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.


#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.


#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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