Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Best Music of 2013

There is no misnomer quite like the Best Music of the Year list. So much music is released each and every year, there’s no way any one individual can listen to it all, let alone listen to all of it enough to judge with any authority which of it is the best. What the “Best of the Year” lists really are is each individual’s favorite music of the year. Each of us who contribute these lists each year also reads many others for two reasons. 1) To see if we agree with any of the albums or bands on the list. 2) To get ideas on more music that needs to be checked out. This is truly one of the greatest times of year.

When it comes to music, 2013 was a banner year. There were oodles of great music to be found out there, even well beyond my own tastes. Within those tastes there was a great deal of anticipation for a number of albums before they even came out this year. 2013 saw the return to the studio for many bands that had taken long hiatuses. Among them were long player efforts by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, Peter Gabriel, my bloody valentine, Kavinsky, Daft Punk, Queens of the Stone Age, Mazzy Star, and extended plays by Fleetwood Mac and The Pixies. I’m sure there are many I don’t even know about.

The were also a plethora of new discoveries and current standards from the likes of bvdub, Broadcast, Endless Boogie, The Devil’s Blood, SubRosa, The Besnard Lakes, Atoms For Peace, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, The Lonely Island, David Lynch, Kings of Leon, Pop. 1280, Tree, Lil Herb & Lil Bibby, Russian Circles, White Hills and Wooden Shjips. 2013 also saw some of the most unique collaborations of artists working together. Ben Harper and Charlie Musclewhite teamed up for an ultimate blues album, Mark Lanegan and Duke Garwood mixed up their blues with some beats, Mark Kozelek went electronic in his team up with Jimmy LeValle, and Elvis Costello got down with The Roots.

2013 was just a stunning year for music. Here are my favorites of the year in the order I like them right now.

Best Albums of 2013

Listening to the shoegaze rock of No Joy’s latest long player on Spotify most of the year was one of its greatest pleasures. To better support the band, I finally broke down and actually bought the album this past week. Even though I could’ve (and will) continue to support and listen to the effort for free on Spotify, I haven’t made a more worthwhile music purchase all year. Bringing just a little more punch to the guitar fuzz sound than my bloody valentine did on their release this year, No Joy’s haunting vocals, vibrant noise addled guitars and rhythmic beats were the soundtrack of the year for me.

Wait To Pleasure
No Joy
Mexican Summer
April 23

I’ve been aware of the Wavves post-punk offerings for several years now. Their latest sounds a little reigned in if you’re just listening to their sound, but when you start to take in their lyrics you’ll find a harsh treatise leveled at you about life and relationships that will make the skateboard rat in you not only reawaken, but wince a little at the darkened place the world has just become because of this album.

Afraid of Heights
Warner Bros.
March 26

Nick Cave’s return with his band The Bad Seeds also seems somewhat muted upon initial listening; but like Afraid of Heights, further examination reveals that the master of the hard worldview hasn’t lost a step. The Bad Seeds’ minimalistic take on Cave’s dire crooning only further emphasizes their pessimistic take on where the world is headed and reveals a simple beauty to the sermon-like delivery of Cave’s notions.

Push the Sky Away
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Bad Seed, Ltd.
February 19

There seems to be a pessimistic theme forming here as another of my favorite albums is rumored to have been born through the bitter bickering of a relationship gone bad. Said not to have been on speaking terms during the making of their self-titled effort, Joy Williams and John Paul White, who make up the band The Civil Wars, have turned in a beautiful portrait of the scorned that is matched in its harsh lyrics only by its beautiful vocal and acoustic arrangements.

The Civil Wars
The Civil Wars
Sensibility Recordings/Columbia Records
August 6

Killer Mike and El-P’s collaboration known as Run the Jewels was available briefly for free on Soundcloud months before its official release in September, thus allowing me to spend a better portion of the year with this gem than most. I lauded El-P’s Cancer for Cure on last year’s list, and this one is just as strong. The duo brings a heaviness to their beats with electronic chords that add weight to their tricky lyrics.

Run the Jewels
Run the Jewels
Fool’s Gold
September 17

How is it possible that an artist who has been dead for more than 40 years can still release an album of totally unreleased recordings that are still better than 90% of everything else out there? While many of the songs on Jimi Handrix’s latest album have been heard before in various forms, these studio recordings are all new to the ear and prove that they just don’t make ‘em like Jimi any more.

People, Hell and Angels
Jimi Hendrix
March 6

After I named Kurt Vile’s 2011 album Smoke Rings for My Halo the best album of the year, I didn’t think he could impress me as much as he did with that album again. However, with his latest Wakin’ On a Pretty Daze, he has. His unique outlook on life sings forth in his lyrics and his instrumentation. I saw a preview video of the album that showed the singer/songwriter listening to the first single while his daughter played in the background, and nothing could’ve captured the joy of this album better.

Wakin on a Pretty Daze
Kurt Vile
Matador Records
April 9

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros might be the most unique album on this list. I don’t know if the band’s sound is categorizeable in any conventional terms. They evoke a joy of life even during their darker numbers, like “This Life”. Portions of this album might come across as hokey, while others are just inspired raptures of genius. When this album plays, you want to join in with the band on their wild romp.

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
Universal Music Group
July 23

The Terror is The Flaming Lips’ best straightforward effort since Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. The album plays like the soundtrack to a psychedelic trip and one of the tracks was used for a Super Bowl ad. I check the Lips’ albums out each year, but this was the first in a while where the weirdness seemed to be at once meandering and focused. It’s the perfect chill out album of the year.

The Terror
The Flaming Lips
Warner Bros.
April 16

A couple of years ago the group Girls released Father, Son, Holy Ghost, which made my top ten in 2011. The album was a bit of a departure for the band and somehow contained tracks that spanned many different styles yet adhered to everything the band was about. New Moon is a very similar effort from The Men. Dropping most of their punk core roots, The Men span several different styles here in a visceral album that alternates between controlled ballads and hard rockers.

New Moon
The Men
Sacred Bones
March 5

Special Jury Prizes

The Special Jury Prize is something given out at most competitive film festivals to allow jurors to single out more movies than the categories themselves allow for. This year I’m awarding two special jury prizes to four different albums. How’s that for being tricky with the rules. These albums are just as good as any of the albums I’ve singled out in my top ten. They all have special significance, however, because of their unique nature.

The first set of albums are covers albums. These two stood out in a year that seemed filled with an inordinate amount of covers LPs and EPs.

The first is yet another project from The Flaming Lips, who many might remember did a cover of the entire album of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon a few years back in collaboration with the band Stadeath and White Dwarves and the individual performers Henry Rollins and Peaches. It was one of the highlights of the year. This year they’ve done it again, this time covering the entirety of The Stone Roses self-titled debut album. Stardeath is back with the Lips along with a list of collaborators too long to name here. A special Record Store Day Black Friday vinyl only release that has since become impossible to find, the project will likely become available in both digital and CD formats early in 2014.

The second doesn’t technically see an official release until January 7, 2014, but its been floating around the web in heavy rotation since September, and I’ve heard it too many times not to include it in my 2013 list. Peter Gabriel began a two-part project over four years that entailed him covering songs from some of his favorite artists on the 2010 album Scratch My Back. All the artists were then to join him for a covers album of their favorites from his catalogue. Some of the artists were disappointed with the results of his covers of their songs and backed out of the project. To be sure Scratch My Back was a let down that made for better sleep induction than homage. However, Gabriel has finally finished his passion project with only three artist substitutions from the original line up. The resulting covers of Gabriel’s work is impressive to say the least with incredible contributions by David Byrne, Lou Reed, Bon Iver, Regina Spektor, Brian Eno, Arcade Fire, Randy Newman, and Paul Simon among others.

The Time Has Come To Shoot You Down… What a Sound
The Flaming Lips & Friends
November 29

…And I’ll Scratch Yours
Peter Gabriel & Friends
Real World Productions
January 7, 2014

The second set of albums come from the world of cinema. I usually include at least one soundtrack album in my list each year. This year there were two that stood out, and both involved one artist in particular who has championed the return of electronic scoring to Hollywood. The electronic score has been making a comeback for quite some time with filmmakers frequently taping well-known pop bands to score their material. However, when Daft Punk, The Chemical Brothers or M83 are already booked, Cliff Martinez is the man to call if you want to go electronic.

Early in the year, Martinez collaborated with hip-hop artist Skrillex for the powerful and dramatic soundtrack to Harmony Korine’s controversial film “Spring Breakers”. Later in the year he flew solo to score to the even more controversial and divisive film “Only God Forgives”. Both albums are worthy of this list.

Spring Breakers
Cliff Martinez & Skrillex
Big Beat Records/Atlantic
March 12

Only God Forgives
Cliff Martinez
Milan Records
July 16

Best EPs of 2013

The extended play has always been one of my favorite format lengths. I’m not a singles man. I like something containing more than just one song. However, sometime those long players—especially since the dawn of the deluxe edition—can go on a little longer than I’d like. The EP is a great solution to that problem. It also allows artists to get tracks out to the public that don’t quite fit into the themes of an entire album, or different versions that can be just as good, if not better, than the album versions.

I’ve included five EPs on this list, although there were a good deal more worthy of mention. The first shares its number one status with its sister on the album list for the same band, No Joy. The second is also from a band that I just can’t seem to escape this year. Having already earned a spot on my album list and a special jury prize, perhaps the biggest accomplishment by The Flaming Lips this year was their break into the mainstream with a Super Bowl ad spot and by contributing scoring elements to the Hollywood franchise effort “Ender’s Game”, which makes up their Peace Sword EP. They sold out without selling out their sound. Elvis Costello & The Roots would’ve landed a spot on my top ten on any other year with their collaboration album Wise Up Ghost. They get the next best thing here with some excellent reworks from that album. Bhi Bhiman joins the covers movement with his remarkable collection of acoustic 80s covers from the likes of Tom Petty, AC/DC, The Police, Talking Heads, Dire Straits and Dio. And finally, while their introductory EP was technically posted on Bandcamp in December of last year, word didn’t really get around about the soul rocking of St. Paul & The Broken Bones until about mid-summer. Their debut LP is scheduled to drop February 14, 2014.

Pastel and Pass Out
No Joy
Mexican Summer
November 5

Peace Sword
The Flaming Lips
Warner Bros.
October 29

Wise Up: Thought Remixes & Reworks
Elvis Costello & The Roots
Blue Note Records
December 17

Substitute Preacher
Bhi Bhiman
Boocoo Music

Greetings from St. Paul & The Broken Bones
St. Paul & The Broken Bones
December 8, 2012

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