Wednesday, January 1, 2014

What I enjoyed listening to in 2013

Greetings all,

2013 was a year, huh? Miley twerked, we found out what the fox said, we all shook it like we were in Harlem, and a number of artists put out some amazing music which broke through the noise coming from the mainstream.

It was such a good year that any of these albums, depending on the mood I am in, could be my favourite album. It's tough to put together a ranking, but I think I did alright.

Here are the albums I enjoyed the most from 2013.

1. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
 There wasn’t a better album which was dropped this year than the third album of this New York band. Continuing the influences which brought them success (African rhythms and strong pop-harmonies), the band matures significantly with this release.

Exra Koening, lead singer, said the album was the end of a trilogy. If Vampire Weekend was the first year of college record and Contra was the record as college was coming to an end, Modern Vampires is the album for making your way in the world. Dealing with jobs, the passage of time and adult fears. Here are some of the lyrics he sings
“Wisdom’s a gift, but you’d trade it for youth,” –Step

"Ah you outta spare your face the razor
Because no one’s gonna spare the time for you
You outta spare the world your labor
It’s been 20 years and no one’s told the truth" – Obvious Bicycle

Despite the heavy subject matter, musically, it’s the most accomplished. Tracks like Diane Young, a Buddy Holly by way of The Clash scorcher, show how the band have perfectly honed their influences, and are probably the most fun you can hear live. They sound less like a band aping Afrobeat and indie rock, but their own sound.

The future is looking bright for these kids. I wonder what is next.

Key tracks: Unbelievers, Step, Diane Young, Hannah Hunt, Ya Hey,

2. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

There is a reason Daft Punk are probably the only electronic act I’ll ever enjoy. They’re forward thinking They don’t follow trends; they make the new ones. Consider electronic music before Homework and Discovery, and look at it after. It takes a while, but eventually the mainstream catches on.

When Random Access Memories was dropped, the reaction from EDM bros was hilarious to see. Daft Punk don’t make music based on the popular formula of “drops,” “bangers” and whatever else is popular. They strive to make inhuman music…well human after all.

The album sees the duo pay tribute to those who paved the way for their music (Giogio Moroder, Nile Rodgers), those who they love in the present O9Pharrel, Julian Casablancas) and the artists of the future (Panda Bear). The music evokes the coolest club in the 1970’s, the most chill atmosphere in your living room, and the best party where everyone feels welcome.

Plus, it contained Get Lucky, which in my opinion, was the song of the year.

Key tracks: Giorgio by Moroder, Get Lucky, Instant Crush, Doin’ it Right, Contact.

3. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

I loved seeing the hipster backlash to this album, trying to find reasons. It had been brewing since The Suburbs won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 2011, and was expected. Shouldn’t you want to see a band succeed, rather than not be recognized for their great music?

Admittedly, I was skeptical at first when I heard the album was going to be a double album (even the best ones are bloated), and that they incorporated the dance rock every indie band and their mother has incorporated in the past year (could be the James Murphy/LCD Soundsystem influence), but when I finally opened the package and heard the album, I was blown away.

For a double album, it just flies right by when listening to it. I love the Talking Heads and Haitian music influence throughout, I love the albums lyrics about the modern age, and it is just…fun to listen to.
Those knocking this album can keep their tuneless lo-fi garbage recorded in the Albert’s bathroom. I’ll be sitting here enjoying this.

Key Tracks: Reflektor, Flashbulb Eyes, Here Comes the Night time, Afterlife, Supersymmetry.

4. Paul McCartney – NEW

Paul has been on a creative high since the late 1990’s, and despite a misstep (last year’s dull standards collection Kisses on the Bottom), his work has been top notch. NEW continues this tradition. It’s pop perfection, harkening back to The Beatles in several spots, but also charting new territory. Even his experimental electronic tracks are interesting; it feels more like he is using electronics to enhance ideas, and not like 71 year old man trying to be hip to what the kids like. Plus, he’s dabbled in electronic before (The Firemen)

The thing I enjoy the most about listening to McCartney is the sheer optimism of his music. It makes me feel good, and I regret getting into him late.

Key tracks: Alligator, On My Way to Work, Early Days, New

5. David Bowie – The Next Day

David Bowie has not released a full length album of new material since 2003. He has not performed since a one-off appearance in 2007. Then, on his 66th birthday, he announces he has recorded an album in secret to be released in March.

It’s a good one. Bowie sounds lively and engergized, which is great, considering the rumours regarding his health over the past few years. It’s spacey, atmospheric, and Bowie’s voice is still strong after 10 years out of the spotlight. There’s a reflective nature in several of the tracks, and if it ends up being Bowie’s last album, it’s a great way to go out.

We need to appreciate guys like Bowie, McCartney, the late Lou Reed, and other older rock stars. These guys are once in a lifetime, and are very hard to replace.

Key tracks: The Stars are out Tonight, Where are we Now?, Valentine’s Day, Heat.

6. Kanye West – Yeezus

I bet this one will be a little controversial for sure;

What can be said about Kanye West that hasn’t already been said? Yes, he’s egotistical, narcissistic, and every other descriptor you can mention. He also is the one artist in hip-hop who pushes it ahead with almost every album.

808’s and Heartbreak? After it was released, every rapper went through a instrospective auto-tuned phase. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, although I feel it’s overrated, has incredible production, and is a unique album for sure. Yeezus is harsh, distorted, dark in places. It simultaneously pushes you away and draws you in closer with each listen. In a year, we’ll be seeing more rap albums which sound like this.

Yeezus isn’t perfect. There’s still a number of cringeworthy lines, and it sort of falls apart after Blood on the Leaves. If he stopped after that song, the highpoint of the album, Yeezus would probably be the best EP of the year. It’s still one of the best, especially production wise, but not THE best. Sorry Mr. West. Deal with it as you count your millions and build a mountain in an arena.

Key Tracks: Black skinhead, New Slaves, Hold my liquor, Blood on the Leaves.

7. Neko Case -The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You,

Case returns with a collection of music perfect for a lonely night, driving around the city at 11 p.m., nursing a broken heart. Her earthy voice aches through twelve tracks of longing, loneliness, heartbreak, backed with sparse arrangements which showcase her skills as a musician, but when she let’s loose, she’s incredible.
Key tracks:  Night Still Comes, Man, City Swans, Afraid

8 Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks

I love this band, and was ecstatic to hear they’d be putting out a new album. It’s the sound of a more mature artist, with evidence of work from his Academy award winning film scores, rewarding repeats listens. Less harsh than his past output, more cerebral, and a nice blend of rhythm and groove. Sounds amazing on headphones. NIN Version 2.0 is here
Key Tracks: Copy of A, Came Back Haunted, Satellite, In Two

9. Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
The title is ironic, as several factors delayed the release of the album. However, Clockwork is worth the wait. Heavy, hypnotic hard rock that is so well-done, it puts almost everything else on rock radio to shame.
Key tracks: Keep your eyes peeled, The Vampyre of Time and Memory, My God is the Sun, I Appear Missing

10. Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt

The grunge legends are no slouches when it comes to making a great rock album, but while 2009’s Backspacer was a little slight, Lightning Bolt feels urgent, energetic, reminding listeners of what Eddie Vedder and company are still capable of.
Key Tracks: Mind your Manners, Sirens, Lightning Bolt, Let the Records Play

11. The National – Trouble Will Find Me
The National have been remarkable consistent since the release of Alligator, and trouble will find me continues their strong showcase of gloomy rock that reveals more with each listen. A great winter album, though I am wondering how much longer they can keep it up.
Key Tracks: I Should Live in Salt, Don't Swallow the Cap, This is the Last Time, Graceless

12. Matthew Good – Arrows of Desire
Canadian rock stand-by, after a pair of experimental; albums, gets back to basics on his sixth solo album. Good told me in an interview the album was inspired by music he listen to in his youth, like The Pixies, and it shows.
Key Tracks: Arrows of Desire, Had it Coming, Guns of Carolina, Letters in Wartime.

Honourable mentions: 
Atoms for Peace – AMOK, 
Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady, 
Phoenix – Bankrupt, 
Lorde- Pure Heroine, 
The Strokes – Comedown Machine, 
The Perpetrators- Stick ‘em Up

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