’s Favorite Albums of 2013

by Stan Ahn, Arly Borges, Warren Chi, Scot Hull, Frank Iacone, Michael Liang, Michael Mercer, Lachlan Tsang, Kevin Venable, Ethan Wolf & Bowei Zhao

The end of the year brings so many “Best of” lists it’s crazy. At Audio360 we don’t believe we have the power to say whose art is the “Best”! After all, isn’t that one of the magical things about art: That it can be, and mean, so many different things to millions of people? So who’s to judge what’s best? Even our small crew can’t agree on what that entails. So we’re offering up our personal favorites of the year.

Many of us have more favorites than we listed here, and we crave new music! So join the conversation below via the comments section. Try to pick out three of your favorite records of 2013 and share them. We’re always on the hunt for fresh sounds. After all: It’s our collective love of the music that drives this endless audible quest!

Scot Hull’s Favorite Albums

I’m gonna have to confess something — I’m not current.

I know, you’re stunned, but attempt to contain your wild protestations. In point of fact, I’m so far behind “cutting edge” that I may as well be poking about in the rubbish bins of audio history. Which I do, and regularly.

No, when it comes to new music — stuff released in the last year — I’m a bit like the vampire attempting to bootstrap himself into “the current era”. I just dive in and see what I can sink my teeth into.

Unfortunately for me, there wasn’t a lot of musical steak being offered up as steak this year.

Depeche Mode’s Delta Machine, wasn’t just forgettable, it was just plain bad, as if one of my favorite college bands suddenly forgot not only who they were but how to actually put together pieces to make songs.

NIN’s latest Hesitation Marks frustrated me enough to actually go out and buy one of their old good albums, but nothing on their new album actually stuck. It wasn’t really rounding out to be a particularly awesome new-music year. [Sigh].

I had a few near misses, including Fall Out Boy’s latest, Save Rock And Roll. This album starts strong and shows a veteran band clearly comfortable with their “sound”. Promising!

The first cut, “The Phoenix”, kinda sounds like two songs woven together, which is seamless and clever; this is something of a trend in the songs here, one that I think shows some real craftsmanship. As for the lyrics, well, there’s a bit of whiz with the cheese and a couple of cringe-worthy choices, but who cares. It’s fun.

The second tune in the lineup, “Light ‘Em Up”, is completely different and completely the same – sketches of separate tunes woven together, each with their own engaging choruses, with great build-up and plenty to hold on to.

The third, “Alone Together”, marks a shift toward the anthemic, but again, shot through with structural cleverness and topical lyrics.

And then… well, the rest of the album is a bit of a stuttering slide downhill, and the two “features”, one with Courtney Love and other with Elton John, are best left skipped. Like, entirely skipped.

Overall, the sound is more “pop” than “hard rock”, but maybe this is what passes for Van Halen these days? Anyway, there’s definitely passion paired with a naïve sort of angst that’s really quite approachable, even if the mastering seems to have left the sound clipped all to hell.

With Graceless, from Sulk, we’re on more sure footing. The band takes more than a few pages out of the Stone Roses’ handbook, but if imitation is the sincerest form of blah blah blah… I like this album.

The opener, “Sleeping Beauty”, is my favorite, and if you’re at all engaged by the sonic wall of sound that wraps around some breezy vocals and catchy guitar riffs, you’re gonna love the album because that’s pretty much the recipe.

There’s at least 5 different “releasable” singles off this album, each with a bit of textural variation; altogether “not bad” for a freshman outing. Not my usual cuppa, but a happy election to the Best of 2013 platform; this one is still in rotation.

Next up is Push The Sky Away from Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, which is their 512th studio album. With a near spoken-word kind of delivery, age doesn’t seem to have done anything except burnish the baritone and deepen the melancholy. Signature songwriting skills are on offer, but the sparse presentation and lightly textured ambient menace marks this album as a bit of a departure for Cave.

It’s all… quiet-like. Reflective. More moody. This is like Tom Waits, before (or way after) the binge. Lou Reed, sometime after he left the underground. Jim Morrison, but with an editor and a time-limit.

There’s deep wisdom in these tracks and favorite stops are hard to pick, as the whole actually feels like an album, with songs linked by something more than accident if not any actual outright theme. Like a map, say, acid-etched by pain and worn not like a badge, but perhaps a blanket pulled tight, a fading memory stretched over still-living skin. Okay, that was a little much, but that’s the kind of dark little corner I found myself spinning in after a play-through.

If I had to pick, “We Real Cool” is worth lifting out for that bass line overlaid with the floating violins, but start with “We No Who U R” and play this one straight through. In fact, get the vinyl and just be done with it. When it’s time to drop the needle, make sure there’s ice and bourbon on hand, because this diversion through memory lane is is gonna leave a mark.

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