2013 releases Best of...

Burgo’s Top Albums of 2013

2014 was probably the “smoothest” year I can remember in music for quite some time. By that, I mean it was the year where polished pop music finally became cool again, and was totally embraced by the indie kids. That’s definitely reflected in my choices below; it’s by far the most “pop-driven” list of any of my end of year recaps, in all the years I’ve been blogging. And I think that’s actually a really, really cool thing.

Below are in no particular order, because I’m a rebel like that.

Bastille – Bad Blood

Just a great, great album. There’s something here for everyone, and – although that sometimes can water down an album in other cases – in this case, Bad Blood is only stronger for it. From start to finish, Dan Smith speaks both for and to you, in completely predictable ways – but damned if that doesn’t just make me enjoy this more. Sometimes predictability isn’t a bad thing… it’s predictable because it feels right, natural. As a result, there’s a comfort and familiarity listening to these tunes, like it’s your favourite band from years ago; all this despite the fact that it’s Bastille’s debut album (EPs and previous singles aside).

Synth-laden and electronic pop that will appeal to fans of Mumford and the likes. Give it a spin.

Standout track: In an album of stand-out singles? Tough, but I’d have to go with album opener, “Pompeii”.

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

So, I’ve had a thing about VW in the past. I caught myself humming along to their tunes, but in a lot of ways, I just couldn’t get into them as much as others did. Don’t get me wrong, I knew they were great at crafting catchy hooks, but whenever I tried to listen to a full album of theirs, something just seemed… off. There was a lot of hype and glossy style there, but they just couldn’t sustain me all the way through.

With “Modern Vampires of the City”, however, that all changed. In an interview with the New York Times, Ezra Koenig said, “In the past, I think a lot of our songs have had detours… I feel like every song on this album has a purpose”, and when I read that, I finally knew what was different. Ezra was spot on in his own awareness of their music; it’s the most complete album of theirs yet, and one that I can totally get in to. I don’t think it’s their most mature album – people have been using that label like they’ve been immature before – but I do think it’s their most focussed album.

Standout track: Unbelievers

Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe

Wow. Wow wow wow. Ok, seriously, find me a stronger album opening in 2013 than the trio of tunes that open, “The Bones of What You Believe”. Honestly, I’m hard pressed to think of a stronger opening act at all, come to think about it. “The Mother We Share”, already hyped in my own mind as one of the year’s best songs prior to the album’s release, was then followed by the even catchier “We Sink”, with “Gun” rounding out the hat-trick.

Overall, just a super-strong album, with only “You Caught the Light” seeming the odd tune out in terms of enjoyment. But, that aside, probably my favourite album of the year – and, again, it’s synth-driven electro-pop. I’m a singer-songwriter/folk/americana stalwart… what the heck happened in 2013??!

Standout track: We Sink

The National – Trouble Will Find Me

So, we should probably get this out of the way: if you weren’t a The National fan before this album, I’m not sure this will be the one to turn you around. Like most albums from the band, it’s not an immediate winner. At first listen, you’ll probably be hard pressed to remember a “single”. But after multiple spins, you’ll find you just keep coming back to it, again and again… likely with a wistful sense of nostalgic desperation. Let’s be clear, it’s no Alligator, nor Boxer — but if you’ve grown with these guys from the beginning, it’s exactly where the album needed to be.

Self-aware to the extreme, it’s a slow burner that will bury itself deep inside your mind. The frantic sounds of Alligator aren’t here, and if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll be disappointed. But there’s something a whole lot more menacing, if weary, here.

Standout track: Graceless

Haim – Days Are Gone

You know, it was kind of inevitable that there would be the backlash against Haim. Danielle and Este Haim were a tween-pop outfit. “Valli Girls”, put together by Richard Marx (yes, that Richard Marx), prior to striking out on their own with younger sister, Alana. So, already, they’re tarnished with the “manufactured” label. And the production values on “Days Are Gone” don’t help their case; it’s so slick, so damn polished, that you’d immediately think that means it eliminates any personality, any soul from the release.

But somehow, Haim pull it off. Perhaps it’s because they’re just so insanely, insanely talented. “Days Are Gone” is an amazing debut for the sisters, and one that really isn’t worthy of the current hipster backlash on the LA trio. Because when you get down to it and throw all those preconceptions away, this is just a band making ridiculously tight music. So do your part and enjoy it.

Standout track: The Wire

Vance Joy – God Loves You When You’re Dancing

Vance Joy, aka James Keogh, put out one of the Australian releases of the year, with his “God Loves You When You’re Dancing” EP. At 5 songs and around 24 minutes long, it all-too-fleeting, but for that short period of time you absolutely lose yourself in blissful, layered texturing, and heartbreaking tunes.

You would have been hard-pressed to get away from lead single, “Riptide” this year, but trust me – Vance Joy is no one-hit-wonder. All 5 songs on this EP are captivating, particularly album closer, “From Afar”

Standout track: From Afar

Phosphorescent – Muchacho

Matthew Houck’s latest is one of my favourites from him – as always, the voice is faltering, and seemingly fragile; but Houck just lays it all out there with such raw honesty, those cracks and breaks make it seem all the more real.

There are some serious echoes of “Cold Roses”-era Cardinals in some of the tunes here, which is probably why I like it so much.

Standout track: The Quotidian Beasts

Griffin House – Balls

Griffin House had an incredible 2007, when the popular “Flying Upside Down” came out. Critics raved about his warm, comfortable tunes, and great things were expected. Then “Learner” followed that in 2010, and reviews were… disappointing, to say the least. So I was absolutely stoked to hear Griffin House’s return with the simply-titled “Balls” this year.

Balls sounds like House at his most comfortable in years. And I love having him back.

Standout track: Go Through It

Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

Maybe not the album that EDM were hoping would come from Daft Punk, but definitely the album that EDM needed. It’s no surprise that DP went so purposefully away from the EDM riffs that they so strongly influenced on this record, and leaned heavily into the disco and funk from the 70s and 80s. You can’t help but think Daft Punk look at what has been wrought over the last few years with a bit of sadness. Which is why they came out with something so much damn fun.

Like their album opener says, “Give Life Back to Music”. Random Access Memories certainly does.

Standout track: Lose Yourself to Dance

Josh Ritter – The Beast in its Tracks

Ok, so I’m going to be brutally honest here – this is no “The Animal Years”. It’s possible that this won’t make many people’s “Best of 2013” lists, unless they’re massive fans of Josh Ritter and have this weird music-crush on the dude.

I’m one of those people.

This album, his “breakup album”, following his divorce in 2011, is at times wistful, sometimes spiteful, and fleetingly hopeful. I still believe that Ritter is one of the best lyricists of our time, and that’s on painful display in this album. His confronting honesty, combined with his masterful turn of phrase, turns some of these songs into cutting rapiers.

Standout track: A Certain Light

Volcano Choir – Repave

Unexpectedly great release from Justin Vernon’s “second-tier” project. I say unexpected, not because I doubt Justin Vernon, nor Collection of Colony of Bees chops; just because 2009’s Unmap was, well… underwhelming. But with this follow up album, Volcano Choir looks set to become the Tier 1 piece in Justin Vernon’s quill. In fact, there’s a joy here that seems to have been lost in the confines of Bon Iver’s mythical status.

Freedom and lack of expectations sounds good on Volcano Choir.

Standout track: Byegone


Note - Part of this post was contributed to the always awesome "Masey's Top Albums of the Year" roundup - I'd encourage you to head on over there to check out some picks from other contributors!


2013 releases

Blue and Bordeaux – Know Me Well

Hi. It’s been a while, I know. But I have some important stuff to tell you. Namely: you need to listen to this tune.

So, here’s the thing… it’s a strange thing, listening to songs by friends. If you haven’t caught up on my past with Dave, you can check out my past posts here (Dave was #5 in my list of 30 South African Bands you need to hear), and here (I said some things about Dave’s debut album that came back to me when listening to this track, but more about that below…)

Anyway, back to what I was saying: it’s a strange thing. In a nutshell, Dave and I go back a few years. And as the guy who first inspired me to pick up a guitar, I have a lot to thank the guy for. So even though it’s coming up on a decade since I last saw the guy, I’m of course going to feel this completely unwarranted, unnecessary sense of parental connection with his stuff.

And that totally unwarranted, unearned feeling I have right now? Pride.

Back when I last wrote about Dave, I said that his debut solo album was good, but that I felt brilliance was still around the corner for Dave.

With this release, I think Dave has finally reached that level that I always knew he would. That level where he floored me. And I feel like he’s inspiring me all over again, like he did when I first saw him sitting on floor at camp, playing guitar.

In the end, like so many of us, it looks like all Dave was waiting for was the other piece of the puzzle. Which brings us, after a major meander, to the topic of this blog post – Blue and Bordeaux. Blue and Bordeaux are Dave McMillan, and his wife, Candice. Now, as I say, I haven’t seen Dave in a good few years, so I’ve never met Candice; but I can tell you that I bet her and Dave together are an unstoppable team. There’s a quality to this girl’s voice that you simply can’t describe in words — but that’s what music is for, really. And Dave’s voice is the best I’ve ever heard it. Together, the two seem the perfect foil for each other.

And, I kid you not, this song has me excited again. I’m blogging about once every four months right now, so you know I only pop my head up when I have something worth posting about.

Know Me Well, a tune off their forthcoming album, “Wanderlings”, is just amazing. It’s everything I always was waiting for from Dave. But, as it turns out, it looks like it was actually what I was waiting for from Blue and Bordeax.

Wanderlings is out, April 2013.

Best of...

Burgo’s Top 5 Albums of 2012

Hi kids. This is an excerpt of a post I contributed to Masey, listing my top 5 albums of 2012. I’d encourage you to also click through and check out the other contributers’ selections, as there was definitely a diverse bunch.




I have a lot to thank The Oh Hellos for. 2012 saw me lose faith in the music blogging gig, and they were the band that managed to pull me back out of a serious “blogging funk”, with their release “Through the Deep Dark Valley” – which is easily one of the most sincere celebrations of pure music I’ve ever heard.

There’s something about this album that is at once totally accessible (in some respects, it sounds like a band you might have had playing on your block), while at the same time unspeakably beautiful. It’s a weird thing that I’m probably not explaining very well, but the music is… friendly. Warm. Welcoming.

I simply cannot believe that “Through the Deep Dark Valley” is the first full-length album from siblings Maggie and Tyler Heath. It’s just so emotionally rich, with a seamless story, it’s like they’ve been spinning these tales their whole life. An album that really does need to be listened to in its entirety to fully appreciate, I really mean it when I say, “Please listen to this”. Damn near to album of the year for me.

Stand out track: This is really a tough one, because, as a concept album, each song builds on the other. But if I had to pick one, I’d go for “Second Child, Restless Child”.


Straight up, straight forward, chest-beating rock tunes. And “45″ is pretty much a masterclass for bands on how to open an album. It’s just… well, perfect.

Brian Fallon has one of my favourite voices in contemporary music, and on “Handwritten”, he’s in amazing form; sounding even more raw and honest than on “The ’59 Sound” (which, incidentally, was in my “Best Albums of the Decade” post for 00-09, so their track record so far is pretty good with me).

There’s one thing that the Gaslight Anthem do so well, and I love them for it: when you’ve loved and lost, but want to pick your chin up and take on the whole world… this is the album for you.

Stand out track: “Here Comes My Man”


I don’t know what it is with Americana, but it seems to be the genre of music that just skips my head and instantly connects with my heart. I remember the first time I heard Whiskeytown, it was like that. And the same thing happened with the Lumineers. I heard “Flowers in your Hair”, and as soon as the percussion kicked in about 60 seconds into the tune, I was in love.

It absolutely freaks me out to think of this as a debut album. It’s just ridiculously accomplished. More than any band on this list, I think The Lumineers have an incredibly tough job ahead of them. Where they go from this album, I have no idea.

Stand out track: “Stubborn Love”


You know, the lack of recognition for Robert Francis still boggles my mind. I first wrote about him 5 years ago, when I heard his debut album, “One by One”. At the time, the guy was just 19, and inspired something close to hero worship in me.

The guy is now 25 (24 at the time of this album’s release), and still writing songs that are well beyond his years, telling his stories with a dusty road and jack daniels soaked tinge.

“Strangers in the First Place” probably isn’t going to be for everyone, and I accept that by now; but, to my mind, it’s probably one of the best alt-folk records of the last 5 years.

If there was one dude I wanted to be in my own musical career on this list, it’s Robert Francis. The guy is a musical titan.

Stand out track: “Some Things Never Change”


You know, to be honest, I’ll be very surprised if this album isn’t on 90% of the lists in this post. Frank has always been the most intriguing member of OFWGKTA to me, and when I heard “Channel Orange”, I knew there was a reason.

This album is just so, so ambitious. And there are really 100 reasons why it shouldn’t have worked. But it just does.
The thing I love about Frank Ocean’s stuff is that the guy just clearly knows so damn much about music and the shared history of genres… and he somehow takes that knowledge, tips his hat to tradition, and then steps on, pushing boundaries into places where no one else has the guts (or vision) to go.

I dunno. I guess what I’m trying to say is: this is creativity, pure and simple. And it completely blows me away. And while other albums may resonate more for me in terms of playability and comfort, this is – without question – album of the year for me. The scale of what this kid has accomplished is, quite frankly, unfathomable.

Stand out track: “Pyramids”


Best of...

Burgo’s Best Songs of 2012

The usual caveat applies: these are “Burgo’s Best Songs of 2012″, so of course it’s a subjective list. Enjoy.
Oh… and despite the numbers, these really are in no particular order.

1. The Gaslight Anthem – 45
Pretty much a masterclass for other bands on how to open an album. A fantastic, straight-forward, fist-pumping rock tune. 3:30 of pure musical joy.

2. Robert Francis – Eighteen
Super tough call between this one and “Some things never change”. Really, I can’t tell you how I picked “Eighteen” between the two, apart from the mood I was in on the day. 5 years after first writing about Robert Francis, the guy is still soundtracking my life.

3. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Same Love
It says something about Macklemore & Ryan Lewis that the dudes can flip from the hilarity of “Thrift Shop”, and land with “Same Love”. There’s something incredibly warm about this tune, that keeps it from lapsing into the “society issue song” territory. It’s a heartfelt tale, and is one of my favourite songs of the year, both from a personal level and a musical appreciation level.

4. Polica – Wandering Star
Just a great, great album, but this track is undeniably the highlight. If anything, this live version is even better, but the recorded release still gives me shivers.

5. Frank Ocean – Lost
Man, it was a tough call between this one and “Bad Religion”. Both are amazing, but how awesome is this track from Frank Ocean? Just killer.

6. The Presets – Promises
You know, it’s not often you hear dance tunes on this blog. But “Promises” from Aussie outfit, “The Presets” is an exception. This is a tune, plain and simply. Dare you to not sing along.

7. Asta – My Heart is on Fire
So Asta was this year’s winner of Triple J’s “Unearthed High” competition. The “High” refers to “high school”. Yep, a high school girl wrote this song. Hard to believe, right? Honestly, one of the catchiest songs of 2012, high school student or not.

8. The Lumineers – Flowers in Your Hair
When that percussion picks up around 60 seconds into the song, I fall in love every time. Another great album opener, this tune clocks in at just 1:51… but for those last 50 seconds, I relive every happy memory in my lifetime. It’s that kind of feeling.

9. The Oh Hellos – Second Child, Restless Child
Damn near to album of the year for me, The Oh Hellos make me love music again every time I listen to them. Off their debut full-length album, “Through the Deep Dark Valley”, it should be noted that the album is a concept album and really should be listened to in its entirety to get the full value out of each song… but “Second Child, Restless Child” stands out as its own story.

10. Walk the Moon – Anna Sun
Seriously, if you can listen to this song and not sing along with the “What do you know? this house is falling apart/What can I say? this house is falling apart/We got no money, but we got heart” lines, then please leave a comment below. I want to know what it’s like on your home planet.

11. Milo Greene – 1957
Really surprised this track has slipped under the radar… it should be showing up on more end of the year lists. That “I’ll Go I’ll Go I’ll Go I” refrain is just killer.

12. Michael Kiwanuka – I’ll Get Along
Smooth, velvety, warm, funky… yeah, I can live with this tune.

13. Lord Huron – She Lit a Fire
The understated guitar lines in this song are a thing of absolute beauty. She Lit a Fire is a standout track on an album full of great tunes.

14. Of Monsters and Men – Little Talks
Of course this song had to be on this list. Of course, commercial radio stations did their best to ruin this song for everyone, but despite that, I had to include it.

15. The Tallest Man on Earth – 1904

As usual, Kristian Mattsson just kills it with nimble guitar picking and emotion-tinged vocals that just trip right all over your heart.

Full playlist:

2012 releases

The Oh Hellos – Through the Deep Dark Valley [STREAM]

In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t been writing on this blog much these days. Part of that is just life getting in the way; getting married and starting a new job tends to have that effect. But perhaps the even larger part is that I just haven’t been inspired by much music lately, which is a terrible affliction for a music blogger.

Thankfully, then the Oh Hellos came around to change that.

The first full-length album from this brother/sister combo, “Through the Deep, Dark Valley”, is simply beautiful. A self-contained concept album, it’s one that you really need to listen to all in one go, in chronological order. When you do, you’ll find – like I did – that you hardly notice the passing of one song to the other. This is just a story that weaves emotion around you effortlessly, and by the end you feel… well, this is going to sound totally cliched, but redeemed. You really need to listen to the whole thing to get the full effect, but at the very least listen to “I have made mistakes” and you’ll know what I mean.

Seriously you guys. Listen to this music. I haven’t told someone to do that in a very long time, with much conviction. But you need to listen to this.