[365 Albums In 2013 is a monthly feature in which I document the experience of trying to listen to 365 new albums released in 2013. It also features assorted accolades for the month’s best and worst music.]
Have you ever reached the December rush of year-end lists only to realize that you haven’t even heard of half the stuff on it? There’s so much great music floating around, and yet it’s so easy to get pigeonholed into only listening to a select few artists. This year, I’ve set out to correct that issue for myself, by simply listening to a new album a day on average. It’s a simple task when you spend 8+ hours a day at a computer for work. In fact, it’s more than simple. For the month of January, I’ve filled my ears with more than 50 new releases, ranging from the really good to the really…. weird. The test begins….. Now.
Okay, maybe the downside of this project is the fact that it begins right as the holiday season has concluded. While it certainly hasn’t been as painful a month for film as it has been for film, there’s simply not a lot to write home about. Maybe that’s because artists are afraid of dropping albums right at the start of the year when everyone is catching up on that Tame Impala album that weirdly dominated year-end lists (ours included). And who wants to prep a release during the holidays? Regardless of the reason, January saw very few releases from heavy hitters and very many from relative newcomers. And while there were a few more than serviceable albums floating around, so many times a record would reach its closing silence, rousing little more than a ‘huh?’ from my drool dripping jaw. Even the critical cream-of-the-crop seemed weak, for the most part, with indie rock that fails to do much more than just, you know, be indie rock. For now, I am left gazing longingly at the increasingly more enticing Spring line-up and begging for March to take hold. But until them, my ears are ever so cold. Perhaps I should bust out those earmuffs-with-built-in-headphones that a family member gave me for Christmas this year…
Despite that whole preface, there was indeed one great debut record to grace the winter month; FIDLAR’s perfectly trashy self-titled album. Is there anything particularly new about the California rockers? No. Does their album reach the epic fuzz height’s of last year’s garage rock hits, like The Men’s “Open Your Heart” or Ty Segall Band’s “Slaughterhouse”? I suppose not. Is it a damn blast to pump loudly and shout along to? You bet your surfer ass. FIDLAR’s debut is something of an indie rock takeover of YOLO, producing fist-pumping, mosh-pit-inducing odes to living like a total shithead, because life is short and you’re too damn poor to buy expensive beer.
Free Energy “Love Sign”
The only way I can really describe Free Energy is “the poor man’s Fountains of Wayne.” The band’s sophomore effort is filled with bubblegum pop-rock songs complete with big cheesy riffs and refrains. But unlike a good Fountains of Wayne record, Love Sign doesn’t possess the proper charm or self-awareness to work. Instead, it feels like a DJ trying to hype a crowd at a lame party. Their efforts are nobel, but ultimately fruitless when there’s a better party next door.
A$AP Rocky (feat. Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$, YelaWolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson, & Big KRIT) “1 Train”
A$AP Rocky is blowing up right now. You couldn’t open a magazine or blog in January without seeing the rapper’s highly noticeable name. And while much of that praise is centered around his astonishingly catchy single Fuckin’ Problems, the best track on his newest record, LongLiveA$AP, comes in the form of this 6 minute gem. On 1 Train, Rocky and company trade powerful verses over a stellar beat that’s every bit as dramatic and danceable as Jesus Walks. Plus, any song that throws Kendrick Lamar and the always dementedly brilliant Danny Brown together stands a good chance of becoming an instant classic.
Other Notable Tracks:
- FIDLAR “No Waves”
- Everything Everything “Cough Cough”
- Camper Van Beethoven “Come Down The Coast”
- Yo La Tengo “Ohm”
- Widowspeak “Dyed In The Wool”
Most Bizarre Album
There were a lot of contenders for this one. Sean Lennon and Greg Saunier of Deerhoof made a noise album as Mystical Creatures. L. Pierre’s The Island Come True features a two-minute loop of a voice saying “Now listen”. But the month’s weirdest album goes to former Decemberists’ violinist Petra Haden, who put out a mostly accepella album of movie score covers. Some of it’s actually rather neat, like Haden’s perfectly eerie take on the Psycho theme. But then there’s things like her cover of David Bowie’s This Is Not America from The Falcon And The Snowman which is as odd as Bowie’s Labyrinth package is mystifying.
Album That Sounds Most Like A Yo La Tengo Album
Yo La Tengo “Fade”
Man, when aren’t Yo La Tengo being Yo La Tengo? I mean, for decades now they’ve been releasing incredibly consistent records that always fit right into their sound without getting old. Yes, the New Jersey trio are like a reliable friend, always there to comfort you when you’re down. And comforting is the right word to use here, as they band keeps things wonderfully subdued with small compositions often accentuated with light orchestration. It might not have much to win over new fans, but come on, who doesn’t like Yo La Tengo? They’re like that one towny who always comes out to little league games to support youth, only less creepy and with guitars.
Album That Starts Out Great But Gets Pretty Bad Half Way Through
Ra Ra Riot “Beta Love”
During the first half of Ra Ra Riot’s third LP, I couldn’t stop bouncing around in my seat. These perfectly crafted pop songs were a relief to hear amidst a month of somewhat bland indie rock and electronica. And then halfway through, things stopped dead like a train slamming on its brakes as hard as possible for no reason other than to screw with its passengers. In the middle of the otherwise fine “Angel, Please,” a key change so egregious popped out that it made me question whether or not I actually had indeed liked the first 5 tracks. Things only got “better” from there because there was no farther left to plummet. I only prayed for the last few songs to be under 3 minutes each, the indie pop equivalent to a mercy killing (Unfortunately the final, and perhaps worst track, is actually the longest). But damn, those first 5 are great, huh?
Album That Could Benefit From Less Pitch Corrected Deep Voice
A$AP Rocky “LongLiveA$AP”
Okay A$AP, I know I just praised you a second ago, but we need to have a talk. See, it’s no coincidence that your album’s best track is the one with the least ‘deep voice.’ I’m not sure where the technique originates from, but for some reason many rappers love to throw in a vocal part that’s pitched down to cartoon levels of deepness. When sparingly used, it can be used effectively. But the effect is lurking in every corner of A$AP’s latest album, popping out at every possible moment until it almost becomes comical… before it just becomes terribly obnoxious. It’s a shame, as it often makes LongLiveA$AP sound much cheesier than it really is. A$AP showcases a massive amount of talent on this record, no doubt, but ‘deep voice restraint’ is sadly not part of his skill set quite yet.
Album The Least In English
Shugo Tokumaru “In Focus?”
Yeah, definitely not in English.
Jesus Christ, I don’t know, take your pick.
Other Noteworthy January Albums:
- Mountains “Centralia”
- Everything Everything “Arc”
- Widowspeak “Almanac”