[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.]
Now we’re getting somewhere. After the long, dead trudge through January and February, two artistically barren months, we’ve finally reached the mecca of Spring. This is where music comes out of hibernation and heavy hitters come out to see the light of day. Within one week, the floodgates had already opened wide open with great records from old timers and newcomers alike. Of course, not everything is perfect. Only 3 months in and 2013 is stuffed with mind numbing repetition. As digital music programs get better, it appears that almost everyone and their mother has started producing minimalist beats off their computers. Most days of March wound up consisting of slogging through hours of electronics, too dull to even make one tired. Naturally, music moves in trends, and its equal parts fascinating and boring to watch them unfold.
David Bowie “The Next Day”
What alternate universe have we been transported to? On the Earth I know, comeback records are generally terrible–especially ones by aging musical icons. But lo and behold, the 2010’s have proven to be the comeback of the comeback. This year, we can add David Bowie to the ever increasing list of successful return records, as “The Next Day” (his first album in 10 years) is inexplicably excellent. Well, okay, it’s not inexplicable at all. Bowie has become such a mythical figure over the decades that it’s easy to forget that he’s not a gimmick. These 14 tracks showcase Bowie doing what Bowie does best: producing tight rock songs. Even songs that seem like they should fail on paper (“Valentine’s Day”) are high energy earworms. “The Next Day” is one of those albums that makes you grin from ear to ear as you clutch your fist and triumphantly proclaim “Bowie’s still got it!” after each song.
The Cave Singers “Naomi”
Last year, something terrible dawned on me. It was around the time Mumford & Sons continued to be popular and that damn Lumineers song played in every movie trailer that tried to say “This is a tender movie about love.” Folk pop was a thing. For the next two or three years, we’d see an oversaturation of guys with acoustic guitars fusing traditional folk and bluegrass elements into radio friendly pop. The blowback from this could only be terrible. Enter “Naomi,” the fourth album from indie folk band The Cave Singers. While I can’t prove that the often insufferable songs here are directly correlated to this recent trend (after all, The Cave Singers started in 2007), “Naomi” feels like the work of a band listening to adult contemporary radio stations and saying “Shit man, that’s where the money is.” While I do believe that The Cave Singers motives are more sincere than that, it’s difficult to pull them out of context of a time where Mumford & Songs just won the Grammy for album of the year. And frankly, The Cave Singers just don’t have the hooks necessary to compete.
Sometimes, you don’t need originality to create fantastic music. Case in point: CHVRCHES’ “Recover,” the title track from their debut EP. On its surface, there’s nothing particularly new about the song. It follows an incredibly basic structure, using all the instrumentation you’d expect in a pop song. In truth, there’s not much that sets CHVRCHES apart from, say, Purity Ring. And yet, “Recover” is the finest pop song of the year thus far due to its extraordinarily catchy chorus and a gut-wrenching vocal performance. Sometimes, it’s not about switching up the formula, just being best at it.
Other Notable Tracks:
Album Not Actually Made By A Robot
Karl Bartos “Off The Record”
Listen Karl, we need to talk. Now, I know that you’re really into electronic music and that’s totally cool. I really respect that, I do. But there’s just something I have to tell you. You’re not actually a robot. I know that might be a shock to hear, what with your latest album utilizing gaudy vocal effects to make you sound like a synthetic organism, but you’re not fooling anyone. It just kind of makes you sound… I don’t know how to put it lightly, Karl… kind of ridiculous. I mean, you’ve got some talent, ya know, but the whole robot voice thing is just cheesy, man. Call me old fashioned, but I just don’t get it. I hate to break it to you this way, Karl. Maybe you should just spend less time trying to be a robot. Just take some time off, get some fresh air. Give it some thought, okay?
Lil Wayne “I Am Not A Human Being II”
Lil Wayne’s most recent record opens with a piano solo. No beat. No bass. Just a straight up piano solo. Halfway through, the man himself finally speaks up, letting the listener know that “I’m in the ocean getting shark pussy.” If there’s a word to describe this opening track, it hasn’t been invented yet. It’s somewhere between amazing and abysmal, with Wayne concluding “I just fucked this piano.” This is a piece of music that actually exists. So does the rest of “I Am Not A Human Being II,” an album in which Lil Wayne literally does nothing but compare his dick to things (a recliner, a shovel, the Kentucky Derby, the next black president, etc) for over an hour. At first, it’s kind of an awe-inspiring spectacle to behold. Though, around track 8 out of fuck-knows-how-many, it stops being cute–you can physically feel tracks like “Romance” scraping pieces of your brain clean off. IANAGB2 will likely be one of the more forgotten releases in Wayne’s vast library, but there’s a fair shot you could see it on Jeopardy one day: “This album contains the most dick metaphors ever recorded.” “What is I Am Not A Human Being II.” “I don’t even know.”
Ethereal R&B-Influenced-Indie-Pop Album That Doesn’t Make Me Want To Die
2013 will likely go down in history as the year where we wished that R&B never existed. It’s a lovely genre, don’t get me wrong. But only 3 months in and the indie pop scene is oversaturated with laptop-toting hipsters cooing over dreamy beats. While most of it all sort of blurs together into one reverb-y mountain of mediocrity, there is one disc that stands out. Rhye’s debut album, “Woman,” is a shining beacon glittering with bright hooks. Couple that with some creative production choices, which go beyond your run-of-the-mill hip-hop beats and minimalist synth work, and you’ve got an album that’s not just tolerable, but damn good. If only they could all sound like this…
Best Song Title
Other Noteworthy March Albums:
- The Men “New Moon”
- Marnie Stern “The Chronicles Of Marnia”
- Low “The Invisible Way”
- Waxahatchee “Cerulean Salt”
- Wavves “Afraid Of Heights”