For reasons I can’t quite recall, 2012 went out like a light and had no top ten list to show for it. Poor thing, but there’s nothing I can do. If I went back and tried to make something from nothing, 2012 would still give me that look that says, “Well, you should’ve done it then.”
And so, here’s to 2013. Specifically, here’s to the music that 2013 brought before my ears. As before (aside from 2012), these are in no particular order, so just imagine the whole list coming at you at once.
Janelle Monae – Electric Lady
I’ve been on the Monae train since 2007 and she never disappoints. What Monae is doing is purposefully epic, never just content to write a single that will chart, she approaches her music as all part of a unified whole. You can shake your ass to “Q.U.E.E.N.” or slow dance to “It’s Code,” but these and all of the other tracks on Electric Lady serve the tale she’s been telling since 2007’s Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase). And she isn’t done with her story of androids-in-love and a messiah on the run. Some complained about this release being a double album. Not me. Make the next a triple.
Chvrches – The Bones Of What You Believe
The future sounds like this, and this sounds like a flock of (mostly) happy computers singing in a
n English Scottish garden. Also, nothing hits my heart quite like the way Lauren Mayberry says “when it all f*cks up.” Gah. Writing about this album is saying too much about a thing that is just about perfect.
Daughter – If You Leave
A moody, wintery album on the almost-forgotten 4AD label? Nobody is surprised by this, of course. 4AD is who brought us those This Mortal Coil albums that we played alone in the dark in college and thought we’d discovered something incredibly secret and maybe a little dangerous. Like a little pet vampire. Daughter has a similar vibe, but far more substance. With lyrics like “Setting fire to our insides for fun / Collecting pictures from the flood that wrecked our home,” Daughter is not messing around. They’ve got your number, heartbroken folk.
Quadron – Avalanche
A couple of Danes have embraced the neo-soul movement that the US has let go fallow for far too long. The result is this. I was sold on their awesomeness with a video, so I’ll let that same video do the same.
Tanya Morgan – Rubber Souls
Without a doubt, my absolute favorite hip-hop album of the year. Yeah, I dug on Kanye’s Yeezus for about a week or so, but Rubber Souls gets the replay over and over and over. First, let’s get this out of the way: Tanya Morgan is not a girl, but instead a trio of three dudes from Cincinnati and Brooklyn (their 2009 album was called Brooklynati). Second, these guys are all about the craft, delivering amazing rhymes over even more amazing beats and doing it with an eye for reality and history. (And yeah, I gave you a Spotify link, but if you were thinking about putting real money toward anybody on this list, pick up Rubber Souls at iTunes.)
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – English Electric
When I was a little kid, trying so desperately to learn piano in a dusty backroom behind a bicycle shop, I had dreams of fronting an all-synthesizer band that would make it all worthwhile. As it happens, the piano and I parted ways in 1984, but this album sounds just like what I’d imagined.
Alice Smith – She
Though I discovered it a year or so after release, I played the hell out of Alice Smith’s first album. Or rather, her only album. Turns out that she was working on a second, but the studio shelved it. Indefinitely. And so, Alice Smith took to Kickstarter to fund her third album. I was happy to contribute. And the result is so damn good.
Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience – Shut up. There is an artistry to really good pop music, and JT nails it, at least on this album. Sure, it could do with a little less Timbaland, but the same could be said of the planet Earth itself. A pity the same can’t be said of his second release, 2 of 2, but for these 10 tracks, Timberlake has his sh*t in order and makes it work. (And yes, I even like the tracks that change directions halfway through and stretch to six or seven minutes.)
John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts
If this album was nothing but “GMF” on repeat 11 times, it would still be in my 2013 top ten. The lyrics are way too personal, but brilliant because of it. And where you’d expect such confessional and (occasionally) scathing words to be supported by just a simple acoustic guitar, Grant has pulled in a galaxy of spare and icey electronica. The result is fantastic driving music, particularly if you’ve a long distance to go and nothing but night before you.
Chelsea Wolfe – Pain Is Beauty
Spooky as hell, but solid, Chelsea Wolfe calls what she does “drone-metal-art-folk.” Sure, let’s go with that. Her songs are sweeping, cold, haunting. In other words, she’s creating what every low-end goth band wants to claim as their own. The difference is that Chelsea Wolfe does it with style, elegance and a lack of artifice.
And there you have it. My year in music, give or take a few.