Thursday, December 12, 2013

My Favorite (and Least Favorite) Music of 2013

Before going any further, I want to stress that the following is solely based on my stubborn, crotchety opinion. I wouldn't deign to call this a "best of" list, because with Yeezus on so many "best of" lists this year it's obvious I have no clue what "best of" even means anymore. So this is just stuff I really liked and stuff I really didn't like, and if you don't like it, well, make a goddamn list of your own. This isn't in any order, or anything, and I'm still not sure how many albums I'll even have on here, so I'm not numbering shit. Take that, Buzzfeed.

Albums I Really Liked This Year

Parquet Courts - Light Up Gold Tally All the Things That You Broke 
Purists will say that Light Up Gold was originally released on Andrew Savage's own label in 2012, so even though it came out on the much larger What's Your Rupture? in early 2013 it shouldn't really count. To which I say, "Sorry, nerd, I stopped listening an hour ago," or maybe just "Shut up, putz!" Every year or two, us old indie farts who miss the likes of Pavement and Sonic Youth get treated to a bunch of whippersnappers with wacky lyrics and busted guitars, and Parquet Courts are this year's model (yes, nerd, this year!) And they're from Brooklyn, I think! As if the album wasn't totally dope, we also got the EP, which includes "You've Got me Wonderin' Now," one of my favorite songs of the year.  
Bleached - Ride Your Heart
I know they're a band, but Bleached is really about the (not Cliff) Clavin sisters and their awesomely catchy-but-also-scuzzy pop songs. Sort of like teenage love jams in beer-soaked denim, or a slower Ramones. I don't know, I love it, though. I was on board from their first couple of singles, so it was especially satisfying to see they had the goods over an entire album.  
OMD - English Electric
I thought maybe my love for this album was largely the result of OMD's super-fun set at Coachella, but it still sounds all bleepy and bloopy in the best possible way all these months later. Their return from the ash heap of an acid-washed bygone era a couple of years ago was no fluke.  
My Bloody Valentine - m b v
It's not as good as Loveless, though I suppose it doesn't really have to be. That I'm still listening to most of it months later and still loving it means it was more than just the thrill of new My Bloody Valentine. Half of it is classic, and none of is is inessential. What more could I ask for than that?  
Savages - Silence Yourself
Unlike Kanye's celebrated shitshow, here's a hyped album I can actually get with. I don't know what I could add that I haven't seen elsewhere, except this makes me want to jump around and maybe overthrow the government or something. I messed up and missed their set at Coachella because I saw their name and figured they were some dumb band I wouldn't like. I was wrong. This is post-punk glory.  
Exit Calm - The Future Isn't What It Used to Be
This band should be massive, but they're still just bubbling under the surface, ready to explode. Their sophomore album has the goods to make up the difference. Epic in the best sense, the songs are anthemic and breathtaking, the musicians right on fucking point. Like the best bits of the Verve with the best bits of U2. And while the debut was also brilliant, they've condensed their sound, un-muddied the way the drums were recorded, and absolutely killed it here. They need to pack a suitcase and come play NYC already, because I've been to England three times in the past two years and they haven't been playing shows during any of those visits.  
Daft Punk - Random Access Memories
I'm totally fine with admitting that part of the reason I love this album so much is that it was such a disappointment to people who expected more of the same. Heavy Chic, and I can dig that.  
Disclosure - Settle
I have very little use for genres, especially when it comes to electronic music. I only know that under that particularly massive umbrella, I either love it or hate it, and there's very little falling into the vast chasm between the extremes. The Lawrence brothers look like a couple of kewpie dolls, but the sound they make is absolutely irresistible to me. My pal Nick did sound for them at Central Park, and...Well, I'll leave that alone. Love the album, though.  
Toy - Join the Dots
The easiest comparison would be the Horrors, though they're less imposing, perhaps. Then again, their sophomore effort does begin with a seven-minute instrumental I'm likely to skip past every time I hear it come on from now until the end of time. But the rest of the album is good fun, satisfying some late-'80s/early '90s indie urge in my subconscious. Hoping the hirsute quintet gets their Visa issues sorted in 2014. 
King Krule - 6 Feet Beneath the Moon
 Like Billy Bragg, minus the smirk. I was definitely late to the King Krule party, though I'd read about him well before the album actually came out. But as the weather started nosediving here in NYC, this wonderfully stark album with the haunting voice found its way into my limited radar, and I'm in love. Archy Marshall's music is like Jake Bugg filtered through Mike Skinner's filthy lens. I enjoy Bugg, but I think King Krule is going to stick with me for a lot longer. 
Torres - Torres
 Torres, a.k.a. Mackenzie Scott, is not dissimilar to King Krule in that the music clearly comes from a deeply personal, often uncomfortable place. I'd only casually listened a bit before my friends Chris and Angela were staying with us after our wedding and we all went to see Torres at Glasslands. "She looks like Eve," they told me more than once, and while I thought, okay, sure, a little after looking at the album cover, in person she really, really does. That's Eve, my wife, not Eve the actress/hip-hop artist. When she plays, Scott looks like she's tearing through some painful shit, and it is mesmerizing. The album took on a whole new meaning for me after that. 
Toro Y Moi - Anything in Return
 "Still Sound" was one of my favorite singles of 2011, and Underneath the Pine one of my favorite albums of the same year. Anything in Return is even heavier on the discount synths, and it's all the better for it. Like King Krule and Torres, Toro Y Moi is largely the work of a single musician plying his trade under a goofy moniker. Chaz Bundick is from South Carolina, and has been tagged as one of the forebears of chillwave. I don't know or care what any of that means, I only know I quite like Toro Y Moi, nearly enough to see him alongside all the jerky kids at the House of Vans when we still lived over in Greenpoint.Anything in Return is catchy as fuck in the best possible way.
Cate Le Bon - Mug Museum
Cate Le Bon is Welsh, which I only mention because I still crack up when I think of riding the city tram in Manchester a couple of months ago and hearing heavily-accented Welsh being spoken by two drunks: It sounded like a half-melted cassette tape being played in reverse. Cate Le Bon doesn't sound like that, though. She's been described as a modern-day Nico, and I can see the comparison, as there's a stark Velvet Underground sound to much of her music, and her voice is disarmingly sweet and haunting. Cyrk and Cyrk II were among my favorites of 2012, and Mug Museum is right up there in quality and weirdness. Le Bon lives in Los Angeles now, though the sunshine has yet to worm its way too far into her music. It's there, but it only serves to accent the shadows. 
Suede - Bloodsports
 That Suede released an album at all in 2013 was cause for celebration. They'd been touring again for a couple of years, and they likely could have carried on that way playing their deep, lush back catalogue. Instead they dropped their first full-length in 11 years, a collection abundant in their dramatic Brit-Pop sounds, epic choruses and chiming guitars. The album sags a bit here and there, but is a triumph as a whole. And having seen them at the Garage in London this past October, I can confirm that the new stuff blends in seamlessly with the old stuff. 
Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City
 I get the impression that the longer Vampire Weekend sticks around, the less cool it is to like them. Lucky for me I don't give a shit about that, because "Diane Young" is silly and ridiculous and irresistible. One of the things I enjoy most about them is that they seem totally shocked by how successful they've become, and they're making the most of it all. It helps that their music still explores the fringes of sounds from other parts of the world and filters them through a decidedly Ivy League perspective. Something about that just works for me. 
Foals - Holy Fire
 Foals grow more confident with each new album, and Holy Fire may yet be their best work, complicated indie anthems without sounding complicated. Holy Fire is probably the most natural approximation of their math-rock roots with a strong songwriting focus, and as a result it all sounds like they're having a good time. I can definitely get on board with that. 
Charles Bradley - Victim of Love
Charles Bradley's success is undoubtedly heartwarming, but it wouldn't mean nearly as much if he and his Extraordinaires weren't so fucking good. On stage, Bradley is dynamic and emotional, and that all comes through beautifully on his second full-length, Victim of Love. One could argue, I suppose, that Bradley's retro sound is out of step with contemporary R&B, to which I would reply, "Thank fuck for that." I'm a big champion of Daptone, and Bradley is one of the many reasons why. 
Matt Berry - Kill the Wolf
 By now I'm past the shock of "This is Matt Berry? That Matt Berry?!?!? As in Douglas Reynholm from the IT Crowd? No fucking way!" I felt when I heard 2009's WitchazelKill the Wolf is another stunning album of weird pastoral pop tunes and psych-folk. I'd have put this on my much shorter list of albums which surprised me this year, but I love it too much for that. 
Elvis Costello and the Roots - Wise Up Ghost
It's possible I enjoy this as much as I do because I went into it really wanting to. That the pairing seemed so odd to some people doesn't hurt, either. I think it works, and I do like quite a bit of it. It's also a bit duller than it should be every now and again, but as with the Suede album, when it's good it's so good the shortcomings are forgivable. 
One half of Ghost & Goblin is a friend of mine, Nicholas DiMichele. Ordinarily that sort of thing makes it tough to integrate music into my regular rotation, so I consider it significant that I love this album as much as I do. It's a bit Black Moth Super Rainbow, a bit Gorillaz, but with considerably more drama. Nick is also an actor, and while I already knew he did voice work for Pokemon ("some guy off the street" is how he was described by some Pokemon devotee on a forum I just read, though moments later he's given mad props, so hooray!), I did not know that he was in an episode of 30 Rock until I looked at his resume this morning. Still not enough to get me to watch 30 Rock, but good for you, Nick. The album is great, and maybe we'll make good on our threats to jam together one day.  
Everything Everything - Arc
The music of Everything Everything is twitchy and jerky and lovely, and it's sometimes difficult to get comfortable when listening to it, and then suddenly it's not uncomfortable at all, as on "Armourland," when Jonathan Higgs croons about wanting to take you home. It's New Jack Math Rock or something, and I quite like it. 
The Pastels - Slow Summit
There's a hopelessly twee part of me, and thank goodness the legendary Pastels returned in 2013 to scratch that itch. 
Jagwar Ma - Howlin'
Effectively blends the future and past in an irresistible, psychedelic dance-friendly package. I think they're cut from the same cloth as Ghost & Goblin, which as I mentioned above is my kinda music. I dithered around and missed a chance to see them at Glasslands, but I still have the album to keep me happy. 
Fuzz - Fuzz / Sunderberry Dream
My favorite project in 2013 by the ridiculously prolific Ty Segall was the aptly-named Fuzz, a sludgy, grungy, glorious throwback on which Segall plays drums. When I listen to Fuzz and the "Sunderberry Dream" single, I want to play it loudly enough that I sustain permanent hearing damage. I want to wear flannel and drink cheap beer and yell a lot. I don't, though, because I live in an apartment. 
Queens of the Stone Age - ...Like Clockwork
Rock & Roll sin't noise pollution, and few prove that maxim to be more true than Queens of the Stone Age. I had the great pleasure of hearing Josh Homme and the gang tear through much of this album, plus some golden oldies, earlier this year at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple. Man, oh, man. My favorite track off this killer album is "I Sat By the Ocean." 

Albums I Liked More Than I thought I Would

Beady Eye - BE
I'm an Oasis fan from way, way back, but the post-Oasis output from both Gallagher brothers hasn't been much to get excited about. And as MOR dull as Noel's High Fying Birds album was, the Beady Eye debut was actively bad, with just a couple of songs worth revisiting. Which is why BE is such a surprise. Adventurous without going over the edge, with songs that are more than just re-written Beatles numbers, BE is genuinely good stuff. Much of the credit should go to TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek's production style, though the band should also receive praise for overcoming their stodgy ways to allow new influences to permeate the air. "Second Bite of the Apple" is probably my favorite track, though there's very little I don't care for. Well done, fellows. 
Sky Ferreira - Night Time, My Time
I really didn't want to like this album, what with Ferreira being so insufferable (she and her equally insufferable boyfriend were arrested on a drugs charge just a few days before my wedding in the same small New York town), and the creepy stalker porn cover photo by Gaspar Noé. So I was a little surprised I genuinely liked quite a bit of the record. I'm not sure it'll stick with me, but it will have been fun while it lasted. 
David Bowie - The Next Day 
I still think a lot of this is pretty dull, though the songs that are good are surprisingly so. People seemed so shocked by his return that no one seemed to care that Bowie hadn't released a good album in three decades before this one. Compared to his work from the mid-'80s onward, The Next Day really is fantastic. But it's still not as great as I wanted it to be. 
Primal Scream - More Light
I love Primal Scream, but their past few albums have been pretty middling, inessential stuff.More Light's lead single, "2013," didn't inspire a lot of hope as it sounded like they'd taken all their past works and put it in a blender. And then I listened to the rest of the album and was pleased to find it was their best work since XTRMNTR. Losing Mani back to the Stone Roses could have been Bobby Gillespie's group's death knell, but instead it seemed to back him into a corner with something to prove. 

My Favorite Reissues of the Year

Beachwood Sparks - Desert Skies
I was swept up in a wave of Cosmic American Music delight when I first heard Beachwood Sparks' eponymous debut for Sub Pop way back in the day, a wave I've been surfing ever since. I unabashedly love the music of this band, and 2012's The Tarnished Gold - the group's first full length in eleven years - was well worth the wait. But the history of Beachwood Sparks extended further back than I realized, as various early singles and other "Preflyte" tunes began circulating. This year, Beachwood Sparks' bass guitarist Brent Rademaker helped compile and polish up the band's lost debut recordings, including different versions of some of those earlier songs, on Desert Skies, a veritable treasure trove that showed the fledgling band in confident, psychedelic form. Everything I love about Beachwood Sparks was in the group's early DNA, with perhaps an even greater sense of urgency. It's a lost chapter that enhances the group's later output without taking anything away from it. Given it's chock full o' unreleased material it's odd to call it a reissue. But no matter where I'm meant to categorize Desert Skies, it's still some of my favorite music of the year.
The Breeders - Last Splash LSXX
I always preferred the first couple Breeders albums to the last couple Pixies albums, and while I was already into them based on the terrific PodLast Splash and its associated singles and EP's - collected here - were absolutely essential. It's fantastic to hear the album alongside all those other great songs, which is how I was listening to them via all-Breeders mixtapes back then. 
The Clash - Sound System / The Clash Hits Back
The Clash are one of my all-time favorite groups, and the Sound System box set is an awesome tribute to their collected works (even as they again try to rewrite history by pretending Cut the Crap never happened), not only because of all the extra tracks, but the remastering of the studio albums as well. Mick Jones is a genius. Also great is the compilation, The Clash Hits Back, which approximates the setlist of what must have been a killer show, adding a handful of other essential tracks as well. It serves as a worthy hits collection, and I'm pretty stoked to have it in its triple-red-vinyl format in my record collection.
Sly & the Family Stone - Higher
Box sets are often a mixed bag, with compilers making different choices than you might make were you handling it on your own. In the case of Higher, the tracklist works nicely, setting course on a logical, funky chronology. A couple of the albums - There's a Riot Goin' On, for example - are well worth having in their entirety, but this is a solid compilation for people who want more than just a single-disc hits collection, but don't necessarily want to be completists. 
The Monkees - The Monkees Present
Rhino's stellar deluxe album reissue series continued in 2013 with this 3-disc edition of the Monkees' second album of 1969, the last to feature Michael Nesmith for decades. Originally envisioned as a double album with each of the three remaining members (Tork left in late 1968) having a dedicated side of wax, with the fourth a full group effort. That never came to pass, but the album upon release did include particularly strong material from Nesmith and Micky Dolenz. Expanded to include demos, alternate takes and other material, The Monkees Present is the final word on the last time the band released new music that didn't make me cringe.
The Velvet Underground - White Light/White Heat
I love this album, but I rarely tab it as my favorite by the Velvet Underground. And yet it's quite possibly the perfect encapsulation of all the different elements that made the group so vital. The deluxe CD version comes with Live at the Gymnasium, and it sounds much crisper than all the bootlegs I've heard of the same show. The vinyl release includes some pretty stellar bonus material on a second record, as well. 

Artists I Ordinarily Enjoy Who Released Albums In 2013 I've Mostly Forgotten About

Arctic Monkeys 
Franz Ferdinand
Los Campesinos!
The Black Angels
The Strokes

(Maybe I'll revisit these one of these days and try again...)

My Favorite Musical Moments of 2013

Coachella (Weekend One) - April 12-14, Empire Polo Club, Indio, CA
I wrote about this at length in a previous Facebook note, but this was probably my favorite year so far. Amazing sets (topped predictably by Blur) and good times with my wife (she was still my fiancee then!) and some incredible people. It'll be hard to beat. 
The Charlatans and Friends' Tribute to Jon Brookes - October 13, Royal Albert Hall, London
A moving tribute and some incredible music in one of the world's great venues.
Suede - October 16, The Garage, London
The timing of our honeymoon was perfect, putting us in London not only for the Charlatans, but also Suede's small club gig in advance of their British tour. The room was unbearably hot, but the band was brilliant. 
The Stone Roses - Made of Stone
This documentary wasn't a warts and all expose, but rather a tribute to what makes people love the Stone Roses as much as they do. After their deflating Coachella performance, that's what I was looking for, and that's exactly what I got. I still play the debut album at least once a week, and hearing the four members of the group's only lineup that matters play those songs again - on massive stages and tiny rehearsal spaces - was thrilling.
The New York Rock & Roll Explorer Signs With MTV Books
Yeah, this was a pretty fucking big deal for me. Go figure. 

My Least Favorite Music of 2013

Kanye West - Yeezus
I didn't dislike Yeezus because I'm so repelled by Kanye's personality; I've almost always felt that way about him, but I love quite a bit of his prior work. No, I dislike Yeezus on its own merits. It's noise, and not the good kind of noise. I'm glad everyone loves it as much as they do, but man, I think it's just an awful racket. 
Arcade Fire - Reflektor
Look, everyone I know: If James Murphy can't get me into Arcade Fire, it ain't gonna happen. 
TV Mania - Bored With Prozac and the Internet?
Unlike Beachwood Sparks, digging through the archives was not worth the efforts for Duran Duran's Nick Rhodes and bald 9/11-truther Warren Cuccurullo. The Devils (Rhodes and Stephen Duffy) was much, much more interesting. This just sounded like pointless noodling. 
The Flaming Lips (and Friends) - The Time Has Come To Shoot You Down…What A Sound
I was pretty stoked when I read that Wayne Coyne and a bunch of other psychedelic pals were recording a full cover of the Stone Roses' debut. The results, I was disappointed to hear, were a awful. It's the sound of overindulged stoners drinking bottle after bottle of codeine-heavy cough syrup and playing video games. One or two tracks are nearly alright, but man this sucks. 
Broadcast - Berberian Sound Studio
I loved Broadcast like a giddy fanboy, and I was devastated by the sudden death of Trish Keenan in 2011. I'd hoped the soundtrack the group was working on prior to Keenan's passing would revisit some of what made them so eerily fascinating. It did, but only intermittently. This is more of a disappointment than anything.