Top Albums of 2013: # 6, 5, 4


6. Goldfrapp, TALES OF US

Since Alison and Will never make the same album twice, I had no idea what to expect from their sixth; the track listing, consisting entirely of one-word titles, all but one of them proper names, only heightened my curiosity. Slow, moody and darkly cinematic, Tales of Us is a challenging listen, ebbing and flowing along an endless shoreline, occasionally rustling like a windswept meadow but mostly still and glass-eyed. Emphasizing orchestral/acoustic settings with the subtlest of electronics, it’s another departure for sure, but one that comfortably suits Alison’s textural, affected vocals. There’s no “Ooh La La” or even an “A&E” here, but I find myself returning to it again and again, and extracting more from it each time.

Best tracks: “Clay”, “Drew”, “Simone”, “Ulla”

Video for “Drew”:

laura marl eagle

5. Laura Marling, ONCE I WAS AN EAGLE

This is the 23-year-old folk wunderkind’s third straight album in a row to make my year-end top ten, but its position here wasn’t always secure; compared to her previous efforts, this is a rather challenging (yes, that word again) listen, not only because of breadth (16 songs, 63 minutes) but also an inkling of Marling fearlessly leaping into the unknown. The first four tracks, all built around a singular droning chord progression, make up a suite, melodic traces of which recur throughout the album’s remainder. A few songs, like the lusty, rhythmic “Master Hunter” notably stand out from the overall din, but, as with Tales of Us, it’s a sustained sense of exploration and wonder that resonates over time. Her generation’s Joni Mitchell? Keep watching this space.

Best tracks: “I Was An Eagle”, “Master Hunter”, “When Were You Happy? (And How Long Has That Been)”, “Where Can I Go?”

Video for “Master Hunter”:

vamp week


They’ve grown up a lot since Contra—their third album is the first without any annoying songs I have to skip over, but its merits go far beyond that. Having perfected an extraordinarily individual aesthetic up until now, they’re free to develop and deepen the content. In this case, that means not just observing and commenting on the world, but playing an active part by experiencing and confronting universal foibles such as aging, heartbreak, disappointment, and doubt. Up-tempo numbers like “Diane Young” and “Unbelievers” mix deceptively sunny verve with sobering content, while the choruses of “Step” and “Hannah Hunt” (wistful and yearning, respectively) bespeak levels of maturity and feeling I previously thought were beyond this band.

Best tracks: “Diane Young”, “Hannah Hunt”, “Step”, “Unbelievers”

Video for “Hannah Hunt”:


19. Back in Boston, he arrived at his apartment to discover his beau of two years had left—this time for good. He was not surprised and did not care. “La, la, la” he wordlessly sang to himself, genuinely relieved and happier than he’d felt in years.

20. This proverbial heavy weight lifted, he felt uncommonly inspired—he had to write it all down. Usually, he’d walk over to the Common and find a secluded park bench, but it was way too cold for that. He ended up at the Wired Puppy on Newbury and immediately claimed the sole unoccupied table.

21. A succession of mocha lattes in one hand, a pen in the other, he wrote and drank for hours; his words resembled poetry more than prose, which was odd ‘cause he’d never written a poem before.

22. He emerged from the subterranean enclave satiated and fully convinced he’d created something new and rare. He strolled down an uncharacteristically empty Newbury Street, and snowflakes gently fell—a perfectly beautiful moment he could never hope to capture on the page, and yet he accepted it without any reservations.

23. He somehow secured an appointment with a publisher in New York weeks later; on the bus ride down, he did his best to remain calm and in the moment.

24. Staying a block off Bleecker Street with an old friend, he woke up secure and contented, knowing that whatever the outcome of his meeting with the publisher, it was a considerable achievement that he had made it this far. As he sat at the kitchen table stirring his coffee and reading the paper, a blonde woman quickly walked in and then, seconds later, out the front door without even saying hello. He didn’t care, for he preferred life’s great mysteries to its mundane, rational details.


Wisdom’s a Gift, But You’d Trade It For Youth…

Although I haven’t actually listened to it since Friday morning, I’ve had this song from the new Vampire Weekend album on repeat in my head all weekend long. They’ve finally made a long player that I can get all the way through without inevitably getting annoyed; either they’re growing up, or I am. Also, if this gorgeous song’s any indication, they’ve spent the three years since Contra absorbing Belle and Sebastian’s catalog (always a good thing, IMO).