2013 Albums of the Year (Part 3)

After a holiday-induced delay, here are the rest of our picks for albums we liked this year:

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Lucero – Texas & Tennessee
Its a brief 4 song EP, but anything from Lucero is worth celebrating. This one even has a train song . In contrast to the more uptempo, horn-driven material on their latest 2 records, this is a stripped down acoustic affair. Its also worth mentioning we finally got a chance to see these fellows live in Asheville, and they did not disappoint.

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Restorations – LP2
Whether due to the move away from Gainesville, or just growing boredom with the genre, this was one of the few punk albums that really stuck in our playing rotation this year. Its sad and introspective stuff, a soundtrack to the tumultuous transition to early adulthood. The tempo shifts – from the meandering “In Perpetuity Throughout the Universe” to the rollicking “New Old” – add variety and diversity and helping it stand out from the pack.

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Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana
The ghost of Pavement haunts this album of this indie band from Massachusetts. Crunchy slacker anthems that were a good fit for the period of crushing uncertainty we experienced while awaiting the conclusion of a torturous job hunt.

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Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold
Some irreverent garage punk from Texas. Veers wildly between boastful/cocky jams and biting social commentary – another good encapsulation of life in your mid-20s.

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Water Liars – Wyoming
Everything this prolific group does hits us like a ton of bricks, and this was no exception. Their great tunes, crushing lyrics, and perfectly melancholic vocals sucked us in for a long time.

A 2013 recap list would also be remiss if it did not mention the sad passing of Jason Molina, mastermind behind Songs:Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. In case you missed it, one of our favorite posts we’ve done here was on the many trains that appear in his work. We’ll leave you all with this phenomenal bonus track off the 10th anniversary reissue of his classic album “Magnolia Electric Co.” We are hoping to catch one of the memorial shows feature members of his band and Hiss Golden Messenger when they swing through NC next month.

…And there you have it – a bunch of stuff we have been into this year. We are already eagerly anticipating new albums in 2014 from Titus Andronicus, Pallbearer, Agalloch, Alcest, The Drive-By Truckers, among others, so the new year should be a good one, at least musically speaking. On a personal level, its going to be hard to match the changes and transformations of 2013, but that’s probably a good thing.

And with the conclusion of this retrospective, we will back to our usually scheduled train song programming shortly.

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Lucero – Union Pacific Line

So I realize that despite the diversity of genres in which trains appear, this blog has been in a bit of an alt.country/no depression/americana rut lately, and this post will keep up this trend, but I can’t resist writing about a brand spanking new train song from one of my all-time favorite bands.  Lucero are based in Memphis, and though they have roots in the punk scene, they have become masters of tear-in-your-beer alt.country that retains a bit of punk spirit. Ben Nichols’s world weary, raspy vocals are always a highlight, but the twisting and turning guitar work should also not be overlooked. My personal favorite of theirs, 2003’s That Much Further West, ebbs and flows, from slow meandering tales of lost love to rousing affirmations and declarations – a rare record that can fit both a night of quiet contemplation and a destructive night out on the town.

The new EP, Texas & Tennessee is a fantastic throw-back to the band’s earlier days, before the horns, pianos and Memphis-style arrangements of recent albums like 1372 Overton Park, and Women and Work.  The formula is simple – Ben Nichols singing raspily about heartbreak and loss, with an acoustic guitar backdrop.  The four songs off Texas and Tennessee could easily fit on the bands first two records. Who knows if this signals a new direction for the band, or just a simple diversion, but the stripped-down sound certainly suits the band.

But enough about Lucero, lets get to the trains.  Union Pacific Line uses trains in a fairly common way – to convey a growing sense of distance in a floundering relationship.  A simple pounding drum beat lends the song a sense of momentum and prevents it from becoming a total bummer. The Union Pacific line is one of America’s most famous, making up one half of the first transcontinental railroad.  The sprawling line evokes the wide-open spaces of the west, as well as the great space between the narrator and his love. The image of continually leaving trains captures the ambiguity of the relationship and the failure of the narrator to get over his lover.  So we can add yet another song to what is becoming a common trend here – trains-as-relationship-destroyers.