Top ten albums of 2013. 5

He everyone! Hope you like the new digs. I decided to complete something on my long-gestating list of things to do and close up Republic of One in favour of colinbrandt.ca. I’ll be posting a lot more often in the next little while, and will be formally shuttering Republic of One beginning Jan. 1.

I’ll get into why I decided to finally launch this site in my next post, but my self-enforced time in the internet wilderness is drawing to a close. I want to quickly say thanks to everyone who has stuck around/nagged me about writing more and updating my interwebs.

It’s been damn near a year since my last post – so I’m just going to pick up where I left off. Top ten is below, in roughly descending order. Onward!

City and Colour – The Hurry and the Harm

City and ColourAs much as I am the lord and master of the Sad Sack Weepy Singer-Songwriter Fan Club, I’ve been really digging the direction of this band. Crunchier guitars and a the move to a less acoustic sound gives Dallas Green a lot more room to write songs that are less weepy, showing a wider range of tone and even a couple of funny lines.

Seeing Green and the band perform live at this year’s X-Fest was a surprise – I’ve seen him play at a bunch of festivals over the years, but this was the first time I saw him with a band and sound that could actually fill that kind of space.

Tracks like “Thirst”, “The Lonely Life” and “Commentators” help balance out the more traditional keening-voice-acoustic-guitar-spare-production tracks like “Take Care”.

 

Mikal Cronin – MCII

Mikal CroninMCII came to me via my buddy Tom, who is my go-to-resource for guitar rock and probably should be yours as well. Tom! Buddy! Start writing your stuff down – it is annoying to have to take notes when you’re talking!

This year has been a great one for rock songs that seem like they’re kind of shambling messes but actually resolve into something much tighter than you first thought. “Am I Wrong” – has an awesome shimmer in the guitar sound that makes me want to drink four beers and barbecue hamburgers.

“Peace of Mind” has all these moments where the instruments come in at just about the right time, giving everything this languid, garagey pace that makes you want to just lean back, kick your feet up and feel the breeze on your face. Probably the definitive summer record for me this year.

Oh, and Tom’s in a band with my other buddy Adam. You should check them out and come to their show on Dec. 27.

 

Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest

Boards of CanadaThis year I got to go to Scotland for my Stepdad’s 70th birthday, and I now completely understand how Boards of Canada came to sound the way they do. This album has a sort of pervasive radioactive dread that makes me think of something unspeakable rising out of a loch.

“Reach for the Dead” has a genuine vibe of menace – it sounds like the soundtrack to the version of Drive that had less silent mooning and more curb-stomps in elevators, but somehow takes place outdoors on a barren, windswept and ancient coastline.

Listening to this album makes you feel like a huge badass – like maybe you’re the thing that just came out of the loch – and you’re hungry.

 

Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

Neko CaseI feel a little bad putting Neko’s latest this far back in the list, but I just grabbed it a couple of weeks ago and I’m still sinking my teeth in. I can pretty much guarantee this album will be marching up in my attention and playlists as we get closer to the end of the year, because I absolutely can’t resist this album.

I have a theory that the best possible conditions to hear Neko Case is after midnight in an old country bar that’s nearly emptied out. There’s definitely some tracks on this album that fit that expectation (“Night Still Comes” is waltzy and torchy in the vein of “Star Witness” and “The Pharoahs”).

What she does on the other tracks are what’s interesting about this album. “Calling Cards” might be one of the most beautiful songs Case has ever written, with a great story of romance, distance and creation, and the next track “City Swan” has a great rollicking sound that you just know is going to be awesome live.

 

Kanye West – Yeezus

Kanye WestMan, this album is tough. When I first got it, I kept cycling forward through it, trying to find a way to hook in; all I heard on first pass was the completely insane levels of misogyny and the moments where he just seems like he is going to completely lose his mind.

Every song has this instinct to push you away – too abrasive, too jarring, too paranoid – but there’s always something else that is pulling you back in just as much, if not more. The constant push-pull tension of this album is part of why it’s exhausting, but also incredibly good.

First, the sound of this record is just incredible. The first four tracks of the album are a complete master class in West’s technical proficiency, taking on the industrial sounds with sudden breaks and a pace that resembles a Ferrari tearing around a corner, barely holding onto the road, tires screaming.

Second, Kanye is funny. For a guy who seems wholly incapable of taking a joke, there’s a ton of self-satire on this album. “I Am a God” is the most obvious, with its jokes about his pink-ass polos and the already immortal  “In a French-ass restaurant/Hurry up with my damn croissant”.

The rage that fuels so much of West’s lyrics on this album can swamp the irony, but tracks like “New Slaves” reference the terrible cosmic joke of still encountering racism even though he has all the credibility, power and money he saw as his escape is the darkest Richard Pryor joke ever written.

 

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Daft PunkBuying a turntable and listening to this album on LP seemed like the authentic choice, which is preposterous and pedantic but totally appropriate, as this album is basically preposterous and pedantic. In a good way?

This album has been discussed and reviewed to death, so I’ll be brief, but basically this album sounds incredible, but it’s a complete roller coaster of good to bad throughout.

The straightforward pop tracks like “Lose yourself to Dance” and “Get Lucky” are of course amazing, and some of the midtempo and oddball tracks like “Instant Crush”, “Giorgio by Moroder” and “Doin’ it Right” are awesome and clever, but a few tracks land with such a thud you can’t help but feel bad at their francophone earnestness.

Putting the Paul Williams-featuring “Touch” between the two Pharrell tracks is like slotting an episode of Two and a Half Men between two episodes of Mad Men and expecting no one to notice the difference.

The irony of this album is that if it had been sequenced a little better I probably would love it more, which is saying something since I still groan my way through “Touch” and “Within” to listen to the whole record.

 

CHVRCHES – The Bones of What you Believe

CHVRCHESI discovered this album in probably the most ridiculously back-asswards way imaginable. I first heard it in a totally cool Edinburgh record shop and thought I was some kind of crate-digging visionary.

I thought to myself you are that smug hipster guy who brings something back from Europe that everyone starts to like in, like, three years. Then I get home and  discover that CHVRCHES is a complete buzz band that’s all over the internet. Once again, I remain completely unremarkable.

Never mind all of that, though – “The Mother we Share” is a monster – the sort of track that you choreograph dance moves to in your kitchen while making lasagna. “Gun” has an incredibly catchy hook and a chorus you want to sing in an imaginary unironic karaoke night.

The whole album is just a synthpocalypse of endless awesome.

 

Phoenix – Bankrupt!

PhoenixMonths later, I still can’t believe this album didn’t really knock anyone out. I understand that relative to Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, Bankrupt! might seem a little less accessible, but we’re talking about Phoenix, here.

While this album kind of suffers with the everything-is-at-the-exact-same-volume-in-the-mix issue that seems to be a staple of modern production, these are still amazing tracks with a wall-to-wall consistency that is unbeatable.

“SOS in Belair” has incredible guitar sounds and makes a great deal of noise – it can sound enormous, but the tightness of the band reigns the songs in and creates these moments of just perfect songcraft that make you shake your head. “Drakkar Noir” and “Bourgeois” run this way as well; “Trying to be Cool” just hardly has to try at all (though the behind-the-scenes making-of video for the track below shows just how crazy methodical this band really is).

 

Haim – Days are Gone

HaimMan, this album just contains multitudes. I know that this band gets a lot of Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks comparisons, but that doesn’t really cover all the influences. There’s a lot of Wilson Phillips here, with dashes of Mariah Carey, late-90’s hip-hop and a bit of Crowded House too.

The wit that runs through their songwriting extends well beyond the lyrics; the way “The Wire” song shrugs its way though the fallibility of the storyteller is a perfect compliment to the lyrics. “Running If You Call My Name” has sense of longing and uncertainty that matches the great vocal work. The strong rhythm section of “Don’t Save Me” propels the song through spare guitar lines.

This is a band that sounds fully-formed – I’m already so excited to see what this band is going to do next. That’s the sign of a really great album, when you start getting jacked before they are even finished touring on the current one.

Also, this incredibly funny video features some epic man-crying:

 

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

Everything about this album was a genuine surprise. I’ve always liked them, but didn’t anticipate such a strong album from a band that I always associated with what happens if you grow up listening to Graceland and The Rhythm of the Saints a lot. I’ve always assumed that they were kind of a known quantity.

Instead the band incorporates their debut and follow-up albums into a number of new sounds and some of the strongest writing I heard this year.

“Unbelievers” has a great bobbing-head beat for a track about being on the outside looking in, but having a great partner to do it with. “Everlasting Arms” is a charming track with a great rhythm and care to attention, but the most amazing piece was seeing them live at the Jubilee, when they turned “Diane Young” into a sweaty dance-off spectacular that had the crowd losing their minds – in the freaking Jube.

You can see that their progression up to this album was and I’m so excited to see what they do next.

5 thoughts on “Top ten albums of 2013.

  1. Reply El Tommo Dec 10,2013 4:55 pm

    Great list man! The new site looks fantastic by the way! Love the Vampire Weekend, genuinely intrigued that they were capable of such a record.

    • Reply colinbrandt Dec 10,2013 7:27 pm

      Thanks dude! I was really surprised by the record and it’ll be cool to hear what they do next. Early predictions is harpsichord dubstep.

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