Off Key Online

Off Key With Eric D. presents the Top 13 Albums of 2013!!!

In Recent reviews on December 31, 2013 at 5:03 pm

Greetings music lover,

After 10 years of compiling a list of the best albums of the year, I’ve elected to move on to other things as, admittedly, said compilation has become very, very time consuming in years with too much or too little good music. This year is, surprisingly enough, one of the latter. Just finding 13 decent albums to make up the Top 13 of 2013 took a staggering weekend, whereas it used to take no more than a few hours. Oh to be young again…. Anyway, take a look below at the (somewhat) finest albums of the year. The second half is pretty darn solid:

13. Manic Street Preachers – “Rewind The Film” [Columbia/Sony]

This is the Manics’ worst album to date, courtesy of its overly-acoustic nature—coming from a band that was, at one point, trying to be Guns N’ Roses, that’s pretty wan—and its overabundance of guest vocalists. Then again, the Manics at their worst is better than most bands at their best.
Key tracks: “4 Lonely Roads (feat. Cate Le Bon),” “Anthem For A Lost Cause,” “30-Year War”

12. CHVRCHES – “The Bones Of What You Believe” [Goodbye/Glassnote]

Easily the debut album of the year, Scottish synthpop trio CHVRCHES (yes, spelled all caps) slammed into modern music like that one piece of the asteroid from Armageddon took out downtown Paris. However, like that same asteroid, the band fails to reach their full potential as the album’s non-single material just isn’t as exciting as its preceding singles.
Key tracks: “The Mother We Share,” “Lies,” “Recover”

11. Suede – “Bloodsports” (iTunes version) [Sony]

In the history of Britpop, few names stand out as the best and brightest—among the titans: Blur, Oasis, Pulp, and Suede. As Oasis imploded and Blur and Pulp are content recycling their back catalogues for occasional reunion shows, Suede is the sole member of the Class of ’94 flying the musical Union Jack full mast. Their latest album is the finest material they’ve put out since 1996’s legendary “Coming Up.” Far from “trash,” indeed.
Key tracks: “Barriers,” “Snowblind,” “Sometimes I Feel I’ll Float Away”

10. Frightened Rabbit – “Pedestrian Verse” (Deluxe Edition) [Atlantic]

It’s a common story: brilliant indie rock band makes good, joins a major label, then loses much of their charm. The same has unfortunately occurred to Frightened Rabbit in the years since 2010’s monumental “The Winter Of Mixed Drinks.” Many of the songs on this year’s “Pedestrian Verse” are just that—pedestrian. There is good material, really, just not a whole album’s worth like three times before.
Key tracks: “Acts of Man,” “Backyard Skulls,” “Holy,” “Nitrous Gas”

9. Franz Ferdinand – “Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action” (Japanese version) [Domino]

If it was Franz Ferdinand’s goal to make an album infinitely better than their preceding two, well, they succeeded. It still doesn’t touch their self-titled debut from 9 years ago, but it’s a welcome sight to see that their fun sensibility and energetic nature has not waned in that time. Their new album truly is as its title describes.
Key tracks: “Right Action,” “Evil Eye,” “The Universe Expanded,” “Stand On The Horizon (Todd Terje Extended Mix)”

8. Vampire Weekend – “Modern Vampires of the City” (Japanese version) [XL]

Vampire Weekend made two perfect albums in 2008 and 2010, respectively. Then this album came along. It’s not bad, just not as interesting, and certainly not as catchy. The fact it took them 3-and-a-half years to record and release it is baffling. However, songs like “Obvious Bicycle” and “Ya Hey” are quite literally the band’s best work to date.
Key tracks: “Obvious Bicycle,” “Unbelievers,” “Step,” “Ya Hey”

7. Deerhunter – “Monomania” [4AD]

MONO-MONO-MANIA/MONO-MONO-MANIA/MONO-MONO-MANIA/MONO-MONO-MANIA…. Sorry, I was just singing along to the nearly endless finale of the title track on Deerhunter’s latest album. The song, and the majority of the album for that matter, takes on a spikier, more lo-fi approach reminiscent of the band’s early days. Yet fear not fans of 2010’s sharply produced and intricately brilliant “Halcyon Digest,” that album’s precise nature permeates several songs on this album as well.
Key tracks: “The Missing,” “Dream Captain,” “T.H.M.,” “Monomania”

6. Yo La Tengo – “Fade” (Japanese version) [Matador]

Yo La Tengo really has it—that rare ability to write albums that surpass the excellence of the album before it. One need look no further than their last three records to see this is true. With nearly 30 years of music behind them, this year’s “Fade” is the zenith (thus far) of Yo La Tengo’s artistic progression. It’s gentler, more linear, more mature, and subtly epic with massive-sounding songs.
Key tracks: “Is That Enough,” “Stupid Things,” “Cornelia and Jane,” “Two Trains”

5. The National – “Trouble Will Find Me” (Japanese version) [4AD]

Trouble did not find The National after all, nor did it hinder them from releasing an album that’s just as great as 2010’s critically-acclaimed “High Violet.” More expansive in nature, the band’s latest outing is a triumph that plays to their strengths and, in retrospect, contains their best songs—well, their best songs outside their work for “Bob’s Burgers.”
Key tracks: “Don’t Swallow The Cap,” “Graceless,” “Slipped,” “Pink Rabbits,” “Learning”

4. Arctic Monkeys – “AM” (Japanese version) [Domino]

As we learned from the fine film Spaceballs, there are two sides to every Schwartz: the up-side and the down-side. Arctic Monkeys’ last album, 2011’s “Suck It And See,” represents the prior with generally positive, upbeat songs that rock pretty darn hard. On the other end is this year’s sequel, “AM,” also featuring songs that rock pretty darn hard but infused with R&B beats and a darker, some might say lightly sinister tone. Even the new album’s largely black cover is in stark contrast to its predecessor’s all-white sleeve.
Key tracks: “Do I Wanna Know?”, “R U Mine?”, “No.1 Party Anthem,” “Knee Socks,” “I Wanna Be Yours”

3. British Sea Power – “Machineries of Joy” (plus bonus disc) [Rough Trade]

British Sea Power’s “Machineries of Joy” is two-thirds of a great album. The final third is supplied via the limited edition bonus disc included with early orders of the album. Like The Dude’s rug in The Big Lebowski, it’s that second disc that ties the whole effort together, taking a pretty good single-LP record and making it an hour long epic akin to BSP’s previous, highly lauded albums. Also of note is that the band has already followed up “Machineries of Joy” this year with a double-LP soundtrack album, “From The Sea To The Land Beyond.” Talk about an ocean of material…
Key tracks: “What You Need The Most,” “Radio Goddard,” “Facts Are Right,” “Fingertips,” “Chrysanthemum”

2. Camera Obscura – “Desire Lines” (Amazon version) [4AD]

The artists on legendary label 4AD seem to have a thing for “desire lines.” Not only was it the name of two landmark singles—for Lush and Deerhunter, respectively and 16 years apart—but now it is also the title to Camera Obscura’s fifth album. Meta perfection aside, Camera’s latest could very well be their best effort to date—it’s certainly their most upbeat. Four years since their brilliant “My Maudlin Career,” the band has returned revitalized with a perfect set of enthralling songs to enjoy.
Key tracks: “Troublemaker,” “Cri du Coeur,” “Every Weekday,” “Fifth In Line To The Throne,” “Break It To You Gently”

1. Daft Punk – “Random Access Memories” (Japanese version) [Daft Life/Columbia]

The robot duo that changed music forever with such seminal electronic dance albums as “Homework” and “Discovery” just brought back disco with their long-awaited fourth studio album. It’s as simple as that—disco was dead, now it’s back thanks to Daft Punk. Though we’re still not a step closer to an ABBA reunion, what we do have is a truly incredible album that not only brings back the ’70s nightclub experience (sans mountains of cocaine) but revives the hallmarks of the truly great dance albums of that era with very appropriate guest stars—Nile Rodgers contributes his unmistakable guitar riffs on three songs, Giorgio Moroder tells his life story over the arpeggiated Moog synths that he pioneered, and Paul Williams supplies a multi-genre epic song packed with theatricality. Even modern artists like Panda Bear and Julian Casablancas take part in this most impressive compilation of talent. If that doesn’t butter your bread, no worries—elements of classic Daft Punk can be heard throughout the album, especially on its penultimate track, a “Discovery”-era outtake titled “Contact.”
Key tracks: Pretty much the entire album, start to finish. Kudos if you never got tired of hearing “Get Lucky” on the radio.


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