Boy/girl vocals, teenage angst, noise pop, loud guitars, high energy, feedback and double time drums are just some of the great rock n roll moments you will hear on the debut from the Cardiff-based five piece named Joanna Gruesome. It is this type of effort that makes Weird Sister such an engaging record as Joanna Gruesome gives you a solid 28 minutes of diverse music that should easily appeal to indie rock fans.
No sophomore slump here as Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s II incorporated more and kept it fresh! Unknown Mortal Orchestra didn’t create the perfect record but they did create one hell of a follow up. Keeping the weird but also trading it for beauty, introducing funk and retro-soul into the mix and focusing on some pretty interesting themes nicely differentiates II from their self-titled debut.
Sam Beam has always been an indie favorite and Ghost on Ghost’s jazzier feel was a new direction. Iron & Wine may no longer be whispering homespun bedroom folk into a hissy tape recorder, but Beam still knows how to write a great song.
If you want to talk atmospheric minimalism then look no further than Liz Harris’ Grouper. An album packed with weird depth, The Man Who Died In His Boat showcased a sultry, arty, and druggy affair that’s sure to lure anyone who dares to listen.
Opposites is a double album and to its credit does not feel filled with fluff. The album is very accessible and diverse enough to keep your interest over 78 minutes. If you enjoyed 80′s and 90′s alternative music you will find yourself right at home with Biffy Clyro and this massive UK rock record.
Now a two-piece act (Nathan Williams is again joined by Stephan Pope) Afraid Of Heights makes no bones about its influence. Nevermind, Dookie, The Blue Album all loom very large. Accessible punk rock that definitely begs for a big audience. Leaving the garage band sound of earlier recordings this more rock focused album fits with Williams smoking, surfer/slacker world-view.
Beach Fossils changed up the sonic output this time around but retained the quality on their sophomore album! They took a risk and moved away from the lo-fi pop of their debut and still came out on top with a record which had a more organic band vibe and steady live feeling bounce. This is one of those albums that got better with each spin.
Pollard ended the year by bringing the rock on his second solo record of 2013. It is an album that highlights Pollard’s new writing process and like all Pollard albums, has its own flavor. Some may prefer its bigger rock moments over the earlier released Honey Locust but there is no question that it belongs in the Top 50 and honestly if it would have been released earlier this year it might have even landed higher in the countdown!
White Fence had an incredible year with two great releases that included the solid studio album Cyclops Reap (TFN Review). Cyclops was great but what landed Live In San Francisco in the Top 50 was that White Fence is a full on rock machine in a live setting. You will easily find a bigger respect for White Fence after hearing this and will be waiting for more.
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds were all business on the sophisticated and brooding Push The Sky Away. This album never breaks out of its slower tempo and that is the beauty. It was a grower. Nick Cave will be remembered as one of the great troubadours and Push The Sky Away is one more example of why we feel that way!
Jagjaguwar Records 
Repave found Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon kicking back and having fun. This album is not a one man show and it thrives because of it, although you still need to be a fan of Vernon’s voice. With that said, his vocals shine louder here than on any other recording he has released. That not only helps give Volcano Choir its own voice but engages Repave quicker with listeners for a memorable listen.
The Head And The Heart’s sophomore release is less raw, more refined and polished, without moving too far from their original sound. The new sound does not betray the band’s roots and their familiar story-like lyrics as catchy melodies can be heard throughout the new album. The band has definitely grown from their almost three years on the road as they’ve released another set of songs worthy of a Top 50 placement.
Hummingbird was no sophomore slump for the Local Natives. Hummingbird is a great album throughout and should both please existing fans and garner Local Natives new listeners. The band took the influence of Afropop and made it accessible with their unique brand of harmony and hooks. This band continues to be on the edge a bigger breakout.
Defend Yourself was not a perfect album from the returning Sebadoh but after 14 years, Lou Barlow and the guys took elements of their classic sound and created something entirely new. Defend Yourself sounds like no other record in their discography. And they, in turn, sound like no one else, never have.
The goal of Ty Segall’s FUZZ and their self-titled debut was never to be innovative. But this debut showed they are good at writing an infectious hook laced with destructive desire. For grimy fans of FUZZ there are plenty of reasons to light up this album again and again because this album just keeps grooving.
Youth Lagoon not only avoid the sophomore slump on Wondrous Bughouse but once again have released one of the better albums of the year. The 23 year old Trevor Powers comes into Wondrous Bughouse with a bigger explosion of sounds that was more amplified and had a very blended track to track flow. It is progressive, sophisticated and maybe even a bit perplexing but at the end of the journey Wondrous Bughouse totally satisfies your indie ear.
Franz Ferdinand’s fourth LP surprisingly did not disappoint. Franz Ferdinand is at their best when they’re creating danceable rock songs and here they go all out. Sure there were some new directions but this album was focused without sounding like it. More than anything it’s great to hear Franz Ferdinand continue to have fun as they evolve as a band.
The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
ANTI- Records 
This album followed an extremely difficult time in Case’s life as she battled depression that just kept building with a series of deaths in the family. This album was her way back and the songs embed in your conscious. It only took one listen to catch on to the choruses and combine that with one of the best voices on the indie scene equaled a great record.
Rose Windows debut was an album with great production dynamics, honed focuses on mood and atmosphere, and narcotic heavy grooves. The Sun Dogs coaxed a distinct newness out of old classics with a dash of Doors-like organ patterns, some Sabbath style riffs, and cultural/musical influences of Native Americans, Persians, and Eastern Europeans. It is a big sounding record and is the reason it made the Top 50.
Singer/songwriter Tim Easton had a new vibe on the entertaining Not Cool. He is a Fire Note favorite and on his tenth studio record he was inspired by his local surroundings that included honky tonk and classic Tennessee Three type of arrangements with upright bass, guitar and drums. Combine this vintage vibe with Easton’s smart songwriting and rock n roll heart and Not Cool turns into a record much opposite of what the title might suggest.
If you like post punk, you are going to love Canada’s Big Dick. We almost passed on this record without giving it a listen. How can a band named Big Dick be any good? Turns out, Big Dick is actually a kick ass drum and bass who bring the post punk noise in a big way. It’s loud, it’s aggressive, it’s complex, and it has tunes you can shout along too. Enough said about this Big Dick!
The eleven songs here on Yellow Red Sparks indie folk debut consistently hit emotional chords, strike out with memorable harmonies and have stylistic arrangements that only add to the band’s strength. The album has everything that we liked in a solid debut – great songwriting, honest emotion and songs that just got better after every spin.
The most hyped metal album in years lived up to its over-sized ambition. This is a very good record by any standard with its huge, dark, personal slabs of nearly impenetrable noise rock made palatable by the infusion of melody and creative song structure. Not sure if it was the best metal album of the decade like some were saying but it is an artistic scorcher and worthy of number 28!
Scott & Charlene’s Wedding’s have a mutant cross between The Clean and Pavement that helps perfect their art of jangle pop. Lyrically this was pretty heavy stuff for a “pop” album and was coolly detached, a little paranoid, but always catchy. It is an album that was completely unique and stood out because like a Pavement record, Any Port In A Storm grabbed you with its awkward eloquence.
After three roaring full lengths last year from Guided By Voices, the classic lineup returned with album number four. The record is probably the least immediate album of the four recent GBV records but that didn’t stop it from being great as it contained some of the strongest Tobin Sprout songs to date. ELL continued the creative output of GBV as fans can all safely say that it has been one hell of a fun ride so far – right down to the final rocking note!
Canadian singer/songwriter Leeroy Stagger’s Truth Be Sold is one of the better Americana records you will hear this year! His honest Americana approach always shines and now with his eighth full length the roots rock here is all about lyrics, tempo shifts and quality musicianship. Stagger is a good example of a career artist that keeps perfecting his craft with one solid album after another. Truth Be Sold is one of his best.
Here was a record that does not break new ground nor create a new genre but it excels at the basics; songwriting, melody, orchestration and patience. It comes at you like a gentle breeze but carries you away with the force of a storm. Mutual Benefit creates loose and sweeping harmonies that simply show up out of nowhere again and again which made Love’s Crushing Diamond one of the better records this year.
A hauntingly gorgeous acoustic record from perhaps the last artist you would expect it from. Ty Segall is full of surprises and his solo release, Sleeper, showed another new side to this talented artist. There isn’t a weak track on this record and is full of simple pleasures, the kind that are becoming all too rare these days, so bask in them whenever you can.
Superchunk returned with an energetic and thought stirring tenth record. If you have been a Superchunk fan for a long time, I Hate Music will appeal to you on several levels. Not only will the music catch your ear and sound pleasantly familiar but the lyrics will surely resonate with your own feelings of getting older.
Columbus, Ohio’s Connections released their debut and this sophomore effort all in 2013. Body Language follows a similar path that Connections already established on their debut by embracing their lo-fi roots but has slightly longer songs and a bigger presence of guitarist Dave Capaldi’s J. Mascis sounding leads. This combo has quickly established Connections in the upper tier of this genre as Body Language easily lands at #21.
If you are looking for an excellent folk album to just let play, Oh July from Brooklyn’s Jus Post Bellum is that album. Every song on this record has the power to connect and remains memorable with its layered harmonies. The record not only has a musical elegance from both its vocals and instruments but also has a lyrical depth that will impress you with its songs that have been inspired by events in American History.
Yes, as a matter of fact Baltimore’s Roomrunner do sound like a grunge band, and yes, they do call to mind Nirvana sonically. But it’s not just grunge, its bands like The Jesus Lizard, and Girls Against Boys, and Shellac, and any other number of great noise bands, all rolled into one giant ball of kickass rock and roll. That is why it is #19.
The Next Day marks the thrilling return of The Thin White Duke. The release of this record was one of the big surprises in 2013. The Next Day is a triumphant artistic achievement. While it has many throwbacks to classic era Bowie, The Next Day sounds both classic and modern at the same time. Bowie created an album that exists in its own time and its own plan for a solid landing at #18.
All in all …Like Clockwork proves that QOTSA can make a focused riff-oriented record and do it thoughtfully as well. These songs on …Like Clockwork have a sense of purpose that comes forward more prominently then their past works and maybe even conveys a different identity. The identity is a mature and heavy QOTSA that released the best “rock” record of the year.
We the Common from Thao & The Get Down Stay Down just kept creeping into the playlist and became better after every spin. This is a big sounding quirky record, and incredibly well constructed! We the Common is the sound of a talented band and artist coming together with an incredible producer to make the best album of their career to date, delivering completely on the promise of earlier works!
Here is an album that The Fire Note almost didn’t cover. Kanye’s SNL performance made us take notice and it turned out that Yeezus was a 90 mph ride. Yeezus is a record that will strike a nerve one way or another because it is abrasive, cocky, fierce and to be honest down right catchy and mesmerizing in multiple sections. Not only was this record’s strength a surprise but I would have never predicted #15 but it earned it.
The National are a band at the top of their craft doing what they do best! Trouble Will Find Me is another brooding album from the band that sinks into your head with repeat listens. The record has seamless song transitions and seeps confidence with its simmering pace. It is an easy record to dismiss but it is also a record that reveals its complex self with a pair of headphones and a relaxing chair.
Female quartet Savages released a debut that rekindled a different era of post-punk that is dark, edgy and full of power. Silence Yourself sounds timeless and didn’t seem to fit in the scene today. That was a good thing as Silence Yourself is a debut that most bands only dream of making.
Massachusetts band Speedy Ortiz released an album of surprising depth with an early nineties indie rock obsession. Lead singer Sadie Dupuis voice harkens back to early Liz Phair or, better still, Pod era Kim Deal. That alone is win for The Fire Note but don’t mistake Major Arcana as a nostalgia piece, because that would be a mistake due to the strong songwriting on these 10 tracks. We can’t wait to see what this band does next.
Fade is probably the strongest record that Yo La Tengo has made since 2000’s And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out. They still sound like a cross between Sonic Youth, The Beach Boys and The Velvet Underground, but they have added more depth to the production on this record which allows their songs to shine even more than they normally do. You won’t hear many better records this year.
I like the feeling when your high expectations actually meet head on with the final product. That is exactly the case here as the new Deerhunter, Monomania, satisfies on many levels by sounding fresh and innovative while still bringing along past components that made their previous albums such a success.
In our interview with Joe Lewis he stated that his third full length, Electric Slave, represents a new beginning for himself and the band. He was not kidding as Black Joe Lewis unleashes a rip roaring rock party on this third LP. His honest raw rock approach is the appeal here and Joe sings it best when he says “Come To My Party!”
Kurt Vile’s fifth long player, Wakin On A Pretty Daze, is easily his boldest and most confident release to date. The 69-minute double album is timeless, breathtaking, mesmerizing, expansive and a true musical marathon. Each track is its own story, its own complex perspective, and its own summer breeze that all combine for a record that allows the listener to drift off with its swooning guitars and relaxed vocals.
22 Years later, My Bloody Valentine release m b v and it seems like this noise wall is only built on strength as their veteran status is now secured. The combining sounds of old and new on m b v made a very interesting noise cocoon. In the digital age today, it is really hard to make a timeless classic as our perception of art is always expanding. My Bloody Valentine defy the odds and almost do it every time.
Katie Crutchfield came back on the indie scene with a stunning second album as Waxahatchee. The record has a crude minimalism at work with rudimentary percussion and fuzzed out guitar soloing. The simple song structures and chord progressions give Waxahatchee a lot of space to emote as the album succeeds with simple, effective, and haunting songs.
Arcade Fire have created a massive art-rock record with Reflektor that is grandiose in every superb way! The group can be perceived as pretentious but this is an album that has no boundaries, no borders and no limitations. This is the greatness of Reflektor and why it sounds timeless, meaningful and rich. TFN likes bands that go for it all and Arcade Fire not only went all in but they have never looked back!
We all know that Robert Pollard can write a song but Honey Locust Honky Tonk’s 17 tracks showed a different side of the craftsman. Instead of the abstract or a revisit to the past these tracks give an emotional snapshot of where Pollard is today. HLHT is a rare glimpse into this area as it stayed consistent across the album. Without a doubt, I think Honey Locust Honky Tonk ranks very high in Pollard’s solo catalog while also landing here at number 4.
It would have been easy for Vampire Weekend to go through the motions and put out album number three with more of the same – although probably great – also potentially stale and so 2008. The band truly found themselves moving from being an extreme hype of the moment to career artists as Modern Vampires Of The City is full of energy, confidence and style that just gets better after each spin. This album is a defining moment for Vampire Weekend.
Right now, Isbell is at the absolute pinnacle of his career. He has sobered up, grown up, and settled down. This album didn’t start out being so highly praised but over the year it just kept going up the chart with its sincere delivery and memorable tracks. It is unquestionably Isbell’s best record up to this point, and is a well-earned number 2!
Mikal Cronin is best known as the bass player for the Ty Segall band. The upbeat and catchy harmonies are heavily influenced by The Beach Boys and the songs have that sunshine psych vibe that differentiates them from his earlier material. MCII is the best of pop, rock, indie, lo-fi and hi-fi all together and hits every sweet spot I can talk about. Clearly MCII is The Fire Note’s Blazing Album of the Year!