Monday, September 1, 2014

The Year In Music: 2013

My Favorite Songs Of 2013

This year was a prefect representation of how diverse, and some would say fragmented, music exploration has become.  Looking over the things I picked as my favorite songs for 2013, I notice that I came across the songs in many different ways.   There was no one standard way I discovered new songs (or songs that were new to me since it doesn’t matter when the song was released, only what year it was when I first got into it.)  Once I found them though, I then took all my favorites that could fit onto two CDs and sent them out to my musically curious friends (if you want a CD too, just let me know.)  If you look further down on this blog post, you’ll see that I’ve also posted my favorite and least favorite albums for the year.  There is some overlap with this favorite songs list but there are some differences.  Now, here’s how I found the songs that would become my favorites for 2013 and why I liked them.  

Disc 1 Of 2

The Troggs-   With A Girl Like You

There was a rom-com-zom movie (romantic comedy zombie movie) called Warm Bodies that came out this year.  It was a decent movie, although laughably na├»ve, but in the months before it came out, I saw the preview a dozen times in the theater.  Each time I got hooked on the song that played in the preview.  It was this song, which I’d had heard once or twice in the past but hadn’t really paid attention to it since it got very little airplay.  The only Troggs songs you probably hear on the radio anymore are “Wild Thing”, which I kind of disliked even before it was over-used by appearing in dozens of movies, and “Love Is All Around” which I still like even though it was overused in the movie “Love Actually”.  That’s it- you don’t hear any other Troggs songs on the radio and even those two are fairly rare.  When I watched Warm Bodies and that song was not in the movie, despite being perfectly in synch with the plot of the movie, I had to buy it because it had earwormed its way into being one of my favorite songs, 40 years after it was released.  I bought several other Troggs songs at the same time because I enjoyed their low-fi, simplistic, bashing style of music but this the best one of them all.  Plus, I loved the lyrics too.

Bee Gees-   Out Of Time

I saw a magazine review of the deluxe re-issues of the first few Bee Gees albums and decided to upgrade since my CDs were old and didn’t include the bonus material.  One of the bonus items was this song, which was recorded but never released.  How that happened, I can’t begin to imagine because it is an awesome song.  It would have been a highlight on any album yet they let it languish for decades.  That’s flabbergasting.

Adam Ant-   Marrying The Gunner's Daughter

Also in a magazine review, I saw that Adam Ant was releasing his first new album in 15 years.  Being a fan of his (how can you not love songs like “Stand And Deliver” and “Crackpot History”?), I thought I would buy the album.  It was also a moral imperative in a sense since Ant had been a little mentally tormented lately and briefly entertained suicidal thoughts a few years back because he felt like he was washed-up.  This album has a little bit of everything- the typical Ant sounding songs like the title track, the metal-ish pop sound that had inspired Nine Inch Nails to cover ant’s “Physical”, some ballads a la Wonderful and then there is his WTF song “Who’s A Goofy Bunny”.  An enjoyable, schizophrenic album. 

Antonia Bennett-   Pill

I am a big fan of Holly Knight, the incredible songwriter from the 1980’s who wrote songs like Obsession, Love Is A Battlefield, Rag Doll and Simply The Best.  I periodically check her website to see if she posted anything about writing a new song for someone.  What she had been working on lately was producing a debut album for Antonio Bennett, Tony Bennett’s daughter.  The album was so-so, some good stuff and some generic stuff but I always buy whatever Holly Knight does.  This is one of the more interesting songs from the album.

Pharrell Williams-   Happy

I enjoyed Despicable Me and decided to watch the sequel because the previews made it seem like there would be even more of the Minions, the goofy yellow critters that are the comic relief of the series.  As you have certainly heard by now Pharrell Williams did several songs for the soundtrack including the totally inescapable song “Happy.”  Before it became a monster hit though, I simply liked the scene in the movie with the song and decided to buy it, not realizing I would be hearing it plenty in the next few months.

Gentlemen Hall-   Sail Into The Sun

I was watching television and this song was in a commercial.  I can’t tell you what the commercial was for anymore- a car?  A cleaning product?  Lipitor?- but the song snuck its way into my brain so I Shazamed the commercial to see who did the song and then bought a digital download of it.  The same thing happened for a Target commercial with the Passion Pit song further below.  Heard the song in a commercial, Shazamed it, bought it. 

Blue Rodeo-   Don't Let The Darkness In…

After watching a movie in the theater, I sat through the end credits because this song was playing over them and I wanted to see who performed it.  It reminded me of the Jayhawks, a group I love, but it was more bleak and glum then what they do.  I’d never heard of Blue Rodeo although they have several albums out.  I took a chance on getting their whole album instead of just this song in case they actually were a new Jayhawks. They weren’t but this is still a good but bleak song.

Oh Land-   My Boxer

When I was on Amazon buying something, I saw this was one of the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…” so I added it to my Wish List.  At the same time, I mentally frowned at Amazon because they never recommend things based on what I’m interested in or have bought in the past.  The only things that usually show up in the “Recommended For You” area are things similar to what I just looked at.  You would think that if I bought the last three CDs by an artist, then their next album would show up in my “Recommended for You” area or would generate an email alerting me but they don’t.  I had to stumble across a new Berlin album, this album, Matthew Sweet’s latest, etc… in the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…” spot.  That’s part of why it is hard to find new things easily- there is no definitive recommendation source.  This album was okay, but only a few songs stood out to me.  This one wasn’t necessarily the best of those but it is really intriguing.  Kind of an alternative rock version of Kelis’ “Milkshake”.  I kept listening to it and thinking “What is she trying to say?”  Then again, she’s Scandinavian and they are a little out there anyways so maybe she was just freestyling instead trying to craft insightful lyrics that meant something. 

Brian Setzer Orchestra-   My Favorite Things (Instrumental)

I was looking at Amazon for the new Brian Setzer album so of course they “recommended” several of his other CDs, including several Christmas CDs I didn’t realize he’d done.  Since I didn’t have any big band swing Christmas albums, I decided to get one.  This was my favorite song on the album.  This track, originally from The Sound Of Music, is not really a Christmas song, but I found it to be atmospheric, haunting, and evocative, like a gentle snowfall in a remote forest.

Bombay Bicycle Club-   Shuffle

A co-worker and I were discussing the Academy Awards and she mentioned a video she saw that condensed all the best 2013 movies into a 7-minute You Tube video.  I had to go see that video because I wondered if they managed to include all the big names.  While watching the video, I couldn’t help but notice the music that was playing in the background.  It was really catchy and I enjoyed the background music more than the You Tube video.  This was that song and it feels very spry, lighthearted, positive and fun, just like the 2013 film “The Artist” that featured prominently in that You Tube compilation video.  

Phillip Phillips-   Get Up Get Down

I liked his song “Home” that played on the radio all the time so when I saw this $5 digital album of his on Amazon, I decided to get it.  There were several other good songs so it was well worth the $5.  This one confused me at first because I thought I was listening to a Dave Matthews track, not something by Phillip Phillips.  It wasn’t DM. It really was Phillips and it was my favorite song on the album.

CeeLo Green-   Bright Lights, Bigger City

After watching The Voice and seeing CeeLo lose to Blake Shelton again, I decided to give him a consolation prize and buy one of his songs.  I owned both Gnarls Barkey albums, plus the Pussycat dolls “Dontcha” and his “F*** You” and this was the best one of his that I didn’t already have.  (I’m not sure I’d like anything by The Goody Mobb.)  It’s a shiny piece of nouveau Motown. 

New Politics-   Harlem

Heard this on SiriusXM while driving to work one day.  It was upbeat and fun and based on the lyrics I didn’t think it would be big on the radio and get overplayed so I bought it.

Johnny Mathis-   Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting…)

Billy Joel’s website mentioned that Joel did a duet with Johnny Mathis.  Being a completist, I had to get this since Billy hasn’t done any Christmas songs before (although Christmas does feature heavily in his video for “She right On Time”.)  Every year I look for a Christmas song or two to expand my holiday collection.  Lately I’ve picked up Christmas songs by Weezer, Billy Idol, Sting, Aimee Mann, Dragonette, Kylie Minogue, the Brain Setzer album I mentioned earlier and now this one by Billy Joel.  It’s just a nice way to keep from hearing “Grandma Got Ran Over By A Reindeer” yet again.

Sheryl Crow-   Shotgun

Entertainment Weekly reviewed Sheryl Crow’s latest album, an honest-to-God country album rather than one that dabbles in country sounds, like her previous 100 Miles From Memphis.  It was one of her better albums of the last few years because it had good songs, regardless of the genre.   I opted for the digital album because for once the intangible version was cheaper than the physical CD.

Cotton Mather-   My Before And After

A few years back, I heard this song on Little Steven’s Underground Garage radio show.  I put it on my To Buy spreadsheet but when I got around to looking for it, it was no longer in print.  I don’t know why I left it on my list at that point but last year I looked again and saw that it was back in print as a deluxe reissue.  Apparently, the band created a Kickstarter campaign and raised enough money to re-rerelease the album.  I didn’t see it on Kickstarter, because I heard about this after the fact, but Amazon did carry it so I bought it there.  The album is kind of eclectic.  This track sounds like early Beatles or Kinks, others sound like Cracker and some sound like Crosby Stills And Nash.  Very enjoyable.  Interestingly enough, this also led to the Veronica Mars movie in 2014.  Veronica Mars’ writer/showrunner (Rob Thomas) used a Cotton Mather song in the show so when their album was re-issued due to Kickstarter, he heard about it and thought that was a cool concept.  He decided to do a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a Veronica Mars movie and the rest was history.  

Roxette-   Lover Lover Lover

Yes, that Roxette.  I read a review of a new album in a magazine and since I enjoyed them in the 1990’s, I thought I would give them a try.  It’s been about a decade since they did anything- in part because the lead singer had a brain tumor- but I think it is nice to have them back.  This sounds just like their other albums so if you hated them, you’ll hate this. If you thought they were a fun band, you’ll find this to be a fun song.  It’s a bit slower than some of their hits but it has a nice sound and a good vocal.

Donald Fagen-   I'm Not The Same Without You

Buying something on Amazon, I saw a new Donald Fagen album listed in the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought…” section.  Since I have several of his albums and all the Steely Dan songs, I wanted this too.  I was very happy with the purchase- it sounded like Steely Dan and best of all it sounded like good Steely Dan.  The 2000 comeback album by Steely Dan, Two Against Nature, had some good songs but didn’t really capture their signature sound.  The follow-up, 2003’s Everything Must, got the Steely Dan sound right but had much weaker songs.  This new Fagen album sounds right and has good songs.  I played it quite a bit this year and had a tough time choosing a favorite among two or three of the songs.  I eventually went with this one.

Foxygen-   Shuggie

I subscribe to CMJ, which used to send me a monthly magazine and compilation CD of upcoming new artists and some older acts wanting to reintroduce themselves.  Now CMJ does a website and monthly digital download compilation.  I take a listen to all the songs to see if any of the artists are worth paying attention to.  This is one of the songs that caught my fancy so I will check out their next album when it hits Spotify.  I have a soft spot for songs that change tempo and styles during the song and this one does both.  Listening to it, I felt like I took a hit off a joint but there were no physical side effects after the song was over and I couldn’t get arrested for possession of the song.

Passion Pit-   Carried Away

As mentioned above, I came across this from a TV commercial.  Heard it, Shazamed it, bought it. 

Daft Punk-   Get Lucky

I couldn’t tell you exactly where I first heard about Daft Punk’s new album because the news was everywhere.  An ad on Saturday Night Live, Facebook notices, magazine articles, Twitter feeds, radio airplay.  Everywhere.  I do know that I really wanted the album to arrive because it had been a decade since their last album.  Plus, that album was fairly crappy so it had been 15 years since their last good album.  This one, unfortunately, did not change the trend.  As an album, I don’t like it.  As a place where a couple of really good singles resides, I like it.  This first single, Get Lucky, was awesome.  It hits a groove and rides it for 5 minutes.  It also resulted in an amazing video by Stephen Colbert.  So of course I thought the album would match the pluck, dash and rhythm of this single but this was actually the highlight and peak for the album.  “Give Life Back to Music” and “Lose Yourself to Dance" (featuring Pharrell Williams) were good even though they weren’t another “Get Lucky”.  Ironically, the song I liked best was also the one that really made me downgrade the album.  The last song, Contact, is a spiky, abrasive sound collage that reminds me of my favorite Daft Punk album- their debut album “Homework”.  If they had thrown a few more songs like this on the album, I could have handled some of the meandering, noodling nonsense on this album but no, this was a one-shot reminder of their faded glory.

Disc 2 Of 2

Paul Banks-   The Base

I poking around for info on about Interpol and if they were recoding a new album and I saw that the lead singer had done a solo album so I got that to tide me over.  In was an interesting album but I can clearly see how all the parts/members of the band work together to create their unique sound and atmosphere.   The vocals and lyrics come from Paula Banks, the signature moody bass sound from the departed bass player Carlos D, and then guitar and drums from the other members filling in after Banks and D had laid out the basis of each song.  This is a decent album but still a stop gap listen until Interpol drop something in 2014, which I really hope is good.  It’ll be the first without their founding bassist.

Beats Antique-   Beauty Beats

I don’t know how I came across this song.  I know it was some type of recommendation and I went to Spotify to hear their stuff and I cheery-picked a couple good songs.  I like how this is totally unique.  It sounds like a bunch of random musical instruments and sounds made by household appliances from the 1880’s were stitched  together to make a song.  This is more of sound sculpture than it is a song.

Moon King-   Appel

Another song I found on my CMJ compilation download.  It sounds like Lush, a wonderful but forgotten band from the 1990’s.  I’m not sure why they had a song on the compilation though because when I tried to buy a whole, it turns out they don’t have anything readily available.  Just one hard to find EP.  I’ll keep my eye out though in case they decide to follow-up with something else.

Silversun Pickups-   Bloody Mary

A music review in a magazine alerted me to the second release by this band.  If you find Smashing Pumpkins too pretentious, then try this band instead.

Eminem-   Berzerk

I heard this on the radio.  I thought it was bizarre and catchy and had to get it.  I generally like about every fourth song or so that Eminem does.  And yes, that is a Billy Squire sample in the song- another reason it sounds so good.

Ohgr-   Devil

Having done a binge listen to the last three Skinny Puppy albums that had accumulated on my “To Listen To” shelf, I was eager for even more but in the past I had been stung by horribly disappointing albums from the solo members of the band and was afraid to try again.  The only one I hadn’t given a chance was Nivek Ogre, or OhGr as he is known on solo work.  I decided to try one album and see what I thought.  As soon as I listened to it, I immediately got his other three albums and had another binge session.  This is what I had been missing when listening to the ambient, minimalist electronic work from the other solo members.  I liked the Ogre solo work almost as much as I had the Skinny Puppy albums.  OhGr goes for a more straight forward rock sound rather than Skinny Puppy’s experimental industrial sound but when either of these bands finds the right song, they can blow the roof off the building or smash down the walls.  It turns out that this is what I had been looking for.  Now the only problem is that there are no new Skinny Puppy or Ohgr albums on the horizon and previous alternatives Nine Inch Nails and Ministry have, respectively, either disbanded or gotten soft and lame.  Now what? 

Juliana Hatfield-   Don't Wanna Dance

Juliana has funded her last three albums via Kickstarter.  By now, I’m buying her stuff out of habit rather than fervored interest.  Maybe one of these times something will click and she’ll regain her past glory, which ended after the album “Total System Failure”.  Still, each album does provide two or three things worth a listen.  Here’s one of those songs.  It’s a fun little throw-away, and I obviously agree with the lyrics.

Spoon-   The Mystery Zone

Saw a review in a magazine about their latest one.  I am amazed each time I hear a Spoon album.  I always expect I won’t like it and I am put off at first by the minimalism of it, but after a second or third listen the quality of the songs and unique vocal and musical approach to it has won me over.  They are on a nice streak of quality output and I hope it continues.

Camper Van Beethoven-   Might Makes Right

David Lowery (Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker, solo) is an artist I periodically look up to see if there is anything new coming out.  I wasn’t a fan of CVB back in the day, but I was a fan of Cracker and when CVB started putting out albums, I started getting them since David Lowery writes a lot of the songs.  Half the songs are aesthetic hits and the other half are misses but since the album has a lot of songs, that still means a lot of good stuff is there to be heard.  This wasn’t necessarily the best song on the album but I liked the lyrical point and it fit my time limit constraints for the CDs.

Robert Plant-   Angel Dance

About once a year I check to see if Plant has done anything new.  I was equivocal about Led Zeppelin but he is now easily among my favorite artists of all time based on his solo work and I’m always eager to see what he does.  His style has not evolved but rather it has exploded. No genre is off-limits to his musical wanderlust.  He is curious about everything and makes news songs, covers, styles and genres sound like his own.  He hasn’t had any failures as a solo artist, just some albums that were less interesting than others.  Here’s a song from the album he just put out with his newly reformed pre-Zeppelin band.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs-   Mosquito

I was very disappointed in this album, mainly because most of the songs were boring and had none of the verve of the previous album.  This is one of the two songs worth salvaging for a future greatest hits album.

Ohgr-   Earthworm

Another Ohgr song.  As I explained above, he is a new favorite that I binged on this year.

Ylvis-   The Fox (What Does The Fox Say)

You’ve seen the You Tube video for this that went viral worldwide.  At first I wasn’t sure if this was a joke or not but after watching two other awesomely hilarious videos of theirs (  and  ), it is obvious they are spoofing modern pop-electronic music.  I felt the urge to get the song, just because.
Sweet-   New York Groove

I heard a song the other day – the one next below on this list in fact- and the heavy drum sound reminded me of Ace Frehley’s song New York Groove.  Being near my phone and in the mood to hear that song, I went to You Tube to play the video.  Interestingly enough, there was no official video listed but I did see one for a song of the same name by Sweet.  Once I played it, it turned out to be a cover by the 1970’s band that had reformed in 2010.  I like Sweet, I like the song, and I loved their arrangement of it.  It retains the stomp of the original but throws in a surprise mashup to lighten up the song a little.  I ended up getting their whole album because of this song and it was very fun to listen to.  Another standout that I had no room to include here was their cover of “On Broadway” (the whole album is covers of songs about New York.)

The Mission-   Sometimes The Brightest Light…

Another gem I came across on a CMJ compilation.  This is the same band that was famous in the 1980’s.  I later bought the $5 digital album which was mediocre- only about two other really good songs- but this one was thrilling.  A heavy, pounding sound and gruff vocals.  A great song for when I drive and since I’m commuting to Brandywine, Maryland two or three times a week, I need a lot of good driving songs on my playlist.

Arcade Fire-   After Life

For their follow-up to The Suburbs, Arcade Fire put out a two-CD album.  I knew it would not be as good as the extremely excellent Suburbs album, especially since they were working with the dude from LCD Soundsystem as their producer.  I think LCDS is wildly over-rated and so I was worried about them sounding less like themselves and more like someone I disliked.  Sure enough, they only had 5 good songs among the 2 CDs.  I like this one a lot and would love to hear what it would sound like if it wasn’t embellished with an EDM arrangement. 

Pixies-   What Goes Boom

A couple years back, the Pixies got together and recorded a new song.  They had been touring for several years by then but had not done any new music so hearing about this one song was a nice surprise.  It was only available as a free download from their website so I went there and got it.  While on the site, I registered to get band news so I would get a periodic email about what was going on.  Last year, 2012, they announced a 4-song digital EP available for sale on their website.  I was there in 30 seconds, paying and downloading it.   A few months later, another 4-song EP was announced and then another.  This year, all of them were compiled into a physical CD.  I bought that as well, even though I already owned all the songs.  I did this because I wanted a physical version of the songs and because I was happy to give the Pixies more of my money in appreciation for all they pleasure they had given me over the years.  Unlike many of the critics, I really liked the new songs.  I thought they fit right into their canon.  Granted, none of them were “Monkey’s Gone To Heaven” but then again, none of the Pixie’s other classic era songs were “Monkey’s Gone To Heaven” either. You can’t compare a band’s new stuff to just their absolute best stuff.  I like the new “Blue Eyed Hexe” better than the classic “Gouge Away” and “Snakes” is just as good as their old hit “Here Comes Your Man”.  Yeah, the Pixies are not new anymore but critics were faulting them for trying to sound like the Pixies.  Well of course they were- they ARE the Pixies.  Who else would they try to sound like? 

Cage The Elephant-   Spiderhead

All-Music, a really cool music site (like IMDB but for music), sends out a weekly email listing and reviewing all new alternative and independent music coming out that week.  That’s how I knew one of my favorite new bands was releasing another album.  I would describe this band’s sound thusly- The mantel of innovation and experimentation and surprise that they Pixies laid down back in the day was picked up and worn proudly by Cage The Elephant.  It is no accident that they appear on my compilation alongside each other.  While waiting for new Pixies music, this is one of the bands I turned to as an alternative.  They are inventive, noisy, melodic, and daring, just like any good alternative band should be. 

Skinny Puppy-   Pedafly

As mentioned above, I binged through the last three Skinny Puppy albums this year.  I picked this song to represent them this year because it is a serious, dark, nasty groove.  It pummels you and scares you and  leaves you limp in surrender by the time it is over.  Then I play it again and feel the thrill all over again.  I know it is not to everyone’s taste and that’s why there are so many different sounds and attitude among these two CDs- I want everyone to find something to like.

So I hope you enjoyed the discussion (and the CDs if you were one of the recipients of them.)  I like sharing my finds because I know how hard it is to come across things to enjoy.  If you have favorites of your own to offer up, by all means. Please share so I can discover more new things.  Also, below is my list of favorite and most disappointing albums for the year.  I’m just putting them out there as a list, no commentary about them.  If you are curious about why something made the lists, just ask and I’ll be happy to ramble on at length.

My Favorite Albums Of 2013

1              Billy Joel:   Piano Man (Deluxe Reissue)
2              Bee Gees:   Horizontal
2              Bee Gees:   Idea
2              Bee Gees:   Main Course
3              New Christy Minstrels:   Land Of Giants
4              Ohgr:   Welt
5              Skinny Puppy:     Weapon
5              Skinny Puppy:     Handover
5              Skinny Puppy:     Mythmaker
6              Donald Fagen:    Sunken Condos
7              Modest Mouse:   No One Is First And You're Next
8              Cotton Mather:   KonTiki (Deluxe Edition)
9              Cage The Elephant:   Melophobia
10           Juliana Hatfield:   Cells
10           Juliana Hatfield:   There's Always Another Girl
11           Ministry:   From Beer To Eternity
12           Local H:   No Fun
13           Ben Folds:   SuperSunnySpeedGraphic
14           Ohgr:   Undeveloped
14           Ohgr:   SunnyPsyOps
15           Arcade Fire:   Reflektor
16           David Lowery:   The Palace Guards
17           Paul Banks:   Banks
18           Imperial Teen:   On
19           Robert Plant:   Band Of Joy
20           Sheryl Crow:   Feels Like Home
21           Psychic Friend:   My Rock Are Dreams
22           Roxette:   Travelling
23           Nine Inch Nails:   Hesitation Marks
24           Original 7 (The Time):   Condensate
25           Adam Ant:   Adam Ant Is The Blueblack Hussar Marrying The Gunner's Daughter

The Most Disappointing Albums Of 2013

1              Bob Welch:   Bob Welch
2              Trip Shakespeare:   Across The Universe
3              Killers, The:   Battle Born
4              Nada Surf:   The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy
5              Kiss:   Monster
6              Policia:   Shulasmith
7              Jack White:   Blunderbuss
8              David Bowie:   The Next Day
9              Lita Ford:   The Bitch Is Back
10           Sophie Ellis-Bextor:   Make a Scene
11           Dannii Minogue:   Girl
12           Limosines, The:   Hush
13           Wilco:   The Whole Love
14           Charlie XCX:   True Romance
15           Joan Jett:   Unvarnished