More so than in any of the 13 years in which we've devoted too much time to writing about music, it feels silly to pick the best of it for 2013. So much of what we heard this year was wonderful, and the year certainly exceeded our expectations. This despite our fervently held belief that there is *always*, every year, an abundance of excellent music waiting to be discovered; the trick is finding it. Which is kind of why this blog is here. And while we struggled with tough decisions that excluded deserving acts including Fat History Month, Heyward Howkins, It Hugs Back and Bent Shapes from the final top 10, well, dammit, rules are rules. We're going to have one more year-end list coming by the end of the week, top albums selections from our indefatigable Staff Writer Dillon Riley. Before we let you get to Executive Editor Jay's picks below, we want to take this opportunity to thank you for reading Clicky Clicky Music Blog. We try to do things a bit differently here, by offering more insight and analysis, more background and context. We hope the quality of the product makes reading about music here something you value. And another quick thanks for everyone, both bands and fans, who supported the Lilys comp And I Forgot A Long Time Ago How You Feel, as well as the Community Servings benefit show we presented last month. Music is important; we believe that with every fiber of our being. It matters. Below is a list of the albums that, in Jay's estimation, mattered the most in 2013.
1. Speedy Ortiz -- Major Arcana -- Carpark Records
While success outside the four corners of the record sleeve isn't something our year-end lists take into consideration, it's hard to draw any conclusions other than 2013 was owned by Speedy Ortiz, one of the hardest-working rock bands in the rock music-making business. Within the four corners of the record, it is easy to hear why: Speedy Ortiz makes the sophisticated sort of guitar music we want to listen to a lot. Indeed, Major Arcana, with its full-frontal guitars, churning rhythm section and engaging articulations of frustration and decathection, is immediate and gratifying. To paraphrase a singer from a different band discussed below, there ain't a stinker on it. We reviewed Major Arcana for Vanyaland right here in July; buy it from Carpark Records here.
2. Krill -- Lucky Leaves -- Self-Released
"Just go ahead, climb into my head," is what Lucky Leaves seems to say, leaning down and tipping its comically over-sized cranium toward you, snapping the clamps behind the ears upwards and open, and lifting off the top. "It's kinda weird in here," it goes on, although it is kind of hard to tell whether the record is talking to you or itself when it says that. "Never mind the other dude in there, he's harmless. He's actually got a pretty good band, you should check them out... though he said something about them breaking up? Half the time I don't know what he's on about." We reviewed Lucky Leaves here in June; buy it here (and tick-tock: we're given to understand there are fewer than 40 copies of the first vinyl pressing left for sale).
3. Veronica Falls -- Waiting For Something To Happen -- Slumberland
This was our go-to record for the first half of 2013, and we continue to put it on often. Eminently listenable British guitar pop. The songwriting on the album is so strong that the album feels like a singles compilation. What's more, Waiting For Something To Happen features one of the very best songs of the year, the wistful ode to young love "Teenager." The nagging question of seeing this record at number three on the list is whether that placement, ultimately, can be traced to the enjoyment we got seeing or otherwise interacting with the members of the bands mentioned above. Whatever the reason, the aggregate play counts across ITunes, etc., don't lie. This record is so good even Clicky Clicky Mom liked it when it was played during her visits to HQ; a fairly rare feat, this liking (it was accomplished previously by two admittedly amazing records, Okay Paddy's The Cactus Has A Point -- link -- and Spoon's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga). Buy Waiting For Something To Happen from Slumberland right here.
4. My Bloody Valentine -- mbv -- Self-Released
We recently discussed mbv with a friend, specifically its surprise release -- and everyone's mad dash to the My Bloody Valentine web site to purchase and listen to this tremendous new collection -- and how that release has been one of the very few communally shared experiences in modern indie rock. That pulse-pounding excitement was totally appropriate, especially given how great mbv is, and the dissonance of that excitement butting up against such a serene-sounding album opener, "She Found Now," perhaps only heightened the experience. My Bloody Valentine's follow-up to its legendary Loveless is terrific, offering not only familiarity (with its cooed vocals and bending guitars), but also an explanation of sorts ("In Another Way" manifests Kevin Shields' purported fixation with jungle, albeit years and years and years after that fixation was a topic of conversation). As gratifying as mbv is, perhaps most gratifying of all is Mr. Shields' uncompromising approach to the business of music; we'd say "outspokenness" if perhaps he spoke more often, although the interviews he's given over the past year are all amazing. Shields' is a singular sonic vision, and hopefully one that will be as inspiring to bands as Loveless has been. This 2013 collection extends and burnishes the deep MBV legacy; buy it here.
5. Los Campesinos! -- No Blues -- Wichita/Turnstyle
Big, bold and beautiful is what this is. While we are still unsettled by the revelation that No Blues was almost not made (the band had apparently considered hanging up its boots), that doesn't in any way diminish how enjoyable it is. Indeed, it's as accomplished a collection as Cardiff-based Los Campesinos! has made. The singles still punch hard, the album cuts are just as rich and soundly conceived. Fronter Gareth Campesinos' lyrics remain sharp and affecting, a feat all the more impressive given his stated practice of writing them as late as possible into the recording process. Let us not overlook just how neat a trick it is that so many of the lyrics center around football, yet still communicate as strongly as when he addresses affairs of the heart (perhaps it is no trick: football -- that's soccer to you, Yank -- is an affair of the heart to Gareth). The single "Avocado, Baby," with is ridiculously catchy chant, just missed our year-end songs list, and other album highlights include "Cemetery Gaits" and "What Death Leaves Behind." We reviewed No Blues here last month; buy it from the band right here. Los Camp play a rare Boston date next month.
6. Radiator Hospital -- Something Wild -- Salinas
Now that we have published our year-end songs list, wherein we disclosed that we favored this collection over even the dynamite releases by scenemates Swearin' and Waxahatchee, it's probably little surprise to find Radiator Hospital sitting here. Call it pop-punk, call it emo, it doesn't matter: Something Wild is fun and emotional and engaging (not that those aforementioned collections from the respective bands of the sisters Crutchfield aren't these things; we just listened to Something Wild more, and math counts). Our own Dillon Riley reviewed the set right here in July; buy it from Salinas records here.
7. Calories -- III -- Self-Released
Here is the third of three self-released records on our year-end list, which, of course, says something about the Music Industry of Today. However, this is not the place for a dissection of the challenges faced by bands trying to sell music. Even so, when something as objectively super and as wildly ambitious as Calories' III isn't the subject of a label bidding war, we start to wonder what the hell is wrong with the world. III is the foursome's most confident and rewarding to date, building up from the stoney foundations of the monolithic post-punk of its early years to embrace looser structures and more varied aural topographies. Somewhere along the way Calories started to sound haunted; at the same time the band started to engage a yen to fluidly jam across larger and larger stretches of time. Now vocals are subdued, guitars are just as likely to be acoustic as electric, but the potency of Calories music is not diluted. The greatest cut from III, the amazing, 10-minute closer "Tropics," is almost an album unto itself. The tune commences with broad distorted chords, crashing symbols and forefronted oohs, shifts into a steady four-four rocker for a minute, and then transforms into a spiraling, poignant final movement that stretches across almost eight minutes. That tune in and of itself is worth about 10 bucks, but you can download III from Bandcamp here in exchange for as much money as you care to pay for it.
8. Ovlov -- am -- Exploding In Sound
The conventional wisdom among the indiescienti is that -- from a label standpoint -- 2013 belonged to Exploding In Sound Records, who issued not only Ovlov's am, but also Fat History Month's blindingly brilliant Bad History Month, and Kal Mark's Life Is Murder, among other fine sound recordings. Ovlov's noisy hooks on am are undenible, despite the aural sludge in which the Connecticut trio encases them on belters like "Nu Punk" and the cataclysmic opener "Grapes." Vintage Dinosaur Jr. is a popularly applied reference, but Ovlov's vibe is less backwoods goth and more conventional (the opener's melody, reinforced by backing vocals from Speedy Ortiz's Sadie Dupuis, echoes great tunes by more pop-leaning Clicky Clicky faves The Wannadies and Projekt A-ko). The music on am shakes and shudders with desperate energy, fuzz flies off the guitars and cymbals, and the whole waxy ball of wax is anchored to punishing snare hits and fronter Steve Hartlett's Mascis-esque yowl. All of which makes the record endlessly listenable. Buy am from Exploding In Sound right here.
9. Guillermo Sexo -- Dark Spring -- Midriff Records
Diving deeper within to explore sounds and textures in the studio, Boston psych-rock unit Guillermo Sexo yet maintain an admirable level of focus, which is brought to bear on the urgent and dreamy material on its fifth long player Dark Spring. The remarkably varied album touts two seven-minute-plus opuses (inluding "Meow Metal," which was recognized in our year-end, best songs list) that speak to the band's confidence and willingness to stretch out and chase ambitious ideas. The set's first third, however, features a slate of immediate and more concise rockers. The collection has a classic '70s feel, adventurous and with an almost narrative quality, making it perhaps the most "albumy" album on this year-end list. We reviewed Dark Spring right here in September; buy it from Midriff right here.
10. Joey Sweeney -- Long Hair -- La Société Expéditionnaire
Long Hair is like an old friend, almost literally: Joey Sweeney's only other solo set, the excellent Heartache Baseball, was released in 1995. That's basically a lifetime ago, during a figurative pause between his most well-known bands Barnabys and The Trouble With Sweeney, the latter of which released its final recording almost a decade ago. This new and fresh solo collection has shed the youthful confusion, dyspeptic romances and coffee nerves that concerned Mr. Sweeney as a younger songwriter. Long Hair, instead, is confident and amused by life, and only a little world-weary. The well-measured, nicely orchestrated set distills decades of Philadelphia's rock and pop into nine songs that feel like a memoir: here is the park where the toughs trashed Sweeney for having new wave hair; there is the bar where the sweetest romantic conquest lifted a heavy heart. The record is highlighted by what might be the most direct piece of songwriting on the set, "Records And Coffee," Sweeney's ode to reliable comforts -- which is what Long Hair turns out to be. Stream selections from the record below, or the entire shebang gratis via this link to Emusic.com. Buy Long Hair here.