You are Beautiful and You are Alone: The Top Albums of 2013 December 30, 2013Posted by Richard Bolisay in Music, Yearend.
Omission or overstatement is always a possibility, and year-end lists thrive in risks, in flaws and fallacies, in misjudgment and misplacement. They exist for these reasons. They conclude a year the same way desserts complete a meal, hence at first they must capture one’s attention, and when eaten must be satisfying, must be gone in only a matter of seconds, leaving the plate and the spoon clean. Well, at least, that’s the idea. And the ideal.
This personal list tries and fails, but it has always believed in trying.
II, Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Carrier, The Dodos
Faint Hearted, Miles
Field of Reeds, These New Puritans
The Flower Lane, Ducktails
Hummingbird, Local Natives
In Focus?, Shugo Tokumaru
MCII, Mikal Cronin
The Messenger, Johnny Marr
Push the Sky Away, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Season of Your Day, Mazzy Star
Slow Focus, Fuck Buttons
Stories Don’t End, Dawes
We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, Foxygen
Atoms for Peace
Contrary to speculations, Thom Yorke has friends. Outside Radiohead the music he makes may not be totally different but it gives way to his lighter side, the gentler and warmer side of his that blooms when he’s not around his usual band mates. Amok is the first LP of Atoms for Peace, but it’s a record so sure of itself, so strong and steady that there’s something humorous in calling it a debut, especially since the people involved in making it are industry heavyweights. The sleekness of it is far from overpowering. One after another, the tracks move with seeming complicity and make sweeping gestures through minimal use of elements. Although it boasts a deftly polished surface, Amok also holds surprises for those who listen closely.
Recommended: “Default,” “Ingenue,” “Judge, Jury and Executioner”
9. The Hurry and the Harm
City and Colour
Although The Hurry and The Harm sounds more refined than Dallas Green’s previous records, to an extent due to the sophistication of its production, one thing hasn’t changed: his ace songwriting. This gift for lyrical flourishes is coupled with melodies that burst at the seams, turning melancholy fears into personal realizations, opening all doors and windows to let the air in. At one moment he sings, “I don’t wanna be revolutionary / No, I’m just looking for the sweetest melody,” and it sums up neatly what he has been doing all these years.
Recommended: “Harder than Stone,” “The Lonely Life,” “Commentators”
8. Hesitation Marks
Nine Inch Nails
The surprise on Hesitation Marks is not its arresting quality, which is expected from almost every Trent Reznor release, but the reason for it. Yes, it’s an album heavy with textures and atmospheres, and its starkness is breathtaking, but there’s less force and fewer demons, less brutality and more tenderness, as shown on its softer rhythms and looser tunes that feel like musical fondues: tasty and scrumptious, forcing the listener to dance in glee. Older but definitely wiser, Reznor has so much more to give.
Recommended: “Copy of A,” “Came Back Haunted,” “Satellite”
7. The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
“This record was really autobiographical because my mind didn’t have room for anything else,” says Neko Case, referring to her latest album. And The Worse Things Get…, driven by the unforgiving power of her voice, the cruelty of its tone, and the burning clarity of her words, swells with the need to be let out, to be remembered less for its stories than for the emotional rawness they carry. Case is many things (a man, a tornado, a murderer) and shows many things (love, aggression, anger, loneliness, fear), and this record presents her at her most vulnerable, which is also her most beautiful.
Recommended: “Night Still Comes,” “Nearly Midnight, Honolulu.” “Afraid”
6. …Like Clockwork
Queens of the Stone Age
The recording of …Like Clockwork is marked by difficulties: the departure of drummer Joey Castillo, Josh Homme’s near-death experience at hospital, and a slew of distractions that have found the band members in a state of ennui, trying to figure things out after several years of not being at the studio together. But there have also been welcoming changes and additions, namely the contributions of former members Nick Oliveri, Dave Grohl, and Mark Lanegan, and the collaborations with Trent Reznor, Alex Turner, and Elton John, among others. All these make it feel like it’s a colossal, mind-blowing record, but it isn’t, for it is propelled by confident restraint and resolve to focus on the music, which remains intense and crunchy without losing that boldness to tread on uneven terrains. Truth be told, there’s not much to say about …Like Clockwork, except that every second of it drips with goodness.
Recommended: “Keep Your Eyes Peeled,” “If I Had A Tail,” “Smooth Sailing”
5. Julia With Blue Jeans On
It’s sad that Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown, arguably two of the finest rock bands from the 2000s, are no longer around. But Spencer Krug—an overly gifted songwriter and crazy singer; a sufferer, a poet of immense talent, and a storyteller of mad predilections—always finds a way to free his work from himself, to find an avenue for his compositions. Leaving Canada for Finland, he continues making records as Moonface, and this year, having gone through many changes like the characters in his songs, releases Julia With Blue Jeans On, a tempered work compared with his previous records. Accompanied only by the piano, this album also happens to be his most heartbreaking: his excesses, instead of acting as flourishes, create a haunting effect, and his voice remains compelling, beer-friendly. The moment the album reaches its final seconds, the listener feels completely heavy, skeptic of playing it again, and that’s how it is with everyone.
Recommended: “Barbarian,” “Dreamy Summer,” “Julia With Blue Jeans On”
4. m b v
My Bloody Valentine
Who would have fucking thought? After 22 years, there’s no way that a fan, possibly in his teens or twenties when Loveless came out, can confront m b v without eagerness, without looking forward to basking in its shoegazing glory, without hoping to place his hands in its embers. Its mere presence is enough to move him to tears. And thankfully m b v leaves no room for disappointment—it’s a constellation that keeps on twinkling, a record so generous that it gives its listeners plenty of reasons to press repeat. It’s an album with a long and rewarding life, with a soul that never leaves. Once people get past the comparisons with Loveless, all that’s left is this huge gratitude to a band that has suffered a lot to deliver this astonishing piece of work.
Recommended: “She Found Now,” “Who Sees You,” “New You”
Record after record, Arctic Monkeys prove one important thing: their growth is never tiring. Suck It and See finds them in a difficult situation as it sets down what seems to be their total strengths as songwriters and musicians, and what comes next may pale in comparison. AM, however, doesn’t, and this is a noteworthy feat that owes to their willingness to develop their sound without losing the verve and vibe that have made listeners cling to them over the years. Driven by the band’s captivating personality and tracks that are too irresistible to ignore, AM simmers after every spin, and the whistle it makes is a reminder that good things may come to an end but that end sometimes connects with better things.
Recommended: “Do I Wanna Know?” “R U Mine?” “Knee Socks”
2. The Next Day
While listening to The Next Day one is tempted to find a moment when it wavers, when David Bowie, a pop icon who’s had many fits of inconsistencies in his career, loses grip and indulges pointlessly, but there isn’t any. It sounds so brisk, spontaneous, and spirited that it doesn’t feel like a comeback record, it doesn’t feel that Bowie has been gone for long, it doesn’t feel that words will do justice to its seeming lightheartedness, to its exhilarating moments. Bowie’s well never runs out of interesting ideas, and every time the bucket emerges, it brims with pleasant surprises. The Next Day stands as proof of this.
Recommended: “Valentine’s Day,” “I’d Rather Be High,” “Dancing Out in Space”
1. Trouble Will Find Me
What the members of The National have been consistently doing since 2005’s Alligator is shape their experiences into beguiling pieces of music, and though most of them teem with anxieties and forebodings of fathers in their thirties and forties, they are likely to strike a chord with any listener who revels in exquisite descriptions of dark feelings, who sees humor in the mundane, and who has always imagined rock music mixed with gentle poetry. High Violet may be a tough record to follow, but Trouble Will Find Me, in its searing moments of inscrutable joy, marks an achievement that is impossible to overstate, a record that only confirms The National’s intolerable kindness, their unbearable and stubborn greatness.
Recommended: “Sea of Love,” “Graceless,” “Pink Rabbits”
February 16, 2013
March 22, 2013
World Trade Center
July 30, 2013
August 19, 2013
Hard Rock Cafe
Explosions in the Sky