Best of 2013 Staff Picks

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By Katie M.

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1. Ty Segall Sleeper

Ty Segall is known for shredding like a mad man and creating catchy guitar riffs, so when I first heard that he was coming out with an acoustic album I was a bit apprehensive. Luckily, this release only further proves Segall to be an increasingly interesting, multi-faceted musician.  The album’s subject matter is weighty: his father recently died, which subsequently led to a strain in his relationship with his mother.  I never imagined that a Ty Segall album could give me chills, but the intimate subject matter makes for his most heartfelt songs to date.

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2. Thee Oh Sees Floating Coffin

After hearing Floating Coffin, Thee Oh Sees became my most listened to band of the year. I heard the album in the spring and continued to play it all summer long. At times psychedelic and paranoid and at others melodic, this album makes me excited to see what else this band has in store.

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3. The National Trouble Will Find Me

The National keep releasing great albums and Trouble Will Find Me is no exception. I’m a sucker for Matt Berninger’s deep, rich vocals and existential lyrics. The album doesn’t stray from their idiosyncratic sound, but I’m perfectly content with that because they do it so well.

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4. Youth Lagoon Wondrous Bughouse

Youth Lagoon, which is the nom de plume of 24-year-old Trevor Powers, has a penchant for making excellent bedroom pop. On his sophomore album, Wondrous Bughouse he explores the human psyche and crafts melodic, poignant songs. For fans of Local Natives, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Animal Collective.

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5. Neil Young Live at the Cellar Door

This album was kept in the vault for 44 years and I’m grateful that it was finally released this year. The recordings come from six solo shows in late November and early December of 1970 and feature Neil Young switching between acoustic guitar and grand piano. The album is raw, beautiful, and intimate and features some of Young’s best songs, such as “Down By the River”, “After the Gold Rush”, and “See the Sky About to Rain”. You seriously can’t go wrong with this album.

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Kronos Quartet plays music by Bryce Dessner “Aheym”

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Kronos Quartet plays music by Bryce Dessner

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By Matt F.

Although I earnestly attempt not to hold any predisposed opinions concerning classical music, I’m still immediately weary of so-called crossover acts, particularly rock stars trying their hand at long form composition. In the grand scheme of things the late Jon Lord, keyboardist for Deep Purple, was really the only composer/rock star who straddled both world with any authority,  although Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood is showing serious promise.

Then there’s Bryce Dessner, guitarist/composer for The National, a band whose appreciation for classical music isn’t audible to my ears, but then again I couldn’t hear it with The Beatles either. Here he’s teamed up with the Kronos Quartet which lends him some legitimacy, but not by any means a guarantee. The opening piece “Aheym” leads with the type of energy associated with rock acts, and when I listened to it in the open air of the store it sounded like a pretty straightforward post-Philip Glass-ian string quartet. However, when I took it home and listened to it in more intimate quarters, I found myself not only surprised by the richness of complexity I had missed in my previous listens, but that it was complex in a very classical sense. The album is imbued with strong notions of traditional harmony and rigorous counterpoint, but it sounds neither like an intellectual exercise nor someone following a compositional textbook note for note.

I almost wrote off the piece “Tenebre” entirely after about 15 seconds in because it was so derivative of Steve Reich. However, upon taking the time to read the linear notes, I was quickly informed that the piece was commissioned for a festival celebrating the influence of Steve Reich on the occasion of his 75th birthday. My opinion quickly changed and instead of thinking him to be a copycat-hack I now believe him to be a talented, compositional chameleon.

Has Bryce Dessner completely changed my opinion of rocker/composer crossovers? Hardly. Has he nudged it in the direction of thinking that there may yet be hope for more Deep Purple keyboardists in the world? Lord knows.