Jan 2, 2014

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The Best Albums of 2013

Added note: Okay. I’ve had enough. I’ve held back on publishing my picks for the top albums of 2013 because I wanted to do a writeup on each one. But writing up ten albums was going to take forever, and it turns out that even writing up five of them just isn’t happening in a timely fashion. So I’m going simple. Here’s a list. I will do mini-reviews of several of these albums throughout January, because one of my resolutions is to actually populate this blog with more than just track lists.

When I state my picks for the best albums of the year, they’re entirely dependent on my own personal response, as well as what I’ve had a chance to listen to. Furthermore, this list ranks the albums that I’ve enjoyed as a whole unit; there are plenty more releases from this year which had a handful of brilliant songs, but otherwise didn’t grab me. So here’s my list for the top albums of 2013, #10-2:

10: MS MR – Secondhand Rapture

9. Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight; The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

8. The Naked and Famous – In Rolling Waves

7. OneOhTrix Point Never – R Plus Seven

6. Jordan Klassen – Repentance

5. Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest

4. Janelle Monaé – The Electric Lady

3. For Esmé – For Esmé

 2. The National – Trouble Will Find Me


And my number one pick for best album of 2013: Bastille – Bad Blood.


In a year that saw a new release from Boards of Canada, Janelle Monae, OneOhTrix Point Never, Tim Hecker, and The Naked and Famous, among many many others, it is Bastille that I keep going back to, again and again. The songs of Bad Blood have racked up hundreds of listens on my phone, and I purchased them back in April. While other releases this year may be more artistic (Virgins), more momentous (Tomorrow’s Harvest), or more universally acclaimed, none of them have had the magnetism of Dan Smith’s synthpop premiere. Bad Blood is an album about the end of a relationship, but it’s far from sad; it’s angry, it’s confused, it’s nostalgic, it’s giddy. It captures not only the hurt at losing the one you love, but also the tenderness you continue to feel even after that person has broken your heart. While Smith hasn’t confirmed or denied that the album has a distinct narrative, it’s impossible to deny the themes and subjects which arise from listening to the album as a unit.

The gloriously catchy tunes of songs like “These Streets” and the lead single “Pompeii” sweep you up, and it’s a few listens before you realize the pain behind the lyrics. Music is, of course, always up for interpretation; but my impression of Bad Blood describes the aftermath of an incredibly powerful but ultimately doomed love story, the kind of tragedy that hits you right in the gut. There’s betrayal (“Daniel in the Den”, lamenting “Felled in the night/By the ones you think you love/They will come for you”); there’s remorse (“Things We Lost in the Fire”); there’s sheer nastiness (the title track); and there’s that horrible feeling of seeing your ex’s face in every passerby (“These Streets”). In the softer moments of the album there’s a song in which the narrator questions if his partner is truly meant to be with him in the long run, and another which acknowledges that both parties are flawed but asks if each can fix the other. These are all things that happen in real life; they’re part of what happens when two people with mental illnesses are in love, and when partners know deep down that they will not be together forever but can’t quite bear to let go just yet.

The extra material released around Bad Blood–which includes some of Bastille’s best songs–flesh out the details. “Laughter Lines” depicts a classically youthful promise to stay with a loved one forever (“I’ll see you in the future when we’re older/and we are full of stories to be told./Cross my heart and hope to die,/I’ll see you with your laughter lines.”) and “Poet” is an update of Shakespeare’s 18th Sonnet (“I have written you down/Now you will live forever”).

Like another quasi-breakup album I love–The Zolas’ Ancient MarsBad Blood ends with the acknowledgement that despite all the pain, the anger, the compassion, and every other emotional swerve in the journey, we’ll still end up doing this dance again with another partner. The finale of the album, “The Weight of Living Pt I” (Pt II is the midpoint track) references an albatross and encourages the song’s subject to “Let it go”; the penultimate song asks “how am I going to get myself back home?” Reversing the play order of the Weight of Living songs is a reminder that the journey of love and heartbreak is cyclical, and it will be until you find the One.

This analysis might be totally nuts, but Bad Blood resonated with me in a way that no other album did in 2013. It is bombastic, unashamed, emotional, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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