Monday, December 16, 2013

Favorite Albums of 2013

There's been a lot of talk about how 2013 is the new 1990s. New albums by beloved 90s acts My Bloody Valentine, Sebadoh, Superchunk, The Dismemberment Plan and others were received with much fanfare. For me, the 1990s, and especially the early 90s, are all about Riot Grrrl and heavy rocking ladies like Hole, Babes in Toyland, and Seven Year Bitch. Bikini Kill are the only band I ever wrote to. I have an autographed handmade poster from an early Le Tigre show hanging on my wall (Kathleen Hanna seemed as nervous as me when I asked for her autograph). So there was really no question that The Julie Ruin's Run Fast would come in at #1 on my album list this year. I'm just so happy to have KH back, healthy and vital once again. But this is no mere nostalgia trip. Run Fast is a collection of 13 tight, cheeky, exuberant confessions and declarations.

The story I read about Potty Mouth begins at Ladyfest Easthampton, which to me is very much a legacy of Riot Grrrl. These songs aren't super deep, but this quartet of women will make you (pop) rock out. Their album The Spins is my #2 favorite this year.

Continuing the strong women theme, Savages' Silence Yourself comes in at #3. Reminiscent of Siouxsie and the Banshees, but that's never a bad thing.

Speaking of rocking your pop out, have you listened to my #4 album, Parquet Courts' Light Up Gold yet? If so, you know that of the 15 songs, only 2 top out over 3 minutes, including the 5:12 epic, "Stoned and Starving," that chronicles an evening wandering around Queens trying to decide what to eat. "Borrowed Time" takes less than half that time to convince you that you want to hear more.

And now for a sonic switcheroo. I've loved Laura Marling since I first heard her in a song-of-the-day download. There's something about the quality of her voice, and the way she paints a picture with her songs that reminds me of Joni Mitchell, even though she sounds nothing like her. My #5 album, Once I Was an Eagle features more sophisticated and full production that her earlier albums, but rather than covering her up or making her something she's not (as often happens with other female singer-songwriters), it just serves to support her ever stronger songs.

I've always been a lyrics person. Words drew me into a song, and my appreciation of it would grow from there. When I was an adolescent, for example, any song that mentioned "dance" or "dancer" - I was there! Sometimes that worked out well ("Tiny Dancer," "Safety Dance"), sometimes not so much ("Private Dancer"). When I got a bit older, politics were what drew me in. Again, this led to some unevenness (on the one hand: Bruce Hornsby; on the other: Rage Against the Machine). But over the last few years, I've noticed myself being attracted to music based far more on soundscape, particularly ones that surprise me or take me somewhere new. The next batch of albums captured me in this way.

#6 Laura Mvula Sing to the Moon

#7 San Fermin San Fermin, featuring the ladies of Lucius (whose album Wildewoman I also liked quite a lot, so I'll give them an honorable mention here)

# 8 Cloud Cult's Love was a strong contender right from the beginning of the year, but fell off my radar for a while. When I was trying to make my end of the year decisions, I just had to bring it back into the top 10ish.

#9 Tremor Proa

#10 all the other instrumental albums I enjoyed this year
Eluvium Nightmare Ending

Tim Hecker Virgins

Colin Stetson New History Warfare vol III

And because these always go to eleven...
Here are the albums I didn't think I should like, am a bit embarrassed that I like, but what the hell, I do! I tried to take these albums off my list, but I just couldn't. They're all prettiness and heartbreak and tragedy, gorgeously told.

Josh Ritter's breakup album, The Beast in its Tracks, is sad and bitter and joyful all at once.

Is it bad that I like Volcano Choir's Repave better than Bon Iver?

Typhoon White Lighter

And I could go on and on. It was just that kind of year! Hope you discovered something new here, or were reminded of how much you loved something. Happy listening!

Favorite Songs of 2013

This year, picking my favorite albums has been a really difficult task. Not so with songs. This list solidified early, and stayed consistent, with the exception of #6, which was a last minute addition because it's just that good. So without further ado...

1. Phosphorescent "Song for Zula"
From the first time I heard this song, I knew it would be on my year-end list. The "Ring of Fire" reference draws you in to the dark lyrics, but the swirling melodies offer a promise of hope only glimpsed in the words. (Can't speak for the video, though. Maybe just listen without watching?) Bonus: the song can incidentally be heard at the end of my favorite movie of the year, The Spectacular Now.

2. Okkervil River "Down Down the Deep River"
I've never really been into Okkervil River. Nothing against them, just never connected with their sound. But when I heard this single, I really liked the catchy chorus. However, the lyrics didn't really hit me until I was listening one day when I was out for a run, and I literally let out a sob. The song is about the moment when you were first confronted with the fragility of life, and how you got through it then, and how you continue to get through it now.

3. Moby featuring Wayne Coyne "The Perfect Life"
The world needs more Wayne Coyne. That is all.

4. Daft Punk "Lose Yourself to Dance"
So, every August since 1997, I've been getting together with a group of close friends at a lodge in Western Massachusetts. We cook and eat and swim, and eat some more, and laugh, and play games, followed by a sauna and a midnight snack. This summer for the first time, we choreographed, performed, and filmed our first group dance. The reason for this unprecedented activity? Daft Punk. We danced to "Get Lucky" because it fit our movement well. "Get Lucky" is a great pop song, that will grace proms and wedding receptions for years to come. But I love "Lose Yourself to Dance" even more.

5. Kanye West "Black Skinhead"
I often dislike Kanye West's music. Sometimes I even hate it. But there's no denying that he is a capital-F force, and when he is good, he is very, very good. I just wish he wouldn't undercut the power of a good song by peddling it to multiple buyers. Put your trust in Martin Scorsese and leave it be!

6. Superchunk "FOH"
This late entry into songs of the year is a super catchy, upbeat song of busted dreams and middle-age depression that wills itself to come around by the end.

Coming soon...favorite albums!


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