Top Records of 2013 Part One: 26-21

This year has been really slow at Snobbin'. Grad school and other engagements have kept me from posting like I would like to. One of my resolutions is to post more often and write more about music and other important cultural artifacts. I even amended the title of the blog and excised the word "Indie" because the topics of the blog have never been quite that narrow.

As the end of this year neared, I had no idea just what albums I would put on the list. It has been so busy and I'm sure I missed a ton of good stuff. I've never been one to say that older music was better, but as I drift into my 30's, I understand the lure of this trap. I was second guessing this year's crop of albums from the start. There was nothing so immediate as what made the list last year. I even recalled conversations from the past that cursed odd years as being worse for music. While these types of High Fidelity conversations can be fruitful at times, they trend fairly closely to the idea that music is getting worse or that maybe radio is still the answer, and on an unrelated, if tangential, note, the Grammys really award the best of the year. It is not, nor will the Grammys ever go beyond the very tip of the iceberg, and there were just as many great records this year as in the past.

26. Charles Bradley - Victim of Love (Daptone)

Charles Bradley's soul music is fairly timeless, sounding like it could have been recorded in the nadir of the 60s at Stax. The production is modern, but not overly so and his voice aches with the emotive pain of the best period singers. In retrospect, Victim of Love is an amazing record for any period. Bradley's rough voice is juxtaposed with sweet backing vocals and smooth horns and vocals. The song-writing is perfect; the pain and tragedy that is evident in the lyrics is only underscored by Bradley's delivery.

25. AFI - Burials (Republic)

AFI's 2009 record, Crash Love, was underwhelming to say the least. The band had been heading in a glammy emo, call it what you will, direction for some time. They had seemed to forget about the massive hooks that made their first two major label albums so revelatory, instead opting for cookie cutter, rote, and fairly unmemorable dance music approximations of what had made them viable in the first place. Burials works better as an amalgamation of the dark lyrical subject matter of their later Nitro albums and the danceable propulsion of December Underground with a nod to just why Sing The Sorrow was so effective. AFI knows how to craft fabulous songs like "I Hope You Suffer" and "17 Crimes" that meld electronics with capable musicianship, and are so damn catchy they won't leave your head. They were always a killer live band and Burials arguably brings some of that energy back to the studio. However, the numerous nods to the Cure might take some getting used to for those who only liked them during the Black Sails period.

24. The Flaming Lips - The Terror (Warner Bros.)

The Flaming Lips have never avoided experimentation, but with the last few albums, they have reached a new pinnacle in following their own twisted muses. The Terror takes the awesome energy and cryptic song topics into a new realm. Building on 2009's latter career highlight, Embryonic, the record is sprawling and emotional. Wayne Coyne's lyrics are harder to decipher forever and the music is layered and near impenetrable. The album often recalls later era Pink Floyd with its obsessive focus on mood. Yet the feedback and studio trickery are the Lip's own. No one is making music this powerful and spacy in 2013, especially on a major label. The Flaming Lips might never be as popular as they were in the early 2000s, but they seemingly are able to please their fan base, while making challenging music on their own terms.

23. J J Grey & Mofro - This River (Alligator)
J.J. Grey & Mofro's This River is a grower. It's swampy ambiance and good time boogie are evident from the very beginning. Funky licks and vocal boasting infest this party record from the beginning notes of "Your Lady, She's Shady." J.J. Grey's character studies of such shady characters shine from beyond the funk. But the funk is what holds it all together. Grey's world-weary vocals alongside the blistering southern soul backing truly shine.

22. Night Birds - Born to Die in Suburbia

They just don't make punk like this anymore. Night Birds are a rarity -- a modern punk band that is classicist, yet ass kicking. Surfy guitars intermingle with propulsive drumming, a sweetly effective guitar lick here and there, and pure energy. The snotty vocals don't detract from the overall package, and there isn't a sappy love song in sight. The title track is all bluster without any filler and the rest of the record stays that way. If you miss the classic days of hardcore or 70s punk, pick this up.

21. The Delta Saints - Death Letter Jubilee

I first saw the Delta Saints at Bluegrass Brewing Company a few years ago. My wife and I went to Louisville to visit some friends, and we went there for drinks. I assumed at first that the band setting up their equipment were just going to be another boring bar band. I found out quickly how wrong I was. They flat out rocked and boogied. Before I knew it, I purchased one of their cd eps. Thus began a diehard appreciation for the band. They follow the Americana/Southern Rock template that is so popular right now, but their songwriting is so dynamic and their playing so interesting that they stand above the pack. Like JJ Grey and Mofro, they want you to bring your dancing shoes. They are an electrifying live act and have finally figured out how to capture that on Death Letter Jubilee.


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