T for Tom

2013 – The Year In Music

Posted in Uncategorized by johnsontoms on December 24, 2013

2013 Music of the Year

Unlike years past, I’ve gone so far as to rank albums up to ten and songs up to 20.  It wasn’t because there was that much good music to share, but rather because there were only a few that were above the rest, and then a muddled collection of records in the middle – worthy of merit, but nigh on high praise.

As such you’ll find them ranked accordingly from the near 80 something records I’ve compiled from this year.  It ain’t all of ‘em, but it’s a good smidgeon.  Where necessary I’ve given the overview of each, and below the lists is the complete alphabetical of all the records I’ve gotten this year, with a few liner notes to each.

ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

10. The National – “Trouble Will Find Me”

The National’s fourth studio album pulled them from indie-obscurity and into the mainstream (I saw it featured in a fantasy baseball article even), and with due praise.  A singular effort of codified, emotive quelling from start to finish, the band has fully achieved their signature sound – the depressive, manic pulsing of an existential life, lyricized by Matt Berninger’s near-spoken baritone vocals.  But where it soars it also falters: the moody drag is so thick that it’s hard to relent and fits for one mood alone.  Even the brightest spot in the thick of it, “Humiliation”, is but an echo of LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends”, minus the zip and zang worthy of tapping your feet.  Still, “Trouble Will Find Me” is beautiful in the same way that Raymond Carver writes love stories, or Francois Truffaut chronicles life: growing up sucks, so let’s rejoice.  “They say love is a virtue…”

9. Sigur Ros – “Kveikur”

Each and every time we challenge this band to do something miraculous, they pull it off.  The now-trio suffered no loss at the departure of keyboardist and orchestral composer Kjartan Sveinsson, a seemingly costly hole to fill.  But Jonsi and gang replaced the sweeping symphony pieces and delicate keys of Sveinsson not with another performer, but by diving deep into the abysmal undertones of an electronic nightmare produced by distortion and the return of Georg Holm’s signature E-bow.  The album reverberates in the cellars and sewers and swims darkly into places Sigur Ros hasn’t been since Von. All the better – key songs “Stormur” and “Rafstraumur” pace us with familiar, whimsical tunes where the rest of the record resonates in some ether we’ve never seen.

8. Arctic Monkeys – “AM”

The Arctic Monkeys have transformed into something a modern American classic, straight out of Sheffield.  For all their past of post-punk and grunge, the foursome is channeling the image of sound more of Buddy Holly than of 311 or Sublime.  Fitted with white tees and dark shades, the new tone is full of R&B, of soul, of something worth cuddling up to.  It’s still rock and roll, but it’s matured.  “R U Mine?” reminds us they haven’t drifted too far, but “Do I Wanna Know” and “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” are the simple, peeled-back favorites that lead the new old sound.

7. Rhye – “Woman”

It’s a man singing.  I know, surprised me too.  But this German duo that formed in Los Angeles is worth all the praise, and not just for breaking that vocal barrier.  Stripped, emotional, bare are good words to describe the luscious, sensuous rhythms of each track.  It starts with “Open,” a lover’s call, through the heartbreak of “Verse” and to the end with the repetitive chromatics of “Woman.”  It’s a tribute to the better half of love, the maternal, the romantic.  Beautiful.

6. Heavenly Beat – “Prominence”

The side project of the bassist of Fossil Beaches, Heavenly Beat’s John Peña is a one man band.  With the lightest of composition over his signature world instruments (classical guitar, steel drums and more), the house-inspired indie tracks are perfect listening for the car, the beach, the club, the bedroom.  Perfect for anywhere.  Key tracks are “Complete” and “Honest.”  Seriously, get this album.

5. Dr. Dog – “B-Room”

Funny how a band you’ve never heard of is on their sixth record and still improving.  I call this band the modern Beatles, and not because of their popularity – their music is an exact derivative of the soulful, harmony-driven rock and roll that put John, Paul, George and that other guy on top of the world.  “B-Room” is the most cohesive set, even at 16 tracks, Dr. Dog has put together yet, and while it lacks the punch of “Fate” or the blues of “Shame, Shame,” it doesn’t miss in it’s pointed composition.

4. The 1975 – “The 1975”

I love Prince.  I love M83.  The 1975 have found a way to sound like both at the same time.  Need more?  Well, the band members cite John Hughes films as their biggest inspiration.  Songs like “Me”, “Settle Down”, “Girls”, and “Pressure” come as no surprise then – they compose the modern soundtrack to The Breakfast Club or Sixteen Candles.  Yet in its own way, its updated, fast-paced, and grooooovy… and it doesn’t miss to hit all the right buttons, just like when that boy in high school ripped your heart out.

3. St. Lucia – “When The Night”

The thing most critics will tell you about Jean-Phillip Grobler is how he was born in South Africa, lived in England, and put his band together in New York.  I don’t find those things important.  What is important, is that he loves Tears for Fears and has a keen understanding of where pop and indie meet house.  The culmination of all the worldly sounds creates something akin to The Talking Heads and Michael Jackson filtered through modern EDM.  The result is near stratospheric – the combined swell of twangy rhythm guitars over Korg synths, blaring Caribbean horn sections in the background, choir harmonies, all set over four-on-the-floor electronic samples, could knock you off your feet over and over again.  Over and over again.

2. Kanye West – “Yeezus”

While Jay-Z is out there trying to recreate his greatest moments (and failing miserably; Magna Carta Holy Grail, while whatever that is doesn’t even make sense, is total music crap), Kanye West is continually forcing us to reimagine who he is.  This comparison at the front of the review is necessary for a number of reasons, but mostly to show us who Kanye isn’t – he isn’t really any one thing, and he doesn’t want to be “the greatest of all-time” as Jay-Z is oft to proclaim. Kanye wants something more, I think, and if we needed any evidence, it’s titling his album “Yeezus,” the Christ-like slang of his nickname Yeezy.

And I think he’s got a point.  Every time we say we’re done with Yeezus, he makes us regret it.  Every time we’ve grown tired of the egoistic proclamations, he makes music that transcends all genres and mediums.  This isn’t just music, it’s art.  I initially called this record his “Kid A”, the record by which he experiments with new ways to make music by seemingly trying to do anything but that.  “On Sight” starts off with syncopated white-noise over dripped out, baseless synths so incongruous and ugly that you’d never guess it was produced by Daft Punk.  Lyrically he goes straight for the point – “how much do I not give a fuck? Let me show you right now ‘fore you give it up” he raps, lamenting exactly what we are afraid to admit: Kanye is chopping up everything we know about music, feeding it to us, and through our reluctance we can’t stop listening.  His bravest raps ever (a lofty thing for Kanye) start off his A-list track, “New Slaves”, the fire-brimming indictment on class warfare and capital greed – “My mother was raised in the era when clean water was only served to the fairer skin” before turning the blame: “what you want, a Bentley, a fur coat, diamond ring? All you blacks want all the same things.”

It’s daring, in a way we could’ve never seen coming.   So much so that only Kanye could call himself a god, get angry over late croissants, and sample Marilyn Manson songs without ever sounding silly.

1. Vampire Weekend – “Modern Vampires Of The City”

This was the only record all year that jumped out to me when I first listened to it.  Sure, others were good and surprising even, but all faded away.  But from the first listen of “Modern Vampires…” I knew it was different.

Different also for Vampire Weekend in their third effort.  After 2009’s “Contra” saw the already eclectic yacht-rockers add more toys, bells, and whistles, “Modern Vampires…” is the Lost Generation of the records, the dark, brooding, sweet, disillusioned sonnet of yarns about strangers and stranger lovers.  Starting with “Obvious Bicycle”, set over a single piano and choir-boy harmonies, to the brimming piano strokes of “Hannah Hunt”, the record soars and dances over Ezra Koenig’s expansive vocals and lovelorned sentiment. No other record this year so wonderfully captured a time, a feeling, a scene, a sound.  Don’t just ask me, Pitchfork said the same thing.

 

SONGS OF THE YEAR

20. “Wildfire” – John Mayer

19. “What Is This Thing Called Love?” – The Editors

18. “Drink The Water” – Eisley

17. “Comeback” – Kings of Leon

This really is a beautiful song, and only Kings could make “I’d walk a mile in your shoes, and now I’m a mile away and I’ve got your shoes” not sound silly.

16. “Sacrilege” – Yeah Yeah Yeahs

15. “Get Up!” – Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite

The truest blues from Ben Harper’s repertoire, sparked by the gut-wrenching line “don’t say I can’t break the law because the law has broken me.”  Still the best.

14. “Kveikur” – Sigur Ros

13. “Hold On, We’re Going Home” – Drake

12. “Do I Wanna Know?” – Arctic Monkeys

11. “Lose Yourself To Dance” – Daft Punk ft. Pharell Williams

11. “The Magpie” – The Fossil Collective

10. “Nellie” – Dr. Dog

For all the rhetoric about sounding like the Beatles, try listening to this song and not thinking of “Hey Jude.”  And just like the Fab Four’s original, “Nellie” is a winner.

9. “Reflektor” – Arcade Fire

One of the bright spots in an otherwise demanding album.  “Reflektor” the song is a dance-pop tune breaks down Arcade Fire’s previous sound and expectation (led by LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy), but the album “Reflektor” drags on at a loaded 1 hour and 20 minutes, for only 14 tracks spread out over a double-album meant to be listened to like a book.  Noel Gallagher put it succinctly: “what were they thinking? Who the fuck has time this day and age to listen to 140 minutes of music at once?”

8. “The Fall” – Rhye

7. “Tuxedos” – Cold War Kids

I haven’t heard a song this heartbreaking in years.  Telling the story of a man who wanders around alone thinking of all the things he could’ve been, he thinks finally of “eyes that watch you, I think about all the changes I’ve made, I think about all this fancy food going down the drain,” and by the time he pines, cries, nearly wails “down the drain” we’re crying with him.

6. “A Tooth For An Eye” – The Knife

Swedish electro-rockers set the tone for their second album with this opening track, something from another planet.

5. “Honest” – Heavenly Beat

4. “Too Close” – St. Lucia

3. “Hannah Hunt” – Vampire Weekend

The best off the best album.  “If I can’t trust you then dammit Hannah.”  Such a wonderful way to explain the kind of love we can’t have.  And the music is just fantastic, of course.

2. “New Slaves” – Kanye West

When you first saw Kanye play it on SNL, it felt like a nightmare.  “Is this music?” you might’ve asked, or “is this a trick, I mean, like is he doing some performance art piece?” would’ve been another.  But no.  It was the meanest, illest track hip-hop has seen since the millennium, set to only a single note and fuzzy, bland keystrokes from a synthesizer.  A fitting sound for a dark magician.

1. “Settle Down” – The 1975

All those things I said about The 1975 are most true with this track.  When I hear this song I see John Cusack holding a boombox, I see Emilio Estevez and Molly Ringwald dancing on top the library stacks, I feel young again, and I dance.  That’s all I can ask for from the song of the year.

 

_______________________________________________________

Below are all the records from 2013 that I culled my opinions from, with a few notes where necessary.

2013 LPs

The 1975 – The 1975 [& EPs]

…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – “Lost Songs”

The Arcade Fire – “Reflektor”

The Arctic Monkeys – “AM”

Atoms For Peace – “Amok” – it just feels like Thom Yorke’s “The Eraser” B-Sides, and not in a good way.

Bad Suns – “Cardiac Arrest” [Single]

Devendra Banhart – “Mala” – the best so far in an illustrious career.  Just missed my top ten.  “Golden Girls” is one of the best opening tracks I’ve ever heard.

Beady Eye – “Be”

Boards of Canada – “Tomorrow’s Harvest” – what is this?  I don’t get it.

David Bowie – “The Next Day”

The Boxer Rebellion – “Promises”

Camera Obscura – “Desire Lines”

Capital Cities – “Tidal Waves of Mystery” – moments of greatness, moments of shit.

Neko Case – “The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You” – Neko tightened her sound her, but it didn’t really stretch too far either – it’s kind of like a greatest hits for someone who doesn’t need it, complete with a reworking of her own track from the previous record.

The Civil Wars – “The Civil Wars” – well, this band faded faster than Mambo No. 5.

Cold War Kids – “Dear Miss Lonelyhearts” – a nice return to form.

Cut Copy – “Free Your Mind” – if you love Cut Copy, you’ll like “Free Your Mind.”  It’s just like everything else they’ve done – still getting better, still great, but not pushing far enough.

Daft Punk – “Random Access Memories”

Dr. Dog – “B-Room”

Drake – “Nothing Was The Same”

Editors – “The Weight Of Your Love” – a beautiful set of tracks from the English rockers.

Eisley – “Currents” – still making good music.

Elvis Costello & The Roots – “Wise Up Ghost & Other Songs” – I know that sounds like an impossible collaboration, but really, this record is gooooooood.

Empire of the Sun – “Ice On The Dune” – a step forward, but only a step.  Good tracks, meh album.

Fitz & The Tantrums – “More Than Just a Dream” – see: Empire of the Sun.

Fossil Collective – “Tell Me Where I Lie”

Franz Ferdinand – “Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action” – a solid comeback record for the German foursome, putting post punk back on the radio.

John Frusciante – “Outsides” EP

Goo Goo Dolls – “Magnetic” – don’t judge me.

Grouplove – “Spreading Rumors”

Haim – “Days Are Gone” – it’s good, but I just don’t buy it.  After the first spin I was like “wow!” and then after a couple more spins I was like “all the songs sound the same,” and really, this band will be gone as fast as they showed up.

Ben Harper – “Get Up!” – a serious collection of serious blues songs, all originals, from one of the greatest songwriters of our generation.  Buy this record.

Hanson – “Anthem”

Heavenly Beat – “Prominence”

Hurts – “Exile” – trash.

I Can Make a Mess… – “Enola”

Iron & Wine – “Ghost On Ghost” – it wouldn’t be called a comeback if it weren’t for “Kiss Each Other Clean”, but there was that album, and he is back.  Good stuff from the folk master.

Jay-Z – “Magna Carta Holy Grail” – what a disappoint.

Jimmy Eat World – “Damage”

Jack Johnson – “From Here To Now To You” – see: Iron & Wine.  Although JJ is still looking for the blues he channeled on “Brushfire Fairytales”, he’s at least found his groove again.

Junip – “Junip”

Jim James – “Regions of Light and Sound” – not what I was expecting from the leader of My Morning Jacket.  Good, but not great.

Kaskade – “Atmosphere” – an attempt to bring back his original sound will take him where was then – nowhere.

Kings of Leon – “Mechanical Bull” – they wrote this record to sound like a greatest hits collection, and that’s what it is – a tight collection of rock’n’roll, blues, and southern R&B.  Great set.

The Knife – “Shaking The Habitual”

Little Green Cars – “Absolute Zero”

Lily & Madeleine – “Lily & Madeliene”

John Legend – “Love In The Future”

John Mayer – “Paradise Valley” – his best since Continuum, in the way that Clapton’s “There’s One In Every Crowd” gets forgotten in a great career of fabulous records.

Minks – “Tides End”

The National – “Trouble Will Find Me”

Nine Inch Nails – “Hesitation Marks”

The Olms – “The Olms”

Phoenix – “Bankrupt!” – every bit as charming as “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix”.

The Preatures – “Is This How You Feel?” EP

Queens Of The Stone Age – “…Like Clockwork” – rock’n’roll ain’t dead, it seems like Josh Homme is trying to remind us.  A great set of tracks, but after a couple spins sounds like the 90s.

Rhye – “Woman”

Rodeo Queen – “Goodness Gracious”  – great freshman effort from your new favorite artist.

Said The Whale – “hawaiii” – Canadians can’t spell.  Good record though.

Saves The Day – “Saves The Day” – just pop-punk at its finest.

Sigur Ros – “Kveikur”

Snowden – “No One Is In Control”

Sound City – “Sound City” [Dave Grohl & Friends]

St. Lucia – “When In Night”

The Strokes – “Comedown Machine” – letdown machine.

Justin Timberlake – “The 20/20 Experience” – unnecessary.

Justin Timberlake – “The 20/20 Experience – 2 of 2” – unnecessary unnecessary.

Travis – “Where You Stand” – Wonderful return for Fran Healey and Co.  Absolutely great record.

Vampire Weekend – “Modern Vampires of the City”

Volcano Choir – “Repave” – good, but I’d rather have more Bon Iver.

Washed Out – “Paracosm”

The Weeknd – “Kiss Land”

Kanye West – “Yeezus”

Denison Witmer – “Denison Witmer” – his best since “Are You A Dreamer?” and every bit as majestic.

YeahYeahYeahs – “Mosquito” – like Rocky Horror theater, without the fun.

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