Alright, NPR just released theirs, so I guess I better get mine out. (I make no apologies for keeping up with the public radio Joneses). I’ve been working on it and revising it since the first one of these I did in March. Some from that list aren’t there any more, and of course there have been some new ones in the last three months.
And I actually have a method to my madness! I take an informal inventory of all the albums I’ve really liked this year – multiple listens, the ones I share with friends, the ones I keep going back to. Then, as I listen to each one, I rank them on a subjective scale of 1- 10, in each category of 8 things I’ve figured out as to why I like a certain piece of music:
- “Feeling when I hear this music” – Good vibes either on first listen or over time. Feeling of nostalgia scores highly as well.
- “Feeling when I hear *about* this music” – When a friend mentions it or I see it online, am I super excited and feel a sense of belonging? Am I kind of “meh” about it?
- “Each track’s integrity/consistent progression of the album” – Basically, does it have any gaps or weak tracks? Concept albums score well here.
- “Depth/layering of instrumentation” – Can also address when the music is appropriately sparse. Does not have to be a wall of sound to score well.
- “Harmonies/vocal uniqueness” – Taking into account the blend, the intensity, and dynamics of the vocals
- “Energy level/ability to transcend/mood creation” – E.g. Dark Side of the Moon would be a 10 out of 10 for its mood creation.
- “Originality/authenticity” – Is the album breaking new ground meaningfully? Connecting meaningfully to music’s heritage?
- “Critical Universal Appeal” – Can any discerning, critical-thinking listener probably appreciate this?
Then I literally crunch the numbers, divide by 8 and then make it a percentage – the higher the score the higher up the list they fall. Here’s how it all shook out:
9. Foxygen – 21st Century Ambassdors of Peace and Magic – 83.8%
I like their vibe a lot and I feel good when Iisten to them. They lost some points for originality (there are better mod-psychedelic bands) and for my conflicted feelings when I hear about them (maybe too much hype?) But the vocals and transcendence category were top of the chart and the the whole album feels like a trip to the “other side.” Really cool.
8. The Lone Bellow – Self-Titled – 87.7%
Amazing that they weren’t in the top three, since this was my absolute top release for the first couple months of the year. Over time I started to feel a little tired of them, and afraid that they might go the insufferable way of Lumineers and Mumford. Yet when I hear “Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold” or “You Never Need Nobody” I can’t help but think this is the best harmony I’ve heard in a long time, and their energy is sky high as well.
7. John Vanderslice – Dagger Beach – 90.5%
10/10 for originality and 9.5/10 for depth/layering of instrumentation. It’s experimental, in a folksy, mellow way. But definitely zany enough to keep attention. Not Zappa-level zany, but definitely not mainstream ho-hum indie by any stretch. This guy is really doing is own thing, self-producing the record analog and what not. It’s really growing on me, and that’s considering that that liked it a lot even upon first hearing.
6. Telekinesis – Dormarion – 91.6%
Again, amazing that he’s not top three. I can’t get enough of this album. Vocals are slightly in need of an upgrade, but at the end of the day, it’s a person’s voice, what can you do? He uses it the best he can. 9.5 for originality (it’s a one man show that sounds like five dudes) and 10/10 for how I feel when I hear this guy’s music. Total bliss, elation, ready to road trip to anywhere USA.
5. Ivan and Alyosha – All the Times We Had – 91.6%
Music Millenium had a 20% off sale this weekend, all vinyl new and used. This record was at the top of my list to find and buy (which I did), and it is as awesome as I had hoped. They’re one of those groups that comes up on Songza or Google radio and I think “HOW good is this???” And I usually have forgotten who the artist is, but now I definitely won’t. I also love the fact that their band name comes from a Dostoevsky set of characters. Good on you.
4. The Thermals – Desperate Ground – 91.8%
This is a late addition – just crunched the numbers this morning– but Oh, I love punk. I just do. This guy’s voice cuts through everything, and the buzzy lo-fi approach is so, so legit and exciting. Really high energy, you’ve basically got a Bad Religion without the totally oppressive lyrical content, and slightly more palatable vocals and guitar blend, which boosts the “critical appeal” score. This is their sixth, and I wish I had known them before now. I am happy that 2013 brought me the Thermals.
3. Jim James – Regions of Light Sound of God – 92.7%
This was a 10/10 on the “how I feel when I hear about this album” category. I was in an airport in February and had to buy the $7 Rolling Stone because of seeing Jim James on the cover. “A.E.I.O.U” is such a righteous, funky album opener, and I love his delicate vocals throughout. Also scored 10 on mood creation, and did not score below 9 in any category. Seriously folks, Jim James.