First things first. Two of my favorite tracks of 2013 were live performances of holiday standards. The songs themselves are borderline mundane…it’s the vocals that’ll bring a tear to a glass eye.
Now, for the rest of year’s jams…
If there’s one thing I detest, it’s parking in a parking lot and shopping for junk in an actual store. So, it wasn’t until this year that Black Friday had any meaning to me. On the day after Thanksgiving, I heard rumblings of The Walkmen calling it quits.
The official announcement from the band used the term “extreme hiatus”. Since then, I’ve read about the details of the end of The Walkmen.
I’ve seen a lot of my favorite bands go from maybe they’ll release something and come to NC next year to something like extreme hiatus. The most extreme extreme hiatus was probably the band Morphine, when Mark Sandman collapsed on stage. When Pavement broke up, I was irrationally surprised and disappointed. When Ween broke up, I was mildly surprised for no good reason. When Guided by Voices broke up, I knew it was a matter of weeks before Uncle Bob found new sidemen.
At 36, I look back morbidly at old mixes or playlists and think of who’s next. But, I don’t get disappointed anymore.
Now that I’m mature enough (on good days) to understand why the grind and the business in general can drive musicians apart, I don’t feel let down in any way. The Walkmen were different, and their breakup affected me differently. I always could relate to their look, their perspective, their point in time. I feel like Katie and I grew into adulthood with Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone and Bows + Arrows, into responsible adulthood with You & Me, and into parenthood with Lisbon and Heaven.
For Christmas 2010, Katie gave me tickets to see them at Cat’s Cradle. The show remains one of the best I’ve ever seen and heard, and I remember walking out of the Cradle as the band was packing up. We walked out front, and there was Hamilton Leithauser in his tweed jacket, loading amps and other equipment into their van. Not only was there no roadie to do manual labor; this guy, the frontman and lead singer, was dressed like a private school guidance counselor while doing the dirty work. I told him, “Great show!” as we walked by. He said thanks, and I noticed how tired he looked at 1:00 am, humping gear after putting on a two-hour show.
It’s nearly 2014, so there’s no better tune for tribute than this rendition of “In the New Year” from that night.
Tough decisions…that could be the alternate title of this post. 2013 was a wonderful year for music and life. I should take a cue from the band and move on with things. These are the jams that made me happy this year.
A few quick notes about my experience with new albums in 2013 and my ground rules for these selections:
- There are no jazz albums included in the following list, mainly because I didn’t spend enough time with jazz this year. That may be because there’s not enough time to explore beyond the many options in my personal wheelhouse. For the record, my personal wheelhouse is indie rock, hip-hop, and electronic ambient and dance music.
- 2013 was excellent for hip-hop. If rap music seems underrepresented in this list, it’s only because it didn’t really match the brilliance of everything else at an album level. For example, Kendrick Lamar didn’t release a record in 2013, but every guest verse I heard from him was golden genius. The big names released good albums, and the new artists really
Note: Yeezus wasn’t that big a deal for me. There are too many outstanding lyricists to include a Kanye record solely based on interesting production and interview-borne controversy. You could easily classify one-third of what I listened to this year as hip-hop.
- For the first time in my life, I took metal seriously in 2013. I’m just one in millions who see the crossover appeal in Deafheaven’s Sunbather. I remember a few other records that featured screaming vocals, and for the first time I heard so much more than just the screaming. Maybe I’ll wear more black t-shirts in 2014?
These are my 25 favorites of the past year, classified in four tiers. Underneath those are my favorite EPs.
Disclosure – Settle
It’s rare that you love a pre-album single (White Noise), you love the second pre-album single (Latch), the album comes out and your kids love the second track and recite the chorus whenever someone says, “Fire” (When A Fire Starts to Burn), and you continue to love the album more and more every time you hear it. Then, you find yourself replaying the FOURTEENTH track on the album months after the album release and decide it’s one of your favorite songs of the year (Help Me Lose My Mind).
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
What more can you ask of these guys? Is matching catchy songs with fascinating production not enough? Nevermind that the overarching theme of Modern Vampires is deep, and that they continue to be witty, semi-annoying, yet lovable. They semi-sample Souls of Mischief and Pachelbel’s Canon in the same song! Someday I’ll play this album for my grandkids and try to convince them that music was fantastic way back in 2013. They’ll laugh hysterically when I explain how Jackie and I would rig up my phone to the car stereo to play the Vevo video of Step just so we could hear the song before it was available in any other format. “Grandpa Andy is ridiculous!”, they’ll say.
Arctic Monkeys – AM
In 2013, this was my comfortable, trusty rock n’ roll sweatshirt. I would put it on any old time of day, and it would make me feel good. It also made me feel a little old, which I am, but also proud of the Arctic Monkeys tradition and evolution. AM proves that really good bands can grow up to become great bands in ten years time. If it weren’t for a couple of tracks that sound a little to classic rock-like, this record might have been my overall favorite in a really good year.
Majical Cloudz – Impersonator
My biggest music-related regret of the year is missing Devon Welsh’s set at Hopscotch. Back in the spring, however, it took me awhile to give Impersonator a fair listen, though. Based on nothing more than the name Majical Cloudz [sic] (is sic necessary here?), I resisted this album even after I read all the glowing reviews at the beginning of the year. I quickly learned how powerful, serious, and downright gorgeous some of the songs are, despite the worst band name since Gauntlet Hair came on the scene.
Foxygen – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
I think I’ve played this album in its entirety about every two weeks since February, which makes it second only to AM in the comfort-listening category. I remember a local radio guy saying, “I don’t get the whole love song to the ’60s thing.” I also remember my father-in-law hearing it and saying in a wistful way, “This reminds me of older music.” I agree with my father-in-law and the undeniably derivative nature of their sound, but not the radio guy. This album is not some hackneyed attempt at a white album for younguns today who’ve never heard The Beatles. There’s a ton of variety from track-to-track, and the songs are extremely well-written. Plus, Jackie loves the lyric, “I met your daughter the other day…that was weird. She had rhinoceros-shaped earrings in her ear.”
Danny Brown – Old
I saw this dude play an art museum just last year with my wife and my brother. All three of us loved it, but I never imagined he would put together this kind of masterpiece a year later. In fact, before Old, I didn’t know he was capable of any voice other than the likable, but crazed honking type of style. Now I know, low/normal voice is for serious storytelling, and shrill/crazed voice is for when he’s turnt up (or maybe just turnt down for what). Either way, this record shows unmatched versatility AND introspection, which are two uncommon qualities in hip-hop artists.
Haim – Days Are Gone
Are you 30 or older, and love “alternative” music? If so, you might also love this feature Radio-Friendly Unit Shifters from September. Here’s the factoid from the article that had me scratching my head:
After Tracy Bonham’s “Mother Mother” departed the penthouse in June 1996, no solo woman would top this chart for more than 17 years; during that period, only three songs by bands with so much as a female singer (Garbage, Hole, and Evanescence) would make it to the No. 1.
Bizarre, isn’t it? I’m sure sexism and other societal contextual factors are to blame. Nowadays I play Days Are Gone for my own enjoyment as much as I do for my daughter to hear three women rockers whose debut album compares favorably to anything recorded in 2013.
The Range – Nonfiction
Earl Sweatshirt – Doris
Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt
Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze
Joey Bada$$ – Summer Knights Mixtape
The Field – Cupid’s Head
Volcano Choir – Repave
M.I.A. – Matangi
The Men – New Moon
Mount Kimbie – Cold Spring Fault Less Youth
James Blake – Overgrown
Deafheaven – Sunbather
White Denim – Corsicana Lemonade
Deerhunter – Monomania
Prodigy & Alchemist – Albert Einstein
A$AP Ferg – Trap Lord
Local Natives – Hummingbird
Los Campesinos! – No Blues
FKA Twigs – EP2
Burial – Rival Dealer
Phantogram – Phantogram
DJ Rashad – Rollin EP
Wild Nothing – Empty Estate
The first 30 of my favorite 80 or so songs are listed below, and here’s the link to the Spotify playlist. Or, you can use the player below.
- Step – Vampire Weekend
- No. 1 Party Anthem – Arctic Monkeys
- Help Me Lose My Mind – Disclosure, feat. London Grammar
- Childhood’s End – Majical Cloudz
- Dream House – Deafheaven
- Hood Pope – A$AP Ferg
- Will Calls – Grizzly Bear
- Numbers on the Boards – Pusha T
- Days Are Gone – Haim
- Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster – Thee Oh Sees
- Temple – Kings of Leon
- Only 1 U – M.I.A.
- Hold On, We’re Going Home – Drake
- Monomania – Deerhunter
- You’re Not Good Enough – Blood Orange
- Comrade – Volcano Choir
- We No Who U R – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
- Ya Hey – Vampire Weekend
- Dubstep – Danny Brown, feat. Scrufizzer
- Fireside – Arctic Monkeys
- Ain’t That The Way – Divine Fits
- The Fall – Rhye
- Never Run Away – Kurt Vile
- Shout It Out – Mikal Cronin
- Brother Bryan – Waxahatchee
- Shuggie – Foxygen
- Sunday – Earl Sweatshirt, feat. Frank Ocean
- Lose Yourself to Dance – Daft Punk, feat. Pharell
- Overgrown – James Blake
- White Noise – Disclosure, feat. AlunaGeorge