Frank Jams: Top 5 Favorite Albums of 2013


Author’s Photo: Sara Bareilles at the Electric Factory in Philly (Oct. 2013).

It’s the end of the year, so I feel obligated to do some reflecting, recapping, and re…nee-ing.

2013 was a pretty big year for me. My nephew was born. I officially became employed full time for the first time since 2009. I finally got to move to the Philly area (which is something I’d been trying to do since I finished undergrad in 2005). I knitted my first full-size blanket. I took up running. I ran my first 5k. I joined Rotary.

I listened to a lot of music.

One of the things I love best about living so close to the city is that I can get to shows easily now (bad for my wallet, but good for my love of live music). I love that I can go to a show on a week night and be home 20-30 minutes after I exit the venue. I was fortunate enough in 2013 to see 3 of my 5 favorite albums of the year performed live.

I’m terrible at ranking. I spend too much time second guessing myself. So here are my desert island top 5 favorite albums of 2013.

The Head & The Heart – Let’s Be Still

I was fanatically obsessed with The Head and The Heart’s debut album back in late 2011/early 2012, so I couldn’t wait for their sophomore album to be released this past October. No slump here. It didn’t disappoint at all. I tend to gravitate toward the slower, folk-ier, and, frankly, sadder songs on this album. While I really love the whole “I’ll come out of this” theme running through Cruel, the album closer, Gone (above), is probably my favorite. Also recommended: 10,000 Weight in Gold (it never feels like treasure until you lose it all) and the title track, Let’s Be Still.

If you want to cry a little bit, listen to Another Story. If you didn’t know this song is about the tragedy in Newtown, CT just over a year ago, you probably wouldn’t pick up on it just by listening to it. But the song was written in the days following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, while listening to all of the news coverage on NPR.

I got to see The Head & The Heart again in November, back at the Union Transfer in Philly (where I first saw them on St. Patrick’s Day 2012). My video:

Capital Cities – A Tidal Wave of Mystery

This was a pretty late-in-the-year edition to my “I can’t stop listening to this album on repeat” list. All summer long, I’d been hearing Safe and Sound and liking it, but I’d hear it in my car and think, “I need to check that album out,” and then always forget.

And then in early November, I heard Kangaroo Court.

Worth noting: This video is weird. I said it on Facebook and I’ll say it again here… if you get squeamish from confetti blood or Zoobilee Zoo ever gave you nightmares, you might want to just listen instead of watch.

I instantly loved the darkness of it, but even more, I started to suspect that the band wasn’t afraid to use brass instruments. As a former trombone player, I love it when I hear a brass section (or even just a single brass instrument) in current music. As it turns out, Capital Cities makes pretty liberal use of a trumpet. This track in particular has a pretty great trumpet feature.

This album is great and it’s one of my favorites for running. What’s most appealing (to me, anyway) is the synth-based music mixed with the trumpet. They’re also not afraid to play around with styles. I still don’t know if I necessarily like the track Farrah Fawcett Hair, but there’s no denying that it’s interesting and certainly very different from what we’re used to hearing. The song celebrates “good shit” (you’ll know it when you see it) and is largely just sound bites of people saying what they like (the guy who says “I like it when my hair is fluffy” always makes me laugh). It’s narrated by NPR’s Frank Tavares and features the incomparable André 3000 of Outkast fame.

Speaking of the things we like and what’s important in life… I Sold My Bed, But Not My Stereo.

You know when you hear a song for the first time and it just socks you right in the solar plexus? That’s what happened to me when I heard the retro-sounding Lazy Lies. (It reminds me a little bit of The Beach Boys, oddly enough.) That’s what took me from being a passive Spotify listener to an active album-purchaser (and a sweet Black Friday deal on Amazon too!).

I like when albums end with a good, upbeat singalong track, and that’s exactly what this one does with Love Away.

I’m going to shut up about how much I love this album now. You should listen to it.

Mayer Hawthorne – Where Does This Door Go? 

Mayer Hawthorne entered my “artists to watch” list back in 2011 when I first heard The Walk. I loved the Motown sound and his voice (and again, the horns. Once a band nerd, always a band nerd). I didn’t hear much of him in 2012, and then earlier this year, read that he had a new album coming out.

Even though it definitely had a different sound from his previous work, I really liked the first release, “Her Favorite Song.” I also love Jessie Ware’s voice. And all the dogs in the video.

Eventually I went on a Mayer Hawthorne binge. I’m not going to lie to you. I listened to this album on repeat and nothing else for two solid weeks. It took a new Butch Walker release to make me turn it off. This album is SO. GOOD.

And then I picked it back up in late November and have been listening to it a few times a week since then.

I wasn’t surprised to find out that Steely Dan was an influence on this album because the first time I listened to it, I think I said, “Wow, that sounds like Steely Dan” about 8 times. I turned on The Stars Are Ours for my sister and asked her who it sounded like. Her immediate response: “Steely Dan.”

Mayer Hawthorne also worked with Pharrell on this album, so you get a pretty cool Steely Dan-meets-Pharrell sound happening, particularly on tracks like Wine Glass Woman. It is different from the last album, but I like it.

The Only One and Corsican Rosé are probably my two favorite tracks for jamming in the car. And my running playlist.

Butch Walker – Peachtree Battle

This might be cheating because it’s an EP and not a full album. Details.

The reason this was an EP instead of a full-length release was because Butch’s dad was dying and he wanted him to hear it before he passed away. The songs explore themes like living and dying and father/son relationships. But in typical Butch Walker fashion, there’s a great singalong tune with “I’ve Been Waiting For This” (which was used by the MLB during some of the World Series recaps).

The video for “Coming Home” made me pretty emotional. I’m getting soft in my old age.

His shows are my absolute favorite. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who interacts so much with the audience and puts the same level of passion and intensity into a show. His live shows generally cost about $25. I highly recommend checking one out. Even if the music isn’t your thing, you won’t be disappointed in the show.

The shows are even better when they’re happening the week before my birthday and I can convince my parents to buy me tickets. So this year, I got to see Butch twice in one week. A Tuesday night in Philly and a Friday night in Pittsburgh. Here’s one of my videos from the Pittsburgh show. Sorry about the fuzzy quality. I was a little too close to the amps. The iPhone might be good, but it’s not the best for recording video at concerts.

My video of “I’ve Been Waiting for This” from the Philly show is here.

Sara Bareilles – The Blessed Unrest

About two years ago, something prompted me to download Sara’s Kaleidoscope Heart album. That led me to download her EP Once Upon Another Time as soon as it came out. Butch Walker is my favorite musician, but I’m prepared to say that Sara Bareilles is probably my favorite female musician. I get all creepy fangirl and feel certain that we would be best friends. Maybe it’s because she seems like one of the most down-to-earth and approachable people. Anyway…

When the album came out on July 13, I downloaded it right at midnight.

And then listened to nothing else for 3 weeks.

I formed an association here. Two weeks prior to this album release, I moved to Philly. So this was my soundtrack to settling in. As it turns out, many of the songs on the album are reflective of Sara’s settling-in process too — although her move from LA to NYC was much greater than mine. At least in distance. I’ve repeatedly come back to this one throughout the fall and winter. I maybe said that I wasn’t going to rank albums, but I’m just going to admit that this is my favorite album of 2013.

I mentioned that I took up running this year. Something that was suggested to me to push through it when I felt like stopping was to start repeating a mantra in my head. My mantra turned out to pretty much just be all the lyrics from Chasing the Sun. I think the universe agrees. When I got in my car after running my first 5k a few weeks ago, it was the first song iTunes shuffled to.

The whole album is fantastic and her voice is beautiful, but some other highlights for me include Islands, which touches upon independence, adjusting to changes, and that “you must become an island.” Of the three weeks I spent listening to the album on repeat, at least 4 days were devoted just to that song (I get fixated on songs. Ask my college roommate about the time I made her listen to the same song on repeat for 17 hours with no breaks).

Also Manhattan…. which might be the saddest song on the album. It’s basically about giving something up so someone else can be happy. It’s another one that socked me in the gut the first time I listened to it.

Eden is a fun song about being in a place, realizing it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, and leaving. Speaking of songs that resonated really well with me at the time I was settling in.

Need a new song to listen to while you reflect at the end of the year? Check out December. I think she pretty much nails it with the lyric “Distill a whole year down into a day. Act like we all start over with a pristine slate. To give yourself a new life, you’ve got to give the other one away.” Yep. All of that. Exactly all of that. Bitter effin’ sweet.

I got to see Sara live for the first time back in October. It was a great show. She is insanely talented and so funny. Hopefully that was just the first of many more Sara B. shows to come. Somehow it happened that I didn’t take any full video of any of the songs off the album. I have this one of Uncharted, though. Speaking of life soundtracks… that’s what I was listening to when I decided I was going to make a complete career change. So it was great to see it live.

Sorry that this was pretty much the longest post I’ve ever written. I get a little carried away when talking about music I love. Or just music in general. If you want to check out some of the other videos I’ve taken at concerts, my collection is currently pretty limited, but I’ve started gathering them all here.

Here’s to more good music and concerts in 2014!

What are your favorite albums/artists/songs/concerts from 2013? 


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