Celebrity Theatre, Phoenix, AZ 5/12/17
Band Members: Jeremy Furstenfeld, Ryan Delahoussaye, Justin Furstenfeld, Matt Noveskey, Matthew Ostrander
Well, here it is, better late than never we always say! As you read our list today please keep in mind, these “lists” are always arbitrary, random and entirely subjective, to say these are actually the BEST albums of 2013 is a bit of an overstatement as we honestly didn’t hear EVERY album recorded in 2013, no one did. These are, however, the best we heard and it would be safe to assume we heard more than most, after all, that’s what we do while all of you are out enjoying your lives. We watch new movies, new television shows and listen to new music and, you’ll have to take our word on this, it’s really nowhere near as cool as it may sound.
One final note: the actual ranking of these albums, 20-1, is somewhat obligatory and, in truth, on any given day, number 15 could be number eight and number 3 could be number one. We loved all these albums, in many cases equally, and the rankings while expected are largely irrelevant.
For your listening pleasure we also have a PopCast to accompany this year’s list featuring tracks from every album on our top 20, tune in, turn it up and POP out! LISTEN HERE!
Keeping the Scots on the musical map Franz Ferdinand return with another confident collection of Disco-Rock at it’s finest, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action is the perfect album for dancing and driving, (preferably not at the same time).
Neko’s still got the twang but these days her songwriting has drifted far enough away from the country genre to establish herself as an artist who defies simple categories and labels. The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You is another excellent addition to a catalog that grows more impressive with each new release. It’s also nice to see Neko Case finally receiving more and more international respect these days, honestly folks, what in the hell took you so long?
The New Zealand newcomer Lorde delivers an amazingly impressive debut album with a mastery that is really way beyond her years. Unlike most 16 year old artists before her, this is not a pre-packaged, glossy bubble gum affair. If the monster hit “Royals” were all Pure Heroine had to offer the album would still deserve a spot on our list, it’s just that great of a tune. Thankfully, for us- and for Lorde- this collection has got a lot more to offer in the way of deep, dark and groovy tracks. Lorde is the angsty torch-pop singer Lana Del Rey desperately aspires to be, but where Del Rey has always seemed a little too calculated and contrived, this young lady, straight out of the gate, proves to be the genuine article.
Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones‘ tribute to the music of the Everly Brothers is void of the “hits” that put one of the greatest family acts in rock and roll history on the map and this would be the first of many reasons why we love this collection. Foreverly is a song-for-song remake of the Everlys’ 1958 Songs Our Father Taught Us, which was itself a tribute to the folk songs the brothers grew up listening to under the tutelage of their dad, Ike, who himself led a family band. Like the original album, this collection is simply produced with the vocals and tight harmonies upfront, it’s a sweet, melancholy, toe tappin’ bit of fun. The biggest surprise is Billy Joe’s firm and confident handling of this pop country style, Jones sings this stuff in her sleep, (better than almost anyone else we can think of), but who knew the reluctant American Idiot had a sensibility that goes way beyond the pop punk he’s been rocking for the last 3 decades?
Surprisingly enough, Lorde isn’t the only New Zealand act on this year’s list, Fat Freddy’s Drop, with their 3rd release Blackbird, is definitely a favorite of 2013. The band has said of the album, “We feel totally at home melding together this unholy mix of disco, rootsy dub, blues, soul and electronic funk – it’s what we do.” Yes, it is what they do and few in 2013 did it better.
Twistification, the first full release from Brooklyn based duo The Last Royals is a poptastic blend of guitar and synths guaranteed to lighten most grey moods, in spite of the fact that most of the tunes on the album feature stories of lost love and broken relationships. Fans of bands like Modest Mouse and The Killers will find a lot to love about this one.
Brooklyn’s Lucius takes the sound of the sixties girl groups, throws it in the blender of time, and mixes up a perfect cocktail of rock and pop that leaves many of their contemporaries in the dust. Wildwoman is the perfect soundtrack for a prom in outer space or for dancing around like a teenager while you’re cleaning the house, (and you really should be cleaning that house).
CBGB’s is a dusty memory but the sound of that club, and the bands that put the legendary spot on the rock and roll map, lives on in the music of bands like Parquet Courts. Light Up Gold clocks in at 34 minutes and only one of the tracks goes past the 3 1/2 minute mark. The album is a tight collection of post punk rock impossible to resist and, if you’re driving, all but guarantees a speeding ticket from the blue boys. Parquet Courts are the third band in a row on this list hailing from Brooklyn, a location that also dominated last year’s list as well, there’s no question some of the best music in the U.S. is coming out of that rocking borough these days.
AM is the fifth studio album by the English indie rockers Arctic Monkeys and continues their growing reputation as one of the greatest bands of their generation. The group continue to surprise and impress with each new release and- with AM– seem nearly fearless in their experimentation and exploration.
It’s been reported that Nashville based singer/ songwriter Caitlin Rose wrote much of The Stand-In in her living room, where she would get drunk with her two best friends and write songs for characters, underpinned by a streak of personal experience. The result is a solid collection of tunes that earns the 25 year old artist this year’s crown as the reining queen of alt-country. Mind you, this ain’t your mom and dad’s kind of twang, nor is it the high polished arena- country of Taylor Swift, what sets Caitlin Rose apart is the edgy confidence that comes with youth and hope, she’s suspicious, she’s skeptical but she hasn’t reached the dark heartbreak of Shelby Lynne yet and, for now, that’s a very good thing. Rose’s “Waitin‘” was covered in an episode of ABC’s Nashville this season and brought the artist some well deserved attention, the fact that The Stand-In is sitting on most “Best of 2013” lists this year will hopefully bring her even more.
Bill Callahan delivers a haunting collection of folk rock tunes and, with his low growl and twang, puts us in mind of Gordon Lightfoot on mescaline. Dream River is an instant classic that should be added to the library of anyone who appreciates well crafted short ghost stories set to music.
It would seem Tegan and Sara have been listening to their parent’s records from the 80’s this time around and the results are …oh my God, like, totally awesome, (and we mean that in the best possible way)! We’ve been fans from the early days and we’re thrilled to hear this ultimate sister act evolving from one great album to the next.
Electronic funk at it’s absolute best! We couldn’t stop playing RJD2’s More Is Than Isn’t in 2013 and we’re still jamming it on a regular basis in 2014. It doesn’t matter whether you’re chillin’, dancin’ or just gettin’ busy, turn it on, turn it up and have at it.
The Lone Bellow were the best thing to happen to alt-country in 2013 with the release of their excellent self titled debut album. Comparisons to The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac and The Civil Wars abound. No doubt, those bands are an influence but, in the end, this solid new act has an extremely promising future ahead of them and, one day soon, people will be comparing all the up-n-comers to these folks, guaranteed.
We were all up all night to get lucky in 2013 with this epic Daft Punk release. The appropriately titled Random Access Memories is completely self indulgent in the best possible way, brilliant, fresh and surprisingly very retro, and it all kind of puts us in mind of a 22 year old Marilyn Chambers taking nude photos of herself with an iPhone, (Who? Ask your dad or google her, children!)
Tori Vasquez’s Go Thank Yourself was not only our favorite album title of 2013, it was also the most impressive debut we heard all year. It’s always a bit frustrating when we stumble on an album that should be on everyones list but, due in large part to an extremely over-saturated market, didn’t receive nearly as much attention as it truly deserved. We have little doubt all that will be changing sometime in the very near future. The album is a tight collection of angsty and emotional pop rock that perfectly captures some of the same fun, frustration and fighting spirit found on Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill 18 years ago, while Vasquez’s vocals conjure memories of Johnette Napolitano at the top of her game with Concrete Blonde. Why, you might ask, are we offering comparisons to acts who were at their peak nearly 20 years ago? Honestly, it’s because we feel like we’ve been waiting that long for an artist like Vasquez to show up and we’re thrilled that she finally has. With a world wide web filled to the brim with pop culture news and reviews we occasionally find ourselves asking; “Why does Pop Bitez even exist? What’s the point?”, but then we stumble on artists like Tori Vasquez , and albums as excellent as Go Thank Yourself , and we remember, this is why. We can’t wait to hear more from this artist, we’re confident there’s a lot more great music to come.
You can purchase the album here, and don’t be a pussy, buy the “explicit version”!
Music critics are really no different from film critics in that they both have an attention span that only seems to reach back as far as six months, which can be the only reason Eels Wonderful, Glorious didn’t appear on more lists this year. The album came out in January of 2013, a relatively quiet time in the music business, and received raves from most critics upon it’s arrival. Wonderful, Glorious is a solid addition to the Eels catalog that subtly explores new territory while still maintaing the best qualities of the band’s previous efforts. To be fair, we actually have never heard an Eels album that didn’t qualify to be on our yearly list and Wonderful, Glorious is no exception. In spite of the fact that they are often featured on many of Hollywood’s hippest soundtracks, Eels still remain one of the most underrated acts working today.
Based on a true story and adapted for the stage by Stephen King, this concept album features some great, dark, down home twang-filled tunes written by John Mellencamp, with music direction from T Bone Burnett, and vocals by artists as varied as Ryan Bingham, Rosanne Cash, Neko Case, Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Kris Kristofferson, Taj Mahal and the maestro himself, John Mellencamp. With a cast like that, how could they go wrong? It’s unlikely the musical itself will go much further than it’s already gone, during it’s regional production in Atlanta the critics seemed to be unanimous in their praise of Mellencamp’s score but extremely underwhelmed by Stephen King’s script, (no surprise there). The stage show however, for the purposes of this review, is irrelevant. We didn’t see the show and what’s more we don’t feel like we need to, we love the album simply for what it is; some of the best music John Mellencamp has ever written produced by T Bone Burnett, one of the greatest producers of his generation, sung by some of the most interesting vocalists working today. What’s not to love? The stage show may be dead and gone but the Ghost Brothers of Darkland County live on with this exceptional album.
If you’re a regular Pop Bitez follower you knew this choice was all but guaranteed, after all , we reviewed the album and gave it five out of five stars when it was released back in August of 2013. Blue October’s Sway was one of our biggest surprises last year. At a time when many of their contemporaries have either disbanded or resigned themselves to regurgitating past glories, Blue October raised their bar and all but reinvented themselves. Taking a respite from the darker side of life, Sway proved to be a spiritual revelation, an awakening of purpose and a celebration of the healing powers of great rock and roll.
The boys from NYC returned to form in 2013 and gave us the rockus and righteous Modern Vampires of the City, arguably their best album to date. Dark, organic and anything but predictable, the latest album proves once and for all, Vampire Weekend are one of the greatest bands working today, anyone who wrote these guys off as another indie band just passing through should now feel free to go ahead and eat their hats. As far as indie rock goes, it rarely gets better than this. We’ve been fans from the beginning but can’t imagine how they’re ever going to able to top this one, still, if anyone can……
The more I listen to the new Blue October album Sway, the more I’m convinced this one is a personal best for the Austin based rockers, which is no small feat when you consider this is the 7th album in the band’s catalog.
At a time when many of their contemporaries have either disbanded or resigned themselves to regurgitating past glories, Blue October have raised their bar and all but reinvented themselves. It’s extremely rare for a band that has been around for as long as these guys have to sound anywhere near this fresh, but they truly do, with the kind of enthusiasm, passion and energy usually reserved for an up and coming indie act charging out of the garage and onto the charts.
One could argue, as a follow up to their brilliant but emotionally draining album Any Man in America, in order for the band, (as well as lead singer and songwriter Justin Furstenfeld ), to realistically survive, they were going to need to lighten up a bit, deny the darkness, embrace the beauty of their world and just “Sway“. The result is an album that is almost a spiritual revelation, an awakening of purpose and a celebration of the healing power of great rock and roll. My first thought as I listened to the new album was, “Holy shit, these guys are going to love touring in support of this one!”
The album opens with the short hymn-like, “Breathe, It’s Over“, which wouldn’t sound out of place on Pink Floyd’s The Wall– just after the wall comes down. It’s a perfect opener, and quietly announces a new journey down a healthier, happier road. Forget Green Day’s American Idiot on Broadway, personally I’d love to see a rock musical with Any Man in America serving as Act One and Sway as the uplifting and redemptive Second Act, (just putting it out there guys, do with it what you will, ha!). In many ways the two albums combined both contradict and compliment each other very well.
After the quiet opening the album launches into the radio friendly title track, “Sway“, which plays like a deep sigh of relief that comes after holding ones breath for far too long. “C’mon, dance with me…“, Furstenfeld beckons, with a new attitude that almost says, “you know what? Fuck it, we’re all going to be O.K., let’s enjoy the night“.
The album continues that vibe with “Angels in Everything“, a solid uptempo love song, as celebratory as it is earnestly thankful and “Bleed Out“, the first single released from the album, a driving and strong musical declaration of empowerment that should be put on constant rotation in your “work-out mix” for the gym.
The album takes a surprisingly sexy and groovy turn with the next track, “Debris“, (currently my favorite on the album). Furstenfeld’s strong dramatic vocals, combined with some of the sweetest bass work Matt Noveskey has ever committed to tape and the expert production work from Furstenfeld, David Castell and Tim Palmer makes this one a keeper for the ages, an instant classic in the band’s ever growing catalog of great songs. Coming in at over six minutes, it’s the longest track on the album but you’d never know it, it moves like a cool midnight breeze over the lake and almost demands an immediate repeat listen, (which I’ve been doing a lot in the past week).
In lesser hands the message contained in the album’s next track, “Fear“, would sound like it was ripped from the pages of a self help book, but Furstenfeld’s skilled songwriting expertly avoids this trap and features one of the most memorable melodies on the album. ” Fear in itself, will break you down and use you up, like you were never enough, I used to fall, now I get back up“. The reason the lyrics work so well is that you know the singer has been there and done that, the sincerity is impossible to deny and, while cynics may roll their eyes, I have no doubt the tune will help many a person facing a difficult situation in the future, the singer and this critic included.
Next up is the warm and hopeful, (how often have you seen those two words together in a Blue October review?), “Things We Don’t Know About“, a love song for a child from a parent, which Furstenfeld co-wrote with longtime band member/ bass player, Matt Noveskey. It’s all about growing up, both for the kid and the Dad, and is accentuated nicely by drummer Jeremy Furstenfeld’s accomplished percussion and some beautiful string work from the band’s multi- instrumentalist Ryan Delahoussaye.
The structure of an album isn’t often discussed or acknowledged in a review despite the fact that the creative teams often take great pains to line up the tracks in the best possible order, I feel obligated at this point to mention, these guys nailed it, (as they most often do). I honestly can’t imagine these tracks in any other order, (which, come to think of it, is why I might have been considering it in a stage musical/ concept album structure earlier).
Two of the albums strongest rockers come next, “Hard Candy” and “Put It In“, proving the band hasn’t lost it’s playfulness or sense of humor. In fact, “Put It In“, may be the most playful I’ve ever heard them. The tune rocks and the lyrics are occasionally laugh old loud, it’s a strong indication Furstenfeld doesn’t feel as obliged to take it all as painfully “serious” as he seemingly once did.
“Light you Up” is definitely a track for those who loved the band’s platinum selling album, Foiled, and would have easily fit as comfortably on that album as it does on Sway, it’s a solid return to form and one I can already hear the extremely loyal fan base shouting-along with on tour, like most of this album, it’s going to play live very well. The same can also be said for the excellent anthemic rocker, “Things We Do At Night“, yes, the chanting with fists in the air are all but guaranteed, (I could lie and tell you I haven’t already done this but why bother, honesty is always the best policy).
The final song on this album, “Not Broken Anymore“, is- in my opinion- the best ballad from ANY band in 2013 and may actually be the best Justin Furstenfeld has ever written, it’s that great. The best thing I can say about Furstenfeld’s songwriting is that he has never been afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve and put it out there, which, if you’re asking me, is the first rule in any art form and, as the songwriter matures and his well of experience gets deeper, the audience is rewarded as much as the artist himself. I should also mention this track, with it’s dreamy and haunting cello, is as perfectly produced as any record I’ve heard this year. Heads up Hollywood, if you don’t get this tune on a soundtrack ASAP you will have totally dropped the ball hard, (again).
The album closes with the gorgeous instrumental, “To Be“, a contemplative epilogue that encourages the listener to take a few minutes and reflect on the journey of hope and self discovery that you just experienced by way of Blue October’s Sway.
Though I will never deny the brilliance that was Any Man in America, it was a dark and painful journey. That being said, it was most definitely a road that needed to be traveled, if for no other reason, than to lead us- and the band- to the beautifully cathartic destination that is Sway.
I am as stunned to write this final statement as you will be to read it, you won’t find another album that will make you feel better this year than Blue October’s Sway. Wow guys, to quote one of your classics, “Congratulations“.
One final thought; This album was funded almost entirely by friends and fans who were generous enough to donate by way of the PledgeMusic website, you don’t get more “independent” than that. Please show your support for independent music and buy this one, save the file sharing for another day.
For more info on Blue October, including all the tour dates, check out blueoctober.com