The hip(ster) albums of 2013

I’ll probably be one of the first journalists to go ahead and confirm that no, the usual suspects on 2013 best albums lists won’t be making a return appearance in this article. Call me a hipster all you want, but for every “Random Access Memories” and “Yeezus” there are countless records that share the same splendor that you probably haven’t heard of. Allow me to give you a different “20/20 Experience” and open your eyes to my personal favorite releases of 2013.

Sugar-coated indie isn’t hard to find these days. Capital Cities had a smash hit this summer with the infectious horn-synth interplay found on top 40 single “Safe and Sound,” and deep cuts on Lorde’s runaway success “Pure Heroine” show sunnier sides of the teenager’s decidedly dark take on soulful vocal tracks. Besides these obvious examples, A Great Big Pile of Leaves’ incredible “You’re Always on My Mind” blends syrupy guitars, delectable harmonies and a zany mentality to deliver one of the standout records of the year. Their second full-length on grade-A label Topshelf Records explores everything from relationship issues to the wonders of a great slice of pizza. How many groups can pull off that sort of diversity of topics?

Modern Baseball’s “Sports” may have seen a small pressing in 2012, but its reissue on Run for Cover Records last year added to its longevity and nearly infinite replay value. Recorded during the band’s finals week (seriously), the album captures the essence of the microcosmic experiences of college-age kids quite well. Whether it’s the lyrical nods to social networking and text messages, the bouncy arrangements or the finished product that plays out like a conversation between old friends, there’s no questioning the album is a stellar debut from some exceptional young talent.

Maryland’s Have Mercy also had an incredible debut LP drop this year. “The Earth Pushed Back” hearkens back to a time when emotionally-charged music wasn’t seen as a cash-in or a cop-out. Every track put to tape here has its own parade of soundscapes and poetic intentions that both delights and destroys. Have Mercy’s full-bodied musical firepower sets phasers to stun, but does so artfully. From bleeding-heart ballads to nostalgic catalogs of past loves, it’s all here to impress.

Tiny Moving Parts may be known around the Internet for their lackadaisical music videos, but their songs broadcast the stark opposite. Driven by scorching vocals that dip between laconic spoken-word passages and abrasive yelps, most of the tracks on “This Couch is Long and Full of Friendship” share the same intensity of their auditory doppelgangers, the worldly post-hardcore warriors La Dispute. Nevertheless, there’s something to write home about in the group’s incredible use of irregular time signatures, erratic drums and a sense of jaded youth that speaks volumes past the suburbia that functions as the group’s point of origin.

It would be a grave injustice to the state of Virginia if I didn’t zero in on an exceptional export from a band that calls the Old Dominion home. Virginia Beach’s Turnover offered up “Magnolia” last year: a love letter to the best in 1990s emo, while peppering in influences from more modern exploits in the genre. For a band that specialized in playing with raw power on their first EP, to see this musical agenda dialed back and fleshed out in a more fluid fashion is refreshing to say the least, and whets the appetite for an even-more balanced follow-up.

Go ahead. Huddle close to your “Reflektor” and your “Magna Carta Holy Grail.” They stand up as great records in their own right. But since 2013 is over and done with, why not open up to some different musical avenues while you’re traveling down memory lane?


Published January 16, 2014 in Arts and Entertainment, tableau





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