10. Good God! Apocryphal Hymns by Various Artists
In my last post, I cheated when I included Purple Snow: Forecasting The Minneapolis Sound on my "Best of 2013 List." After all, one doesn't really think of 70s and 80s funk/soul rarities when discussing music from this year. But since I have no one to report to besides my own gut, I have no problem subbing old music released in 2013 for new music released in 2013.
I'm cheating again with Good God! Apocryphal Hymns, which is a b-sides compilation of rare gospel performances released on small labels during the 1970s. I highly recommend this collection to anyone who has never listened to gospel music or has only listened to Mahalia Jackson or The Dixie Hummingbirds. It's not typical "scream at the top of your lungs" gospel music. Rather it's a mellow sermon of church organs, light percussion, electric guitars and Motown-esque vocals that borders on the psychedelic. Even when the performances are high energy, they nevertheless exist in a pool of quicksand and molasses. The result is consistently relaxing music—making it enjoyable for believers and non-believers. It's surreal, but not druggy. It's clearly worship music singing to the heavens and Jesus Christ.
The music on this collection may not blow your mind—but serious music listeners should take note. This is definitely worth hearing.
9. No Beginning No End by Jose James
With No Beginning No End Jose James became one of the most-talked about R&B/Jazz artists of 2013. He hit number one on the jazz charts for the first time in his five year career and he even crossed over onto The Billboard 200 into the not-too-shabby number 91 position. He'll probably be nominated for a Grammy for this one and even if he doesn't win, the album's 11 tracks are so satisfying that his credibility is 100% self-evident. James clearly deserves to have the Blue Note moniker stamped onto No Beginning No End's album jacket. With such stand-out tracks like "It's All Over Your Body," "Trouble," "Vanguard," "Come To My Door" and "Heaven On The Ground," it's also clear that James deserves at least 100,000 more Facebook fans than the 40,000 he has already been blessed with.
8. Lesser Evil by Doldrums
Before you listen to Lesser Evil by Doldrums, I highly recommend you take a minute to sit and stare at its corresponding album artwork. Doing so will tell you quite a bit about what cocktail you're about to swallow.
Under the abstract wash of inky, blue, food coloring-like stains and violet flourishes is a human face. Let's say the face is equivalent to the concept of familiar and agreeable music. Everything else is a bizarre, sour candy coated, electronic fabric. Too much of electronic indie rock only gives you the "everything else." But, sometimes you get the familiar and the agreeable music and the everything else together in one double shot. This combination is quite addictive when it's done really well.
Releaesed in February 2013, Lesser Evil is done really well. Almost perfect!
If you're going to chill out, you might as well put on some good music and Lesser Evil will more than suffice. On tracks like "Lesser Evil" and "Lost In Everyone," Doldrums make some of the finest Indie Rock I've heard all year. Enjoy this underrated masterpiece.
7. Sticky Wickets by The Duckworth Lewis Method
Thanks to a recommendation from Paul Pearson of the fantastic and appropriately titled blog Song Of The Day, I checked out Sticky Wickets by The Duckworth Lewis Method and thought it was terrific. Then I listened more and more and I thought it was beyond terrific. Then I listened even more—and look, now Sticky Wickets sits at number seven! After beginning with the title track—which I'll admit is just-okay and nothing special—The Duckworth Lewis Method are off and running with an orchestral pop masterpiece. There's a lot of Brian Wilson to Duckworth's arrangements and a lot of Todd Rundgren to their experimental humor, but it's very much an album that Ringo Starr would love to have written and crafted—with help from Jellyfish and 2010-era David Bowie. It's like a swinging circus that takes place while the most visually captivating cricket match occurs on fake grass next door. What does that mean? I don't know. But what I do know is that Sticky Wickets is an odd record that takes many chances and risks and works due to relentless craftsmanship, creativity and, yes, a better-than-average knack for melody.
Underneath the orchestrations are whispers and spoken-word parts that would sound truly ridiculous if on a record by the less-talented. But on Sticky Wickets it's charming. The album's not all straight-up chamber pop. In fact, on "Out In The Middle," perhaps the best song here, the sticky flourishes lie below an understated, introspective and very moving singer/songwriter ballad. If it were on Paul McCartney's NEW, it would be the best track.
Then there's the brilliant "Line and Length," which has multiple choruses and refrains, one being a computer-like spoken word hook and another being a high-pitched soulful shout. It's almost a rap song, sounding like Brian Eno was behind the mixing board. Good stuff.
But, "Good stuff" truly describes most of Sticky Wickets which has received so little attention it hurts. My blog won't suddenly make it a big album, but hopefully it can serve as a digital tip of the hat to this talented group.
6. Si Sauvage by The Suburbs
A great release from a classic band. Si Sauvage offers yet more proof that great albums come out of Minneapolis as often as snow falls on the ground. Having not released a proper album since 1984, this is obviously a different version of The Suburbs than the group that rocked the Twin Cities in the late 70s and 80s. They're more mature and their real-life experiences, including the death of their original guitarist—not to mention the death of frontman Chan Poling's wife—seem to transfer to the band's new sound. It's no clearer than on the beautiful and sad "What's It Like Out There?"
Poling's new-found career of composing musicals, scoring TV shows and jazzing up classic songs with John Munson and Steve Roehm in The New Standards has also added an unmistakable influence to the sonics of Si Sauvage. But there's plenty of welcome "smart-assery" here that juxtaposes very well with the newfound wisdom. It makes The Suburbs return to disc-making less like a therapeutic recollection of death and more of an acknowledgement that life is hard, but it still goes on. Si Sauvage makes a good case that The Suburbs are the perfect band to deliver that message and it's mix of melancholy and exuberance is an excellent musical experience.