Monday, December 30, 2013

The End of Year Review: Music in 2013

Every year I say the same thing.  It's usually something about how I did not really listen to anything all year long and I could review maybe the 5 or so albums I did take the time to plug my headphones in for.  Then the end of the year happens in time for the review and I am astonished I actually bought and/or listened to as much as I did.

Every year I curse my first world problems.

This year was no different.

As with previous years, some of the albums on the following list are not ones that were released in 2013.  However, I did listen to them this year and thus they find a place on my list.  Additionally and traditionally, I utilized the "out of five" scoring system per song as part of the overall determination for rating the album.

9. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the Modern City

Over the years, I've reluctantly admitted to liking some of Vampire Weekend's work.  They are a band I have mixed feelings on - acknowledging that they more than likely shine in a live setting more so than in the studio.  With my usual hesitation and a bit more of an appreciation thanks to their previous effort, I listened to Modern Vampires of the Modern City and was met with something unexpected.

It was unexpected in not a good way.

Taking two steps back for me, Vampire Weekend sounded not much like Vampire Weekend.  It sounded safe for the most part.  The problem for Vampire Weekend for me was never musically but more so vocally.  Switching their sound to something safe in sound and a standard run-of-the-mill alternative album was uncharacteristic.  I love when bands take chances but this was one that was not needed.

Songs Worth Listening to: "Hudson" (a very good song, actually in its haunting ways), and "Finger Back"

H1 vs. Or 2: 5 > 6.  A Winner is H1 with "Don't Lie" over "Hannah Hunt"

Album Cover Review: I really like it actually.  Misty, mysterious, vampires lurking about that city of old... A

8.  Mindless Self Indulgence - How I Learned to Stop Giving a Shit and Love Mindless Self Indulgence

Heavy on the screaming, and heavy on the club style of music; MSI's focus on this album was one I did not care much for.  The lyrics usually border on the ridiculous and the offensive, which is not lacking here but what is lacking is the general fun.  Track after track of similar sounding songs ushered in by the same tones made this album mostly forgettable.

This was the wrong title for an MSI album as I've always been a fan.  I won't say I will stop giving a shit about MSI but I may just love them a little bit less, at least for this effort.

Songs Worth Listening to: "Hey Tomorrow Fuck You and Your Friend Yesterday", "Kill You All in a Hip Hop Rage"

H1 vs Or 2: 5 > 6.  A Winner is H1 with "Hey Tomorrow..." over "You're No Fun Anymore Mark Trezona".  Hey H1, Eff You and Your Friend The Better Song!

Album Cover Review: ...I kinda like it.  But do I love it? Kinda mesmerizing though the longer I look at it.  B

7.  The Strokes - Comedown Machine

Was it just me or did this album just sort of fly under the radar this year? I certainly almost forgot about it when I was doing this review.  It's not that I listened to it and did not love, it's that I did not listen at all.  In listening, what I found is that undeniably familiarity in The Strokes.  But there was something missing too.  It was in the uninspired tracks that just fell flat and seemed they were made to just fill an album.  There was not as much fun here, not as much bite... in some parts, anyway.  It was enough to be noticeable to me but I am certain, as with all The Strokes albums, there's something to adore in some of the songs and in some of the frankness of it all.  But that's what it is.  It's the blunt, dry honesty that's missing.

Songs Worth Listening to: "Slow Animals" and "All The Time"

H1 vs Or 2:  5 < 6.  A Winner is Me with "50/50" over "80's Comedown Machine".

Album Cover Review: Intentionally and a blatant dig at record companies? If so, then my perception changes of the lacking substance to this album; making this more of a statement and proving a point.  If not, then it just proves my point.  Based purely on the visual, it's an eyesore:  C

6.  Passion Pit - Gossamer

I have a dirty confession to make.  At some point, I just had to know what the fuss was about this overly hipster sounding band.  Much like last year's $1.99 purchase of Imagine Dragons, I purchased this for next to nothing.  During a particularly hard month earlier this year, the general upbeat music coupled with the abysmally ironic lyrics of depression and soured relationships sung in a way to match the happy notes, stuck with me.  There's a lot of trash on this album too, make no mistake, but this album is the kind of secret, guilty pleasure love that I had a hard time keeping much of a secret.

Songs Worth Listening to: "I'll Be Alright", "Carried Away", "Mirrored Sea" and "Cry Like a Ghost"

H1 vs Or 2: 5 = 6.  They are both songs that I love and I believe it is a tie with your "Mirrored Sea" to my "Cry Like a Ghost".

Album Cover Review:  Oh hells no.  F - -

5.  Janelle Monae - The Electric Lady

Strong opening tracks eventually devolve into disappointment for me.  I realized something as I was listening to this album.  Whenever Janelle has a guest artist on the tracks on these, it almost seems as though she gets drowned out.  The songs are recognizable to the artist who duets with her.  The tracks can feel less of a collaboration and more of a compromise.  That's not to say the tracks are bad because that is not the issue.  Then there are the tracks on which Janelle does it solo.  It's a mixed bag with many average tracks and some acting as an extension to Arachnoid.  What remains is still a level of fun, soul with a throwback to 70s and 80s R n B style.

Songs Worth Listening to: "Suite IV Electric Overture", "Dance Apocalyptic", "Giving Em What They Love (feat. Prince)"

H1 vs Or 2: Yours is actually an interlude that's a talk through that I did not rate.

Album Cover Review: That girl sure knows how to win my heart.  All she has to do is place her cutie face all over the cover and I'm sold.  Electric Lady, indeed! So much personality and sums up the album's content and style.  A-

4.  The National - Trouble Will Find Me

While it's true of most types of music for any situation or mood, this is one of those bands that I sometimes just need to be in a very specific mood to listen to.  It's not easy to just pick up a song by them from this album and just have a listen on a whim.  The National put forth an album here that was much of the same - a solid, familiar effort.  There's a lot on here that sounds very much like their earlier album, Alligator. These are songs of lost love, and down to earth discussions on relationships.  It's typical The National with a little bit of cacophony while being a listening experience that will grow stronger with time, and is best when you have a moment to be focused.  You know, for when you are in that sort of mood.

Songs Worth Listening to: "Fireproof", "This is the Last Time", and "Pink Rabbit"

H1 vs Or 2: 5 > 6.  A Winner is H1 with a "Sea of Love" over "Heavenfaced".

Album Cover Review: I don't even.  No.  No thank you.  C

3.  Jack White - Blunderbuss

This was an album that I do not know what I would have done had I reviewed it last year.  It probably would have found itself on top of the list or very close to.  It's the album that gave me a new found respect for Jack White.  It's an album that makes me regret I did not go see him at Radio City Music Hall when I had the chance.  Most of the album is crafted with sharp sounds and in interesting, sometimes confusing ways to wrap your head around.  Powerful, sometimes frenzied vocals coat music that in itself is a tribute to music.  The Piano speaks and Jack's vocals command a type of respect and an urgency to listen.  Actually, Jack probably couldn't care less if you listened or not.  It exists and it is on a plane of its own.

Songs Worth Listening to: Most of the album but a few stand out tracks are "Trash Tongue Talker", "Weep Themselves to Sleep", and "Freedom at 21"

H1 vs Or 2: 5 < 6.  A Winner is Me with "Hypocritical Kiss" over "Blunderbuss".  

Album Cover Review: Now there's a bad-assed album cover.  A+

2.  Arctic Monkeys - AM

I determined long ago, I just needed to grow with Arctic Monkeys and accept that the boys would never return to the life they had and thereby, never return to the types of songs Alex could wrap sharp and witty words around to tell an ordinary story to make it incredible.  The lyrics are still sharp and Alex continues to prove himself a master with words.  Continued surprise at unexpected expressions, he's now taken to singing in that sultry way that is backed by same in Cookie's strumming, Helders' ability to keep beats with ease and are masterpieces of their own, and Nick's bass lines give all even more depth.

The album is a fun, adult ride.  Thoughtful, full of yearning and less personal in some regard.

It's incredibly strong, showing an amazing growth that happens almost every time a new one is released and will continue to strengthen an already amazing library from Arctic Monkeys.

Songs Worth Listening to: "Do I Wanna Know", "Knee Socks", "One for the Road" and "Arabella"

H1 vs Or 2: 5 > 6.  A Winner is H1 with "I Want it All" over "No. 1 Party Anthem"

Album Cover Review: You know, I like it.  Reminds me of the very amazing video for "Do I Wanna Know" and that just makes me swoon all over again.  B

1.  Queens of the Stone Age - ..Like Clockwork

What's left for me to say about this album? My constant love/hate relationship with QotSA continues.  On this album, there's nothing wrong.  I had a difficult time choosing whether to make Arctic Monkey's AM top this list or to give it to QotSA.  In truth, they're both such stellar efforts that it's really just interchangeable depending on what I am feeling like listening to.  Here, Queens created an album that is going to be an amazing listen that's going to continue to be surprising in years to come.  There's so much depth here, so much raw emotion, and just a good rock album in its honest lyrics and thoughtful, creative layering of sounds.

Songs Worth Listening to: The entire album, I believe I said! If you had to go with a few, "I Appear Missing", "My God is the Sun", "...Like Clockwork", and 'The Vampyre of Time and Memory".

H1 vs Or 2: 5 > 6.  A Winner is H1 with "My God is the Sun" over Kalopsia.  Damn you, H1.

Album Cover Review: Well, I'm not sure how to feel about it.  All these months and I still have no clue how I feel.  I'm edging towards a dislike, and so... I'll give it a B-

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