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Top Albums of 2013

1. Restorations, LP2 (Side One Dummy)

Philly’s Restorations bring a lot to their second album—not everything in the mix has clear antecedents but what does is unimpeachable: straightforward Fugazi-style punk, bits of hardcore, edgy barroom anthems that recall Gaslight Anthem and even some psychedelic detours. LP2 is a start-to-finish thrill, the album I listened to far more than anything else in 2013.

2. The Resonars, Crummy Desert Sound (Burger)

Matt Rendon’s long-running Tucson band is better than ever on Crummy Desert Sound, a 12-song run of the catchiest garage-rock tunes this century. It’s impossible to get close to such infectious, energetic songs like “The World Is Wrong” without getting completely hooked.

3. Jason Isbell, Southeastern (Relativity/Southeastern)

Isbell’s fourth album is a masterpiece, his always-promising songwriting finding a sharp focus after a stint in rehab. His lyrics, perhaps expectedly, touch on misery, newfound purpose and the sort of long-view hope of a man who’s caught a fleeting understanding of his place in the world.

4. Mikal Cronin, MCII (Merge)

With loads of musical talent and a sense of how to make pop songs flourish in a number of styles, Cronin is equally effective going loud or quiet, sober or exuberant, giving MCII an incredible balance. MCII doesn’t have a weak moment, but “Shout It Out” and “Weight” in particular make it an album for cranking and enjoying.

5. Phosphorescent, Muchacho (Dead Oceans)

The long, slow and mesmerizing “Song for Zulu” is an incredible vehicle for showcasing Matthew Houck’s unique songwriting: He can describe life as a storm, yet remain calm in the middle of it. After touring Phosphorescent’s last album, Houck says he lost his place, his girl and his mind. Muchacho is Houck stacking things up again from scratch, intent on finding the beauty in life’s chaotic spin.

6. The Lovely Bad Things, The Late Great Whatever (Volcom)

These Orange County youngsters approach music with a manic enthusiasm, playing bash-it-out garage rock that doesn’t skimp on hooks or harmony. The band draws from surf and punk rock and even a bit from the Pixies. The Late Great Whatever may be raw and messy, but it’s a thrill ride built from top-shelf materials.

7. Blitzen Trapper, VII (Vagrant)

After seven albums, Blitzen Trapper has twisted and cobbled together a mad-scientist brand of cosmic Americana all its own, with some head-banging rowdiness, shameless hick-ishness and heavy doses of funk duct-taped alongside some raw slide guitar grooves.

8. Superchunk, I Hate Music (Merge)

Majesty Shredding (2010) was Superchunk’s comeback album, but I Hate Music finds Superchunk back at full force. Catchy and dark, it’s a mature record, but one that brings all the joyous noise that made “Slack Motherfucker” the band’s breakthrough single in 1989.

9. Black Joe Lewis, Electric Slave (Vagrant)

Raw, lean, rowdy, punky, funky and soulful, Black Joe Lewis’ sound is unlike anything else and his first album for Vagrant ties everything together brilliantly. Get groovin’ to “Come to My Party” as soon as you can.

10. Kurt Vile, Wakin on a Pretty Daze (Matador)

The guru of haze-rock makes calm seem to be the best state of existence. But don’t get too lulled, this record has an undercurrent full of surprises and Vile’s own brand of one-liner lyrical gems scattered throughout.

Honorable Mention: King Khan and the Shrines, Idle No More (Merge); Neko Case, The Worse Things Get … (ANTI-); Treetop Flyers, The Mountain Moves (Partisan); Akron/Family, Sub Verses (Dead Oceans); Camera Obscura, Desire Lines (4AD); Charles Bradley, Victim of Love (Daptone); La Luz, It’s Alive (Hardly Art); The National, Trouble Will Find Me (4AD); Mount Moriah, Miracle Temple (Merge); Okkervil River, The Silver Gymnasium (ATO).

Published Jan. 2, 2014 in the Tucson Weekly.

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Eric Swedlund is a writer, photographer and editor living in Tucson, Arizona. His music writing has appeared regularly in the Tucson Weekly, Phoenix New Times, East Bay Express, The Rumpus and Souciant Magazine.

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