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"Living Room" - Grouper 

There are few musicians better to be alone while listening to than Grouper’s Liz Harris. Harris’ music isn’t suffocating or alienating, but I always avoid the company of others when I turn on Dragging a Dead Deer Up a HillThe Man Who Died In His Boat is a batch of songs recorded during that session and “Living Room” is the most vivid shade of gray on the companion record. 

Harris’ vocals are strikingly lucid, easily one of her clearest vocal tracks in her discography, complete with vulnerable lyrics that squirm with discomfort:

I’m looking for the place where the spirit meets the skin/ can’t figure out why that place feels so hard to be in/ we’re all of us at this ill-fitting party / busy pretending to relate.” 

"Living Room" is more than a whisper-quiet anthem about kids with identity issues, however. It’s also a revealing glance at a songwriter who spends most of her time obfuscating her work with static. The droning is still there, packaged in the guitar’s languid pace, but the lyrical clarity changes everything. For a brief moment, Liz Harris is an identifiable character instead of a shroud of beautifully constructed noise. 

- Kyle Minton // NSB Songs of 2013

The Le Sigh Vol. 1 - The Le Sigh

Earlier this year, The Le Sigh released a fabulous bundle through Birdtapes. This bundle included a zine and a tape compilation from the blog, which is one of the better sites giving attention to women in music and art.

At least, I assume it was fabulous - I spaced on it while deep in the mire of less important life things, and I wasn’t aware of my oversight until the zines and tapes had sold out. I didn’t know much about the contents, but I was familiar enough with the work done by The Le Sigh and the plethora of featured artists to know that I, along with many others, had missed out. 

Fortunately for us, the late-passers and no-cashers, this week’s installment of The Le Sigh’s “Monday Mix” series was that very tape. The entire compilation is now available for free download over on Birdtapes’ bandcamp

The compilation includes songs and artists we’ve lauded here before - Infinity Crush, Yohuna, and R.L. Kelly - but there are many other deserving artists we were woefully ignorant of. For instance, Potty Mouth is a group I definitely should have heard by now

Another example: Lizard Kisses is a name I’d heard but not investigated. The luxurious “Little Things" has me scrambling to change that. Winter's “Find Me and its room-filling reverberations were yet another eye-opener, and… actually, I’ve already said too much about how I know too little.

Finish the new year strong with this compilation. Even the more plugged-in music nerds will find something new and delightful. Maybe we’ll all pay more attention when Volume 2 drops. 

- Tyler Hanan

"House Shape" - Mount Eerie

Earlier this year, Phil Elverum released Live In Bloomington, Sept. 30th, 2011. By my recconning, it’s Elverum’s third live album, his first since 2004’s Live in Copenhagen, and his third live album overall (he also had 2004’s Live in Japan under The Microphones moniker). 

With a tracklist spanning numerous Mount Eerie albums, Live In Bloomington is full of recognizable favorites. Hearing them in this setting is the true treat, though. The space has an off-world intimacy, and the arrangements are run through the keyboards and auto-tuned vocals (Pre-Human Ideas precursor) of Nicholas Krgovich and Julia Chirka.

More importantly, they feel right in how they are listed and arranged here. It’s not a “best of.” When the insistent throb of “House Shape” turns to the Twin Peaks surrealism of “Between Two Mysteries,” it feels proper. The omnipotent, all-of-time “Ancient Questions” turns to the homey humanity of “Karl Blau, and that’s the way it should be.

Any number of tracks could be plucked out and propped up as the “best,” especially with the fantastic renditions of “Karl Blau,”  ”Ancient Questions,” and “The Place I Live" that are present here. It is "House Shape" that wrecks me once more, though, just as it first did in the run-up to last year’s Clear Moon. It is a song that, both in its original recorded form and this one, shakes me to my core upon every reacquaintance. It toys with my being as if I am nothing. It leaves me a gelatinous, trembling thing comprised of nothing but terror and deconstructed emotions. 

- Tyler Hanan // NSB Songs of 2013

"The Stairwells and Hallways of Your New Home" - Chris Cappello 

"Here’s the thing, we started out friends. It was cool, but most night’s I wanted the world to end. Sometimes it almost did."

That’s not quite how the Kelly Clarkson classic “Since U Been Gone" goes, but it’s close enough to hook this unabashed Kelly fan.

Chris Cappello is an 18 year old Connecticut resident who writes about good music over at Lewis And His Blog, and he already released a pretty excellent full-length album earlier this year called Could Be Bitter ForeverHe’s outdoing me in both creation of and blogging about music, but I can’t be bitter when he has correct opinions like this:

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He also follows my personal tumblr. That’s no mean task.

Cappello dropped his new EP, the three-song Wretches of the Frozen Crust, right around the time the clock struck Christmas on the east coast. The three songs are forlorn acoustic pieces that play well with tender guitar, a bit of vocal layering, and, in this song, a voicemail sample.

While he undoubtedly bears similarities to other lo-fi tumblr/bandcamp artists we cover, there’s definitely a good amount of personality to Cappello’s music. It feels honest (that word), not aped, and that’s much of the battle.

The EP is also free. Merry Christmas/Happy December 25, again. 

- Tyler Hanan

"Let It Go" - Idina Menzel

Merry Christmas, if you’re into that. Of all the songs I loved this year, this seemed the most appropriate to celebrate the day with. Frozen was a flawed film, but there were two truly fantastic scenes in it: the very end and this one. 

"Let It Go" blew away every other song in the film, and it wasn’t close. It’s perfect. Glen Weldon of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour described it as a drag anthem, a song that’s already in hundreds of drag show playlists around the country (heavily paraphrased). That only makes it more perfect.

Idina Menzel brings a certain sass, a little pizazz, that makes the song the superb, anthemic earworm it is. Demi Lovato couldn’t even conceive of matching it on her travesty of a single version. 

Now if we could get an X-Men title with Elsa as the lead, I’ll be content.

- Tyler Hanan // NSB Songs of 2013

"Partners In Crime" - Coma Cinema

My favorite track off Mat Cothran’s latest Coma Cinema record was its most unassuming. “Partners In Crime” is devoid of vocal effects, an eye-catching title, or overt hooks of any kind. What it does have is an elusive tenderness just about unmatched in 2013. A gentle guitar and a Cothran at his most melodious make a song that, though I’m unsure asto the true meaning of, weaves around each and every heartstring. It reaches some delicate, difficult-to-reach wavelength of unhindered and unheeding warmth that is irresistible. 

- Tyler Hanan // NSB Songs of 2013

"My Molly" - Sky Ferreira & Ariel Pink [Ariel Pink cover]

Sky Ferreira and Ariel Pink mess around in a new version of Pink’s “My Molly, with video by Grant Singer. Merry holiday or non-holiday. We’ll be flail-dancing in our old bedrooms.

- Tyler Hanan

"Mother We Share" - Chvrches

Though Chvrches’ The Bones of What You Believe was nowhere near my top ten for 2013, I’m not immune to the trio’s charms. I don’t want to be. Those sweeping, sugary sweet melodies are one of the many wonderful things that made this such a fantastic year for pop music (which I’ll be writing about for Cactus-Mouth at some point). To resist them is to embrace a life of less joy. 

The whole album didn’t hold up, but that hardly matters. When Chvrches is on point, they are a giant bowl of sugar-packed, icing-coated baked goodness. The musical sweet tooth can’t get enough of it. Those soaring choruses course right through your defenses and into your heart. You embrace the pitch perfect sheen unironically and cradle it close to your very soul. "The Mother We Share" and "Recover" inspire writing of the unapologetically cheesy gushfests you’ve ever committed to internet (which is quite fitting), and you don’t even care. 

- Tyler Hanan // NSB Songs of 2013

"The Chronicles of Marnia" - Marnie Stern

Tap tap tapping virtuoso Marnie Stern released her sunset-lit, grin-inducing new album way back in March, but the effect of the album with the impeccably punny title can still be felt as we near the dead of winter. 

For an album made most delightful by Stern’s fretwork, the album is awash with great pull quotes. “Don’t you wanna be somebody?” she howls on “Noonan.” “Nothing is easy!” she asserts on the song of the same name. 

It’s an album of frequent highs, each carried by a euphoric riff of wide-eyed glee. This freight train/track of the same name proves to be its blissed-out peak.

- Tyler Hanan // NSB Songs of 2013

"Port Dover" - Rika

Rika’s Count Your Lucky Stars-released How To Draw A River, Step By Step was a delightful surprise early in the year. Its gentle warmth was perfect for the last days of winter, when the thaw is coming but the ice and chill are still present.

"Port Dover" has a bit more of a step to it, the sound of driving down a sun-drenched endless highway. It hooks from the very first notes, and the consistent, alternating thrum of each instrument gives the choruses an extra bit of catharsis. 

- Tyler Hanan // NSB Songs of 2013

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