Monday, December 23, 2013

Best Of 2013

I'm not going to start, as I usually do, by commenting on the quality of the year's music. I believe that if you're hungry for good music and you apply yourself to finding it (I hope AnEarful can be of help), you will find more than enough nourishment in any given year. It's probably enough for me to say that, for the second year running, I am presenting a Top 20 and not a Top 10. I will also have a robust "Best Of The Rest Of" to follow and provide further directions to explore. Enough ado - here goes.

1. David Bowie - The Next Day I still feel as I did earlier this year, except more so now that time has molded these tracks into the warp and weft of my being. Even the somewhat weaker songs I delineated in my review have a crushing inevitability that is the result of an artist at full engagement with his craft and emotional core. Dropping that first video when he did in January, and all the subsequent remixes, bonus tracks and videos has made 2013 unequivocally the year of Bowie.

2. Kanye West - Yeezus Still astonishing after all these months. Mood swings from painfully raw to hilarious and everything in between.

3. Jenny O. - Automechanic In a perfect world, Haim would be opening for this enchanting singer and songwriter. With the help of master-producer Jonathan Wilson, she has crafted a richly detailed set of songs, many with a touching vulnerability beneath their road-hardened swagger.

4. Jonathan Wilson - Fanfare On the follow-up to 2011's brilliant Gentle Spirit, Wilson goes big AND goes home to a rich tapestry of sounds inspired by what must be a mother of a record collection.

5. Volcano Choir - Repave The other great record with Justin Vernon on it this year (see Yeezus, above). More live dates, please.

6. Jon Hopkins - Immunity It's been a great year for this dealer in texture and tension. Besides this Mercury-nominated collection he also put out an intense soundtrack for the dystopian thriller How I Live Now. Unlike Eno's quite nice Lux, Hopkins's work would never place in the New Age category at The Grammys.

7. Jace Clayton - The Julius Eastman Memory Depot While I'm still mourning the end of Clayton's often mind-blowing radio show (as DJ/Rupture), this furiously well-done introduction to Eastman was much more than a consolation prize. At times it sounds like nothing more than an extended intro to Mobb Deep's Quiet Storm. Mash it up, people.

8. Parquet Courts - Light Up Gold A disarming and shambolic fa├žade reveals canny compositions and NYC classicism par excellence. Their new EP sketches out some new outposts.

9. Daniel Wohl - Corps Exquis This is a jewel-textured and compulsively listenable series of compositions that apparently has another life as a multiple-media performance piece. I say, just put it on and close your eyes…

10. The Darcys - Warring That these Torontonians are just getting better and better is proven by this journey into a heart of darkness partly inspired by Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian.

11. Prodigy & Alchemist - Albert Einstein Blazingly inventive beats inspire Prodigy to his best work since Return Of The Mac, also produced by Alchemist. Let's just say that once you hear about "weed smoke pouring out the bullet hole glass," you never forget it.

12. Wire - Change Becomes Us Rock & roll may eat its young but post punk bands never die (see also: Killing Joke).

13. Son Lux - Lanterns Third time is the charm for the omnivorously talented Ryan Lott. His solo performance on WNYC's Soundcheck (using prepared piano) demonstrated the rock-solid structure behind these songs.

14. Mystical Weapons - S/T Speaking of omnivorous talents, the protean Sean Lennon teams up with Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier on this series of improvisations filled with blistering twists and turns. Like electric Miles, it is always moving with purpose, even if the purpose becomes tangential.

15. Chance The Rapper - Acid Rap Chancellor Bennett's sheer excitement at being alive and coming to terms with his own prodigious talent is infectious, even when he's rapping about how "everyone dies in the summer." I would almost advise starting at the last song, Everything's Good (Good Ass Outro), which begins with a phone conversation in which Chance thanks his dad for the computer and the T-shirts - and especially for believing in him. When was the last time hip hop made you cry - in a good way?

16. The Strokes - Comedown Machine The former scuzz-rockers grow ever more intricate, without losing their explosive energy.

17. Jonwayne - Rap Album 1 A series of cassettes heralded the arrival of a fresh sounding producer and rapper. While the album lacked some of the sense of play that made the tapes so delightful, it felt like a true journey into the mind - for both creator and listener.

18. Isadora - EP One of New York's finest. Get in on the ground floor.

19. The Mavericks - In Time I had almost forgotten about these guys when they came roaring back with what may be their best album yet. With country radio a Swiftian wasteland (Taylor or Jonathan, take your pick) leaving them beholden to no one but themselves, they bring a few new sounds to their patented blend of Americana and Hispanica.

20. Mutual Benefit - Love's Crushing Diamond A gorgeously elaborate song cycle of muted joy and sorrow. While we wait for Robin Pecknold to go through his process, this touches on some of those Fleet Foxes sweet spots, while still sounding completely original and occasionally exotic. This is one that will last.

Listen to the Top 20 on Spotify.

Coming Next: The Best Of The Rest Of 2013, including reissues.

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