Top 50 Albums of 2013

albums banner 2013 procMaking our year-end list of Top Albums is never something we take lightly.  We realize that it’s rather arbitrary in the grand scheme of things, but we realize that our role is to at least toss out our opinion, however meaningless it may be. In the long run, we had to take the tastes of several people, and whittle it into a list of 50 great albums that we think are vital to your listening experience.  We know it’s a matter of personal tastes, but the records below are reflective of our tastes and our site, so don’t get mad, they’re just opinions. But, feel free to tell us where we went wrong, or what we might have missed.  If you click on the album titles, you can also read our full reviews of each album, save the ones that we didn’t get to in time. Sorry we don’t like Kanye.

50 – WampireCuriosity
49 – Dot DashHalf Remembered Dream
48 – Mantles  – Long Enough to Leave
47 – The Appleseed CastIllumination Ritual
46 – Bad SportsBras
45 – Part TimePDA
44 – Dick DiverCalendar Days
43 – Math and Physics ClubOur Hearts Beat Loud
42 – Veronica FallsWaiting for Something to Happen
41 – Eat Skull – III
40 – The Lonely WildThe Sun as It Comes
39 – The Love LanguageRuby Red
38 – Gun OutfitHard Coming Down
37 – Cate Le BonMug Museum
36 – Daughn GibsonMe Moan
35 – Andre ObinThe Arsonist
34 – ArpMore
33 – Gap DreamShine Your Light
32 – The Black WatchThe End of When
31 – Ty SegallSleeper
30 – The StevensA History of Hygeine
29 – Of MontrealLousy with Sylvianbriar
28 – Mirror TravelMexico
27 – Local NativesHummingbird
26 – Girls NamesThe New Life
25 – GRMLNEmpire
24 – Small BlackLimits of Desire
23 – AudacityButter Knife
22 – Mikal CroninMCII
21 – Chelsea WolfePain is Beauty
20 – FoalsHoly Fire
19 – Radical FaceFamily Tree: The Branches
18 – Youth LagoonWondrous Bughouse
17 – Terry MaltsNobody Realizes This is Nowhere
16 – Shout Out LoudsOptica
15 – Kurt VileWaking on a Pretty Daze
14 –  BraidsFlourish//Perish
13 – Crystal AntlersNothing is Real
12 – TyphoonWhite Lighter
11 – Ski LodgeBig Heart

10 – GamblesTrust

Admittedly, this album makes nods to folk troubadours of Christmas’ past, but what grabbed me from the moment I heard this record was the sincerity in what’s being created.  In leaving us with a stripped down listen of folk tunes and incredible poetry, we’re asked to look into the history of American songwriting tradition; it’s been awhile since it was executed so well.

9 – The GrowlersHung at Heart

I’d put this album on any list for one song alone, “Someday.”  But, it just so happens that the rest of the album maintains the sensation that’s established on the opening track.  I’ve heard it referenced as a surf-psych opus, but what’s been assured in my mine is what an incredible listen we’re all be treating to when we put Hung at Heart on our record players.

8 – Wax IdolsDiscipline & Desire

Hether Fortune seems to scare people.  Her work is in your face, never making an excuse for who she is or what she believes.  That attitude carries on into her music, allowing listeners to experience a musical world void of any pretense.  The songs on this album are angular, dark and abrasive; the vocals have Hether dominating the scene of modern lady rock warriors.  If you don’t dig it, she doesn’t care, but I do because this record rules.

7 – Parenthetical GirlsPrivilege

While many of the songs on this effort leaked out before under various EPs, the whole masterpiece exists in the way it was tied together as a complete work.  It’s operatic and grand at every corner, but it’s also undeniably a pop record.  The emphasis might revolve around the more artful spectrum of pop music, but this is an album you can play for everyone in your family, and they’ll all find themselves swept up in the wonderment of Privilege.

6 – The NationalTrouble Will Find Me

What else really needs to be said about The National.  They consistently make great albums that are lauded then often overlooked, but we didn’t want to do that to one of our favorite acts.  I mean, if they played 8 shows in 8 days, we’d be at every one, and the DJ set after party.  Their accolades and recognition are warranted, and it’s especially clear on this, their latest release.

5 – LegsPass the Ringo

When listening to Pass the Ringo, I thought of one thing: this is the sort of record that makes a small label, like Loglady Records, a household name. It’s spun around garage rock and psych rock structures, whilst still maintaining an accessibility that few people working in that genre achieve.  Some albums can play in the background of your house, and might be happy to do so, but Legs created something that made me stop and listen at every turn; I’m thankful for that.

4 – Warm SodaSomeone for You

Someone For You came our way in January.  On my record player, it hasn’t left since.  This is one of the most rewarding power-pop records I’ve gotten my hands on, and trust me, I’ve gotten my hands on a lot of great records. Each song is filled with innate hooks and garage rock grit, encouraging you to tap your toes for the entirety of the record.  You’d think after a full year our interest would have waned, but with time we’ve only grown to appreciate the record even more.

3 – Coma CinemaPosthumous Release

At the moment, there’s not too many people releasing music that’s the quality of Mathew Cothran and Coma Cinema. There are elements of the bizarre, similar to the work of early Elf Power, yet there’s this intimacy that artists like Eliott Smith were able to create with their listeners.  You wrap that up and put it in a package of pop sensibility, and you have an album that can’t be ignored.

2 – Bubblegum LemonadeSome Like it Pop

In today’s musical climate, we buy into the fact that artists have to be doing something strange, or something that’s vastly different from their peers.  But, in the grand scheme of things, we often forget what it’s like to take enjoyment out of the music.  This album was one of the many reminders that music, when it’s good, can be quite special.  Every song here is a single, and worth your time; it’s the best thing Laz has done, and I feel like he’s just really getting started.

1 – Magical CloudzImpersonator

This album is about Devon Welsh.  From the first instant I heard his voice, it took hold of me. Throughout the year, Impersonator, consistently played on my radio. His voice was mesmerizing, captivating audiences on several occasions in Austin, convincing us to be as quiet as a mouse, so as to hear every note.  The unique quality of the album will reward listeners for years to follow.  It made us believe in great music again.

 

Top Songs of 2013

best songs ath 2013We’ve put our pretty little heads together ladies and gentlemen to bring you our favorite songs from this past year.  It was a difficult task with our ever growing staff, but we feel like this list best represents the diverse taste of our staff.  Love it or hate it, it’s ours to call our own.  Hit play and put your head down or dance or shimmmy or drool or whatever works. Most of all we hope you hear something you missed, something you want to buy or something you want to see live.

Scroll past the playlist for full the run of the bestest songs ever this year.

Read more

Show Review: Crystal Antlers @ the Mohawk (10.19)

Crystal_Antlers-4Sometimes Austin can disappoint you.  I don’t know if it’s the post-ACL hangover or the onset of cold weather, but I was expecting a sold out crowd for Crystal Antlers on Saturday night, especially after the release of their excellent Nothing is Real LP. Sadly, it was half-empty (shame on us), but that didn’t stop the bands on stage from killing it. Read on for some reflection. And thanks to our friend Bryan for the photo!  Read more

Contest: Crystal Antlers @ Mohawk (10/19)

Crystal AntlersIt’s a great weekend for shows and we think you deserve a chance to see one of those great shows for free.  Everyone can use the extra cash for a tallboy right?  Read below for your chance to win a pair of tickets to check out Crystal Antlers on Saturday at Mohawk.

Up For Grabs: Your name +1 on the promoter’s list.

Contest Close Time: Friday at high noon.

How to Enter: Leave a comment with why you should win!

Don’t forget a valid email address so we can get in touch with the winner.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/03-Licorice-Pizza.mp3]

Download: Crystal Antlers – Licorice Pizza [MP3]

Crystal Antlers – Nothing Is Real

crystal

Rating: ★★★★½

For two albums, Crystal Antlers have successfully combined their love of noise and hooks to create some pretty fascinating music.  But, that being said, I don’t think anything fully prepared us for Nothing Is Real.  It’s sonically exploratory, yet catchy in every way, showing a band that finally has found the perfect balance between captured raw energy and pop sensibility.

“Pray” slowly drops us into the midst of Nothing Is Real, teasing us momentarily before we’re rushed off with a frantic pace into the realm that we’ve come to know so well from these guys.  There’s a harsh quality to the vocal delivery, yet just beneath that growl, you can hear this pop presence.  It’s made even more clear by the howling “oooh” that lurks in the mix.  For me, the focus on making the negative space into meaningful music is what makes this listen to perfect.  And, as you bounce along in the opening moments of “Rattlesnake” the whole of the record begins to take shape. A slow spoken vocal takes control, before you’re pushed into the erratic shout of “rattlesnake.”  In returning to that softer space you can see just how far the group has come; they’ve built this song just for you.

For most of the record, they stick to the same formula, though I haven’t heard Crystal Antlers execute it as well as they have here.  Even so, there are still some beautiful surprises that I didn’t expect.  “We All Gotta Die” is a sprawling ballad, coming in at just under 6 minutes long.  I fully expected the song to erupt with bombast as the song neared the end, and while there’s definitely a louder sound drawn out, it’s nowhere near the explosion I thought I’d get.  It’s nice to know that bands you adore can still change things up on you from time to time.

Just don’t think that the dudes have gone entirely soft on you; you only need to listen to “Persephone” as proof.  It takes a mere seconds for the distortion to introduce you to the group’s heralded wall of noise, though with their special restraint.  This jam illustrates to me the group’s best dynamic, walking a fine line between insanity and pop stardom.  Just imagine the Fresh and Onlys in a mosh pit. “Better Things” also offers a glimpse at the captivating live aspect of the group, featuring an explosive percussive sound working in unison with these sharp guitar chords and shouted vocals.  I don’t know how they’ve captured this energy, but one can immerse themselves within the confines of a sweaty pit while listening to this track; please be safe.

As a fan of Crystal Antlers, I’ve been waiting for this day.  They’ve always captivated me with their live energy and raw power, yet it hasn’t always translated perfectly to tape.  Nothing Is Real, however, does just that.  It fits the explosive power of a group at the top of their game into a concise album that’s still brimming with accessibility despite its dangerous undertones.  This is an album to be reckoned with for some time to come.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/03-Licorice-Pizza.mp3]

Download: Crystal Antlers – Licorice Pizza [MP3]

Powerful Rocker from Crystal Antlers

crystalantlersIt’s going to be hard for me to tell you how excited I am about the upcoming album, Nothing is Real (October 15th), from Crystal Antlers, but I’ll give it the good old college try.  This band’s been one of our ATH favorites since we started this site, putting on incredible shows and banging out these noisy rock numbers.  That being said, things seem to be moving in a slightly pop direction, at least as far as the band can go.  This track has this hook beneath the brash noise they bring, which is something they’ve become better at as they’ve pushed forward.  It’s got the energy we expect from the band, and we can’t wait until they make it all the way back to Austin once the record is out.  Oh, and they’re also cool because they’re giving out this song as a download…an ancient tradition it seems.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/03-Licorice-Pizza.mp3]

Download: Crystal Antlers – Licorice Pizza [MP3]

Excited for New Crystal Antlers Tunes? We Are!

Crystal_Antlers_by_Pixie_MolBack in the day when we were a young blog, one of our first loves, nationally, was Crystal Antlers.  Sure, we had other bands we knew and love, but we caught on to Crystal Antlers, doing an interview, catching some live sets…and we love them.  Johnny Bell is one of my favorite front men, and his performances always made the show.  Now, they’ve got a new track that’s been up and jamming all day.  On first notice, I love the clarity of the vocals, which might not always have been the case.  Of course, it’s a CA song, so it blasts off into punk anthem, which we don’t mind one bit.  For now, all we have to go on is a great new tune, and promise of a new full-length in the future. We’re waiting patiently, sort of.

Show Preview: Zola Jesus/Crystal Antlers @ the Mohawk (10/29)

Date Saturday, October 29th
Location Mohawk
Doors 900p
Tickets $10 from Frontgate

Man, Saturday over at the Mohawk is going to be one hell of an evening.  I know we’re approaching Halloween, but everyone should get out to check out the bands featured on Saturday night.  First show starts early, featuring Zola Jesus who just released the excellent Conatus, which I’ve really enjoyed–as has all the national media.  But, if it’s too early for you, you still have a chance to check out another great band for cheap following the early show.  Our good friends in the Crystal Antlers will be coming to town to headline the inside, and there’s no reason no to pack that little space.  They put on one of the most energetic shows, not to mention the fact that they continually put out great tunes.  You better catch one of these show folks, or you’ll be sorry.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Crystal-Antlers-Summer-Solstice.mp3]

Download: Crystal Antlers – Summer Solstice [MP3]

Crystal Antlers – Two Way Mirror

Rating: ★★★½ ·

I’ll be the first to say that I can’t ever get enough of Crystal Antlers in the live setting.  Their energy, the raw power of the vocals and drenched audience just never gets old.  That being said, their recording material has sort of been hit or miss for me.  After an EP and an album, the band return with Two-Way Mirror, and it finally seems that they’re forging new grounding, melding the tightness of their live show with promising recorded material.

“Jules Story” begins the record seemingly where Tentacles left off. There’s that marching drum beat, with killer fills, and Johnny Bell’s vocals scratching at his throat, and your ears. By no means can you consider it a bad track, it’s just not anything exceptionally new. “Seance” is where you’ll find the band branching into slightly new territory.  They’ve included bits of melody that have always bubbled beneath, but this time, they’ve chosen to reveal them, clearing away the excess noise without losing the song’s power.  Bell’s vocals, here, don’t seem as urgent, yet they still beg for your attention; it’s the perfect melding of their live performance and what one looks for in recorded material.

Just because they clean things up, however, doesn’t mean you’re going to lose any of that furious energy they’ve always unleashed.  In the one-two punch of “By the Sawkill” and “Two-Way Mirror” you’ll see that, if anything, the cleaner approach to the recording only allows you to focus more firmly on the explosiveness within the tracks.  In the past, they’ve been too dynamic for their own good, often making it hard for listeners to really focus in, but this isn’t the case on Two-Way Mirror.  You can still here the experimentalism, such as the tinkering of noises while the guitar screamingly crawls through the background at the end of “By the Sawkill.”  Combine that with Bell’s vocal performance on “Two Way Mirror,” and the remarkably drumming, and you’re sure to see that these excellent tracks will transmit perfectly to the live setting.

One of the problems that I found listening to the first record from Crystal Antlers is that the noise eventually bled into the ensuing noise, and tracks became indiscernible.  But, my favorite track from the group lives in the heart of this record: “Fortune Telling.”  It’s easy to pan it as a psychedelic moment, and maybe it is, but it’s excellent.  Bell sounds incredible, and the pacing of the track is perfect, never pushing to quickly.  And, it all moves perfectly into the following track, “Always Afraid.”  It’s probably my favorite moment of the group to date.

Perhaps my past listens to previous Crystal Antlers were too harsh, although I always liked them enough to repeatedly seek them out live.  But, with Two-Way Mirror, the band seems to have discovered the missing link between recording music and being a live animal.  Bits of eloquent noise have quietly been pulled back, revealing a record with sharpness at just about every corner.  It’s clear that the band still wants to push themselves, and that’s great, as long as they keep offering up the exact recipe they used during this session.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Crystal-Antlers-Summer-Solstice.mp3]

Download: Crystal Antlers – Summer Solstice [MP3]

New Music From Crystal Antlers

One of my favorite and highly underrated indie bands from the last few years Crystal Antlers are prepping a new album for release this summer.  New album Two-Way Mirror will be available July 12th on Recreation LTD.  Prior to that date, we have this sweet new track “Summer Solstice” available below for your listening pleasure.  It’s not quite as thrashy/in your face when compared to older singles from the group, but I’m still calling it one of my favorites of the year so far.  Our amigos over at Tiny Mix Tapes also have a sweet live video of the song from way back in November.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Crystal-Antlers-Summer-Solstice.mp3]

Download: Crystal Antlers – Summer Solstice [MP3]

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