Album review: Outstanding releases from 2013

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A double album that is almost entirely instrumental, and plays like an epic film score, Nightmare Ending stood out in 2013. A double album that is almost entirely instrumental, and plays like an epic film score, Nightmare Ending stood out in 2013.

10.Travis

Where You Stand/Red Telephone Box

After a five-year hiatus, the Brit rockers came back with a beautiful vengeance. Where You Stand possesses an almost magical quality throughout due to Fran Healy’s cracking falsetto, the pleasing combination of dreamy rock and piano pop, and thought-provoking lyrics

9.Trixie Whitley

Fourth Corner/Strong Blood Records

Newcomer Trixie Whitley’s under-
the-radar debut LP served notice that she is an artist to watch. Combining husky vocals and soulful delivery with a show-stopping quality, Whitley wowed with her impressive range as she crooned to the heavens on piano-led numbers like “Morelia” and broke into spoken word stylings on “Hotel No Name.”

8.On An On

Give In/Roll Call Records

On An On’s debut is a dream pop lover’s delight. Ambient numbers (“I Wanted to Say More”) were just as noteworthy as ethereal tracks like “Cops,” and even when grittiness appears (the garage rock-tinged ’80s pop track “Panic”) it’s gently offset by the breathy, lilting vocals of Alissa Ricci.

7. Sarah Neufeld

Hero Brother/Constellation

Best known as the violinist for Arcade Fire, Neufeld shows off her solo chops on this moody, dissonant, and almost entirely instrumental record. “Breathing Black Ground” is a haunting piece of work, and “Dirt” sways through three movements. Like the soundtrack to a disturbing dream, Hero Brother takes hold of you and doesn’t let go.

6. Cage the Elephant

Melophobia/RCA

Alternative rock band Cage the Elephant’s latest is on a creative path that is eerily similar to Silverchair’s. Melophobia recalls Silverchair’s Neon Ballroom in the sense that its sonic palette is vastly expanded here. In addition to kooky stompers (“It’s Just Forever”), the album features hints of Motown soul (“Spiderhead” and “Telescope”). But “Teeth” is the standout, combining punk, jazz, and glam rock with singer Matthew Schulz’s profound musings on the perils of celebrity.

5. Paramore

Paramore/Fueled By Ramen

From the glib ukulele interludes on this record to the first single “Now” (about moving away from a turbulent past), this record is all about rebirth. Singer Hayley Williams’ vocals have matured and the band’s pop-punk is augmented by a gospel choir on “Ain’t it Fun,” synth pop effects on “Fast in My Car,” and blistering shoegaze rock on “Future.” A fine effort in using the past to push into a compelling new musical direction.

4. Eisley

Currents/Equal Vision

After 2011’s angst-ridden The Valley, Currents is a return to form for Eisley. The DuPree sisters rely on their siren-like vocals throughout, and the band returns to the fantastical themes that filled its earlier releases. The groovy, sexy title track is vintage Eisley, and hypnotic beats and gorgeous strings lead the way on the chilling “The Night Comes,” while a jazzy element pervades “Drink the Water,” and the quintet’s echoing vocals are spellbinding on the bridge to “Save My Soul.”

3. The Joy Formidable

Wolf’s Law/Atlantic

As alternative rock releases go, there’s nothing better than this in 2013. Led by the driving single “This Ladder is Ours,” this sophomore album solidified The Joy Formidable’s status as a band of the future. The dynamic group crafts propulsive rock songs like “Little Blimp,” and then strips things down in the quiet, acoustic ditty “The Silent Treatment.” Singer Ritzy Bryan’s vocals are more sultry this time around, though she still injects the tracks with plenty of verve, and the lyrics tap into the complexity of relationships (“Tendons”) and validation (“The Leopard and the Lung”).

2. KT Tunstall

Invisible Empire/Crescent Moon/Blue Note/Universal Records

This was arguably the biggest surprise of 2013 as Tunstall shed her top 40 rock persona in favor of Americana, folk, and country tracks. “Invisible Empire” embodies the creative re-imagining she applied to this album, and the gorgeous piano ballads on “Crescent Moon” and “Yellow Flower” make Invisible Empire/Crescent Moon the best album of Tunstall’s career thus far.

1. Eluvium

Nightmare Ending/Temporary Residence

Matthew Cooper, a.k.a. Eluvium, treats us to the most mind-bending sonic journey of the year. A double album that is almost entirely instrumental, and plays like an epic film score, Nightmare Ending is filled with countless sweeping, ominous, ethereal and jaw-dropping moments. “Unknown Variation” brings in layers of distortion and feedback a la BT’s Nuovo Morceau Subrosa, but Cooper balances this against gorgeous piano interludes like “Caroling,” and uses haunting orchestration to great effect in “Covered in Writing.” By the time the album’s only lyrics are whispered by Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan on the closing track, “Happiness,” we are convinced that the daring, audio odyssey Nightmare Ending is this year’s most glorious album.

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