It’s a mark of what a tremendous year the North Texas music scene had that whittling this list down to just 10 began with over 30 albums and EPs.
And it was far from easy to narrow down that initial list — there were many, many fantastic efforts that, regrettably, just missed making the top 10 (seriously, I think there’s a nine-way tie for the number 11 spot).
But these are the 10 releases North Texas music fans should look back upon and cherish (or, if you’re unfamiliar with any of them, seek out immediately). The past 12 months have been extraordinarily productive in every genre and in every city. In a way, 2013 could be viewed as a period of serious foundation-laying, which only suggests compiling this list is going to get exponentially more difficult in the coming years.
Here are my top 10 local albums of 2013.
1. Kaela Sinclair, ‘Sun & Mirror’
Nothing else released by a North Texas artist this year sounded quite like Kaela Sinclair’s debut LP. The Denton-based singer-songwriter brought not only well-written songs, but a clarity of vision (she scrapped initial sessions when dissatisfied with the results) and a sonic ambition that reached out of the speakers and refused to let go. Such an assured first showing sets a high bar, but there’s little doubt Sinclair will clear it. ( Original review.)
2. Panic Volcanic, ‘Freak Fuzz’
Riveting from its first notes, Fort Worth trio Panic Volcanic (Ansley Dougherty, Chris Cole and Zach Tucker) delivered a roundhouse punch of a first record with Freak Fuzz. Splitting the difference between classic rock overtones and modern, down-n’-dirty blues-rock for a sound as timeless as it is fresh, this LP smolders like a wildfire, fueled by Doughtery’s sizzling, peerless vocals. Possibly the only record on this list best played at ear-bleeding volume. ( Original review.)
3. Midlake, ‘Antiphon’
For its fourth album, Midlake threw itself headlong into change. Not only was founding member and vocalist Tim Smith gone, so too were delicately rendered odes to wooded glens — in their place, with Eric Pulido stepping up to the mic and the band embracing a psychedelic vibe and streamlined songcraft, Midlake rose to the challenge of reinvention and, in the process, made one of the year’s most rewarding records. ( Original review.)
4. Cale Tyson, ‘High on Lonesome’
Although he hangs his hat in Nashville nowadays, Fort Worth-bred singer-songwriter Cale Tyson still carries the soul of classic Texas country music with him. His debut EP, which sounds like a dispatch from the early ‘50s, is a striking piece of work, and one which only impresses more with repeat listens. Modern country music doesn’t sound much like this, and Tyson’s willfulness is as admirable as his fidelity to his inspirations. “Is the flame burning low?” asks one track here. Tyson rebuts the query with every note of High on Lonesome. ( Original review.)
5. Peter Black, ‘Heads Many Hands’
Peter Black, likely known to most as the vocalist and songwriter for the Orbans, is no slouch on his own. His solo debut (the first half of which was released last year, with Black offering the second part this summer, as well as repackaging the EPs as a single LP) Heads Many Hands is rife with mesmerizing tunes — just try dislodging Soon, Monsters or I Don’t Care from your brain — and a sumptuously produced showcase for one of the state’s best tunesmiths. ( Original review.)
6. Daniel Markham, ‘Ruined My Life’
Denton troubadour Daniel Markham’s fifth full-length album, Ruined My Life, is so effortless as to be breathtaking. From the brooding melodies to the razor sharp (and, often, dryly funny) lyrics, Markham, assisted by Grady Don Sandlin and Tony Ferraro, makes rock n’ roll meant to make you think as it leaves a bruise. ( Original review.)
7. Quaker City Night Hawks, ‘Honcho’
One of Fort Worth’s A-list outfits, the Quaker City Night Hawks fellas keep moving forward with the momentum of a runaway freight train. An airtight foursome that’s one of the top live acts in North Texas, QCNH reinforces its reputation for rough-and-tumble rock smeared with blues, country and soul with a sophomore effort that comes a hair’s breadth from eclipsing its mightily impressive debut. ( Original review.)
8. Sam Lao, ‘West Pantego’
Female MCs are, for whatever reason, something of a scarce commodity in North Texas hip-hop circles. But 2013 was something of a turning point, as artists like Dallas’ Sam Lao burst onto the scene and immediately captivated audiences and critics alike. Lao’s debut EP, West Pantego, is an impressive showcase of verbal dexterity and sonic smarts (her dazzling spin on Coldplay’s Paradise remains electrifying). ( Original review.)
9. Calhoun, ‘Paperweights’
Another local act that seized the opportunity this year to shake up its sound, Fort Worth pop-rock mainstays Calhoun embraced the supple textures and frosty aesthetic of synth-pop without forsaking its immaculate songcraft. Tim Locke’s lyrics and melodies are as gorgeous as ever, and his bandmates take to the revamped sound like old hands. These six tracks leave you craving more. ( Original review.)
10. The Relatives, ‘Electric Word’
A record three decades in the making, Dallas psych-gospel collective the Relatives finally got their moment in the spotlight this year, thanks to the release of the Jim Eno-produced Electric Word. Brothers Tommie and Gean West fuse holy revelation, social commentary and rip-roaring funk grooves all but guaranteed to leave your hips helpless to stay still. ( Original review.)
ALSO: Check out our round-up of Preston Jones’ picks for best national albums and local concerts, critic Cary Darling’s top movies of 2013 and Robert Philpot’s picks for the top entertainment stories of the year.