Best of 2013 albums: No. 1

The Music or Space Shuttle? braintrust rolls out its top albums of 2013 this week! Today’s the day: we unveil our top pick for 2013. Don’t miss our picks for #11-20#8-10, #5-7, and #2-4.

Todd

#1: Tegan & Sara, Heartthrob

tegan and saraThey did it! Heartthrob has done what the sisters Quin’s previous 2 excellent releases, The Con and Sainthood, could not do. Break the #2 curse. That’s right. Both of those records were tabbed as my #2 favorite for their respective years. What an accomplishment! Congrats, ladies.

Now, if you’ve been paying attention to my list this year, you may have noticed something of a trend. It’s chock full of sister acts. Along with Tegan and Sara are Lily and Madeleine, Bleached, Haim, and the sisters from Waxahatchee and Swearin’. The ladies from Deap Vally and Savages could probably be thrown into that bunch as well.

Was this a coincidence or a deliberate “anti-bro band” response?  Not familiar with term bro-band? Here is the definition from the urban dictionary.

Bro-Band: An expansion of jock-rock which is the male parallel to the boy band; any music that causes “Bros” to enter a state of wild abandon, swinging their arms violently, spilling beer and lip-syncing every lyric perfectly, essentially causing them to act like club-girls.
Examples of Bro-Bands include but are not limited to: Blues Traveler, Dave Matthews, Mumford and Sons, James Blunt, O.A.R., and others.

You definitely don’t see any bro-bands on my list. As a matter of fact, all those bands pretty much suck. As for the the previous question…

Coincidence or Anti-Bro crusade?

While I strongly dislike the Bro-Band genre, I respect everyone’s right to fill their ear holes with whatever music they want. Even shit laden bro songs. I will file this year’s sister act love under happy coincidence.

Now back to the Tegan and Sara album Heartthrob. This time around the ladies changed up their style quite a bit and released this synth-pop gem. It took me a few listens to warm up to their new direction. At first, it seemed like an attempt to cash in with a Katy Perry-ish type record. Then, I realized that hidden behind those up-beat hooks they have some seriously dark and painful lyrics. While listening to this record I can imagine each of the song being played in the old tried and true Tegan and Sara folk-rock format. And while I’m sure that album would have been good, it just wouldn’t have been as interesting as the way this version of Heartthrob turned out. In a way it is a perfect pop record but with some depth behind it.

Chris

#1: Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City

modern vampires of the city coverWhat an odd coincidence. Just like Todd with Tegan and Sara, I had given Vampire Weekend #2 honors with their previous two albums before awarding top honors to Modern Vampires of the City this time around. While previous years saw roadblocks in the form of Portishead (2008) and Crystal Castles (2010), no one could stop the VW from achieving top honors, even though 2013 has proven to be most excellent, far deeper than either ’08 or ’10.

From the minute I heard them play “Unbelievers” on Kimmel (around Halloween of 2012) I knew to set my expectations high. They were met. The songs are incredibly tight, varied in sound, inventive. I love the upbeat, drum-pounding, bass-popping, pitch-altering workout that is “Diane Young.” The dreamy synths and funky swing of “Everlasting Arms.” The fast strumming and soaring chorus of “Worship You.” The screams of “If I can’t trust you then dammit Hannah!” and the piano accents on “Hannah Hunt.” The excellent drumming showcase and the frenetic keyboards (and funny vocals, truth be told) of “Finger Back.” Frankly, I could list the drum work on nearly every track as a highlight. Chris Tomson is fast becoming one of my favorite drummers of all time. Watch your back, Jimmy Chamberlin!

The real standout here, on this album or any album in 2013, is “Step.” Brilliant lyrics, equal parts introspective and clever, augmented by piano, strings, a chorus of human voice synth, and a very simple rhythm section that doesn’t distract from Ezra’s lyrics/vocals. There’s something beautiful and haunting about this song; I think I first noticed the latter quality once my son started singing along to the song in the car. To hear a seven-year-old boy sing with all seriousness, “I feel it in my bones” and “I can’t do it alone,” hammers home and somewhat parallels the wide-eyed delivery of fears and longings sung by a relatively young Ezra Koenig. It’s one of those songs that makes me wonder how long it took to create the piece and how exactly did it all fall into place?

This is a front-to-back masterpiece from a band that has had its shit together from Day One. Ezra sings in “Step” that “wisdom’s a gift but you’d trade it for youth.” Seeing as the band has released just three albums, with an upward trajectory with each release, it’s fair to say they have wisdom AND youth.

P.S.: Go see these guys in concert.

Fun fact: My top three albums of 2013 featured black-and-white images. (FUN FACT!)

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Best albums of 2013: No. 2-4

The Music or Space Shuttle? braintrust rolls out its top albums of 2013 this week! Today we unveil our individual picks for #2-4. We’ll reveal our top 10 throughout the week, culminating with our top pick on Friday, Dec. 20. Don’t miss our picks for #11-20, #8-10, and #5-7.

Todd

#4: Waxahatchee, Cerulean Salt

waxahatcheeWaxahatchee is the solo project of songwriter Katie Crutchfield and is for the most part very simple. One vocal, one guitar and occasionally some drums. The songs ebb and flow from soft acoustic to droning distortion filled guitars and her vocals float effortlessly overtop all of them.

I started listening to Cerulean Salt a few weeks after the new My Bloody Valentine record was released. Like anything else that was released post m b v,  I assumed I would be over it quickly and back listening to the masters of shoegaze. I was wrong. I was stuck on this album almost as long as I was on m b v.

Waxahatchee toured this year with Katie’s sister’s band, Swearin’, which you may remember had my #15 album of the year. Of course, they came nowhere close to were I live. I would urge the great folks at the Mission Creek Music Festival to book these two bands. Do whatever it takes to get them on a stage near me. Thanks in advance.

#3: Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City

vampire weekendVampire Weekend’s 3rd album Modern Vampires of the City picks up right were they left off with 2010’s Contra which you may recall holds the #36 spot on my Undisputed Best albums of all time list. Both albums are full of songs that are incredibly intelligent lyrically, frequently comical and always catchy as hell. And just like previous Vampire Weekend releases, this one took me a few listens to get into it. Other than the instantly likable “Step”, every song took me awhile to truly enjoy. That was especially true with the rocker “Diane Young.” The machine gun drums and use of auto-tune kind of threw me at first. By the 3rd or 4th listen I was pitching up my sing along vocals to match the records.

One of my biggest regrets this year is not working out a way to catch Vampire Weekend in concert. They have been one of my favorite bands since their self titled debut album in 2008.  I had a few chances. Kansas City, Chicago, the Twin Cities and St. Louis all hosted them this year. All within reasonable driving distance. The St. Louis show was even at my favorite venue, The Pageant. Unfortunately, work schedules and other commitments got in the way. Luckily, I got to live vicariously through Chris and his son who caught them in Kansas City. I am definitely going to catch them next time around.

After 3 excellent albums under their belts, I’m curious to know if Vampire Weekend can keep it up over a long career. If I had to lay money down I would bet on yes.

#2: Chvrches, The Bones of What You Believe

chvrchesThe Glaswegian group with the weird spelling. Their name is pronounced “churches” (Cha-verches in my house) but spelled Chvrches to help with Google searches I would presume. Before the release of The Bones of What You Believe, Chvrches put out several excellent singles. “The Mother We Share” for instance, caught my attention right off. Lead vocalist Lauren Mayberry’s voice can both cut you to the bone and make you fall in love at the same time.

All of the songs I heard prior to the albums release featured Lauren on vocals, so when I eventually listened to the whole album I was surprised to find songs featuring male member (well, male band member, not an actual phallus), Martin Doherty on lead vocals. His songs “Under the Tide” and  “You Caught the Light” are two of my favorites on the album.

This album had a real good chance at being my #1 album of the year but it lost points in my book for its length. There are 16 songs on it and I generally punch-out by song 12. Get rid of a few clunkers and remix/alternate versions of songs and they are looking at an album of the year win.

Chris

#4: My Bloody Valentine, m b v

m b v coverIt’s not unusual for a parent to have a panic attack at Chuck E. Cheese. The place is a fucking nuthouse. You cringe as you watch the juvenile behavior play out, with yelling and pushing and cursing and general disregard for decency everywhere around you. And that’s just the adults.

Although I try to avoid the Cheese house whenever possible, I felt obligated to honor my son’s birthday wishes to take two of his friends there for pizza and video games before a sleepover. I endured as much of the atmosphere and the pizza as I could before I finally fled for the sanctuary of my phone.

And there I found the announcement years (decades!) overdue: Hello, this is Kevin Shields, and even though I’ve hinted at a new album since 1997 with a straight face only to disappear again, I really put out a new record and you have to download it from our website, which currently uses something resembling a Commodore 64 as its server. Good luck with that!

It was time to go. Five hours of computer frustration later, I finally had permission to pay the Sam Goody-priced ($16!) new album and download the nine songs to my PC. Certainly worth the money, and so good that I pretty much forgive the 22-year gap in output.

The first three songs sound like a natural continuation of LovelessThe middle third reminds me of stuff the band released on the various EPs from 1988 to 1991. And the final third showed where the band could go if it damn well wanted: jungle beats, devilish swirls of guitar, soaring synths. A longer examination of an instant classic can be found in a post from February.

Just don’t take 22 more years to make and release the next album…

#3: Savages, Silence Yourself

silence yourselfIt took about one minute for Silence Yourself to get its hooks into me. The first song begins with a sampling of dialogue from a John Cassavetes movie (paired with eerie squalls of guitar) before a rumbling bass line throws things into high gear. A stuttering guitar joins the proceedings, and at the 1:02 mark, the bass and guitar interlock perfectly and for about 39 minutes you race through a world of shadows and fear and anger and passion, all punctuated by sharp drum shots, gut-punching bass notes, fierce guitar, and the push-you-to-the-edge voice of Jehnny Beth.

While the music is tight and forceful, the lyrics give Savages that extra edge. A reader asked me in July why I thought Savages was getting so much good press, and more specifically, what about their lyrics set them apart. My response:

The lyrics are just an emotional purge, an astute observation without a turning point, but that’s OK—I think many people can identify. I know I admire emotional content regardless of whether a solution comes with it.

And it’s all done through the carefully crafted black-and-white lens that Savages uses as its identity. It’s a very consistent identity, from the shadowy album cover to the rather monochromatic tone of the music. The low rumble of the rhythm section provides the “black” image; the piercing guitar squalls and sneered vocals serve as the “white” part.

Perhaps it could be summed up as this: Savages are documentarians of the bleak, and they don’t pretend to have any answers.

In a year when I’ve seen some great live shows, one of my greatest regrets is not driving up to Madison to see these guys this fall. After this sort of debut, I’m guessing I’ll have plenty of chances to see them again.

#2: The Civil Wars, The Civil Wars

civil wars coverThe day before the Civil Wars’ eponymous album came out, I remarked to friend and fellow CW fan Sondra that “I look forward to being emotionally destroyed tomorrow.” We had heard a couple of tracks in advance, giving us a taste of what we had in store. And the next day came, and the album came, and I was emotionally destroyed as predicted, and it was most excellent.

The music could have been buried by the soap opera of Joy Williams and John Paul White. And in much of the press around the album’s release, it kinda did. That’s truly sad. “The One That Got Away” has one of their best choruses to date, Joy’s voice taking the lead, her voice descending slowly before jumping to new heights, with John Paul punctuating certain words before harmonizing the second verse. “Same Old Same Old” has ever so slight instrumentation backing some of the most tender vocals (and lyrics) in their discography.

Not every moment is quiet and fragile. “I Had Me a Girl” is a rollicking tune that is tailor-made for singing along, especially the “ooooooooh-ooooooooh-oooooooooh” chorus. Not only is a it a great song, it provides one of those moments that the fans can grab hold of and say “See, you two can have fun making music together! Now get back together and play some live shows! And make some more albums! Please?!” And “Eavesdrop” might start off quietly, but it picks up steam by the first chorus and simply explodes by the second one. It’s nice to hear John Paul singing on this one too, as Joy does a lot of the vocal work on the album as a whole.

My favorite song? The one sung in French, “Sacred Heart.” I can’t decide if it is my top song of 2013 or not; “Step” by Vampire Weekend is the only competitor. The song is absolutely gorgeous on its face. On top of that, I found the lyrics online and plugged them into Google Translate, and for one reason or another, they melted my heart. Yes, it’s hard to sing along since I don’t speak the language, but that never stopped me with Sigur Ros, so, you know, why not?

(Lone criticism: their version of Smashing Pumpkins’ “Disarm” doesn’t work.)

Best albums of 2013: No. 5-7

The Music or Space Shuttle? braintrust rolls out its top albums of 2013 this week! Today we unveil our individual picks for #5-7. We’ll reveal our top 10 throughout the week, culminating with our top pick on Friday, Dec. 20. Don’t miss our picks for #11-20 and #8-10.

Todd

#7: Sigur Ros, Kveikur

kveikurIf I had only one word to describe the amazing Sigur Ros record Kveikur, it would be “Brennisteinn!!!!” Brennisteinn happens to be the epic opening track of the album and quite a bit of a departure from most of their other music. It’s much harder and more aggressive than the uplifting movie soundtrack fodder that they have released in the past. Cameron Crowe must have used their entire discography in that We Bought a Zoo movie.

Brennisteinn!!!!” was also the mantra of your favorite MoSS? writers during our trip to Chicago to see Jonsi and the boys live at the UIC Pavilion. Well, that was usually followed up by our lame attempt to recreate the deep bass drop that starts out the song. “DUHHNNNNNN!”

What a show that was. Probably the best concert, musically, that I witnessed all year. Other live shows this year may have been filled with more booze and interesting characters, but none could touch the sonic and visual experience of Sigur Ros. Chris wrote a great MoSS? Pit entry about it. You should check that out if you haven’t already. Then you should run directly to wherever Jonsi is playing his sideways electric guitar with a violin bow and see him perform.

#6: Haim, Days Are Gone

Haim_-_Days_Are_GoneI first heard Haim while surfing the internet late last year.  I ran across the video for their song “Don’t Save Me”, a catchy little pop tune that became a mainstay on all of my 2013 playlists. It even snagged a spot on the MoSS? January mix. They piqued my interest right away. How could you not be interested? 3 talented and attractive sisters that make great music? Yes please.

I feel for their father though. Have you seen the hair on those girls? It’s long and there’s lots of it. It must have been a full time job for him to de-clog the drains around his house. I have a wife and one daughter and have enough problems in that department. Can you imagine the havoc created with their plumbing when their monthly cycles sync up? The horror.

Throughout the rest of the year the ladies released several more singles and got massive airplay on indie radio channels.  Every song seemed to be better than the next. If I had to pick a “Song of the Summer” this year, their single “The Wire” would have to be it. By August it seemed obvious that Haim would be at the top of my best of the year list. The only problem was that they hadn’t actually released an album yet. The girls must have known they were running out of time because in late September they released Days Are Gone to help cement their place on my list.

#5: Arcade Fire, Reflektor

reflektorI was pretty worried about this one before it came out. The last Arcade Fire album, The Suburbs, had the great honor bestowed upon it as my pick for #1 Album of 2010. It eventually won the slightly less prestigious Grammy for Album of the Year. Could the new record live up to the hype? When the first single “Reflektor” was revealed I thought it was good, but was again worried. If this was to be the best song on the album, Win Butler and company were in trouble.

A few weeks before the album was released Arcade Fire was the musical guest on SNL. They played the previously mentioned “Reflektor” and a new song to me at the time “Afterlife.” Both fine but again I was not exactly blown away. My wife and I stayed up a bit later that night because after SNL there was to be a half hour special featuring more live performances of new songs by Arcade Fire. By minute 2 of the first song on the special “Here Comes the Night Time” all my fears were brushed aside. My wife and I were smiling and couch dancing throughout the entire 30 minute show. Here is link to the whole show if you want to recreate our experience…

As you can probably extrapolate from my ramblings, I loved the album after its eventual release. I was lucky enough to score pretty good pre-sale tickets to the Arcade Fire show in Kansas City next spring. The ticket says formal attire or costume required. My wife has been working overtime with her “Bedazzler” to create the perfect jewel encrusted suit coat for me to wear. If you are at the show, look for the bald guy in the white suit with a sparkling red phoenix bursting out of a blue tuna can.

Chris

#7: Burial, Rival Dealer

rival dealer coverI’ve always found it peculiar that music fans bought the idea that Four Tet and Burial were the same person. I mean, Four Tet is pretty good and all—I put Beautiful Rewind in my top 20, after all—but Burial is playing on a totally different level. If you told me Four Tet was Burial’s younger brother, that could gain some traction with me…

Burial continues to show he is the master, especially since he abandoned the LP format and has run with the EP concept (his last four releases, starting with the absolutely brilliant Street Halo). These roughly half-hour chunks of Burial’s universe (scratchy texture, muted female voices, off-kilter percussion, ominous synths) sound otherworldly.

And on Rival Dealer, Burial deals with some extremes, in my view. The title track might be the single-most propulsive song he’s ever created; the bass lunges forward when in the past it might be fine to just sit back and set the chill vibe. The Burialesque “hollow” percussion (think woodblock) is absent, relying on quick work on the high hat. And even the vocal sample screams at you: “I want to love you more than anyone!”

The “short” song, “Hiders,” strips away the beat completely, leaving the listener with a rather clean vocal track and a nice keyboard line that soars right alongside the voice. And “Come Down to Us” is possibly the best long-form collage he’s tried on these EPs, better than “Ashtray Wasp,” better than “Rough Sleeper.”

I don’t know if I can handle a complete LP of Burial awesome, and if he delivers an EP or two each year, well, that works for me.

#6: Sigur Ros, Kveikur

kveikur coverLast year, I ranked the latest offering from Sigur Rós (Valtari) in this very spot, #6. I was so happy to see the band return from hiatus; nothing else can explain why I ranked that album as high as I did. I mean, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t anything special either. I wanted to believe that it was something in the same vein as ( ), but really it was more the sound of a band that had just overdosed on Quaaludes. (I would probably substitute Andy Stott’s Luxury Problems if I were to revise my 2012 list.)

But in 2013, they lost a band member and gained some serious edge. What an about face…and what a welcome change. I echo everything Todd says above about “Brennisteinn,” and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The title track and “Isjaki” are incredibly upbeat numbers; “Stormur” has the sort of ethereal vibe one looks for in Sigur Rós but maintains the energy of the album; it sort of reminds me of “Staralfur” from the wonderful Agaetis Byrjun. The clanging and brass of “Hrafntinna” provide a nice comedown from the opening blast of “Brennisteinn” and “Rafstraumur” is one of those songs that builds on a simple vocal and turns into something loud, almost in the same styling as an Explosions in the Sky tune.

And don’t let the funky song titles or Jonsi’s Icelandic lyrics scare you away: even those of us whose fluency is limited to English and “Spanglish” have no problem singing along to these tunes.

So yeah, I won’t regret putting this at #6 this time next year. In fact, that this album only made it to #6 on my 2013 ranking shows just how great this year has been in my opinion. (And yes, read our “From the MoSS? Pit” entry from Sigur Rós’ Chicago show.)

#5: Chvrches, The Bones of What You Believe

chvrchesI should repeat one of my closing lines from the Sigur Rós entry: that this album is only #5 on my list shows just how great 2013 was.

Often times I find myself really liking “the deep cuts” from albums. Sometimes that’s just because the singles are oversaturated, whether that be courtesy of SiriusXMU or licensing to commercials or what have you. Sometimes I just find the interesting experiments of non-singles to be more intriguing than the catchy hooks.

The thing about this album, for the most part, is that you could throw a dart at the album’s track listing and whichever song you hit, you have a potential single. The songs are all that well crafted, yet diverse enough that the album doesn’t sound like you accidentally hit the “repeat one” button on your music playing device. The songs that are billed as the singles (“The Mother We Share,” “Gun,” “Lies,” “Recover”) are outstanding in terms of upbeat vibe and great vocals/lyrics; other songs such as “We Sink” and “Tether” and “Under the Tide” show no dropoff.

What separates this album from other great-but-not-GRRRRREEEAAAAAT offerings (not to pick on them, but let’s say Cut Copy) is the emotion that comes through. That’s not just limited to the vocals, although that’s where the primary difference lies. Lauren Mayberry’s voice really speaks to one’s heart, whereas Cut Copy lyrics seem to just keep the party going. (Again, I like Cut Copy, but I don’t know that I ever feel much connection to the words.)

I’m afraid these guys have become too big for something like Mission Creek. I’d love for the festival organizers to prove me wrong…

Best albums of 2013: No. 8-10

The Music or Space Shuttle? braintrust rolls out its top albums of 2013 this week! Today we unveil our individual picks for #8-10. We’ll reveal our top 10 throughout the week, culminating with our top pick on Friday, Dec. 20. Don’t miss our picks for #11-20.

Todd

#10: Palma Violets, 180

180It probably took me 10 listens to the first song on Palma Violets 180 , “Best of Friends” , before I realized I was singing along to the songs raucous chorus incorrectly. I was singing…

“I don’t wanna be your best friend…I want you to be my girl.”

Assuming this song was like nearly every other rock song about a guy/girl relationships were the guy really wants to be with a girl. Well, at least spend some quality time with the girl’s lady bits. Of course I was wrong. It was actually the opposite…

“I wanna be your best friend…I don’t want you to be my girl.”

A switch-up that I found to be a much more interesting a thought. Unless the girl looks like and has the personality of Nancy Grace, what guy wants that situation? Just friends with an attractive cool chick? Not even friends with benefits? Mind blown.

It was that song that got me to check out the whole 180 album and I wasn’t disappointed. Track after track of post-punk gems. Many of the songs remind me of The Clash during the London Calling era. Although, Palma Violets frontman Chilli Jesson’s lead vocals are a bit more varied than on some of the old Clash songs. Throughout, 180  he will seamlessly switch from crooning verses to screaming choruses. I also think they end the album perfectly with the anthemic song “14.” Seems like the ideal song to hold up a lighter and sway back and forth with a concert crowd. I hope they come around here soon to see.

#9: Golden Youth, Quiet Frame: Wild Light

golden youth

This is an album that may not have been on too many people’s radar. I ran across a free download of one of their songs, “Brother in the Morning Light”, and really liked it. Enough in fact to throw it on one of our 2013 monthly mix tapes. Musically it reminded me quite a bit of some of Sigur Ros’ more uplifting  “movie moment” type songs. The only difference being the vocals of female lead singer Stephanie Lauren.

I eventually downloaded the whole album during a 3 hour car trip to the Chicago area.  I must have played it 15 times during that trip and countless others after. It’s a quick listen. Unfortunately, of the 10 songs on the album, only 7 are unique. They tacked on alternate/live versions of 3 songs at the end of the album. If they had 3 new songs on there instead, the record probably would have scored a much higher ranking.

#8: My Bloody Valentine, m b v

m b vYes, the unthinkable happened and MBV announced via their Facespace page that they had a new record and website. The website immediately crashed and I wore out my computer’s refresh button until I was able to download the album. You can’t imagine the joy I felt as I listened to the lead track “she found now” and realized A, that it wasn’t a fake and B, it was really good.

The night of the release as I was constantly refreshing and battling the dreaded “403 Server Error”, I read a lot of comments on the MBV Facebook page. The best comments were by younger fans. They didn’t really get the excitement of us older dudes. One kid posted something like, “the only people that care about this album are middle-aged white dudes in the suburbs.” He nailed my demographic for sure. I don’t think he was 100% correct but m b v was certainly the biggest thing to happen in my world of music in a long time.

Chris

#10: Bleached, Ride Your Heart

bleached ride your heart album coverWhat do I like so much about the Bleached record, a collection of songs that earned my consideration for top-5 positioning at various points of the year? I love the way the vocals have that sun-drenched quality without sounding cheesy-cheery. I love the rapid-fire drum fills on songs like “Next Stop,” which also has fun lyrics that will force even the grumpiest guy to sing along a bit. I love the high-hat/bass line vibe in the verses of “Dead in Your Head” that relent to a bursting chorus.

Songs like “Searching Through the Past” and “Dead Boy” are nothing complicated, but they’re really great tunes that don’t get old on subsequent listens. I’m attracted to the lo-fi sound throughout. If you like Best Coast (and if you’ve seen my lists from previous years, you know I am in that camp), you can’t go wrong with Bleached. It’s the sort of album that will never sound dated, and it’s a statement brief enough that you don’t tire of it halfway through.

#9: Julianna Barwick, Nepenthe

julianna barwick nepenthe album coverThe first wave of Mission Creek 2014 bands was announced the other day, and my reaction mirrored how I felt when the 2013 lineup was announced: meh. But this year, I’m learning it might be worth looking into the artists I’m not familiar with. Because I missed a chance to see one of my favorite artists of 2013 do her thing for an intimate audience in Iowa City.

Yep, Julianna Barwick was one of the 2013 Mission Creek performers, and I can only imagine how glorious the songs from Nepenthe would have sounded live. The vocals more often than not serve as yet another instrument, creating a dreamy end result that can calm the feistiest of souls. There is intensity within this music, taking it beyond simple background music to something special.

I think the best way to describe this album is to consider it a younger sibling of sorts to Sigur Ros’ ( ). And if you know what high regard I have for that album, you’ll realize what a compliment I’m paying Nepenthe. (If you’re wondering what Nepenthe means, it is a medicine for sorrow mentioned in ancient Greek literature. The definition applies here, too.)

#8: Chelsea Wolfe, Pain Is Beauty

pain is beauty coverThere are some differences between Chelsea Wolfe and Ian Curtis. Wolfe isn’t a dude, doesn’t appear to suffer from epilepsy, and, well, she’s alive.

But there are certainly some similarities in their musical stylings. The title of her latest album, Pain Is Beauty, is very Joy Division sounding. Her voice conveys the same sort of emotionalism that Curtis used to deliver on a regular basis (in a much lower register, of course).

I love the minimalist beat of “Feral Love” and “The Warden.” I love the combination of Wolfe’s aching vocals and the plodding drums and the low, ringing guitar blasts found on “We Hit a Wall.” The album’s intensity is felt throughout its 12 tracks, and the album’s tone is far from monotonous. Fans of the post-punk era should enjoy this disc quite a bit.

Best albums of 2013: No. 11-20 (with playlist!)

The Music or Space Shuttle? braintrust rolls out its top albums of 2013 this week! Today we start with our individual picks for #11-20, with playlists sampling each group of 10. We’ll reveal our top 10 throughout the week, culminating with our top pick on Friday, Dec. 20.

Todd’s #11-20

20. Ejecta, Dominae

19. Lily and Madeleine, The Weight of the Globe

18. Savages, Silence Yourself

17. Thee Oh Sees, Floating Coffin

16. Free Time, Free Time

15. Ducktails, The Flower Lane

14. Swearin’, Surfin’ Strange

13. Deap Vally, Sistronix

12. Small Black, Limits of Desire

11. Bleached, Ride Your Heart

Chris’ #11-20

20. Best Coast, Fade Away

19. Ashley Monroe, Like a Rose

18. The Field, Cupid’s Head

17. Four Tet, Beautiful Rewind

16. Thee Oh Sees, Floating Coffin

15. Cut Copy, Free Your Mind

14. Haim, Days Are Gone

13. Veronica Falls, Waiting for Something to Happen

12. Mikal Cronin, MCII

11. Weekend, Jinx