Favorite Albums of 2013

2013 was a great year for music. A few of my favorite bands had new releases (some good, some okay, some bad), other up and coming artists released stellar debuts, and some folks appeared out of nowhere.

There was no unifying theme for the year; instead, 2013 reflected the continual diversity of modern music. There is something for everybody. Whether you love psychedelic rock, country, hip hop, soul, or jazz, an artist is making new, ear-warming tunes for you right now.

So, before folks call me out for not including their favorite band, let’s acknowledge these are just albums that I have enjoyed and stuck with me.

I’m not going to lie and call this the best of 2013, because everybody’s taste is different, and there are a lot of albums that I didn’t listen to, barely listened to, and never heard about.

Nonetheless, through the power of the internet, particularly Spotify, I have tried to listen as many new albums as possible. Checking the releases each Tuesday, exchanging recommendations with friends, listening and rating festival prospects through our stupendous project Hippohonk (check it), going to shows (and watching openers!), and keeping my ears open.

All together, I have listened to around 340 albums. Certainly not all as many times as I would like, but still, there’s a lot out there.

Why make a list?

To help these artists make some money!

Let’s share the love. If you like an artist, tell your friends, tell your parents, tell the world. Maybe somebody will buy an album, wear a tshirt, go to a show, or stream it online. Whatever you do, it helps artists and hopefully leads to more music that you love.

Listen to new music, support your favorite musicians, and tell your friends what you love. Sharing is caring.

That being said, here are

Tony’s Favorite 50 Albums of 2013

Note: Band name links to a youtube video; album name links to Spotify.

Also rankings feel somewhat arbitrary; I love all these albums. After #10, you can pretty much discount the rankings, and after #25, I just list them alphabetically. Definitely recommend watching the youtube videos for some fun. 

futurebirds

1. Futurebirds – Baba Yaga – Great debut album from these Athens, GA boys. This is new Americana; each song has a beautiful drawl in the lyrics and the music.

2. The National – Trouble Will Find Me – Dark, brooding, and beautiful, The National’s new album is my favorite of theirs. Absolutely perfect.

3. Portugal, The Man – Evil Friends – This band and this album are just too much fun. These guys blend all sorts of styles from jam band to funky David Bowie, but are all around a joy. If you can see them live, do it. “I just wanna be evil!”

4. Rhye – Woman – These guys are channeling Sade. It’s new, it’s fresh, it’s funky, and you should listen to it. Beautiful.

5. Jim James – Regions of Light and Sound of God – Well, if we can’t have a My Morning Jacket album this year, at least we got this piece of gold from Jim James. Intensely personal and unique solo album with even better live performances.

jimjames

6. Wild Cub – Youth – This album was one of my favorites of 2013, but apparently it’s been de-released and is being released again officially in 2014 on a different label? You can still hear the single, Thunder Clatter, online. Regardless, it’s a joyful, indie rock/pop/ funk album reminiscent of Passion Pit and so forth but better in some ways. It always makes me smile.

7. CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe – Yeah, it’s on everybody’s list, but yeah, it’s really good. The full album dropped following a fantastic SXSW performance, and they’ve been back to Austin twice since them. These British kids are working hard. Indie-electropop badassery.

8. Phosphorescent – Muchacho – I love all of Matthew Houck’s work as Phosphorescent, particularly his 2010 album Here’s To Taking It Easy. This followup is softer, more personal, and more beautiful. You’d maybe call it indie folk.

9. Haim – Days Are Gone – We were loving these sisters so much when all they had were a few singles and music videos, and I’m so happy they are having all this success. Three badass sisters that sound like Fleetwood Mac meets grittier indie rock and roll. You can’t lose.

10. Okkervil River – The Silver Gymnasium – My favorite Okkervil River album yet, The Silver Gymnasium is more upbeat, whimsical, and accessible than past releases. I can listen to “Stay Young” on repeat without it ever getting old.

okkervil

11. Arcade Fire – Reflektor – Haters gonna hate, but I love the new Arcade Fire more than any work they’ve done since Funeral. Funky and fresh, with a touch of David Bowie and James Murphy. What more can you ask for?

12. Typhoon – White Lighter – Holy cow these guys are good. Indie folk from Oregon. You probably haven’t heard much like them.

13. Arctic Monkeys – AM – Maybe not as gritty as their first albums, the new Arctic Monkeys release is more polished and perfect. They hit each note at the right time, and it still freaking rocks.

14. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories – How could I not include Daft Punk? They have been one of my favorite acts for 15 years. While Random Access Memories is different from some of their past works, the departure is towards greater artistry.

15. Caveman – Caveman – Their live show was really disappointing this year, but I still can’t get this softly subtle, indie-Americana album out of my head.

whitedenim

16. White Denim – Corsicana Lemonade – I didn’t love White Denim, but with this new album (Jeff Tweedy of Wilco produce) they really took it to a different level. Good solid rock and roll.

17. Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers – Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers – Some 2.5 million people have seen their cover of I Can’t Go for That recorded in their tour van (see the first link), but Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers have more to offer than just covers. Channelling Bonnie Rait, these guys are packing some great 70’s style rock and roll. This album was even further reinforced by a badass live show at the Parish this fall on Nicki’s birthday. (Note: I also love Bonnie Rait)

18. Elvis Costello and the Roots – Wise Up Ghost – What collaboration did you least expect in 2013? If you guessed Elvis Costello and the Roots, then you guessed right. At first it seems like a surprising pairing, but the more you think about it and listen to it, it starts to make perfect sense. It has funk. It has horns. It has rock. It has a beat.

19. Wild Belle – Isles –  What can I say? I have loved Wild Belle since randomly seeing them on a side stage during SXSW 2012. This brother-sister duo of Elliot and Natalie Bergman from Chicago brings lethargic but well-layered reggae with an indie twist. Still can’t believe I used to regularly see Elliot in the afrobeat band NOMO while in grad school in Ann Arbor. Also helps that Natalie is both gorgeous and talented.

20. Latasha Lee & the BlackTiesLatasha Lee & the BlackTies – Wow, this girl can SING! She reminds me of Amy Winehouse but with more soul and reggae.

21. LordePure Heroine – Yeah, yeah, yeah. Everybody loves Lorde, but damn, this shit is good.

22. Jenny O. – Automechanic – Why are more people not listening to this lady? She’s a singer-songwriter with some attitude and her own sound.

umo

23. Unknown Mortal OrchestraII – These guys are definitely different, but when they bring out that low-fi ’70s soulfullness, I cannot resist.

24. CultsStatic – At first I didn’t like Cults’ sophomore release as much as their self-titled debut (which everybody should listen to), but after seeing them perform it live, I was sold. It’s like the 1960’s meets indie rock meets some electronic.

25. CayucasBigfoot – They sound like the Beach Boys meets 2013. It’s fun, summertime music that is hard to resist.

cayucas

  • AlpineA is for Alpine – A is also for Awesome, which is what this Australian indie pop debut album is.
  • Bear MountainXo – Eccentric, cluttered, electropop tunes from Canada
  • Busta Rhymes & Q-TipThe Abstract and the Dragon – I haven’t had a lot of time to listen to this album yet, but man, this is some great hip hop. How can you go wrong with these two? Listen online via the second link.
  • Cage the ElephantMelophobia – I really don’t know much about these guys but can’t help but really like this solid indie rock album that has a nice mid-90s feel at times.
  • Charli XCXTrue Romance – Unadulterated Britpop fun.
  • DeloreanApar – More beautiful, spacey, indie-electropop Basque tunes.
  • Deltron 3030Event II – Solid follow up to one of the best underground hip hop albums of the 2000’s.
  • Empire of the SunIce on the Dune – Great followup to their 2008 debut, Walking on a Dream. This is the best dance-pop album of the year.
  • HockeyWyeth IS – Slept on the new Hockey album until recently, but this is a great indie rock album and probably would have made my Top 25 if I’d started listening to it earlier in the year.
  • Kurt VileWakin on a Pretty Daze – This is a really great, mellow rock album from Kurt Vile, who at times sounds like Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, but overall it’s a bit too repetitive and similar from track to track.
  • Little DaylightTunnel Vision EP – Another great electropop act, this time from Brooklyn.

loscamp

  • Los Campesinos!No Blues – Not as great as their previous masterpiece, Hello Sadness, this is still a wonderful ironically bitter and sarcastic punkish indie rock album from one of my favorite bands.
  • Los Porcos“Sunshine / C.F.W.” EP – Love, love, love what the ex-members of WU LYF (minus frontman Ellery Roberts) are doing. This electropop goodness is candy for my ears, and I can’t wait until they cut a full album. If you’re wondering what Ellery Roberts is doing with his distinct voice, you need to see this video for Kerou’s Lament.
  • MS MRSecondhand Rapture – Dark, brooding, and awesome. Lizzy Plapinger can rock.
  • Neko CaseThe Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You – I still don’t love this as much as 2009’s Middle Cyclone, but it’s still Neko and unique, enigmatic, and badass.
  • Noah and the WhaleHeart of Nowhere – Sometimes this guys voice reminds me of They Might Be Giants. The songs are also very upbeat and sound a bit like the ’90s.
  • On An On – Give In – Solid indie rock debut.
  • Only RealDays in the City EP – Another fantastic EP from the English youth. I cannot wait until they come for SXSW and cut a full album next year. Seriously love this. It sounds like WU LYF meets Arctic Monkeys. Irreverent and yeah. Good stuff.
  • San CiscoSan Cisco – I like to describe these guys as the Australian Vampire Weekend but better. 
  • Sir SlyGold EP – Badass indie rock debut EP. These guys put on an energetic live show.
  • Radiator HospitalSomething Wild – Indie rock with a fast pace and a punk feel at times. This is some good stuff.
  • Trails and WaysTrilingual [EP] – Fresh and light indie pop from Oakland with lyrics sometimes in, you guessed it, three languages. Personally, I love the Ghost Beach cover of their song Miracle, which isn’t on this EP, best. Listen here.
  • Washed OutParacosm – New Washed Out is dreamy and beautiful and fresh like his first album.
  • Wolf AliceBros [Single] – While not an album, I love all the singles from Wolf Alice and cannot wait to see them at SXSW. Bros is upbeat indie pop and excellent.
  • Pretty Lights – A Color Map of the Sun – Best hip hop DJ album I have heard since Pretty Lights’ debut.

prettylights

Honorable Mention (Most of these I just haven’t listened to enough)

Final Thoughts

After putting this together, I now say, screw it. These albums are all #1 and worth your listen. Have fun.

“I fuck up all the time, but I don’t feel like I’ve ever sold my soul to the devil, and I don’t feel like I’ve ever sucked anybody’s dick to get anywhere. I don’t feel like I’ve ever played that game.”

-Jim James in Rolling Stone, 2013. 

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Happy Birthday, Thanen

I want to wish a happy birthday to my brother, Thanen, who passed away in the summer of 1995.

Eight years older, he and I shared the same birthday, November 28 (1974 and 1982 respectively).

He was a great older brother: letting me watch horror movies way too young, locking me in his room with my other siblings and pretending to be a zombie, hiding a tape recorder and getting me to say bad words and using the tape to blackmail me, letting me have his old Marvel toys, creating elaborate games and obstacle courses with us in the house and yard, being really cool, telling me not to smoke as he had a cigarette, learning to play guitar first, growing his hair long, telling me that I’m an annoying idiot, doing his own dubbing over ridiculous Hindi soap operas, and just being my brother.

I’ll never forget him and always think of him on this day we share.

Life wouldn’t be the same without him and isn’t the same without him.

20131128-100131.jpg

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The Actually Most Academically and Athletically Dominant Colleges in America – Nerd & Jock Ranking

If you don’t know this about me, I’m a huge nerd.

This morning I saw a Buzzfeed article on Facebook titled, The Most Academically and Athletically Dominant Colleges in America, and I thought, Wow, that sounds pretty cool. So, I checked it out, and lo and behold, one of my alma maters, The University of Michigan was ranked #1. While at first at thought this was awesome, I quickly realized that it was also bullshit. Because I know for a fact, that my other alma mater, Stanford, should be ranked #1, because we kick ass.

Okay, now I just sound like an asshole, but seriously, this ranking is nonsense in general because it doesn’t include private schools. The should at least title it “The Most Academically and Athletically Dominant Public Schools in America For Which We Have Data.”

Here’s how they describe their methodology:

“BuzzFeed plotted Forbes’ academic rankings of colleges and universities against USA Today’s tally of total athletic expenses (which doesn’t include private schools like Stanford or Notre Dame, FYI) to determine which schools value both athletics and academics. Then we weighted both ranks equally and tallied them up for our top 10″

So, not only does this not include private schools, but it uses Forbes’ ranking of schools (Forbes’ ranking lists tend to use dubious statistics) and athletic expenses, which in no way indicate a school’s dominance. Dominance is flatly measured in wins.

Here’s where I nerded out hard. Tony’s methodology:

Tony plotted the US News and World Report’s 2013 rankings of colleges and universities (the de facto standard) against The Director’s Cup 2013 final rankings (if you are unfamiliar, the Director’s Cup measures the overall success of NCAA schools in ALL sports each year, thus measuring overall athletic dominance) to determine which schools kick ass at both athletics and academics. Then he weighted both ranks equally and tallied them up for a top 159 (I know it’s a weird number, but I had my reasons).

How does it look? Check out the Top 10 below, and you can see my entire spreadsheet here.

Top 10 Most Athletically and Academically Dominant Universities in America

1. Stanford
2. Duke
3. Notre Dame
4. UCLA
5. Michigan
6. Princeton
7. USC
8. California
9. North Carolina
10. Virginia

Go Card! Go Blue! #nerdation

Okay, I also put together a bonus and ranked the major conferences:

Top 7 Most Athletically and Academically Dominant Major NCAA Conferences

1. Ivy League
2. Big Ten
3. ACC
4. PAC-12
5. SEC
6. Big 12
7. Big East

Sorry Big East, you fail. Also, had to include the Ivy League, because they really kicked the most ass on average when you look at all sports plus academics, but we all know they can’t do anything in sports that matter.

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Wishes

Wishes
Ted Berrigan

Now I wish I were asleep, to see my dreams taking place
I wish I were more awake
I wish a sweet rush of tears to my eyes
Wish a nose like an eagle
I wish blue sky in the afternoon
Bigger windows, & a panorama — light, buildings & people in street air
Wish my teeth were white and sparkled
Wish my legs were not where they are — where they are
I wish the days warmly cool & clothes I like to be inside of
Wish I were walking around in Chelsea (NY) & it was 5:15 a.m., the
sun coming up, alone, you asleep at home
I wish red rage came easier
I wish death, but not just now
I wish I were driving alone across America in a gold Cadillac
toward California, & my best friend
I wish I were in love, & you here

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Best to be like water

I can’t sleep, which is nothing new. Not really anxious about surgery tomorrow morning; I feel at ease, but something inside me must feel the anticipation. So I thought I’d share something with the world.

The title of my blog comes from my favorite verse of the Tao Te Ching, one that I keep close to my heart.

Verse 8

Best to be like water,
Which benefits the ten thousand things,
And does not contend.
It pools where humans disdain to dwell,
Close to the Tao.

Live in a good place.
Keep your mind deep.
Treat others well.
Stand by your word.
Keep good order.
Do the right thing.
Work when its time.
Only do not contend,
And you will not go wrong.

Good words to live by.

A recent clip of a commencement address by David Foster Wallace shared by my friends Mike and Libby Gagne brought it to mind earlier today:

Although I try to keep these lessons close, it’s always good to have reminders.

Hope everybody is staying present, remembering to marvel at the beauty of life and staying silly.

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Twenty-Five Years

Twenty-Five Years

Twenty-five years since my mom died
One hundred seasons passed
Thousands of miles traveled
How far have I come?

I was five years old when she died
She was thirty when they found the cancer
I had five years with her; she had five with her father
If I had five years left, what would I leave behind?

An empty bed, a mountain of debt, a lonely dog
The road seemed longer to build up to this
But each bend it’s own journey
Can we measure the distance traveled?

Or is each step the culmination.

Throw the numbers out the window;
It cannot be measured in a cup,
Weighed on a scale,
Folded into the dough,
Wrapped in rice paper and put on a shelf.

Memories and burning embers fade
But if I remember anything about my mother
It’s that she was here, once, and she loved me
What more can I give the world?

-April 22, 2013

For Betsy Klein DeLisi: January 28, 1953 – April 22, 1988

P.S. Don’t forget April is National Poetry Month

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Music and Your Brain

Yesterday, a friend on Facebook (apologies for forgetting who) shared this interesting National Geographic article titled, “Why Does Music Feel So Good?” by Virginia Hughes. Great read on the science behind why we like different music. The part I wanted to share regards a fascinating study conducted by researchers from Stanford and McGill and published in Science this year. To use Virginia Hughes words:

“In the new experiment, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to track real-time brain activity as participants listened to the first 30 seconds of 60 unfamiliar songs. To quantify how much they liked the music, participants were given the chance to buy the full version of each song — with their own money! — using a computer program resembling iTunes.”

Essentially, test subjects were rating new music they had never heard before, and the scientists were gauging how their brains physically responded.

The research showed some cool stuff about how connections in the brain can predict which music the subjects would like, but to me, the fun part was how they picked songs to test on subjects and which songs were well received.

First, they surveyed the participants on their musical preferences (basically every album they had ever listened to and bought) and then:

“To create the list of unfamiliar songs, Salimpoor first looked at songs and artists that showed up on many of the volunteers’ surveys. She plugged those choices into musical recommendation programs, such as Pandora and iTunes, to find similar but less well-known selections. She also asked people who worked at local music stores what new songs they’d recommend in those genres.”

It’s an interesting list of songs from a few years ago: some are recognizable and a bunch aren’t. They also screwed up some of the names: e.g. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs is the Artist while “Garden” is the Song Title and Sun Hands is by Local Natives, not Gorilla Manor, which is the Album title.

I made a Spotify Brain Study Playlist so you can listen to the tracks yourself.

Note: 6 tracks weren’t on Spotify, but you can listen elsewhere: links provided:

33. Man/Miracle – Hot Sprawl
39. Melissa Auf Der Mauer – 22 Below¹
40. Nouvelle Vauge – Lalala
41. A.C. Newman – Elemental
44. Yuksek & Chromeo – So Down
52. Shout it Out – Princeton (Fol Chen Remix)²

¹ Not the piano version, which I couldn’t find.
² I included the pre-remixed version in the Spotify playlist

Stimulating Tracks Ranked According to the Amount Paid by Test Subjects

Rank Artist Song Title
1 April Smith and the Great Picture Show  Terrible Things
2 Coco Rosie  Smokey Taboo
3 Ratatat  Neckbrace
4 Lo-Fi-Fnk  City
5 Lille  Tall Shoulders
6 Gramatik  Tearing it Up
7 Jonsi  Go do
8 Crystal Castles  Baptism
9 Barth  Customer 5
10 Angus & Julia Stone  Black Crow
11 Neighbors  Friends
12 Cut Copy  Feel the Love
13 Garden  Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs
14 Broken Bells  The High Road
15 BreakBot  Baby I’m Yours
16 Miami Horror  Moon Theory
17 Gorilla Manor  Sun Hands
18 Norman  No Clouds
19 Suckers  Black Sheep
20 Florence + the Machine  Drumming Song
21 Charlotte Gainsbourg  Heaven Can Wait
22 Kyteman  She Blew Like Trumpets
23 White Lies  To Lose My Life
24 Koop  Island Blues
25 School of Seven Bells  Caldo
26 Band of Horses  Factory
27 Codeine Velvet Club  Vanity Kills
28 Black Rebel Motorcyle Club  Beat the Devil’s Tatto
29 Kid Dub  Dub Step
30 Admiral Freebee  Always on the run –
31 Lille  Robert Cohn
32 Ladyhawke  Danny & Jenny
33 Man-miracle  Hot Sprawl
34 Massive Attack  Saturday Comes Slow
35 Owen Pallet  Lewis Takes off His Shirt
36 C-mon & Kypski  High on a Wire
37 Moving Units  Anyone
38 The Black Keys  Ten Cent Pistols
39 Melissa Auf Der Mauer  22 Below (Piano Version)
40 Nouvelle Vague  Lalala
41 A. C. Newman  Elemental
42 Empire of the Sun  Standing on the Shore
43 The Presets  This Boy’s in Love
44 Yuksek & Chromeo  So Down
45 Music Go Music  Warm in the Shadows
46 Yeah Yeah Yeah’s  Heads will Roll
47 Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah  Goodbye to Mother and the Cove
48 Caro Emerald  A Night Like This
49 Trentemoller  Sycamore Feeling
50 Midnight Juggernauts  Shadows
51 Elephants  Warpaint
52 Shout it Out  Princeton (Fol Chen Remix)
53 Kaskade  Fire in Your New Shoes
54 Boys like Girls  Love Drunk
55 Toro Y Moi  Low Shoulders
56 She and Him  I’m Gonna Make it Better
57 Vivian Girls  My Love will Follow Me
58 LCD Soundsystem  Pow Pow
59 King Kooba  Static Society
60 Hacienda  Go to get back home

Source: Robert Zatorre’s Lab at McGill University

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