1.14.2014

My Favorite Albums of 2013 (non-metal)

A few days ago I reviewed my favorite metal albums of the year. Today I'd like to discuss everything else that happened music-wise in 2013. Understand that 'metal' is a loose term; I mentioned everything from post-metal and hardcore to djent and progressive metal. The same can be said about today's list. Non-metal means indie, post-hardcore, post-rock, etc. 

But you don't need me to tell you that, you musical elitists. 

Behold, as I unveil my personal choices for my favorite non-metal albums of the great year that was 2013. Similar to my previous list, I will also be naming some honorable mentions and disappointments. If you like to make fun of things, then by all means - scroll to the bottom.

The rest of you, let's do this.

Oh, and if you missed it, this year's metal album list can be found here, and last year's list of non-metal can be found here.


BEST ALBUM BY A BAND I LOST INTEREST IN THAT BROUGHT ME BACK

Balance & Composure - The Things We Think We're Missing



I heard a lot of noise about this band in early spring of 2012, in the months leading up to my move to Seattle. When I transitioned to the Pacific Northwest, I was able to catch them open for Circa Survive, and contrary to things I had read online, they put on a great live show. As is common with music, I grew bored of them after several months as my musical interests gravitated towards other genres. Nevertheless, I was not ignorant of their impending 2013 release, The Things We Think We're Missing. I followed the updates and listened to their first single "Reflection", which garnered little interest in me. I realized I wasn't being fair and decided to give the whole album a go. I was able to stay in a cabin by myself (story can be found here) in early September, and I spent those few days absorbing every note on this album. It grew and grew on me. I still enjoy it to this day, even despite the fact that Jon Simmon's lyrics are among the most depressing I've read this year. Oh, and I'd also like to formally nominate this album for the Worst Cover Art of 2013. What even is that? It looks like an early Mudvayne album. Oh well.


BEST CONCEPT/NERDY/SECOND HALF OF A DOUBLE ALBUM

Coheed & Cambria - The Afterman: Descension



This bevy of awards may not seem fair, considering the first half of this album came out in 2012 (and made my list). The fact is, I had also lost interest in this band, after loving them for YEARS. However, 2012's part one of The Afterman was so good that my C&C fanboy reawakened, leaving me eager for the second half. I could go on and on about how good this band is - the distinctive Geddy Lee-esque vocals, the ridiculous riffs, the epic sci-fi story, the comics, Claudio's hair, etc. The truth is, Coheed remains one of the most polarizing bands around. Either you're on board with them or you aren't, and most of my friends aren't. It's ok. I was lost once too. Descension details the main character Sirius Amory's return to his home planet, much to the disbelief of both his colleagues and his wife. It sounds silly, but the story is truly heartbreaking, and told in a fantastic manner. Of course, that's become the standard for Coheed - thrilling sci-fi narratives over impressive musical prowess. What's not to like?


BEST ALBUM BY A BAND THAT TOOK ME TOO LONG TO FIND

Daughter - If You Leave



There's always one. In the realm of metal, it was Shai Hulud. On this list, it's Daughter. Why did no one tell me about them? This was one of the best parts of moving to Seattle - having friends that listened to good music. I quickly noticed the Daughter vinyls one of my roommates spun at night to put him to sleep. Once I had the band name, I went on the prowl. I quickly jumped on both of the two EPs, His Young Heart and The Wild Youth - just in time for the full length debut of If You Leave. It was a healthy overdose. The opening track "Winter" calmly sets the ambient and haunting tone of the album. The track is accurately named, as the whole album feels like one steady walk through a wintry landscape. I was privileged to see them last year. They're British, and singer Elena Tonra has a very quiet speaking voice. I couldn't understand/hear a word she said, but every syllable was met with eruptions of applause. Her fans do like her. And you should too, because they're wonderful.


BEST ALBUM(S) BY A FAMILY

Eisley - Currents
Rising Fawn - Everlasting Songs
Perma - Two of a Crime




I've had my rant (found here) about how unfair it is that families like the DuPrees are blessed with so much musical talent while many of us are left without the ability to tune a triangle. Well, 2013 was an outstanding year for the Tyler, Texas based family. I'm mainly speaking of the main project Eisley, and their album Currents, which was released in April of this year. I remember because I got the vinyl preorder as a present - one of the five or so I own. I'm not very hip. As was the intent, Currents has an aquatic feel to it. We get the usual featured vocals of Stacy and Sherri, switching back and forth regularly through the first four tracks - until track five. Here we get a first: a song fully written and performed by the third sister, Chauntelle. After hearing her featured for the first time, it makes me wonder why they don't let her lead more songs. It's no coincidence I loved her solo debut Everlasting Songs, a three-song EP under the moniker of Rising Fawn. I picked it up at the show earlier in the year. Perma is Sherri and Max Bemis' project and is mainly listed as an honorable mention. I didn't listen to it beyond the first single, which felt way too cutesy for me. If you're into that, then you'll love Two of a Crime.


BEST ALBUM TO FALL ASLEEP TO/BEST EP

Golden Youth - Quiet Frame, Wild Light



No, not Diamond Youth. No, not "Youth" by Citizen. Golden Youth is - in my opinion - 2013's best musical secret, similar to how I felt about the band Accents in 2012. It's the brainchild of two singer/songwriters Stephanie Lauren and Kyle Monroe. The pair combined to create one of the most calming musical offerings I've heard in a long while. Quiet Frame, Wild Light takes acoustic guitars, strings, hand claps, marimbas, and pianos, to combine them into a stripped down affair that leaves me feeling as if I'm sitting around a fire in a warm cabin as the snow quietly falls outside. It's one of my top three favorites of the year, regardless of genre/category. It soothed me to sleep more nights than Scale The Summit's The Migration did, as mentioned in my previous list. Pick it up, put headphones in, lean back into a comfortable armchair, and drift into bliss. Also, don't forget the hot chocolate.


BEST INSTRUMENTAL ALBUM(S)

Lights & Motion - Reanimation and Save Your Heart




Sometimes the best music can come from some dude by himself in his apartment, fiddling around with soundscapes and reverb. Examples that come to mind: Youth Lagoon, Eluvium, The Album Leaf, and Cloudkicker. Of course they don't live alone in apartments, but I digress. Comparable to these solitary pioneers, Lights & Motion is the sole musical project of Christoffer Franzen - the product of insomnia and being holed up in a studio in Sweden, according to wikipedia. The result is what is described as "cinematic post-rock" - and the title couldn't be more accurate. Both Reanimation and Save Your Heart follow the same beautiful formula - sweeping, epic crescendos that will leave one feeling as if you're walking into the climax every film ever. If you listen to either of these albums while going on a walk, I guarantee that you will come up with some new revelation in your life - that's how inspiring they are. In fact, if there's a knock I have with either of them - it's that they can be too intense. Almost every song is a dramatic buildup. If that's your life, then you've found your soundtrack. It's just amazing that they were both released in less than a year. 


BEST ALBUM BY A BAND THAT IS BREAKING UP

Moving Mountains - Moving Mountains



The best bands are constantly evolving, pushing their musical boundaries to become better with each release. This transformation is usually accompanied by a shift in style. The same can be said for Moving Mountains, who released their eponymous album in September as a farewell. From the days of their ambient eight minute long songs of Pneuma and Foreword to the aggresive and catchy anthems of Waves, MM has decided to go out on a quiet, beautiful note. The album's nine tracks take on an almost subdued sound (with a few exceptions), as long-time fans will note the restraint in the vocals are a departure from the intensity of Waves. I absolutely fell in love with this album. It's definitely a different sound - maybe one that would have gotten old if it had been more of the same - but this is new territory for MM, and the sound I believe they always wanted to achieve. Moving Mountains is another of my top three favorites of the year. My only regret in life is that I was never able to see them. 


BEST "WORSHIP" ALBUM

My Epic - Behold



I put the word "worship" in quotes because when people think of worship music, they may think  of Hillsong United or Chris Tomlin or something. You know, the same repetitive and formulaic song structures that plague all of contemporary Christian music today. My Epic is anything but this. While the lyrics are deeply spiritual and Christ-focused, you won't find anything trite or overused here. My Epic has consistently put out album after album of impressive musical display (reminiscent of latter As Cities Burn) and soul-crushingly honest lyrics. However, Behold takes a different approach - one perfected by the band's beautiful 2011 acoustic EP Broken Voice. Aaron Stone's lyrical content has slowly shifted from painfully honest confessions of personal imperfection to the more spiritual side. Behold is precisely that - the feeling of being overwhelmed in the presence of God. As a Christian, Stone's lyrics have had a profound effect on me, forcing me to revise my line of thinking in many ways. That's a hard thing to do in today's music world, let alone in Christian thought.


BEST COMEBACK ALBUM

Search The City - Flight



I'm sure many bands could fill this particular category, but Search The City wins because of nostalgic reasons. Their 2008 album A Fire So Big The Heavens Can See It was fantastic, blending ridiculously catchy vocals and solid guitar riffs. The harmonies were brilliant, the riffs sounded like the guitarists' preferred metal to punk, and the choruses were massive. As with so many talented bands, their demise came too soon. And when last year I heard that they had found a new vocalist and were writing music again, my 2008 self was giddy. Search The City managed to do what few bands who lose their vocalist do: find a new vocalist who not only sounds exactly like the old one, but sings  even better. Put it all together and you get Flight - and album that's more pop than punk and still just as catchy as the band's 2008 debut. Remember earlier when I said a spent a few days alone in a cabin absorbing Balance & Composure's new album? This was the album I switched to when that one got old. It still hasn't gotten old.


BEST ALBUM IN A GENRE I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT

Forest Swords - Engravings



I try my best to expand my musical horizons, but with all the crap that saturates every wave of whatever-core, it's hard to find stuff that stands out. Enter Forest Swords, the stage name of musician/producer Matthew Barnes' solo project. I found them through an obscure thread on absolutepunk.net, thinking that the name sounded cool. What I found was nothing that I had expected, which was a sort of lo-fi indie project. Instead, Forest Swords is listed as experimental, trip-hop, electronic, and dub. This combination equates to Engravings, an album that has been critically acclaimed by pretty much every music website and magazine. The songs are - pardon the expression - sensual in the way they put you in a trance with their atmospheric and oddly mystical vibes. The album was recorded outdoors, so that probably makes sense. I still have no idea what trip-hop is. If this is the music that all the kids are listening to while they take LSD, then I suppose that's cool with me.


MY FAVORITE ALBUM OF 2013

The Appleseed Cast - Illumination Ritual



I think it's finally time to say that The Appleseed Cast is my favorite band ever. There's not a thing this band has done that I haven't loved. You have the ocean-themed and emo-tinged Mare Vitalis; the massive double experiment that is Low Level Owl Vol. 1 & 2; and the beautiful and nearly-without-vocals of Sagarmatha. Other than 2011's four-song EP Middle States, this band hasn't put out any music since 2009's aforementioned full-length Sagarmatha. I didn't know quite what to expect with Illumination Ritual, which is a good way to approach this band. What I got was an album that seemed raw - almost under-produced - with frantic-feeling drums and Christopher Crisci's trademark vocals buried beneath glittering guitars. I'll never be disappointed with this band. Illumination Ritual was my go-to album of 2013. I'd leave it in my car's CD player for days on end, not out of laziness but out of fondness. I still can't stop listening to it. I have the vinyl and it's the coolest looking thing ever. If you don't check out anything else on this list, check this band out. Please.


HONORABLE MENTIONS

Lydia - Devil. People will probably never love this band as much as they did when they had the Illuminate lineup, and that's fair. But the truth is that this band broke up and nobody thought they'd come back. While nothing they do will ever be as good as Illuminate, it's better than no Lydia at all.

Unifier - Colorado. The band formerly known as Future Ghosts went through a whole lot of trouble to get a new name (there was already another Future Ghosts). Unifier wins in the end, as Colorado is a solid alternative/punk album by a band that should be big in the coming years.

Everything In Slow Motion - Phoenix. It's been a few years since Shane Oschner's band Hands ceased making music. I've had his new project on my watchlist for over a year, and we finally got Phoenix in December. That's pretty much the only reason it only gets a mention - I've barely had a month with it. But I loved Hands, and I've enjoyed what I've heard thus far.

Some Stranger - self titled EP. I wasn't really a fan of Daytrader, so I wasn't really affected by their break-up. I was affected by the former vocalist Tym's new project Some Stranger. While it was only a five-song EP, the energy and songwriting is there for a future that should prove bright for this new project.

DISAPPOINTMENTS

Dustin Kensrue - The Blood & The Water. I've never not loved anything this man has done, but I just can't get into the former Thrice vocalist's new worship project. It's too dry, too generic - which is the last thing I expected from this man. Other than "It's Not Enough", there's not a hint of the brilliant lyrical/musical content from Thrice's heyday. That may have been the point, but it's too boring for me.

Night Verses - Lift Your Existence. This one has given me problems. Their EP was highly praised and Lift Your Existence was just as anticipated; the problems are just too numerous. The musical skill is brilliant - it just follows a very structured pattern and hardly ever ventures out of it. Not only that, but the album is too long - stretching to nearly seventy minutes in 15 tracks. That's too long for today's music fan - and that's coming from a Tool lover.

States - Paradigm. Has this band done anything good since their first EP? You'd think former members of Lydia and Copeland could do better than this. Their debut Room to Run rubbed me the wrong way, and Paradigm didn't do much for me either. The lyrics are awful and the execution poor. I don't get it because the talent and pedigree is there. Maybe it's just not for me.

LOOKING FORWARD TO MUSIC BY:

Tides of Man - this post-hardcore titan lost it's vocalist and found a new identity in a different genre: post-rock. While a completely unexpected move, the band has already released a few tracks from their upcoming Young & Courageous, due out this year. I preordered the effort before I ever heard a note, and I'm glad I did, because the new stuff sounds stellar.

Closure in Moscow - times have changed since 2009, but First Temple was a phenomenal debut. It seems we've been waiting forever for the new album - Pink Lemonade - but 2014 is the year we're supposed to get it. Color me intrigued.

William Fitzsimmons - the quiet singer/songwriter already has a release date for Lions (February 18th), and has already released a new track called "Fortune", and you can check it out here. Needless to say, the world needs more of this man in 2014, and we're going to get it. Look for this to be on next year's list.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

That will do it for my musical musings of 2013. I know it's already two weeks into the new year, but reason demands that I force my opinions on the masses no matter the circumstances or calendar date. You're  lucky, because you can expect me to do it once a year until I can pay someone else to. Which I will never be able to do. So you're still lucky.

But seriously, listen to at least one of these albums. Maybe things I found disappointing were enjoyable to you. Maybe my favorite album is on your "Do Not Ever Listen To" list, which is very likely. Maybe you found out that so-and-so is coming out with new music. And that's what I do it for.

Also the money. But no one is paying, so I guess I do it for you.

Happy listening,

JDS


PS here's a bonus. My favorite music video of the year goes to the band On and On, with the video for their single "The Hunter". Watch it below.





1 comment:

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