Sonic praise 

Our reviewers recount their favorite albums of 2013

Missoula artist Mite Aswel, aka Kyle McAfee, has all the tasty ingredients of good hip-hop on Face the Music—bravado, sexual innuendo (or not-so-innuendo), humor, compelling beats and smart-person words. Because of meme-culture, the title of the second track, "Hey Girl," makes me think of Ryan Gosling. The lyrics don't deter from that. Lines like, "Hey girl, it's nice to meet you...When we make love, we're breakin' sonic boundaries," layer on the cheese in the most hilarious way. My favorite: "You're like food. I want to eat you." Are we being serious? Who cares. It's too good. (EF)

Tom Catmull's new solo album, Words & Malady, is decidedly duskier than his other work. You might drink your coffee to these tunes, but you'll probably feel the need to idle in your chair, letting the words soak in. You might tear up. You might wish you were drinking whiskey instead. What makes this album not a cry-fest is a thread of goodwill and hope that runs through the lyrics. There are plenty of warm chords, moments of self-deprecating humor, twang, guitar plucking and other signs of life going right. (EF)

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I play The National to soothe my anxiety. I play it on long road trips. I play it when boys are over late at night, too. Most of all, the band has been there for me during the rough times, the heartbreak and grief. And when I fall in love with a band's album and want to play it again and again until I know every word in my sleep, the follow-up releases almost always disappoint me. So that sets the bar pretty high for The National's Trouble Will Find Me. But it's gorgeous, another graceful album layered with masterful playing. It elevates this thing we call rock music into high art. I love it already. (KW)

I personally cleave to the heavy side, with the Melvins and whatnot, which is probably why I like Red Fang's new Whales and Leeches. From the mercilessly compelling "DOEN" through the closing "Little Twist," the album is all about the rhythm section. The rolling beats, which a lamer band might call grooves, are as deep and propulsive as anything by The Who, if you melted The Who with flaming pitch. If you would like to melt The Who with flaming pitch, go out and listen to Whales and Leeches immediately. If you are a sea leviathan, do the same thing but remain in the ocean. Those who are super into Cannibal Corpse can safely stay home. (DB)

Ryan Bundy Crow's Share offers 12 songs that have a folk foundation—banjo and slide-guitar, accompanied by Bundy's warm vocals. But it's full of electronica warping and reverb, melancholic bridges and musical off-roading that gives it a different composition than his previous two recordings. It's a heartbreak album with a dark resonant sound, but its title, which refers to the idea that you only take what you need to survive, lends a hopeful beauty that makes this album soar. It's one of the best I've heard this year. (EF)

I'm making a list of what Vampire Weekend sounds like: the Police if Sting could read, Sandinista! if the Clash were from the Hamptons, reverse-chronology Paul Simon. That last one is more about me: I hated Vampire Weekend at first, just as I initially liked Paul Simon, and now I am sorry to report that Graceland is cheesy and I like Modern Vampires of the City. It's like Chili Cheese Fritos: still guilt-inducing, but undeniably pleasurable. (DB)

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If I were the Program Director at KTBR (Tripping Balls Radio) I would put Kylesa's most recent effort, Ultraviolet, into the heavy rotation bin, kick back in the DJ booth with a dube and watch the doors of perception come unhinged. Not that these longtime Savannah, Ga. metal maestros are a latter day psych-rock outfit. The band keeps things tidy, blending the atmospheric elements of doom metal and shoegaze: The wistful, spooked-out keyboards and the fuzzy, echoed vocals of guitarists Laura Pleasants and Phillip Cope combine with sludge-a-riffic riffery and the pounding attack of double drummers. (JM)

In Sandrider's Godhead, the crashing waves of percussion underlie ripping, step-on-the-gas guitar riffs and vocals that roar, but never shriek. It's like a good, muscular massage for your brainwaves. The 10 powerful tracks don't wear out their welcome soon; you need only set it to "repeat" and sit back. (KW)

Action Bronson's EP is only 25 minutes long, but his major-label debut distills the richly developed world Bronson has described in seven releases since 2011. Here are the grindhouse exaggerations, obscure wrestling references and disjointed similes that have raised his work beyond rap cliché to the level of ecstatic vision. Saaab Stories is certainly Bronson's most danceable album and probably his most disciplined. He has always been prolific. This gem suggests that now he is focused, too. (DB)

Needlecraft is like your favorite observational comic: Lyrics come from the everyday and ordinary, and in just two minutes become an adventure of their own. The riffs are simple, the drums stick to the same fast upbeat, but the background vocal harmonies really do the trick to keep the listener hooked. The group went into the recording studio last May and the result, a self-titled album from Wäntage, is catchy, punchy and worthy of more than a few shimmies. (BJ)

If anyone has ever taken a sledgehammer to the idea that minimalist music needs to all be Phillip Glass-style violins and soft tones, it is the beautifully brutal Iron Lung. On its latest album, White Glove Test, the Seattle duo unleashes fury that is as stimulating as it is strangely soothing, like taking a shot of whiskey. Like an attractive gentleman caller, it knows to leave early and keep you wanting more. (KW)

Like most of the tracks from Vaz' Visiting Hours, instrumental ass-kickery seems to be the focus. The final track, "Plague Ship," pulls into port as advertised, sounding like a rotted vessel filled with the buzzing locusts of counterpoised guitars. Paul Erickson's almost laconic vocal delivery marks a place for listeners to find equilibrium in the constantly shifting sonic sea of liquid electricity and Jeff Moordian's quaking drums, before the song and the album eventually sink into an undertow of doomful feedback. (JM)

As soon as the first epic riff twanged at the beginning of The Beauty Between, I knew Olympia punks RVIVR had reached a sweet spot. I was just starting to worry about the state of pop punk in 2013, too. Here's a dirty secret: I've never really dug RVIVR's recorded work. The band's energy didn't quite translate and the hooks started to grate on my ears after a few listens. Beauty Between is different. Melodic, catchy, inspiringly fast and anthemic, while keeping a certain amount of grit, the album makes me want to tear off my jacket and jump into the nearest sweaty pit by the second song. (KW)

Give it up to Missoula's Boys for reawakening me to the joys of distortion, echo and reverb in less than 20 minutes. Strike that—the effect was pretty immediate. With diverse structures akin to TV on the Radio, but with a tone closer to bluesy lo-fi, Kamikaze definitely blew my expectations out of the water.I haven't heard a rock record like this come out of Missoula since Wartime Blues' 2011 magical farewell album. Not that I had low expectations for Boys in particular, but it's easy to treat any young band with some skepticism. It's nice when that pessimism is quickly stamped out. (BJ)

When the Moondoggies sing about love, it's about missing someone in the chill of a Northwest winter. On Adios I'm a Ghost, frontman Kevin Murphy delivers stories that aren't too expository and leave you with complex characters—whether prideful, reckless, glowing or evil—floating in your head. The songs are written with a precision that doesn't undercut the authentic depth of the album—not rehearsed but sharpened to their most effective point. I don't often call something brilliant, but the writing on this is. (EF)

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Yo La Tengo's Fade is a washed-out update to the band's best album, I Can Hear The Hearts Beating as One, already 15 years old. Here's the same shoegazing trio putting out indie rock like it never happened, but with maturity in the lyrics and nuance in the structures. Some surprises emerge. "Stupid Things" takes a hint from Bon Iver and re-reintroduces cheesy '80s pop guitars with class, while the acoustic "I'll Be Around" is a nice break from the electrics. Fade finishes on "Before We Run," a satisfying last song that feels like the soundtrack to flying over all your favorite places, real and imagined. (BJ)

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If Screeching Weasel wrote bluegrass-Americana songs, it might sound something like The Pine Hearts. The Olympia, Wash., band weaves together spirited anthems about holding on despite the troubles of the world, about being in love with someone even though they're leaving forever. Maybe it's singer Joe Cappocia's slightly nasal vocals that makes him seem a little punk rock, despite the fact that Distant Lights is an album overflowing with banjo and mandolin. Or it could be that the youthfulness of this group gives them an extra kinetic kickfans of the feisty boys of Old Crow Medicine Show, for instance, will likely fall in love with The Pine Hearts. (EF)

Album reviews by Erika Fredrickson, Kate Whittle, Jason McMackin, Dan Brooks and Brooks Johnson.

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