I swear i'll be writing more in 2014

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Top Ten Albums of 2013

2013 was a good year.  Sure, as I made it another full year in Brandon FLA, I became more of a recluse, but we saw a really cool spider in our backyard.  I sold my condo with ease which meant the end of paying a mortgage and a rent.  My dogs had another fun year of doing dog things.  The Mrs. got a new job.  The Seattle Seahawks look pretty good … and if you’re gambling I think they’re going all the way, which I’ve never said confidently about any Seahawks team my entire life.  This one just looks better than every other team, but I digress, this is not suppose to be Super Jimmy’s Lock of the Week segment on Sunday morning sports talk radio. 

Speaking of sports talk radio, I gave it up this year like someone with a weak stomach gives up meat after touring a slaughterhouse.  The non-talk radio gave birth to me trying to be somewhat relevant when discussing music again.  The last time I did one of these lists was probably 2008, possibly even 2007.  That’s because I haven’t listened to nearly as much music over the years.  Gone are the days when my buddies and I sit in front of the Late Short Circuit Studios boomin’ system and playing knify spoony.  Now I enjoy a  45 minute car ride to and fro work every day which basically means I can listen to nearly 2 albums every day provided I don’t have a super awesome happy fun time playlist ready.  Trust me, if it’s Friday, I generally do. 

The Albums I Missed And Regret:


The Honorable Mentions:

The Terror – Flaming Lips

This is a fun psychedelic experience, but unfortunately not too much more for a non-drug user.  I sort of wish college Zach could listen to this one under the influence of different substances.  Other than that, when hearing an album like this, I worry a little about the band’s psyche.  This album makes me worry more than any other album ever has, which is not a compliment.  It’s almost like an episode of Game of Thrones where you think you’re enjoying it, but all the while the worst stuff is happening and when it’s over you’re in an emotional abyss even though your life is still exactly the same.  Anyone whosever tried to record an album knows it takes a toll on you (see: Sufjan Stevens works, post Illinois), so when an album is this far removed from the reality of music, well, I’m sure the Lips went to a far off place mentally to record this, just as I’m unsure if they’ll ever be able to come back.

AM – Arctic Monkeys

Though I can’t say there’s any outstanding about this album, the fact that there’s a pure rock ‘n roll record that came out this year that’s seemingly relevant is good enough.  I love that they go “War Pigs” on one song and hell, “Mad Sounds” is great … they make you wanna get up.   

Trouble Will Find Me – The National

This is the first album by these guys that I’ve ever heard, so it has that “fresh new band for Zach” thing going on.  I’m guessing most National fans like this album, but don’t view it as good as its predecessors.  That notion is based on absolutely nothing other than the fact that’s generally how album rankings go with hipster bands like these.  The first or second is the best, then they generally become a little worse every time …

… upon further review this band has been around since 2001.  There’s so much I don’t know.  I try to learn so much in this world of music and no matter how much I learn there will always be so much more.  Every album of theirs is generally rated positively and this is no different, but hipsters don’t care about rankings.  Okay, I’ve referenced hipsters enough in this piece (and more may follow), and I have to say, my video game highlight of 2013 was probably the Hipster rampage on Grand Theft Auto 5.  I’d love to do a “Best Video Game Moments of 2013” but they’d probably be all from GTA5. 

In terms of my history with The National, well, the songs I have heard before this have always been perfect for my “Over-Dramatic Monday” playlists on my ipod, and this album isn’t too much different.  They were definitely goth kids growing up and will always have that “just got out of acting class” sound. 

Random Access Memories – Daft Punk

This shouldn’t be my first Daft Punk album, but sadly it is.  It has a nice soothing electronic robot thing going on.  If Kanye is the crazy, you never know what he’s going to do next spaz robot, Daft Punk is the laid back, fun, definitely know what’s coming next robot.  Much of it is repetitive garbage, it’s WAY too long, but a lot of these songs are quite catchy and get in your head.  Aside from the repetitiveness (I swear they say “Lose Yourself to Dance” about 300 times), I don’t see what anyone would dislike about this album but then again, they’re not exactly breaking any boundaries either.  This is a very comfortable album. 

10.  Matangi – MIA

I’m not an impartial juror.  I can admit this album isn’t like her first two and I can also admit as a whole, it doesn’t seem like an actual album it’s more of a mere collection of songs.  However, there are like 6 or 7 good songs on it, and rule # 5 of album making is that if an album has more than 5 good songs, it’s a good album.  So here we are.  MIA can be one of the most obnoxious entertainers on earth, I get it.  Here, she’s finally made an album that’s similar to the way she dresses.  Loud, crazy, bright, sometimes fun to look at, but not something that’d be in any of your friends closets for sure. 

9.  Southeastern – Jason Isbell

I sincerely mean this as a compliment, but the mood of this record reminds me of the Eagles.  Basically, if you can get past all the cheese and douchebaggery of the Eagles sound, you may get something as good as what Isbell has done here.   There are very few albums that come out that I really care about the lyrics to the point where I’m following the story.  Sure, I can recognize crappy lyrics right away and that can make an album suck instantaneously, but when you hear an album like this, that borders adult contemporary, it’s the lyrics that save it from being involved in a shuffle with James Taylor and Paul Simon.  This is by no means a rocker, or even edgy Americana, this is a very laid back album (with a couple or mediocre rock songs) that comes off crystal clear and something the Drive-By Truckers will not be able to match in 2014 (Man,  I sure hope they prove me wrong).  I am excited for the next DBT album, and Broken Bells will have a new one, and who knows, maybe that next Modest Mouse album will come out … you just never know.  Also, a highlight of 2013 I missed was seeing Dr. Dog at the Gasparilla Music Festival.  Jason Isbell (and the Flaming Lips) will both be performing at the 2014 Gasparilla Music festival which has probably replaced the parade as the best Gasparilla related event in Tampa. 

8.  Electric Lady – Janelle Monae

Not my type of music, but every time I listen to it I like a new song on it.  Sure, it’s waaaaaaaaaay too long, but most of it is great.  The slow jamz are good, the wicked hardcore pop song, “Dance Apocalyptic” is too much fun; “Ghetto Woman” and “Q.U.E.E.N.” would be perfect gems if they didn’t have the unnecessary rap parts at the end of them and others are good too. 

What surprises me most about this one is she’s actually making an album.  This isn’t just an itunes collection of songs here.  There’s a theme, overtures, undertures, droids, a DJ … no rocks, no broken glass, just shake that ass.  I wish more borderline pop stars had Prince and Stevie Wonder influences like she does. 

7.  VII – Blitzen Trapper

I’m pretty sure I’ll be the only one ranking this album this high.  I love this band.  I started with them on their 3rd album, and like most, fell in love when they released Furr.  I’ve grown to love the two albums in between that one and this, but this one is special.  It really makes me feel like I’m in a cabin in the middle of the woods somewhere and everyone’s got banjos without being bluegrass.  Nothing personal against bluegrass, it’s just that it’s only fun for about 10 minutes before it all blends in.  What’s great is this year I started listening to a station that plays bluegrass until about 9 am on Saturday morning which is perfect for my 5 minute drive to and fro Publix.  PERFECT situation for bluegrass, but I’m digressing here.

The Trap, Dr. Dog and Deer Tick have all become some of my favorite bands lately, even though some could argue they’re all digressing.  Of the 3, The Trap is only one whom released an album this year that didn’t seem like a regression, so here they are. 

6.  We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic – Foxygen

If it weren’t for The Savages, this could’ve been my new favorite band this year.  When I first got this album, I liked it, but thought it sounded a little amateurish, the title alone is a god awful album title, in fact, its probably the 2nd winner of the “Worst Album Name by Semi-Promising New Band” award which was first won by Broken Social Scene with You Forgot it in People in 2003.  I put the album down for most of the year then picked it up again a month ago and loved it … listened to it again last week, and loved it more. 

(take a deep breath and possibly come back later if you’ve enjoyed this thus far)

5.  Yeezus – Kanye West

Jimi Hendrix can be too noisy at times.  Jim Morrison’s lyrics were nonsense.  John Lennon was a heroin junkie.  The Sex Pistols were just assholes whose only talent was being obnoxious.  All of Johnny Cash’s songs sound exactly the same.  Elvis, was a hero to most but he never meant shit to me, straight up racist, the sucker was simple and plain, muthafuck him and John Wayne.  Keith Richards and McJagger should’ve died in the mid-70s.  My point is, all of our greatest rock stars have huge flaws.  Kanye is no different, but make no mistake about it, he’s the best rock star of the 21st Century (and he doesn’t even play rock music!).  He’s our Black American Space Christ. 

Getting away from his music, what’s the worst thing this guy has ever done?  Everyone acts like he’s dropped a deuce on their front porch.  To my knowledge, the worst thing he’s ever done was interrupt Taylor Swift on an award show?  Really?  This has people outraged?  First of all, if you don’t think Jim Morrison would’ve done the same thing, you’re foolish.  Jimbo would’ve probably interrupted someone much better too.  Secondly, didn’t our beloved Beastie Boy MCA interrupt a speech when “Sabotage” didn’t win best video?  Yet, we’re proud of MCA for doing this aren’t we?  I’m sure the reason is because the late Adam Yauch wasn’t the shameless self-promoter Kanye clearly is, but is Kanye’s ego any bigger than Hendrix’ was?  Um, no.  Nobody in the history of life had a bigger ego than Jimi Hendrix.  Of course I know this because I partied so much with both of them. 

Now let’s get to the actual music.  Every rock critic in America is going to say how great this album is, just like they’ve done for all of his albums.  I agree with them, at least the first half.  For some reason though, that doesn’t prevent it from being a classic.  When’s the last time anyone has listened to a song on the second half of The Chronic?  1993?  You don’t need to have some flawless Dark Side of the Moon to be classic, you just need to be original, and that’s something Kanye always strives to be.  Every album is much different from the last and he’s constantly trying to evolve music.  This is what art fans want artists to do, make something we’ve never seen before.  Sure you can point to “Bound 2” and say, “oh that song is so terrible.  Kanye sucks.”  That’s like saying Abbey Road is terrible because you don’t like “Octopus’s Garden”.  Does a song like that prevent this from being considered one of the best albums ever?  Probably, and this album is not one of the greatest ever, and I’m yet to hear a Kanye album is, but that’s the standard we judge him by.  He says he’s the best, and we say he’s not and we act like we’re amazed that a rapper is bragging boasting all the time.  This is what rap’s all about.  Telling everyone how awesome you are and seeing how many different things you can rhyme with your name.  At least he’s constantly changing his name so he can do new rhymes.  Oh, and he’s funny too.  I’m glad we have him or pop music would be completely useless and boring. 

4.  Muchacho – Phosphorescent

I love that what’s probably this year’s best slice of Americana is entitled Muchacho.  Though this is the band’s sixth release, it their first release in my heart … and by that I mean, it’s the first one I’ve heard.  I get the feeling they’re going to be one of those bands for me in a couple years that I have to go back and get the entire catalogue.  Like Flannery O’Conner said, “A good Americana band is hard to find.” 

What helps this album is the muddiness of the recording.  Sometimes when I hear these indie bands, I often wonder how they’d sound if they were being engineered by a major label, and if that would make them better or worse.  For instance, in the year 2020 when our music listening devices give us the option to listen to an album and we can push the “Produced by” button, which changes the sound of an album to match a producer of your choice, I wonder how much that will help or hurt bands.  Sure, I’m just making this up as I go, but this could happen.  I for one am excited to hear Abbey Road produced by Danger Mouse.

3.  Modern Vampires of the City – Vampire Weekend

This is my most listened to album of 2013, but due to when it came out, it had more of a chance than others, so that’s not a good measuring stick.  It’s a classic though, that’s for sure.  It’s the hipster version of Paul Simon’s Graceland.  Until maybe the last couple tunes there’s not a song less than great on it.  Like Max Power’s name, each song (letter) is as important as the next … no, MORE important! 

Some are down on Vampire Weekend, and I get it, I didn’t really love them until this album, but one thing this band is great is their songwriting skills.  Nobody in this band ever says, “Look at how awesome I am at playing my instrument!”  They all just blend in together and make a perfectly unique sound.  If Arcade Fire wasn’t around, they’d probably be the best hipster band out today, even though the sheer title of “Best Hipster Band” would make one no longer a hipster band. 

2.  Reflektor – Arcade Fire

This should probably be #1, but I’m not ranking it that high for two reasons.

Reason #1, is it’s still a little new to me.  Arcade Fire released this like the Coen Bros. would release a movie if they were trying to win an Oscar.  Release something great, right before shit like this is decided and the voters, well me anyway, will rank it higher because it’s still fresh, unlike Vampire Weekend’s album which I’ve heard 10-20 times. 

Reason #2, much like an LCD Soundsystem album, when the experiments fall flat, they fall flat pretty hard.  V-Week and Savages may have some lesser songs on their albums but this album has actual bad songs on it, and I’m not even referring to the” instant delete off the ipod” Track 1 or the “want to but won’t” last track that are basically both just noise.

Why talk about the negative though with this album.   This is now the 4th Arcade Fire album and there hasn’t been one I’ve loved as much as this one.  The first one started out good but was very over-dramatic.  The second one was even more over-dramatic and didn’t have too many good tunes on it.  The 3rd one I’m pretty sure won a Grammy (won’t research) and gets all the accolades and what not, and it’s not bad or anything, but I’m not all Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (Spoon release a new album already! I’m listening to the god damn Arctic Monkeys now!) over it.  This one I am ga ga over. 

1.  Silence Yourself – Savages

I loved this rock album right away.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve heard a band rock this ferocious since I first heard Rage Against the Machine.  Sure, rock can be harder, more punk, faster, more kick drums, whatever, but none of that matters because albums either rock or they don’t, and this one is perfect.   

Then I found out it was performed by ladies.  This just made it better.  People laughed, saying, “How the hell could you think that voice came from a man?”  Easy, I thought this dude was influenced by Getty Lee.  There’s not much of a difference between the two voices, yet, one’s from a womanly man, and I’m guessing the other is from a manly woman.  The downside of this lady rock band is that this could be their one and only album.  Sure they’ll release one more at least, but we all know 4 women can’t get along for too long without one being turned on, and then another.  I used to have a good friendly debate on the best “all female band” of all time and there’s never really been a great one.  I mean, the Bangles are involved in the conversation, and even though I love the Bangles, they shouldn’t be involved in any “greatest” conversations unless it’s songs about Monday or crazy ways to walk.  I can already proclaim the Savages the best all female band of all time.  That’s how great this album is.