40. Prissy Clerks – Bruised or Be Bruised (Bruise or Be Bruised)
Minneapolis is well known for its music, but the only local band I could get into was Prissy Clerks. While their album Bruise or Be Bruised is a fine affair of blissfully lo-fi indie pop, my actual favorite song of theirs was their version of Beck’s “Don’t Act Like Your Heart isn’t Hard” which was recorded for…something. I can’t remember. I kept hearing a fifteen second clip of it on the Current when the thing I can’t remember was being promoted and thinking, “Boy, I wish I could hear this song in its entirety because this is SENSATIONAL!” But props to Prissy Clerks for keeping it real in the land of the windchill factor.
39. Bill Callahan – The Sing (Dream River)
“The only words I said today are ‘Beer’ and ‘Thank You,’” sings ol’ Billy C on his latest depressing romp, which is full of beautiful fiddles, crackerjack acoustic finger-work, and husky vocals from one of modern Americana’s elder statesmen.
38. Shearwater and Sharon Van Etten – Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around
Best cover of the year, hands down. Jonathan Meiburg’s Tom Petty and Sharon Van Etten’s Stevie Nicks do a bang up job of doing this classic rock radio classic major justice.
37. Guided by Voices – “Islands (She Talks in Rainbows)” (English Little League)
I wasn’t that into GBV’s fourth album in two years (and only of 2013, hey, I was more than thankful for Let’s Go Eat the Factory and the rest has basically just been gravy), but this Tobin Sprout cut was the highlight. My love for Bob Pollard is well known and widespread, but I always felt like Tobin Sprout gave the group its soul. And this song is just so beautiful and short and bears replaying a hundred time like all of Toby’s contributions.
36. Low – “Holy Ghost” (The Invisible Way)
Man, Mimi Parker. Just man. I barely have words for the transcendental loveliness of this track. I do have words for Low though, who totally pissed on a bunch of people’s toes at the Current’s Rock the Garden fest this year when their set consisted of a 30-minute long performance of their song “Do You Know How to Waltz?” Fucking awesome. So cool. Let the haters hate, Low are still making records like it’s 1996.
35. Dead Meadow – “Six to Let the Light Shine Thru” (Warble Womb)
I kept meaning to listen to Dead Meadow’s latest stoner rock opus all the way through but could never seem to find the time or the mindset to sit down with the album. I did listen to this track a bunch of time as it’s the first one on the record and while I failed to make it into the meat of the record, the way the great melody shines through the sludge on this one is a wonderfully listenable ploy.
34. Daughter – “Human” (If You Leave)
English trio Daughter’s debut LP on 4AD was an accomplished collection of alt-folk that was maybe a little bit too reigned in at times, but when the band really let their hair down, as they did on “Human,” they shook out some powerful stuff.
33. The Pastels – “Check My Heart” (Slow Summits)
Is it Springtime yet? I can’t wait to spend another March with Slow Summits.
32. Parenthetical Girls – “A Note to Self” (Privilege)
Indie pop never sounds as chaotic and dramatic as it does when it’s coming from the mouth of Zac Pennington. “A Note to Self” is just fucking irresistible on every front.
31. Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle – “You Missed My Heart” (Perils from the Sea)
The chorus on this one is pure magic. Mark Kozelek was a busy man this year, releasing albums with Jimmy LaValle of the Album Leaf and Desertshore, a covers album, and a slew of live albums. I spent a lot of time with Perils of the Sea whilst playing iPad games and getting in the mental space to work on fiction, and despite its title, this song does strange things to ticker.
30. Richard Buckner – "When You Tell Me How It Is" (Surrounded)
It’s borderline sneaky how inventive Richard Buckner’s music is on his latest album. I don’t know why I always expect Buckner’s deep, mournful vocals to be accompanied by just an acoustic guitar when they’ll play well with damn near anything.
29. Arctic Monkeys – “Do I Wanna Know?” (AM)
Arctic Monkeys basically being the new Rolling Stones.
28. The Hold Steady – “Criminal Fingers” (“Criminal Fingers” 7”)
This b-side from Heaven is Whenever returns to the seamy underbelly of the Twin Cities. I honestly feel like I moved to Minneapolis for two years just so I could have a point of reference for Hold Steady songs, I love this band that goddamn much. That said, there’s a bit in the chorus where the character is living “on Columbus between 28th & Lake” and I not only know exactly where that is, but I know that it’s two blocks from Chicago Lake Liquors, which is on the diciest part of Lake Street (which exists in a state of consistent dicey-ness between Lyndale and Hiawatha). I don’t miss it, but I remember that city fondly, and I appreciate the Hold Steady more than I ever did, and this b-side is great and unsettling and not what you would expect from the World’s greatest party band.
27. Islands – “Wave Forms” (Ski Mask)
Nick Thorburn sounds like he’s getting back to Vapours territory after a couple of weird years. While “Wave Forms” has the first signs of childlike joy he’s displayed since the late 00s with its glockenspiels and silly synths, it fortunately keeps intact the maturity he’s been cultivating since the destruction of the Unicorns.
26. Keaton Henson – “Lying to You” (Birthdays)
Everybody loves a song that makes you want to curl up in a ball and sob. The music video is wonderful though.
25. Ola Podrida – “Not Ready to Stop” (Ghosts Go Blind)
It’s not like David Wingo is reinventing the wheel. He’s just a normal dude from Austin who composes film music for some of todays best indie filmmakers and puts out solo albums as Ola Podrida from time to time. The lead-off track from his third album, Ghosts Go Blind, was in constant rotation in my car stereo. Somewhere mid-year I made a mix of songs from albums I really wanted to listen to before year’s end so I could make my list with the sense of comfort I get from listening to a certain percentage of a year’s releases. This track led to that mix being replaced with this album and it’s a wonderful blend of Texan post rock a la Explosions in the Sky (whom Wingo collaborated with for the soundtrack to David Gordon Green’s Prince Avalanche) and down home, sensitive man alt-country tinged indie rock.
24. Frog Eyes – “Claxxon’s Lament” (Carey’s Cold Spring)
Carey Mercer had a way worse year than you. He got throat cancer and his dad died, hence the frigid title of the latest Frog Eyes album. “Claxxon’s Lament” has been floating around for a long time. I know it from the cover Wolf Parade did for the Believer magazine Music Issue in 2005. I always found it strange that I could never find the Frog Eyes version, and it was frustrating because I thought it as such a beautiful song. Turns out, it was never recorded. Mercer had just been keeping it in limbo. Until now. I read an interview where he said he was at his dying father’s side in his last moments and played his father this song as he slipped out of the mortal realm. There was something profoundly touching and comforting about that.
23. Volcano Choir – “Comrade” (Repave)
There’s a weird auto-tuned breakdown towards the end of this song that I feel like I should hate, but inexplicably love. I’ve been a huge fan of Justin Vernon’s since 2008 when I literally buried myself under blankets and listened to Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago in my darkened bedroom. Volcano Choir’s ornate music is a great vehicle for Vernon’s falsetto and Repave is one of those albums where you can tell that the band is having some serious fun. It all comes through on “Comrade,” which is what I imagine the future of adult urban contemporary to sound like.
22. The National – “Sea of Love” (Trouble Will Find Me)
I’ve had issues with both of the National’s albums since Boxer. It’s not that these guys aren’t talented, it just feels like they’ve forgotten how to make an album with heart and soul. Fortunately, both High Violet and Trouble Will Find Me had at least one track that left me on the floor. I feel like I’ll revisit these albums down the line and understand their inner workings and become a fan, but at the moment they inspire nothing but boredom. Except “Sea of Love,” which not only has an amazing music video, but does what the National do best: shed their buttoned-up and chilly exterior and craft a song that exudes warmth. I gotta say though, I mostly love this song because it recreates step-for-step a bizarre Eastern European music video, and god knows I love a seemingly VERY serious band with a sense of humor.
21. Kurt Vile – “Wakin on a Pretty Day” (Wakin on a Pretty Daze)
I used to think this song went on noodling too long, but now I appreciate all of the rambling weirdness with all of my being. This shit is downright captivating.