2013 Music

I usually post my year-end list of music I enjoyed in January, but our India trip intervened this year, and then came the long period of recovery from the India trip, especially as I came back to a fair bit of time off from work and so had my rhythms thrown off. And while in the past I’ve posted these lists on Facebook, now that I have a blog it seems wrong to deny the broader public a glimpse of my excellent taste. Isn’t it enough that I keep from you the daily pictures of my lunches and dinners, and the minute by minute updates on the doings of my dastardly children and dogs that I post on Facebook? Must you be denied this as well? No, a hundred times no! Read on for my list of my favourite 2013 music.

Thanks, as always, to Bill P. and his band of renegades for keeping me in the loop. It is, of course, their fault that I continue to get more out of touch with hip-hop every year.

As of a few years ago I stopped ranking albums, or trying to cram them into randomly constrained lists, and instead started putting everything I found interesting for one reason or the other in a series of blocs, sometimes overlapping ones. My lists therefore tip far more to the exhaustive than the selective end of the continuum. And if this list appears tediously eclectic please blame the people mentioned in the previous paragraph. Truthfully, my tastes have gone all over the map since my teens (“I was so much older then…” etc.).

(Artists are listed in alphabetical order in the blocs.)

Things I listened to a lot and am still playing regularly.

  • James Blake, Overgrown: This kid is very good and getting better. Very few people do as much with empty space as he does.
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Push the Sky Away: This may be my favourite album of the year; spare, autumnal music and some of the best lyrics Cave has written in a while.
  • Deerhunter, Monomania: I think I say this with every album but this may be their best yet.
  • Frightened Rabbit, Pedestrian Verse: Their best album yet, I think, and the most musically textured. “December’s Traditions” is one of my songs of the year.
  • MGMT, MGMT: Could have called it Tribute to Early Pink Floyd. I like this better than most of early Pink Floyd though.
  • My Bloody Valentine, m.b.v.: Okay, so I would have put this up here simply for existing. But it’s also excellent.
  • The National, Trouble Will Find Me: Even though it may not be the best of their last three albums it is still very good.
  • Savages, Silence Yourself: What a lovely racket.
  • Sleigh Bells, Bitter Rivals: I remember being very resistant to Treats though it did end up on my year-end list that year as well. I no longer resist Sleigh Bells.
  • Kurt Vile, Wakin on a Pretty Daze: Came out early in the year and got forgotten by a lot of people, I think. This is lovely and low-key. Somewhere Matthew Sweet is smiling.

Things I liked a lot but not as much as the previous lot.

  • Arctic Monkeys, AM: Starts out so strong, but doesn’t quite sustain those heights.
  • Austra, Olympia: I would listen to her sing the speeches of Sarah Palin. Luckily, this is not the speeches of Sarah Palin
  • Neko Case, The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You: From beginning to end this may be the strongest of her last three albums, but it doesn’t have the high highs of the previous two. Also, I cannot reward her move towards Fiona Apple-ish album title length.
  • Mikal Cronin, Mcii: I haven’t heard his first album–is it as good?
  • Cults, Static: I liked the first album but for some reason didn’t have high expectations for this one. But this is very good.
  • Daft Punk, Random Access Memories: This is a lot of fun, yes…
  • The Knife, Shaking the Habitual:…but the avant-garde Swede siblings kick their ass.
  • Polica, Shulamith: Picks up where Give You the Ghost left off; they wear the Portishead influence more openly on their sleeve here. This is also the best album released last year that is named for a recently deceased radical feminist.
  • Portugal. the Man, Evil Friends: This starts out so high, never quite makes it back there but very strong on the whole.
  • Tegan and Sara, Heartthrob: The sisters clearly made a play for the mainstream but this is just lovely pop music.
  • Waaves, Afraid of Heights: I don’t know why these guys don’t get more love. Music to be played very loudly, ideally through an open car window.
  • Kanye West, Yeezus: I’ve become one of those people I used to deride–people who don’t listen to much hip-hop but get very excited about Kanye. But he’s just getting better and you have to celebrate when the popular and the avant-garde come together like this.
  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Mosquito: Another one that people lost sight of, I think. By the way, how lovely was Karen O’s performance at the Oscar’s this weekend?

Things I dropped one level because the previous list got too long

  • Basia Bulat, Tall, Tall Shadow: As I said on Facebook when I posted the video of the great title song, I am listening to someone who sings while playing an autoharp. And they say I am incapable of growth.
  • Best Coast, Fade Away: Like everyone says, a return to form.
  • Low, The Invisible Way: You have to be in a very specific kind of mood to really appreciate Low at the best of times, I think; but long Minnesota winter nights can really set the background if you’re in the mood.
  • Los Campesinos!, No Blues: I am hesitant to use the words “grown up” as praise, but this is a more mature album and the better for it.
  • M.I.A, Matangi: There seems to be a bit of a M.I.A backlash in progress. Me, I quite liked this.
  • Waxahaatchee, Cerulean Salt: As a general rule I am opposed to singer-songwriters who call themselves things like Waxhatchee but bloody hell, this is good.

Things that I liked fine but am not in a huge hurry to listen to all the way through again

  • Bill Callahan, Dream River: Doesn’t quite have the highs of the previous two albums.
  • Ed Harcourt, Back Into the Woods: Some nice songs but too much of a sameness on the whole.

Things by philosophy and music professors at elite liberal arts colleges

  • The Counterfactuals: Minimally Decent People: More than the young I resent the success of people I know. Still this is more than minimally competent. They wear their influences (mostly jangly Americana, plus people like the Walkmen) on their sleeves and there’s a bit of a sameness here too, but I look forward to their upcoming goth-prog opus.

Things I was not expecting to like as much as I did

  • Deafhaven, Sunbather: When mainstream critics suddenly begin to rave about albums from genres they don’t usually cover I immediately get dubious. But people of unimpeachable taste (Comrade Purdy and friends) recommended it highly and I nabbed it and eventually got around to listening to it. It’s a slow-burner if you’re not into black/death metal but it fits rather seamlessly alongside the new My Bloody Valentine and if you like shoegaze you’ll find much to like here–if you can get past the vocals (though they’re rather restrained as the genre goes). I will say that this really benefits from being played loudly through large speakers moving sound through the air in a large room, and not in a car or on headphones or off computer speakers.
  • Eleanor Friedberger, Personal Record: I don’t know why I wasn’t expecting to like this except I generally expect to be annoyed by people who like Eleanor Friedberger. But this is very good.
  • Lorde, Pure Heroine: This one I was not expecting to like because I am suspicious of the very young, and am ashamed to say I did because saying so makes me feel a bit like a creepy old man. I mean, it’s bad enough that I always have Tegan and Sara on these lists.
  • Primal Scream, More Light: Only because I’d completely lost touch with them, but this is like an updated Screamadelica in many respects.
  • Tricky, False Idols: Again, only because I’d completely lost touch with Tricky. This is rather good, if somewhat light compared to his early masterpieces. And I do miss Martina. Some really great songs.
  • Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City: I have been somewhat resistant to these guys as I am very ambivalent about their adoption/appropriation of African rhythms. But this album is quite a way away from their early sound and is very good. I look forward to more.

Things I did not like as much as I was expecting to, for one reason or the other

  • Bill Callahan, Dream River: Like I said, I did not dislike this; but I’ve loved everything else he’s done (more or less) so felt particularly let down.
  • Chvrches, The Bones of What You Believe: I didn’t love the stuff this is derivative of back in the late ’80s, so why am I supposed to love it now? Some very nice songs though, and I liked the second half more than the first.
  • Drake, Nothing Was The Same: Some of this is very good, but most of it is pedestrian.
  • HAIM, Days are Gone: Some very nice songs (the title song, particularly) but this is overrated, no? Can we admit this now? And why did so many people compare them to Fleetwood Mac?
  • Iron and Wine, Ghost on Ghost: Didn’t care for the previous one, was hoping it was a blip. Nope.
  • Janelle Monae, The Electric Lady: If you’d told me a year ago that Monae could put out a dull album I would have said you were crazy. Alas.
  • Superchunk, : Unlike much of the stuff in this category I actually liked this fine end to end, but the talk led me to think I would love it.
  • Volcano Choir, Repave: Frankly, there’s not a terrible lot wrong with this; I’m just sick of hearing Vernon’s falsetto everywhere.

Things I might like better if not for the name of the act

  • Waxahaatchee, Cerulean Salt
  • The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die, Whenever, If Ever

People whose 2013 albums I’m still listening to

  • Burial
  • The Besnard Lakes
  • Cloud Cult
  • Fuck Buttons
  • Tim Hecker
  • Phoenix

Some of my favourite songs of the year

  • Arctic Monkeys, “Do I Wanna Know?”
  • Basia Bulat, “Tall Tall Shadow”
  • Nick Cave, “We No Who U R”, “Higgs Boson Blues”
  • Mikal Cronin, “See It My Way”
  • Cults, “We’ve Got It”
  • Daft Punk, “Get Happy”
  • Deerhunter, “Neon Junkyard”, “Dream Captain”
  • Frightened Rabbit, “December’s Traditions”
  • HAIM, “Days are Gone”
  • The Knife, “Ready to Lose”
  • The National, “Sea of Love”, “This Is The Last Time”
  • Portugal. The Man, “Plastic Soldiers”
  • Primal Scream, “Tenement Kid”, “It’s Alright, It’s OK”
  • Savages, “City’s Full”
  • Sleigh Bells, “Bitter Rivals”
  • Tricky, “Bonnie and Clyde”
  • Kurt Vile, “Wakin on a Pretty Day”
  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “Sacrilege”

Things I’m looking forward to in 2014

  • The new Beck which I haven’t listened to yet.
  • The new Future Islands which should be out soon.
  • And we’re due for new ones from PJ Harvey, Florence + The Machine, the New Pornographers, St. Vincent and Destroyer too. The Madvillainy follow-up which I’ve been waiting for for years now is apparently off for good.

And finally, a little memorial. Yes, we lost Lou Reed this year but I want to make one last tribute in memory of someone much less well-known whose untimely passing hit me very hard: Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia etc.. Molina had this huge talent whose affect came from its simultaneous sincerity and sloppiness and while he gave us a lot of great music in his truncated life (he was three years younger than me) he was only just coming into his prime. Please listen to Songs: Ohia’s last album, The Magnolia Electric Co.. Every day he lived, he told us, he was trying to sing the blues the way he found them. I wish he could have kept singing them a little longer.

13 thoughts on “2013 Music

  1. Nice!

    Speaking of hip-hop artists non-hip hop fans get excited about: Kool Keith. Kool Keith and Big Sche Eastwood’s “Magnetic Pimp Force Field” was undeservedly under-the-radar.

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    • I’ll have you know, young whippersnapper, that I was excited about Kool Keith way back when he lived on the same planet as the rest of us. But I had no idea he had a new one out. I’ll be right back.

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  2. With you on everything I’ve heard on the list, with some few exceptions. But boy are you right about that Northfield band. The lead singer won’t shut up about The Walkmen if you get him going.

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    • Which are the exceptions?

      And, of course, I know you like The Walkmen but I think that would have suggested itself to me even if I didn’t know it. Did any of the reviews pick up on it? I don’t think I saw mentions in the few I read. Heard the Icehouse show was great–hoping to make it to your next gig before you drown in your own vomit.

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      • I just can’t get into Tegan and Sara. Not at all.

        I am totally with you on Deerhunter. I hadn’t heard of them before this year. This album and the last are fabulous.

        And you’re right: people don’t draw the parallel to the Walkmen. They usually mention The Shins whom I don’t listen to at all.

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      • Canadian self-hatred is a terrible thing. Is it the mannered vocals? The fact that you’re not an angst-filled teenager like me?

        This is the song that got me started on them:

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  3. If you’re looking to get a head start on your 2014 list the Cheatah’s eponymous new release has impressed me with a few songs including “the Swan” and “Get Tight”. They have a bit of MBV and the shoegaze movement in them. I’m also curious about whether you’ve encountered The Generationals I liked a few tracks of their earlier releases “When we fight we fight” and “Ten-twenty-ten”.

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      • I should sort of credit the young-ins for the Generationals. I was taking one of them clothing shopping and between sets of hip-hop tracks on the in-store music they would play an occasional indie band. I used Shazam to ID a few of the songs. Also discovered Minor Alps (Juliana Hatfield and the dude from Nada Surf) this way. You should check out their 2013 release. Great song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SM1HZY3nz3I

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  4. Great write up, and your summary of the Tricky album could not have been said better… particularly the part about missing Martina. Maxinquaye stands as one of the all time greats in my humble opinion.

    However I do notice in your exhaustive review of the music of 2013 a dearth of information regarding the Amrut C/S bottle you have. Odd that.

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  5. Now that the Amrut review is up we can get back to music.

    I’m pretty out of touch with new music but it seems like I noticed more young, guitar-based, women-fronted bands in 2013. They sound like bands I listened to 20 years ago.

    No Joy “Hare Tarot Lies”

    Bleeding Rainbow “Pink Ruff”

    Swearin’ “Dust in the Gold Sack”

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  6. I’m confused about how having time off made it so you didn’t have time to write this. No excuses this year, please.
    James Blake – so. good. Glad he was at the top of your list. Have you heard this cover of Joni Mitchell? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ri6bd4G-Aig
    Haven’t listened to the Nick Cave except for loving the song Wide Lovely Eyes. Thanks for reminding me to check the rest out.
    Valerie June, Pushin’ against a Stone. LOVE her voice. She did a great Tiny Desk Concert: http://www.npr.org/event/music/231507041/valerie-june-tiny-desk-concert
    Waxahatchee – I would probably name my band something like this and I would sing angsty songs just like this. This album suits a certain mood that I don’t get into as much now that I’m no longer in my twenties.
    The Kanye album suits a certain mood I’m in more often now in my thirties. “How much do I not give a fuck?” and “Bring me my damn croissants” are good lines to have stuck in one’s head.
    Laura Mvula – too lazy to look up the album name but there’s a song called “Green Garden” I love.
    At the risk of you not taking my other recommendations seriously, I do have a soft spot for the sound of country. Holly Wiliams, Kacey Muskgrave, & Ashley Monroe all put out enjoyable songs last year. I’m about to move into a trailer so this is probably why.
    I love that you like Lorde and Tegan and Sara.
    Thao and the Get Down Stay Down – I like this whole album, but mostly I love the song “The Feeling Kind”
    Earl Sweatshirt – Doris. Found him via Frank Ocean, somehow.
    Phosphorescent – kinda surprised they weren’t on your list. A good album, particularly the song “Song for Zula.”
    Agreed about the new Neko Case & Janelle Monae albums.
    Some more favorite songs:
    Valerie June, “Working Woman Blues”
    Lucius, “Wildewoman”
    Patty Griffin, “Ohio”
    Lykke Li & David Lynch, “I’m Waiting Here”
    Best pop songs, Mariah Carey and Miguel “Beautiful” and Ellie Goulding “Anything Could Happen” (I think those were 2013?)
    Trails and Ways, “Nunca”
    Not into My Bloody Valentine. I guess I’m too young to know them from yesteryear. And too into Mariah Carey.

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