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.
#7: Sigur Ros, Kveikur
If 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
I 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
I 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.
#7: Burial, Rival Dealer
I’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
Last 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
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…