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.

Water Liars – On the Day

Almost all the train songs featured here are train songs because of their lyrical content, but we have a different brand of train song today, one that uses the sound of an actual train. Water Liars are a two-piece group from Mississippi, with just drum and guitar instrumentation, who specialize in bleak, mostly acoustic folk songs that occasionally rock a little harder and burst open with waves of distortion. Their new album, Wyoming just came out a month or two ago, and its a moving collection of sad tales of failing relationships. Definitely worth checking out if you’re into the darker side of folk music.

“On the Day” is off their first record, Phantom Limb, and its a dirge-like song about death and what will happen on the day the singer dies.  He is tortured by the lies he told over the course of his life and has “no more excuses” for the way he treated people close to him. This extraordinarily break deathbed confession and sparse acoustic arrangement is made more haunting by the squeals, creaks, rattling, and rustling winds of a passing train in the background. The song, and the entire album, ends with two minutes of train sounds, fading out slowly as the train passes by. Its a stunning way to not only end a song about death, but to close out a record as well.  Its the type of ending that demands that the listener start the whole album over again, and considering the amount of play I have given Phantom Limb, its quite effective.

For a bonus, train-related video from the group. Here is the singer performing Dog Eaten, one the standout tracks from Phantom Limb, by one of his favorite spots, a highway overpass next to some train tracks. The train sounds from “On the Day” could very well have come from this spot.

Incidentally, the area the band is from also has some storied railroad history. Until the Illinois Central railroad shifted its main track west through the Delta, north Mississippi towns like Oxford, Holly Springs and Water Valley were major stopping points on this vital corridor linking Chicago and New Orleans. The band’s hometown, Water Valley housed repair shops for the company and was the site of labor strife in the 1870s.  All that’s left in many of these towns now is a decrepit depot, or faded train tracks. I am a total sucker for decaying remnants of rail history, so one of these days I am going to have to visit the area to search out spots like the one in this video.