[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.]
With every passing day, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that this is a bad idea.In theory, it’s fine. A new album a day really isn’t bad. Of course, I’m an overachiever, so at this point in the year, I’ve already nearly hit 365. There is no excuse for this. What started as a simple experiment has become a terrible obsession. I find myself compelled to listen to any and everything new I can get my hands on, ingesting and forgetting 90% of it in the same breath. The question is now becoming “Can I make it to the end?” and the answer is “If I don’t die first.” I fear for my life at this point, or at least my hearing. I don’t even think music journalists expose themselves to this amount of music, and for good reason. When listening to music becomes a chore, what’s the point? Music is supposed to be entertaining in some way, whether by making you move or making you think. But when you’re just constantly listening without a break, it all tends to blend together, taking up space in your skull without providing any sort of experience. Our brains are not meant to absorb music in this way. What I’m starting to miss is that space between listening to albums. It’s easy to take those moments of silence for granted, but they are a period necessary for cleaning your palette for an incoming experience. Otherwise, it’s a 30 album pile-up in your eardrums, composing a cacophony of nothing.
Scout Niblett “It’s Up To Emma”
A broken heart can really fuck you up. The shock brought on by a sudden split conjures up a wealth of human responses, ranging from reasonable to downright crazy. Singer-songwriter Scout Niblett appears to be no stranger to that emotional onslaught, as evidenced by her latest album “It’s Up To Emma.” For anyone who has experienced a break-up, the feelings presented through the record may feel all too familiar. Between the 9 songs, Niblett bounces between anger, despair, desperation, and more, taking full advantage of her wide skill set. On “Gun,” for instance, she uses her grunge rock influence to spit venom all over the man who left her, crafting a sinister murder ballad. Two tracks later, she’s gently crooning about her regrets as soft strings weave between her melancholy guitar chords on “My Man.” Niblett comes at a break-up from every direction, creating what feels like a complete document of what it’s like to have your heart smashed to pieces. When the Earth is destroyed, aliens will one day uncover “It’s Up To Emma” and learn the meaning of heartbreak.
French Montana “Excuse My French”
What the hell happened to hip-hop this year? 2012 was a rap bounty, with both mainstream and underground artists dominating year-end lists. This year hasn’t been so kind, with terrible efforts from Lil Wayne, Tyga, Snoop Lion, and now, French Montana. His Bad Boy Records debut, “Excuse My French,” brings 2013’s hip-hop climate to a depressing new low with cringe-worthy songwriting and mind-numbingly clichéd beats. On one of the album’s weakest tracks, Montana repeats “I ain’t worried about nothin’,” and maybe that’s the problem. He feels terribly comfortable with creating nothing of substance, hitting all of the beats necessary to get on the radio without any effort. There’s a difference between being fearless and being apathetic, and that’s something that Montana really should worry about.
Daft Punk feat. Panda Bear “Doin’ It Right”
When Daft Punk released the list of collaborators for their highly anticipated “Random Access Memories,” one name seemed odd: Animal Collective’s Panda Bear. On paper, it’s hard to imagine Noah Lennox’s voice over clean, dance club-ready electro-pop. And yet the marriage between the two artists is a match made in heaven. There’s something about Lennox’s airy vocals that melt together perfectly with the French duo’s body-moving beats. The result is something highly danceable, with Lennox sounding like a natural pop pro, but also incredibly evocative. A lyrically simple song about dancing gains this magical aura that makes one feel like shaking your body is the true answer to life’s deepest questions.
Other Notable Tracks
- Savages “No Face”
- Deerhunter “Monomania”
- The National “Don’t Swallow The Cap”
- Dungeonesse “Shucks”
- Mikal Cronin “Weight”
Album That Would’ve Made A Great B-Side Collection
The National “Trouble Will Find Me”
Brooklyn sad-guys The National have been on winning streak for a full decade now. 3 years after the release of their career highlight, “High Violet,” it seems like a good time for the band to drop a collection of loose odds-and-ends, doesn’t it? And their latest record, the slower-than-usual “Trouble Will Find Me,” would have been the perfect b-sides record… that is, if the songs were b-sides. Let’s clear something up real quick: “Trouble Will Find Me” is a good album. There’s plenty of songs on it that rank among the band’s best (“Don’t Swallow The Cap” and “This Is The Last Time,” specifically). But something about it feels… incomplete. Perhaps it’s the somewhat muddy production that softens even the hardest of rockers, or the fact that many songs feel like they could have come from “Alligator” or “Boxer” sessions. Whatever the issue is, “Trouble Will Find Me” feels like an ideal compilation album, but a disappointing follow-up to “High Violet.” Regardless, if you’re a sad dude looking for lyrics that “speak to your soul,” then as usual, look no further.
Most Overlooked (But I’m, Like, Kinda Biased Because Jenn Wasner, You Guys)
I can’t stress this completely objective fact enough: Jenn Wasner is one of the greatest musicians currently around today. Don’t believe me? Go grab a copy of any Wye Oak release. Still don’t believe me? Check out her ghostly solo project, Flock of Dimes. Still don’t believe me? What’s wrong with you? Do you not like good things? You will die sad. But you have one more chance to prove that your existence is not just cynical and lonely. Behold! Dungeonesse, Wasner’s pop collaboration with fellow Baltimore-ite Jon Ehrens! Despite going relatively under the radar, the duo’s self titled debut is an infectious collection of sparkly pop gems strengthened by Wasner’s powerhouse vocals. What more do you want from life? You’re going to sit here and tell me that the bouncy, Aaliyah-tinged opener “Shucks” just isn’t your jam? Get real. Get. REEEEAL. Maybe you’d just be happier if you just opened up your ears and let the absurdly catchy “Drive You Crazy” burrow its way inside. What’s that? You think I’m biased towards Jenn Wasner’s music? Listen, kid, I saw Wye Oak play “Prodigy” in a dingy upstate New York bar a few years ago and I saw the face of God. Get on my level.
Album That I Feel Left Out For Not Digging All That Much
Vampire Weekend “Modern Vampires Of The City”
Music can serve as a powerful form of sociological bonding. Take the latest Daft Punk record, for example. When it was released for streaming a week early, eager listeners all banded together using social media and message boards to talk about it. It was a beautiful moment where music fans banded together to talk about what they love. But if you’re out of the loop, that bond can make you feel terribly isolated. That’s where my troubled relationship with indie darlings Vampire Weekend comes into play. Something about the band’s preppy aesthetic has always bugged me. My gripe hasn’t gone away with the band’s latest, the universally beloved “Modern Vampires of the City.” The record feels like yeast that refuses to rise into bread. There’s a certain flatness to Vampire Weekend’s music; it never feels like it should rock or pop as much as it means to. But over the years, I’ve only been pushed farther into the minority with that opinion, and this time more than ever. Such agreement only leads me to wonder what’s wrong with my ears. Of course, it’s absolutely normal and okay to not like a beloved band, but there’s something sad about missing out on the community bonding that mutual love of an album can bring. I wish I liked Vampire Weekend. I wish I could gush about “Modern Vampire of the City” to excited music fans. But alas, music can be terribly exclusive and inclusive at the same time.
“Fuck a love song / I need to fuck you.”
Other Noteworthy May Albums:
- Primal Scream “More Light”
- Daft Punk “Random Access Memories”
- Mikal Cronin “MCII”
- Patty Griffin “American Kid”
- Savages “Silence Yourself”