting just how diverse the first half of 2013 has been for music.  The imnotsleeping Best of 2013 So Far list is below, and check back tomorrow for the imnotsleeping Best Songs of 2013 So Far list.

Spin's Best Albums of 2013 so far

Stereogum's Top 25 Albums of 2013 So Far

Pitchfork's Highest Rates Albums of 2013 So Far 

NME's Greatest Album of 2013 So Far

Pitchfork Best New Albums

NPR's All Songs Considered The Year in Music (So Far) 2013

Just Some of NPR Music's Favorite Albums of The Year (So Far)

*new* Pretty Much Amazing 40 Best Albums of 2013

*new* Music For Ants Best Albums of 2013 (so far)

*new* Paste's The Best Albums of 2013 (So Far)

imnotsleeping's Best Albums of 2013 So Far (in no particular order)

Hummingbird - Local Natives
On only their second album, Local Natives prove the difficulty of putting them into a specific box.  With an indie-rock lean based on top of hyperfast beats, they also manage to convey an emotional agitation, showing moments of softer melancholy layered over cool grooves. Its an album that continues to get better with each listen; "Mt. Washington" becomes darker, while "Colombia" becomes more poignant, and bonus track "Ingrid" grows more urgent.
More Local Natives:
Local Natives on Letterman
Local Natives Live at SXSW
Local Natives Spotify Session
Local Natives on World Cafe

Stories Don't End - Dawes
In a music world where hyper production and The Next Big Thing can sometimes take over, its refreshing to have the simplicity of sound in a band like Dawes, and an album like Stories Don't End.  Dawes has become well known and synonymous with the Laurel Canyon sound harkening back to 70's singer-songwriters like Jackson Browne- and with good reason.  Lead singer and songwriter Taylor Goldsmith weaves poignant imagery with a simple turn of a phrase, sung with an unassuming voice that gives us a nostalgic reminder of how lyrics can drive a sound.
More Dawes:
Tuesday Listening - Dawes, Stories Don't End
Dawes Live at SXSW
Dawes Covers John Fogerty
Dawes Interview on NPR Music

If You Leave - Daughter
If Daughter's debut full length album is any indication, we can look forward to a lot more from this new English trio, who have stealthily and breathlessly entered onto the scene with a melancholic ethereal and folk rock sound.  There is a stillness in some of their songs that only serves to build the anticipation of a bigger, more built up sound that suddenly takes over in waves.  Lead singer Elena Tonra has a quality of sadness in her vocals, which are coupled with Explosions in the Sky-style guitars, only adding to the picturesque quality of each track.
More Daughter:
Daughter Covers Bon Iver and Hot Chip
Daughter Performs Live on KEXP Seattle
Daughter on an imnotsleeping Playlist

Woman - Rhye
Rhye is also a newcomer this year, out with their first full length album Woman, a portrait of seductive, sensual beats and a perpetual longing in the unique vocals of lead singer Mike Milosh.  Often mistaken for a woman's vocals, his voice has been compared to Sade- and their music shares in some of the same smoky qualities.
More Rhye:
Rhye Live at Le Poisson Rouge NYC
Rhye on an imnotsleeping Playlist

Holy Fire - Foals
On their third album UK band Foals busts into your ears with a ballsy sound encompassing a discoed Scissor Sisters-type groove with much harder rock beats and guitar.  It then jumps into a more alt-rock vibe on tracks like "Bad Habit," as if there are two totally different directions on the album. The big sounds travel from track to track, so no matter which direction it goes the energy level remains high up until the last two tracks, "Stepson" and "Moon" which highlight yet another side of their sound- finishing off the album with a softer tone.
More Foals:
Foals on an imnotsleeping Playlist

Once I Was An Eagle - Laura Marling
Laura Marling's angelic voice has been gracing us for a few years now, and with her fourth studio album she continues with her soft folkiness.  Not to fit neatly in a 'folk box' Marling combines a cohesive style of varied tempos, varied singing techniques, soft tones and her seemingly effortless vocal ability that was highlighted in her recent video duet with singer Eddie Berman (below). With her efforts on Once I Was An Eagle, an album that sometimes sounds like two separate entities thanks to her varied tones, she solidifies her place as a folk enchantress, at the ripe young age of 23.
More Laura Marling:
New Laura Marling Tunes
Laura Marling and Eddie Berman Cover Dancing In The Dark
Laura Marling Tiny Desk Concert on NPR
Laura Marling Covers Whipping Post by The Allman Brothers

Trouble Will Find Me - The National
The National's latest album Trouble Will Find Me has been perhaps one of the year's most anticipated and most well received. Continuing to build on their trademark sound of driving, anthemic beats with lead singer Matt Berninger's dark, moody and deep vocals sitting atop.  On each track he demands attention, yet sings in a subdued way, as if he wants to blend in the background- one thing this album won't do.
More of The National:
The National on Letterman
The National Tiny Desk Concert on NPR

Mother - Natalie Maines
Breaking out on her own away from The Dixie Chicks seems like a natural evolution for Natalie Maines, and she uses her debut solo album to hammer that home.  Gone are the harder twangs and knee-slappin country tunes of her days with the Chicks- in their place we find a varied musical ability, covering everyone from Eddie Vedder to Pink Floyd to Jeff Buckley.  She does so with producer Ben Harper's help, who also plays and sings on the album and who was able to draw out of Natalie a stellar vocal performance on this album.  From what I've experienced, this is intensified in the live experience, so if you've got the chance to go see her, go.
More Natalie Maines:
Tuesday Listening, Natalie Maines -Mother
Natalie Maines on an imnotsleeping Playlist
Natalie Maines Live at SXSW

Such Hot Blood - The Airborne Toxic Event
The Airborne Toxic Event typically embraces high tempoed, frantic beats and intense emotive lyrics and vocals by lead singer Mikel Jollett, both of which are present again on their third album, Such Hot Blood.  Perhaps a little more comfortable in the skin of who they are, they've taken their third album a bit farther, intensifying every emotion and every drum beat.
More of The Airborne Toxic Event:
Tuesday Listening, The Airborne Toxic Event - Such Hot Blood
The Airborne Toxic Event Performs at the MFA, Boston
The Airborne Toxic Event on an imnotsleeping playlist
SXSW Day 3 Playlist

Ghost On Ghost - Iron & Wine
Sam Beam's Iron and Wine has released a plethora of work at this point, but it is safe to say he has mastered the art of evolution as much as he has storytelling and music.  At first listen, Ghost on Ghost is significantly more robust than most of his previous albums, although his previous Kiss Each Other Clean gave us some hints of what was to come.  He's moved on from the soft, lo-fi whispering tunes and has entered into a phase where he isn't afraid to have a horn section, groove out a bit, and sing with a bit more gusto.  Its still got the tones that we love from Iron and Wine, but with a lot more oomph and a much bigger sound.
More Iron and Wine:
Tuesday Listening, Iron and Wine - Ghost on Ghost
New Tracks by Iron and Wine

Country Sleep - Night Beds
Winston Yellen has seemingly come out of nowhere, but after listening to Country Sleep for the umpteenth time he seems to have the quality of someone who has been at this gig for a long time.  Coming from nowhere is hardly appropriate, given that this album came from his time recording in Johnny Cash's cabin in Tennessee, where the summer nights during recording made themselves heard in the soft quietness of Night Beds's music and the falsetto of Yellen's voice. With a chilled out vibe overlayed with melancholic tones, its a beautiful album that softens and surprises throughout.
More Night Beds:
Night Beds Covers Robyn's Dancin On My Own
Tuesday Listening, Night Beds - Country Sleep
Night Beds Live at SXSW
Night Beds performs at LHS Room 125

Limits of Desire - Small Black
Small Black's sophomore effort enters with a track so full of dreamlike synths and airy vocals that the ending of the song brings on a sweet sadness that it is over.   Hooking you with this sweetness of "Free At Dawn," Limits of Desire is a high that takes you on a dreampop ride without being too overly synth-y. It allows vocals and lyrics to shine through, giving this album a little extra emotive energy while not sacrificing its effervescent base.  If you want to feel good, put this album on.
Pitchfork Stream
On an imnotsleeping Playlist

Muchacho - Phosphorescent
Matthew Houck begins his 7th album with the slow excitement of a sunrise, appropriately with a track called "Sun, Arise!" which lays the foundation for the rest of the album's cool grooves that illustrate his Brooklyn influence, while keeping true to his Alabama roots with a more rockin', twangy side.  Throughout, his layered vocals give off an echoed, airy vibe that is culminated in songs like the stunning  "Song For Zula," surely to be a top song of the year.
More Phosphorescent:
On an imnotsleeping Playlist
Phosphorescent Performs at SXSW

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