Still cleaning the confetti and party poppers of all the 2013 pop culture… here are my thoughts about the music.
Three favorite Releases of 2013 (in descending order)
I know “Song for Zula” is the marquee song on this one, but I don’t really think of this record in terms of individual songs. Muchacho, for me, is a record that is tied to the summer of 2013 and worked as soundtrack music to my mundane adventures. I first listened to it at Logan Airport on my way back from a conference in New Hampshire. I found myself zoning out to this album while staring at a neck pillow kiosk; these weird yelps from “Ride On/Right On” synching with various passer-bys trying on these neck pillows. It added this epic feel to the most pedestrian of scenes. Muchacho was also a big part of a trip to Costa Rica with some friends later in the summer. Here, the record again worked to provide context and soundtrack to what was essentially a coked-up Miami Vice mansion in the middle of a tropical paradise. I don’t really have a tangible reason why I love this album so much, but the fact that it meshed perfectly with these two totally different locales without missing a beat has to say something…
2. Kanye West/Yeezus
I swear I’m not trying to be contrarian, but this is my favorite Kanye release thus far; in fact, it is the only one that I really like at all. Weird then, that what is considered to be his coldest, most abrasive record yet is the one that I find most accessible. Now… there is some troublesome content here, mostly having to do with his lyrics in regards to women. His boasts make me squirm in embarrassment for him, as does his Bound 2 video. But the fact that he actually created that Bound 2 video is really interesting, right? What kind of a person thinks that capturing the mood of that particular song with images of wild stallions, boobs and motorcycles is the right choice? It is just so beautifully ridiculous. I don’t know- I find him equally hilarious, embarrassing, stupid, incisive, and fascinating, and the same can be said of Yeezus. At least for me.
1. Vampire Weekend/Modern Vampires of the City:
I thought this would be a boring choice, and maybe it is. But I can’t really believe Vampire Weekend made my favorite record of the year. I hated- HATED- their first two records; they both reeked of smugness and just a whisper of sanctimony. Didn’t care for their appropriation of world music or that pseudo-Africana Peter Gabriel shit. I was NOT excited about the prospect of album #3. Then it arrived… and I kept listening and listening. “Diane Young” grabbed me during an SNL performance, and then “Step” revealed itself. “Step”, by the way, is the best song of 2013. I have been unpacking the lyrics there since I first heard it, but I don’t necessarily care what Ezra Koenig is getting at. I am more interested in how he shapes his vocals around the lyrics- the dips and valleys as he maneuvers his voice around words such as Angkor Wat, Berkeley and Alameda. His vocal dexterity is pretty impressive; check out “Worship You” for an example of that. And “Hannah Hunt” is a beautiful slow build. I read a review of this record recently that described their first two albums as (and I’m paraphrasing) “made by an obnoxious kid who is too smart for his own good, and then mellows out upon getting a girlfriend. Modern Vampires of the City is the record when Vampire Weekend gets a girlfriend.” That sums it up pretty well.
Close but no guitar (the next five or so)
4. National/Trouble Will Find Me
5. Daft Punk/Random Access Memories
6. Earl Sweatshirt/Doris
7. Chance the Rapper/Acid Rap
8. Foxygen/We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
Songs for a compilation (without using any songs from my top 5)
- James Blake/Retrograde
- Earl Sweatshirt/Pre feat. SK La’Flare
- HAIM/The Wire
- I Blame Myself/Sky Ferreira
- Courtney Barnett/Avent Gardener
- Danny Brown/ Side B (Dope Song)
- Daft Punk feat. Julian Casablancas/Instant Crush
- Pusha T/Nosetalgia
- MGMT/Alien Days
- Schoolboy Q/Collard Greens
- Superchunk/Me and You and Jackie Mitoo
- Okkervil River/Where the Spirit Left Us
- MIkal Cronin/Weight
- Jason Isbell/Elephant
- Majical Cloudz/Bugs Don’t Buzz
- ASAP Rocky/Wild for the Night
- ASAP Ferg/Shabba
- Chance the Rapper/Good Ass Intro
- Arcade Fire/Here Comes the Nighttime
- National/Pink Rabbits
- Julia Holter/Hello Stranger
Favorite show of the year:
Saw exactly zero shows in 2013. BUT… I did teach a class focusing on live performance to 8th graders. We did a two-week examination of the 1960s through two documentaries: Woodstock and Gimme Shelter. Neither one of these documentaries has very good live music on them (although the Joe Cocker stuff from Woodstock needs to be seen to be believed); instead, the live performance serves as a framework of the spirit of the 1960s working perfectly (Woodstock) and then crashing and burning (Gimme Shelter). Aside from the Hell’s Angels, there was not a whole lot of difference between the concept and planning for these two separate concerts that were separated by a time period of merely 4 months or so. So why was one an unqualified success and emblematic of all that was good about the 1960s and the other was nothing less than a descent into hell? Anyway, these two docs are must-sees for any fan of live performance.
Oh, you could do worse than Googling Queen’s Live Aid performance in 1985. Watch Freddie Mercury hold a billion people in the palm of his hand.
The one song I want you to listen to from 2013
“Step” by Vampire Weekend.
Okay, you can go anytime. Seriously. Get out.
Avett Brothers. Has Vest Rock run its course?
I never thought I’d like it, but I do:
Thankfully I did not give up on:
“Fantastic Voyage”- David Bowie (Lodger), “Rainbows”- Dennis Wilson (Pacific Ocean Blue), “Marley Purt Drive”- Bee Gees (Odessa), “To Be A Lover”- Billy Idol (Whiplash Smile), “A New Career in a New Town”-David Bowie (Low), “Pressure”- Billy Joel (The Nylon Curtain), “Sword of Damocles”- Lou Reed (Magic & Loss)
Big fan, but damn this was disappointing:
Justin Timberlake. FutureSex/Love Sounds was the best Prince album since Sign O’ The Times. The 20/20 Experience (both parts) was boring and indulgent. I didn’t even really dig his SNL appearances- he keeps repeating variations on the same sketches that he did 5 years ago. I don’t know- I wouldn’t say he’s coasting, but I think he overestimated how far we are willing to go with him.
Thought he was hilarious in Llewyn Davis, however.
To do list (need to give it more time or a real first-try):
Yo La Tengo