Photograph by Shawn Brackbill

Photograph by Shawn Brackbill

You’ve probably digested quite a few end of year countdowns in the week since we published the first half of our list. You may have seen your tastes reflected in the selections, found some good recommendations, and are now playing catch-up and cramming twelve months of music into your holiday break; but through it all, you just kept wondering what your favourite music blog had to say. Well today that wait is over; lo and behold the 10 favourite albums of the year according to your trusted Ca Va Cool writers. There’s a lot of diversity to the list this year, from bedroom experiments to state of the art studio productions, a Chicago rapper with the weight of the world on his shoulders to a Philadelphia rocker who knows how to chill out, and in the end, a longtime Ca Va Cool favourite deserved the most spins this year. As always, feel free to leave us a comment to tell us where we got it right/wrong and see you in 2014.

Photograph by Shawn Brackbill

Photograph by Shawn Brackbill

10. Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe

It’s hard not to get lost in Julianna Barwick’s music. Nepenthe is a soundtrack for the heavens, a consuming experience built on simple yet moving instrumentation and layered, reverb-soaked vocals. Barwick finds a way to expand her sound from previous release The Magic Place, incorporating strings, piano, and even a girls’ choir, in addition to her trademark bedroom tape-loop experiments. This makes for an angelic listen, yet there is something undeniably human about Nepenthe. When I hear this record I think of the cold, sprawling tundra, and how truly beautiful it is. I think of open fields and cosmic worlds. This record liberates me from my typical day and takes me on an ethereal journey as I leave everything behind. It makes me dream. That Julianna named this album after a drug, and more specifically the drug of forgetfulness, seems quite fitting. I’m not one to pressure my peers, but try Nepenthe. I think you’ll like it. — Sahil Parikh

Julianna Barwick – The Harbinger

Photograph by Nabil Elderkin

Photograph by Nabil Elderkin

9. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Having found their heartbeat creating definitively contemporary mechanical club classics like “Da Funk”, “Around the World”, and “One More Time”, robot duo Daft Punk regressed on Random Access Memories to the sound of the 1970s: a time when dance music was still recorded with instruments, in studios, to give life back to electronic music. Influences are less than subtle as Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manual de Hommem-Christo invited the progenitors of disco to take part. On “Giorgio by Morodor”, Italian producer Giorgio Moroder describes his first experiments with the Moog modular synthesizer, essentially the genesis of electronic dance music. Nile Rodgers provides Chic-worthy guitar moments on several tracks, the funky result of which could never have been created by sampling and looping. The highlight is the moving sci-fi piano ballad “Touch” sung by legendary songwriter Paul Williams, which embodies the robots’ envy of human contact and tenderness, a sentiment which encapsulates the entire album’s mission. Despite show-stealing contributions from Daft Punk’s classic and modern heroes, including Julian Casablancas, 2-step pioneer Todd Edwards, and Panda Bear, the men behind the masks deserve full credit for conceiving such an ambitious album, producing every hi-fi track, and allowing us to once again lose ourselves to dance. — Daniel Hernandez

Daft Punk – Touch feat. Paul Williams

Photograph by Angel Ceballos

Photograph by Angel Ceballos

8. Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic

Foxygen is the project of two cassette-obsessed youths growing up – though not yet totally mature – to produce nostalgic, irreverent pop. The portmanteau’ed pair’s third album is enveloped from start to finish in the soft lo-fi haze of the ’60s, courtesy of the warm filtering of a tape echo device. Lead singer Sam France channels the vocal styles of an Exile on Main Street-era Mick Jagger, from his bluesy lows, to cracking middles, and shrieking highs, sometimes within the same track, as on “Oh Yeah”. The psychedelia continues with heavenly layered harmonies on “Oh No 2”, dreamy melodies of “San Francisco”, and echoed, bouncy piano in “Shuggie”. However, all of the hippy talk of feelin’ groovy, traversing the door of consciousness and, well, being the self-professed 21st century ambassadors of peace & magic contrasts starkly with their chaotic live sets: self-flagellating with microphones, possible emotional breakdowns and literal broken legs. Here’s hoping that in the waking hour, they accept their refrain of “No Destruction” and survive to their mid-20s. — Sabrina Diemert

Foxygen – No Destruction

Photograph by Shawn Brackbill

Photograph by Shawn Brackbill

7. Darkside – Psychic

Building upon a self-titled EP and their unbelievably smooth and original album-length remix of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories under the name Daftside, electronic golden boy Nicolas Jaar and collaborator Dave Harrington rock and dance their way through Psychic, one of the most important releases of this year. There’s something indescribably earthy and primitive about the electric and electronic elements of the album. Harrington’s muted guitar riffs drive the groove even harder than some of Jaar’s synthetic beats and tones, especially on the opener, “Golden Arrow”, and on Psychic‘s most tightly-crafted track, “Paper Trails”. The vocals bounce somewhere between deep cynicism and a desperate pining over the grooving pulse Darkside has birthed. There are sections of the LP where one can barely tell where one musician ends and the other begins. There’s a cosmic storm on the horizon, with a living, beating heart, and Darkside is in the very eye of it. — Anthony Boire

Darkside – Paper Trails


6. Disclosure – Settle

Brothers Howard and Guy Lawrence, still only 19 and 22, have created an album in tune with their native U.K.’s rich house music history, but with an added pop universality. Disclosure lay down a personable retrospective of their homeland’s electronic scene, including impressively direct references deep house, techno, and modern bass music. Despite guest appearances giving these tunes a mass appeal, the 2-step garage dissonance of crossover hits “White Noise” and “Latch” remains intact. The appearance of Aluna Francis on “White Noise” channels the deep house into a modern pop environment with infectious vocals to bring the electronica to a whole new audience. On “Latch”, Sam Smith’s bares his soul over an offbeat rhythm and layered instrumentation; its hard not to feel nostalgic, and remember the first time you fell so hard for someone in a club setting, that you wish the night would never end. Settle is an album-length articulation of the idea that we can take the music that we love, and present it in a way that someone else will love it too, and it’s a shame not to believe in a love like that. — Alec Ross

Disclosure – When a Fire Starts to Burn

Julia Holter

5. Julia Holter – Loud City Song

“I like the idea of making music that’s like a film,” Holter said in a recent interview, “rather than listening to a person recall a story, for it to be the story.” Indeed, listeners of Loud City Sound, the 29-year-old classically trained composer/pianist’s third release, may feel like they’re in the audience for an art house movie. The curtain raises to disembodied musings on superficiality and celebrity worship; an ambush of paparazzi wield brash brass instruments in place of clicking cameras on “Horns Surrounding Me”. On “Maxim’s 1”, a French café and gossip mill is reincarnated with theatrical violins, whispery cymbals and a range of vocals; laughter drifts in the background then comes to the forefront accusingly. Questions about the confines of civilized society and the contrasting freedom of the green wild punctuate the scenes in Holter’s strong but soft voice. When the title character of the 1958 musical Gigi – an inspiration for the story arc – swims by as the gossipy café burns, charring amid sparse drums and layers of tense instrumentation, the credits roll. Part of the audience applauds the inventive arrangement of synth with analog and the dizzying symbolism. The remainder, craving catchy hooks and straightforward lyrics, shrug and shuffle out of the theatre. — Sabrina Diemert

Julia Holter – Horns Surrounding Me

Kanye West

4. Kanye West – Yeezus

Consider the pop music landscape in 2013: Justin Timberlake releases an album that is lauded for sounding like his last one (from 7 years earlier); Daft Punk is celebrated for releasing a disco-revival record; a three-piece girl group called Haim takes-over delivering what could be mistaken as Annie Lennox and Eagles covers; and indie crossover band Vampire Weekend continues to sound like Paul Simon. Now consider the release of Kanye West’s Yeezus in this context; a ten track, forty minute assault to the ears, with zero fucks to give. From the first five pulsing and distorted seconds of opening track “On Sight”, it’s clear this isn’t some soft throwback ’70s shit. What develops from this point on is the most, if not only, modern pop record of the year, fusing hip hop, dance hall, dub-electronica, trap and the auto-tuned croons of everyone from Justin Vernon and Chief Keef to Nina Simone. Lyrically, West is at his most vicious, controversial and hubristic. “I am a God,” “I put my fist in her like a civil rights sign,” “I fucked your Hampton spouse, came on her Hampton mouth,” – you’re not going to like the things he has to say, but he’s going to scream them until you hear. While everyone was busy trying to make music that we’d like this year, Kanye was trying to make music that we’d remember. — Sal Patel

Kanye West – I am a God

Photograph by Robert Semmer

Photograph by Robert Semmer

3. Deerhunter – Monomania

On this new batch of wide ranging songs, Bradford Cox and company have crafted an album that draws from a wide range of American influences, yet many of Deerhunter’s familiar tricks can be found throughout. Monomania‘s lo-fi garage-punk abrasiveness feels more like a live album than any previous release by the band, with the group facilitating a back to basics attitude reminiscent of their early rock heroes. Lockett Pundt’s sole vocal lead here (“The Missing”) isn’t a big departure from his recent solo work as Lotus Plaza, but its innocuous presence proves to fit in nicely with the rest of Monomania’s more rugged material. “Nitebike” has Cox alone with only an acoustic guitar and similar anxieties that have characterized much of Deerhunter’s output from day one. On “Sleepwalking” and “Back to the Middle,” the band have created a great one-two punch that has proved to work wonders back to back at recent live shows. The directness of the tracks on Monomania showcase an instant accessibility that separates it from their past releases and many will find a new favourite track on each different listen of the album. While Monomania may not be every Deehunter fans’ choice album, its straightforward approach and pure throwback aesthetic might just prove it to leave as much an impression as the rest of their already outstanding catalogue. — Jay Winer

Deerhunter – Back to the Middle

Photograph by Shawn Brackbill

Photograph by Shawn Brackbill

2. Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze

It wasn’t until 2011’s Smoke Ring for My Halo that Kurt Vile delivered a consistent album of the hazy guitar rock that he’s developed over several releases. Wakin on a Pretty Daze is when Kurt Vile mastered that sound. The album opens with a ten minute jam about the trials of day-to-day life; the airy soundscape has guitars floating in and out at each turn, in the end you’re left in a daze as if only a minute has passed. Vile’s writing has never been more expressive and clear; by the time you finish the record, you feel like you know the man. On “Too Hard”, he questions what it takes to be a decent person and effortlessly sums up life as “just a ball of beauty that makes you wanna just cry, then you die.” It’s his simple way breaking down big ideas that gives him that stoner feeling he’s known for, but as he describes on “Gold Tones”, he never touches the stuff. Whether or not this is his masterpiece, the record is an honest representation of everything Kurt Vile loves about music. The sincerity is what makes this record stand apart from too many of 2013’s releases that sound like they are worried about sounding cool. Kurt just asks that everyone not to worry and to take it easy, and made some of the year’s best music doing so. — Kyle Sikorski

Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Day

Photograph by Guy Aroch

Photograph by Guy Aroch

1. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

Outside of a few isolated cases, the album release is no longer an event. A band releases an album, we listen to it for a week or two, then move on to the next one. Of course, ever since Funeral was released in 2003, a new Arcade Fire album is always an exception. While previous albums drew Springsteen comparisons, Reflektor finds them going full Talking Heads. With LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy as co-producer, the band moves in a new, yet familiar direction inspired by Haitian Carnival culture. Perhaps foreshadowed by The Suburbs’ “Sprawl II,” Arcade Fire has become danceable. The title track possesses a groove I didn’t realize the band was capable of. Unlike previous albums, none of the tracks feature Régine Chassagne on lead vocals. Instead, and most noticeably on album centerpiece “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)”, her backing vocals act as an ethereal presence throughout the album, underscoring the themes of death that are so intertwined with the band. This is again hammered home with another standout track, “Afterlife”. With each album, Arcade Fire continues to surprise, evolve, and experiment. Beyond the bonus marks for presentation, masquerades, and fake band names, Reflektor is a great double album to add to their repertoire, and one we’ll be listening to for years to come. — Kevin Kania

Arcade Fire – Afterlife

Arcade Fire - Reflektor

Ca Va Cool’s Best Albums of 2013

20. Run the Jewels
19. James Blake – Overgrown
18. My Bloody Valentine – m b v
17. Laura Marling – Once I Was an Eagle
16. Iceage – You’re Nothing
15. Majical Cloudz – Impersonator
14. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
13. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
12. Savages – Silence Yourself
11. Danny Brown – Old
10. Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe
09. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories
08. Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
07. Darkside – Psychic
06. Disclosure – Settle
05. Julia Holter – Loud City Song
04. Kanye West – Yeezus
03. Deerhunter – Monomania
02. Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze
01. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

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— , December 23, 2013    No Comments