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2013 Year End Best Of

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The past few years i have complained that each year hasn't been a great year for music. I was about to write a similar rant here, but then i realized that maybe the problem is not with the music world per se, but rather it is with me.

I grew up in the era of having to work hard to locate music, and when you did find a record, money changed hands. (Sometimes you could tape a record off of a friend, but usually there was a monetary expenditure.) This meant that there was an investment, and so people ended up spending a long time with each record. There are albums that i now have fond thoughts for that i disliked at first listen, or at least, wasn't as impressed with at first listen. But i had to stick with things, because the choices were severely limited and you had put in an investment to actually get new music to listen to.

This is not the case anymore. Now someone will send me a link to a record / song / video and i will click it and listen quickly. If something fails to pique my interest in 30 seconds, i click away, onto the next thing. You have no idea how many promos we get here at EvilSponge -- there are dozens of releases each day that i treat like this. Impress me right away, or just go away.

And i wonder, "How much of this stuff is just too deep for such cursory listening? Am i bypassing things that, if i gave them a longer listen, i would discover depths of meaning in?”

Perhaps. Sometimes i download something anyway and copy it up to my phone (now my primary music device) to listen later. Sometimes that pays off, sometimes it does not.

I still worry that i am missing things, not giving things their fair chance.

And what does this do for the long-term development of music? If artists have to totally wow right up front, all the time, does that allow a rich career to develop, or will they look only for a quick hit?

I don't know.

I just feel ... disconnected from things. There is this vast ocean of music out there, and i don’t know how to properly take it in.

And then i look at other blogs and the things people are talking and raving about. I mean, does Pitchfork really dig Kanye West? Every song i ever heard from that pretentious schmuck makes me want to face-punch the nearest person who would describe themselves as a "Millennial". But am i just missing something? Am i too old to keep doing this?

These are just things i think about. And i would urge you to keep these thoughts in mind as i go over my favorites for 2013.

  1. Tender New Signs by Tamaryn
    This is such a rich, lush shoegaze album. It continues to delight me.

  2. Run the Jewels by El-P and Killer Mike
    I first heard about this in an article that contrasted it with Magna Carta Holy Grail, which i got free because i have a Samsung Galaxy 3 phone. The writer of that article pointed out that Jay-Z seemed tired and out of ideas, while El-P and Killer Mike were giving away a free hip-hop record that was exciting and more fun than Jay-Z. I gave it a chance, and i have been really enjoying this ever since. So, yes, my second favorite record of 2013 was a hip-hop album. What is the world coming to?

  3. 13 by Black Sabbath
    This is more like it -- this is more like what one would expect from me. Yes, Ozzy, Tommy, and Geezer are back. I went into this album with pretty low expectations, and to be honest the band blew me away. This is a far better record than i would have thought Sabbath were capable of making at this point in time. In fact, it's a really good record.

  4. Ultraviolet by Kylesa
    A second metal album on my list, but i personally think that what Kylesa does transcends the notion of metal. In one sense, this is a heavy shoegaze album (a la Swervedriver, to make one obvious comparison) with some good heavy pop tunes on it.

  5. The Boy With Astronaut Eyes by The Purrs
    The Purrs have been a favorite of mine for many years now, and they are back after a short break with a new bassist and revitalized pop sensibilities. This is a complex, diverse album that rewards repeat listening.

  6. Monomania by Deerhunter
    When Deerhunter opened for The Breeders back in May, they did this album all the way through. The songs came across great in concert, and i was able to snag vinyl from the band at the show. The album is really well done, a great blend of noise and pop.

  7. Past Perfect by Paperfangs
    My favorite Finnish band comes out with their debut full length record, one which delivers on the promise of their first EP. This is fun, mellow, electropop.

  8. CRMNL HYGNE by Criminal Hygiene
    Scruffy, fuzzy, garage punk. This is fun and chaotic.

  9. Thought & Language by Dead Leaf Echo
    A shoegaze act from NYC finally releases their debut record. It is long, and there is a lot going on in this record, but it is one of those that really rewards repeat listening. Vocalist and songwriter LG is doing some very interesting things within the shoegaze framework.

  10. Fortune by Robin Guthrie
    What can i say? I love his lush, mellow pop. This is not a record of Guthrie stretching himself, but it is Guthrie doing what he does best: making the perfect soundtrack to my day-to-day life.
  1. Sun Radar by Spaceheads
    Crazy space jazz -- space jazz, space jazz, space jazz. This band is so different that i simply love them. I hope they keep making their unique music, keep pushing the boundaries.

  2. Wave Lair by Landing
    I simply adore Landing, and Wave Lair is another fine addition to their catalog. This is landing continuing the new wave that they were working on with their latest LP, and yet throwing a little of the long psychedelic jamming back into the mix. Works for me.

  3. The Boat Of The Fragile Mind by Belle Mare
    Dark and haunting, Belle Mare make lovely folk pop.

  4. II by Landing
    Yes, a second Landing release on this list. So they released 2 EPs this year, alright? You should get both.

  5. How Do You Know b/w Falling (Twin Peaks Theme) by Field Mouse. Technically this was released last year, but i got it when i saw the band in April, so i am gonna count it in order to have a nice round number on this list. The A-side is a typical Field Mouse dream pop tune, lush and lovely. The B-side is the old Twin Peaks theme, and they do a pretty faithful version that seems perfectly natural for the band, like this has been one of their songs all along.



So, to go back to the initial analogy in this posting, when i grew up finding new music took effort and investment. Even though new music is practically free these days, you can still get music the old way. Which is to say -- sometimes i still head up to the local record store and browse, picking up things based on band name. Sometimes that works out -- i picked up my album of the year because i liked their previous release. And sometimes you get burned.

These are listed in alphabetical order as it is impossible for me to say which disappointed me more.

Tomorrow’s Harvest by Boards of Canada
This is, well, a generic BoC album. Is this two disks of outtakes from their last few releases? I kept listening to this album, hoping that it would click and connect with me, but it just seems dull. Am i missing something here?

Shaking the Habitual by The Knife
I like the early Knife records. I really really liked the Fever Ray solo record. But this one ... meh. It sounds like they are trying too hard to be weird. I bought this and put it in the player, and after 10 minutes the girlfriend asked if i could instead play something "less grating". Now, granted, she's a Deadhead (don't ask me how i ended up dating a Deadhead!), but this album is still aggressively weird. It is difficult to listen to all the way through.

MBV by My Bloody Valentine
So Kevin Shields finally got off his ass and released another record. I listened to this and wondered why i waited so long for it. In fact, this release makes his entire catalog (even Loveless, which i have long considered to be a classic) part of some elaborate prank that he is pulling. Have I been fooled by this guy for years? Has he really just been doing unfocused noise all along? Why was i impressed with earlier releases?

The Messenger by Johnny Marr
Johnny could have made this record at any time in the past 30 years. In a way, it sounds retro, and yet, it also sounds generic. Johnny can do better. That said, it is not a bad record, just unimaginative.

A Long Way To Fall by Ulrich Schnauss
This is ... not good. His synthpop has crossed from mellow and interesting into cheesy. There is a fine line there, and many bands have failed to walk the line closely enough, and here Ulrich has sadly fallen into the cheese. Ugh.

  1. Landing on Fri.9.August at Eyedrum
    This show was not without its faults (including getting lost and a second band that grated on my nerves) but when they started playing I was able to fully lose myself in the music for an hour. Wonderful. I wish they toured more often.

  2. Johnny Marr on Sat.23.Nov at The Loft
    So I thought the album he was touring for was unimaginative, for him, but in concert Johnny was great. He had a good band playing with him, and he mixed in Smiths tunes and even one from Electronic. This was a great show, myself and the girlfriend crammed in a full crowd dancing and singing along.

  3. Deerhunter and The Breeders on Wed.15.May at The Variety Playhouse
    It was Bradford’s birthday, and the crowd sang Happy Birthday to him, then the band tore into their new album, really ripping the stage up. Then Kim Deal and company came on and played Last Splash, an album i know backwards and forwards. A really fun night.

  4. Kylesa with White Hills and Lazur/Wolf on Fri.21.Jun at The EARL
    Let’s just ignore the third band and focus on the good here. Local metalish math rock is a good thing. Strange jammy space prog is cool. And dense shoegazish metal from Savannah is awesome. This was a fun show.

  5. Qurious on Fri.8.Feb at The Drunken Unicorn
    Local ambient music done live, and done well.

  6. Superchunk on Thu.22.Aug at Terminal West
    I think that EvilSponge’s Superchunk fandom is well-documented. Well, this show, featuring the new bassist, was a nice throwback for us.

  7. Cloudeater on Fri.29.Mar at The EARL
    Cloudeater were a local act that fascinated me, and I did not write on them as much as I hoped to. And yes, the past tense is on purpose, as the band called it quits shortly after this show. But here? They were on. The band put on a stunning live show, with soulful vocals over angular post-punk guitar. They were doing something special, and i am glad i got to see it live.

  8. Smithsonian and Clashinista on Fri.13.Sept at The EARL
    These are two tribute acts, and since I love the source material, i spent the show singing along and dancing. Great fun.

  9. Lucius on Sat.19.Oct at The EARL
    This band continues to impress.

  10. Field Mouse and Laura Stevenson on Fri.26.Apr in Purgatory at Masquerade
    Seeing Field Mouse was a real treat. I like their shoegazey pop. Laura Stevenson as the headliner was an added bonus.

  11. Ramona Falls and Social Studies on Fri.15.Feb in Purgatory at Masquerade
    I went to see Social Studies, but ended up really enjoying Ramona Falls as well. A night of fun pop music.

I am not a movie buff, and only saw two films in the theater this year. So here they are, ranked.

  1. Iron Man 3
    I actually enjoy this series of films, which is odd because I was never a fan of the comic books. This was a fun action film.

  2. The Hobbit
    I read this book in high school, but it seems like they added a lot of extra crap to it. Still, it was fun.
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