Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Because Best-Of Lists Are Crap: Favorite Music Of 2013

Oy vey! Where exactly did 2013 go? It seems like I just wrote one of these Year-End lists last month ...er, 12 months ago. 

The twenty-unlucky saw the passing of Nelson Mandela (R.I.P.), the botched Obamacare website roll-out and Fox News' Megyn Kelly telling everyone Santa Claus can only be a whiter shade of pale. Oh, and "selfie" is the Oxford Dictionary's word of the year.

So, yeah: Oy vey!

Of course, 2013 was also another great year in music. And as many news reporting outlets will tell you, this years theme was... 1990's revivalism? Feminist empowerment? Kanye West's Kanye Westness? Yes, all of that and so much more. 

Indeed, 90's stalwarts such as Polvo, Daft Punk and My Bloody Valentine released long-awaited records this year. Female-fronted bands and musicians like Haim, The Julie Ruin and Beyoncé kinda, sorta, almost revived the long-too-dormant corpse of riot grrrl (I guess). And Kanye West released the best record ever recorded by a human being in the history of the world, or something like that (just ask these guys).

There was also the bitter rivalry between the reformed members of legendary L.A. punk rockers Black Flag and former members of that band, who go under the litigation-attracting moniker of Flag. Trent Reznor, who also released an album this year, simultaneously cast shade on The Arcade Fire's newest release while praising Davis Bowie's latest for being an rewarding repeat listener. And Kim Deal left the Pixies only to be replaced by The Muffs' Kim Shattuck, who was herself fired by the Frank Black via fax soon after. Yowza!

So the theme of this year (and really, doesn't every year require a theme?) really seemed to be a year in music looking for a theme. Soak in the mete, music reviewers!

Here then is my list of the 10 records I enjoyed the most from 2013. Please note that this most definitely is not a best-of list. Best-of lists are highly contentious and staggeringly stupid, and I don't purport to be one of those end-all, be-all music-reviewing taste maker hacks. That being said, here is my list of favorite recordings of the year:


1. My Bloody Valentine
m b v
Self-released
Song: "Only Tomorrow" (mp3)

In the 22-year span between the dizzying swirl that is My Bloody Valentine's great sonic achievement, Loveless, and this, their latest album, promises of a follow-up strung fans along just enough become punchlines; after a while, it just didn't seem like it was ever going to happen. Then, one day earlier this year, Kevin Shields emerged from his control room and simply dropped m b v off at the Internet. As the nine songs on this album (six gauzy and dream-drenched, three bombastic and anxiety-inducing) would soon prove, that 22 year duration was worth the wait. Lacking Loveless's narrative arch, m b v is instead the sound of a band subtly expanding its fingertips further; each song here is its own vaporous, stand alone module. Belinda Butcher's breathy vocals are still the perfect compliment to Shield's tone-shifting perfectionism, as illustrated on tracks such as "New You," "Only Tomorrow" and the utterly sublime "If I Am." But it's the final act of this album that provides a honey-powered sonic wallop of droning energy surges (a counter-point to the album's chime-swept harmonic opener, "She Found Now"l), thus making, m b v a glorious, floating maelstrom to behold. Now we just need to wait for that promised follow-up EP to come out, give or take an additional 22 years. But let's hope it doesn't come to that.
 
2. Parquet Courts
Light Up Gold
Song: "Stoned and Starving" (via Bandcamp)

3. Perfect Pussy
I Have Lost All Desire For Feeling (Cassette EP)
Self-released
Song: "I" (mp3)

4. Latyrx
The Second Record
Latyramid, Inc.
Song: "Exclamation Point Feat. Forrest Day" (via Soundcloud)

5. Sky Larkin
Motto
Wichita Recordings
Song: "Motto" (via Soundcloud)

6. Robert Pollard
Honey Locust Honky Tonk
GBV, Inc.
Song: "I Killed a Man That Looks Like You" (via Soundcloud)

7. Yo La Tengo
Fade
Matador Records
Song: "Ohm" (mp3)

8. Julia Holter
Loud City Songs
Song: "Maxim's I" (via Soundcloud)

9. Grouper
The Man Who Died In His Boat
Song: "Vital" (mp3)

10. Johnny Marr
The Messenger
Song: "The Right Thing Right" (mp3)


And now that I've provided you with a "Wait!-What-about-so-and-so?-They-released-one-of-the-best-albums-of-the-year.-This-list-is-bullshit!" list, here is a list of my other favorite things of the year:


Favorite Album Cover

Kanye West  
Yeezus
Def Jam Records
www.defjam.com

There's something deceptively brilliant about the spartan cover "artwork" gracing Kanye West's equally hyped and celebrated 2013 release. On the face of it, the cover of Yeezus literally doesn't seem like much: a clear CD case, Def Jam legalese gracing the outer edge of the disc itself and red overlapping sticker securing the whole shebang. It's almost as if West is intimating that the contents of this album actually matter more than the packaging around it. Any way you look at it, however, the Yeezus album cover is pretty damned iconic.


Favorite Song

Pharrell Williams
"Happy"
From the Despicable Me 2 Motion Picture Soundtrack
Back Lot Music

Every once in a while a mainstream song will come along that is just too damned good for my curmudgeonly, snobbish sensibilities to ignore. "Happy" by Pharrell Williams is one such song. Soulful, jubilant and and in possession of one hell of an addictive, hook-laden chorus, "Happy," (from the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack and Farrell's recently released epic 24-hour "12AM" music video), simply makes me happy when (repeatedly) listening to it. I honestly can't recall the last song that's made the same, dynamic impression on me quite like this one. Along with Batkid, "Happy" has possibly restored my faith in humanity. And that's saying a lot.

Here's Williams' anti-depression ode to joyousness and movement:




Favorite Video

Julie Ruin
"Oh Come On"
From the album Run Fast
Dischord Records

I love this video because it reminds me of those video from the 90's. You know the ones: a tight confined stage decorated with Christmas lights and shit, while all-up-in-their-grills camera zooms catch each and every face mug a seemingly unselfconscious band could muster. Stone Temple Pilots had one of these type of vidoes, but they were all way too serious and precious about it. The Julie Ruin's video for "Oh Come On" on the other hand is cheeky and fun. Plus, this song rocks in a crunchy-meets-shrieky way, and it definitely would not be at home on the Crow Motion Picture Soundtrack.




Favorite Live Show

Photo: OregonLive.com
Neko Case
The Pioneer Courthouse Square
Portland, OR
September 8th, 2013

Neko Case is an amazing songwriter, as her latest album The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You so easily illustrates. So it stands to reason that this gifted musician and storyteller (who also celebrated her 40th birthday this crisp, late summer night) would put on a good live show. Entering the cordoned-off (and packed!) Pioneer Square in the heart of downtown Portland, little did I know I'd be witnessing one of the best, most rollicking and absolutely fun live musical performances I've seen in a long, long time. Armed only with her songs, talent and wit, Neko Case and her band blazed through songs new and old, reverberating off the towering old building surrounding "Portland's Livingroom." Almost as lively and entertaining as the music itself, was the between-song banter between Case, her back-up singer Kelly Hogan, and the bearded "AARP" fellas in the band. Thinking back on this show - which benefited Cover Oregon, the state's new and regrettably flawed online medical marketplace - puts a smile on my face and the warm fuzzies in my heart. Damn good show, Ms. Case. Damn good!


Favorite Record Label

Sacred Bones Records
www.sacredbonesrecords.com

Okay, so none of the records on that list of 10 up there came out on Sacred Bones. So, why is this my favorite record label of the year. Because they released Crystal Stilts criminally over-looked album, Nature Noir. Because they released not one, not two, but three David Lynch-related records this year: Twin Peaks Season Two Music and More, the deluxe edition of the Eraserhead soundtrack and Lynch's latest album, The Big Dream. Because I like the uniformity of their album artwork, with the Sacred Bones logo in the upper left-hand corner. Because this New York-based label has a deep well of amazing artists such as Pharmakon, Moon Duo, The Men, Psychic Ills, etc. on their roster. Because they have awesome compilations like Killed By Deathrock Vol. 1 and Five Years of Sacred Bones Records. Because they kind of have a spooky vibe to 'em despite no overt appearances of being "spooky." Because I said so.


Favorite Movie

In A World
Written, Directed and Starring Lake Bell
Roadside Attractions
www.roadsideattractions.com

While 2013 gave cinema a bevy of truly fantastic films (12 Years a Slave, Her and Dallas Buyers Club, to name but a few), the one movie that I keep coming back to from this year is Lake Bell's fun, witty and observant directorial debut, In A World. Bell, of Children's Hospital fame, turns in a breezy and truly funny indie - which she also wrote and stars in - that taking place in that ever nebulous world of voiceover acting. Here she plays Carol, an underachieving voice acting coach, who when we meet her, is crashing with her father, Sam (Fred Melamed) - a man who also happens to be a legend in the voiceover community. Spurned by her father's lack of support, Carol seeks to land a sweetheart gig doing the voiceover for the trailer of a potential summer blockbuster in the Hunger Games vein, thus pitting her not only against her father, but another, more vainglorious voice actor, played by Ken Marino. Co-starring a host of familiar actors and comedians from shows such as Parks and Recreation, Party Down, The League, etc., In A World is at once a smart, charming and funny film. If this is what Lake Bell is capable of now, I can't see what she comes up with next.




Favorite Book

The Wes Anderson Collection by Matt Zoller Seitz
Abrams Books
www.abramsbooks.com

One of these year-end reviews I'm going to actually review a novel that came that given year. Something with characters and plot and accolades on the front and back covers. I swear. How does next year sound? Until then, let me tell you about this coffee table blunt object, The Wes Anderson Collection. Written by Matt Zoller Seitz, this voluminous tome stretches over all seven of Wes Anderson's theatrically released films to date, featuring not only essays on each film, but a dearth of on-set images, behind the scenes photos, fan artwork, collected ephermera, compare and contrast still from films that inspired Anderson's work, and a spate of interviews with the director himself. More than any other book on the subject, Zoller Seitz gives fans of Wes Anderson's films the closest, revealing and colorful behind-the-curtain glimpses into what makes Wes Anderson's films so endearing and important to this filmmaker's fans.

Favorite Thing

Levi's 511 Commuter Jeans
www.levis.com

I'm a Levi's jeans guy. I've owned jeans by other manufacturers, but honestly, they weren't quite the same. Levi's has a fit and feel that fits my considerable tuchus just right. As a bicycle rider, Levi's 514's have just enough give in the legs when riding, and the back pocket fits a U-Lock perfectly. But leave it to Levis to come up with the skinnier, more stretchy 511 Commuter Jeans. These 511's feature many rider-centric amenities, such as reflective strips inside the pant leg (so when you roll them up, the strip is on the outside cuff), a U-lock loop on the beltline over the back pocket, and water-resistant/dirt-repellent protective finish. Oh, and they pretty damned comfortable, to boot. My tuchus never had it so good.

Lastly, here are some Christmas presents for your ears. Just follow the links to my 8tracks.com some-songs-of-the-year compilations (click on the captions below the cover artwork):

Days of Past Past Futures - Vol. 1
Days of Past Futures - Vol. 2
Days of Past Futures - Vol. 3
Days of Past Futures - Vol. 4
Days of Past Futures - Vol. 5



Happy Birthday, Amy! XOXO

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