1. Ha Ha Tonka – Lessons: like the Tonk would break their own streak of topping my lists the years they release albums. This is a flawless record, comprehensively from start to finish, that packs an intense emotional punch and gorgeous harmonies. Probably my favorite band working right now. (Album review.)
2. Josh Ritter – The Beast In Its Tracks: but this, Josh Ritter’s stunning “divorce” album, was a damn close second since it ran first for most of the year. The most raw and intimate album on my list, it’s somewhere between too personal and too universal to be anything less than genius. (Album review.)
3. Frank Turner – Tape Deck Heart: basically just UGH FRANK TURNER I LOVE YOU. But also sharp songwriting, grown-up themes — “The Way I Tend To Be” is just so painfully true for me — and my most played track of 2013, “Tattoos”. if we had the luck to live our lives a second time through, we’d be sure to get the same tattoos (Album review.)
4. Mason Jennings – Always Been: like Josh’s album, the perfect record at the perfect time, a last minute shot straight into the top five. (Album review.)
5. Two Cow Garage – The Death Of The Self Preservation Society: furious punk heartbreak from my favorite two songwriters out there, no offense to Josh Ritter and Brian Fallon and Frank Turner. But Micah and Shane, together and separate, are the best songwriters working today. (Album review.)
6. The Julie Ruin – Run Fast: basically the only album in the top ten that isn’t sheer heartbreak and staggering sadness; this is brat punk at its Riot Grrrl Kathleen Hanna fronted best, danceable and shoutable and this was my favorite driving fast record of 2013. (Album review.)
7. Typhoon – White Lighter: “Young Fathers” is one of my favorite songs of the year, and this whole album is just an enormous, beautiful gut punch. Since I enjoy having my heart shredded by other people’s pain, I think this is genius.
8. San Fermin – self-titled: my favorite set at Hopscotch this year, this record is epic and complex and could have been overdone, but is instead thoughtful and sharp-witted and warm.
9. J. Roddy Walston & the Business – Essential Tremors: J. Roddy and Fall Out Boy are the only non-local bands I saw more than once this year. So, you know, this record is so good I saw them play it in two time zones. You want balls to the wall rock and roll, Essential Tremors is the record for you. (Album review.)
10. Jason Isbell – Southeastern: some of you know what a big deal it is for me to put a Jason Isbell record on this list, but this record was so well-recommended by so many people that I gave it a shot … and I fell back in love with Jason Isbell completely, his songwriting and his honest writing about his sobriety and his relationship with his wife, and it just. It just destroys me, the same way his songs used to, four years ago. It rips my heart out completely. (Review of Muscle Shoals.)
11. The Breedings – Fayette: the Breedings are one of those those bands whose relative lack of fame astounds me; Willie Breeding is a stellar, clever songwriter, and both the harmonies and the stage presence of Willie and his sister Erin are a double hit of excellent. Fayette ranges from the quieter love songs that show off Erin’s extraordinary voice to the cheek and charm of “Tennessee” – a very different kind of love song. (Album review.)
12. Gross Ghost – Public Housing: the smartest, most intricate straight up rock and roll record this year. You don’t know Gross Ghost now. You will this time next year. (Album review.)
13. Fall Out Boy – Save Rock And Roll: Pete Wentz and his band saved my life once. True story. This record saved my life again this year. (Photos, Fall Out Boy at the 9:30 Club, DC.)
14. Marnie Stern – The Chronicles Of Marnia: one of the dumbest titles of the year is hiding one of the best guitar records of 2013; Marnie can sing, and she can play the shit out of her guitar. She played my second favorite set at Hopscotch, just absolutely burned up the room at the Lincoln late on Thursday.
15. Frontier Ruckus – The Eternity of Dimming: if you’re a Frontier Ruckus fan, you already know that there are a damn lot of words on this record. Matthew said something like 50,000? 50,000 genius words. Nobody packs more into the landscape of Michigan as a metaphor and a truth and a lie than Frontier Ruckus.
16. Giant Drag – Waking Up Is Hard To Do: I love girl group soaked drunken garage pop so much.
17. Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer Different Park: smart, smart-ass Nashville country. Musgraves has the kind of voice and presence that’s going to sell, and she delivers her feisty, fierce songs with the effortless grace of an old pro — which, since this is actually Musgraves’ fourth record, she is. She deserves this, after all her hard work, and the record holds it up.
18. Kingsley Flood – Battles: I expected this DC / Boston band to blow up this year; they still haven’t, and that surprises me. Traditional songwriting combined with unique sounds, they’re taking “Americana” and making it very much their own.
19. The National – Trouble Will Find Me: dear boys from Ohio, I think that there’s a tiny piece of my heart that you didn’t shred with this album. Please try harder next time.
20. Panic! at the Disco – Too Weird To Live Too Rare To Die: if OutKast and Passion Pit made a really smart big dumb dance record, it would be this P!ATD record, which just goes to show that Brendon Urie is a chameleon who should not be underestimated.
21. Have Gun Will Travel – Fiction Fact Or Folktale?: not just a great record because it has punctuation in the title, but because Scott Anderson and company are sharp songwriters with a phenomenal sense of tradition; modern folk music for the punk rock set. Their fourth LP, it’s a stunner.
22. Belle Adair – The Brave & the Blue: proof that there’s more music coming out of Muscle Shoals than you are aware of; and that Belle Adair is one of those bands that should have your attention. Sharp, sad, indie pop songwriting.
23. Dorado – Anger Hunger Love and the Fear of Death: genre-defying furious rock and roll from This Is American Music. Eye-popping and brain-melting.
24. Heyward Howkins – Be Frank, Furness: smart, literate, intricate modern folk from Philadelphia; an deeply overlooked album by an artist who should be much better known than he is. Hoping that this record grabs Heyward that notice.
25. Radiation City – Animals In The Median: I also like girl group fuzz-haze garage pop lots, too. Radiation City, come back to North Carolina so I can see you play.