Published January 06. 2014 3:00PM Updated January 07. 2014 8:37AM
I would like to become one of the very few Professional Writers About Music (PWAM)to suggest that A) Kanye West's Yeezus and B) Vampire Weekend's Modern Vampires of the City are not the best records of 2013.
For one thing, as I don't get tired of pointing out: there are so many records released every year by so many artists that it's simply not possible to hear them all. As such, for a writer to suggest a CD is "the best" is presumptuous. So don't do that anymore, colleagues. It's a small thing but you'll look so much less pompous.
In the meantime, many music writers indeed insist that the Kanye and the Vampire Weekends have churned out superior products.
Not according to me.
I do think Yeezus has some very cool moments on it — mostly in terms of production rather than his getting-tiresome braggadocio. But these Vampire people? They're one of those astoundingly popular critic's bands that I just don't get. (File along with Mumford & Son, Kings of Leon and the Arcade Fire).
But enough about what I don't like.
Here are my favorite albums of 2013. I've written about and/or reviewed many of them already over the last twelve months, so I'll keep it brief. Here are nine of my eleven choices, and these are in no particular order:
For Now I Am Winter by Ölafur Arnalds
The Messenger by Johnny Marr
A Fair Dream Gone Mad by In the Sllence
Tomorrow's Harvest by Boards of Canada
The Wisdom of Crowds by Bruce Soord and Jonas Renske
The Audio Guide to Happiness Part 2 by Jolly
Random Access Memories by Daft Punk
Say That to This by Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue
Octane Twisted by Porcupine Tree (A live album released in late December, 2012, and which could well be the band's swansong. Sigh ...)
Finally: these are the two records I liked the best and, yes, it's a tie for the top spot:
Southeastern by Jason Isbell — Even as the wunderkind in a band of superstar writers like the Drive By Truckers, Isbell was the one you thought would someday go alone. Indeed, after he left them and formed the 400 Unit, Isbell has continued and expanded a tradition of very fine musical storytelling, elevating the idea of Southern Rock and what I'd call "real country" to levels rarely envisioned beyond folks like the Allmans, Townes Van Zandt, Merle Haggard and, yes, the Truckers.
It's with Southeastern, though, that Isbell has pulled off a head-exploding artistic achievement. Largely acoustic and ballad-heavy, Southeastern goes melodically and thematically where few have gone before. It's consistently brilliant. As always, he describes people and spins narratives worthy of Faulkner or Welty, but it's also touching that there's more than a little bit of the always-searching Isbell in each of these tales and characters.
If you can listen to "Traveling Alone," "Live Oak," "Super 8" and the breath-stealing "Elephant" — well, hell, the whole CD — without being profoundly moved and grateful, you don't have ears or heart. (NOTE: "Elephant" drops an F-bomb, but in the emotional fashion that David Ortiz did in his heartfelt comments after the Boston Marathon bombings.)
My other favorite CD:
Migrant by The Dear Hunter — I've discussed Migrant many times this year, mostly because it is so good, but also in the context that frontman/songwriter Casey Crescenzo is cruelly, Brian Wilson-y prolific. Great songs, great voice, great artistic vision. Not only is Migrant a stand-alone break midway through a six-album DH story arc and a massively ambition collection of EPs called The Color Spectrum, Crescenzo recently debuted his first full length symphony in Poland. With all that going on, you might think Migrant would be a throw-away exercise — but you'd be laughingly wrong. The whole album is stuffed with massively impressive thinking person's rock. I've posted many of its songs over the year, but try this one as a tasty sample.
Feel free to chime in on any of this and definitely let me know what records meant the most to you in the last year.