Here’s a slew of records, many of which probably deserve more attention, but that I am nonetheless finished with for the moment. Some were easy enough and others I agonized over, especially considering some of my lower A Minus records that I’m not so sure about. Very possible that I like a few of the top-tier entries here more than them, but I find myself unable to justify their purchase, and I also plan to have another entry (at some point) addressing grade deflation—there’s a handful of records I recommended earlier in the year I no longer would. But what do you want? I’m not professional and I don’t get paid for this shit, so I can afford to be imperfect and fickle. So fuck you, too.
I’ve got another eighty records or so that I heard from 2013 that are so far ungraded, many of them with some sort of notes scribbled about them on a big messy Word doc, and maybe I’ll list them at some time. Point being that unless someone gets me to thinking I skimmed over something I should have investigated further, I’ll bury them permanently. And then there’re those releases I barely bothered with, if at all—Lady Gaga, Drake, Danny Brown, CHVRCHES, etc.—and the plenty with which I was less-than-impressed—Daft Punk, Haim, Arctic Monkeys. As critics’ lists pour in, I find the current top twenty compiled by Metacritic seriously at odds with myself. Of those twenty, only five I’ve recommended (one forthcoming), four I haven’t heard, and an additional four I think are remarkably overrated. I seriously do not understand what anyone’s getting out of Arctic Monkeys’ AM.
That said, it’s doubtful this year’s projected runaway victor, Kanye West’s Yeezus, will make it into my list. I B Plussed it with three stars, good enough that I’ll spin it once or twice more before I dump my list, but even if I upgrade it I can’t imagine it cracking my top twenty, much less my top ten. That’s not to say I don’t understand the excitement; it sure as hell blew his best friend’s record out of the water. My fear, though, is that if Yeezus is the definitive record of the year, and by extension the definitive hip-hop album of the year, then my appreciation for hip-hop is even less than I suspected. But I don’t know. My honest-to-God feeling is that 2013 was a real bust for hip-hop outside of M.I.A.
On another (and final) note, I thought it was a raucously good year for punk rock and ‘world’ music, and I also thought there were plenty of decent jazz releases—that is, of course, if you can stomach avant junk. The punk surplus is a surprise, world music less so; considering the bevy of albums of artists around the world, it shouldn’t be a surprise that a whole lot of them are top-notch. However, considering one (especially an amateur) can only find and digest so much and still surface with a lot of better than average material, it’s a miracle I found as much as I did. With punk, I found three to four times as many punk albums in my best-of as I did last year, and many more that rank highly in Honorable Mentions—depending on how elastic you consider the term ‘punk rock.’
But enough pussyfooting. Here’s what you came for. Listed in order of preference, where more * is better, sometimes listed with recommended songs, sometimes not.
NEIL YOUNG – Live at the Cellar Door (Reprise): Live solo set circa 1972, a part of his ‘archive’ series, just Neil switching between piano and acoustic guitar, five from his ‘new’ After the Gold Rush, includes the another recording of the elusive “Bad Fog of Loneliness.” Note to self: investigate these archives further. (“Only Love Can Break Your Heart,” “After the Gold Rush”) ***
NEKO CASE – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You (ANTI-): Washingtonian singer-songwriter and New Pornographers contributor’s sixth, alt-country with Fleetwood Mac-ish pop/rock. (“Man,” “City Swans”) ***
EZRA FURMAN & THE HARPOONS – Day of the Dog (Bar/None): Pop/punk guy from who knows where, probably his second album with this band. Goes long, but when he puts it in Modern Lovers mode he comes out all right. (“I Wanna Destroy Myself,” “Anything Can Happen”) ***
BOAT – Pretend to Be Brave (Magic Marker): Good to know we’ve a backup should anything happen to Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks. Read: Not Pavement. (“Pretend to Be Brave,” “Hating the Criminal”) ***
NO AGE – An Object (Sub Pop): Noise rockers go Ramones. (“C’mon, Stimmung,” “Circling With Dizzy”) ***
MODERAT – II (MonkeyTown): Second Modeselektor/Apparat collab feat. a mystery vocalist surely cited in the liner notes I don’t have. Heaven-made foils for each other, Sacha Ring mellowing Bronsert and Szary’s dub-club tendencies and the duo forcing Ring’s impressionistic naval-gazing synths to capitulate into something with rhythm. Preferable to their eponymous debut. (“Bad Kingdom”) ***
CATE LE BON – Mug Museum (Turnstile): She keeps getting labeled as folk, but she’s a Nico doppelganger dressed up in Jefferson Airplane/Big Brother instrumentation. Better than 2012’s Cyrk, but still falls prey to petering out after about four or five tracks, resorting to slow, minimally instrumented Jim Morrison poesy pondering. If only she could realize the out-the-gate melody-heavy psych-stomps are her interesting side, but what solo singer wants to admit her band is better than she is? (“Are You With Me Now”) ***
BURIAL – Truant / Rough Sleeper (Hyperdub): Londoner William Bevan’s two-track, twenty-five minute, could-be single. Atmospheric, its division inaudible, its shifts slight yet intuitive. Not surprising that he and his sometimes-collaborator Kieran Hebden are alumni of the same school. ***
SLEIGH BELLS – Bitter Rivals (Mom + Pop): Alison Krauss’s explosiveness hasn’t waned nor has it gotten tiring, but in question is the seeming stagnation of the tunes’ melodicism, a major reason the bombast of Reign of Terror and Treats held their own heavy metal weight. And I think the band realizes that, since the sound of “Sugarcane” recalls “Comeback Kid” and “To Hell With You” acting as the poorer cousin of “You Lost Me.” But not all’s lost: “Sing Like a Wire” and “Tiger Kit” perpetuate their powerful guitar licks and bass drum domination and occasionally kick out the good lyric: “It’s a terrifying thing, the American dream,” a muffled Krauss contends. Their shortest work, this not quite half hour slips by without making as much an impression as their earlier stuff. (“Sing Like a Wire,” “Tiger Kit”) **
SWEARIN’ – Surfing Strange (Salinas): Katie Crutchfield’s (aka Waxahatchee) sister Allison’s band makes another rock album. Couldn’t get my hands on that or their collaborative P.S. Eliot, but can imagine A is better suited as K’s sidekick rather than as her own frontwoman. **
DELTRON 3030 – Event II (Bulk): With a slew of guest spots, Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Kid Koala, and Dan the Automater issue a decade-late sequel of corporate wastelands put right by intergalactic superhero Deltron 3030. Not terribly received by the powers-that-be, probably because Del’s delivery is old skool and uninflected, but his diatribes and condemnations are both stimulating and creative, and Dan the Automater’s/Kid Koala’s production works track for track without need to adjust tone despite the guest in question. **
AVISHAI COHEN – Duende (Sunnyside): Israeli bassist pairs with Tel Aviv native Nitai Hershkovits on piano, covers Coltrane, Monk, and Porter, swings awfully close towards neo-classical, but also has splendid originals like “Ann’s Tune.” Not too long; nine tracks over thirty-five minutes. (“Ann’s Tune”) **
YUCK – Glow & Behold (Fat Possum): With the departure of co-founder Daniel Blumberg (lead vocals/guitar), his worse half Max Bloom mans the helm, resulting in a record tamer than their debut. Instead of that album’s rip-roaring second act that perked my ears and kept me going back, they instead focus more heavily on the spacey guitar wash that makes up the front end. Not that it’s bad. It’s just less interesting. **
FUTURE BIBLE HEROES – Partygoing (Merge): Magnetic Fields’ ringleader Stephin Merritt and co-kook-vocalist Claudia Gonson’s side project equals another exercise in drawing from their seemingly infinite well of melodies. (“Living, Loving, Partygoing”) **
THE DISMEMBERMENT PLAN – Uncanney Valley (PTFK): From what I gather, this sounds like none of their earlier work, hence the uproar regarding this reformation. But it’s pleasant enough indie pop/rock, sleek-yet-sterile melodies with a light coat of ‘tude. (“Lookin’”) *
ELIZABETH MORRIS – Optimism (Bandcamp download EP): Four song set by Allo Darlin’ frontwoman on piano and acoustic guitar, each enjoyable enough, probably worth the few pounds, but so bare bones these serve as sketches to be filled in by her band rather than a strong solo statement. *
SERENGETI – C.A.B. (Anticon EP): David Cohn’s third ’13 release, seven songs, 21.5 minutes, unreleased material from the C.A.R. and Kenny Dennis EP sessions, although he claims they’re not leftovers. Which, of course, is why it was released with no fanfare, was free on Bandcamp for a hot minute, and isn’t as good as either of those. (“Don’t Give a Damn”) *
EL-P & KILLER MIKE – Run the Jewels (Fool’s Gold): Sure know how to open and close records; could use a lesson on how to fill ‘em. (“Run the Jewels”) *
LORDE – Pure Heroine (Universal): Sidestepping the discussion of whether New Zealander Yelich-O’ Connor’s hit “Royals” is racist, I’d just like to say it’s this kind of minimalist, lo-fi pop-hop that’s got about as much flavor as an ice cube. (“Royals”) *
CULTS – Static (Columbia): Sophomore album by syrupy duo. Not as heavy on the regalia of 50’s girl pop, but a ditched pseudo-ID places their pop amongst the background noise of every other indie twosome, hence the title. (“I Can Hardly Make You Mine”) *
CULTS – Cults (Columbia ’11): New York duo Madeline Follin and Brian Oblivion mix 60’s girl group pop with beats just big enough, only their vision of 60’s pop is the Shangri-Las, not the Supremes. All of which results in sickening sugary-sweet vocals over choruses deceiving you with their supposed catchiness, though sooner rather than later do the constant glucose injections feel like an overdose. (“Abducted”) *
DAFT PUNK – Random Access Memory (Columbia): Porno soundtracks of the future! (“Get Lucky,” “Lose Yourself to Dance”) *
JAKE BUGG – Shangri La (Mercury): Besides the opening number, the buck stops here with folkies-of-lore comparisons. He’s a pop star, plain and simple, and if he just so happens to sneer like Dylan and strum like Donovan, so be it. He’s as harmful as he is charismatic. And guess how much that is? (“There’s a Beast and We All Feed It”) *