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2013 Album Reviews
Eric Blumberg
| January 14, 2014
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Here at WVBR, we obviously love music. So, we had some of our DJs write short reviews on all of their favorite albums from 2013! Unfortunately, not all of the big albums made it into our reviews, but here's what our DJs had to say:

Jordan - DJ

Daft Punk - Random Access Memories

Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories is one of the best albums of 2013.  With its music sounding as though it is both from the 1970s and futuristic, Daft Punk was able to create an album that was found irresistible by the public.  There is no doubt that this the most full album that I have heard this year with each song working well individually, but more impressively, better as a cohesive sound, meaning that each song goes well with the song preceding it.  The album also was able to have a smash hit, with its song ‘Get Lucky’ reaching top ten charts in over 32 countries.   This album is the only record that I bought on vinyl from the past decade, and that is not from lack of other albums sold.

Arcade Fire – Reflektor

The album Reflektor stands out because of how different it is from The Arcade Fire’s earlier work—namely Funerals and Neon Bible.  Reflektor still has the band’s sound because of Win Butler’s unique voice, but besides this, the sound is quite different.  Former LCD Sounsytem’s James Murphy was partially responsible for Reflektor’s production, which may be a reason for this change in sound.

 

Justin - DJ

Flaming Lips – Peace Sword EP

The Flaming Lips are back at it again with their newest offering, a 6 track EP entitled Peace Sword.  After being tasked with writing a song for the soundtrack to the hit film Ender’s Game, Wayne Coyne and company decided to expand upon it and ended up with this gem.  It offers everything that the Lips have become famous for, from intricate sonic textures to spacey lyrics about the inevitability of death.  But don’t be put off by this; the overall tone of the EP is positive and optimistic. Synthesized string effects intertwine with Wayne Coyne’s ethereal vocals in a way which leaves the listener wondering whether they are hearing a machine, a man, or some combination of the two.  To fully appreciate the subtleties of the music, it’s worth listening to very loud on large speakers.  In fact, it was MADE to be played loud.  Any other way is doing a disservice to all of the hard work that the Flaming Lips put into this excellent EP. And if you enjoy this, check out their other release from this year, a full length album entitled The Terror.  The Flaming Lips may have marked their 30th year as a group in 2013, but are in no way backing down.

 

Jake - DJ

Phoenix- Bankrupt!

Phoenix’s Bankrupt! comes four years after their smash hit Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, which propelled the French group to international stardom. Bankrupt! understandably deviates little from their successful synth-pop style. The band uses more vintage, 80’s sounding synths, but the formula remains the same. The album’s two singles “Entertainment” and “Trying to Be Cool” are both catchy and enjoyable, reminding us how Phoenix broke out with previous singles like “1901” and “Lisztomania”. The title track features a long instrumental intro, uncannily similar to “Love Like a Sunset” off 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus. While Bankrupt! offers little new to the listener, it is still an enjoyable listen.

CHVRCHES- The Bones of What You Believe

The Scottish synth-pop band CHVRCHES burst onto the scene in 2013 with their debut studio LP, The Bones of What You Believe. After only one listen the energy of the music and especially the vocals of singer Lauren Mayberry are instantly remarkable. Mayberry’s vulnerable vocals are strong and assertive, and really steal the show on the album. The accompanying synth sounds are often vast sounding, and complement the vocals well. With many single-worthy songs, standout songs include “Recover”, “Lies”, and “The Mother We Share”. The band’s ambition is heard throughout their debut album, and the album is rewarding even after multiple listens.

Vampire Weekend- Modern Vampires of the City

After the critical and commercial successes of both their self-titled debut and 2010’s Contra, Vampire Weekend seemed vulnerable to a potential let down on their third LP. Instead Modern Vampires of the City has shot Vampire Weekend further into the stratosphere, making them future first ballot indie-rock hall of famers. The lyrics of front man Ezra Koenig continue to be exceptional and are as abstract as ever, with ruminations on God, relationships, and growing older. The music is more experimental than the previous two albums; the most noticeable addition to the arsenal being voice pitch shifting. Highlights include “Hannah Hunt” and “Step”. With Modern Vampires of the City, Vampire Weekend has managed to create not only a coherent album, but a coherent discography, with all three LP’s fitting neatly together.

Arctic Monkeys- AM

The Arctic Monkeys’ fifth album, AM, reminds listeners that the Arctic Monkeys are one of only a handful of rock and roll bands thriving in the pop music conscience, and one that is clearly here to stay. The atmosphere of the songs on AM is somewhat dark and foggy, but that is not to say there is a lack of potential singles. Highlights include the singles “R U Mine”, “Do I Wanna Know?”, and the catchy “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?”. Much of the album has driving bass and percussion, giving some songs a danceable feel that feels a little different from past Arctic Monkeys albums. The band’s sense of confidence and bravado can be felt throughout even the more tender songs, which makes for an enjoyable listen in many different moods.

 

Millie – DJ, Newscaster

HAIM – Days Are Gone

I think it was late August of 2013 when a good friend of mine who is always on top of the latest in music, film, etc. posted a video on my Facebook wall for this new girl band.  Only a few seconds into the music video for “Don’t Save Me” and I was hooked on HAIM.  HAIM, a band consisting of sisters Este, Danielle, and Alana Haim (joined on drums by Dash Hutton) come to us from Los Angeles, California.  For those who are fans of Vampire Weekend, HAIM is to L.A. like Vampire Weekend is to NYC.  Their sound, their style, and the settings of their music videos are all so Los Angeles.  Besides being from my hometown, I also love these ladies because they have the ability to rock both their amazing girl power and chic leather jackets.  In their first album, “Days Are Gone” HAIM cranks out several catchy hits. Their sound is like a mash up of 80’s rock and modern indie music and they have often been compared to Stevie Nicks.  Favorites of mine include: “Forever,” “The Wire,” and of course “Don’t Save Me.”  If you haven’t discovered HAIM yet (they have already played on SNL and at the 2013 Glastonbury festival) then I would definitely check out this album, preferably while driving down the 101.

 

Charlie - DJ

The National – Trouble Will Find Me

Ever since their 2005 release “Alligator” brought The National a great deal of attention, they have yet to release an album that did not receive extensive critical acclaim.  “Trouble Will Find Me” is no exception, as fans and critics alike have praised the Brooklyn indie-rockers’ sixth full-length. I think all of the praise is well deserved. Singer Matt Berninger’s trademark baritone vocals are deeper and richer than ever, as evident in the opening verse of the album’s first single “Demons”.  Lyrically, Berninger stays true to the dark, self-reflective narratives that have come to define The National. Berninger presents themes of loneliness and depression throughout, especially evident on the faster paced “Graceless” (“All my thoughts of you/Bullets through rock and through/Come apart at the seams/Now I know what dying means”). Behind Berninger’s vocals, the band layers beautifully crafted instrumental hooks that demonstrate growth from their past efforts.  The album opener “I Should Live in Salt” and aforementioned “Demons” showcase odd-meter time signatures, while the quieter “Fireproof” lets the creativity of twin guitarists Aaron and Bryce Dessner shine through.  While most of the instrumentation is simple on its own, every note is deliberate. The individual parts blend together to create a sonic masterpiece full of reverb-soaked swells. Just when it seems that the songs may begin to drag, Bryan Devendorf’s tasteful, yet creative drumming injects some pace and keeps the album moving. “Trouble Will Find Me” continued to grow on me ever since its release, and became one of my favorite releases of 2013 by the end of the year.  The National have proved, yet again, that they are one of the most consistent indie rock groups out there. 

The Head and The Heart – Let’s Be Still

The past five years have been huge for mainstream folk acts, with bands like Mumford and Sons and The Lumineers becoming festival headliners and selling out stadium shows.  Of all the artists in this newly popular genre, The Head and The Heart are probably the most deserving to rise to that level of popularity. The sophomore album from this folk-rock sextet, “Let’s Be Still”, opens with the toe-tapping percussion, interweaving piano and violin melodies, and tight vocal harmonies of “Homecoming Heroes”.  While these ingredients may sound all too familiar for folk-rock fans, The Head and the Heart demonstrate a new level of musical creativity that sets them apart from similar acts. Dynamic swells give the album a live, concert-like feel at times, while each instrument demonstrates a great deal of individuality.  Despite this individual creativity, the band manages to make each part fit together perfectly. The catchy and upbeat “Shake” is a perfect example of this group’s musical diversity.  Vocalist Jonathan Russell delivers strong solo verses which transition to full harmonies (flavored by the female voice of violinist Charity Rose Thielen).  Drummer Tyler Williams, who demonstrates extraordinary versatility throughout the album, changes the feel of the song as he moves from simple bass drum thumping to creative stop-and-go beats.  Meanwhile, bassist Chris Zasche performs an infectious bass riff for most of the track.  All of this makes “Shake”, the album’s first single, incredibly infectious. There is never a dull moment on “Let’s Be Still”. Songs like “Another Story” and “10,000 Weight in Gold” both gather momentum as they build to compelling endings. These slow builds happen frequently on the album, with layers of instruments constantly being added (and taken away) to create a lot of dynamic contrast.  It feels like every time I listen to the record there is a new detail that I missed before, keeping it exciting listen after listen. The originality that The Head and The Heart brought to folk-rock in “Let’s Be Still” made it my favorite folk record of 2013.  If they start selling out stadiums or headlining festivals sometime soon, I wouldn’t be surprised.

 

Gil – DJ

My Bloody Valentine – M.B.V.

Not to start this review of what I believe to be the best album of the year in too much of a cliché fashion, but 2013, what a year in music! Of course, you had the big mainstream stuff like Kanye’s Yeezuz and Beyonce’s new no-hype album, as well as some rad releases from the indie giants like the Arcade Fire’s Reflektor and Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City.  Also, Tame Impala contemporaries, Pond, came out with a sweet album (if you haven’t heard of them check them out asap!).However, despite all of these releases, there is one release that reigns absolutely supreme when looking back on 2013. That release, is My Bloody Valentine’s highly anticipated new album, M B V. For those who don’t know, My Bloody Valentine was a band most popular in the late eighties early nineties. Though they often struggled to achieve mainstream fame and recognition, there debut LP, Isn’t Anything, garnered critical acclaim and brought them recognition in the underground indie scene. However, in 1991, My Bloody Valentine released what is widely held as one of the greatest albums of all time, Loveless. Loveless, a noisy, euphoric swirl of spiraling guitars and sonic bliss was a huge success and ultimately came to define what is known as “shoegaze,” a dreamy kind of pop, characterized by distorted guitars, feedback, and the Phil Spector coined “Wall of Sound.” Loveless made My Bloody Valentine alt/indie rock legends and has had an impact on nearly all alternative rock bands since; especially the Smashing Pumpkins.

 

Matt - DJ

 Altar of Plagues - Teethed Glory and Injury

After two albums and numerous EPs made up of expansive black metal that drew them countless (accurate) comparisons to Wealking, Altar of Plagues final album before announcing their breakup early this summer found the Irish trio exploring far different territory. In contrast to their previous output, most of the songs on Teethed Glory and Injury hover around the five-minute-mark and the band’s haunting, bleak soundscapes have been replaced with something dense, sticky, and made up of far baser elements, distilling black metal down to noisy, primordial rhythms.  Moreso than any other album this year, I found myself returning to Teethed Glory and Injury time and time again in attempts to throw myself deeper into this mesmerizing, beautiful, dark album that Altar of Plagues has created

Jason Isbell – Southeastern

You can include me amongst the fans that thought Jason Isbell’s best work was behind him after he left the Drive-By Truckers in 2007 and released a string of three underwhelming solo albums. This also means that I was sorely, sorely wrong, as Isbell has begun the second (or is it third?) act of his career with Southeastern and it may well be better than the first.  

The World is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die - Whenever, If Ever

Amidst all of the music blog frenzy over the so-called ‘emo revival’, The World Is… have managed on their (long-awaited) debut album to evolve the genre and the idea of ‘emo’ rather than simply revive it, and along the way created an album full of miniature sing-a-longs that provided a perfect summer soundtrack.

 

Sam - DJ

Elijah & The Moon - The Lonesome World Beyond the Trees

Elijah & the Moon— The promising, up and coming folk/indie singer-songwriter rock band— is leading quite a remarkable start in their college career. They have toured across the US and have performed at numerous music festivals, such as Mountain Jam Festival, held in Upstate New York every summer. Forming at the SUNY Purchase Music Conservatory, the four young musicians, including Elijah Wolf-Christensen (guitar/vocals), Gianluca Minucci (bass/vocals), Kenny Trotter (violin), and Jeremy Wexler (drums/percussion), have been able to bring together an assemblage of folk’s Catskills origins, a formal, yet loose and improvised style of training, and a sprightly rock feeling. This is Elijah & the Moon's first released album, aside from their debut EP, As Tall as the Sun, released in June 2012. The album has strong string and vocal arrangements with a “substance-over-style” approach. The dual combination of strong choruses and drumming/stringed overlapping creates the vibrancy that a Mumford and Sons song would offer. Each song has its own theme and may vary in sound and timing, yet they all lend themselves to a cohesive feeling in which the sum really is greater than its parts. The idea of breaking out of their shell and seeing the world beyond the trees, beyond their sheltered Woodstock life, is something of an adventure and which should be taken all at once, just how the album should be taken.

 

Katie - DJ

True Widow – Circumambulation

True Widow is a band from Dallas, Texas and Circumambulation is their third release. The band has three members: DH Phillips (guitar/vocals) , Nicole Estill (bass/vocals), and Slim TX (drums). They consider their style stonegaze, a hybrid of stoner rock and shoegaze. This seemingly strange combination describes their music well. They are slow and heavy. The instrumental is sludgy, full of chugging riffs and rumbling bass. The vocals and lyrics are light, ethereal, and haunting, with the two singers alternating. Their voices sound distant, with a slight echo, as if they are singing to each other from the opposite ends of a tunnel. This album follows the same theme as the two previous, with some distinct features. The guitar riffs in some cases are more melody-driven, though maintain their sludginess. The title of the album, Circumambulation, means “walking around”. As such, the album repeats riffs and melodies throughout in a circular way. True Widow is a band that perfectly combines heavy and dreamy. Their music is fit to listen to blasted at full volume, or softly at night while falling asleep. Circumambulation, along with their other albums, is worth adding to any collection.

Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt

Lightning Bolt is Pearl Jam’s tenth studio album. It begins with a sense of pounding urgency that carries through the first three tracks and lets up when the album hits the slower power ballad Sirens, which is reminiscent in style of songs such as Inside Job and Given to Fly. Eddie Vedder’s voice is rich and booming and he often employs his characteristic style of pushing his vocals to the point of strain. One notable song is my My Father’s Song because it is personal and snarling with sarcastic lyrics. Another standout song is Pendulum, which has a soft and mystical vibe. Sleeping By Myself was originally released on Eddie Vedder’s ukulele songs album, and this rendition is with the whole band. Yellow Moon sticks out because of its unique time signature. The final song looks ahead into the future, Future Days, indicating that we have not seen the last of Pearl Jam.While there is not a huge shift in sound in this album from their other more recent releases, there are some edges unique to this album, such as subtle instrumental Pink Floyd and punk rock influences, as mentioned by Mike McCready before the album’s release. If you like other Pearl Jam albums, and I don’t just mean Ten, you will like this album too. Like many of their other albums, this is not an album that you can listen to once and fully appreciate. It takes multiple listens to catch all of the nuances and melodies and distinctions. Lightning Bolt is an excellent addition to their catalogue and Pearl Jam is not the same band with a shy lead singer that they were during their humble beginnings as Mookie Blaylock in Seattle. Pearl Jam has been together for over twenty years now and they have developed a raw and honest sound that is unique to them.

The Melvins - Everybody Loves Sausages

Everybody Loves Sausages is the 18th studio release by the Melvins and it consists entirely of covers of songs by artists that influenced them in their formative years. This nod to their roots seems appropriate given that 2013 was also the year of their 30th anniversary tour. Some tracks were recorded by the traditional lineup of the Melvins, while some were recorded by the incarnation known as Melvins Lite. They collaborated with many other artists for this album, including Mark Arm of Mudhoney. And after 30 years the Melvins are still weird, still original, still underground, and still heavy as hell. Their sound on this album is still massive and characteristic of the sludge-metal genre they helped innovate, with the unexpected twists we have come to expect from them. The albums begins with a cover of Warhead by Venom, heavy with churning guitar, then promptly shifts to an upbeat, yet slightly creepy-sounding version of Best Friend by Queen with poppy synths, before shifting back to heavy with the quick-tempo cover of Black Betty by Leadbelly. Other artists covered include The Scientists, David Bowie, The Kinks, Divine,The Fugs, and many more. One standout is their more ominous-sounding version of Bowie’s Station to Station, drone included. Another is the operatic and eerie cover of In Every Dream Home a Heartache by Roxy Music. This album is fun and intriguing and the Melvins add their own unique personality to this eclectic mix of tracks, paying homage to their influences yet experimenting as always and proving that they have their own place in music history as well.

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