Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Favorite Music of 2013

 LISTS. Blah. Who likes making them? But I love reading them, and I love sharing my favorite stuff, so here.

I will preface this by saying there are about 86 albums on my computer desktop that I have yet to even listen to, and so many more that I don't even own that I never got to this year. I am forgetting so many albums that probably should be on this list, but a person only has so much time, between work and fun and, you know, life, to listen to all this new music. Especially when there's so much great OLD music, too! Alas, let's get this show on the road.

Oh, and I scattered some favorite photos I took this year, too. Just because.

1. Arcade Fire – Reflektor – Virgin EMI

Between this album and Daft Punk, I may have listened to more dance music this year than in any year before. (Although, let's not forget about how much I listened to LCD Soundsystem...) Anyway, many may shun Arcade Fire for putting out some pretentious, feeling-less album. Go take your pretentious brains somewhere else. This is hands down the most fun, unique, just straight let's-groove-to it pile of in-your-face but subtle pile of emotions I've heard all year. I couldn't get over the title track for like 3 months. Forget that. It still makes my insides move. And then it just gets better. I will admit, there are still a few songs here that I think are forgettable, but the pure genius of so many of the others outweighs them. I think I'll be listening and dancing to this for many, many years to come.

2. Mikal Cronin – MCII – Merge

I'm really angry that I can't put anything Mac DeMarco on this list (ugh, I found out a year too late how wonderful he was). But I digress. I had two Mac DeMarco albums and this Mikal Cronin album in my car CD player rotation for a solid 5 months or something. And I NEVER, EVER, EVEN ONCE got sick of any of them. I mean, I told myself it was time to move on, but I was forcing rules on myself at that point because there's a line between obsession and Danielle I'm getting worried about you. So, why? Mikal Cronin is making the pure, sweet pop perfection that is so incredibly hard to come by. These songs are not too complex. They're not weighty. They are just songs that I can't imagine any person not enjoying. If you don't enjoy Mikal Cronin, you need your frontal cortex examined. It's spritely, cute, relatable, beautiful, and constructed to go in one ear and dance around in the middle of your brain for a while before smoothly sliding out the other ear. If you listen to one album on this list, and you are a human being with emotions, go for this one.

3. Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze – Matador 

This is an album I like to describe as bliss. Acoustic guitar washes over your face and body. You are sitting in a room of clouds surrounded by all of your favorite people, and everyone is a murky haze of bliss. I can sit here and tune out and just listen and just not feel. That's a lie. I feel so much with this music. I feel that thing in my gut that is maybe a symptom of being too much of a music lover, where I just can't help but feel like a kid on Christmas (not sure what that feels like, but I'm imagining it feels like this), and I just can't kick my excitement. I have to tell people about it. I have to rave and rant and hope I can find someone who will understand. Kurt Vile is a brilliant songwriter and an excellent performer (count his set at the Grog Shop my favorite show of the year), and plus, this album is on cerulean-colored vinyl.

4. The National – Trouble Will Find Me – 4AD 

Oh my gosh, how I love this album. The National can do no wrong in my mind. Another band that just gets so much crap from people for being boring or something, but I just. don't. get. it. Nobody, and I mean almost nobody making music these days overthinks every note and nuance of an album more than The National. Every detail is perfect and real. The lyrics break my heart a thousand times and they're so clever, and the one-liners are just... ugh. I should dedicate a whole post to my favorite lines from this album. So many times, listening to this, I just couldn't believe the couplets. You can find my whole review on this blog somewhere, but I'm just writing from emotion and instinct right now. "Humiliation" makes me want to cry, it's so good. I used to sit there, and get to the bridge (4:04 into the song) and play it over and over again. It somehow hits the very pleasure center of my brain.

5. Washed Out - Paracosm – Sub Pop

This is one of those albums that I kind of went through a binge for a while, and stopped listening to it. But like Kurt Vile's version of bliss, this is my favorite kind of island, chill out until you're sitting on clouds music. "It All Feels Right" came closer than any other song this year to complete escapism for me. Maybe, as I age, I look to music that let's me step out of my life completely for a few minutes. I mean, don't get me wrong, life is good. But being an "adult," I just like to have a few minutes here and there to just forget. And this album is just such a cure for adult life. 

6. The Dodos – Carrier - Polyvinyl

I wrote a thing here that pretty much sums up my feelings. Nobody does complex webbing of music better than the Dodos these days. "The Current" is the best example, beginning with two concurrent guitar lines that make absolutely no sense together but meld together in such a way that your brain is instantly mesmerized. It's beauty, it's brains, it's everything I'm looking for in music.

7. Jagwar Ma – Howlin – Marathon Artists

Wow! This one really snuck up on me! I listened to about ten albums on my drive to and from Louisville this December, and this stands out as the favorite. A few dance/trance songs I don't really care for, but there are so many 60's-ish pop songs that have to be a few of the best of the year. Jagwar Ma isn't afraid to get weird all over the place, and the opening track is just plain wacko, in a good way. I like the Brill Building sound of "That Loneliness" so much that this song alone could get this album on my top ten list. But then, they hit me with a one-two punch, following it with "Come Save Me," and somebody deserves an award for that sequencing. They are perfect together. God. I'm so happy listening to this. I'm JUST SO HAPPY.
8. The Head and the Heart – Let’s Be Still – Sub Pop

I had no idea I'd feel the same about this album as I did about their debut. The sophomore slump is a real thing, guys. But this group (I've met them, and they're just the nicest people) skipped to senior status with this one. I hate to be cliche and say they write really heartfelt music, but I'm gonna be cliche. It is just sweet and endearing, and the gorgeous strings and keys take it to a different level. "Summertime" is proof that Charity Rose Thielen is a vocal goddess.

9. Local Natives – Hummingbird – French Kiss

 I haven't listened to this enough, but I know when I do, it will be a consistent grower. I didn't get them when Gorilla Manor came out, but I soon realized my mistake. The scattered percussion and harmonies are spot on.

10. Boardwalk - S/T - Stones Throw

If I thought Jagwar Ma was late in the game to win me over, this takes the cake. I first heard it this week. It has already won me over completely. Sure, it might sound like a ripoff of Beach House, but I have no issues with that. One song is more soothingly beautiful than the next. It's catchy but never screams "enjoy my hook!" A trend on my list this year appears to be music I can sleep to. Lots of dancing and lots of sleeping this year. I think that's a happy medium for me. 

11. Atoms for Peace – Amok – XL 
12. Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic - Jagjaguwar
13. Jim James – Regions of Light and Sound of God – ATO
14. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City – XL
15. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories – Columbia
16. Tim Kasher – Adult Film – Saddle Creek Records
17. Cults – Static – Columbia
18. Ty Segall – Sleeper – Drag City
19. Deerhunter - Monomania - 4AD
20. Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks - HALO

Honorable Mentions

Daughn Gibson – Me Moan – Sub Pop
Foals – Holy Fire – Warner Bros.
Arctic Monkeys – AM – Domino
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – Fly By Wire – Polyvinyl
Phoenix – Bankrupt! – Glass Note/Loyaute
Midlake – Antiphon – ATO 

That time Low and Jody Rosen both favorited me in a row.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Sufjan Stevens - Seven Swans

It has been pouring rain for the past 24 hours or so. It's a Saturday night. Something in me decided to put on Sufjan Stevens Seven Swans, one of the albums I probably spent most of my time with in college, along with The National's Boxer and Jose Gonzalez's Veneer.

It brought back a rush of memories from those four years, good and bad. With every gentle guitar pick, I remembered a different relationship, a mental struggle, a night alone in my dorm room, a day where I sat with a friend, trying to learn how to play a rudimentary version of one of these songs on my grandma's old acoustic.

"To Be Alone With You." That was my favorite for a while. I remember being home at my parents' house on winter break, long after everyone else in the house was asleep, listening to it on repeat on my first or second generation ipod, trying to help myself fall asleep.

There's something just so beautiful about every nuance of Seven Swans. It's carefully peaceful, intricately gorgeous, and so well-thought out, I could cry. It doesn't give me happy feelings, despite some of the good memories that it brings back. Instead, it draws out the mental battles I fought with myself, fearing my future, which at the time, seemed to wide open that it could swallow me up.

Listening and thinking about these songs tonight, I wish I could go back and tell myself it was all going to be ok. But even I can't figure out how I got from there to here. Life has been full of surprises, great surprises, and some not so great ones. But when I give myself enough time to think about the past, and allow my emotions to wrap around these old songs, so engrained in me, it's truly amazing to think of the path I've taken since the first time I heard this album.

How wonderful, to be able to journey through life with such beautiful soundtracks. Pieces of me, told in the memories that songs carry with them. Ten thousand points to nostalgia, and how it helps you learn about your past and your present and future all at the same time. And one million points to Sufjan Stevens, for creating this masterpiece that never ages, only grows more layered and complicated
by the day.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Big Black Delta - S/T

So I failed to write in this blog every day like I said I would.

But to be fair, I was out of town for four days, and spending all my time creating my best of 2013 list. I had to meet a deadline, so I'm not too happy with my list right now, but I'll post and updated version by the end of the year when I have more time to listen and make sure I have everything in the right place.

I'm still getting through a list of albums that came out this year. Today's is Big Black Delta.

I knew nothing about this project before Wikapediaing it just now. It looks like the solo project of a member of Mellowdrone, which I also don't know.

This album is great in its complexity and variety. I wouldn't know that the same artist was creating all these songs. And while I usually like albums that are cohesive, at least this is an interesting soundtrack for my morning, checking emails and catching up on some odds and ends.

The title of "Ifuckingloveyou" is much better than the actual song itself, but I give this guy major props for naming his song that. So far, my absolute favorite song is "Side of the Road." It's track two, and if the whole album was this good, I'd be completely taken by Big Black Delta. It's got a glitchy, techy side that makes me think of the giddy electro joy of The Apples in Stereo. Plus, it's robotic in a way that actually sounds warm and melodic, which is something I always complain is lacking in electronic music. I hate when music seems cold and impersonal, and this is far from.

"Dreary Moon" on the other hand is a slow-moving number, plush with synthesizers that would help you drift off to sleep into a magical world of no stress and no fear of sleeping through your alarm clock. Like I said, variety.

As Bryan Adams would say, so far so good.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Phoenix - Bankrupt!

I love you and I hate you. I hate your overcompressed synthesizers that feel like they're pushing against my ears like a row of stubborn bricks that I can't peel away, lest they crush my brains. The title track is all "screw you conventional pop song." It's wonderful. It's "Love Like A Sunset" all over again. But longer and weirder and Sufjan Stevensier. (I heard "The Age of Adz" on a local college radio station the other day and nearly flipped out. Remember that song? Oh how wonderful and weird.) Sidenote: when did I begin feeding on music that is too strange for my mom to comprehend? If I played this for her she'd think it was just noise. But how much better is it than "Entertainment"? As much of an ace pop song as that may be, how is it not annoying as shit? It makes me want to rip up kimonos and bang every band member over the head with chopsticks. Stop copping an Asian synth line and blowing up the volume until it's nearly overmodulated. You're killing me. You're making me alive. I obviously have no clear feelings on this album yet. Give me some time.

Oh, and I really really really enjoy "The Real Thing." That melody is classic Phoenix. This is the kind of song you don't know where to put on your mix cd list. Too slow to be on your upbeat, cheer-up-your-best-friend mix. Too fast to be on your romantic, woo-the-new-signficiant-other mix. Perfectly grey. 


All it took was one question.

"What happened to your music writing?"

Or maybe two.

"Where do you write?"

Two questions in two days. The first, which, sequentially, I guess came second, from a good friend who used to love reading my blog. He picked it up before we were even really close friends. We were more acquaintances, and he used to rave about how passionate my writing was. I wasn't really writing it for anyone other than myself. I was just emoting on a keyboard, trying to describe my feelings about what I was hearing. I had so many feelings back then.

Since then, music hasn't really gotten to me deep through my blood like it did a few years ago. My heart used to beat around it. It was my escape from the world. I was first surrounded by an incredible music community in Athens, where it was my friends' lives, too. Then I was isolated in a post-college world, not knowing many people who even cared about anything beyond top 40.

I moved to Louisville, I was alone, I listened to music. I dated a guy I really cared about. We were both music crazed. We'd lay there and listen to Wilco and Real Estate and Deerhunter and everything. He loved everything I loved. I loved everything he loved. And when he broke my heart, I had to detach myself from that. Every song hurt. Every single song. New music was a little relief because I didn't have any memories with that yet.

I've had moments of music love since then. They're just few and further between. My mom tells me it's because I'm focusing on my day job, furthering my career.


I'm uninspired.

I'd rather come home and watch some stupid show about vampires or teenage angst.

I got a message on Twitter yesterday from a music writer I greatly admire. He's coming to Cleveland and wanted suggestions, and we got to talking. He asked me where I write. Could I send him something I wrote? And I felt dread. And I realized that I can't remember the last time I wrote something that made me proud.

I can't remember a single one.

I told my friend this. The one who used to read my blog.

And he said, "send him something old."

And I asked, "Why? All my new stuff is shitty?"

He responded, "It's just not as passionate."

And he was just being honest, and I loved that. But I also felt incredibly disheartened.

So I'm making a vow right now. Every day, I'm going to write something down about music. Every day, I'm going to write one sentence on this blog. I'm not gonna worry about pictures and things that make this an attractive space. I'm just going to promise to write something.

And if there's no time to blog it, it goes in my phone, to be posted on another date.

I'm writing for me. Maybe, yeah, I'll write a thing or two for publications. Here and there. But I'm getting back into what this blog was supposed to be. Not a place to put my published work. A place to vent and rave and scream like my pointer finger was just shredded off. I'm here to shout from the top of skyscrapers, and to burrow into a cave and cry. I'm here to warm up the icicles my fingers have become after stepping outside for two minutes in a Cleveland winter. And I'm here to light my hair on fire. I'm here to talk about characters, and feelings and there will be no time wasted about why I think something is so mediocre. I'm so sick of mediocre. I want to feel it, insanely wonderful or shudderingly awful. And I will.