The Truth About Music: Play It Loud

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Play It Loud's Top 10 Albums of 2013 (5-1)

5. Major Arcana by Speedy Ortiz: This was the 10th anniversary of The OC first airing, a moment when many feel Indie Rock first truly crossed over to the mainstream. A lot was made of the fact that Indie seems to have moved so far away from it’s roots that the title doesn’t really apply anymore. Well, no one bothered to tell Speedy Ortiz, who made an album so raw, original, and rock n roll it would have been right at home in the genre’s early 90’s hay day. However, to say this record should have come out in 1993 does it a huge disservice.

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Music is cyclical, so as arm chair musicologists are busy lamenting the death of Indie Rock, Speedy Ortiz and their Exploding In Sound label mates are busy writing the first chapter of it’s inevitable revival.

Key Track: Tiger Tank“ Is just a great Indie Rock song. Built around a sludgy creeping riff, Sadie Dupuis reigns in her considerable voice and tells a fractured narrative where gnashing fangs and chum filled tanks are used as metaphors for an intense and toxic relationship. With “Tiger Tank,” Dupuis announces herself as one of the most exciting new song writers of the year.

Key Lyric: “You didn’t know me when you were a kid, but swimming with you it sure feels like I did.”

Devils Advocate: She’s an Indie Rocker, and nothings gonna stop her. With that said, this is a true blue Indie Rock album, don’t confuse that with whatever you might think “Indie” is as a genre. This is confrontational rock ‘n’ roll.

4. Modern Vampires In The City by Vampire Weekend: After two albums that were unequivocally successful, Vampire Weekend finally lived up to their vaunted potential with Modern Vampires In The City. More mature and introspective than anything the band had attempted so far, the album finds Vampire Weekend gracefully aging out of their youth, and becoming more mature, responsible men. Koenig’s lyrics have never been this good, and by sticking to their proven formula while still finding room to tweak it, Vampire Weekend have recorded a great album that may legitimately double as a grand generational statement.

Key Track: There were so many great songs released in 2013, but “Hannah Hunt“ topped them all for me. A slow, sleepy build, Ezra Koenig tell a few wistful anecdotes about himself and the titular character. Then, just as the song seems like it might just fade off for good, the snare drum cracks in, a gorgeous slide solo takes over and Hannah Hunt soars to a conclusion. Patience and dynamics are a rare commodity these days, but Vampire Weekend used both to create a masterpiece with Hannah Hunt.

Key Lyric: “Wisdom ’s a gift but you’d trade it for youth, age is an honor, that’s still not the truth.”

Devils Advocate: The first half of Modern Vampires is one of the all time great A-sides. The second half is a good Vampire Weekend record, which is still very enjoyable, but a bit of a comedown none the less.

3. The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You by Neko Case: At the beginning of 2013, if you had told me Neko Case had yet to release her best album I would have said you were wrong. Then The Worse Things Get The Longer My Word Count happened. Neko Case has been making genre redefining Alt Country for so long that the classification seems redundant. Yet she still so perfectly encapsulates the genre; rooting her sound in the instrumentation of a bygone America while keeping her narrative and experimental side firmly in the future.

Key Track: Gender and sexual identity have been a popular subject for songs this year, but Neko Case carpet bombed the whole issue with the unstoppable “Man.” A cocky matter of fact statement, she wields the word man as a symbol of power beyond any traditional classification. All that aside, there are precious few songs that rocked half this hard in 2013.

Key Lyric: “…you say I’m lucky to be here, well maybe you can take this over, and I will gladly wear the pants into the next century.”

Devils Advocate: This is mostly an album everyone will love, but “Midnight In Honulu” will be a deal breaker if one doesn’t buy into the narrative.

2. Yeezus by Kanye West: In 2005, Time Magazine ran a cover story on Kanye West titled “Hip-Hop’s Nice Guy.” 8 years later Yeezy is still a guy, but he isn’t very nice and he doesn’t really make hip-hop anymore. Yeezus was the most daring move by a major recording artist in a long time. As one of the biggest musicians in the world, Kanye abandoned any marketing campaign or lead single. The album didn’t even have a cover. None of this would have mattered if Yeezus was lousy, but it turned out to be the most daring, intense and audacious record of Kanye’s career. It annoys us when Kanye rubs his own genius in our faces, but after 6 great albums it’s pretty much impossible to deny.

Key Track: New Slaves“ is the track where Kanye condenses everything he wants to say on this album into one song. Taking on consumerism and racism while never failing to indict himself, “New Slaves” is an agitated, intense blast of industrial hip-hop that ascends to the heavens on a gorgeous Frank Ocean assisted outro.

Key Lyric: It’s a little to intense to publish, but when I say “the Hampton verse,” you know what I mean.

Devils Advocate: Yeezus was designed to be deliberately confrontational, so you either love it or hate it, his days of universally loved party jams are long gone.

1. Trouble Will Find Me by The National: As this top ten list has shown, 2013 was a great year for proven veterans living up to their own lofty standards. At this point The National are so consistent, the fact that they released another great album is barely newsworthy. But while that is an easy narrative, it doesn’t necessarily fit. Trouble Will Find Me is The National’s finest album to date, taking the sound they have spent a decade perfecting and applying it to their best songs yet. By putting a new crown jewel in an already stellar discography, The National succeeded in releasing the best album of the year.

Key Track: The album’s lead single, “Sea Of Love” is an instant classic. Finally finding a way to fully bridge the gap between the bands slow compositional side and rock n roll edge, “Sea Of Love” is now a strong competitor for the bands single greatest accomplishment.

Key Lyric: “Learn to appreciate the void? You should know me better than that.”

Devils Advocate: Some people will always have an issue with Matt Berninger’s voice and the slower songs may be interminable if that’s the case.

Click here to see albums 6-10

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