Cold War Kids
Downtown Music LLC
Like cannon fire signaling the beginning of a revolutionary battle, Long Beach California's Cold War Kids' fourth studio album, Dear Miss Lonelyhearts, blasts away oppressive emotions from the very moment front man Nathan Willett bangs on his piano's keys for the opening track, "Miracle Mile."
Thundering drums, wailing synth and bleeding vocals bounce between anthems and tender laments with lyrics that suggest flippancy toward convention and the straight and narrow path. Dear Miss Lonelyhearts is as much an outlet for aggression as it is for boiling melancholy, making it the most dynamically impassioned album of the year.
Texas band Midlake preserved the softness of its progressive rock on the band's fourth studio album, Antiphon, despite the departure of lead singer and founding member Tim Smith late in 2012.
The re-invented album is fundamentally on par with their previous works but includes marked gains in grace and richness. In fact, it's their best record to date.
A wormhole of early 70s psychedelic folk opens up the album's title track, initiating an expansive calming journey with musical colors and deep sentiment. The supple voice of new lead vocalist Eric Pulido creates gentle ripples through the music as the lavish piano and guitar envelop the listener with comforting blankets of audio.
Will Find Me
Acclaimed New York band The National released its sixth studio album in 2013, and as with the five preceding records, Trouble Will Find Me languishes in dejection and craving. Front man Matt Berninger's baritone vocals engineer a dutiful foundation for the band's songs about loss and uncertainty, and that's where the beauty of the album lies. Despite lyrics that at times can be hard to decipher, the brutal honesty of emotion is evident on every mellow rock track.
If there was one concept album that garnered enough attention to be included on this list, it was going to be this self-titled debut from Yale graduate and avant-garde composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone, who recorded it under the name San Fermin.
Why? Simply put, it's a masterpiece of classical chamber pop and storytelling prose.
Leveraging vocals from Allen Tate as well as two members from the band Lucius, Ludwig-Leone erected orchestral compositions featuring more than 20 instrumentalists to flank a love story of sorts between two central characters. Marked by serene classical interludes that touch on fear of growing older, San Fermin also has splashes of pop brilliance that effortlessly conjure up childlike crushes.
Adam Green &
Known for early anti-folk works with the band the Moldy Peaches, progressive singer/songwriter Adam Green is one of the most eclectic artists of the last decade. On his latest album, Green pairs with vocalist Binki Shapiro—formerly of Little Joy—for a self-titled collection of vintage duets in the style of Sonny & Cher, or Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris.
Green and Shapiro do hazy avant-garde folk right on an album that highlights their deep smoky vocals in the forefront of 1950s lo-fi folk rock guitar. The love songs the pair delivers are diner jukebox perfect, jolly and meticulously executed by two artists with retro-talent.
Top Five EPs From 2013
A warm wave of sentimental synth R&B comes crashing down on Active Child's EP Rapor; the follow up to his very successful debut, 2011's You Are All I See. Blending experimental jazz-tronica elements with deep bass, Rapor sucks listeners into a vortex of blanketing emotion—smooth songs that cry out for candlelight and a bottle of wine.
Wake Me Up
A very profitable offering from the soul singer who broke out in 2010 with his sophomore album Good Things, Aloe Blacc's Wake Me Up already has two tracks featured in commercials. The EP's five songs feature feel-good tracks, dance tunes and even some dark commentary on the state of the world.
Falling For Autumn
Part two in a quartet of seasonal instrumental offering from Japanese pop duo Lullatone is perhaps their most inspired. Falling For Autumn calls upon whimsical instruments like xylophone, trumpet and hand claps to communicate the crunch of fallen leaves underneath boots, skies speckled with birds and family dinners.
The Royal Concept
Universal Republic Records
This ultra-charged pop-rock album from Sweden's The Royal Concept is about as cloying as music comes; and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. As danceable as it is road trip-worthy, Royal is a collection of synth rock songs that sprint for the finish at blazing speeds. Lead singer and former zoo worker David Larson brings his tender vocals to bear, making each song a youthful anthem.
Taking a cue from fellow Wisconsin artist Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), duo Foreign Fields forges a sonic folk sound from hollowed out acoustic guitar that plays off the cold northern landscape of its hometown. On Tuscaloosa—the follow up to its 2011 debut, Anywhere But Where I Am—Foreign Fields traipse across frozen emotions with incongruent harmonies and stark instrumentation, creating a quite touching EP.