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13 Best Albums of 2013
We picked the 13 best local albums from this year. It was harder than it looks to choose.

Buffalo Gospel - We Can Be Horses

I don't want to downplay Ryan Necci's lyrics, because they are incredible and gut-wrenching (I talk about them more here), but what really impresses me about We Can Be Horses are the individual performances by some of Milwaukee's best musicians. Necci recruited a veritable supergroup – including songbird Heidi Spencer and Field Report pedal steel extraordinaire Ben Lester – to help him record his heavy-hearted country album, and boy, do they deliver. John Patek's violin adds major emotional dimension to the stunning "When God's Away On Business," Allen Cote's guitar sears a white-hot path through "The Eastern," and Spencer's vocal harmonies are a consistent highlight. (JG)


City Of Ghosts – The Calm In The Current

City Of Ghosts’ big 2013, which saw the local rock quintet playing a Warped Tour date and signing to Easy Killer Records, was capped off with the release of the band follow-up full-length The Calm In The Current in October. The release was preceded by a flurry of song streams at popular blogs – most notably AbsolutePunk.net – and with good reason. The seven-song effort toes the line of early 2000s-era post-hardcore (think Thrice) and rock with its blistering guitar licks, all-around spotless production, all padded by the undeniably emotive voice of former Hail Archer front man Brian Tombari. With output like the unflinching “Tides of Youth” and the atmospheric title track, “The Calm In The Current” has quickly found City Of Ghosts an enthused audience outside city limits. It’s time Milwaukee takes notice of the dyad of beauty and brutality that exists right under our nose. (TM)


Dogs in Ecstasy - Dat Cruel God EP

Dat Cruel God's opening track is called "buzz," which is a pretty accurate description of what the EP feels like: that warm, fuzzy, three-beers-in feeling. Released quietly by members associated with Juiceboxxx and Big Fun 4ever, this crooked noise-pop masterpiece contains some (I restrain myself from saying "all") of the best pop songs of the year. My go-to? The lazy-eyed, insanely catchy "e-cig." Clocking in at 15 minutes, there's no excuse for you not to go and listen to it right now. (JG)


Eric & Magill – Two Travelers AND Night Singers

By this point, the storyline centered around two former Milwaukee residents – Eric Osterman and Ryan Weber of late ’90s local note as part of Camden – still managing to release music, despite now living in Brooklyn and Kenya, respectively, has been repeated so often (guilty!) that it’s starting to obstruct exactly how great the duo’s unconventional output actually is. By way of files emailed back and forth from The Big Apple and a small African village, Eric & Magill managed two of the best releases with Milwaukee ties this year. Two Travelers, which came out in February, hinged on the dream-pop project’s affinity for pretty sonic output – even calling on local singer/songwriter Heidi Spencer and Beloit radio personality Liz Rudolph for vocal support. This summer’s Night Singers full-length, while also not averse to lush and beautiful soundscapes, offered more in the way of upbeat indie-pop, highlighted by the peppy “Baggage and Clothes” (which earned high praise from Rolling Stone). If these 16 songs can be written with an ocean between them, I’m eager for the day (if ever) Osterman and Weber are together in the same room again. (TM)


The Fatty Acids – Boléro

One of the most-anticipated albums of the year did not disappoint. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The Fatty Acids are making some of the best music in Milwaukee. And they do it from a nondescript Riverwest house lovingly nicknamed Kribber’s Tiny Kingdom. The music  is quirky and frenzied and surprising – and just try to get it out of your head. Boléro is an album that grows on you – I love it more now than I did when I reviewed it back in September. And the band’s energy (and willingness to don ridiculous costumes for our photographer) just add to the package. The band has been relatively quiet leading up to the New Year, but with a roster like theirs, that can’t last too long.  (AC)


Hello Death - Hello Death

Hello Death's Nathaniel Heuer joked to me that his band's debut album would be a good way to end a bad date. Its gloomy lyrics and forboding tone might be buzz kills, but rarely will your mood be dampened more gently and beautifully. The Marrielle Allschwange-penned "Settlers" (http://hellodeath.bandcamp.com/track/settlers) may be the best song in Milwaukee this year – an antique-sounding lullaby that's actually about buried bodies and severed tongues. (See what I mean?) (JG)


Midnight Reruns – Midnight Reruns

Every year there’s a band or two in town that comes out of nowhere with a release that vaults it from relative unknown to point of local pride. This year, that band is Midnight Reruns. Fronted by Graham Hunt (who took a leap of faith by leaving established local favorite Trapper Schoepp & The Shades to focus on Reruns), the band’s debut quietly came to my inbox in November. The album hasn’t left my subconscious since. Front-to-back, the self-titled debut full-length is the most satisfying Milwaukee release this year. Every second of the record – from the snotty outset of opener “Going Nowhere” to the sarcastic smoke-show guitar solo to conclude album finale, “Basement Guy” – is a tremendous pop-rock amalgam of self-aware songwriting and catchy choruses. Midnight Reruns is anchored by the endearingly sloppy vocals and self-effacing lyrics of Hunt, who’s no doubt better served as a frontman than relegated to Schoepp-support. If there’s a candidate better fit for local song of the year honors than “King of Pop,” I haven’t heard it. (TM)


No Future – MMXIII

No Future is essentially a dream team of local hardcore. The project totes an impressive lineup that includes members of Poison The Well, Decibully, Since By Man, Red Knife Lottery, Bosio, Managra, Disguised As Birds, and Seven Days Of Samsara. Unfortunately, the band is essentially just a side band or pet project that plays a local show in support of friends every couple months. However, the underachieving act put its limited catalog to wax in March with its debut MMXIII. The nine-song release clocks in just over 30 minutes. Yet the abrasive effort is a half hour of power that socks the listener in the gut by way of quick and crunchy guitars, thundering breakdowns and the rasping howl of singer Andy Silverman throughout. With emphatic hardcore hymns like “Black Earth” and “Anarchy in the MKE” as its linchpins, No Future is essentially like the unwanted child of Northless and The Sex Pistols that local listeners should adopt immediately. (TM)


Old Earth – Small Hours

Todd Umhoefer is something special. In a time when many folk projects come complete with a complementary narrative (whether or not you want it), Umhoefer’s creative vehicle, Old Earth, eschews any thought of being a gimmick fitting a mold cast by Bon Iver (or an artist of the brood) by means of the brilliantly crafted, gorgeous and room-hushing renderings the Oak Creek-based creative force manages. Old Earth had an astonishing six releases in 2013. Most were a single “song” (more accurately, multi-part vignettes encased on a single track, usually spanning about 10 minutes), but the king of the mountain of material Umhoefer recorded this year is three-track concept EP Small Hours, which was released by Scotland-based record label, mini50, in April. The 22-minute effort is traipses through haunted and barren grounds, led by Umhoefer’s distinct-yet-understated voice and stripped-down guitar loops. The three-part Old Earth movement is supported by Ashlee Whitty, as well as members Testa Rosa and Field Report. As no part of any movement (fittingly, entitled 1, 2 and 3) lingers for long, it’s tough to pick a favorite – maybe 2, because it’s the longest. I’d say I hope to hear more from Umhoefer in 2014, but it’d just be wasted keystrokes. There’s no chance he’s going to slow down any time soon. (TM)


Ragelife - Ragelife 

To rage or not to rage? That is the question posed by this elaborate, adventurous debut from the local hip-hop trio. Written while its members were fifth-year seniors at UW-Madison, it occupies the uncharted territory between graduation and "the real world." As such, there are plenty of juiced-up party anthems that wouldn't sound out of place pulsing from a Mad-city frat, but there is also an undercurrent of anxiety, like on the eerie, nearly empty "Let Me Go." Verse-swapping MC's OYE! and P/1 get some occasional help from big-name locals Klassik and Yo Dot, but they don't really need it – the contrasting pair can fill plenty of bars on their own. (JG)


Soul Low - Uneasy

I was ready to declare 2013 the year that indie rock died, but I had to reconsider after hearing Uneasy. It reminds me of the mind-expanding indie bands I got into after my classic rock phase in middle school: The Unicorns, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Arcade Fire; bands with energy, and songs that felt deep and weird and like they applied to me. Soul Low has a nervous, scatterbrained sound of its own – think the inner voice of an anxious, over-caffeinated 21-year-old – but its willingness (more accurately, its ability) to come unhinged right in front of you is the band's greatest attribute. While many of its indie rock contemporaries are starting to get complacent, the Soul Low trio does anything it can to stay awake, even if it means shoving all fifteen of its fingers into an electrical socket. (JG)


Wealthy Ghost - Good Luck

You probably won't see this album on any other year-end lists, nor will you find Wealthy Ghost on a local bill anytime soon, but make no mistake: Good Luck might be one of the best albums you didn't hear in 2013. The little-known solo project belongs to Pete Kostrivas, who recorded Good Luck in his house and plays all the instruments on it – not that there's all that much going on. The stripped-down bedroom pop songs are hardly there, floating past in a fog of piano and lonely guitar. The real meat is in Kostrivas' blunt, snakebit lyrics, which sum up the album's longing in simple but devastating strokes:  "When you're not around I act like I don't care he sings on "No Power," "but nothing's as good." (JG)


WebsterX – Desperate Youth

At just 21, Milwaukee rapper Sam Ahmed – who is quickly gaining steam as WebsterX – is talented beyond his years. His debut album, Desperate Youth, is rife with smooth hooks and rib-sticking melodies, like those put into play on album highlight “Drift Off” and title track “Desperate Youth.” Upbeat numbers are also offset with gloomy like the great “Underwater Wreckship” and “Too Long” – with the aid of rock-solid, inventive production from the likes of CSYSYK, Coffee Black and JordanxLewis. The longtime Milwaukeean’s lyrics hint at an artist who loves his home, but who is aware of its problems. Ahmed’s “Cream City” counters nostalgic longing for “Tosa blocks on summer nights” with sound allegations of “segregated fences growing higher.” In the under-represented and sparsely acknowledged realm of Milwaukee hip-hop, this driven young rapper and his accessible 16-song salutation could be vessels in helping to bring local rap into greater consciousness. (TM)

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