I have a love/hate relationship with most “album of the year” lists. First of all, there is no measured, objective way to rank music by quality or raw, personal,emotional value, and, besides that, most of them come across as a self-interested plea to prove how hip and interesting the author is. They are an exercise in vanity.
That being said: these are my favorite albums of 2013…
(If you want to listen while you read, click on the album titles to hear them on Spotify, or click the album cover to listen to a selected song on Youtube.)
15. Ministry of Stories, Share More Air
Kicking off a year-end list with a compilation may be against the rules. I don’t know, and I don’t care. This project is awesome. Children wrote the lyrics, then great artists such as Ben Folds and Matthew and the Atlas turned them into songs. Perhaps more of an novelty than a great album, but absolutely worthy of a listen and #15 on this list.
14. Avett Brothers, Magpie and the Dandelion
You’re seeing this right, Jesse Baker is ranking the Avett Brothers 14th. Maybe I’m still bitter about Seth’s marital indiscretion, but I really thought this was a sub par album from a band who has proven time and time again that they can do better.
13. Noah and the Whale, Heart of Nowhere
This band has a quirky little place in my heart, like Zooey Deschanel in 500 Days of Summer or something comparably twee with a melancholy underpinning. Noah and the Whale has put out better albums, but this one is solid musically if not as inspired lyrically (NatW’s greatest inconsistency). You might love it, you might hate it, I say it’s my 13th favorite album of 2013.
12. Bastille, Bad Blood
This album is just downright fun to listen to. It will make you dance in your car. If that’s what you’re looking for, then don’t pass this one up. For me, it doesn’t seem like something that will stand the test of time in my rotation, however, so it’ll have to live here as lucky number 12 for now with the hopes that Bastille will impress again soon.
11. Lulu Mae, The Mockingbird and the Dogwood Tree
The first of three Nashville-based bands to make this list, Lulu Mae impressed me not only with this ear-friendly album, but also with their performance at Live on the Green this year where they, in my opinion, put on an even better show than their stagefellows, Leagues and Local Natives. Support your local starving Belmont alums, buy this album.
10. Hillsong United, Zion
I know what you’re thinking: “Really Jesse? A Christian worship album in the top 10?” Yes, cynical reader, a Christian worship album in the top 10. Also, I’ll be saving you a seat at church this Sunday. This album defies all stereotypes and stands apart as a masterfully produced project with some serious power. Besides that, I’m pretty sure the song “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” may have actually been more recognizable than the Pope for a brief time in 2013.
09. Kopecky Family Band, Kids Raising Kids
Another local group you can help feed by making sure you buy their album, Kopecky Family Band has been making the rounds for a few years, but this is their best yet, in my opinion. These guys and gal are seriously talented, and the Bob Boilen‘s of the world have already started to take notice… You should too.
08. The Milk Carton Kids, The Ash & Clay
The combination of Dave Rawlings and Simon & Garfunkel you didn’t even realize you’ve been waiting for your whole life, The Milk Carton Kids are the “Sound of Silence” if the sound of silence sounded a lot like paralyzingly tasteful bluegrass guitar licks. Now, you may fall asleep listening to this album, but, if you’re like me, you’ll fall asleep with a big, goofy grin on your face.
07. Volcano Choir, Repave
I spent the first three songs of this album thinking, “This is like the new Bon Iver album except really good.” By the fourth song, I had done enough research to find that Volcano Choir is Justin Vernon’s side-project, so that was no coincidence. Like a Bon Iver album that you can quote on Facebook without looking like a fool for thinking the lyrics actually make good, coherent sense, my original review still stands but with the caveat that Vernon will never top “For Emma, Forever Ago,” because I just need to get that opinion on record.
06. Dawes, Stories Don’t End
This one was a surprise for me. I like Dawes, but I’ve never liked them liked them. This album makes me like them like them. Lyricist Taylor Goldsmith is a unique and gifted songwriter who caught my attention this time around with the song “Most People” and then drew me into the other unending stories on the album. This is the kind of album to make you say, “Well, now I’ve gotta go back and listen to everything Dawes ever recorded before I can look at myself in the mirror again.”
05. Night Beds, Country Sleep
According to something I read on NPR once, recent Nashville transplant, Winston Yellen, didn’t even sing until he was 18, now he’s in his mid-twenties and has one of the most disarming singing voices I’ve ever heard. Night Beds is the musical equivalent of the well-intentioned guy in a romantic indie film that everyone falls in love with… except Ramona, the toxic but magnetic leading lady he just can’t seem to shake. Country Sleep is not a restful one. Rather, its the kind of sleep that is barely sleep at all, because the heart just can’t seem to stop feeling long enough slow its rhythm.
04. Nathaniel Rateliff, Falling Faster Than You Can Run
October 12, 2013 was the first night of a three night run at the the Ryman for the folk-pop sensation Lumineers, but, as usual, many patrons that night would miss the opening act. Nathaniel Rateliff was not only deserving of his place on the stage at the historic Ryman Auditorium, he was deserving of a headlining spot. His sophomore release argues that case without any need of him raising the point. Rateliff’s dynamic and powerful voice strikes a chord with me that few singers’ do, and this album showcases a diverse set of influences that lend itself for repeat visits on long drives.
03. Dr. Dog, B-Room
This is no surprise. If you know anything about me, you knew you could expect to see Dr. Dog on this list. What you may not have expected is that they wind up at #3. Perennially my favorite band in the universe, Dr. Dog certainly did not disappoint in 2013 despite their bronze finish. B-Room is a great album top-to-bottom with some instant classics for a rabid Dr. Dog fan such as “Nellie” and “Broken Heart.” These are songs that I’ll want to hear the next six times I see this band, and that’s all I need.
02. Lucius, Wildewoman
Buy this album. You’ll like it. I don’t know how you couldn’t. I’ll wait here while it finishes downloading…
Along with a few friends, I happened upon Lucius about a year ago in a tiny venue opening for a band popular enough to headline a tiny venue. Since then, Lucius has dropped a phenomenal album and started blazing a path to what I can only presume will be world domination, and I’m ok with that. This album will make you dance, cry, and fall in love probably (TBD). Even though the song “Two of Us on the Run” may be the least representative track on the album, I just need you to know that I listened to it on repeat for about two hours during a road trip and it made me cry real tears.
01. Typhoon, White Lighter
Well, here it is. Odds are if you’ve spent time around me in the last several months, I’ve eventually started talking to you about how White Lighter is the greatest album to come out in years. It doesn’t matter that we started the conversation talking about global politics or our current favorite Youtube video of Corgis (this is mine), I need you to know about Typhoon.
This album is massive, the kind of album I’ve listened to so many times in such a short span with so little loss of awe, that I know it’s going to go down as one of my favorite albums of all time. I’ll give you a couple minutes to download this one too… Though I’ve been following Typhoon for a few years, relying primarily on their A New Kind of House EP to keep me company, I wasn’t sure if they would ever quite meet my hopes for them after the decent but eventually disappointing release of their first LP, Hunger and Thirst. Oh, what a pleasant surprise it is to have your expectations exceeded.
I hope you’ll take a few of these albums for a spin, especially Wildewoman and White Lighter. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. As a matter-of-fact, you might just be amazed.
And, for good measure…
Diarrhea Planet, I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams
J. Roddy Walston and the Business, Self Titled
Head and the Heart, Let’s Be Still
Lowland Hum, Native Air