Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Favorite Albums of 2013

After an almost 2 year hiatus, I'm back! Sort of. Who knows when I'll post again after this, but I enjoyed writing about music again.

I'm foregoing a traditional Top 10 list this year and going for some completely made-up categories instead. I thought 2013 was a decent year for music. Nothing blew my mind, and judging by the look of other Top 10 (or however many) lists out there, there didn't seem to be much of a consensus about what was great. Anyway, here's some stuff I really liked:

  • Best Album By a Band That Somehow Managed to Make 3 Great Albums in a Row: Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City. I wouldn't say that Vampire Weekend topped their self-titled debut or 2010's Contra, but I think this record equals them in general awesomeness. The band has pulled off a neat trick by both evolving their sound and staying uniquely Vampire Weekendy. Their sound has matured with every record. Their debut was infectious upon the first listen and Contra  took me a couple of listens before I really started to appreciate it. It took months of off and on listening before MVotC really grew on me, but once it did, it was clearly one of my favorites of the year.
  • Best Album By a Band That I Have Previously Passed Off As Completely Overrated:
    Arcade Fire, Reflektor. It's rare that I will listen to an album fully expecting to dislike it. Normally I wouldn't even bother listen to something I didn't think I had at least a chance of liking. It's not that I even really dislike Arcade Fire, I just never thought they were all that. And when it comes down to it, I can't even really explain why I like this album so much. It's just as much of an overwrought mess as their previous albums, but I can't stop listening to it. The whole double-sided album. Sure there are some favorite tracks--even though it clocks in at over 6 minutes, I wouldn't mind if "Here Comes the Night Time" went on a bit longer--but there's not a single song I feel like skipping.
  • Best Album in a Genre of Music With Which I Am Almost Completely Unfamiliar:  
    Moon Hooch, Moon Hooch. When I say "genre" of music here, I guess I'm sort of thinking of jazz, because that's how iTunes classifies this record. But it's not like any jazz I've ever heard (not that I've listened to a lot). Using two saxophones and a drum kit, these guys made a record of songs to which one is compelled to shake one's ass. I haven't even had this album for two months, but I've listened to it a lot. I love it. My kids love it. I encourage everyone to listen to the opening track, "Number 9", and see if you love it, too: http://www.moonhooch.com/music/
  • Best Summer Album (Maybe Ever?):
    Cayucas, Bigfoot. I don't think this CD left my car between mid-spring and mid-fall. That's a good thing. Undeniably a west coast sound (I can't even fathom an east coast band making this album), these are roll-your-window-down-and-put-on-your- shades songs. There is nothing remotely complex about them. A good percentage of the lyrics are composed of "ooo-ooo-ooos" and "hey hey heys". You don't have to think about them too much, and who wants to think during the summer anyway? "High School Lover" is the track that got me hooked, and it's definitely a stand-out single kind of song, but the whole album is perfect for your drive to the beach. If the beach is pretty far away, put it on repeat.
  • Best Album Featuring a Weird Duo That Still Works: The Uncluded, Hokey Fright. Kimya
    Dawson is not for everyone. I can imagine a lot of people find her singing fairly intolerable (and it is a bit of an acquired taste). But she is undeniably one of the most earnest singer/songwriters out there. Her songs can vacillate between making you laugh and breaking your heart in moments. I don't know much about Aesop Rock, besides the fact that he's a rapper and producer. Though I liked Dawson's 2011 album, Thunder Thighs, I was not a big fan of the tracks that featured Aesop Rock. I wouldn't have even considered listening to this album until I heard "Delicate Cycle". But yeah, The Uncluded works for me. Dawson's songs can veer strongly toward the twee, and Aesop Rock gives them an edge that veers them right back in the other direction. It's an album unlike anything else I've heard before.
  • Best Album By a Band That I Thought Had Peaked 6 Years Ago: The National, Trouble Will Find Me. I was pretty much convinced that Boxer was the best album The National would
    put out. I thought Alligator was just OK and 2010's High Violet just didn't do much for me. And I still felt that after the first few listens of TWFM. But then something clicked. I found myself singing along. I found myself drumming the steering wheel and bobbing my head. Then I found myself taking the CD everywhere I went, so I could listen to it at home, in the car, or at work. And though I was going to forgo rankings, I now find myself saying that The National made my favorite album of the year. I feel like this a very grown up record. I don't see high school kids getting into it. I don't know if 20-something me would have been all that into it. But 30-something me is definitely into it. Every song. Now excuse me while I go sit in my fainting chair and drink a pink rabbit...
And a few more albums worth checking out: Bombadil, Metrics of Affection; John Grant, Pale Green Ghosts; Houndmouth, From the Hills Below the City; Wild Child, The Runaround; The Front Bottoms, Talon of the Hawk; Nataly Dawn; How I Knew Her, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, We the Common