1. VAMPIRE WEEKEND- MODERN VAMPIRES OF THE CITY
Vampire Weekend burst onto the college radio scene as the unexpected hit of 2008 when they released their self-titled album featuring hits like “A-Punk” and “Oxford Comma”. This time around, they are not catching anyone by surprise. With their third album, Modern Vampires of the City they bring their already eclectic sound and expand it even further. They are band that could have relied on their pop sensibilities to give them a career of radio hits and sold out concerts by the truck load, but this just isn’t there style. They are Constantly introducing more and more obscure instruments into their already vast collection. Even instituting themes usually found in rap or hip hop such as voice modification to give the singer the impossibly low singing voiced found on songs by A$AP Rocky and the like. If they continue to push the envelope on future albums we are all in for a treat.
2. PORTUGAL. THE MAN- EVIL FRIENDS
There is no exact equation for determining how a band is able to separate themselves from the mass of unknown artists that are constantly releasing music, touring, and hoping to one day make it. That is what makes the music industry, specifically college radio, such an exciting proposition. You never know what is going to hit you by surprise and just blow you away. Portugal. The Man is a strange band that matches the strange journey they took to become one of, if not the, breakout hit of 2013. They are a band that how now released 8 studio albums. Many times after a band is on their third of fourth and has still yet to reach wide appeal, they may have to get used to obscurity. But as the year closes I find myself not able avoid Portugal. The Man songs which are being featured on everything from football games on FOX to Taco Bell commercials. Don’t think for a second that this is some sort of fluke. This band has been making catchy, indie rock hits for years and 2013 finally had them find the respect they deserve.
3. OKKERVIL RIVER- THE SILVER GYMNASIUM
To say that an Okkervil River album is a work in poetic storytelling seems a bit like saying that (insert comparison). But 2013’s The Silver Gymnasium takes songwriter Will Sheff’s writing to a more personal place than ever. The whole album takes place in Sheff’s hometown of Meriden, New Hampshire and covers themes of his personal experiences growing up in the 1980’s. The album keeps with Okkervil River’s tradition of vivid lyrics without sacrificing catchy chorus’. Sheff is also campaigning through twitter and kickstarter to get the funds to finish a full-length movie based on the stories told on the album,to be called “Down Down the Deep River”. This means that although this a top album for the year 2013 it will surely be one that continues to make waves into 2014.
4. THE NATIONAL- TROUBLE WILL FIND ME
On this list I’ve discussed the idea of bands using a formulaic approach to songwriting and how sometimes this can make for boring, predictable songs. Well to every rule there must be at least a few exceptions, and in this case The National seems to be this exception. It has been 12 years since their self-titled debut album and almost 7 since their breakout album Boxer, but the band has been able to keep making great music and keep audiences interested without straying too far from who they were from the start. Trouble Will Find Me builds on this and is again able to produce some great, memorable tracks, all while keeping the swooning, depression laden themes that front man, Matt Berninger, has made hid trademark.
5. ARCTIC MONKEYS- AM
There is no doubt that 2013’s AM was to be the make or break record for this now 11-year-old band. After 2009’s Humbug which was both panned by critics and ignored by fans the Monkeys began to gain back some of their momentum with 2009’s Suck it and See, but the band still seemed to be lacking whatever it was that has made them the appear to be on the verge of being the next great British invaders. If AM were to once again fall short The Arctic Monkeys might have fallen into relative obscurity, but luckily for them, AM did anything but fall short. Probably their most complete album yet, AM shows a maturity that the rockers could have only dreamed of when they first began but is also able to capture the angst and edge that made them so appealing to begin with.
6. THE HEAD AND THE HEART- LET’S BE STILL
It seems that The Head and the Heart might just be in the right place and the right time for their blend of folky harmonization to truly hit it big. When they released their debut, self-titled album in 2011 there was no anticipation as they were relatively unknown. This time, though, things are different. After their surprising first album they have gained substantial fan base who were no doubt excited to hear their follow up effort. The Head and the Heart features three main vocalists; Jonathon Russell, Josiah Johnson, and Charity Rose Thielen. If one thing sticks out about this album over their first, it’s the voice of Thielen. This album also continues their trend of harmonization that they established on the first record, trading back and forth seamlessly between Thielen, Johnson, and Russell on several tracks. For those who like to be the music fans who can say things like, “I knew them way before they were popular” your time to legitimately say this about The Head and the Heart is dwindling quickly. For those of you who just want to hear a quality album then it may be time to jump on this band’s bandwagon becuse there are many more hits to come.
7. ARCADE FIRE- REFLEKTOR
No album was more anticipated in the college radio world in 2013 than Reflektor. Slowly information came out, beginning with the fact that the album was to be co-produced by James Murphy of LCD Soundsytem. Next was the report that this album would bring with it a whole new sound from Arcade Fire which pules heavily from their experiences in Haiti. Then came the guerilla marketing campaign used for the album that included the use of street art which showed up all around the world. A lot of bands would not have been so bold because of the amount of self-made pressure this would put on the album, but Arcade Fire is not like most bands and this has been evident for some time. The album on its own also did nothing to disprove this idea. You can really hear the influences they received in Haiti as Reflektor has a kind of island feel to it that was not anywhere to be found on previous outputs. It does however, still sound like an Arcade Fire album, but to me, and many others, there is nothing wrong with that at all.
8. CLOUD CONTROL- DREAM CAVE
Many of the albums that have graced this list took no one by surprise (see Arcade Fire’s Reflektor, or Modern Vampires of the City). Coming in at number 8 on my list this year is the latest work from Cloud Control, a band that not only had I not been on the lookout for, but had simply never heard of. The album is entitled Dream Cave and took me by such pleasant surprise that I hope including them on this list will convince at least one person to give it a listen that it clearly deserves. Cloud Control is able to seamlessly blend the kind of harmonization found on recent breakout bands like Alt-J with more folky sounds of Fleet Foxes. I find with bands that are just starting out that “finding their own sound” can often mean repeating one thing that works until the entire album sounds like a repetition of some formula. Dream Wave could have been a successful record had the band simply duplicated the themes found on “Promises” or “Scar”, the two best songs on the album, but they decided to try something different with almost every track. This gives the album not only more lasting power for the listener but also makes me excited to hear what 2014 might bring for this Australian quartet.
9. KING KRULE- 6 FEET BENEATH THE MOON
I don’t know what the most surprising thing is about King Krule’s album 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, the fact that he has received endorsements by multiple established musicians ranging from Earl Sweatshirt to queen B herself, or that the swooning voice is that of 19-year-old brit Archy Marshall. Either way Marshall unique sound seems to be something that a wide variety of tastes can appreciate. Having wrote the single, “Easy, Easy” when he was only 12 years old it is also no question that he has talent to spare and is going to be an artist to watch for years.
10. CHANCE THE RAPPER- ACID RAP
As you can probably tell from the list thus far I am one not easily sold on hip hop or rap albums, but this mixtape hit me in a way that I just couldn’t ignore. Not since the emergence of Kid Cudi has there been a rapper who has had the ability to mix an excellent singing voice, catchy choruses, and clever rhymes so seamlessly. The mixtape goes from sentimental tracks about the past like “Cocoa Butter Kisses” to marijuana anthems like “Smoke Again” featuring Top Dawg’s Ab-Soul. Acid Rap also features guest appearances from Action Bronson, Twista, as well as Childish Gambino. Chance continued to release music throughout 2013 even returning the favor and adding a couple verses to Childish Gambino’s “Worst Guys”.