Criteria: 1. Visual Rhetoric Excellence (album cover) 2. Classical fashion/personification resonance (how close can you get to making your art resemble a coke can or a 1940s overcoat in Brooklyn) 3. The marathon song (special points if past 9 minutes) 4. Are you young or new? (b/c for some reason the best music was more divided on these parameters). 5. You had a Macklemore haircut (which will look stupid by May) 6. It sounds good in Dan’s treble-fest speakers (not the Rodeo this time…that damn CRV has better speakers, but Dan turns up the treble setting to +6) 7. Auras of black and white? (I don’t know, ask Ansel Adams about it) 8. Paste vs. Pitchfork factor (how much either overlap or omission an album had from both publications) 9. Overall, did I like it?
Top 10 Albums of the Year with visual analysis:
1. Quiet Light | Roadkill Ghost Choir
2. Random Access Memories | Daft Punk 3. Days are Gone | Haim
6. Reflektor | Arcade Fire
7. Overgrown | James Blake
8. Trouble Will Find Me | The National
9. Anxiety | Autre Ne Veut
*all photos from @anthonysamaniego
10. The 20/20 Experience | Justin Timberlake
*Honorable Mention* Ghost on Ghost | Iron & Wine Cupid Deluxe | Blood Orange Wondrous Bughouse | Youth Lagoon Muchacho | Phosphorescent Paracosm | Washed Out
I wouldn’t necessarily call 2013 a seminal year in music history, but there was some very good art produced in spurts and bubbles. Since I have quieter tastes (as I’ve been reminded on quite a few online music forums) I guess I’m not as qualified to comment on some of the louder genres (metal/death-metal/precious metals/hard-rock but almost metal/steel drum reggae), but the other musical spheres are mine on which to prey. A couple of adjectives that come to mind for 2013 are “patient” and “classic.” My number one album of the year, Quiet Light (really an EP), is a dusty, banjo-plucking, dark folk album with about as much prairie merit as the ubiquitous oil-drilling units bumping up and down along the interstate. Like those midwestern fleas constantly at the helm of production, Roadkill Ghost Choir produces a steady, foot-stomping opus backed by swelling horns and hazy, reverb guitar. The product is a delay of time…a return to rural Americana (they are from rural Florida after all) where geography determined culture and time was measured from the true travel of the sun and seasons. Other works, like the Civil Wars’ Self Titled, Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City, and The National’s Trouble Will Find Me are re-workings of great American themes: road trips, civilian strife, and depression in the modern age. I don’t think it’s an accident that these three albums artwork is almost all greyscale sans Autre’s wooden frame (that actually has Edvard Munch’s The Scream embedded in it on earlier versions), reflecting not only the modern transition of American folk music but also the stern and segmented allocations of its arguable qualities. These albums are equally terrifying, limited, and vague-all tangential qualities for normal American folk. The more poppy albums of the year, JT’s 20/20 Experience, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories, and Haim’s Days are Gone are further artistic commentaries on American images or historically loaded pop generalizations. Daft Punk uses jazz-infused, early 90s dance-club vibes loaded onto disco beats to basically create a genre that netted grandmothers to budding adolescents into a woven mesh of hip-hop, Euro-synth burlap. Although this album isn’t necessarily an American exploration, it still uses African-American pop influences dubbed over machine-washed synth, maybe augmenting traditional hip-hop with a modern element. JT’s 20/20 is a more austere play on the cliche of big bands of the earlier 20th century. He transforms himself into a 21st century band leader of a supporting cast aptly named the Tennessee Kids which has more than a few historically (and by extension, racially) loaded assumptions about making “swing” music for the live masses. JT narrowly avoids making a caricature of himself by being so damn good at his job and by fulfilling the born-again image of Glenn Miller or Benny Goodman with nearly effortless zeal. Haim’s Days are Gone is the only album that offers the feminized take on the shift of American folk/pop. As sisters, Haim is able to create the image of the “girl next door” motif hinged to American hipsterism (perhaps the true intersection of folk and modernity in our culture) that is also more than capable of creating sweeping pop music. Their proximity to adolescence makes their music strangely spritely but also a terrific mess, reflected by their aversion to mass media glamour via tangled hair, disdain of Lululemon casual flair, and love of team sports (see video for “Don’t Save Me”). The implications of their image for coming-of-age American girls is only thinly veiled, however, since they offer a full rejection of traditional female roles in favor of a life that may be more blue collar, sweaty, and grounded in independence. By extension, these qualities make Haim almost overt flag-bearers for the American “folk woman” more shaped by frontier ideology than urban opulence. Perhaps as we enter into another decade where the term “America” gets scrutinized to death in postmodern scalping, 2013 offers a brief return to traditional American mores. It’s no secret that traditional folk music is dead in the mass media, but small extensions, even thematic ones, can’t help reveal the fact that deep inside our own modernity are questions of background that challenge what American art is becoming. Musically, this transition is faster than other genres but also more circular. If the last century could be shaped by a periodic function, 2013 stands as a return to the midline…whether we are rising or falling depends on what’s next.