2013 has been a great year for music. The "Best Of" list you are about to view is focused on genre's of music that appeals to our staff. The criteria to be on the list is simple: do we love the collection of music and does the music stick? Are we coming back to it repeatedly, is it engaging, different and ultimately music we will cherish over time. Enjoy the list and if there is a particular artist or band that you are not familiar with, I hope you take time to check them out. Please NOTE that the albums are listed in no particular order of importance and the album titles contain links. Enjoy boys and girls of all ages!
Also, be sure and check out AMERICAN PANCAKES 100 BEST SONGS OF 2013
Saga of The Bruja-
by Wide Streets
"Saga of The Bruja" bristles with the raucous energy of progressive art punk that feels like it was distilled from some particularly potent musical incarnations spanning three decades. I can feel the art rock of 70's artists like Television and Talking Heads. the abstract musical dadaism of the Pixies, hyper blue collar fusion punk of the Minutemen (80's) and the frantic angst ridden post punk rock of Modest Mouse (90's) all condensed into a beautiful sound.
The Next Day
by David Bowie
David Bowie's The Next Day feels in some way like it is caught in a time machine. The production feels very much like 2002's Heathen album which was also produced by Bowie and Tony Visconti. The slick production and perfectly modulated mix is something, I am frankly, not used to as I have been up to my neck in garage and experimental rock as of late. When I was able to settle into it this album it grew on me quickly. The songs are solid. The track The Next Day has got art rock bones and enough religious iconography to be a Pixies song (are you listening Charles ?- cover this one on your tour). The album longs for by gone days, it sometimes feels like a tattered tear stained scrap book. Love Is Lost- is a super lush organ saturated slow burn and Bowie's vocals in the upper registers sound so damn classic. Where are We Now, an ode to Bowie's life transforming time in Berlin can make your eyes water. When you have time to contemplate your life- sit in the dark and listen to this album in it's entirety. It will be an event you cherish.
by Kevin Morby
The songs on Harlem River are steeped in a nostalgic bittersweet tea. Kevin Morby's ability to tap into such an earnest form of roots folk rock makes you look back at your own life and memories whether they are happy or painful. Whether it is the somber "Wild Side" or the beautifully sweet plaintive slow dance of "Slow Train"- the shifty blaming walk of "Harlem River" - or the trans-formative wanderlust of "Miles, Miles, Miles", Morby speaks to me, move me. His sad, tender vocals and dreamy songs sweep across you like scratched up super 8 movies and embrace you like friends or family who have since past on.
by Thee Oh Sees
When I first heard the languid super dirty bass line of Toe Cutter- Thumb Buster that shuffled along like Nick Gilder's Hot Child In The City I smiled so damn big that I nearly got a cramp in my face. The dynamics of the song sprinkled with sweet guitar leads was something to behold. When Dwyer yelps it feels like the sun coming out on a gloomy day. The feedback squeaks that give way to the full on Thee Oh Sees runaway train is still evident in songs like Strawberries 1+2 (whose tempo and tonal shifts are so great). The band shows a growing diversity on this album along with a really dark lyrical undercurrent. This is an album that I was torn over but kept coming back to and finally succumbed to it's distorted come on.
by Ty Segall
I fully admit to have a sonic love affair with Ty Segall for a long long time. Ty's different incarnations may have different inspirations, sound different and such but he always to manage to simply make very cool sounds. Sleeper is no exception. The title track casts imagery of 60's psychedelic hippies and war protests. Carried by acoustic guitar, strings and Segall's edgy vocal warble. It also sounds really British as Ty does. It perfectly casts what is going to follow. The dreamy drunk Keepers, snarky The Man Man, choppy attack of Come Outside and the wonderfully realized Lennon-esque She Don't Care. The entire album feels like a luscious sonic stupor with your drug of choice, even if that drug is just straight music.
The Late Great Whatever
by The Lovely Bad Things
Hear and Anywhere, the opening track on The Lovely Bad Things' album The Late Great Whatever, feels instantly like a grand garage rock opus as guitars swell until they wind into a tight power pop/ punk progression dancing between two time signatures. The vocal melody ends in odd spots. While the song has a musical chorus, there is really not a repeated vocal chorus. Two thirds in, the song musically breaks down (making moshing kids stop in their tracks) and then slowly it builds up again into a blistering sonic conclusion. This is not your standard punk / pop thing. Maybe that is why Kevin Bronson (from Buzzbands) has referred to The Lovely Bad Things sound as proto-punk. For the most part, the rest of the songs on The Late Great Whatever also make up their own rules making this album an exciting ride. Somehow most albums feel boring when played immediately after this one.
Chelsea Light Moving
by Chelsea Light Moving
Chelsea Light Moving - Burroughs has got some insanely tasty sounds that make you want to go a little nuts- run through downtown with exposed parts flailing in the wind. OK maybe not but as Thurston Moore wails out " hey Billy what are your last words... hey Billy who are the love birds... ah Billy the sweetest drug is free... will ya Billy shoot it into me..." with strident punk guitar that dips into half step hell and back this song make you remember when music was dangerous or that it still can be. It can still make Right Wing Conservatives weep and hide under their beds. Equally intoxicating is Groovy and Linda with it's off kilter dissonance that pulls you into a fucked up funk. The funny thing is that many bands who have adopted this sound (they shall remain nameless) suddenly feel like poseurs when you hear Thurston Moore do it so right.
by My Bloody Valentine
The sonic walls of sound at the hands of Kevin Shield's guitar laden tremolo caressed fingertips is nothing short of shoegazey brilliance. The tonal fluctuations, the bendy dissonance, the surprising half step guitar artistry turning progressions into melodies themselves apart from the buried melodic vocals and lead lines is what makes MBV so mesmerizing. Some people will not hear all this subtleties in the haze of guitar noise but it is there and can shift your mood in an instant and in surprising ways if you are open to it. The character inherent in any kind of music like this that relies on the haze it creates can almost feel like a droning devise that puts you in a different head space or can. It is kind of like listening to white noise to help you sleep. This record can put you in a different state of mind, transitory and dreamy. And all without drugs. Who would of thunk it??
Story by Teitur is an album that has to be enjoyed in the same way a hot cup of chocolate is when you are in a thoughtful state and your chills have more to do with questioning your life before or now or later. If you are in a hyperactive state or A.D.D is crushing your brain synapses this might not be the album for you but it really appeals to me. It is a respite from strident noises. You might even say that some of the songs on this album appeals to the child in me. Not because the songs themselves are childish but because they require the listener to want to swim in a sea of sweet naivety and we should all do this from time to time.
Nothing is Real
by Crystal Antlers
NEWS FLASH: Crystal Antlers put out great records. Their first album, Tentacles rocked and held promise in Jonny Bell's rebel yells. The promise was fully realized in Two Way Mirror with it's dreamy askew rock that felt at once dark and brooding but uplifting at the same time. Now in Nothing is Real, the Long Beach, California rockers have coalesced all their dark dream psychedelia into something embracing so many musical textures from indie to experimental and everything in between. It is a heady mix of sounds that often times explode around you. Nothing is Real is just part of Crystal Antlers musical evolution. Like all great bands, each album takes you on a different journey. In my humble opinion this album eclipses what came before.
As most people may know, Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O'Connor aka Lorde is a 17 year old singer songwriter from Auckland, New Zealand. She was signed to a label when she was only 12 but instead of embarking on musical projects, those consulting her honed this young woman's craft and vocal performance and it shows. She has the the writing and performing chops of one much older (and wiser). The songs on Pure Heroine are as haunting as they are pop catchy borrowing more musically from rap than anything else. The focus is on her rhythmic sung rhymes and captivating voice. Underneath this sound or maybe hovering above it is the lyrical content that can be snide, a bit vulgar, obtuse, brilliantly insightful and thoroughly quotable. One of the most impactful and original albums of 2013. Best songs on the album- Tennis Court, Ribs, Glory and Gore, White Teeth Teens, 400 Lux, and Royals.
by Queens of the Stone Age
AP: When you say Queens Of The Stone Age your face wants to say Queens of the muther fucking Stone Age because they are just so incredibly bad ass. Besides the incredibly catchy material on this album it feels like the band has musically matured. Josh Michael Homme III is one dreamy son of a bitch and "Like Clockwork" feel like a fractured fairy tale. On this record Queens of the Stone Age make machismo rock feel so damn elegant. This is going to be considered a classic someday.
by the Water Liars
AP:Water Liars- duo of singer-guitarist Justin Kunkel-Schuster and drummer-vocalist Andrew Bryant speaks to me. I love the vocals, love the spartan sound, the voids in the songs the make you look in the mirror. The somber truth contained in some of their songs, held up by enchanting harmonies kind of just slaps you across the face. Fake Heat feels as honest as a intervention and Cut A Line's subtext (or not) belies the sock hop swooner like sound. Wyoming is a great album-
From the downbeat of the first track, Couldn't Hold A Candle, Audacity give you an full dose injection of unbridled youth complete with a bruised body and heart. Every song is sonically dense but can chill out at a moments notice before descending back into a full throttle attack. There are also moments of punk pop dreaminess like the track Cold Rush that has a dash of unrequited love buried deep into the track and Rooster, a song that starts out like a slow painful memory and then interrupts in a cranking angry one. Pick Slide and Onomatopoeia have the choppy punk strains and bouncy vocal determination of late 70's Brit punk. Watered Down and Crying in The Limelight feels a bit like pre-adolesent Audacity. Autumn is a total surprise, steeped in a mid-rangy ringing piano and guitar it is a sad solitary ballad for 2 full minutes until the full band kicks in for the outro. Hole in the Sky, one of my favs on the album is Audacity at their best, the rhythm guitar alone makes you dance.
Hung at Heart
by the Growlers
AP: As much as I have enjoyed The Growlers over the years at live shows I always just thought of their music as a vehicle to become punch drunk and dance with wild abandon. Hung at Heart has clearly changed my thinking. This album can induce chills. This album pushes it's poetry more than any of their previous works. The lyrics for the most part run deeply emotional and romantic. It is vagabond punk / beach goth full of inner reflections, honest questions about foolish youth and growing up. I love this album. I also love the fact that The Growlers took the production reins away from The Black Keys Dan Auerbach. It takes a strong sense of oneself to not get caught up in that kind of thing. Mr. Auerbach already seems to have cut the cajones out of Hanni El Khatib's music so I am thankful this did not happen to my Growlers.
by The Merry Rounders
Imagine coming across an old box of weathered Albums and 45's circa 1952 to 57 in a vacant lot in Lubbock Texas. Perusing through the records, some as warped as a roller coaster, you find one that is straight as an arrow. The cover says "The Merry Rounders" and has psychedelic cowboys and cowgirls who have gold sprinkled stars for eyes. It beckons to be played. You find your way to your friend Rusty's house because he has vintage 1959 Sears and Roebuck Silvertone portable record player that also beckons to be played. As the needle drops down on "The Merry Rounder's" first track it wobbles as drunkenly as the western guitar lines on How I Knew. The song has a solid groove with a shimmy shake groove that would make Buddy Holly smile, a country meets Motown walking bass line, and slightly canned vocals with a tiny twinge of Brooks Nielsen.
I don't reside in Lubbock Texas and don't have a friend named Rusty, it's just that this newly discovered EP entitled "Cowgirls" (by the way) entertains so fully as to whisk yourself away to another place. These songs recorded on a Yamaha MT-400 cassette recorder feel wonderfully organic like they were recorded live with a few microphone hanging from the rafters. I want very much to hear these songs live played in a backyard or in a crowded house
Trouble Will Find Me
by The National
by Yes I'm Leaving
Slow Dance In The Cosmos
When you listen to "Slow Dance In The Cosmos" by Porches in it's entirety it feels like a transformative experience. The songs that often feel like constant builds of sound, sweeping organs, sustaining guitars and vocals are moving even though the lyrics can feel like a jig saw puzzle with 20 percent of the puzzle pieces missing. They are decidedly obtuse but within their abstract poetry lie some beautifully wrought passages. There are enough to keep you emotionally satiated. In Permanent Loan, Aaron Maine sings, "How come I never see it coming? I am the meat on the fruit pit clinging flung into a black black moon." The vocal melody amidst powerful crashing waves of sound is passionate and makes you feel conflicted and sad even though the lyrics only serve as vague clues. In this way, the songs on "Slow Dance In The Cosmos" are like a musical Rorschach tests as each person who hears these songs will see them a different way. Porches has released 3 Ep's in 2011 and a 15 minute tape in 2012. "Slow Dance In The Cosmos" is their first full length. It may be by design or may be by chance but in terms of songs fitting a project all these songs feel right together and all the songs are amazingly good.
by The So So Glos
Brothers Alex (bass, vocals) and Ryan (guitar) Levine, Zach Staggers (drums) and Matt Elkin (guitar) have (in one form or another) been thrashing on instruments since they were little kids. Having grown up together and tearing into music as a form of explosive bonding and escapism has seriously resulted in a truly significant piece of work. When you hear the songs on Blowout they feel in your gut like songs that have existed for decades and are established bonified monuments of punk rock. Alex does have the strident vocal strain of Joe Strummer and Mick Jones combined that certainly makes your mind think back to the late 70's and early 80's but it is not only that, it is sonic tone the So So Glos have honed. The production is stellar and thick with energy without adopting the Fuzz and garage rock / lo-fi leanings of many indie bands today. The vocals are front up with a smartly spartan music bed of kick ass drums, heavy bass and guitars (and other elements) set back but not too far to kick serious ass. In this regard, their sonic tableau has more to do with bands like The Clash or The Descendents. I guess I am old school but this particular sound really appeals to me .In Blowout, the So So Glos have crafted a truly engaging album. It is cliche to say that it sounds timeless but it really does. The songs also manage to make you want to cheer, dance, mosh your ass off and smile broadly.
by Potty Mouth
We The Common
by Thao and The Get Down Stay Down
We are the 21st Century Ambassadors
of Peace and Magic
Be Frank, Furness
by Heyward Howkins
On Be Frank, Furness, Heyward Howkins spins his poetry in such an unusual way that it can, at time, make you feel like he is speaking in his own unique language. His vocal mannerisms, way of cooing phrases as well as turning them on their head feel like charming puzzle boxes. His love of words, of language is apparent. The fact that he is able to contain these jumbled stories in melodious songs is added icing to the cake. The songs themselves vary in tone and style but they all have this rich vagabond spirit. Nogales cut out of a folk indie rock cloth bounces along as joyfully as carefree lovers riding horseback through the desert. Cut and Corral with its many tempo shifts, kind of rolling bridge, dramatic heavy downbeats and obtuse lyrics is classic Howkins, "We see all woolen hands cursing that sky, and a pile of flints that weren't right, handles like Grendel pollenized with a sigh." Some of Howkins song cast out imagery of rustic shambled boathouses meandering down the Mississippi (at least in my mind) or turn of the century musicians in smart straw hats in the French Quarter. Songs like Rare Earth, Brite Kites, Flimsy Stock and Sweet Tea Oleander have this undefinable southern elegance and with a rustic patina of another time or world really. Don't think that Be Frank, Furness is all stereo-scopic imagery. Lorraine dances with touches of 70's Brit Pop and a strong back beat and light indie rock feel.
Be Frank, Furness like Howkins 2012 album The Hale and Hearty is a rare flower that is worth finding and taking hold of.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra
AP: In No Need For A Leader and other songs on II -Unknown Mortal Orchestra seem to be channeling the ghosts of T-Rex, Bowie and the Beatles. It doesn't feel so overt as to feel like a rip off- it just feel like those influences have seeped deep into Ruban Nielson's artistic bones. Monki feels like a paisley seduction and Faded In The Morning jams with a garden rock edge with a funky back beat. Swim and Sleep Like A Shark brings Elliot Smith in my mind as much as 60's free love and hippies. Many of the songs on II have such sweet lovely lyrics and equally beautifully composed picked guitar rhythms. A wonderful album to fall in love with or fall in love to all the while flashing peace signs.
Life is Murder
by Kal Marks
AP: Savages' Jehnny Beth's voice demands your attention. With a cagey clarity she mouths her words like wide eyed Shakespearean stage actor in tortured tones somewhere in between Siouxsie Sioux and Ian Curtis. The heavy bass and 80's power rock feel makes this the best album this year to listen to as you tool down California's Pacific Coast Highway at midnight. The sounds can feel cavernous but "at close range" as well stalking your inner senses. The jagged bottom heavy new wave makes you want to put on black nail polish and dress all in black.
I'm Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams
by Diarrhea Planet
by Human Behavior
by Golden Suits
The album is full of songs that feel like personal confessions or stories told over backyard fences or late night bro talks over numerous beers. More than one song is punctuated by hand claps and percussion that could be replicated at a house show by stomping on hardwood floors. I like this organic feel. Not that the album sounds lo fi in any way. It is pretty lushly produced around Nicolaus's voice that never get's lost in effects. His vocal's dressed only a bit always sound intimate. These folk based songs take such lovely melodic diversions in between the story telling. Swimming In '99 dashes along with lovely poetic remembrances "I wish I love you with 7 hearts so I could pass the days were apart." From press accounts, apparently the album was inspired by a rather tumultuous year in Fred Nicolaus's life. Money problems, being chased out of his apartment by a severe rat infestation, a trip with his father exploring the death of his grandfather during Word War 2, and a painful break up. Nicolaus found himself 40 lbs lighter through it all. I think it is quite brilliant and I wonder if these songs birthed our of pain are now a source of healing. A beautiful catharsis.
by Mikal Cronin
by Big Deal
Yellow Red Sparks
by Yellow Red Sparks
by Speedy Ortiz
by the Flaming Lips
Dear Mark J Mulcahy I love You
by Mark Mulcahy
by Los Campesinos
by Wild Pack of Canaries
The Silver Gymnasium
by Okkervil River
by Tim Kasher
Wakin On A Pretty Daze
by Kurt Vile
by Autre Ne Veut
by Ice Age
by Cherry Glazerr
by Tyler Lyle
On his 5 track Album "Expatriates",Tyler Lyle's folk songs feel like true life stories hidden inside these exquisite fractured fables. Lyle's often forlorn voice can rip your heart out. There is an earnest warm quality to his tone. There is no over wrought or over melodramatic performance. It just feels so real and kind of conversational (in a way) like he is spilling his guts over beers in the solitude of a nearly empty bar. Lyrically, he has a flair for references in history and even mythology but it is the darkness underneath some of his words that give these folk / indie country songs emotional gravitas. In Medusa he sings: "Don't be afraid of the blood and gore... Don't be afraid of the devil on the threshing floor cause there's a power in your bones that out-consumes War and Sex and God and You." in Rodanthe, a pretty love song (or love lost song) were amidst plaintive pedal steel guitar he sings: "Your daddy chased me round the water said "what are you doing with my daughter"... I said"I'm just doing what the bad boys do, sir didn't you used to want to be a bad boy too."
The perfectly simple productions work in every way. You can feel the plucking banjo, lazy drum beat of a porch performance in Werewolf where Tyler trades confessions with a sweet female vocalist, "And some days I am a mother fucking werewolf... I am a cannibal that eats himself alive." Of all the lovely songs on Expatriates, maybe the clear standout is Ithaca, a measured stirring 12 minute tribute to wanderlust full of dreams, albeit tattered ones. The spartan production, lullaby acoustic cadence, swelling musical and vocal orchestration is beautifully moving as is Expatriates itself. This is an album that you will come back to again and again like fond bittersweet memories. Lose yourself in its embrace.