Top Ten Albums of 2013

My music consumption has changed drastically in the last couple of years. For one thing, my days are so busy now that I find that the only time I can really listen to music critically is during my 30 minute commutes to and from work. That’s hardly an ideal scenario. Also, I started a new job this year working part-time as the worship leader at our church. As part of that new job, I need to find music that could be played during our services, so I’ve probably listened to more “Christian music” this year than in the last 5 years combined. Thankfully, there is actually a LOT of good “Christian music” out there these days, so it has been an enjoyable pursuit. All this to say, I’m trimming my annual music list down from year’s past. I’m going with just my top ten this year. There were plenty of other albums that I listened to and liked, but these ten are the ones that caught my attention the most and got repeated listenings.

10. Shulamith | Polica
Minneapolis’ new claim to fame, Polica quickly cranked out a sophomore album to capitalize on the buzz generated by their first LP last year. The band doesn’t dink too much with the formula here, which is good because the formula is a winning one. The chillwave vibe and the processed vocals still resonate here and the band should be able to add a few more fans to their legion with the more accessible singles.

9. Ghost on Ghost | Iron & Wine
As Sam Beam continues to add more moving parts onto his plaintive folk songs, the songs morph into all sorts of things. The lo-fi acoustic ballads turn into more proggy 1970s-AM radio jams (amongst other things). Some may find themselves wishing for simpler I&W times, but I love the direction Beam is taking this project and find myself caught in the swirl of these arrangements.

8. I Am Mountain | Gungor
Here’s an album I listened to a lot this year, dreaming of playing some of these songs at church. Ultimately, we did play the title track, which is outstanding. On the whole, however, the album is a bit scattered. While Gungor’s previous LPs felt quite cohesive, this one feels like the band threw lots of ideas against the wall to see what would stick and then recorded them. Most are good, but they don’t all fit together. Still, these guys are fantastic musicians.

7. Oblivion Hymns | Hammock
The guys of Hammock always put out great albums and this one is no different. Framed as a sort of spiritual sequel to last years “Departure Songs”, this set of ambient songs continues the meditation on transition, endings and what comes after. They are still my go-to band for clearing my head and unwinding in peace.

6. Reflektor | Arcade Fire
Okay, much has been written about Arcade Fire’s fourth album already. With a few listens under my belt now, I can safely say it’s my least favorite AF record. It definitely has its moments of brilliance, it just isn’t as consistent as their previous work. The production wizardry of James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) is evident and it’s good. Still just feels like the band wanted to make a fussy, noisy record exploring lots of identity issues and went all in on the concept. Maybe this is what happens when you get more famous than you really wanted to be: you decide to “rebel” a little bit for a season. The title track is outstanding though.

5. Love | Cloud Cult
Probably my favorite local Minneapolis act is still chugging along. Cloud Cult’s 9th (!) album finds the band still mining the sound they do so well. The electronic jams and big crashers are paired with gentler acoustic numbers to create a nifty mosaic. I love both sides of the Cloud Cult coin, but the rockers on this album are definitely higher on my list. Just listen to “1x1x1” and try not to tap your toes.

4.The Bones of What You Believe | Chvrches
Every year there are a few artists that are new to me that really grab my attention. Scottish synth-pop outfit Chvrches was one of those bands this year. They play gorgeous electronic music fronted by the bright, clear vocals of Lauren Mayberry. Their song “Recover” was the one I heard first and was immediately hooked by they beat and the lyrics. They followed their spring EP with a fall record that further solidified their ability to craft a good electronic song.

3. Muchacho | Phosphorescent
This was another surprise album to me. I’ve heard some Phosphorescent tunes here and there over the years, but when I heard “Song for Zula” I knew I’d love this record. And I did. The folk meets psychedelic pop sounds are perfect for the plaintive verses of Matthew Houck. Front to back, this album is keen.

2. Kveikur | Sigur Ros
In 2012, Sigur Ros put out Valtari, a most quiet affair that showed the band at perhaps their most insular. Following that release, it was announced that the band was now only a 3-piece as Kjartan has bowed out to spend less time touring. From there, things moved quickly. The band announced Kveikur would release in June and it proved to be a brand new Sigur Ros. The remaining 3 band members took this time of transition to take their sound in some brand new directions. Heavier directions. The result is a pounding album that quickens the pulse in a way that the band hasn’t done since the closing tracks of ( ). It’s a welcome shot of adrenaline for a band who was in danger of becoming too predictable.

1. The Water and the Blood | Dustin Kensrue

In my quest to find good music to play in church, I found out that former Thrice frontman Dustin Kensrue was now a worship leader himself at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. In that role, he plays music on Sundays and oversees other bands in the church. Somewhere in there, he decided to record some of the songs he’s written for his church. The result may be my favorite “worship” record since “Enter the Worship Circle”. Lyrically, the songs are rich in theology; musically, they are intricate and charged. Alongside a standard singalong, you’ll find a screaming rocker – both about the greatness of God. It’s so refreshing to listen to an album that features interesting music and great, gospel-centered lyrics.  


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