Saturday, December 14, 2013

Best Music of 2013

FAVORITE ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
“The Civil Wars” by The Civil Wars

Much like Bob and Jason Isbell, my love of this album was an almost-foregone conclusion. I was in love with the idea of the album before it even hit the shelves. It’s about relational disaster and the zombie nature of lifelong love, made by two people tearing apart professionally if not amorously. It’s appreciably more diverse in sound than their first go-round. This album is the beautiful bastard child of “Rumors” and “Shoot Out The Lights,” classics about breaking up by people who are breaking up (and possibly breaking apart). The last two songs are disposable and forgettable, but the same is true of “Achtung Baby,” which was and remains my favorite album of the 1990s. The rest of the album swims in the swamp of Southern Gothic downfall with a religious tinge. It’s a downer with light at the end of the tunnel, a train wreck with critical injuries but no deaths. It’s brilliant and beautiful and heartbreaking.

BEST SONGS OF THE YEAR (MIXTAPE EDITION):
“Chasing the Sun” by Sara Bareilles
“Rumble and Sway” by Jamie N Commons
“Same Old Same Old” by The Civil Wars
“The End” by Fitz & the Tantrums
“Another Story” by The Head and the Heart
“No, Never” by Jimmy Eat World
“Shake” by Lori McKenna
“Things I Shouldn’t Have Told You” by Sam Phillips
“Love They Say” by Tegan & Sara
“Last Days of Summer in San Francisco” by Matt Nathanson
“The Woodpile” by Frightened Rabbit
“Beautiful War” by Kings of Leon
“Waitress” by Boy
“Already Home” by Hanson
“Worship You” by Vampire Weekend
“That Kind of Lonely” by Patty Griffin

SURPASSING HIGH EXPECTATIONS (a.k.a. Runners-Up):
“The Bones of What You Believe” by Chvrches
When “The Walking Dead” brought zombies into TV pop culture, they accidentally resurrected our cultural obsession with the synth-pop ‘80s (Fret not rockers, grunge is due for its second birth in the next 5 years). Names like Depeche Mode and New Order that had rusted and lost their shimmer were again being bandied about as the inspirations for a new generation of melodramatic introverts. Chvrches is the pinnacle of this wave. You cannot find a band that does synth-pop, 2013-style, better than this Scottish duo.

“Pedestrian Verse” by Frightened Rabbit
The Frabbits’ concert in Atlanta last spring is one of the concert highlights of my entire life. Although more beloved songs can be found on their second and third albums, “Pedestrian Verse” is their most complete effort. From the album’s opening line (“I’m the dickhead in the kitchen”) to the last note (“We’ve still got hope, so I think we’ll be fine / In these disastrous times”), they prove themselves the best at holding onto light while being expert observers of the darkness of modern life.

“Heartthrob” by Tegan and Sara
Tegan & Sara are the living breathing musical metaphor of our increasing cultural comfortability with homosexuality. They began their careers as outcasts and alternative outsiders, but each successive album has snuck in closer to the mainstream. But “Heartthrob” wasn’t a nudge; it was an aggressive leap into the Taylor Swift and P!nk zip code of YA-oriented dance pop. Their supercool video for “Closer,” which would have been downright scandalous 15 years ago, is downright tender. Discovering and accepting one's sexuality is a part of maturation... no matter where that path may lead. “Love They Say” is an exquisite pop song amidst an entire pool of gems.

BEST DISCOVERIES:
“More Than Just a Dream” by Fitz & the Tantrums --
This album is so yummy it made me forget just how little I enjoyed the Hall & Pages concert last spring. Their previous album is supposed to be better, but whatever. “...Dream” was my first impression, and I’m in love.

“The Highway” by Holly Williams -- An album written by someone who doesn't know how not to be a musician. She can no more escape her fate than Luke Skywalker.

“Days Are Gone” by Haim -- I'm not generally a fan of California-inspired pop. Too little bombast inside the ditties. Too much mellow in the rock. This one wasn’t love at first listen, but bit by bit it won me over.

ALBUMS THAT DESERVE THEIR HIGH CRITICAL PRAISE
“Modern Vampires of the City” by Vampire Weekend and “AM” by Arctic Monkeys -- There’s a difference between appreciating an album and loving it. I appreciate what’s going on in both, but I don’t love it.

“American Kid” by Patty Griffin -- A wonderful rebound from her weakest album.

“The Worse Things Get…” by Neko Case -- I’ll never love Neko alone as much as I love her as part of The New Pornographers, but I’m in the minority amongst critics.

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