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Metal GF’s Top Fourteen Non-Metal Albums of 2013

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MetalGF 2013

As it was last year and will be forever, this is difficult for me. I listen to old, old music, and I mean that in the sense that it is from a long time ago, and also in the sense that elderly people listen to it. This year, I was exposed to much more new music thanks almost entirely to Spotify, a miracle if there ever was one. Spotify has been an absolute game-changer for me and has allowed me to listen to albums that came out THIS YEAR, this week, this day right then and there (let’s not take for granted how amazing that truly is) all the way through and see if I love it, like it or never want to hear it again. What’s interesting is that I started a draft of this a while ago and when I went to revise it today, a few weeks later, I realized how much it had already changed for me — the order of which albums I loved most or the addition of totally new ones I had come to love after a few more listens. My point is that the Year-End list is a fickle mistress and timing is everything. And so here are my top fourteen of 2013, not to be confused at all with the real top fourteen of my heart, which would figure prominently into many of your dad’s/granddad’s record collection.

Iron and Wine - Ghost on Ghost14. Iron and Wine – Ghost on Ghost (Nonesuch)

Iron and Wine has been one of my favorite bands since their 2002 debut, The Creek Drank the Cradle, which was a record best described as “quiet in a good way,” with the lead singer almost whispering the lyrics like a lullaby. Six albums later, on Ghost on Ghost, Iron and Wine re-emerged stronger and different. They are standing, rather than sitting, both literally and figuratively. The fragile voice of songs past is replaced with a man who is actually singing and loving it, instead of shrinking. I am happy for him and for them, and this album is happier, too and listening to it feels good. It is solid and enjoyable, sometimes beautiful.

Listen: “The Desert Babbler” 

Earl Sweatshirt - Doris13. Earl Sweatshirt – Doris (Columbia)

Earl Sweatshirt became famous from being a part of the LA-based collective hip hop group Odd Future. He still has that community cooperation thing going on, as twelve of the fifteen songs on Doris are collaborations (one with my beloved Frank Ocean). Earl is a true poet, stringing together words seamlessly, with raw emotion; simple stories are made tangible and full. He has a smooth sleek pace unique to him. The song “Chum,” about Earl’s absentee father, is one of the saddest I’ve ever heard. He writes, “It’s probably been twelve years since my father left, left me fatherless/ And just to say I hate him in dishonest jest/ When honestly I miss this nigga like when I was six.” His rhythm is not what you expect, and yet works perfectly. This song is unadorned, with just his voice and piano, and, in my mind at least, it is a masterpiece.

Listen: “Chum” 

Chvrches - The Bones of What you Believe12. Chvrches – The Bones of What you Believe (Glassnote)

I am so into this album right now. It reminds me of the pop I grew up on, like Cyndi Lauper, but it also has new Euro vibes. Chvches is a Scottish “synthpop” band that came out with their first studio album this September. It’s the type of record you can put on and not worry about some dud song coming on and ruining your dinner party. It has that trifecta of quality music: melody, pulse and lyrics, and when it’s on in your living room, you feel like you are in the right place.

Listen: “Mother We Share”

Wintergatan - Wintergatan11. Wintergatan – Wintergatan (Sommarfagel)

When Vince returned from Roskilde this summer, we listened to this record nonstop while eating tomatoes constantly in our air conditioner-free apartment. This album will forever remind me of that time. This music is unusual for me, and maybe unusual in general. The only way I can think to describe it is as “ethereal techno.” It feels kind of electronic ,and yet has a sugary lightness that makes you feel like you are in a movie, or that snowflakes are falling on you as you walk through a weird wonderland. I can’t even describe it! So just listen to this song while you walk through a magical mystical forest, and thank Vince later for bringing it to us from overseas.

Listen: “Sommarfågel”

Justin Timberlake - The 20_20 Experience10. Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience (RCA)

Michael Jackson is my fucking jam (see: your dad’s record collection). My mom says he was my “first love,” and she’s not wrong. He can NEVER BE REPLACED. But if there is anyone carrying on his tradition and legacy of creativity, dancing, singing, unbridled entertainment and general prince of pop activities, it’s JT. Mirrors is a great album. Put it on at a party or alone in your house, and you’ll just feel your body moving and/or your girlfriend falling in love with you all over again. Justin is undeniably hot and a manufacturer of romance. He’s just got something special, that “IT factor” if you will, plus talent to spare. The 20/20 Experience combines soul and pop and something else uniquely Justin that just makes it straight-up great. Sometimes it feels like Smokey Robinson, and in the next breath like R. Kelly, and then D’Angelo, and then Usher, and then Sam Cooke, until your mind is fully blown. Who is this man?! And how do we all become more like him?

While we contemplate that, give “That Girl” a listen and just try to keep your pants on (just kidding, that’s not possible).

Listen: “That Girl” 

Drake - Nothing was the Same9. Drake – Nothing was the Same (Cash Money)

If you’re close-minded about hip-hop, you are only hurting yourself. Drake is a sensitive, wordy rapper who is close with his Jewish mother. And let’s not forget he’s Canadian. Also, Drake had a bar mitzvah. A BAR MITZVAH. I bet he KILLED that Haftorah portion like a beast. (Incidentally, “Started from the Bottom” should be Vince and Axl’s theme song.) To give you a bigger picture, there was also a meme earlier this year dedicated to the type of guy Drake is. Here is a sample on Twitter to give you an idea.

Anyway, I digress. I don’t want to waste any more time before I present to you my favorite Drake song from this album… this song is sick amazing and if you’re not dancing in your chair, check your pulse ASAP.

Listen: “Hold On We’re Going Home”

Miley Cyrus - Bangerz8. Miley Cyrus – Bangerz (RCA)

I can’t believe how much you guys are going to hate me for this, and yet I feel also that I need to come clean and be truthful. I have spent the last few months of my life hiding my love for this album. This is my closet, and this is me coming out. There are so many great songs on here. “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop” is for real the best pop song I’ve heard in years. I had it stuck in my head all summer long and I’m still not sick of it. Miley the person is one thing — at best, clueless, and at worst, racist — but I’m talking about Miley the hit making pop star who’s spell I am, for better or worse, under. I love “23,” “Adore You” and “Wrecking Ball,” but the secret hit for me is “#GETITRIGHT,” a disco feeling song that belongs at every party in every era. See you fools on the dance floor!

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros - Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros7. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros – Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (Community Music)

This is some serious hippie shit (which is not a problem for me) led by one eccentric, optimistic and acutely lovable man. This band had a HUGE hit a couple of years ago with the sweet, joyful song, “Home.” To me, they feel old school. They are such a throwback to another time, and yet also manage to be modern and original. Edward himself reminds me of another eccentric oddball from the 1960s who you may or may not know about named Donovan. Edward Sharpe is fun, creative and relaxed.

Listen: “Better Days” 

The Head and the Heart - Let’s Be Still6. The Head and the Heart – Let’s Be Still (Sub Pop)

The Head and the Heart’s last album was #3 on my 2012 year end list , in which I said “ I bet they are so good live.” Well, I saw them this November (just a couple of weeks ago, actually) at Terminal 5, and it turns out I was right, they are SO good live! I LOVE this band, and think Let’s Be Still works as the soundtrack for almost any situation. I feel like they’ve grown with this second album and given the female member more chances to show how amazing she is, adding richness to their sound. This sweet love song is the title track, and it speaks to the fast moving, highly neurotic world we all live in, but somehow makes it romantic.

Listen: “Let’s Be Still”

First Aid Kit - Lion’s Roar5. First Aid Kit – Lion’s Roar (Wichita Recordings)

My best friend bought this record for me for my birthday last year (yes, this came out in 2012), and homegirl knows me well, because it did not leave our record player for a full month. First Aid Kit is a Swedish (you guys love Swedes!) duo of sisters that is probably more folky than any of you would care to tolerate, but it’s my top fourteen list and this album is perfect for me in so many ways. It’s calming, cozy and melancholy. The album kind of plays like one long, sweet song, so it’s hard to pick just one, but to give you a taste, here is “Emmylou.”

 

Valerie June - Pushin’ Against the Stone4. Valerie June – Pushin’ Against the Stone (Sunday Best)

It’s hard to even put this album in a genre; it’s country, folk, gospel, soul, indie and doo-wop all at the same time. Is there something in the water in Tennessee?  Valerie was born and raised in an hour outside Memphis, and her southern-ness seeps through every note and twang of this album. Yet she is a recent transplant to New York, and I can see her fitting in perfectly here, too, doing a set at the Blue Note with her hipness, her beauty and her unusual, deeply American sound. I challenge you to not to weep openly as you listen to  “Somebody to Love.”

Listen: “Somebody to Love” 

Haim - Days are Gone3. Haim – Days are Gone  (Columbia)

Haim (rhymes with “time”) is three Los Angelina sisters who have been embraced by the hipster, liberal world where I reside full-time. They have a very 70s/80s sound that harks back to a simpler time of pop music (see number 8), and are often compared to Fleetwood Mac. Haim fill a gap in pop right now: they’re an all-girl group in the vein of Destiny’s Child, and we could use some more all gal groups like this — indie, hip hop or otherwise. These three have hipness and charm to spare, and they have something special that will take them far past this terrific rookie album. They all sing, they each play several instruments, and this album can be danced to or not, your choice. Haim are just the kind of gals you wish were over at your house jamming out.

Listen: “If I Could Change Your Mind”

Kacey Musgraves - Same Trailer Different Park2. Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer, Different Park (Mercury)

Kacey Musgraves  has a depth and darkness you don’t expect or often hear from country music’s finest, but it is a welcome relief in the world of truck talk and blind patriotic pride. Kacey is a poet with a great voice. She sings “We’re so bored until we’re buried,” which is so dark, it’s almost metal, no? In the same song, Kacey writes “Mama’s hooked on Mary Kay/ Brother’s hooked on Mary Jane/ Daddy’s hooked on Mary two doors down/ Mary, Mary quite contrary. We get bored, so, we get married, Just like dust, we settle in this town.” Kacey isn’t sugar coating anything, and she’s brave to criticize where she is from, the town that raised her and what she’s left behind, especially in the conservative country music industry. I’m not southern, but I am from a small town where many people do drugs, do not leave, and marry early, and so I hear this, Kacey! Her performance at the Billboard Music Awards haunted me for days.

 

1. Lorde – Pure Heroine (Universal)Lorde - Pure Heroine

Last May, I was in a car and I heard the song “Royals” and I immediately knew something very special was happening. I Shazammed it and found out it was a young girl from New Zealand who goes by the name of “Lorde.” I fell in love, and five months later, this song was number one on iTunes! I’m not saying I discovered her, per se, but I didn’t NOT discover her. Sasha Frere Jones puts it best when he writes, “The exciting thing about Lorde is not merely that Pure Heroine is perfect (it is close), or that ‘Royals’ is perfect (it is), but that a teen-ager from Auckland, with an unnatural gift, has entered the suit-infested ruins of the music business with the confidence of a veteran and the skills of a prodigy.”

This may come as a surprise to you, but the likes of Katy Perry (or even Lady Gaga!) bore me to tears. It is that type of music that gives pop music a bad name and makes you feel like you’ve heard it before, because you have literally heard it before. All pop music is not created equal! Lorde brings an authenticity and rawness back to pop that feels like you are listening to a teenager creating something real and truthful in her room, and you get to listen in and feel a tiny bit of what she feels. Girlfriend is only sixteen and this is just the beginning for her and I am so excited to see where she goes and how.

The whole album is ridiculously good, but here is another hit besides “Royals.” It’s calledTennis Court.” 

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