I’ve been the music editor now for half of the year and if you haven’t noticed I have been very quiet beyond my Singles Party contributions and the occasional review and interview. It’s not that I’m not paying attention, in fact, I’m actually aware of everything going on in music but I like to observe from a far instead of comment regularly. It’s amazing what happens in the span of a year in pop culture because so much is available to the masses but only a fraction of it is worth remembering longer than 15 minutes. While I maintain that of the three mediums television reigned supreme this year in quality, music had one hell of a year as well.
It’s hard to stay objective and open in this day and age especially when we rely so heavily on the media to tell us what’s important. There could be one week where five albums are released that will define their genre in 25 years and it will still be stunted by some ludicrous publicity stunt performed by someone you feel doesn’t deserve the attention. You have Top 40 radio where most stations play a cycle of the same eight songs every hour or so leaving no room for new stuff to be played unless it’s gaining traction. This has always happened but because we are never near a power source that updates us constantly it’s hard to not feel like it’s a recent thing.
I’m guilty in the past of comparing current music to its predecessors and that’s because I grew up idealizing stuff that had been great for years and it was a measuring stick each time something new popped up in my life. Most things great become great over time and not automatically and the problem at least for me was I wanted everything to be just as great right off the back. But it’s not right to do that because there is nothing wrong with liking a variety of music regardless of the quality. It’s also fine just to like something because it catches your ear because, well, that’s why you end up like something to begin with, right?
As critics both professional and by nature we will always dissect the composition and criticize the quality but it’s also okay to like it because it tickles your fancy and is inherently catchy. Saying you like something does not imply that you think it’s great; it’s possible to simply find something indescribable in liking something. Take one of the biggest songs of year “Blurred Lines;” this song has very little originality BUT it was also incredibly catchy and is a song I see being a wedding party favorite for years to come. Again, I’m not calling it great I’m calling it catchy because that is what it is and that has always been the point of popular music.
Many like to measure how good music is based on chart and sales success and that is a rather redundant move. As it has been for some time now sales figures do not matter in an illegal downloading world. Yes, a lack of quality records doesn’t help as far as what is popular but there are still great albums being made. Your favorite band is your favorite band but don’t necessarily expect it to be validated with hit singles and platinum records. All these things including awards and honors are arbitrary. It’s a popularity contest not a consensus of all music buyers and listeners. I had a fun year discovering and listening to new music. I can’t attest to having listened to everything that most publications or friends have talked about but I listened to a lot of it nonetheless.
Obviously, this is all through my filter of taste but there were a lot of things that stuck out to me more than others. Artists like Haim and Disclosure released impressive debuts. Established acts like Arcade Fire and Arctic Monkeys, reinvented their sound and received immense praise for doing so. Country had its most polarizing year with country bro music dominating the Top 40 but also delivering stellar albums from some of its best up and coming female artists in their genre including Kacey Musgraves and Caitlin Rose.
Twerking, the Harlem Shake and Billboard changing the rules were all big deals to the media. Who cares?! Let’s talk about music for once and what was coming out in 2013. Let’s talk about Lorde, or the fact that David Bowie, Kanye West, and Beyonce both put out surprise releases that ended up being better than some of the most hyped pop records of the year. How about Vampire Weekend releasing their most mature album today that solidified the meeting point of indie culture and mainstream music or that at 71 years of age Paul McCartney is still making great music and is more in tune with current music than most of his contemporaries?
Bottom line is this: as someone who has openly compared and criticized current music, and still does to an extent I’m done justifying it and even more so I am remembering why I love discovering new things. For me, 2013 had a lot of great music and some things that I have only recently discovered in the final days of this year and will continue to discover. Critiquing is still something that needs to be done but I am tired of adhering to the belief that current music just isn’t good. Not everything is going to be great and because we still live in a world where record companies need to make money they are always going to push what many would view as the most accessible material that normally is devoid of the highest quality. The critic in all of us makes it hard not to judge but it’s just easier sometimes to just sit back and listen to something rather than leaning forward ready for the pounce.
Despite not being the biggest fan of year end lists or lists in general you can’t help but subconsciously think about them when it comes to the year in review. Considering that there was so much to like, and also so much to loathe, it’s been tough narrowing down the results. So I have merely listed my choices and have chosen to create a couple Spotify lists of my favorite music from the past year (which’ll be posted in the next day or so). As a critic it seems like a cheat for me to not explain or back up my choices for the year end list but by creating Spotify playlists I would hope music lovers can make the call for themselves positive or negative. So now I present, with little to no explanation, my Top 20 favorite Songs and Albums of 2013.
Top 20 Favorite Albums of 2013
Vampire Weekend- Modern Vampires of the City
Arctic Monkeys- AM
Haim- Days Are Gone
Front Bottoms- Talon of the Hawk
Caitlin Rose- The Stand In
Kanye West- Yeezus
Savages- Silence Yourself
The World is A Beautiful Place…- Whenever, If Ever
Foals- Holy Fire
Foxygen- We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors
The National- Trouble Will Find Me
Paul McCartney- New
Neko Case- The Worst Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, the More I Love You
David Bowie- The Next Day
Palma Violets- 180
Lorde- Pure Heroine
Best Coast- Fade Away EP
Queens of the Stone Age- Like Clockwork
Daft Punk- Random Access Memories
The 1975- The 1975
Top 20 Favorite Songs of 2013
Smith Westerns- Varsity
Arctic Monkeys- Do I Wanna Know?
Haim- The Wire
Drake- Hold On, We’re Going Home
Vampire Weekend- Ya Hey/Diane Young
Kanye West- Black Skinhead
Chvrches- The Mother We Share
Daft Punk- Get Lucky
Sara Barielles- Brave
Janelle Monae- Give ‘Em What They Want (featuring Prince)
Paul McCartney- Early Days
Sky Ferreira- You’re Not the One
Jake Bugg- Broken
Front Bottoms- Twin Sized Mattress
Neko Case- Night Still Comes
Justin Timberlake- Mirror
Kacey Musgraves- Follow Your Arrow
Arcade Fire- Reflektor