Music News

Backbeat writers look back on national favorites from 2013

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Eleanor Friedberger, Personal Record (Merge). Since Fiery Furnaces went on hiatus in 2011, Eleanor Friedberger has been recording her solo work, and this second full-length album is full of perfect quirky pop arrangements and her signature dry narrative voice. The album's '70s Laurel Canyon folk sound really makes her lyrics sound even weirder. — LS

Erik Friedlander, Claws & Wings (Skipstone). Cellist Erik Friedlander has collaborated with forward-thinking musicians like John Zorn and Laurie Anderson, but he's also released some excellent solo albums, including the recently released Claws & Wings, an especially poignant collection that was inspired by the death of his wife. Friedlander recruited longtime collaborators Sylvie Courvoisier and Ikue Mori for a stunning effort. — JS

Fuzz, Fuzz (In the Red Records). The name explains the sound here perfectly. This loud, powerful proto-metal trio hoped to maintain drummer Ty Segall's anonymity with its self-titled debut album, but it didn't work, because Segall sings for Fuzz, too. The guitar is king here, though, as Charles Moothart creates sonic walls of noise, with crunchy solos shooting right through it all. — LS

Ghost B.C., Infestissumam (Universal Republic). Of all the metal releases this year, Infestissumam was the most publicized. Metal fans could not get away from the banner ads for this album, which, as it turns out, would be a perfect release if not for the dragging, seven-minute-and-thirty-second-long "Guleh — Zombie Queen." — BL

Ben Goldberg, Unfold Ordinary Mind (BAG Production Records). It was clear from his work in the New Klezmer Trio during the mid-'90s that Ben Goldberg was a hell of a clarinetist. Since then, he's released some fine solo albums, but Unfold Ordinary Mind is superb, thanks in part to some excellent compositions by Goldberg, as well as some brilliant playing by guitarist Nels Cline and tenor players Ellery Eskelin and Rob Sudduth. — JS

The Growlers, Hung at Heart (Everloving Inc.). What the hell ever happened to psychedelic garage rock? Hung at Heart proves it never really went away. There are elements of tiki-fied camp here, but they're hardly ironic. On this album, the band is clearly serious in its approach to re-creating 1960s surf sounds — with a truckload of amps in tow. — MS

Haim, Days Are Gone (Columbia). A sister act born from roots in a childhood family band, Haim borrows from Fleetwood Mac-inspired harmony rock, Prince-like pop and '90s R&B to create a sound that is entirely irresistible — and all fun. The buzz that surrounds the act is well deserved, because as much as you might want to laugh it off, you won't be able to turn Days Are Gone down. — Samantha Alviani

The Head and the Heart, Let's Be Still (Sub Pop). The Head and the Heart set out a tough opening act with its self-titled debut in 2011. But sophomore album Let's Be Still picks up on the cues from that record and pushes them further, going deeper than the Beatles echoes and bright pop foundations. Indeed, these thirteen tracks hint at even greater achievements to come. — AG

Tim Hecker, Virgins (Kranky). Reminiscent of Laraaji but with piano, Tim Hecker stretches out a bit from his usual processed organic sounds and synthesizers on Virgins . There's a greater clarity than there was on his (inspired) previous album, Ravedeath, 1972, giving him the ability to articulate a sense of emotional depth as well as space. — TM

Incendiary, Cost of Living (Closed Casket Activities). Long Island is hosting a revival in East Coast hardcore, and Incendiary's Cost of Living represents all the grit and street ethic of the best NYHC bands from decades past. — BL

Jason Isbell, Southeastern (Southeastern Records). Nobody these days sings about redemption, homesickness or cancer as well as Jason Isbell. On Southeastern, he makes his case as one of America's best singer-songwriters, in alt-country or any other genre. He's been through enough muck for a lifetime of songs, and has enough humility to break your goddamn heart. — MS

Jagwar Ma, Howlin' (Mom & Pop Music). Howlin' may have been one of the year's best dance releases, one with a fairly simple goal: to deliver pure, unadulterated music for making you dance. It's mostly exuberant pop music with a wash of psychedelia, and although the tracks have little relation to each other, musically they all share the ability to keep listeners moving without trying. — SA

Jesu, Every Day I Get Closer to the Light From Which I Came (Shellshock). Justin K. Broadrick firmly establishes himself as a masterful composer of expansive soundscapes across this album, reliably delivering the most sublimely heavy music anyone is making today. With the title track, he also proves that he can write deeply affecting piano and string arrangements that stir the heart and imagination. — TM

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