Time again for my annual best-of music review! As in the past, here’s the introductory explanation from my 2011 post, copied & pasted for your convenience:
A couple years ago, I started doing my own personal “best of the year” selections in iTunes. It’s easy to make an iTunes smart playlist that includes all the tracks added during the calendar year. Just set “Date Added”, “is in the range”, and pick the dates (I also add rules to exclude some tracks, like audiobooks, podcasts, etc.).
I use “date added” rather than “year”, so my selections are based on music that I bought during the year, regardless of when it was originally released. If I discover an old artist or pick up an old album years later, then so be it. Also, I buy full albums only; I never buy just single tracks. And so that’s what I pick 10 favorites of: albums.
Here are my 2013 selections, in alphabetical order by artist. I’ll pick the top 10, but I won’t order them down to a number one, sorry. The links are to Wikipedia, and a playlist of these albums (minus Giant Drag) is on Spotify.
The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, Neko Case – Neko Case’s latest holds up every bit as well as 2009’s Middle Cyclone. It has a few less-great tracks, but is mostly solid, with some real standouts (“Man” and the seriously intense “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu”). Her performance at the 2013 Austin City Limits Music Festival was great, even if Atoms For Peace were drowning out the quieter moments from across the park. If you have a chance to see her live, take it.
Waking Up Is Hard To Do, Giant Drag – The last album by this band, made up mostly (entirely?) of the very odd and very funny Annie Hardy, was 2005’s Hearts and Unicorns. This new release is more eclectic and less rockin’, but there’s hardly a bad song on it. Unfortunately, as of this writing, her indie label doesn’t seem to have a deal with Spotify or Rdio, so you won’t find it there.
There’s Always Another Girl, Juliana Hatfield – I’ve never been a big fan of Juliana Hatfield’s solo work, though I loved Blake Babies and Some Girls. I don’t remember how I came across this, but it’s similar to Some Girls’ music, and I really liked it. It even prompted me to back her followup this year on PledgeMusic. The result, Wild Animals, was unfortunately not nearly as good.
Wolf’s Law, The Joy Formidable – Man, do I love Joy Formidable. Their last CD, 2011’s The Big Roar, was on my top-10 list last year, and this new one is every bit as good. I had the good fortune to see them live three times in 2013: a free mini SXSW show at Waterloo Records, a headlining show at Emo’s (with IO Echo; see Best of the Rest, below), and a great festival set at ACLFest. They’re just fantastic live, and live up to both words in their name; I can’t recommend them highly enough.
Wed 21, Juana Molina – A late entry, which I didn’t pick up until the end of the year, but an easy choice for a favorite from this year. Unique, beautiful, haunting music, as her previous albums have all been, but with fewer slightly-too-weird-to-be-listenable tracks. Yes, the lyrics are mostly in Spanish, but it’s so ethereal you’ll hardly notice. The video for “Eras” is more toward the creepy end of the spectrum than most of these songs, but has a visual style that matches the eccentricity of the music really well.
Silence Yourself, Savages – The post-punk sound of this band manages to keep the power that sound had when it was new, without being diluted by seeming too throwback. It’s serious, darkly intense music, but I can still listen to the whole thing over and over again. I was able to see them at ACLFest, too. They’re not a band you’d expect to see on a hot, sunny stage at midday, but they more than held their own, black clothes from head to toe be damned.
Apocryphon, The Sword – I’d never heard of this Austin-area heavy metal band before I happened to buy a six-pack of Iron Swan Ale, their Real Ale tribute beer. I thought the prog-rock design and imagery were a hoot, and only later discovered there was an actual band that unapologetically and unironically rocks that same imagery in their music. I don’t have much metal in my library, but something about songs like “Eyes of the Stormwitch”, “The Chronomancer”, and “The Veils of Isis” works for me.
The Name of This Band is Talking Heads, Talking Heads – I’ve had just about every Talking Heads album for years, including the great live album Stop Making Sense, but somehow had never known about the existence of this one. It’s a double album, and it’s long (a little over 2.5 hours), so I admit that I don’t often listen to it from beginning to end. But nearly every one of these (33!) songs are really good versions; even titles I don’t care much for in their studio form are good here.
Sorry, White Lung – I think I heard about White Lung from the Sound Opinions podcast, but whoever tipped me off to them: thank you. Where Savages might be post-punk, White Lung is just plain punk-punk. A fast, angry, energetic ride, the album length stands in stark contrast to that huge Talking Heads entry above: 10 songs, 20 minutes, done. Great stuff; I’m looking forward to future releases.
Versions, Zola Jesus – When I first heard about this album, made up of previous songs arranged for string accompaniment, I was skeptical. I’m not usually a big fan of remixes and the like. But the source of most of these songs, 2011’s Conatus, was good enough to earn a spot on my top-10 last year, so I gave it a try. It’s fantastic. The orchestral sound transforms the songs entirely, in some cases possibly even making them (gasp!) better.
So those are my ten favorite “new” albums of 2013.
And then there are all the rest of the albums. Some are so good they were almost in the top ten (Janelle Monáe, Sleigh Bells), some are honestly barely worth saving from the delete key (Boss Hog, the aforementioned Wild Animals). But to complete my annual time capsule, I also make a playlist, ordered in painstaking mixtape order (not best-to-worst), of favorite single tracks from all of the year’s albums that didn’t make the best-album cut. This “Best of the Rest” is also a playlist on Spotify (minus the Juliana Hatfield track).
- The Bomb — Bitter:Sweet (Drama)
- Man Like That — Gin Wigmore (Man Like That EP)
- Born For This — Paramore (Riot!)
- Happy Now? — No Doubt (Tragic Kingdom)
- Satellite Mind — Metric (Fantasies)
- Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay) — Sky Ferreira (Night Time, My Time)
- Another Girl — Wild Belle (Isles)
- Lights — Ellie Goulding (Lights)
- Tiananmen Square — IO Echo (Ministry of Love)
- Los Adolescentes — Denver (Música, Gramática, Gimnasia)
- Parted Ways — Heartless Bastards (Arrow)
- Young Man In America — Anaïs Mitchell (Young Man In America)
- Tracks — Juliana Hatfield (Wild Animals)
- Vuelve — Julieta Venegas (Los Momentos)
- Coco — Astro (Nacional Records Amazon Sampler 2013)
- Aura — Lady Gaga (Artpop)
- Standing There — The Creatures (Boomerang)
- Q.U.E.E.N. [feat. Erykah Badu] — Janelle Monáe (The Electric Lady)
- Blackout — Anna Calvi (Anna Calvi)
- Get It While You Wait — Boss Hog (Whiteout)
- Price Tag — Jessie J (Who You Are)
- Happily — One Direction (Midnight Memories)
- What You Wanted — Seapony (Falling)
- Walk Or Ride — The Ditty Bops (The Ditty Bops)
- Wet Blanket — Metric (Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?)
- Proof — Paramore (Paramore)
- Mr. Freakshow — Gin Wigmore (Holy Smoke)
- Bitter Rivals — Sleigh Bells (Bitter Rivals)
As last year, there are some tracks on here that come to my iTunes library via my teenage daughter. I don’t have everything she bought (yes, bought; trying to raise decent, law-abiding citizens here), but I may as well try to keep up with kids these days. She and I did go to a Metric/Paramore concert together, and while Metric being the opener and not the headliner still seems crazy to me, it was great. In any case, let the record show that I would not have bought One Direction, for example, but that I can play them in the car with certain passengers and not be sick. So in the spirit of an annual time capsule, and of trying to not be too cool to have a guilty pleasure or two, those tracks are here, too.